Thursday, January 23, 2014

What I would change about my children….. or …..The way I speak about my children matters

I saw an online conversation this week in which the question was posed- what would you change about your children? (my paraphrase) As I interpreted it, the person asking was implying that Autism was something that could be removed from a child and they were giving the participants in the conversation permission to list the things they didn’t like about their child. It made me uncomfortable in a lot of ways and for a lot of reasons, and really got me thinking. 

So, what would I change about my children? 



Now, before anyone decides I am being overly positive, unrealistic, delusional or just plain lying…. hear me out. 

Of course there are pains I see my kids experience and my mother heart hurts with them.

Of course there are times I can see things would be so much easier for them if they would just……  

Of course sometimes I hold my breath and hope hope hope they will make a better choice this time because it would be so much easier on them if they did. 

Of course they have attended OT and Speech Therapy to develop necessary skills and they receive ongoing Psychological support, one of my daughters wears glasses, and we do whatever we can to provide appropriate supports for all of them to help them reach their goals and achieve their dreams. 

But I would not change anything about any of my kids. Not the Autistic ones. Not the Bipolar one. Not the one who has Sensory Processing Disorder. Not the ones who have no diagnoses. 

I would not change my kids at all. 

I would not always have said this. But it is true now. 

I used to wish my kids were more compliant. Until I read about how children who are taught unquestioning compliance are easy targets for abusers. 

I used to wish my kids were more tidy. Until I realised that learning to care for your own possessions is a process and if they skipped that process by just becoming tidy out of fear of my wrath they wouldn’t be learning to value things and creating ways of caring for their things that work for them. 

I used to wish my kids didn’t “talk back” to me so much. And by “talk back” I mean question why they need to do things that I ask them too. I used to call this behaviour “defiant”. It was an inconvenience to me because I had to think things through if I was to give them an honest answer, which took time and energy. And besides, they are the kids and I know better. Right? Then I realised that the same way of thinking and temperament that caused them to question me might feel defiant now, but was actually a sign of the ability to think critically and as they grew older it would be called assertiveness and “out of the box thinking” and it would be a good thing. 

My second son has been at the short end of the height range for his age for his whole life. But I don’t hate his shortness, or complain about it to my friends or discuss with him things he can do to make himself taller. I just pass him the stool when he needs it. And if he tells me people tease him for being short I remind him that those kind of people are not worth listening to and that he is just right the way he is. 

My oldest daughter and I have very fair skin. We don’t hate our skin or complain about it. We look after it. And if people want to joke about how fair we are, or make comments about how often we apply sunscreen we remind ourselves that we are doing what we need to in order to stay healthy and skin cancer free. 

Just as I don’t wish to make my kids instantly and magically compliant, impeccably tidy or less inquisitive, I do not wish to make them not Autistic. Nor do I hate Autism. 

Just as I do not wish my son to be taller, or mine and my daughters skin to be darker, I do not wish that my husband and daughter were not Bipolar. Nor do I hate Bipolar.

You see, Autism and Bipolar are part of a persons neurology. They are as much a part of my family as are the traits of curly hair, blue eyes, freckles and fair skin. The fact that half my family has atypical neurologies does not make me hate their brains. If they were not Autistic and Bipolar they would not be ..... them. 

Sure, my husbands manic irritability is frustrating at times, but he finds it really annoying when he can hear me chewing on cashew nuts when we watch tv together, and my habit of rolling over with the blankets is pretty inconvenient for him in winter. I’m pretty sure my tendency toward disorganisation is downright frustrating for him when it means he has no clean shirt to put on after a shower.  

We all have things we do that aren’t ideal. And none of us particularly like to have those things aired in public. 

Which brings me to the part that falls under “The way I speak about my children matters”. 

I once read a quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. It said something like- what other people think of me is none of my business.  I would revise this for parents to- your frustrations with your children are none of their business and you are responsible for your own feelings.

We need to be careful what messages we give our kids. We need to tell them we love them unconditionally, not only if they behave a certain way. This is true for all kids, not just kids with differences.

The messages my kids need to hear from me are ones of encouragement and support. 
“I believe in you” 
“I am here for you whenever you need me”
“I love you no matter what”

They do not need to know about my worries for them. 
They do not need to know how frustrated I feel sometimes. 
Those things are mine. Not theirs. 
I am responsible for my feelings. 
My children are not responsible for my feelings nor are the cause of them. 
The cause of my feelings is my own reactions to situations. 
That is for me to deal with and my children do not need to be aware of that process. 
They are children and I am the adult. 
I need to be responsible for me and let them grow up secure in the knowledge that they can trust me to be there for them, whatever they need, whenever they need it. They need to know I will defend them always.

So it is important not only how I speak to my kids, but also how I speak about them. 

Let’s try to create a parallel. If my mother told me she loved me but hated my face, I’d be justifiably upset right? What if she told her friends that? I’m pretty sure people would agree that she was out of line. She should probably have kept that to herself and dealt with it quietly. Most Autistic people and Bipolar people say that Autism and Bipolar are part of them, it is who they are as much as their looks and height. So if I said to them I love you, but I hate your Autism/Bipolar, would that not be inappropriate too? And if I told a public support group, too? I think so.

Children are smart. They hear things. They know what goes on. And in this day and age if we discuss things in public forums on the internet, or write about them in blogs, our words are recorded and will be accessible pretty much forever. 

I know for sure that I do not want my kids to get online one day as they get older and read that I really struggled to parent them because they were so difficult to live with. I certainly wouldn't want them to read that I wished they were different than they are, even if that were how I felt at the time. 

I understand that we are all at different parts of our parenting journey. I realise that some of you are not at the same place as me. I know that for some of you the reality is that you are struggling so much that you can’t relate to what I am saying at all. I have been there too. If you read some of the early posts in my Amazing Adventures blog you will see references to this time. I didn’t stay long, but I have been there. 

Even if this is the case, and you are in a place where all you can think is about the things that are hard and the things you do want to be different, please also think about how you plan to process that. Please think about how it would affect your kids to know how you feel. We all want our parents to be proud of us. Your kids need that from you. If you need support getting to a place where you can deal with your frustrations without placing them on your kids please do that in a confidential and appropriate way so that your children do not feel they are the reason for your troubles. 

It is time we as a community stood together to look after our children. Like the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. It is time those of us who have walked a bit further or a bit longer step up and are heard. 

We as parents need to listen to adults who have been where our children are. When Autistic adults say to us that if we talk about our kids in a certain way it hurts them, we need to listen. When they say that if we complain about Autism our kids will hear that as us disapproving of them, we need to listen. 

I heard. I listened. I am passing the message on. 

Will you pass it on too? 

For all our children. They will be adults one day, and we do not want their story to be one that holds the same struggles as the Autistic adults who go before them. We can do better than those who went before us with less information. 

Surely we can do better for our children. The way we speak about our children matters, and they do not need to hear us saying we wish to change them. Us loving them does not rely on them being anything other than themselves just as they are,  and they need to know that. 

Please help me tell them. 


  1. Omg!!! This piece is just perfection and thank you for stating it far better than I. Puts things in perspective. Love love love!!!

  2. I so agree with you - Autism ROCKS!
    Sure we face more challenges - but we overcome and do the best we can and often contribute more than even we dreamt of t0o bring to the table.