By Guest Writer Lane Faulkner
Of all the eight Practices of Living Hope, I believe that Forgiveness, Resilience, and Joy are the most applicable to motherhood. As moms, we berate ourselves for our parenting mistakes, emerge resilient through the refining fire of parenting, and savor the sweet moments with a joy unlike any other in our lives.
My son, Jackson, was diagnosed on the autism spectrum at the age of three. The signs were all there from day one, though my fragile new mom heart simply wouldn’t accept that he was anything but quirky. It took some incredibly alarming behavior issues, along with an expulsion from preschool, to jerk me into reality. Those quirks and behaviors were indicating that something was going on, and he needed attention and resources to address them.
I was both grieved and relieved at the diagnosis; it answered so many questions, yet created far more. It shattered my ideals of the person I expected my son to be. And I’m so unbelievably grateful it did.
I spent countless nights awake devouring every book and article I could, attempting to wrap my mind around our new reality. What caused this? What does he need? How can I help him? How does he see the world? With each new bit of information, I mentally flogged myself for not acting sooner, especially when my pediatrician had subtly hinted at this a year earlier. For three years, I tried to meet his needs by fitting him into a box I had fashioned rather than seeing him for who he was.
We do that often as parents: the responsibility to care for these tiny humans creates the overwhelming pressure to do it perfectly. Inevitably, we fall short of that ideal, and letting go of those mistakes and forgiving ourselves for our fallible human natures is tough. We carry around the albatross of guilt in hopes it will atone for our shortcomings. You will begin the Practice of Forgiveness by laying down that burden and accepting that humanity, not some divine version of ourselves, guides our parenting. Our kids will never be perfect, and neither will we. Once I had accepted that truth, my heart was open and pliable – ready to meet his needs and better understand his own uniqueness. I also uncovered a fortitude I was unaware existed. This journey to helping him would be a long one – perhaps lifelong – and I was ready to begin the Practice of Resilience.
We began occupational therapy, implemented communication and organization strategies at home, and learned to speak his love languages. Progress didn’t happen overnight, but I could see my son learning, adapting, and growing into a healthy, happy little boy. I learned to revel in the small, everyday victories, and I began to step back to allow him to shape his own identity. Sure, there are moments that break my heart. But maintaining the perspective of the long game rather than the immediate moment helps me piece it back together. Resilience is a practice that I think many parents do, but without the bookends of grace and forgiveness, it can easily be misconstrued as simply enduring the race, not evolving through it.
An old John Mayer song came on the radio in the car today, and it reminded me of Resilience. He says,” Pain throws your heart to the ground/Love turns the whole thing around/ No, it won’t all go the way it should/But I know the heart of life is good.” The Practice of Resilience rests in the truth that, despite all our challenges and struggles, goodness prevails. It’s always tucked away within us, and if we choose to live an honest and introspective life, it trumps whatever pain life throws at us. It becomes the lens through which we view our circumstances. Like all the Practices, Resilience is more than a state of being; it is an active choice to face what we are going through with the intent to grow and evolve as a result.
Jackson celebrated his eighth birthday recently, and I found myself emotional on this particular birthday. He’s one of the kindest human beings I know with a soft and tender heart. On the surface, he seems aloof and distant, which is just part of the way he manifests being on the spectrum; but when he speaks, you see that he actually feels more deeply than most. In fact, his very being on the spectrum is what I think makes him the wonderfully unique human being he is, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. When I was ready to embrace him exactly the way he is, I began the Practice of Joy. His fascinating mind works in ways I can’t even begin to understand, and I love watching him craft meticulous Lego creations in no time at all from the creative recesses of his own mind. He’s always the first to pipe up with facts on science and history, and he seems to have a deep sense of spirituality. While he doesn’t quite grasp anything figurative or sarcastic, he possesses an intuition far beyond his age. And all those quirks he’s carried with him through the years? Those are the very things that make me smile because they are uniquely him. He’s fairly certain that being on the spectrum has given him a superpower, and I have to say that I don’t disagree.
Once I set aside my own notions of what and who my children should be, my heart was ready to embrace the Joy that they bring by being themselves. Does it look like the life I had imagined when I first became a mom? Not a chance. It’s even better. This Mother’s Day, I encourage you to Forgive yourself for ever believing you had to be perfect and take Joy in the families you have created, whatever form they take. Appreciate the uniqueness that only exists there, the strength and Resilience you possess in this journey of shaping lives, and the grace to be perfectly imperfect doing it. This is Living Hope.