Tag Archives: letting go

co-parenting

My husband and I have been married for almost 22 years.  In this time we have known great highs and devastating lows.  We have known times of peace and times of anxiety and tension.  I think, by far, the greatest time of tension that we have experienced as a couple have been the past few years parenting our now 17 year old daughter.

Parenting an older adolescent is a whole different universe than parenting an infant, or toddler or young child.  The issues then are very much centered around physical safety:  baby-proofing, making sure they don’t run out in the street, or wander away from you at the mall.  Parenting an older teenager is about safety too, but the game is utterly different.  Instead of baby-proofing, you wonder if the group they’re with will be drinking or doing drugs.  Instead of keeping them from running in the street, you’re praying they don’t get an accident while they’re out with the car.  Instead of wandering away in a crowd, you’re terrified they (or someone they’re with) will do something incredibly stupid or dangerous (or both).

And instead of tucking them in at night, you’re worried about them picking the kind of major in college that will enable them to get a decent job.  Instead of tucking them in at night, you’re trying to prepare them to be without you.  To fly solo.  It’s about finding the balance between holding on too tight so that they’re unprepared, and letting go too quickly or at the “wrong” time so they crash.

I’m spending a lot of time feeling afraid.  But I think I’m coping better than my husband, who is just plain terrified.  Because of my childhood, I tend to err on the side of freedom, while he errs on the side of control.  As a result, we’ve had some pretty interesting disagreements and discussions over the past year or so.  As I said, there are times when the tension is THICK – times when I think he’s suffocating her, and he thinks I’m irresponsible.

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I never expected to be fighting over differing parenting styles.  It’s been a bit of a shock and very disconcerting.  And of course the “truth,” the “right” way to go, is somewhere in between.  But there’s no formula for figuring out where that happy middle is.  It all feels like such a roll of the dice – which only adds to my fear and his terror.

I find myself sometimes wishing I didn’t have to co-parent.  It would be so much easier if I didn’t need to consult my husband or compromise or admit when I’m wrong.  But I know that’s just fantasizing to relieve the tension.  I know single parents.  And I know single parenting has its own tensions and fears and is HARD.   I knew parenting would be hard, but I had no idea HOW hard, and no idea the toll it could take on a relationship.  When divorce statistics are thrown around, you always hear about money being a source of stress, but I wonder how much having an adolescent figures into divorce rates?  Not that we’re going that route BELIEVE ME – I LOVE my husband, and like I said, my fantasy of being a solo parent is just that – a fantasy to escape the hard work of dialogue, understanding, and compromise. “Opposites attract” sounds nice, but the reality of it can be… complicated.

I never thought about parenting styles when I had children.  And I guess you cannot possibly know what kind of parent you will be to your adolescents until you get there.  It’s not something I think people generally talk about when they’re falling in love and think about having children together.  I know my husband and I certainly didn’t talk about how we would handle our hypothetical teenage daughter wanting to drive an hour to a hypothetical concert with her friends.  And I know that how I act in the reality is often different than I ever imagined it.

My daughter has been in therapy since the spring, and I think her therapist is excellent.  One of the reasons I feel this way is because she’s spending time with all three of us: my daughter alone, my daughter and I, my daughter and my husband, and my husband and myself.  She’s guiding us through some of our confusion and fear and tension in parenting.  I don’t think we’ll be able to work our fears away (I don’t think that’s possible for anyone who takes parenting seriously), but hopefully we’ll cope with them a little better, and also be able to work through some of the tension in our parenting styles. Less tension between the two of us around the last years our daughter is home would be a good thing.

Anyone else out there go through this?

 

new problems

So, for those of you who may not know, my twelve (soon to be thirteen) year old daughter with autism started at a new school in September.  All her educational life from age three to twelve was spent in the same program specifically designed for autistic children.  It was a WONDERFUL program, but she was doing so well and progressed so far that she didn’t need their intense services anymore.  We were scared to make the change, to leave the nest, but we knew it was time because she was really starting to be held back from blossoming where she was.

She has transitioned marvelously in her new school.  It’s a regular school, but she is in a self-contained special education classroom, with inclusion for art, music and gym.  She goes to homeroom with other “typical” children in her grade and has her inclusion classes with those same kids, so she’s finally making a few casual friends outside her special ed group.  She has girls to chat and giggle and have lunch with which has been really nice for her. She is very happy.

