So many questions flood my mind as we anticipate the achievement of another milestone. Who would have thought, when Hope was born, that she would have the opportunity to attend college and now graduate?
A couple of weeks ago, I learned from friends and family of the birth of 3 new babies with Down syndrome in the Charleston area. My initial reaction was excitement and an urge to call the parents on the phone and say, “Congratulations! I know that you might be feeling overwhelmed, fearful, and sad right now. This is so normal! You, however, have no idea the super blessings you will experience by parenting these children.” But, I hold off because I remember…. I remember how hard it was in the beginning…how hard it was to toss aside the dreams I had for my child and then create new dreams. The beauty, however, is that we must dream for these children. We must have high expectations for them. They can achieve! I want to tell these moms that they will become this fierce “Mama Bear” who will be the driving force for their child’s future.
So what will Hope’s future look like? We are still trying to figure that out. She plans to return to Clemson in the fall, live with a friend and work at Mr. Knickerbockers. So what will my role be? To become more of an advisor to Hope, instead of trying to control so much of her life and prevent her from failing. There is so much freedom in letting go. I remember that transition with my boys when they went off to college. What happened as a result? We developed an even closer relationship as I listened more. I advised, but then let go. Distance made it easier…the out of sight, out of mind mentality kicked in. And the same happened with Hope…well, sort of. The fact that she called me 5 times a day kept me more involved than I wanted to be, but the distance helped. Being 4 hours away from her has helped both of us grow in so many ways. Now, you can try to control from any distance, but there’s no freedom in that. I must say that while Hope’s been in college, I have been made aware of circumstances where I did need to step in and become involved. That transition to college looks different when you are parenting a child with an intellectual disability. You do still need to be somewhat of an active parent, but the shift to advisor does come…just more slowly. And I must say, that it has taken me 4 years to transition into that role.
I was speaking with a sweet friend a couple of weeks ago who asked me if I treated Hope as my little girl or as the adult daughter that she is. I was so convicted by that question because I am guilty of still treating her as my little child. I really have failed to acknowledge in my mind that Hope is an adult, living independently and making her own decisions. If I acknowledge that, then I am acknowledging that my role is changing from an active “Mama Bear” to a more sedentary role. That mindset shift is difficult. That would be acknowledging that Hope is an adult who is capable of living her own life without me. But what a blessing! Isn’t that what we want for all of our children? I’m so thankful for friends that help me see clearly the blessings in transition and when I need a new perspective.
Your heart and mind will always be with your children for the rest of your life. You never stop caring about your child no matter how old either one of you are. But our job descriptions are different. Not only do we become advisors, we also have the responsibility and privilege to pray for them. This has the power to change lives.
I am working feverishly, asking God to spiritually duct tape my mouth shut when I need to be silent and nudge me when I need to speak. I’m also asking that my words be uplifting and encouraging, not critical as they tend to be. Our job is to release our children into God’s hands and let Him make changes to them according to His will. God’s the perfect parent. We no longer have control, but we do tap into God’s power when we pray for them.
I have so much to tell these new parents of the babies with Down syndrome. It is a different journey, one that you didn’t plan, but you will have the privilege of watching your child impact others in ways that you and I could never do. You will love like you’ve never loved, you will weep like you’ve never wept, you will find joy in simple things—all because of the gift of parenting these children. God will give you a new perspective on life and will keep you humbled and grounded.
We graduate from one role to the next throughout all of our kids’ lives, but our influence remains. When you feel like you are losing your kids or being fired from your job as moms, remember that there is no greater active role than a praying mom on bended knee.