I had to forego today’s original post in order to write about something that happened to me this morning.
Having autism in our family has made me a better parent.
Not better than you – just a better version of me.
Why? Because I’m forced to think.
I’ll admit when I began researching ‘The Thinker’ I laughed. Rodin sculpted The Thinker as part of a larger commission entitled, The Gates of Hell. Rodin’s ideas were based of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Some believe Rodin depicted Dante himself at the gates of Hell, thinking about his great poem. Of course, there is much speculation about this – regardless…
Being forced to be a thinking parent in the spectrum world can (and often does) feel like you are at the Gates of Hell.
The chaos surrounds us…the meltdowns over crusts and tags, the repeated movements, the spinning, the repetition of phrases, the crashing…all of it can resemble parenting hell and we are forced to be in the center of it all – remaining calm, thinking.
So, for that – I thank you autism.
I’ve been sick all weekend and this morning Estelle asked me if I was going to take a sick day and stay home. I told her I wasn’t sick ‘enough’ to stay home – that I would just do my best to get through the day. Sick days are reserved for when I’m too sick to go to work. Sick days are for when I have a fever. Let’s be honest – sick days are for when my children are sick (I hear groans of agreement from all parents out there).
Then this conversation happens with Tucker…
“What about your students? Do they get sick days?”
“Yes, every semester they get three sick days. Actually – they just get three days to miss class for whatever reason. Maybe they needed to go home, or they accidentally overslept, or they are sick. Three days.”
“How many weeks are in a semester?”
“How many months is that?”
“And students need to be smart about when they take a sick day.”
“Like I would wait until the very end and then take the entire week of right before the end – that would be awesome.”
“Or not, because that is when a teacher usually reviews for the final, big test.”
“Oh. That makes sense.”
“Yes – but students don’t always make the best choices in their lives so some of them end up getting bad grades because they sleep in instead of coming to class.”
Estelle pipes up, “They obviously didn’t grow up with a mom who says, ‘We do what we have to do so we can do what we can to do.'”
What comes next is what makes a difference. The difference with kids on the spectrum – details in parenting.
Because of autism this conversation gets to happen…
“Do you two know why I make you go to bed at night? I know you think it’s because I’m a fun-hater and a bossy pants.”
I ask them, “You’ve had moments where you have stayed up and read after I put you to bed. I know this. Tell me how school feels the next day when you are tired.”
Both of them shake their heads and answer, ‘Not good.’
“You are right. Not good. So, you may think that I make you go to bed for those moments – simply so you don’t have a bad day at school. That’s part of it – but not all of it. I make you go to bed because I’m helping you develop good habits. Good personal habits. I don’t care if you are a Senior in High School. I will take away your electronics just like I do every night now. The phones, the iPads, everything – they all come upstairs with me at the end of the night. I’m trying to teach you that you need to go to sleep so you can get up in the morning and get on with your day. One day you will be on your own – and these are the basic habits you need to develop to be the best you can be. Not be the best – but the best YOU can be. It’s not about me being controlling, it’s about teaching you.’
Do you know why I make you read ingredient labels on your food? [I’m not a fanatic…but try to impress upon them that they shouldn’t put things into their body that they cannot pronounce…I think it’s a pretty good rule]
It’s not because I don’t think fruit snacks are yummy or potato chips are addictingly [FYI – that is not a word, but I said it – and I think it should be a word] delicious. It’s because I’m helping you develop good habits. Good personal habits. One day you will be on your own – and these are the basic habits you need to develop to be the best you can be. Not be the best – but the best YOU can be. It’s not about me being controlling, it’s about teaching you.”
This is about being healthy. The two best ways to avoid getting sick – either your body or your brain – is to get enough sleep and to eat healthy. Our body will do for us what we do for it.”
Sure – all parents probably *should* have this conversation – but I get to have this conversation, and it’s very natural, unforced.
As a parent of a child on the spectrum I have always been forced to explain myself and decisions I make. “Because I said so…or ‘Because I’m your mother” is never enough. Sure, I wanted it to be enough; but it’s not. Never has been.
Autism has made me think. It has made me define why I allow (or don’t) a specific behavior.
Autism has made me refocus. It has made me think about the ‘long-term.’ Does something really matter or is just in the moment?
Autism has made me reason. It has made me try to sort out the real impact of a behavior.
Autism has made me slow down. It’s made me consider the options, to look at all of the angles, to make conscious choices about what to [or not] allow.
Trust me, there are plenty of moments that it makes me CRAZY and I wish he would just do what I ask. This type of parenting is exhausting.
It takes more time.
It takes more effort.
It takes more thinking.
It takes more patience.
The bottom line, though? It’s made me a better parent for Tucker – but moreso for Estelle. She is reaping the benefits of they ‘why.’ Her 5th grade teacher often remarks about how mature she is…well beyond her tender 10 years. I have to believe it’s because of this parenting. She constantly hears the why. She constantly knows the why.
Autism has made me a better, more thoughtful parent to both of my children…and, honestly, a better human being.