Before children you imagine what your days will be like. Playing in the park, making fruit salad and brushing your little ones hair. No one tells you that they’ll all run off in opposite directions, that they’ll only eat the fruit salad if the apple is not touching the banana and well let me tell you hair brushing is an absolute chore! Parenting is nothing how I imagined because my children didn’t turn out how I imagined. And whilst it’s been hard to accept that my children may never be the children I expected them to be, I’m learning more about them each day and learning to accept that they can’t be shaped like modelling clay. They are growing, changing human being with their own thoughts, interests and of course personal challenges.
I always understood that children learn and grow at different rates. I would tell my new class parents every year not to compare and not to worry. But it wasn’t until I heard that my own child wasn’t meeting her milestones that I truely understood that worry isn’t something you can switch off. As a parent it happens naturally. You worry that it’s something you have done. Or something you haven’t done. You rethink every decision and every choice you made up until that point. With a bit of therapy most childhood delays are able to be caught up and the children go on to be what I call beautifully average. But in some cases the child continues to struggle and continues to fall into that below average zone.
This year we have been adapting to having our eldest child attend a different school to her younger brother. A different school to that of her childhood friends and local community pals. A school where she catches a Government funded bus to. A school which a lot of people consider as “special”. When our School Psychologist asked if we wanted to complete an application for this school last year my heart shouted no. But my head told me that if she was accepted then she needed to be there. And after an anxious month long wait we heard that she had been accepted.
The new year crept around and our first challenge was getting two children to two different schools on their first day and with a toddler in tow. Luckily my husband was able to take our son to his school and I took our daughter to her new school. I looked at these beautiful children all the in the same position as my child . I looked at these beautiful parents. All in the same position as me. These mums and dads and nanas handing over their children to a new school, a new teacher and hopefully a better way of educating them so that their individual needs could be met. I cried the whole way home. There’s not many things I want in life but my children and their happiness is my priority. Would she be happy here? Would she find friends? Would she miss me too much?
From birth we had sang songs, read books, talked to her and talked near her. We had played tea parties, market stalls, baby dolls and building blocks. We had visited the zoo, the aquarium, the farm and other language rich environments. We had modelled correct pronunciation, syntax, grammar and tried to expose her to a wide vocabulary every day. She had attended playgroup and play club and day care and pre Kindy. All language rich environments. But despite all this she still struggled.
I’m guilty of being one of those competitive mums. I wanted her to be first and fastest and top of the class. I wanted her to sit first and crawl first and count to ten first. She didn’t. I wanted her to walk first and sing the alphabet first and win the colouring in competition. She didn’t. Soon it wasn’t about doing it first. It was was about doing it at all. And slowly and surely with support from therapy services she did do it all. In her own time and at her own pace. Although we are still working on winning the colouring in competition! I’m incredibly proud of all of my children for trying their best, doing their best and achieving their best.
Having a child with a developmental delay has made me rethink what goals I want from my children’s schooling. I want them to feel safe and included. I want them to feel happy most of the time although “sitting uncomfortably” on occasion is good for all of us. But most importantly I want them to know that average is ok. You don’t have to be the champion, the leader, the best. For a mum with a child with a development delay let me tell you that “average” is actually quite amazing!
Please support your fellow mamas on their child raising journey. Please share in the achievements of all little ones. And never look down upon beautiful, beautiful average.
Samantha Joseph is a stay at home mother of three young children having previously taught in the Early Childhood years at Western Australian public and private schools.