God blessed my wife and me with three children. Our youngest, Connor, was born with a deleted section of his 6th chromosome. There are two major registries of people with unique chromosomes – and no one has the exact deletion that Connor has.
This has both positive and negative implications. Positive because we can’t pigeonhole him into what he can and can’t do and negative because we are not sure what to expect or what is normal.
Connor has taught me a lot of lessons about how to live life (at work and home). I’d like to share them with you:
1. Enjoy the small successes.
With his development delays, Connor is tracking about half his age. So, at 12 he’s developmentally doing what a 6-year-old is doing. This has slowed us down to realize that every small success is a big one. How often at work I don’t take the time to enjoy successes – it’s so often that I move on to the next challenge without being grateful for overcoming the recent hurdle.
2. Stay in the present.
Every parent of a special needs child (hopefully) comes to a point where they stop thinking about the future what-ifs. Will they graduate from high school? Will they be able to live on their own? I’ve learned to focus on what I can do now and not beyond the next 24 hours. Planning has a place – but I choose to stay in today. Connor has helped me do this and it's helped me to listen to others better and focus on the present.
3. The relationship is everything.
The greatest asset of my work life is the relationships I have with my colleagues, customers, and partners. In the end, this is the legacy we leave – people might forget what we did as a company but they will remember how they were treated and whether we put their needs in front of ours.
4. Put first things first.
Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, has two children with special needs. When asked about how he balances work and the family he said “For example: making sure you are at home, reading to your kids every night, just trying hard to be a great parent with just hope that it may make your children great people and parents themselves, but that for most people you won’t know the result of your efforts for 20 years and nothing is certain.”
5. Let go of (unreasonable) expectations.
Nothing is certain and it’s time to let go of the overburdening expectations we put on our co-workers and ourselves. I’m focusing on unreasonable expectations here – setting and clarifying expectations as contributing team members is vital. But holding that grudge because you expected your teammate to drop everything when you share your 16th great idea for the day is unreasonable.
At night when I get Connor ready for bed, we spend a good 5 minutes just laughing. This usually involves me throwing him on the bed and a good armpit tickling. His favorite thing to call me a name he made up for me – he explodes in laughter when he sees my frustrated reaction (my wife has taught me that this just encourages him to do this again). Regardless, we laugh - Deep belly laughing.
In my opinion, children with special needs are one of God’s greatest gifts to us. They have so much to teach us and work and at home.