If there’s one regret I have from January 22, 2010 — the day my second daughter was born — it’s not that I cried when they told me she had Down syndrome or that I didn’t feel immediately bonded to the baby placed in my arms. I forgive myself for doing what was perfectly natural to do: react to the news that she was different from what I had imagined her to be and grieve at the reality of the challenges she’d face.
What I do wish I could go back and change is the pressure I put on my sweet baby to be so much. I expected her to be perfect, when her only job was to surrender to the miraculous series of events that formed her — those split cells and constructed organs that created her just as she was. For a tiny helpless baby, I expected of her something I don’t even expect of myself — perfection — and for that I am sorry.
The thing is, I knew better. I mean, this was my second child, and if there’s one thing I learned from my first, it’s that you can expect nothing of your children but love. Expect an extrovert? You might get an introvert. Expect a boy? You might get a girl. Expect a high-kicking, soccer-loving little athlete, and your kid might stand on the sidelines — after all that money you spent on the uniform and the team fee and the cute legwarmers that match the cute cleats — and cry, begging you never to make her play again. (Yes, I know that last one from experience.)
But I did it. I got sucked into the trap of idealism, and I let the perfection parasite eat up everything I knew to be true within — that nothing is guaranteed when you have a baby except one thing: you will love. Consequently, you will experience both happiness and hurt because love is, by definition, both of those things.
While much of my grief those first few months after welcoming my daughter understandably had to do with the sadness of knowing the challenges she’d face, I wonder how much of it was wrapped up in this perfection facade. How much grief and disappointment can we avoid in parenting altogether when we let go of our expectations of our children?
It’s hard in this day and age when everything is so beautifully packaged and custom-ordered, to let go of perfection, but when we do there is far less disappointment. Redefining perfection is a constant goal for me, one that applies not only to parenting, but to every aspect of life. So many of the hard moments can be made a little easier simply by realizing they won’t be so easy and perfect. In the great words of M. Scott Peck, “Once we truly know that life is difficult — once we truly understand and accept it — then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
Once we let go of our great expectations, raising and loving our children immediately becomes easier. I’m learning to replace the ideal dreams of who my child will be tomorrow with the beauty of who she is today. And when I truly understand and embrace that fact, I am a happier mama, and my children thrive, free from the expectations that may have pressured them to be something they were not.
We cannot control who our children will be — shy, outgoing, short, tall, quiet, loud, creative, athletic, a chromosome under, a chromosome over — but we can surely appreciate who they are and accept that what makes our children happy, what makes them come alive, is exactly what makes them perfect.
Visit HarperCollins to purchase Kelle Hampton’s newly released book, Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected — A Memoir.