Dear Young Mom (Me),
Look into the face of your little girl. Your first one on her first birthday party. The one with a red cut above her right eye, courtesy of the jungle gym she climbed two days ago. The one who started walking at nine months. The one who has already foiled every baby gate, crib rail and door knob safety cover ever invented. She will break through most barriers set for her, so you might as well get ready.
Years from now, a new Disney princess (you will become very well acquainted with Disney princesses) will encourage you to “Let It Go.” I wish she had told you that sooner. There are so many things I wish you had given yourself permission to let go.
Let go of criticism. This child will be high maintenance. People will give you those glances; you know the ones that say, “Where were you in Parenting 101 class?” The side eyes that might as well be slapping an “epic mom fail” label on your forehead.
Life will never cease to offer you people who aren’t pleased with something you’re doing. If you let them define you, you’re going to lose yourself trying to please so many other people. Only you have walked in your shoes and only you have been given this child. You know the people you trust to speak life and truth. Listen to them. The others? Give them a smile and genuine grace. You don’t know their lives either. Wave goodbye. Then, let them go.
Let go of apologizing. There will be one moment in particular. A woman, in the community pool parking lot, whose car door your child just slightly nicked. She will go all Kris Kardashian on you over it. You will apologize and offer insurance information. She will not be satisfied.
My sweet girl, you cannot ever enforce peoples’ happiness. You cannot bargain for their satisfaction. What you can do is shelter your child (and you) from their shame. Look that woman in the eye. Tell her you apologized once and you’re done. The rest is on her. Childhood is the realm of children and children make mistakes. (Yours will be particularly good at it.) Mistakes are allowed in a life of grace. Fix the mistake if you can. Then let it go.
Let go of normal. You will not understand this child’s behavior. She won’t get a diagnosis (Tourette’s syndrome) for years. You will get abundant unsolicited advice. Smile. Then ignore it. It won’t work, because your new life is not normal. But then, neither is any other new mom’s, whether or not her child has special needs.
Believe that her difference is beautiful, not something to be ashamed of. Her intensity will drive her passion for justice one day. Her brilliant thought patterns will help her find solutions outside everyone’s boxes. Her nonconformity will make her so compassionate. You don’t know this yet, but differences are a thing to nurture, treasure and bend toward goodness because they will reap joy.
You’ll have to guard her heart from those who point out that she’s not “normal,” so secure the gates of your own as soon as you can from shame-mongers who may or may not mean well. Tell her every day she is amazing and created for a special purpose. Tell yourself that, too. Normal is so overrated. Let it go.
Let go of perfection. This isn’t a job with any standard procedure or road map to the end. The roads you will take may be windier than you imagine. Expectations that demand a straight road for a windy child are only going to make you both feel like misfits. Lighten up on your own expectations. Lighten up on your little girl and listen to her. Hold her when she has no idea what’s going on in her head or body. Realize she’s as confused as you are. You’ll both survive if you hold on to grace. You are the one trusted with this job and this child. What is perfection, anyway? Let it go.
This one-year-old dynamo with cake all over her mischievous face will be amazing. And so will you.
Jill Richardson is a writer, speaker, pastor and mom of three girls. She pastors a church in a Chicago suburb and is working on her doctorate in church leadership. She is a firm believer in the power of grace, restoration, hope, Earl Grey tea and dark chocolate. Her passion is partnering with the next generation.