Many, many years ago, I had a vague idea in my head of what ‘successful parenting’ would look like. To me, it was something that could really only be measured when my children were grown and living independent lives – judging the success of my parenting by the decisions my offspring would make. I realise that there are personality characteristics inherent in everyone that influence their lives, but I still had some nebulous concepts of what would showcase my parenting success.
Once I started having children, I was very focussed on the day to day stuff – like making it through yet another sleep deprived day with a screaming and tantruming toddler, but I still thought about “when they were grown up”. I knew that they would need to learn certain skills in order to be able to function in our world, and live contentedly, regardless of what they chose to do with their futures. We started homeschooling when our oldest child was four and a half, and teaching lifeskills has always been a priority for me since.
The only trouble seems to be that my kids don’t want to learn them. Nobody likes to spend time cleaning up or cooking meals when there are more fun things to be done instead, but it’s a part of life that we need to do them. Just like personal cleanliness – I understand that sensory issues mean that having a shower or washing your hair is not something you’d willingly do, but the rest of us really don’t want to smell you or look at you when you haven’t done it. So who is ‘right’ in that instance? The one who says, “it’s my body and I can’t stand the feel of the water on my skin”, or the one who says, “it’s my nose and I can’t stand the smell of you as it makes me feel nauseous”? Surely there can be a compromise?
Then there is the Obsessive Compulsiveness that means every single thing has to be kept and can never, ever be thrown out. Old lolly wrappers, envelopes from letters long lost, bits of feathers from pet birds (though not even being sure which one), bits of rocks and broken shells, and a scrap of paper with nothing on it, but it must be important somehow – all these are amongst the many treasures that several of my children feel it absolutely necessary to keep for eternity. I have sensory issues, too, as well as compulsions of my own. I learned long ago that visual clutter makes my brain feel cluttered, so in order for me to function better and feel emotionally capable, I need to have a relatively tidy house with things behind closed doors.
I have literally managed to stumble through one of my children’s rooms only to have a full blown panic attack when seeing the ‘stuff’ that was all over the floor, the furniture and hanging out of the cupboards. I know that I am the one that has to go through and organise it – throw things out, store the treasures and do it in such a way that the child can continue with the system themselves. Only they never do. Not ever. I am a fabulous organiser, yet I have failed at instilling in my children the most rudimentary of organisational skills – because they simply don’t care. I’ve tried to get them onto organisational apps and other tools that I think might suit their interests – “no thanks, I’d rather be messy”.
Being a Christian, I also have certain expectations of my children as human beings. Yelling abuse at their siblings, hurting them and breaking things don’t really fit into those expectations. I find it difficult to cope with the at-times constant arguments, the explosive tempers that my children have, and the extreme stubbornness that leads to school refusal (even though we homeschool) or to do anything as simple as helping clean up their own mess (and woe forbid if I ask them to clean up someone else’s mess).
I find it exhausting to have to constantly follow a child around, reminding them to do their (very few) chores, or to have a shower, or to eat something, or to go to bed (oh, that’s a favourite one in this house). I have tried visual charts, I have tried Chore Packs (clip on cards with ordered chores to do such as brushing teeth), I have tried rosters. I have tried explaining, begging, pleading, guilt trips, paying them and yelling at them. Nothing works.
So looking at the likelihood of my parenting having raised some healthy, capable individuals, ready to cope in our society, I have to admit to a huge FAIL.
My oldest ‘child’ at 19 does not want to leave the house, talk to people, eat or sleep. I have no idea how she will ever cope in an employment situation, or any other situation that puts her in daily contact with the outside world. My second child is coping extremely well, except for the pressures that living in a house with four autistic siblings put on her mentally and physically. She has not had a normal childhood by any stretch of the imagination. My third child is the one refusing to do schoolwork and spends most of her time on the computer, regardless of what I say or do. My fourth child is doing well but has decided that what’s good enough for her older sister is good enough for her, so she is not doing schoolwork either. And please don’t ask her to have a shower or brush her hair. My youngest has an explosive temper that needs to be managed very carefully at all times, and I have wondered whether he has Pathological Demand Avoidance. And then there’s my autistic son, who needs 24/7 watching and care.
At the beginning of my parenthood journey, I had thought that someday I might be able to enjoy some ‘child-free’ time with my husband once the kids had left home, and maybe even have a few grandchildren. The reality is that we will always have at least one child at home – and regardless of how old he is, he will most likely remain a child in intellect and behaviour for the rest of his life. I don’t know whether the others will be able to cope in the world without our help, either. Child-free time would require the money to pay a carer – a luxury we simply cannot afford when we are struggling to put food on the table. The only one of my children who might like to marry one day is too afraid of having severely ill children, so the chances of my having any grandchildren are pretty slim.
No matter who I talk to, I am confronted with advice that totally contradicts my personal feelings, instincts and abilities. We used to attachment parent – much to the dismay of some Christian parents. We also tried ‘tough love’ as recommended by our pastor at the time – this backfired completely with the kids and left me feeling absolutely horrible as a parent. We did the usual daycare, preschool/school thing, only to find out that it simply didn’t suit our child. Then we were harassed by the various government departments and ‘professionals’ we were consulting at the time (none of whom ever mentioned the word Aspergers to us) as obviously all our issues were due to homeschooling. This was right after we were told that our oldest child had possible Attachment issues and we should work on that.
On the one hand I am told that my children need lots of exposure to the ‘world’ (aren’t we living in it already?) and that I’m not forcibly dragging them out enough to make them endure socialisation. At the same time, I should be cognizant of their sensory and emotional needs and not put too much pressure on them. Each child should apparently be receiving special attention, therapy and a whole heap of other things, which are simply not possible when you have six children and only one full time parent, as well as a budget that has been stretched beyond breaking point already. I’m their case manager – it is up to me to coordinate therapies, financial assistance (ha ha ha) and anything else they may need, as well as provide therapy at home, ensure a nutritious diet and that they are taking their supplements.
Is it any wonder I feel like an absolute failure? The pressure put on parents of children with Autism is huge – not just from within ourselves, but from well meaning friends, relatives, school teachers, and any professional we consult on behalf of our child. Add in the fact that a lot of us have health issues of our own which are exacerbated by the constant stress we live in, and it’s truly a miracle that we manage to survive each day.