Monday, January 20, 2014

Dear Parents

One question that always terrifies me in my line of work in parents asking me whether their child is normal. Or in the case of braver parents, whether their child is abnormal. To be honest, I hate answering the question. Not because I am afraid that I am disappointing the parents, but rather because I do not want to write off a child just like that by sticking an abnormal label to the child. To say that a child is abnormal brings to a mind a negative light, one that judges the child and views it in a stereotypical manner. To forever deem the child as someone of a lesser value than "normal" members of society.

And I had a parent shot me this answer today.

As I looked at the parent, who was waiting for an answer, I struggled to come up with an answer. I shifted uncomfortably in my place, trying to think of an answer that would not disappoint too much, and yet not paint an overly optimistic picture.


Yes, your child is different than most of his peers developmentally. Yes, he would have difficulties picking up skills that most of us don't have trouble learning as we were growing up. He would definitely be viewed differently when he is in the public, with his behaviour and all, but to be honest, I would not think that he is abnormal, or in a sense, "crazy".

In a way, I think your child is just the same like me and you. He cries when he is unhappy, he seeks for your affection when he is sad, and true, he may have peculiar behaviour here and there, but that is his way of dealing with his world which is totally different than ours. He will still get hungry, he will still get sleepy, and granted, he may never reach the stage of what he define as "normal" in the future, but who is to define normal anyway?

Even in kids whom we think off as "normal", they still struggle in school. They struggle with peers, they struggle with teachers, they struggle in relationships. Life doesn't automatically become smooth sailing once you have a "normal" kid. Sure, the worries may be different, but they are still worries. You would worry about a whole loads of different things, like whether your kid is mixing with the bad crowd or whether he is doing the right thing in life. There are still challenges, and each of them different in their own way. You just have a more unique challenge given to you, and granted it may be more difficult at times, but your child is a child like any other.

Sure, he/she might have troubles catching up in life, he/she may fall more often in life, but often, we forgot that they did not ask to be born like this. In his/her own little way, he/she is still trying to make sense of this world that even we in adulthood have trouble understanding. Heck, even with all our scientific knowledge today, we still have trouble understanding how they really think and feel, so how can we expect them to fit in our world seamlessly when we ourselves cannot understand their world?

And isn't it kinda ironic, when people tell us in life that we are special and unique, and in our life's journey we strive to differentiate ourselves from the people around us, wanting to stand out and not be normal, but when we're given someone special, a child who is really unique, we wish with all our hearts that the child would become "normal"?

So no, I won't say that your child is abnormal. What I would say that he is unique, and special in his own way, perhaps trapped in a world that he could not understand. And what we, as someone who has walked this world for decades, can do is to slowly try to chip in to their world, and slowly bring them into our world. Our job is not to help them to become "normal", but to give them the skills and opportunity to have a shot at our world. It would not be an easy task, that I can assure you, it will be tiring, it will be disappointing at times, but heck, what successes come easily? But in the process you'll experience what it is like to love unconditionally, to give unconditionally, and to be honest, that itself is in a way more fulfilling that you can ever imagine. Hearing your child express himself that he loves you or having him come to you for a hug, that itself priceless in the end. Because you may not know this, but to your child, you are your child's entire world right of the moment.  

Parenting never comes easy. Even with a "normal" kid, you will still be worrying about your child 20 years down the road, whether is he/she earning enough or whether he/she will end up in a destructive relationship. The entire point of being a parent is to prepare the road sufficiently for your child, guiding him along the road as much as possible, letting your child take the lead occasionally without intruding or imposing too much into child's life, and hoping that by the time you're gone, your child will be able to walk down the road independently without you. And hoping that your child will do the same to his/her child in the future too. That's parenting to me.


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