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Choosing Optimism

Posted Oct 30 2012 11:59am

Choosing Optimism

October 30, 2012 By Nicole Beurkens, PhD

Positive and negative.  Hope and despair.  Optimism and Pessimism.  I don’t have to look far on most days to see the stark contrast that exists between these two very different sides of the same coin.  In my work with families of children with special needs the realities of challenges are all too real, and the potential for families to fall into negative thinking all too common.  Yet even in the most challenging of circumstances optimism can grow and flourish.  I see it daily in families faced with incredible obstacles.

There are few places where optimism shines more brightly than in the heart and eyes of a parent.  Even before we have children we spend time dreaming about who they will be, what they will become, and what our lives will be like together.  We create rosy images in our minds of how we will be as parents and who we will help our children become.  When a baby is born into the world, hope and optimism abounds.  A new life is the ultimate clean slate; holding endless potential and hope.  Parents beam while imagining what is on the horizon for this new little life, and for theirs together.

While a new baby holds seemingly endless amounts of optimism, discovering that a child has challenges in any part of their health or development can bring that sense of hope and promise to a screeching halt.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the eyes of a parent whose child has just been diagnosed with a significant medical or developmental condition.  It is in these moments that the world seems suddenly devoid of optimism; and fear and negativity cloud the horizon.

Yet out of the ashes of confusion and loss, a sense of optimism can be born anew.  This sense of hope doesn’t arise because the child has magically changed or the condition has been cured.  Rather, it arises out of a changed perspective.  It grows from a decision to view something negative in a positive light; to look for the small bright spots in each day; to fight for every improvement and milestone; to be the child’s biggest cheerleader no matter what.

Optimism may not come easily some days; and other days it may barely show up at all.  But in the most dark and difficult moments with a child optimism is really all a parent has to cling to.  A mother’s sense of optimism sees her through even the most difficult and painful moments with her child.  The optimism of a father allows him to look beyond the challenge in the present to focus on the possibility of the future.  Parents’ hope and optimism that tomorrow can be better than today provides a beacon that guides the child toward greater possibilities and realities.  It is required for improvement in the present, and to move the child toward a future full of all they are capable of becoming.

As parents we do not get the luxury of choosing what conditions and challenges our children will have.  We do have the power to control our responses to them.  The most important choice parents can make for their children is to choose optimism; to choose hope; to expect that what is to come will be even better than what is.  Ultimately the decision to choose positive over negative, hope over despair, optimism over pessimism is the greatest gift a parent can give their child.  What choice do you make?

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