Many times I find myself questioning whether my actions as a parent really help our son or are further enabling his behavior and choices. I imagine that if you, like me, are the parent of a child with autism you can relate to my conundrum.
To properly illustrate the challenges I experience as a father, I believe some context is first appropriate. In terms of worldly, corporate, or professional standards, I feel that I have been successful in my life. I worked full time during high school and my undergraduate program–and still managed to graduate in three years. I tackled an MBA several years ago and finished the two-year program in less than six months. I have moved up quickly in my career, taking on additional responsibilities, and have received significant accolades and am viewed favorably with my colleagues. My whole life has been about continuous improvement, pushing myself, being efficient, and my favorite: “doing more with less.” Even from a young age, I enjoyed pushing myself hard, learning, growing as a person, and just “figuring stuff out” for myself. This context and background is important; because as a motivated, driven, competitive and hard-working guy, how do I find happiness in my life today? I believe that a person won’t ever just find happiness, they have to learn to make it in their life. I make happiness by serving others, pushing myself hard–physically and professionally, thru setting challenging goals and accomplishing them, and trying to be the best person I can be.
That is more than enough about me! I mention my background and what my personality is like to you– not because it is important (it isn’t), but because every single day I find myself at odds with my child who doesn’t seem to possess any of my personality traits. Just this week, as my son was getting ready to go back to school after the three-day weekend, he mentioned he had a report due the next day in one of his classes. Note that I had asked him the previous Friday leading into the holiday weekend if he had any homework and was told “no.” Sound familiar? I know in our home this is a regular (if not daily) occurrence. The conundrum I felt once again–am I helping or enabling?–was presented to me, including:
- Do I bail him out on this project once again?
- Do I just let him figure it out–knowing that will likely entail a failing grade?
- Do I help him with the research for his report, even though he procrastinated for well over a week and did nothing?
- Do I play the “bad cop/tough-love parent” and just have my spouse deal with it (which is usually what happens) since she is much nicer and more of a people-pleaser than me?
I have found this example is a pattern that repeats over and over again with our son. I am very detail-oriented (OCD actually) and try to be as efficient as possible in my life, so this last-minute fire drill and “woe-is-me” attitude of his really does drive me crazy. We have tried helping him to use planners, organizing his binder and materials, working with the aids in school, everything we can think of to help him be more organized. He just doesn’t seem to understand where to start.
I find that I feel very hopeless and frustrated, especially since everything I try to do in good faith to help our son concentrate, buckle-down, be proactive, be a hard worker, serve others, or to just take responsibility seems to fail–and fail miserably. I know my son’s brain just thinks differently, but I try to look at the world as I imagine he sees it. Does that help? Maybe a little. Do I hold out hope that one day my son will magically “get it?” Yes. Do I feel I need to apologize for being the way I am? Absolutely not.
I have found that helping our son break projects down into smaller pieces has been helpful. My spouse and I have “backed off” with bailing our son out this school term and trying the “tough love” approach. Unfortunately, his grades have gone down as a result. I don’t know that he fully understands the issues he will always deal with, but as his father, I’ll always love him. I’m still trying to figure out how to teach him about consequences in a manner that will resonate with him. More to come on that topic in a future post on the site.
I am hopeful that my example and at least some of my strengths will eventually rub-off on our son. I hold out hope that our son will continue to grow in confidence and will find that he can be self-sufficient and possess the life-skills he will need. As parents, we continue to introduce him to many different things, always hopeful that something will really resonate with him (besides the electronics and video games). I will tell you that I still get frustrated most days. I will also tell you I feel like a lousy parent most days. I feel that I fail my son because I don’t understand how he thinks and I don’t believe I can always relate to him–or him to me. That said, I still wake up every day and try as hard as I can to help our son improve. It isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t always fun, but I know our son trusts us and he feels comfortable that he can bring his problems and concerns to us. I have some more thoughts on this topic which I’ll post at a future time also.
So, am I helping or enabling? I guess the correct answer is relative to your perspective.
Article by Cole Smith, husband and father. You might also be interested in my wife’s take on this topic. Click here to read her response post.