It may seem like a silly concept, mourning the child you thought you were going to have. I have found that this is critical for a parent’s mental health and maintaining a healthy relationship between a parent and child regardless of the child’s condition: gifted, twice-exceptional, learning disabled, emotionally challenged, minimal brain dysfunction, physically compromised, etc.

We all enter into relationships with expectations. We cannot help it. The human brain likes to predict, and we love to envision what life is going to be like when we get married, when we have a child, when we enter into any new relationship. We start a job, and we imagine our coworkers and how we might become friends. We initiate a friendship, and we immediately start to have ideas about how often we will interact with that friend and the sorts of activities we might enjoy together. When reality sets in and the relationship does not match our expectations, we can experience disappointment and even grief.

What happened? Instead of grieving the lost idea of the relationship, we go into analysis mode to try to figure out what went wrong: was it my fault or theirs? how am I going to show up in this relationship going forward? this kind of thing always happens to me. The idea that we should spend some time processing the emotions of sadness resulting from the hurt or disappointment seems almost ridiculous. However, if we did spend the time mourning and grieving the relationship we imagined, we might be able to let go and move forward in the relationship that actually exists minus the secret resentment, drama, disappointment, hurt and sadness that could plague us and the relationship for possibly our entire life.

I had this very experience just recently. My husband had a very long and exhausting run with illness, pain, and extreme fatigue. This was not the healthy, vibrant man I married. I love him, and as the years passed and his condition did not improve, I began to build a wall to hold back the emotions I was experiencing which included anger and sadness. I was afraid to express these emotions because what kind of person is angry at a person they love and who is sick and suffering. Yet, there I was, angry and sad because my relationship was not living up to the expectations I had designed years ago.

I sat in meditation, and it came to me that, no different than I teach my clients, I needed to mourn the imagined relationship with my husband. For me, visualization is extremely helpful. I imagined something akin to the Berlin Wall, and I took a sledgehammer to the wall. As I smashed my way through the wall I screamed releasing the anger and cried the tears of sadness I held back for so many years. After the wall had fallen, I felt free, free of predesigned expectations and rules about how the relationship should look. I was free to build a new relationship with the man I love so dearly. What a gift!

When we are expecting a child, especially our first, we have fantasies of holding a beautiful baby who is healthy and will bring us nothing but joy. We will watch them grow and enjoy their moments: learning to walk, starting kindergarten, scoring a goal in soccer, going to birthday parties, having friends, graduating high school, going off to college, and enjoying their sunny personality. It doesn’t take long for that idealized version of parenting to crumble when the child cries through the night, fails to thrive, or is born with some kind of challenge. My oldest adult son never played sports, cannot write with a pencil, feels miserable and is in pain more days than not, never has been on a date, never went to a single high school event, and prefers to stay home than do almost anything else. Never in a million years did I imagine I would have to learn to find a way to relate to a child like this.

Until I let go of, “It should not be this way,” I struggled with the very same sadness and anger I previously described. I had to mourn the child I did not have but put an enormous amount of time and energy creating in my imagination. This emotional release just allowed me to free myself of the disappointment, anger and sadness I was secretly storing away in my heart. I was again free to develop a loving relationship with my son just as he was, perfect by his own design.

Once we understand the power of imagination, we might recognize the benefit of mourning expected relationships. It will also help us on our path to enlightenment. As we grow in wisdom, we will start to enter into relationships with no preconceived notions about how they should look. We learn to value what is present.