Monday, August 02, 2010

On Families

I've been thinking a lot lately about families, and our expectations.

When I was a little kid, I imagined the family I'd have one day.  I was definitely going to have two girls I'd name Melanie and Allison, and maybe a boy.  A dog, a couple of cats and a sign on the fence in the back saying "Forget the Dog - Beware of the Cat."  Maybe a big oval-shaped pool in the backyard.

That was my plan anyway.  I wonder, does anybody really get the family she plans on?  I bet there aren't many who do.  Most cultures allow people to choose whom they marry, but based on the divorce rates, I'd say many don't get what they think they are getting in marriage, either.  If you think you can orchestrate your family, one day the joke may be on you.  You have to take what you get.

One of my good friends planned on having somewhere in the neighborhood of one boy and one girl.  Give or take.  She had her one boy, and two years later had her one girl, but through a traumatic and disasterous delivery, her baby girl tragically died, and my friend almost did too.  She recovered from a ruptured uterus and miraculously had three more children, all boys.  I'm pretty sure that four sons was not part of her plan, but that's what she got.  And  I know that she's a blissful, amazing mom of four boys.

Another of my good friends has experienced infertility.  We were little kids together, and I know she planned on having children, but it hasn't worked out that way for her and her husband.  She has very successful career where she works with and cares for troubled children and she's excellent at it.  I think she knows she couldn't devote 125% of herself at work, giving up her evenings and weekends, if she had her own children at home.  She gives a lot of love to the children she works with.  They are her children.

I know two moms who adopted children, and they both planned on getting "typical" children.  At least one of the two even specifically requested not to adopt a special needs child.  But that is exactly what they both got.  And these two wonderful mothers both decided that these were the children they were meant to have.  These weren't the children they expected, but they accepted them lovingly.

Right from the start I had specific ideas about what having children was going to be like.  I remember when I was pregnant with Aliza, seeing a sweet little family at church, all sitting together in a pew, one toddler quietly coloring in a little Bible-themed coloring book, while a peaceful little infant snoozed in a carseat on the pew next to them.  I thought aw......... won't that be sweet when that's us?

Right!  Not a one of my children has ever slept through a church service.  I think they are what is usually termed "spirited."  I spend church services feeding, entertaining, soothing, bouncing, pacifying, and shushing, even today, with a 7-year-old and two 5-year-olds.

When my boys were diagnosed, after I got over the initial shock, I was angry and jealous of other moms who got normal kids without even trying.  Every special needs mom I met, I compared their family situation to mine and was privately jealous if their kids seemed better off and easier to handle than mine.  Everyone I met, I judged them and evaluated whether or not I'd "trade" with them.  Trade disabilities, trade, situations with them.  Was their disability correctable with surgery or medication?  Yes, I'd trade with them in a heartbeat.  Did they just have one child with a disability?  I'd trade with them.  Was their kid's disability physical, rather than mental?  I'd trade.  But there were some who I wouldn't have traded with, too.  And from those families, I learned to settle down.  Stop wasting energy and brain power on things I can't change.

What I've found out since then:  Not many of us get perfect families.  Every family has their own set of issues.  Even those families whose children have no disabilities to speak of "get theirs", eventually!  Don't worry.  That lovely little family I saw at church might very well get totally evil teenagers.  Those moms with typical children, or children with "minor" disabilities (definition -- anything less intense than my kids' disability) most likely have other things they deal with.  Maybe their kids' grandmas and grandpas aren't supportive and loving and just present, the way ours are.  Maybe they live in a county or state where they don't get as much government support as we do.  Or maybe there are other health problems in their family.  Perhaps they just don't have emotional coping skills and are constantly fluctuating between depression and survival.

Those families I was jealous of?  I'm not, anymore.  I know that nobody gets handed perfection on a silver platter.  We all get a "grab bag" family.  I can't tell what that other family's life is like by looking at the bag.  And I'm not judging them by what I can see anymore because I know that no matter what the bag looks like, what's inside isn't necessarily any easier than what's inside mine.  And I dearly love what's inside my grab bag!


Anonymous said...

Hear, hear. My thoughts exactly! Well written.

Mom of frax-boy of 18 months

Anonymous said...

Amen :)

Anonymous said...

"God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference."
R. Niebuhr


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