Truth is parenting is done on the fly . . . minute by minute and with no crystal ball. I hate that. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted someone to give me the right and perfect answer — to slip a perfectly folded note under my desk that would help me get a better score. I’m not above cheating when it comes to making sure I know what to do for my kids; I just want to get it right. It’s hard enough to manage their diets and preferences, how to coax them into getting enough sleep, monitoring and encouraging positive relationships, growing them into productive and respectful human beings — but then there are so many trick questions and word problems you’ve never seen before.
For us, the trick questions came in the form of an autism diagnosis when our daughter was 16 years old. Searching for answers led us down so many dead ends, only to be scratching our heads (and looking desperately for the answer sheet). Once we had the diagnosis (PDD-NOS, for those of you in the know; “high functioning” for those of you who need an idea of how difficult it was to diagnose her because of how capable and social she seemed), we were able to start navigating our way through the maze of help.
But we’re learning minute by minute how to balance what our kid needs versus what the world thinks our kid needs. The world looks at kids — and teenagers — through the same prism, giving parents one set of answers. Books, parent groups, an on-line resources purport to know the right way to raise a child, without taking that child into much consideration. Those who have done it assume they have many of the answers and offer their advice freely and lovingly. In the end, all I have to go on — all any of us have to go on, really — is my gut. Does it sound right for my child? Does it feel right? Does the advice put a vice on my heart or does it open up my lungs a little bit, allowing me to breathe?
I haven’t written much lately because I’ve been deep in the process of helping our daughter move to college, to figure out ways to help her gain her footing, making sure she has strong roots and branches that reach to the sky. Metaphors abound because I would probably bore you with the details. There have been mini-crisis points where none of us have gotten any sleep. I’m often at a loss as to how to parent from a distance and the stress tugs at me as I work through my days. I rely on a FB parent group called Grown and Flown because there are thousands of us there, feeling our way around in the dark, holding hands just to get to the next rest stop.
I still end up at my kitchen table each morning, with my cup of coffee, strumming my fingers like my dad used to do, hoping and praying for divine intervention. An angel with the answer sheet.
Every now and then, though, an angel does appear. She’s usually in the form of a friend — or my husband — or my other daughter. Last night, it was a Facebook friend who reminded me that the normal “rules” don’t apply to our daughters who are on the spectrum, that their needs are so different and unique, that listening is the most important skill we need to perfect as a parent.
Listening. Oh, and trust.
So when our daughter said she needed to come home, even briefly, to lay eyes on us and to get a hug, we listened to what she said beyond her words. We tried putting our own fears and the “rules” aside long enough to recognize that a hug for her is life-giving. It builds her strength and stamina to go back out into the world. In that moment, parenting became clear and we bought the ticket.
It will be a whirlwind visit, barely time for long talks and walks — but time enough for that hug and probably a few “lift the world off your shoulders” tears. It won’t be the end of those crisis-points, I’m sure — but it will be one more fortification against the stresses of the world.
I’m not sure how this all fits in the narrative of “good parenting” — but I’m thinking it will help my child grow, in spite of the experts. I’m also thinking that most of parenting is “good enough” at its very best. That is my most fervent prayer: Let me know how to listen to my child and have faith that it will all be ok. Let me be a parent who is “good enough.”