HOWEVER…

In this new school, just because she is in a self-contained special education classroom no longer means that her classmates all have autism.  I don’t know what the problems are for any of the other kids in her class.  I don’t mind that BUT…

Two of her new girlfriends (in her class) are MUCH more tech savvy than she is.  They want to go on Oovoo and video chat, which is okay with me, but I had to help my daughter get their usernames and add them as friends, and even how to use it (which I have to repeat with her every time).  She really doesn’t “get” that stuff.  They want to call and talk on the phone, which, again is okay with me, but last week one of the girls called at 10:30PM – on a school night!  I had to explain to this girl that my daughter had gone to bed, then the next day tell my daughter that she had to tell her friend NO calling after 9pm.  Then my daughter asks if she can go with these girls to “hang out” at the local plaza after school.  (Um… NO WAY.  My daughter barely knows her address and wouldn’t have the vaguest worry if a stranger came up to her and offered her a ride.  Me, let her go unsupervised with these girls to a plaza?  NOT ON THIS GOD’S EARTH.)  But she says they go there to hang out or shop, and at a local park too.  And they all have cell phones, which I confirmed with the teacher (she may not be able to share personal/educational information about these girls with me for privacy reasons, but she did confirm the cell phone thing).  We haven’t gotten my daughter a cell phone yet because:

  1. she BARELY knows how to use a regular landline phone and
  2. she has never been without direct adult supervision so has never needed one

It seems to me these girls are much more “normal” or “advanced” (for lack of better terms) than my daughter (although I wasn’t letting my twelve year old “typical” daughter go hang out at the local shopping plaza either).  Clearly they are more independent.  I wonder if their problems are simply academic and not mainly developmental (which I can’t know for privacy reasons).  This has left me a little scared and confused and worried.  I WANT her to have friends.  I WANT her to integrate as best as she can with other kids her age.  But her ability to be independent is limited.  Her ability to understand the clever deception of a stranger trying to take advantage of her is NON-EXISTENT.  Her ability to perceive danger is limited to only the very obvious.  She is extremely trusting.  She has very little understanding of money and so shopping with the girls would be a disaster.

I did offer to go to this plaza WITH her and “hang back” and watch out for her while she’s there with her friends one day, and she seemed okay with that, but then it rained and they didn’t go, and they haven’t set up a new time.  We have also talked about getting her a cell phone for Christmas (she is actually BEGGING for one).  Nothing fancy, just enough that she can make calls, texts and have an app or two.

I thought it would get easier as she progressed in her development, but the truth is, right now, that it’s feeling much harder and much scarier.  Autism, once again, is keeping us on our toes…

parades

I’m generally not the kind of parent who cries over my kids getting older.  I didn’t feel sad on my firstborn’s first day of preschool, or her first day of kindergarten.  Truth be told, I was actually kind of glad.  When she started preschool my belly was big with baby #2, and I needed some time a few days a week to keep sane.  When she started kindergarten I had a special needs toddler and baby #3 on the way, so yeah.  It worked well, because she was a very independent child, and rather than clinging and crying for me at these milestones, she just said, “See you later mommy,” and walked away.

Recently my husband and I went out to lunch and we saw a young couple at another table with a baby in a rear-facing car seat (you know the kind you can snap in and out of the car that doubles as a carrier). At some point in our time together he pointed at them and said, “Don’t you miss those days?”  My response, “Hell no.”  I’m so happy to be done with car seats, diapers, potty training; done with talking to my kids in that distinctive “grown-up-to-little-person” tone of voice.  I have enjoyed my children more as they have gotten older, as I can share more ideas and experiences with them, have more complex conversations with them, and don’t have to worry about baby-proofing or having breakables out and about the house.  But every once in a while, something will come along and my response surprises me.  One of those things happened the other day.

On Friday, my son’s school had their annual Halloween parade.  All the kids in his K-4 school march around the school in their costumes while a loving crowd cheers them on.  Right before my husband and I left home to go watch the parade, I realized this would be our second-to-the-last Halloween parade EVER.  He’s in third grade now, and next year when he’s in fourth grade – that will be IT – because the middle school doesn’t have a parade.  I was shocked by how sad I felt that after next year all our kids will have aged out of this major ritual.  I’m sure he’ll still dress up and trick-or-treat, but the parade will be a thing of the past.

I find that these moments of grieving their childhoods hit me when I least expect it.  It’s not the obvious “big” things that get to me – the first day of school, first sleepovers, first missing tooth.  It’s the things I would never think of, like the way they might turn towards me to say something and suddenly look “different” than the day before, or a Halloween parade.  You never know when it’ll hit you – but when it does you just have to roll with it – the conundrum of being a parent – practically from the moment they’re born, you start the process of letting them go.

my ninja warrior

my ninja warrior

letting her fly, part 2

So, I did something the other day that I thought I might not ever be able to do.  It may seem like a small thing to some people, but for those in the autism world, WE KNOW.  We know that what might seem small is really HUGE.  Today was huge.

