I have a confession to make, I sometimes read the end of a book if it gets too intense. I don’t read enough to completely ruin the story, but just enough to know if the character I am invested in makes it. I don’t handle unknown very well.
The unknown is one of the hardest parts of being a parent, for me. I don’t know how our story ends.
“Don’t forget you have homework to finish before you go to bed tonight or you will not have your electronics tomorrow after school,” I remind my Aspie-son.
“Uh-huh,” he grunts from his bed. His headphones are on and his eyes never move from the screen.
This is the 5th time I have reminded him. I don’t want to deal with his emotions and frustration at the consequences if he doesn’t get the work done so I remind him, again, and again and again. I am officially the nagging mother. This is not working for me.
My Aspie-son is 15 now. We are at a new stage. The stage where I need to give him space to practice with the tools we have given him, the space to succeed… or fail as he makes these tools his own. However, I find that I.CAN.NOT.STOP trying to make it work for my son. It is a case of reverse learned helplessness.
This transition is as much about me as it is about him. The only way I can protect completely is to control completely. As I give up some control, I am conscious of the risks. What if he fails 8th grade? He will be a 16 year old in 8th grade and 20 if he makes it to high school graduation. There is a ticker tape of “Worry Headlines” running through my head.
I am fortunate to have an independent son. He does NOT want me to do it for him. He rebels against my “mommy-ing” him. He will chose to not do something for no other reason than because I said it should be done. As a result, my protective/controlling is completely ineffective.
I have two options right now:
Continue to be protectively controlling. My son will continue to find this demeaning and rebel against it. Nothing will get done. War will ensue in my home and failure is guaranteed.
Give him space to succeed or fail. I can take a chance. I can step back. This means dealing with my own fears. There is no racing ahead to the ending to make sure it turns out ok. Instead, I must live in this moment. I must learn to be calm inside myself despite knowing all the risks. I can learn that life will go on and life can and will be good. I can learn to chose my response instead of reacting to my fears… even if my Aspie-son fails 8th grade.
My keys to success:
Stay in in the moment.
I can plan for the future and remember the past but I must not live in either place. I must live today. I must not live in reaction to past hurts or future fears.
I do not ignore patterns of behavior that can point to understanding a current situation but I understand past hurts make the weight of events disproportionately heavy. It isn’t the fact that the bread was left out and is stale. It is the fact that I have already thrown away 3 loaves of completely stale bread this week and the two younger girls will not have any bread to make their lunch unless I run to the store AGAIN. The emotion of the situation makes it difficult to choose my response.
I plan for the future but if I live reacting to the projected “Worry Headlines” the fear overwhelms me and I grip more tightly at my illusion of control.
Each moment, I must make my choice to respond and I can only choose my response if I am in that moment and paying attention to what is at play right now.
In each moment, I must keep my perspective wide. If I widen my view, I can see that failing 8th grade is not the end of the world. One of the authors of Learning Outside the Lines, David Cohen had struggles with learning disabilities which led to drug addiction. He dropped out of high school at one point. Eventually, he overcame, making his way to being accepted to Brown University and graduating at the top of his class. He did so because he was given tools that, eventually, he made his own and then used to achieve the goals HE set for himself.
Of course, I have no guarantee that my son’s story will end like similarly. The big picture for us, is that my Aspie-son take hold of HIS life tools and start to find HIS purpose in order to develop goals that are HIS owns, goals that HE invests in. If I step back enough, I can see that even failing 8th grade has the potential t0 be a part of that path. With that thought, gripping fear inside me starts to subside.
Finding joy right now.
I found renewed joy as a parent before by looking for pointers to Daniel’s purpose in the situation rather than just trying to guarantee that he meets his potential. When I stop viewing the situation as all about passing 8th grade, I can possibilities for joy. I can see the ways my son is starting to mature. There is a reduction in conflict in our home.
I am practicing these principles today as my son heads to school to take a constitution test that he must pass to be promoted to 9th grade. I believe he is unprepared. I spent a portion of last night struggling not to step in and try to control him to success. Today, I am in a better space. I hope he passes but I have also found the positive possibilities that could be if he fails this test. Either way, he and I will both know that this hurdle was handled 100% by him and his way. He is in control of his life.
How do you strike a balance between over-protecting and unsupportive?