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Thursday, April 25, 2013

When is autism going to make me tough?

I would like to get tough.  By tough, I don't mean mean, or angry, or physically strong.  I mean tough mentally, in that what people say to me won't bother me, in that I can not be moved to tears myself by Janey's crying, in that I can stand up for Janey always, to anyone.  If it's true what the cliche says, and that you are given "special" kids because you are especially strong, well, as I've said before, a mistake was made.  I am not strong.

What would a strong, tough mother do when, as I wrote about last time, someone cursed out my child in a grocery store?  What would a tough mother do if, as happened when Janey was younger, she was promised a full day seat in preschool and another, tougher family got it instead?  What would the kind of mother I wish I could be do when Janey has been screaming for hours demanding something?  That tough mother would have confronted that woman and educated her on autism and politeness.  She would have gone to the superintendent or higher demanding Janey get the full day placement she deserved.  She would steel herself against Janey's crying, and absolutely never go out in the middle of the night to get her strawberry milk to make her stop crying.

I'm not doing opposite talk her---trying to say that being tough isn't really the right approach.  In those cases above, it is.  Being tough is what I should be.  But I can't.  I'm no good at it.  I heard the phrase as a kid "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" and I've run with it my whole life.  I am not confrontational.  I am no good at being strong-willed.  I want to keep everyone happy.

Autism parenting is supposed to change that.  I've read about that happening in countless books and articles. People who never thought they had it in them are marching into schools or politician's offices or public rallies and speaking up, because their child has given them the strength to do it.  And they are making firm decisions about raising their child---no more videos!  no more middle of the demands!  no more giving in!---and no matter how much their child cries or hits themselves or seems to be falling apart, they KNOW they are right. They stick by what they have decided, and everyone is better for it.

What do I do?  I accept the half day placement.  I walk away from the nasty woman and go to the car and cry.  I don't make any demands.  I tell Janey no to videos, no to strawberry milk, no to her 3rd bath of the day, and when she cries long enough, and looks frantic and sad, I give in.  I don't want her to be sad.  I don't want to confront people.  I don't want to demand things.

Somewhere along the line, a cosmic mistake has been made.  I'm not the tough mother I should be.  Either there's some tough mother out there waiting in line for her autistic child that was given to me by mistake, or the transformation that was supposed to overtake me once I was given the autistic child was blocked somehow.  I don't think I'm going to get tough at this point.  I mean, if Janey was being attacked by a lion, I'd jump in.  I think I've got enough protective instinct to protect her in cases like that, and in fact a few times I've found I did, when I truly felt she or my boys were wronged.  But it takes a lion attack style happening to bring that out.  I'm not a warrior mother.  I love my kids more than I love life itself, but that has somehow never transformed into what all the autism literature has let me to expect, a huge infusion of tough strength.


mknecht24 said...

I think you are being too hard on yourself. You are a great mother. Don't listen to self-doubt. You are allowed to parent your children in whatever manner you choose. If that means 3 baths and midnight strawberry milk, hooray for you! We like to think that other moms are constantly judging us...maybe a few are. Most of us are just getting by however we can and are glad to see another mom who is just as tired and overwhelmed as we are. You are tough. I challenge anybody to take on the screaming fits and get out of bed the next day. If Janey is happy and you are happy, then you are making the right choices. Parenting isn't a competition. So what, you don't confront the a-holes at the store. 99% of the time neither do I. Who has time for that? We are in this together. I will support whatever choices you make for your kids. We are moms not warriors.

Suzanne said...

I am having a big of a hard on myself week---thanks for the vote of confidence there. It helps. Janey has been in a mood and a half for two weeks now, and it wears me down and I think distorts my thinking---especially with the sleep deprivation! And you are right---if strawberry milk, a video and a bath all buy me a little scream-free time, that's nothing but good.

audball said...

I think I have come to the conclusion that parenting "right" is a state of mind. Even though my girl is on the spectrum, my son isn't and I run into parents at his school who (all the time!) question their ability to parent properly. Are we giving enough? Are we giving too much? Are we "giving in" when we should hang tough?

I think parenting a child who has autism is more challenging than parenting a child who doesn't, but I think the same doubts and concerns exist (not literally the same, but similar). I think the mantra should be "I'm being the best parent I can be, with what I know now." And to paraphrase Maya Angelou:"…when I knew better, I did better."

