Helping versus enabling our teenage son: My husband and I talk about this all the time. Sometimes we see the issue pretty much the same; other times, we flat out don’t. You see, we have two different personality types and sometimes two distinct parenting styles. But we share one vision: we want what’s best for our son and for our family. But how do we determine what is best for him and for us, and how can we achieve it?
Honestly, we don’t have the answer, yet we also don’t consider the option of quitting each other or our family. As a couple we need each other. As a family, we’re in this together. I married Cole knowing that we would face challenges. Any couple does. Growing up, I even felt that someday I would have a child with some special needs. Now I have two sons, and to me, Big Bro’s special needs seem minor compared to what others face. He has much higher-functioning autism than many cases I have seen or read about. In fact, in many ways I’d say he’s a pretty normal kid with a few quirks that I love.
Big Bro doesn’t have behavioral issues (except for when he’s pestering Little Bro). He’s loving, good-natured, and easy to get along with (except for when he’s pestering Little Bro; you get it right?). He’s funny, especially when you get to know him. I relate to him, and in some ways, my brain is wired like his. I get it, for instance, when he is feeling stressed and overwhelmed and needs to relax or zone out. I get it when his mind is rapidly trying to take in everything in a new situation, making it hard for him to know where to start on a task and focus on the basics. I get that it’s hard for him to remember that yesterday’s tasks and the solutions we discovered still apply today. Why? Because today is new, and the project is slightly different.
I also get it when my husband is absolutely frustrated because we have to repeat instructions a thousand times. Every. Single. Day. I get it when we sit down to set goals with our son, and we get excited because it seems like he’s going to launch into something he loves and then–not much happens, usually.
But I also see successes and celebrate them. Recently, our son auditioned for the school play and landed a featured part. He’s thrilled! We’re thrilled! It’s a big deal to stand up in front of your peers, sing a solo, and then audition with a speaking part you’ve not read before. He did a great job. There are about 50 cast members; twice that many tried out. Not everyone has a speaking part; he has a few lines. Our son was also in the school play in November and worked hard during many rehearsals.
Our son achieves A and B grades usually. He’s currently challenged with a couple of low B’s, but I’ve REALLY backed off this term with checking up on him. I wanted him to see what it’s like without my constant help and follow-up, as I’ve done every school year prior to this. He had help at school with a Learning Skills class and great teachers. The term just ended. We discussed what happened and what to do for next term. He feels bad about the low B’s. He’s used to doing better. Now he knows what happens when you don’t prepare, finish your work, get organized, or take notes to help yourself remember what to do. I wanted him to know what it feels like to slip and fall a little–and he really didn’t fall THAT far, in my opinion. I just don’t want him to make a habit out of slacking when he can do better.
I’ve already spoken with the principal, and this next term, our son will be using a tracker to help him better remember assignments. He was using a planner, but the tracker requires that teachers sign off to make sure he’s writing things down correctly. We may also consider medication again as he struggles with ADD. To me, these things are helping, not enabling. He still has to do the work and be responsible.
I can make lots of excuses about why my son is the way he is or why I’m the way I am. I try very hard to only use the term autism as an explanation when it’s really needed. I try not to make it an excuse. For my own accountability as a mom, I am trying to do better. I grew up on a farm and my parents raised me with a solid work ethic. It served me well for many years . . . and still does to an extent. But I need to be a better example to my children about setting goals and working hard. I’m afraid my children see me spending too much time on my iphone or on the computer. (In an effort to do better, I’m writing this at night after everyone is in bed.) My husband shows an amazing example of a strong work ethic to our family and to all who know him. I am trying to do better in that aspect, for myself and so my children see two parents who both demonstrate good work ethics.
For those of you reading, you’ll see that Go Beyond Autism is a space to share and learn with you. We’re not going to air our dirty laundry–though my husband would be happy if I’d at least keep up with the laundry :). We’re not going to vent and be online “wet blankets.” Honestly, you can get that from just about any autism Facebook group you care to join. But we are going to be real and honest.
That said, we won’t share things here that would embarrass our boys. Big Bro is asked to read every post here before we publish it. If there is something we’ve said that he objects to, we work together to modify it or remove it. Sharing our experiences with all of you, in an attempt to help everyone else, wouldn’t be worth it if it in any way damages our relationship with our sons or our relationship as a couple.
Hopefully the perspectives I share with you today and in the future (and in my husband’s related post) can spark meaningful introspection for your own parenting concerns about enabling versus helping your kids. In our family’s situation, I believe our best answers lie somewhere in the middle of our two parenting styles. I believe our son needs certain accommodations–and then we need to step away.
We have seen firsthand from the experiences of extended family members that some of the biggest challenges of autism come not from the disorder itself but from affected individuals who have been enabled too much. As a result, they’ve learned to quit trying outside their comfort zones, they don’t believe in themselves, and they have severely limited their potential. We believe there’s more they and all of us can achieve. That’s why we MUST Go Beyond Autism.
How do you differentiate between enabling and helping?
You might also be interested in reading my husband’s post, part 1 of this discussion. Click here.