If you’ve seen the movie Apollo 13, you likely remember Flight Director Gene Kranz’s line, “Failure is not an option!” This catchphrase seems to encapsulate our thinking about everything we do. And while this is a good attitude if you are trying to keep three astronauts from dying, rarely is anything in our lives so dramatic.
Let’s Define ‘Failure’
Yet we act like everything in our lives really is a matter of life and death. As autism parents, the parts of our brain that help us prioritize how serious something is are readily fried. Every little thing can easily stress us out.
And on top of that, you and I often think we need to be perfect the first time we do something. We believe we are not allowed to fail and make mistakes lest we be judged, at best as incompetent, and at worst as complete failures as parents. We believe that everything from spilling milk to forgetting a month’s worth of doctors’ appointments is total failure, not just mistakes.
Above all, we most fear failing our children. We are panicked that all these little things add up to completely failing them.
So we beat ourselves up for every little thing no matter what it is. This is the routine, day-to-day ‘failure’ I mean here.
Be OK With Failing
But I want you to be OK with this failing. ‘Failing’ can cover everything from simple mistakes to full-on screw-ups. It simply is trying for something and not achieving it, or it’s just making mistakes. Short of a life and death situation, failure is always an option.
In fact, the opportunity to fail is often a great option. Failure is how we learn things. We try, we fail. We do this so we have the opportunity to learn and try again, and again and again if need be.
I mean, how many times have we said, “Dammit! Dammit!” for everything we do ‘wrong’, big or small? I do this all the time. Breaking that habit, even just a little bit, takes practice.
Failure is an opportunity, an essential part of your growth as an autism parent. No matter what kind of mistake or error you make, no matter how big the screw-up, start trying to turn it from a time to beat yourself up into an opportunity to do the work of analyzing your mistakes and trying again. Believe me; I know how hard it is, but it’s worth working at it.
Some Basic Truths About Imperfection
Here are a few truths that will ease your feelings about failure.
- Absolutely no one around you has their crap together. We all put on a good show; that’s it. You would feel a lot better about yourself and everyday life if you stopped thinking that everyone else is way more together than you.
- None of us are perfect. Stop believing you need to be, and stop believing anyone else is. The only requirement for being an autism parent is the willingness to try.
- You can be completely average (hint: you’re probably not) and still be a great autism parent. The formula for every one of us is the same: try, fail, learn, try again, fail some more, learn, eventually get it, try something else, fail again, repeat, but never give up. This applies in just about every situation you can think of.
Making Mistakes is the Key to Being a Good Autism Parent
Learning how to fail is essential to your success. How you deal with failure and how you are able to learn from it are the difference between being a powerful advocate for your child and just being burned out and pissed off. I know that many of us are programmed from childhood to beat ourselves up when we make mistakes. And there we are, talking to ourselves in ways we would never talk to another human being. I do it; you do it; we all do it. And it’s time to give ourselves a break.
Please understand this. It’s OK to fail. It’s OK to make mistakes. It’s OK to really screw up. You are in great company. We autism parents live on the frontiers of uncharted territory. Of course we are learning as we go along. There is no map. We are all going to fail. The key is to fail and fall, learn from it, brush the dirt off ourselves, and get back up on that horse.
You are your child’s best advocate and hero. Don’t wait for someone to swoop in and save the day. They aren’t coming. Choose yourself. And to choose yourself, you must be willing to try, fail, learn, and try again.