Autism Mom, Life

Autism Parenting: Dealing With Advice, Resentment, and What’s Right

September 25, 2016

Most moms have dealt with, at one point or another, receiving parenting advice. And I am certainly no exception, especially in my culture, where the extended family traditionally plays a large role in the upbringing of a baby. Whether to pick the baby up when he cried versus let him cry it out, or to let him be barefoot vs to keep his socks on at all times were the common topics of my days when my first boy was growing up. But when Alex was born, with his autism diagnosis, things got a bit complicated. I received immense love from family and friends and, as usual, a flow of advice, and while some advice felt right, some felt wrong, and some felt hurtful.

Unless the advice was sought by me and felt right, I often had a reaction of resentment and anger, like I somehow failed as a parent for not thinking of or not implementing these ideas before. While I resented criticism, I also worried constantly that I wasn’t doing enough!

So through the years, I learned to keep my composure and not to take things personally. I am not perfect and I don’t need to be perfect to be content with myself and my decisions! I kept reminding myself not to stamp all the advice I was getting with a good or bad label based on who said it to me and how it was said, but more like helpful or not helpful. I tried to process every single one through the lens of is it right for my child?. I kept reminding myself that this should not be about me but about him! This approach helped me to sort through and deal with advice tremendously.

So here are the three most common recurring situations I’ve identified that come into play with advice:

1. When advice just didn’t feel right.

Sometimes I would hear things from people I respected very much and who were knowledgeable in the subject, but my gut feeling was telling me that it just wasn’t right. I’ve been told that I am not strict enough with Alex. So the guilt and concern that I am doing it wrong sometimes overwhelms me. But then, if I can sit him down and talk through issues and actually get him change behavior that way, why should I go for tougher measures? Even more, I feel that disciplining him and being stricter with him may actually backfire and shut him down. Every child is unique, and what works for some doesn’t necessarily work for others. And  as long as I filter what would be right for my child and get results, then I should trust that I take the approach that is more right for Alex; because I know my child best.

2. When advice is actually veiled criticism.

There isn’t a person out there who doesn’t believe their beliefs to be the best, including me. In close relationships, that’s even more amplified, and we tend to be less sensitive and don’t filter our immediate thoughts. At first I used to be most deeply hurt by these statements because they felt so shaming, but learned to move away from the self-hating they caused and toward the sentiment behind them. In some cases, there was actually a valid criticism behind it. In others, there isn’t. Remarks like this happen, but most people don’t think everything they say through and don’t mean to make me feel bad. So it’s not always something to make a fuss about. But if one person seems to repeatedly do this, I am not afraid to have an honest conversation about how their pointed comments make me feel. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but most definitely it’s worth trying. The worst thing I can do, though, is to start arguing and trying to prove myself right and them wrong! When that starts, I have to back up and think about what’s really behind the fight.

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to fake friends or family members who have more malicious intentions. There are always going to be people who don’t appreciate the work I do, but unless they change, there is nothing I can do! Having a child with special needs changes your relationships, and a lot of times, that’s an incredible thing. Other times, relationships feel draining, painful, and shaming. But I always know that it’s ultimately MY decision who to keep on and off my team.

3. When everyone’s giving you the same advice.

So I’ve talked a lot about how useful the iPad is for Alex in dealing with stressful situations. There came a time, though, when he started using it as an escape from the real world just a little too often. People around me noticed, and of course I did too, but with so much going on at home and at work, I felt like I was being pulled in every direction. During this time, various family and friends, suggested that I sign him up for some form of exercise, to which I thought “there’s no way, he has a hard enough time getting through school!” I knew exercise would be in the picture some day, but that day didn’t feel like an option. But I thought about the advice. Exercise was hard to fit in, yes, but I thought if I could tie in something that would help with his sensory issues too, it could really help. In little time, Alex started his swimming lessons, and I’m so happy he did.

So here are my three common situations that come into play with advice. Do you often receive parenting advice? How do you deal with it? Would love to hear from you!!

♡ Zuma A.

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