Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Parenting in the Spotlight

I think I went into this parenting thing prepared for most of the headaches of living with kids from day to day.  What I was not prepared for was the headaches of parenting with an audience of so many people who think they know exactly how I should parent my children.  And, in particular, how I should parent Daniel.

Daniel is eighteen now and going into his senior year in high school. It's not unusual for a neurotypical kid to not know what they want at this stage and he's no different. But, in his case, it's even harder. The future is a big unmeasurable abstract thing with no boundaries and it scares him. We're doing what we can to break it down into small bites--take the ACT, see how he does. Maybe take a semester of college, see how he does, and so on. If not college, then perhaps he needs to learn a trade or simply get a job and work for a year or two--or maybe just get a job, period. All you have to do is figure out what you want to do NEXT, we tell him. We'll figure out a way to get you there together. He just gives us this deer caught in the headlights look and nods. Everything about him says, "Don't rush me" so we're trying not to, but it's not easy.

His being at this fork in the road has generated interest from all relatives and the advice (and the criticisms) are pouring in from all quadrants. There's my Dad, who is convinced  there's nothing wrong with Daniel that Dad couldn't fix if I would just send him to Montana where Dad can "whip him into shape" (*shudder*), to my mother who thinks I should quit expecting him to accomplish anything and set him up to live in a supervised living situation where he can make beaded purses all day (I have to remind myself that she's from a generation of people who lumped all those who were not "normal" into the group then termed as mentally retarded and relegated them to group homes and institutions), and then there's Gary's mother. 

To my surprise, this evening, she and Gary had words on the phone about this very thing and he came very close to hanging up on her (for the first time ever--he's a patient, patient man). She blamed us for Daniel's problems (if we'd gone to the right doctors, put him special ed instead of homeschooling him, given him the right medication . . .) he wouldn't have the problems he has (read: he would be "normal"). Gary firmly backed her off two or three times, explained that there were no pills for Aspergers (this is not the first time we've told her this),  and that Daniel is fine and will be fine in the future. She pressed it further and he then told her it was none of her business (I was in awe) and changed the subject. We talked after they ended the conversation (amicably enough). I am not as good at shrugging things off as he is and was angry at the intrusion, but he reminded me that she simply loves the kid that much. I stated that she has a funny way of showing it-- remembers the other three boys' birthdays every year, sends them cards and money, and nearly always "forgets" his. It wouldn't bother me if she forgot the other kids regularly as well; they understand that you don't "expect" gifts. But she doesn't--just his--something I've known her to do when she's upset with someone. She's uncomfortable with him, doesn't quite seem to know how to relate (barely speaks to him), and yet she can tell us all the things we did wrong. Remarkably insightful on her part, isn't it?

We've been doing this on our own for eighteen years and, on the whole, he's doing far better than we'd hoped for. Though his life is not uncomplicated, he's clearly thriving and (though you can't tell it to look at him)--he's usually happy enough, enjoys school (he put himself in public high school last year), is a great student, has a handful of friends who know he's different, but include him, though he doesn't quite understand the concept of giving back just yet. He's away at camp this week, something he used to force himself to do, but now loves. He's going on a mission trip at the end of July (again, his choice entirely). He does well away from home and has told us the last two years that he didn't want to come back, which was both disturbing and exciting at the same time. I don't know what his future holds, but for now, he's okay.

I've got to be honest with you. I am running extremely sensitive on this issue and am close to losing my cool.  I'm afraid that the next grandparent who offers up unasked for advice is going to lose their head. Where were they when he was having melt downs as a five, eight, and thirteen year old because his art class had been cancelled, his favorite show wasn't on, or he'd lost a video game, or he didn't get what he wanted for dinner? During those years in which it seemed that none of the consequences that we were meting out were helping him understand the limits we were setting for him?  How about the hundreds of--seemingly fruitless--reading lessons that left us both exhausted, wondering how to decode each other's languages, until the day the lights suddenly came on? Did they offer to help with the speech therapy sessions we traveled to? Where were they when we were coaching him on how to strike up a conversation, make eye contact, remember names and details about people--even offering him money if he'd just come home from camp with one email address. Were they there when we watched him begin to become cognizant of his own differentness and how incredible it has been to watch him take control of his own image? Did they know or care about all the sleepless nights that went with worrying about him when he was younger? And now that he's past most of that they want to tell me what I did wrong? I don't think so.     


Jayne said...

Every 'expert' is only too willing to jump in to tell you where you're going wrong but none of them can be found to give you a well-deserved pat on the back when things 'click' together.
Take a deep breath and tell yourself they're only saying these things because they care. Sure, there's far better ways for them to show it but this gives you the chance to be the better person who smiles sweetly, thanking them for their 'invaluable' input and assures them you'll 'table it for discussion at the next possible moment' ;)
Bamboozle 'em.
Do you have 'gap years' over there, when kids take a year or two off to work/travel before starting college?
Maybe for Daniel?

Scotty said...

Good for you, Mary (and Gary) for doing a difficult job well - raising a child is never easy and yes, there's always any number of experts willing to give advice when you don't want it but who for some reason can never seem to offer help when you do need it.

I learned many years ago to put my foot down with people like that, telling them to eff off too if necessary.

And that birthday card thing? That sucks, Mary, big time. If I were in Gary's shoes, I'd be calling my mother out on that one but, that's just me.

Anonymous said...

"....for now, he's okay...."

And so are you!

As i read and pondered your posting i thought 'there's just so much love there'...and THAT goes a heck of long way, Mary!


Nic Sebastian said...

go, you!

Debby said...

Hm. My comment must have gotten lost. I get the same stuff. My oldest is bipolar. It's always my fault. It's heartbreakingly hard, and I'm sorry you're dealing with this.

About the birthday card thing? Well, I'd just return the other boys' cards. Overlooking one child is hurtful, and I wouldn't allow it. I had the same conversation with the children's grandfather not long ago. He was quite embarrassed. He is simply closer with the others, and hadn't given it a thought.

Mary O. Paddock said...

Jayne--I know you've got your hands especially full with your own Aspy, so thank you very much for the "hug" and the reassuring advice. We don't exactly have "gap years" in a cultural sense, but the kids over here are staying home longer than they used to. I expect to Daniel to stay on longer than the others and perhaps not move too far away.

Scotty--Thank you. I've noticed this about advice givers. Gary and I have talked about his mom and he's planning to drop her a very broad hint concerning the issue.

Eileen- :) Love (and prayer) have certainly carried us a very long way.

Nic--Thanks for the cheer!

Debby-- The phrase, "It's always my fault" spoke volumes more than you intended for it to, I think. I'm going to file that away for the next time we're facing this. The attitude is produced by people who have either forgotten what it is to struggle with a child who has problems or never experienced with their own and are assuming it's because they were such "good parents".