From the moment our children are born, some book, chart, person, or company is bombarding us with messages to compare our child to a standard, to other children, and to ‘age-appropriate’ levels of achievement. There are whole stories in our culture for the standards of how a child’s life should play out. We get pulled in to this black hole by the sheer frequency we hear them in our lives and the weight these standards have to control our emotions.
As autism parents, we know how it feels to watch our children miss, one by one, this laundry list of check boxes in the months that lead to a diagnosis and the times that follow. It can feel like an irresistible force dragging us down this never-ending slope. We often feel powerless to help our children with their challenges. It is then that we feel like we’re failing them.
So we judge ourselves as failures. We compare ourselves to the parenting standards set forth by similar books, charts, people, and companies that bombard us with what we should be able to do as parents. There’s another whole set of stories that have been defined in our culture as the standards that ‘good parents’ are supposed to live up to.
But we can’t. These standards are just as impossible and unfair, but we still try. And the more we try, the more we feel like failures. We fall farther and farther down this slope, too, feeling powerless to ever climb out again.
I’m going to say what I think an answer is, but it’ll be much easier said than done. I still think it’s likely the only way out of this cycle.
All these rules others have defined don’t apply to us. Stop playing by them.
This life is yours. You, your child, your family – you get to decide what your standards are. You all get to write your story together.
Your child is unique in all the world. Celebrate them for who they are, for every hurdle they get over, for every achievement they work so hard to gain. Celebrate all the unique ways they experience the world. Learn from them. Allow them to teach you all new ways to soak in everything around you.
Don’t compare them to anyone else’s standards. Don’t compare them to other kids. They are unique. They are their own person. Treat that as a gift of great treasure.
Talk to other autism parents – in person, online, wherever. You will see that we’re all in this boat together trying to figure things out as best we can. Most of us feel pretty lost much of the time. We can help each other by sharing our stories, if for no other reason than to make us realize that we’re not alone and that the parenting standards of the world clearly don’t apply to us.
Our children are unique, and so are we. Decide on your own standards, and don’t let anyone else say who you need to be as a parent or how your child ought to be.
Instead, do what it takes to help your child grow into the fullest expression of themselves. Be a parent who takes care of yourself and your important relationships. Be a parent who builds or joins communities of support that lift up everyone who is a part of them. That’s most of what you really need.
Take the books and charts and burn them. Block the messages that tell you how you and your child are supposed to do things. Break the cycle of all these oughts and shoulds.
Play by your own rules that center on your unique child and your unique family. Period.