I used to view parenting as an opportunity to share something of myself, to teach and to pass down wisdom. In that belief, there was a hierarchy with the power being the parent and not with the child. These were all the beliefs I had before I had children.
My views have changed dramatically, not completely and they have definitely become more complex. Both of my children have forced me to look at myself in ways that no one else could ask me to. I guess they could ask, but I wouldn’t feel compelled to listen. Lately, I have been thinking about the way our society is set up and how that relates to W. His mind is so full of ideas that are creative and inventive. When he has room to tinker with those ideas he is absolutely brilliant. He is happy. Everything is in sync. When his mind is occupied with something he enjoys, his social skills are better and he is less prone to agitation. Isn’t this true for everyone?
The huge difference, in my opinion, is that most people can filter out those big ideas when the situation asks them to do so. Or they see the value in channeling their creativity to appeal to or include others. Or maybe they would rather go with the flow and follow a leader. Whatever the case, most people see why it matters to do what is expected from the larger group. In most cases, it isn’t even taught. People just know.
Trying to teach this to W is unbelievably hard. It seems with each day he is growing more and more frustrated. On the one hand, I see the importance of social protocol. It makes things easy and organized. When you follow social protocol you know who has the power, or whose turn it is to talk, or what is appropriate to talk about. When you don’t follow social protocol you are an outcast and you create chaos. That is something that most people are really uncomfortable with. Especially in school and other large public places. On the other hand, as in the case of my husband and W, it can make things confusing and cloud the larger issue which, to them, would be experimenting and engaging in ideas.
I look at W in his school environment and I am reminded of a wild animal. The more you try to cage him and teach him a new trick the more agitated he becomes. My husband and I have been talking a lot about authority and how it relates to parenting. During one of our discussions he suggested that if you are going to be authoritative, you have to be willing to go all the way. Going all the way would be corporal punishment. Spanking. Spanking sucks on so many levels. I hate it. I’ve done it and I hate it. It takes me back to that wild animal image. That is a method of training. You are teaching obedience through pain. Neither one of us wants this. There is so much pressure though to teach W the rules and he pushes back so hard that sometimes it feels hopeless. Like he will never get it.
But I know better. W is a smart little cookie. He loves reward systems for learning, but they get old, fast. I am not sure he is really learning anything. I think he does what is being asked of him to get the reward. He’s not learning the importance of doing it. He isn’t learning the why does it matter part. Only when he learns that part will he grow to be a social thinker.
I watched a pretty huge transformation in my husband, who also has Asperger’s. He and I have been together for 16 years since we were 20 years old. When we began dating, I was drawn to his intelligence and his creativity. It seemed like he could do absolutely anything and he had extensive knowledge about so many things. I affectionately called him the encyclopedia. I still feel that way about him. He has the patience of a saint and will spend hours upon hours teaching himself to do things that no one sees the value in at the time. The rest of society catches up eventually and suddenly people want to tap into his brain so they can learn from him. This used to make him pretty angry. He felt wronged a lot of the time and so had no reason to care about social protocol. Social protocol was screwing him every time. Of course, this was before we knew he had Asperger’s and when he would get this way I would tell him he was being pompous. I told him that he needed to respect the opinions of others and learn when to talk and what to talk about. I started seeing his behavior sometimes as stirring the pot just to piss me off. Those were tough times, but always he was loving and patient with me. Looking back at that time, knowing what I know now, I am amazed sometimes that he and I are still together. But then, I’m not amazed because I think we found each other for a reason.
He has since found his place in society. He works for himself and all the good parts of him shine through so that because of his differences people want to be around him. This didn’t happen because someone shoved it down his throat until he was willing to comply. It happened, I think, through trial and error and having knowledge and skill that is valuable to others. Most importantly I think it happened because of our little boys.
We change when we have to. I have been thinking of our family as a family of shapeshifters. I like this image way better than the one where we are taming a wild animal. We bounce off of each other and absorb the shock. Sometimes we melt into each other. Sometimes one of us is rigid, usually me or W. We tend to get stuck. I am learning, from my guys that being rigid hurts and that flexibility is good for everyone. This is the new yoga.