Monthly Archives: April 2011

Parents Anonymous: 12 Step Program for Parenting

I’m not a perfect mother. There, I’ve finally said it. It’s difficult to write. But, it’s even harder to admit. With this acknowledgement comes a sense of relief. A weight has been lifted from my soul. I feel as if I’m standing at the podium of a twelve-step meeting, confessing my deficiencies.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a horrible parent. I’m just not a great one. My children don’t come home to freshly baked cookies every afternoon. We don’t make the beds every day. Some nights, I don’t read to my sons.

In my head, I know there are no perfect guardians. The problem lies within my heart. There, lurking in the recesses of all four chambers, is a nagging, a longing, to be an ideal mother. Living in the shadow of this unobtainable objective is daunting.

Lying in bed each night, reviewing my daily transgressions, I vow that tomorrow will be flawless. Some days are. But, life is unpredictable. Children are inconstant. Regardless of my best intentions, I make mistakes.

On a typical week day morning, we juggle breakfast, lunches, backpacks, clothes, coats, and shoes in a controlled chaos. If the stars align, we manage to successfully squeak through the morn, leaving our day unscathed.

Today, we weren’t so lucky. My five-year-old son, Peter, had a series of meltdowns. It started when he couldn’t find the toy he wanted, followed by the declaration that his Spiderman shoes mysteriously disappeared. Peter’s refusal to leave the house was the tantrum culmination.

Until Peter’s outburst, life was running on schedule. As I glanced at my watch, I imagined walking into my business meeting late. Standing in the garage, seething with anger, I resisted the urge to forcibly drag him to the car. Instead, I stormed back in, retrieved the Spiderman shoes from their usual spot in the closet, and yelled at Peter in my fiercest tone.

Shrieking worked. Peter promptly scurried to the car. Deserted in the hallway, I was immediately overwhelmed by sadness. Entering the garage, I could see Peter sitting in his car seat, sullen and dejected.

I climbed into the backseat, gathered him in my arms, and apologized. As I held him in my arms, Peter proclaimed, “Mommy, you hurt my heart.” Then, Peter forgave me. His love for me is pure, innocent, and unconditional, which only made me feel worse.

Now, hours later, I sit at my desk pensive. I’ve watched enough Oprah and Dr. Phil to know I handled things poorly. My mind is on deep breaths, time outs, and all of the other parenting techniques I’ve digested through the years. Why didn’t I employ these tactics? Instead, I mimicked the very behavior I was attempting to control. Again.

Now what? There is no twelve-step program for poor parenting. Perhaps there should be. I’m sure there are other parents who feel as I do. Until I became a mother, I never realized the depths of unrelenting guilt. It started when my oldest son was in utero and hasn’t dissipated since.

I don’t have the answers. What I do know? I will never be a perfect custodian. For now, I hope that being a good parent, with some great moments, is enough.

A guiding principle of twelve-step organizations is to live life with a modified code of decorum. As I lie in bed this evening, I will commit myself to this pledge and strive to become a better parent. I will remind myself of Peter’s words this morning. I believe him. I did hurt his heart.

Am I being too hard on myself? Maybe, but I don’t think so. You see, in the recesses of Peter’s heart, he’s longing for me to be an ideal mother too. I can live with disappointing myself, but being a disappointment to your children is an arduous burden. Just the thought of it hurts my heart.

Privacy Policy: Protecting My Children’s Privacy in the Internet Age

Another privacy policy arrived in the mailbox today. These legal documents, created to ensure our protection, have inundated our populace. They have become commonplace, often unread or discarded. The mass dissemination of these confidentiality disclosures may be desensitizing their own relevance.

As parents, we assume responsibility for the lives of our children. By necessity, infants abdicate all rights to their caregivers instantaneously at birth. Maintaining a child’s privacy is a task no guardian should take lightly.

Parents blog about the adventures of their children. Slideshows chronicling an entire childhood are viewable on Facebook. We tweet about a first tooth on Twitter. Our children’s lives have become open books in a public forum. I wonder, how much exposure is too much?

Social media outlets allow us to share family photos expeditiously. The latest child YouTube sensation is often viewed by millions. Watching a giggling baby or talented toddler brightens the day. These exchanges may innocently expose our children to a global audience.

Preserving our children’s privacy isn’t an easy effort. As the parent of a differently-abled child, it’s an internal conflict, I continuously struggle to reconcile. Do I have the right, morally, to disclose my child’s diagnosis to the world?

When my son, Ben, was originally diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, I spoke about it sparingly. Subconsciously, I hoped Ben would outgrow it. Consciously, I didn’t want Ben to be labeled.

Initially, Ben’s dissimilarities were easy to camouflage. As he matured and entered a mainstream educational institution, Ben’s distinct characteristics were evident. Concealment was no longer an option. Although exposed, Ben was still sheltered within our local community.

Now as an entrepreneur, blogger, and autism advocate, I’ve made the decision to openly discuss Ben. Am I entitled to share his story? Some may argue that it’s our narrative. They would be right. But these parables only encompass a chapter of my life. For Ben, they comprise the entirety of his biography.

Time, and Ben, will determine if I’ve made the correct choices. Parenting is subjective. Even with the greatest intentions, guardians make mistakes. We trust the successes outweigh the failures.

In the meantime, I relish my personification in the history of Ben’s adventures. Hopefully, Ben will appreciate his personage in our family chronicle, as well.

Stage Presence: The Spectacle of Autism

Every year, families of elementary school students are transported to a fantasy world via the annual school play. My son, Ben, has been practicing for weeks in anticipation of his debut as a rain drop in his first grade production of Spring Starts Here.

Ben has been in numerous productions throughout his academic career. In previous years, Ben has been more of a stage prop, than a participant.  As a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, Ben is often overwhelmed by loud noises and excessively stimulated by an audience.

Before every student theatrical creation, my anxiety begins to build. Historically, Ben has always taken the stage with his classmates, but his focus has never been on the show. Ben withdraws into a world of his own. A world I want to see, but I can’t.

On the day of this year’s performance, Ben was excited. I was nervous. As a parent, I always hope for the best. As a realist, I know wishes don’t always come true.

My rain drop bounded on stage enthusiastically. Ben recited every word on cue.  He sang every lyric of “Springtime” with zeal. As he stood on stage, for the first time, Ben seamlessly blended with his peers. My heart swelled with pride.

As the play neared its conclusion, with mere minutes left, Ben began vigorously flapping his hands. He stood in the front row clearly visible to the assemblage.

Tears welled in my eyes. Not because my pride had waned. For forty minutes, Ben had the performance of his lifetime. Unfortunately, no one in the audience will recognize or appreciate the accomplishments Ben displayed throughout the majority of the play. When they look at Ben, they’ll only remember those last few moments.

I’ll never forget this appearance . I know the progress Ben has made. I recall every obstacle he has overcome. If only everyone could see that my rain drop was miscast. Ben is actually a ray of sunshine.

April is National Autism Awareness Month. My desire is that others will learn to look past the unusual ticks and sounds of autism. Although we can’t see inside the world of those afflicted with autism spectrum disorders, we have had glimpses. Allow a child on the autism spectrum into your world. You won’t regret it. Everyone enjoys the sunshine.

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