The kind of human being that I am requires me to spend a great deal of time alone. More so than the average person. Being a single parent isn't exactly conducive to this. I'll admit, there's more times than I care to own up to where I have marooned myself to my bed and governed the family from my blanket throne. It is my natural inclination to isolate, both as a person with Aspergers and also as a writer. Some may think that makes a shitty parent.
My son is 8. He exhibits classic ADHD symptoms according to all textbook cases. Some may argue that he's just being a normal little boy. I'm not opposed to either stance, but knowing what I know in my profession (LMSW by degree) I cannot deny the former. Either way, my son is Hurricane Gloria and I am mercury rising.
He is completely unpredictable, and I thrive on predictability. So how do I manage?
On my better days, days when I have enough upstairs space to move stuff around, I find ways to teach him how to do things for himself. Kids like predictability too, even when they carry category four destruction properties, they feel safer knowing which direction they are headed. What better way to help them feel secure than to teach them to care for themselves. Novel idea? Let's take a look.
Remember the day Sally forgot her three ring binder on the kitchen table, the one with all her homework in it? Remember how she called you from school crying about the trouble she could get into? (nevermind she hadn't bothered to address the issue with the teacher and negotiate a possible extension, and why would she, she has you )Remember how you were in the middle of an important meeting or project and you dropped everything to save her?
My guess is you already know what I'm going to say. I don't think bailing Sally out makes you a a bad parent, but I don't think it's making Sally any better of a human being. In fact, I think it hurts Sally in the long run. Here's why.
Like anything a person becomes accustomed to, there is always the risk of dependency. When most people think of dependency they think of things that are bad for our health, like drugs or alcohol or other addictive habits. If you think of your kids being dependent on you as a parent as something completely separate, think again.
Recently, I witnessed a middle aged man who clearly was suffering from difficulty ambulating around, perhaps a hip or leg injury. I watched this man struggle to bend over and tie his 13 year old's shoe. (I'm guessing because he looked like he was starting to grow a stache) . (Fast forward 20 years. This is the guy at the office who eats your lunch out of the fridge and when you ask why he tells you because he was hungry and forgot his. What a dick.) If you think your decisions as a parent aren't going to affect the people your child encounters in the future, you are wrong.
It took everything inside me to hold back from shouting “Tie your own damn shoe!!!”
Listen, if my 13 year old isn't tying their shoelaces, they are going to be hitting pavement until they get tired of the scrapes.
I call these kind of parents “helicopter parents” On top 24/7. I admire their tenacity. And believe me, I've caught myself comparing my skills to theirs and questioning my overall ability at being a mom. But the truth is, in a lot of ways I was one of these kids. I've lived 36 years of my life unsure if I could count on myself. I love my parents for taking such good care of me and loving me. I will never blame them for any of my life decisions or circumstance.
But I do wish I learned earlier how to care for myself more in certain situations. To cultivate a sense of pride in my achievements and accomplishments I had conquered on my own, instead of criticizing myself for not living up to someone else's standards, including other parents. Having an Aspergers diagnosis, I am learning to better understand myself and my own behaviors in all different situations, and one that I feel is of utmost importance is being a parent.
Looking back on the past 17 years that I have raised my kids on my own, and been successful despite my own personal circumstance, I feel pretty certain that we as humans, are resilient, and my kids will survive despite my alternative processing.
It's like this. My brain is wired different. I do things that other people see as unconventional. I don't host playdates. I'm not on the PTA. I wont volunteer as coach. So what.
I let my kids know what's expected of them in order to survive in this world, by a universal standard and by teaching them to set their own expectations of themselves according to the part they want to play in the grand scheme of things. There's no one way to be a parent, but there's also no one way to be a human.
I told Dr Mike yesterday my son makes me want to hide sometimes. He told me its my job to be present. We both agreed it's hard to watch your child make a mistake and pick them up over and over when you can just finish the math problem they don't understand yourself. But it's all part of the process. My kids will tie their own shoes, do their own homework and fight their own battles. They will learn what it means to be able to count on yourself, hopefully sooner than I did.
I'll always be close by. Learning presence. Even if it is sometimes from my blanket throne, I'll rest easy knowing I've taught them the important lesson of surviving on their own.
I'm no expert on the human condition, but I do know there's a lot to be learned through quiet observation; something I like to think I inadvertently have become more proficient at than the average person. Stay weird.