Finding Your Joy by Kristy Nunley

I am a violinist. My mother was one before me. And I always imagined my daughter would someday become one—starting small on the 1/8 size instrument, learning Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and playing it proudly with scratchy strokes and misplaced fingers, just as I did.

I became a mother to a beautiful baby girl just over five years ago. I’d had a typical, healthy pregnancy, easy delivery and a happy, perfect baby who also happened to have an unforeseen, very rare neurological disease. In all my planning, shopping, and organizing for my arriving daughter, I’d never expected she would struggle with significant medical challenges and severe developmental delay. I remember thinking, is this really my life?

This was the beginning of my mothering journey. I cut my parenting teeth on hospital stays, anti-convulsant medications, therapies, and multiple brain surgeries. Each of us has unique parenting experiences and these are some of mine. Although my circumstances may be vastly different from yours, we can all relate to life simply not going to plan on our journey in motherhood. Unmet expectations can feel like poison, infecting our happiness and stealing the joy we want to feel and need to feel as mothers. The question I have often pondered is, how can we find joy in our own unique journey through all its ups and downs and unexpected twists and turns?

I believe we find our joy when we choose to love and respect the child we have as opposed to the child we thought we would have. It may be that your child struggles with something that has always come easily to you. It may be that your child is disinterested in something you hold dear. It may be that your child has different abilities and different needs making the future feel uncertain, even frightening. It may simply be that motherhood isn’t coming as naturally to you as you expected.

I’ve learned that the best antidote to the pain of unmet expectations in motherhood is to find happiness in celebrating the small victories. For me, it is my daughter using a fork for the first time after hours and hours of practice at occupational therapy, or the way she stops to point at and smell every flower on our morning walk, or her loud, enthusiastic exclamations, unintelligible to most, when she hears her favorite song, “Let It Go,” playing. When we choose to have joy, to see our children for the wonderful, precious people that they are, irrespective of abilities or interests or differences, even the hardest of times can be happy ones.

My sweet daughter may never play the violin. And that’s okay. I will just have to dust off my instrument, pick up the bow and play every song for her.


I was born and raised in southern Alberta, Canada, the second of four children. I attended Brigham Young University and University of Baltimore School of Law. I currently live in Baltimore, Maryland with my husband and three small children, two of whom have special needs. I keep busy as a full-time stay at home mother, part-time writer, and all-the-time wiper of tears, giver of kisses and tickler of tummies. When I have time to myself I enjoy reading, playing music and watching movies.

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