Sunday Lifestyle

What I learned from my children

MANO-A-MANO - Adel Tamano -

One of the worst things that I learned as I grew older was to manage my expectations. I learned that I had to control what to expect from life because if I hoped or wanted things too much — and if I didn’t get those things — then I’d just end up bitterly disappointed. So the better path was just not to expect anything at all. So that if something positive happens in my life, then I’d be surprised and grateful. And if something negative were to happen, then I could face it calmly since I didn’t expect something positive anyway.

However, my son Mike, he’s six, has nothing but the greatest of expectations. When we spend the day together, he says it’s going to be the best day ever. When we go to a restaurant to eat, he’ll proclaim that we are going to eat the most delicious food he’s had in his entire life. When he does well on an exam, he’ll ask me if I know that he’s a genius. Mike is so full of positive energy and great expectations that, most often, the day together does turn out to be a wonderful one, the food in the restaurant does taste good, and he excels in his academics. He understands one of life’s overlooked secrets: to get the good things in our lives, we have to expect only great things.

It is only recently that I’ve been relearning this incredible secret and a big part of the learning has been from observing my sons. This is because in the past couple of years, I’ve faced great challenges and disappointments in my life. Our wonderful son Santi, he’s nine, was diagnosed with autism and because of that, I had to change my expectations regarding my relationship with my child and my aspirations for him. Early on, it seemed that the best way to deal with it was to manage my expectations for Santi regading his academics, development, and future prospects.

In some ways, I decided not to expect too much out of fear that if he didn’t reach the milestones that I hoped he’d reach, then I’d feel that I had failed him. Also, a few years ago, I lost in my bid for the Senate, and for someone like me who is, modesty aside, used to achieving his goals and even excelling in my field of endeavor, it was very painful to lose in such a public manner. I guess I decided after that that I wouldn’t only manage my expectations but that I’d lower them so I wouldn’t get hurt once again when I failed to reach my goals.

And perhaps I could’ve just wallowed in this state of lowered expectations if it hadn’t been for the lessons from my children. Again, I see Mike flourishing and filled with happiness because he expects so much from the world and from himself. His own expectation that the world will treat him well and give him only the best becomes a prophecy that is self-fulfilling. And Santi has exceeded my own expectations. When he was first diagnosed with autism, before he turned two, I was worried that he wouldn’t even be able to go to a regular school. Despite dealing with autism, he is similarly flourishing in his school, even getting highest marks in some exams. Santi, because of his condition, isn’t much of a talker yet, but I see him struggling and giving his best to cope and to do well in the tasks that are assigned to him. Obviously, Santi hasn’t learned the lesson that he should also manage his expectations of what he can and cannot do.

Recently, I chanced upon a Youtube video of best-selling author and Christian pastor Joel Osteen. Now, although I am Muslim and therefore plainly I will have different religious views from Joel Osteen, he made a compelling case for expecting the best from God and from life. As I understood him, he believes that when a person has a positive attitude and proclaims that he will obtain something positive from God, then God will go out of his way to give that person the blessing that he hopes for. However, when that person who has proclaimed entertains doubts or hedges by saying that he really isn’t expecting to get that raise, job, business, or other blessing that he craves, then the Creator will recall and stop his act of sending the blessing to that person. I know this seems all somewhat mechanistic and over-simplistic — Osteen said it much more eloquently and perhaps I didn’t fully absorb what he said — but it rings true to me. As a Muslim, I believe that everything happens according to God’s will; this is why we are called Muslims, from the Arabic word that connotes submission to the will of Allah. And since I know that my creator only wants the very best for me, therefore, I should expect also the very best from life. I shouldn’t manage or lower my expectations since I know that God will only want the best for me.

Of course, there is a downside to this: failure and not getting what you want can be extremely painful. By expecting the very best, we will have to endure great disappointments. And most certainly while we expect the best, we should also be wise enough to do so with a dose of realism and pragmatism. Expecting the best shouldn’t mean that I, in my 40s and without any basketball experience, will expect to become the next Michael Jordan, right?

Obviously, failure and disappointment are part and parcel of the human condition: there will be times when we don’t get that raise, when our business will fail, and when instead of blessing we get problems. However, I for one prefer to live a life where my expectations are high and where I believe that I can achieve the things that I aspire for. It is a life that is more honest since I accept my expectations instead of attempting to manage them. It is a life that is more joyful because it is difficult not to happy when you think that the world will give you its very best. Finally, it is also a less stressful life because often we stress out because of worry that bad things will happen to us. I know that this approach to life may seem naive — even silly — but I think it takes the greatest courage to risk grave disappointment. And it is the utmost cowardice to destroy your hopes and aspirations simply because of a fear of failure.

As is become a pattern in my life, my children keep providing me with the very best of lessons.











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