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Like most pregnant women, especially those expecting for the first time, I couldn’t get enough guidance on pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. Any articles or books with the suggestion of babies in the headline were mine to devour.
Nearly everything I read put the emphasis on how to do things the right way. The right way to eat when pregnant, the proper things to do just before giving birth, the best way to feed your baby, the correct way to deal with sleep issues, communicate with her, educate her and so on.
One article that stood out for me then was how to talk and listen to your baby and growing child. The gist was that we should listen and respond to everything our baby, child, and teen utters with full and loving attention. Anything less would kill their self-esteem and self-confidence and would be sloppy, shameful parenting.
The article told us to actively and obviously absorb and digest every babble, word, sentence, and opinion and reply with intelligent, considered comments that lengthen and add color to the dialogue.
“That’s going to be me,” I thought. “I’m going to be a sugar-free, wifi-free, 100% engaged super mom.”
You know that “What would you say to your 16-year-old self” question?
People often respond to that with, “I’d tell myself to have more confidence, to relax and enjoy life, and not worry so much about what other people think.” If you were asked that question, wouldn't you respond the same?
Brene Brown, one of my favorite people at the moment, tells us that we live in a culture of perfectionism and it’s literally killing us--the stress is making us ill and shortening our lives. I was a perfect pregnant example fitting into her data.
As my son grew, it was clear he was somewhere on the autistic spectrum and I realized I was going to have to drop all expectations I had constructed for myself, and for him for that matter. A mental shift needed to happen in me, for both our sakes.
My now 16-year-old son could, in typically Aspie fashion, lecture the hind legs off a mule. Saints would zone out. Add on to that the fact he’s now an emotionally rollercoastering teenager and is often less reasonably minded than my 10-year-old (no, I never compare my children), and is currently on a mission to talk me out of my feminist opinions.
Trying to remain calm while listening to the 50th rendition of a lecture on the “non-existence of a gender wage gap” at 11 pm on a Monday night to a fully charged Aspie does more than make you want to roll your eyes.
Listening to every word and responding to every repeated point made would drive me round the bend.
Celeste Luther, a mental health therapist in Florida, recently wrote about her life with her daughter who has ASD. She described how her daughter often follows her around the house, talking pretty much non-stop. “My point is take it easy on yourself when it comes to being a special needs parent," she writes. "You don't always have to be on. You don't always have to be the hero. Sometimes you have to just smile and nod at the appropriate pauses.”
Parent of a child with ASD or not, all our kids challenge us in a myriad of ways. Listening and responding perfectly to our children at all times is an unrealistic expectation. Good enough is good enough.
My ethos now is this: whenever possible, show your child that you really love and adore them. Whenever possible look for moments to bring touches of fun and light-heartedness to the day. Whenever possible, listen, chat and do what you can to be fully engaged, but be aware that can’t realistically be a 24-hour commitment. Perfect parents are imperfect.
Parents of children with special needs or otherwise, sometimes you have to walk off to the bathroom, find refuge in a yoga class or coffee with a friend. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Above all, relax, love your child, have fun with them, and keep the expectations you have of yourself--and them--realistic.