You have a ton of strength, patience, and toughness/resilience! You demonstrate that every day by getting up and working with all your kids. Some days are better than others. If you have a sucky day, that's just what it is: *one* sucky day. Do whatever you have to do to keep you and your household happy; screw what other people think! (How's that for being tough? :))

And I think "being tough" isn't always all it's cracked up to be. How would it be to wake up every morning just waiting to do battle, always on the offensive? Don't we want our kids to see the kinder, softer side too? I think you pick and choose the battles you want to fight. If it bothers you enough, I will bet you you will revisit the situation and fight on. I think you are wise to conserve your energy and strength for those things you deal with on a daily basis. We are in a marathon, not a race, right?

(BTW, I did choose to stand up to someone in public once. It got a little heated and I will never forget the look on my girl's face. Probably should have figured out the fall-out first. So..uhm..I probably won't be doing that again; she was pretty upset! Lesson learned..)

audball said...

oops! Meant to say, "…always on the defensive"...

Sophie's Trains said...

I think you are tougher than you think. If by "tough" you mean aggressive, then no I am not tough. But if by tough meaning getting up when life knocks you down, then yes I am, and so are you! Like a previous poster said, even parents of normally developing children question themselves all the time (I do with all my kids, Sophie included). Are we firm enough-too firm, do they have too many extracurriculars- not enough, etc. Should they be forced to eat what I make or should we let them chose, etc etc. As far as fighting for our kids I think sometimes we do have the "I don't want special treatment or I don't want to be a burden" mentality and sometimes I think it is ok to get "tough" in those circumastances. But don't question if you are tough enough for Janey! You are strong, just read through your archives if you want proof.
Oh and I probably wouldn't say anything in the store either. I don't like confrontations, especially with bullies. Don't feel bad about that- consider yourself a pacifist!

Suzanne said...

I think if I did stand up to someone, it would get heated! I like your story, "audball"! I think part of why I don't get tough sometimes is because since I hold it in so much, I'm afraid of screaming my head off at grocery store nasty woman or the like! And I also like the thought of thinking of myself as a pacifist--that puts it in a more positive light than how I often think of myself, as a wimp!

I question myself when parenting my boys a lot too, but the big difference is that they can give me feedback. Janey really can't. Of course, sometimes as feedback when they were 5 or 6, it was just that I was being mean not letting them drink nothing but soda and eat nothing but cookies, but often, it has been very constructive, especially now that they are teenagers. Janey has no real way to let me know specifically what she likes or doesn't like. Of course, I can often figure it out, but that's not quite the same as being able to talk it out. Also, I am her voice with others. She can't tell me if something at school is not as it should be, or if a certain food makes her stomach hurt, or if she feels confused about something she's seen or heard. There's a lot of guessing and hoping involved, and that leads with me to more doubts than I'd have with the boys. They could tell me if something bothered them at school, so my decisions weren't quite as crucial in making sure they were happy.

I love hearing that I am strong just to get up and keep going! I've thought that in my more self-non-critical moments, and I know you guys know what it takes! Thanks!

Bethany said...

Sometimes strength is quiet resolve. Or the ability to carry on day after day when every fiber in your being screams for a break. Sometimes strength is a voice sharing their truth with the world, one blog entry at a time.

Suzanne said...

Well, that made me cry, Bethany---thanks.

sara said...

I know one "tough" mom - she is the one demanding the draft of the IEP months before the IEP meeting, endlessly researching different kinds of therapy and then finding specialists to work with her son, taking a mediator with her to meetings with the school, "educating" random people at restaurants about seizure disorders... and you know what? She's annoying as hell. Fueled by anger, a know-it-all, judgmental of other people and other parents. I don't know if there is a way to be "tough" without being self-centered, and self-centered is my least favorite trait in the universe. I'd never play FaceBook Scrabble with her, Suzanne, not in a million years/

House Of D. said...

You are your own worst enemy and hardest critic, sometimes what we feel we `should be doing ` or `how we should be acting` overpowers us and we forget that there is a nature to all living beings, autism disrupts everything in your life but it doesent seem to shake your good nature, you dont have to be something you arent to be considered strong and protective. you are very strong in your own way, and sometimes letting those people at the grocery store be mean and just ignore them is exactly what we have to do, its not healthy to constantly be trying to fight everyone who is being a douche!!!