I’m a loser parent. In an age when parents rush to get their children in the most prestigious pre-schools, spend a fortunate on multiple language, music and sports lessons, and attempt fill their children’s social calendars with more dates than the CEO’s of major corporations; I am happy to report that I am not one of these “Golden Ladder” parents. I strive not for excellence but to be just a “Good Enough” parent.
Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your views; my kids do not have a “Golden Ladder” parent. I am not the type that believes that each rung that their child climbs has to be new, exciting, educational, worthwhile, and play some important role in getting their child where they want them to be in 20 years. For these parents each lesson and each task must have some sort of fundamental purpose that will serve their child well in their future life and help them score in the top 1% on the ACT. Everything their darling tries is of earth-shattering importance and each rung of the ladder must be comprised of something meaningful to give their child the competitive edge that they will need when they attend a prestigious Ivy league school. They think their children must attain perfection and be model citizens as they climb their way to the very top rung where the golden ring awaits.
The trouble with all this expectation on a child is someday the “Golden Ladder” kids will fail and both they and their parents will not know how to handle it when they do. I met one of these “Golden Ladder” parents a couple of years ago in the doctors office. At that time our autism behaviors with both boys were in full swing (read LOUD) and this “gentleman” proceeded to lecture me on my children’s behaviors while pointing out how quiet, still and properly behaved his three sons were. Meanwhile the nurses slowly nudged open the reception window to hear this blowhard’s comments. They quickly called my family back apologizing for the lout who probably never would have had the nerve to say to my husband what he said to me but felt he had the right to berate a woman to make himself feel powerful and get his rocks off.
I went home and I was feeling like crap.I was tired of trying my best but not measuring up to the “Golden Ladder” parents standards. But what this man didn’t understand is that what he could show his child once and have a successful follow through; I have to show my boys 200 times each. In a day sometimes. That is autism for you. Parents with autistic children also have to work 100 times harder day in and day out than parents whose children are neuro-typical dealing with such things as food issues, anxieties and toilet training problems. Many of us have autistic children with insomnia which means we inherit the condition via osmosis so we are perpetually exhausted. In fact, many parents suffer from PTSD disorder due to the high alert status we contend with every day. Being a parent to a special needs child is not for sissies.
Having raised three successful and wonderful children to adulthood I wished I had just turned around and said to that idiot “I hope you are right about your kids. Unfortunately, you will learn someday that they have their own voice, their own dreams and their own ideas which more than likely will not be in step with yours. So before you lecture anyone else about their kids I suggest you wait until yours are grown and then we will talk. Because what I have learned from having all my children is that we all have expectations and sometimes they must be dialed up and down accordingly. Don’t make the mistake of forcing YOUR will and desires on your kid. For if you expect your child to constantly achieve “the highest/be the best/” then you are setting them up to cheat in order to make you happy and achieve your expectations. And if you stress constant achievement and teach them that being the best is all they should strive for, then most-likely they will not learn to be content.”
That is what I wished I had said. Instead, I whispered in his ear that he was an horse’s ass because I knew if I said it out loud ass would become my son’s new favorite word. To everyone.
One of the best things I have learned from having two boys with autism is that climbing the “Golden Ladder” is not what is important. What is important, autism or not, is being able to encourage your child without being vested in the outcome and to let them have room just to be themselves. And knowing that sometimes their actions will make your cringe. But do it anyway. But perhaps the most important thing I have come to understand is that by laying the ladder flat and just putting one foot in front of the other, that is more than good enough and it is just what they need. Even if your child does their walking on their tippy-toes.