As a parent we never want to see our children in pain of any kind – physical, mental or emotional. In my opinion there is nothing worse than not being able to make it better for them – we advocate for what we think is best and we try to set guidelines that will keep them safe but also allow them to explore and discover on their own. We try our best to practice authentic communication, never wishing to shame or squander the spirit of our children as they evolve and unfold into their own unique person.
Just as any child is, Myles is my first and foremost full-time job. And as any parent to a child with autism would tell you, your life quickly becomes consumed not only with the typical parenting stuff but also with servicing appointments, visual schedules and constant crisis management. It requires you to think four steps ahead, spot potential triggers and it demands you to develop the capacity to diffuse situations at the drop of a hat. It is a constant practice to not be a helicopter parent – relentlessly hovering, making sure he is ok and that everyone in his life’s experience is treating him with respect and making attempts to lift him up and set him up for the most amount of success. It becomes a life of fighting for what he needs, being vigilant and consistent, learning how to slightly tone down the mama-bear instinct and practice letting go.
It would be so easy to give up – to give in to what I’ve been told along the way and resolve myself to the fact that he would never speak or attend school or understand what it meant when I said “I love you.” But I couldn’t. I desperately clung to the idea of possibility, hope and faith – it’s what got me out of bed in the morning and through each day. By breathing positivity into my son I was keeping the fire of hope within myself burning bright.
Every day presents a different challenge but our practiced belief of possibility, hope and faith has become our foundation from which we draw great strength – and just as any parent would, I wish I could be by his side all day every day to think four steps ahead, help him navigate through his world and keep him from feeling pain. But as time marches on, our parenting practice evolves into letting go and allowing our children to explore the world on their own to have their own unique life experiences and to learn from them. We must trust that what we have worked so diligently at over time has stuck in some fashion and that our child will find their way, which is simultaneously frightening, sad and awesome to see!
Myles knows no other way other way than to be kind and show a level of empathy that so many could learn from, myself included. He simply loves everyone for who they are, never passing judgment based on what they are wearing, the words that come out of their mouths, by their actions or who they choose to sit with at the lunch table. So when Myles said to me the other day “mommy, I don’t think the other kids get me” my heart literally hit the floor and jumped into my throat. My knee-jerk reaction was to ask who didn’t get him and why. I was ready to pounce and could feel myself getting worked up, creating stories in my head that he was being teased or mistreated and why hadn’t anyone stood up for him. I was ready to helicopter my way in there and make certain everyone got him!
We proceeded to have a conversation about how most of the kids in his classroom don’t like the way he plays and how they look at him funny and walk away. I know from a parental perspective that the way Myles plays sometimes actually makes it difficult for others to participate simply due to the fact that things have to go according to his plan, otherwise he could potentially meltdown. I so badly want for him to feel accepted, to have friends, and to not struggle but at the same time I don’t want him to feel like he has to act a certain way in order to have that. It’s a parenting tightrope that we all walk – trying to find a balance of supporting our child’s individuality while still wanting them to be accepted and not have to struggle.
I asked Myles how he felt to which he responded “it makes me sad. But then I remember what you said ‘believe in yourself and do what makes you happy.’ Maybe one day mommy they will change their minds and want to play with me.” I choked back my tears and held him so close but I quickly realized that the tears and me holding him were my reaction, they were my need and when I paused, I could feel his resiliency. I could feel how grounded he was in his joy and adoration for playing the way he was playing and I could feel that he was ok with his peers not understanding – that it wasn’t about him and he had no intention of changing or reading into it.
Parenting is messy business and we all do the absolute best we can with what we have been given and learned along the way – the rest comes with trust, faith and hope in the spirit of our child and the remembering that we are not always the teacher but the student too.