On How Being The Princess’s Mom has made me a better Mom to The Duke and The Earl

17 Sep

For many people, having an autistic child first would preclude them having any additional children. I completely understand their reasoning, but we had The Duke before we knew The Princess had autism, so we were always at least going to have two kids. And when we had The Duke we knew we wanted a third child. Regardless of the outcome with autism.

That being said, I am glad that I had the Princess first. I believe that having my oldest child have autism has made me a much better parent to my two typically developing children. I went into parenting an autistic child completely blind and the lessons I have learned, have for sure made it easier for to raise my boys. How has it made it easier?

1. I am advocate. When a child is diagnosed with autism, their parents or guardians are always their best advocates if not sometimes, their only ones. Being an advocate to an autistic child means constantly being in contact with teachers, therapists and doctors. It means following up constantly to ensure that therapies are being received on schedule, to ensure that goals are being met and that your child is never shortchanged. Once I got into the groove of being an advocate for The Princess, it became natural for my boys. And by advocate for my boys it doesn’t mean badgering a coach to make sure my kids play every game. It means ensuring that their educational needs are being met. That possible delays are not  being pushed aside and that in the case of Will, that he is not getting bored and is adequately challenged. It means ensuring they have all the opportunities they are due.

2. I am able to trust others. When The Princess was diagnosed with autism, I was forced to place her treatment in the care of others who were, at that time, strangers. Speech and occupational therapists, teachers. I had to be able to trust that they had her best interests at heart and were providing her with the best care possible. I had to learn that although I know my child best, I do not necessarily know how best to help my child all the time. I can learn if I allow other people in. This has helped me tremendously with my boys. It has encouraged me to allow them to be more open with people. I am extremely introverted and that does sometimes show in my parenting, but when I can trust that another mother on the playground can for a couple of seconds put The Duke on a swing and push him while I bring The Earl over, it’s worth it.

3. I don’t freak out about so many little things. I have come to realize with The Princess that there are a lot of bigger things to worry about in life than whether her school  has a uniform policy or not (they do). I have learned that there are so many little things we do and encounter every day that we can make a lot bigger than they actually are. If The Princess doesn’t eat everything I put in front of her, I don’t freak out. I don’t get upset that she isn’t “trying enough new things.” This has obviously helped me parent my sons tremendously.  I realize that they too will have a million small things during the day that can drive me crazy…if I let them. The Duke, for whatever reason, typically puts shoes on the wrong feet. It’s okay, I remind him, we switch them he moves on.

4. I allow myself to be okay with outcomes that are not originally what I had intended. When The Princess started her therapies at age two, we naively thought that she would be talking in a year. But, when a year came and went and she was still in the same place, we were okay with that. We had learned that it’s okay to set high goals and hope to achieve them. As long as you realize that realistically there is a chance that things might not go according to plan. When I was turned down by UNC-Chapel Hill for college, it felt as though my world was ending. It was really just beginning, a year later I was a freshman at UNCW and had met my husband. Now, I realize how silly it was to think that I would never amount too much if I didn’t go to one particular school. And it is true with my sons too. I would love for The Duke to be reading by this time next year, but it may or may not happen exactly that way, all I can do is work with him on letter recognition and phonics, etc and hope for the best. With, The Earl, that goal is potty training. He just turned two in May. I would hope that he is potty trained by January, but it might not be realistic. We sit him on the potty, we praise him when he goes, we tell him it’s okay when he has accidents. If we haven’t made the progress we want by January it’s okay too.

5. I’ve learned to not be so hard on myself. Yes there are things in life I can control, but there are many, many things I cannot. The Princess could meltdown at any time in any place. I’ve had to learn that no matter how hard I try to prepare to prevent something like that from happening, it could still  happen. And it’s not my fault. A week ago The Earl broke a glass sun catcher and cut his finger open trying to pick up the pieces of glass. I was in the kitchen when it happened, he was in a bedroom. I caught him in the act of opening the first aid kit to try to bandage it himself (I followed the trail of blood). Now, before I had The Princess, before autism was a part of my life and daily lexicon, I would have been in tears. I would have told everyone it was my fault for not being by his side 100% of the time. I realize now that, I can’t protect any of my kids from everything. I couldn’t control that The Earl cut his finger open, but I could control my reaction to it and part of that reaction…is not beating myself up.

6. I’ve realized that I can only do what I can do. I’m not super-mom. I can’t commit The Princess to twelve therapies and every experimental treatment out there. I don’t have the money nor the time. The same is true for my boys. I can’t put them in every single activity to make them perfectly well-rounded. I can’t prevent them from knowing some very sad things happen in our world (the 10th anniversary of September 11 drove that home as for the first time I found myself explaining what had happened). I can do my very best and love them with my whole heart and that is what is the most important thing of all.

7. I’ve developed a thick skin and learned to trust my instincts above all others’. In this day and age, it is very easy for people (particularly mothers for some reason) to tear each other down. In the world of autism, that can often happen because of personal choices we’ve made about our child’s health care, education and therapies (among other things). I’ve learned that just because someone doesn’t agree with my views on immunization, doesn’t mean I am a bad parent or that I am abusing my child. Similarly, in the world of parenting my typically developing children, I don’t allow people to tell me the best way to discipline the boys or what tv I should or should not allow them to see. Those are personal choices that are best for me and my family. And while I choose not to judge others for their choices, I know others stand and judge me. And I’ve learned that I can’t change that about them, nor should I necessarily change to earn their stamp of approval.

Does learning all these things mean I’m a perfect parent? NO…not by a long shot. It does improve my parenting and all of these things came as a direct result of being The Princess’s Mom. Do I still make mistakes? Are you kidding me? Of course I do, all the time! Are my kids  perfect as a result of this? Negative, Ghost Rider. There are still days I prefer not to let people know they are mine. I’m still learning how to be the best mom I can for The Princess and The Duke and The Earl. The Princess put me on the express track though!

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