Recently, I have been re-reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I am enjoying this book much more the second time around, in part because it is not required reading. I am also enjoying it because there are certain principles that I realize I have used in my life that are written in this book. I wonder if I used them as a result of reading them nearly 15 years ago.
Habit 2 is “Begin with the End in Mind”. Stephen Covey likens our personal lives to building a home. You wouldn’t walk out and start breaking ground without plans. You wouldn’t draw up plans without first considering how you will live in that house and how you need the areas of the home to function. In the same way, you must consider your principles and values before making goals and plans. You must continue to keep those principles and values in mind as you work through the ups and downs of life.
This idea has been a key element for me in the often difficult journey of parenting a child on the spectrum. It often seems as if the delayed development means there is less time for mistakes. Every opportunity with my child seems more weighted.
For me, independence has been my motto. My child is high functioning and most likely will be able to live an independent life. However, even if that was not the case, independence at the highest attainable level is my goal for each of my children.
The result has been a mental picture. A red tool box like my father had in the garage during my childhood. Opening the lid and seeing the various tools. However, instead of saying “Craftsman” they say things like, “Working independently”, “Communicating with Authority Figures”, “Communicating with Peers”, and “Caring for my physical self”.
When confronted with conflict or struggles, my goal is to look for what is the lesson that gives a life tool. Instead of wanting just cooperation, I want to see how what I am teaching Daniel to create or use a tool that he will use the rest of his life. From the small to the big lessons, this goal has changed the way I parent.
When my child was a toddler and pre-school most lessons were independence-oriented. I taught my child to use the potty because as a functioning adult (or even child) he needed this basic ability to take care of himself independently. However, as my child has gotten older the lessons are less basic and sometimes confusing. Many times, I have to step away from the situation and ask myself, “What principle is he learning here that he can use the rest of his life?”
Requiring my son to do his own laundry at 9 seems almost unheard of among most parents I know. However, I knew that Daniel was going to need more practice than the typical child and I wanted him to get as much as he could while still under my roof and in my sphere of influence. If he was physically able to do the activity (albeit with some helping measuring detergent at the beginning). I wanted him to get started.
This has been and is a lot of work for me as a parent. In almost every first time try at a new skill, it would have been easier for me to complete the task then it was to watch him struggle through. He is so awkward at times that it is almost painful to watch. When trying to teach such important lessons it can be a struggle not to be harsh and critical but rather constructive and encouraging. I have to remember that it takes a lot of compliments to balance out just one criticism.
I have watched Daniel try to communicate with teachers, a task that I could have handled in seconds and end up in tears. I have watched him spend 20 minutes cleaning a mirror for the first time. While often painful, I have also watched the pride in him when he realizes the task is becoming easier with practice.
Every once in a while, it does a lot of good to sit back and reflect on the collection of tools our hard work has bought us. My husband is particularly good for this. He is wonderful at painting that picture that clearly compares the Daniel of the past with the Daniel of today, the milestones achieved; the lessons learned. I am learning to do the same for Daniel. That is the tool I am practicing with these days.