My small/huge thing?  I parked in the pick up line with all the other parents picking up their kids from school.  (The area in which I live doesn’t have busing for the majority of kids.)  I did NOT park my car.  I did NOT walk to the door and wait for my 12 year old daughter.  I did NOT walk with her back to my car.  I did NOT do all the things I have done for the past nine years she’s been going to school.  I sat in my car, in the line, with all the other parents – and waited for her to come to me.

This was no spur of the moment decision.  We’d been thinking about it since she started at her new school last month.  But it still wasn’t easy to actually DO.  Not for me.  I’m a bit hovering.  I get very anxious when she’s out of my sight or the sight of her teachers/aides.  She got lost once at the beach when she was five years old, and that experience scarred me for life.  She is not one to wander, thank God.  But when she has gotten separated from a group (or me), her tendency is to walk around looking, but not ask for help, even though we’ve tried to work on it with her again and again.  Anyway, as a result, I hover.  I can’t help it.  And letting go, letting HER go, is hard.

So this was a major step for her, and for me.  When I brought up the idea to her she was immediately excited. “Yes mommy!  Let’s do it!”  She has watched her older sister and younger brother do this, so I bet that was part of her excitement – doing something she sees her siblings and all the other kids doing.

She is capable.  She knows what my car looks like.  The ongoing plan is for me to get to the school early enough every day so I can park directly in front of the school building.  She just has to walk out of school by herself and walk down the sidewalk and hop in the car when she sees me.  Easy peasy right?  Well, not so much.  Not when you’re a “hover-er.”  Even a “hover-er” conscious about the need to stop and let go a little.

My heart was racing the first day.  The reality is always a bit different than the planning.  I ended up having to park near the end of the building, so she had to walk almost its entire length to get to me. Would she see me?  Would she get confused if she didn’t see me right away?  Would she get distracted by something or someone?  I didn’t have a sight line to the school door, so I didn’t see her until she was relatively close by.  When I did finally see her after what seemed like an eternity after school let out, she was walking confidently, with an immense smile on her face.  SO PROUD of herself.  Walking alone to her mom’s car, with all the other kids at school.  One of them.

I don’t know how long it will take until the butterflies leave my belly when the school bell rings, and the kids stream out, but as I said in part 1 of “letting her fly,” I just have to GET OVER MYSELF.  I need to find the balance between being appropriately protective and hovering.  But as I’ve found even with parenting my other “typical” children, this is easier said than done.  For now though I celebrate this new little bit of independence my daughter has accomplished. I am SO proud.

letting her fly

Below is an email I sent to my 12 year old autistic daughter’s former behaviorist.  My daughter started in a new school this month because we all felt she didn’t need the intense services of her previous program provided.  They felt (and convinced us) that she could handle a “step up.”  She is still in a self-contained special education classroom, but is being a bit more challenged, and allowed a bit more freedom.  So far, the transition has been much easier for her than it has been for me, as the email below will attest. *I’ve edited out names and added descriptors in brackets, but otherwise this is the email verbatim.


 

Hi Rebecca,

Remind me again how you all believe [my girl] can do this.

Just got back from back-to-school night feeling very anxious, and tried my best to voice my concerns to Ms E [the teacher] and Mrs. F [head of the child study team] without sounding like a frantic, over-protective, hovering mom.

SHE’S DOING GREAT SO FAR.  She’s happy, transitioning well, acing her hall locker (though the gym locker has been scrapped), and thrilled to be in a class with SIX GIRLS!!!

But this week she brought home a 60% on a writing terms quiz and thought that was a “good” grade.  I had to explain to her that it wasn’t, without making her feel bad.  I explained to Ms E that she’s never really had grades before, and because her math skills are so low that they would have to explain grading to her.  I think I must have repeated myself a few times, so I’m pretty sure Ms E “gets it.”

Also, I guess you guys spoiled me because I also found out that in this new system we’ll only have conferences once a YEAR.  I’m used to that with my other two [children], but have always had a close working relationship with my girl’s teachers.  Ms E said we could meet whenever I have a concern, but now I feel like requesting beyond what’s normally expected would make me “hovering.”  I don’t want to hover.  But I’ve spent her whole life hovering I suppose.

In the end I told them I would have to just GET OVER MYSELF.  But that’s easier said than done.

So I suppose what I’m looking for in this email is just some reassurance that, yes, we have done the right thing, and this almost seamless transition will keep going.  They can say it, and have, but those words mean more coming from you, who have known her and watched her grow since she was tiny.

Man, I did NOT think this evening would be so stressful!  Letting her fly is HARD.

Lisa


***to her credit, and the credit of my daughter’s former program, I didn’t receive an email response – I got a PHONE CALL – a long, loving and reassuring one.  I LOVE my daughter’s former program!