In the Tuesday's Child magazine, March/April 1998 edition, was a wonderful article written by a father who is the parent of a son with Down Syndrome. It is a parable that reminds us of the importance of happiness and fulfillment as a measurement of success.
As parents, we are successful if we have provided our children with opportunity for fulfillment and seen to it that they have been treated with dignity and respect. We must focus on what our children can do, not on what they cannot. This perspective on success relieves all of us of a burden that can be very difficult.
Parenting and the Parable of the Taosist Farmer
A little inspiration by Kent Moreno
A couple of months ago, I was asked to give a talk at the monthly meeting of the Eastern Panhandle Chapter of the Autism Society of America about the positive aspects of patenting a child with disabilities. In addition to working as an education specialist for the Autism Training Center, I am also the father of a 20-month-old son, Ben, who has Down syndrome. Much of this article is based on that talk.
Taoism (pronounced Dowism) is an ancient Chinese religion founded in third or fourth century B.C. by Lao Tzu. Taoism also is called the water course way, for it believes that life flows in much the same way as a river. And like the river, though we are able to have influence over our lives, we are never able to have total control.
The Taoist prefers to look at life events without judgment or interpretation. According to Taoism, the true significance of events can never be understood as they are occurring, for in every event there are elements of both good and bad. Furthermore, each event has no specific beginning or end and may influence events for years, or even centuries, to come. An excellent example of the Taoist view of life is found in the following parable of the Taoist farmer.
There once was a Taoist farmer. One day the Taoist farmers only horse broke out of the corral and ran away. The farmers neighbors, all hearing of the horse running away, came to the Taoist farmer's house to view the corral. As they stood there, the neighbors all said, "Oh what bad luck!" The Taoist farmer replied, "Maybe."
About a week later, the horse returned, bringing with it a whole herd of wild horses, which the Taoist farmer and his son quickly corralled. The neighbors, hearing of the corralling of the horses, came to see for themselves. As they stood there looking at the corral filled with horses, the neighbors said, "Oh what good luck!" The Taoist farmer replied, "Maybe."
A couple of weeks later, the Taoist farmer's son's leg was badly broken when he was thrown from a horse he was trying to break. A few days later the broken leg became infected and the son became delirious with fever. The neighbors, all hearing of the incident, came to see the son. As they stood there, the neighbors said, "Oh what bad luck!" The Taoist farmer replied, "Maybe."
At that same time in China, there was a war going on between two rival warlords. The warlord of the Taoist farmer's village was involved in this war. In need of more soldiers, he sent one of his captains to the village to conscript young men to fight in the war. When the captain came to take the Taoist farmer's son he found a young man with a broken leg who was delirious with fever. Knowing there was no way the son could fight, the captain left him there. A few days later, the son's fever broke. The neighbors, hearing of the son's not being taken to fight in the war and of his return to good health, all came to see him. As they stood there, each one said, "Oh what good luck!" The Taoist farmer replied, "Maybe."
When we as parents or family members learn that a child in our family is born with a disability, for many there is a sense of tragedy or loss. This sense of tragedy or loss also may be felt by those who know us when they learn of our childs disability. Many of us heard statements like "Im so sorry" or "Its probably a mis-diagnosis". When I hear of child born with a disability and the statements that many times accompany such a birth, I think to myself, "MAYBE!" In my experience, both personal and professional, I have found that individuals with disabilities enrich our lives, not detract from them.
The most caring and empathic people I know either have as family members, or work with, individuals with disabilities. I believe this greater ability for caring or empathy is because exposure to individuals with disabilities teaches people to see beyond the superficial exteriors of people and to better see the person that lies within.
Furthermore, individuals with disabilities challenge our perceptions of life and what it is supposed to be. This challenge requires us to examine life and its meaning more closely. With this closer examination of life comes the opportunity for insight as to what is really important in life and perhaps what we ourselves should be.
As parents of children with disabilities, for many of us the future of our children is somewhat uncertain. Some of our children may be able to lead very normal lives. For others of us, our children will require significant supports throughout life to be successful. My wife, Mollie, and I have often discussed the future of our son, Ben, and what we would like for him. Mollie is saddened by the fact that Ben will most likely never have a home of his own, get married, or have a family. In truth, Mollie is probably right, but just because Ben does not have these things does not mean that he will be any less happy or his life any less meaningful.
We must focus on what our children can do, not on what they cannot. Ultimately, it is more important that our children are happy and have a meaningful and fulfilling life than that they achieve success as outlined by a couple of guys who work for an advertising agency on Madison Avenue.
I believe that our responsibilities as parents lie in ensuring that our children have the most meaningful and fulfilling life they are capable of and to see that they are treated with dignity and respect. lf we do this, then regardless of whether our children hold down full time jobs and live on their own, or live in a group home and attend a sheltered workshop, both we as parents and our children as individuals will have been successful.
In August, Ben will be 2 years old. On his birthday, Mollie and I and our family will be celebrating not only Bens second birthday, but also the two years of joy and enrichment that he has brought to our lives.
Kent Moreno is a behavior analyst and education specialist with the West Virginia Autism Training Center. Moreno is also the father of Megan, 7, and Ben, who has Down syndrome.
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