Submitted by Rachel McKian, CCC-SLP
We frequently think of grief as something we feel when we lose someone close to us or have a life threatening diagnosis. It can be difficult for us to embrace the grief we feel for the loss of something we expected to be a certain way. We may not realize we are grieving. We may need someone to tell us it is normal and natural to grieve a loss of expectations.
As parents, whether consciously or subconsciously, we have expectations for our children. Most of us expect our children to walk, talk, run, behave, and play in a certain way, within a certain time frame. It can be confusing and frustrating when one or more expectations are not being met how we had hoped. We may reach out to family, friends, or doctors for support and they may tell us things we were hoping not to hear.
This is generally the part of the story where you and I meet. When your child is referred for a communication evaluation. When we meet, you may not be grieving or you may be grieving and unaware (and that is ok). Wherever you are in the process is where you’re meant to be. We are here to support your child, but also support you as you grieve the loss of the expectations for someone you love, your child.
The phases of grieving may appear in your life in unforeseen ways. They can occur in any order and you may move back and forth between them. Following are examples of some ways you might grieve the loss of expectations after your child is diagnosed with a communication disorder:
Denial: You may question if the diagnosis is correct. You may seek a second (or third or fourth) opinion, which is ok. You may wonder if your child will outgrow the disorder without support. You may not return phone calls to set up ongoing appointments or to review assessment results.
Anger: You may be angry that treatment is not progressing at a pace you had hoped. You may be angry your child has one diagnosis and not another. You may be angry one of your children has a disorder and the others do not (it feels unfair any child would be delayed). You may be angry because you think you could have done something differently.
Bargaining. You may believe the “right” therapist/group/number of sessions/etc will be the key to your child’s growth or change.
Depression: You may feel lethargic or sad and not understand why. You may feel down because things aren’t going the way you expected. You may feel anxious about the unknown future for your child and your family (will they progress slowly? Quickly? How long will my child need support?).
While most sources list 5 – 7 stages of grieving, with most including acceptance, I will stop at four. Acceptance means different things to different people and may not be something we find. We have other life events that come up and occupy our minds, but at some point, the grief we felt may reappear. We find a spot for the grief in our heart and let it rest there. We learn to carry it with us and can acknowledge it when it pops up later. David Kessler, a grief expert, writes: “You do not have to experience grief, but you can only avoid it by avoiding love. Love and grief are inextricably intertwined.”
The love we feel for our children is inevitably intertwined with grief at some point in our lives. May you find peace as you heal grieving the loss of expectations. Please reach out to your child’s therapist if you need support in working through the grief of a diagnosis for your child.
Rachel McKian is a speech language pathologist at NorthLakes Community Clinic – Ashland.