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Focus on Today, Not Tomorrow

Preparing for the future is important, but so is enjoying the present


"Will my child ever have a normal life? What will the future bring? How do we prepare for that?" These are questions that plague parents of children with special needs. And they're not bad questions -- our kids need us to plan for their financial future and do everything to make sure that they will be safe and secure and cared for. But it's too easy to slip into a mode of worrying constantly about the future, and making every present decision with an eye to how it will affect our kids ten or 20 years down the road. Not only can that lead to unhappiness in the short term, but we miss an opportunity to really love and appreciate our kids where they are, right now, right in front of us. Consider these five reasons why a future focus isn't always clearest:

Children change. And sometimes they don't change in just the way we predict. Sometimes they develop faster than we expected, becoming stronger and more functional than we'd ever thought possible. Sometimes they fall short of those expectations, and more often than not those expectations change. There's no way to know how your particular child's story is going to develop without skipping to the end, and life doesn't afford us that luxury. Making plans short-term instead of long- gives you the flexibility to fit them to your actual child, rather than the conventional wisdom.

Treatments change. Things that seem impossible now may be commonplace in a matter of years. A prognosis that's hopeless now may become hopeful. Society may find ways to adapt to disabilities that would be tremendously limiting by today's standards. New medications come out every day, and one may make all the difference for your child. Assuming a future that's the same as the present denies those possibilities, and the hope they contain.

Institutions change. Plans you lay for the schools you want your child to go to may get blown-up when the schools make changes in services or personnel. Resisting an academic course that is right for your child now because it may affect his or her future assumes that educational tracks are the same now as they used to be, and will continue to be exactly the same. Your child may eventually be a candidate for inclusion, or mainstreaming, or homeschooling. You may move to another district that has completely different criteria. It's often hard to be certain of the proper educational course even as much as six months ahead, so why think six, 10, 12 years in advance?

Situations change. Maybe you never will win the lottery and transform the lives of all around you. But you might move, change jobs, see an improvement in finances that changes the options you have for your family or a dramatic financial setback that does the same. Families change in size, sometimes unexpectedly; elderly family members move in, older children never leave, accidents or natural disasters bring tragedy or dislocation. It's impossible to map out now exactly what will be available or practical for your child's future. Whether things turn out better or worse than you expected, they will undoubtedly turn out differently.

Now counts. It's easy to get stuck in a mindset where everything done now is in pursuit of some future good. But since it's impossible to know whether that future payoff will turn out as expected, there's something to be said for focusing on the present good -- it is, if nothing else, a lot easier to predict. Putting your child in school situations that are comfortable for him or her now, focusing therapy on things that will make their immediate lives easier, tailoring behavioral strategies to keeping things calm and stress-free, spending lots of close and loving and fun time together, appreciating your kids right where they're at -- all of these things can bring big improvements in your family's life and your child's happiness in the short term, and that can incidentally pave the way for a more secure future as well.

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