As teenagers begin the process of leaving home and staking out their claim to the next phase of their life, it is helpful to remember the phrase, “every individual is gifted with a unique potential that defines a destiny.” Every child has a unique contribution to make in the world. We must believe in that potential even if we cannot understand it and we must allow the larger forces (people, challenges, faith) to play their role in our child’s journey.
When I first held our daughter in my arms, all of my dreams went into that child. I reveled in her spirit, her precociousness and her fearlessness. Later we added another little girl and rounded out our family with a boy. Nothing prepared me for the intense love and devotion I had to my children’s potentials. I never expected that I would be faced with a problem that I couldn’t fix and it ended up liberating me as a parent.
When our son was not quite two, he was diagnosed with developmental delays. The diagnosis of mysterious medical terms went over our heads, but the words; autism spectrum, hit both of us like a gunshot. After a few days of tears, we rolled up our sleeves and began an intense journey to pull our son out of his world and into ours. Recovery became the mantra that symbolized our highest expectations. We threw out the labels. While hearing the word autism was important because it woke us up to the truth about the real obstacles our son was facing, we knew that if we invested too much in the label, we would accept far less than his best. Letting go of the outcome is always difficult but essential when aiming high.
Along this journey, we have learned so much. It is easy to hear labels and lower the bar. While labels are well meaning, they do not speak to the power of one’s unique potential. Raising the bar on our son, in turn, helped us to raise the bar on our two girls and ultimately on ourselves.
To have faith in a child’s unique potential and the larger forces at work:
- Allow obstacles to become opportunities – View struggles as important to development.
- Resist labels of any kind – Think of the labels we might have been given when we were young. Use labels to lead us to information but avoid investment in them.
- Believe in yourself and the best in your child – What we pay attention to is what we reinforce. Find something each day to reinforce the highest vision for self and family.
- Let go of the “what if this happens” and believe that your child is capable of figuring it out – There really in no alternative so take a deep breath and step back.
- Do not compare yourself or your child to others – Although tempting, this does not help our child connect to their unique contribution.
- The darkest times have the potential for the deepest lessons – No one asks for the tough times, but we value what they develop in us.
Today, our son is making his own life work in a small group home with people around him who support and challenge him to be his best. While college and traditional schooling were not in the cards for him, he has a unique intelligence which inspires us all. Our two daughters were on a more traditional path, but each had to face their own challenges and struggles. When one put all of her efforts into a selective college option, I hoped that her hard work would be rewarded. When the rejection letter came in the mail, my heart ached for her, but we stepped back. After some tears, she looked at her other options and chose an amazing school that ended up setting her up for a successful career. I now believe that she became a better learner and leader by experiencing this obstacle and turning it into an opportunity.
Our children are not our trophy cases. Their successes and failures do not belong to us. College is an important step only if they are ready and fully own the process. Their college acceptance is not a reflection on their unique potential. It is merely a decision of whether some of their skills fit within that institution’s criteria for that slot. The more they own the learning process if they are not college bound, the more they will increase their odds to connect to their best self and thus fulfill their potential. My daughters have taught me that if they truly own their own successes and failures, then I am giving them a gift. My son has taught me to have faith and I will forever be indebted to my children for these most important of lessons.