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When Parenting Is Different Than You Thought It Would Be


Yesterday I had a big appointment with someone about my child. I’d been antsy with anticipation and dreading it all in one breath and then it was upon me and I sat for three hours and listened to data. The words swirled around the room and at about two-and-a-half hours my right-sided brain contemplated standing up and walking out just to get some air from all the words. Just to give me time to put the words into sentences and comprehend and make sense and catalogue.

Naming things helps us. I’m reminded of Adam, of Garden of Eden fame, and how he named things for God. That was his first job, I think. Official namer. I might be wrong and I’m too tired to check. But I feel like Adam was a namer. The first job of the first human was Namer.

For the last few months, we’ve been giving things names, winnowing out the descriptions and reasons. And the naming is helpful. It’s not an end. It’s a beginning. Names can bring understanding and healing.

Yesterday we got a big name. We’d been expecting it and waiting for it and the naming brought relief and the naming brought weight.

What do you do when parenting is different than you thought it would be? You start out with ideas about what you’ll do with your kids. If you played sports growing up you dream of sports and coaching your kids and cheering from the sidelines. You dream of Gatorade and oranges. If you were spelling bee champ you picture your child up in front of the school owning the whole dang dictionary. If you had good friends, you imagine hosting pizza parties for happy school friends.

You say your kids can be whatever they want to be, but then when you arrive at a place when their options or interests or abilities are different than you pictured…you have to sit with that for a moment.

Sometimes parenting is different than we plan for. Sometimes we have to lay down all the expectations we didn’t even realize we had.

So what do we do?

Yesterday in the van, I drove my child and we listened to Awesome Mix Vol. 1, the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. I sang, “Oo-ooh, child, things are gonna get easier. Oo-ooh child things’ll get brighter.” And I was happy. My child asked me to play it again. And I sang and sang and I harmonized and I was so happy.

It was enough. It wasn’t what I thought it would be, but it was enough in that moment.

And this morning I’ve cried off the coverup I smeared under my eyes to make me look less haggard. I’ve smeared it off wiping tears that needed to come out.

It’s okay to grieve, to feel a loss. And it’s okay to be happy and sing at the top of your lungs. And those two things can happen within five minutes of each other. That’s what I love about feelings. We get to have whichever ones we feel when we feel them and they can make no sense back-to-back and that’s okay.

I don’t have the right words for my kids right now as our family groans under the weight of the names. So I buy goldfish crackers and Reese’s cups and I rub backs and I smooth hair out of faces. My hands know better what to do than my mouth. So my hands do the work of loving in the absence of words.

You move forward with the names and nothing has changed and everything has changed.

You let tears stream down your face.

You take a Buzzfeed quiz to find out the color of your personality.

You fill out paperwork.

You have a dance party in the kitchen.

You let the words tumble out to God and check once in awhile to make sure he’s really still listening.

You take a bath and let the water swirl into your ears until everything sounds muffled and clear at the same time.

You say the names out loud and you’re grateful for what they are and also that they are not the whole story.


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  • Jeanine

    I am smack in the middle of these things, as well. Expectations have flown out the window and I am probably the least judgemental as a mom as I have ever been. Looking at these kids that I would die for yet realizing all the sacrifices I can make will not change the way they are wired…or gifted…is humbling and overwhelming. God just keeps sweetly reminding me not to worry about tomorrow. Just today. Just get through today and trust that He is writing our tomorrows.

    • Melanie Dale

      Trust that he is writing our tomorrows. I love this, Jeanine. Thank you!

  • Fern

    Hugs Melanie, I just recently experienced this while waiting for a diagnosis for our son. While we knew in our hearts that it was Autism. Hearing from an expert that it was indeed Autism was a relief and an incredibly heavy weight at the same time. On the way home I thought about how our Heavenly Father knew this was going to be our story before he sent this precious boy to our home. When things get tough, he is there with us and he’s got this! Lifting you up, Fern

    • Melanie Dale

      Oh Fern, that is such a good reminder, that God knew this was going to be our story. Thank you for that.

  • http://www.stillplayinghouse.com/ Jessie

    Dang. I’m sorry and I get it and man, it’s so different than I thought it’d be. I hear ya.

    And now I’m going to go through the rest of my day singing, “oo, child things are gonna get easier…” And thank you for that because that’s a chorus that lifts me up today.

    • Melanie Dale

      It’s so good. I love that song.

  • Beth Rose

    Diagnosis is so hard. Names are useful. Labels mean nothing. My 3 adopted kiddos all have labels. They are not defined by those labels and neither am I defined by them. I’m their mama, for better, for worse. I’m the one God appointed for these children. They are not limited by their labels or my inadequacies. They have the potential God has given them and I am in awe of how He works through me every day. I am good enough in His grace, and so are you, one day, one hour, one minute at a time. Sending hugs from across the pond x

    • KT

      I just wanted to thank you for your words. So incredibly beautiful and well said.

    • Melanie Dale

      Thank you, Beth! Hugging you back. :)

  • Brittany Arpke Meng

    I hope life looks a little more familiar these days. I so understand this post. We got our son’s Autism diagnosis in October and an ADHD diagnosis for his twin brother in January. I can recognize my life as my own these days (I felt like I was living someone else’s life for a long time!) but I’m still peeling back the layers on this unexpected journey. I’ve blogged a lot about our story too @ http://www.thebamblog.com.

    Thanks for sharing your story. It’s always nice to find a “me too” out there.





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