I am not usually big on celebrations like Valentines Day and Mother’s Day. They seem a little bit arbitrary and a reason to sell things to people – sort of making love commercial. However a lot of people find meaning in these things so it’s not really my place to belittle the meaning they experience/ Lots of people have asked today if I will call my mum for Mothers’ day. In fact I am unable to call due to her rarely using her phone and being on holidays in Borneo with my dad and their friends. I will send an email tonight and hope she gets it at some time in the next little while.
Mother’s Day has had me thinking about all things parenting, and particularly my work in the Autism community. If people don’t mind a non-parent reflecting on things relating to motherhood than please read away – and don’t worry, I don’t do judgement! In fact judgement is one of the concerns Autistic parents face (and let’s face it probably most other parents too). Just yesterday I read a post on social media saying parents should punish their Autistic kids for having a meltdown. How many bystanders have judged – either internally or vocally – parents of Autistic kids because the kid is having a meltdown? Judgement is so easy to do also very unhelpful. What happens if a meltdown is punished? Well as the kid almost certainly didn’t want to have it and it was a response to overload, because at the moment where overload turns into meltdown they could not control it, it wasn’t a choice and it was certainly not poor behaviour. If something like that is punished as if it were naughtiness, then the child will probably internalise a lot of self-doubt and be more anxious – and maybe more liable to being overloaded and having more frequent meltdowns. Punishing child for a meltdown is like punishing a child for vomiting – each process is unpleasant but needs support and love not blame and punishment.
Back to Mothers’ Day. My mum is an Autistic parent of at least one Autistic child. When I was was little I was always aware of my mum’s anxiety around parenting. She was insecure and never said anything nice about herself. As I grew older I noticed how my mum was treated by some of the other parents. Even relatives would recount apparently inappropriate things she had said and done when I was a child. In my early adult years when I was struggling to even exist, many women told my mum such unhelpful things as ‘I would have been a better mother for Jeanette’. That statement has always sat very uncomfortably with me. I can only begin to imagine what my mum and dad went through when I was my troubled former self. Surely that was bad enough without random women wanting to take me from my mum?
My mum, for the record, was the very best parent I could have had. I have seen presentations on parenting but Autistics and my family seemed to fit quite neatly into the sort of parenting style. Like everyone else, Autistic parents tend to do some things well and find others more challenging. Autistic and non-autistic parents share this. One is not better or worse than the other, at least in any general sense. Autistic parents tend to be a great confidante and supporter for their Autistic children but they are often judged by other parents because their parenting looks ‘wrong’. Things like cognitive rather than emotional empathy and love can apparently look like they are not close to their kids. There is that other thing where parents are judged on the behaviour of their children. So if a child has ‘odd’ or difficult behaviours, the parent can be blamed, even if the behaviour isn’t negative but just looks a little strange to non-autistic eyes.
When I was a child, ‘parent’ was always a noun. Parenting wasn’t really a ‘thing’ like it is now. I can only imagine the misery my mum would have gone through these days with so many people considering themselves a parenting ‘expert.’
So here is list of some of the wonderful parenting things my supposedly ‘deficient’ mum did:
- Listening without judgement to me. For many years, I would watch my mum ironing – which she loves (that gene evidently wasn’t passed on to me!). We would stand there for ages even night, me talking through stuff going on in my life and reflecting on things I had done and thought recently. There was no judgement ever.
- When I was in my twenties and a drug addled homeless prisoner person, my mum – and my dad – stood by me and supported me the whole time. This was not some anomaly or once-off event. This time in my life went for almost five years and my mum and dad were always, ALWAYS there for me.
- When I was little my mum would explain what she knew of people’s motivations and social conventions which I wasn’t quite sure about.
- When I was unwell with mental illness between 2010 and 2013, my mum came and stayed with me several times. She was just beautiful. I remember hearing her talking to the crisis team and saying ‘I am so hopeless on mental health stuff’. I then heard the voice on the other end of the phone saying ‘no, you’re doing really well.’ I suppose my mum thought she was doing badly at supporting me because she hadn’t fixed my issue but she was doing the best job just sitting with me and being there.
- At around that time, I was i the surgical ward of the hospital having had surgery. I was very helpless and was also having a horrible time with my errant, mentally ill brain. One of the nurses was bullying me. I couldn’t speak but I had my phone and texted my mum to say what was happening. She came up to Canberra right away and advocated for me. When I went home she wrote a letter to the CEO of the hospital and the outcome was that staff on that ward were sent to do mental health first aid training. My mum says if anyone is horrible to her kids she turns into a mamma tiger. I love tigers!
- Earlier this year In invited my mum to the ceremony for the ACT Woman of the year in which I was a finalist. Having her in that audience was amazing. I don’t want to descend into schmaltzy cliches, but my mum has always been my strongest supporter and great friend.
It would seem that Autistic parenting is different not less. Thanks mum for being you. Happy Mothers’ Day.
With my lovely mum at the ACT Woman of the Year awards this year