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Ask the Experts: Adapting when life doesn’t go as planned

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

This article was written for and published in the Grosse Pointe News on October 18, 2023 and can be found here:

Q: How can I adapt to an unexpected reality with my child? And why does it matter?

A: Life often doesn’t go to plan. Unexpected circumstances as a parent might be last minute canceling a night out to stay at home with a sick kid, and sometimes it’s learning more about the way your child experiences life. As a therapist, parents often bring their children to me concerned about processing big emotions, uncertainty about who they are or where they belong, both of which potentially are accompanied by feelings of shame or confusion.

One possibility that may arise in therapy is that your child is neurodiverse. This means their brain inputs and processes information differently than a neurotypical person. Neurodiversity celebrates normal variation within the human population, and can include diagnoses like autism and ADHD. Another example, is youth exploring how they feel about their gender identity and expression. Either of these instances may require adapting to an unanticipated reality.

When who we are is in conflict with how society tells us we’re “supposed” to be, it’s often distressing. A parent or child may each begin an emotional journey to reconcile a newly discovered identity or diagnosis. As a family, this can be an opportunity to grow together. Nurturing trust and emotional safety while navigating these discoveries with compassion is key.

The most important thing to do is to talk openly with your child about how they feel and listen to what supports they need, in a non-judgemental way. Through the process of being open to embrace reality as it is, both the parent and child can minimize emotional stress and move forward more effectively.

Accepting a new reality takes conscious effort. Why choose acceptance? Rejecting reality does not change it, and can create emotional pain or keep us stuck. Sometimes, our beliefs or emotions can interfere with the process of acceptance. A couple tips on how to practice acceptance - intentionally choose acceptance, use mindfulness to be in the present and focus on disentangling the beliefs and emotions that may be limiting. It may also be helpful to collaborate on a way to process together as a family, and celebrate authenticity.

Messaging we all get from social norms can cause us to internalize a specific way in which things “should” be. Try to let go of the “shoulds”. When we practice acceptance, we’re better equipped to support one another and adapt accommodations to individual needs.


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