Mike George is a father to a son (Ben) with complex physical and communication challenges.
He admits there was a period of his life where he states, “I constantly wanted to press the rewind button to return to a simpler time, to before Ben was part of our world, so I could understand what I’d done so terribly wrong to deserve the burden of raising a child who required 24-hour care.“ However, as time went on those feelings disappeared and Mike’s singular focus now is to move forward, build on Ben’s successes, and to help him live a life of fulfillment and happiness.
Mike writes an email to his former self the day before Ben was born. He gives himself advice on the journey of life’s roadmap. He lists ten guiding principles.
“The birth of any child is a blessing and a wonderful gift, for sure, but your/our new son’s (Ben) birth will be extra blessed.”
Embrace The Tremendous Gift You’ve Been Given
Mike says this piece of advice is the most important for his long-term happiness. He continues by saying that once you embrace the gifts you have been given, you will never take anything for granted nor consider anything typical or ordinary. “You will see things that so few people actually do – prejudice, indifference, inequity, suffering – and rise above them all, though it won’t be easy,” he says. Eventually, Mike says, he realizes that every life is of equal value and he treats Ben just like any other kid.
Ignore The Naysayers
Mike writes to himself that there will be tons of people who will put doubt in his mind about Ben’s capabilities. “The medical community will want to try to “fix” Ben because that’s how they were trained (just ask your siblings), and when they run out of “repair” options, they will tell you there’s nothing anyone can do to help you — which is not true, of course,” he says.
Ben goes on to graduate from high school and university. This accomplishment becomes a beacon of hope for other families.
“You cannot dream something up for which there is not a path to get there.”
Let Your Child Make You Into The Person You Are Supposed To Be
Mike tells his younger self, “ Ben will teach you lessons about life without uttering a single syllable. His voice will be as loud as your willingness to listen to it. If you let him, he will unleash a passion in you that you never knew you had. You will travel to places you’d never planned on visiting and share these principles with thousands of people to make their lives better. Trust that Ben will show you the way to achieve all of this. When you do, you will feel a heightened awareness of how abundant your life has become.”
Accept Financial Hardship
Raising a child with a physical disability can be very costly. Mike reminds himself to accept the fact that he will face financial hardship.
He writes, “The choice before you repeatedly will be to either provide Ben with the right stuff while sinking further into debt or tell him you don’t have the $7,000 for that stander he needs, even though you know it will help him develop the physical strength necessary if he’s ever going to learn to walk. None of this will be your fault. Accept it and believe that things do turn around.”
Believe In The Future
In his email to his past self, Mike reassures himself that he is worthy of dreaming big. He says, “When we’re young, our parents and teachers will tell us that we can be anything that we want to be. As we get older, those same people tell us to lower our expectations and be more realistic. We mistake that for wisdom and begin to contract.”
Mike writes to ignore that voice of internal judgment. He encourages himself to find out what Ben’s dreams are and to find a way to make them a reality.
Assume Greatness, Expect Greatness
Mike tells himself to not ever doubt Ben’s capabilities.
“Ben will understand everything you say to him, even though he won’t respond. You must believe he has the capacity to learn if given the right opportunities and the right environments. If he is not learning, it’s because we don’t know how to teach him. Don’t ever doubt yourself on this. You must always assume he is a genius trapped in a body that doesn’t work. Ben is not his body (even though that’s all most people see) – he has a body. He is not his disability – he has a disability. Ben is a life force whose purpose and dreams need to be realized.”
Perception And Language
Mike states that he has to change the way disability is perceived and this starts with the language he chooses to describe Ben.
“If all we talk about are the things Ben can’t do, then that’s all we’ll see. Everything will be framed in terms of his disabilities. We will never give him the opportunity to learn how to walk if all we see are his physical limitations. The universe amplifies what you focus on – positive or negative – giving you more of it. Rid yourself of talking only about Ben’s problems or what you don’t have.”
Build A Strong Support System
Mike encourages himself to find people that can see past Ben’s disabilities and can relate to what he is going through. “Take solace in the fact that you are not alone. Keep searching for your/Ben’s champions – those who can see beyond his disabilities and can help you along the way. They will show up at exactly the time you will need them, bringing new energy, new ideas, new teachings, so be patient. Start building your network of champions now,” he says.
Get Some Rest
Mike reminds himself that he needs to find time to rest. That way he can be there to provide for Ben at his fullest potential.
What’s The Most I Can Do?
Mike’s last piece of advice for himself is to always look to better his and Ben’s life. He says, “If you continually ask what’s the most you can do, your life will change, expand, become fuller, freer and draw you closer to the person you are meant to be. So, every day, ask yourself what one thing could you do today – just one thing – that would really help Ben. How long did it take you? Five seconds?”
Do you have advice for other parents? Share your story with us at AbleThrive.com!