The Parenting Tightrope

Walking the Parenting TightropeThis post was originally published on Parenting ADHD & Autism on March 28th, 2016. 

When you thought about having children, what were your dreams for your child? Happiness? Success? Financial security? A close circle of friends? A job they love? Did you want to protect your child from pain?

We all have dreams for our kids.

But as your kid grew, perhaps you noticed your child wasn’t like the other kids. You might have realized that other parents were taking their kids places your child couldn’t handle. Or you felt like you were navigating Mount Everest to do things that other parents did without a second thought. Maybe you saw that your child always played alone on the playground. Or the other kids began to actively avoid your child. Perhaps at some point, you became aware that your kid wasn’t being invited to birthday parties any more.

At home… who was this kid? Did you have a whirling dervish? A couch potato? Was your child lost in his own world? Did she talk nonstop about things no one seemed to care about?

And about those odd passions…. Did you find yourself noticing things you might have never thought to appreciate before you had children? The beauty of flowing water? The sound of silence? The gift of language? How things work? Facts about World War II, Star Wars, or My Little Pony?

There’s an essay that most parents of kids with autism read at some point called Welcome to Holland. I didn’t find it very satisfying. It didn’t give voice to the betrayal of my dreams for my child. It didn’t speak to my fears about the future. I remember at some point identifying more with another essay, Welcome to Beirut. But that one also felt unfair. My children and the people trying to help us aren’t terrorists. They are doing the best they can.

On the topic of dreams unrealized, a wise woman, Monica Adler Werner, once said, “All children take it out of you eventually. Kids with autism just take it out of you sooner.” This was in response to one of my fellow parents bemoaning the fact that her daughter wasn’t able to attend a summer camp that had been a cornerstone of her own childhood. This mom was sad because she had to relinquish yet another of her dreams.

As Penny Williams observed in a recent post, you can’t force a child to be someone they aren’t just because you wish they were different. When I find myself wanting to force my kids to do that, I remember the wise words of my friend, Marsha Mandel, who says, “You can’t make a flower grow by pulling on it.”

Kids have their own dreams. And the sooner you realize that you cannot force your child to follow your dreams, the easier your life will be. Instead of fighting your child, you’ll be encouraging them – helping them to be the best version of themselves.

Acceptance vs. Remediation

As parents, we are constantly walking a tightrope. To function in the outside world, there may be requirements that are beyond what our children can handle. Schools want our children to be able to sit still to learn. They may need our children to behave appropriately so they don’t distract the other kids. Professionals might tell you that outcomes are bad for kids who are so anxious they shut down when tested, or for those who have no friends. Family members may worry about the stress your child is placing on your family. Or they may have no patience for your child.

It is overwhelming. We want to respect our children’s dreams while preparing them for the future. Sometimes the worlds collide. The dream may not be possible given the reality of the child.

All you can do is your best. Follow your child’s lead. Let them show you where they want to go. And then do everything you can to help them make that happen, even when it is hard. Work with your child. Make sure they know that you are there to help them accomplish their dreams. If you can remember that your goal is to help them live their dreams, it will make it easier when the going gets tough.

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