Does parental mindset matter?
Yes! Parenting a child with ASD elicits many varied emotions from parents. An incredibly deep desire to be a good parent and an even deeper love for our kids, is often tempered by worry, fear, exhaustion, and every other imaginable emotional experience. One of our most effective tools is our ability to control our own emotional experience, manage our expectations, and leverage our parental guidance for the support of the child.
An Emotional Roller Coaster
Like so many parents of children on the autism spectrum, my life with ASD has been a roller coaster of emotions, many of which felt out of my control! I remember moments when I felt like I would never be able to raise kids that could survive on their own. The fear that I was failing as a parent loomed so large sometimes, that I broke down and cried.
Like the numerous times when my son got suspended from Junior High School for breaking the zero-tolerance rule by threatening to “kill” another kid, who was surely the perpetrator of the bullying incident to which my son was both subjected and reacting. How would I ever teach him to manage himself socially?
Like the times he ran to his room and slammed the door and pulled the curtains closed, climbed in bed and pulled the covers up to his nose to recuperate from his day at school. How would I ever teach him to be functional?
Like the times I had to argue with him to put his T-shirt on right side out, with the tags in back instead of with the tags proudly displayed under his chin. How would I ever get him to care?
Or the hundreds of times that he didn’t do homework assignments, or did them and threw them away before he turned them in, so he wouldn’t risk having to make any corrections to them. How would I get him to be accountable and responsible? (Click here to read more about Walking the Parenting Tightrope of ASD.)
My Barrage of Negative Thoughts
My negative emotions doomed me to suffering! I remember facing a constant barrage of negative thoughts and beliefs:
- “I feel like I don’t have any control in my life!”
- “I feel like life is very unfair.”
- “I just can’t do enough to make any difference.”
- “Things don’t usually work out the way I want them to.”
- “I only feel ok when everyone around me is happy.”
- “I feel sad and down all the time.”
- “I feel resentful that my family isn’t ‘normal.’”
- “I must have done something to deserve this lot in life.”
- “I hate what autism does to my child and my life.”
My emotional experience not only took a lot out me, and kept me from enjoying my children’s childhood, but it distracted me from being present with my kids, and tripped us up by creating additional pressure on all of us! (Click here to read more about how Autism Needs a Witness Protection Program!)
The Damage Of Negativity
Since then, I have learned so much about how our children with ASD take emotional cues from us. How my upset and worry and frustration was inadvertently hurting my sons by damaging their self-image. All they knew was that I was consistently experiencing something negative around parenting them, and their youthful interpretation of that was that they were somehow not good enough! Imagine what it is like to have most of the communication you receive from adults be corrective or punative!
I have to pause to defend myself, and good parents everywhere. I was a good parent, doing the best I could with the knowledge I had at the time. What do good parents when their parenting is failing? We double-down, and try harder! We become more rigid with our rules, we respond by more closely monitoring our children and trying to engage them in better behavior. We put more intent and focus on helping our kids overcome the things we believe are “issues.” But in the process, we focus more on the issues. That’s just what good parents do!
We put more intent and focus on helping our kids overcome the things we believe are “issues.” But in the process, we focus more on the issues.
After years of unintentionally inflicting this kind of subtle emotional damage in the name of good parenting, I can now see how my sons were affected by being constantly criticized, corrected, punished, or facing undesired consequences of their actions. Yes, I had the boundaries extolled by experts in parenting, but they had come at a cost.
Raising a child with ASD requires a different mindset.
One Simple Shift of Perspective
Eventually I recognized that my mindset was causing more issues than it was curing. When I finally made one simple shift in my mindset, it triggered a series of other changes that turned the situation around. I began to see that there were 3 of us in our relationship. My child, myself, and the autism. Suddenly the teams were re-divided and it was my child and I against the autism, instead of me versus my child and the autism.
All I had to do was change my perspective to separate the autism and my child, and a cavalcade of additional positive changes ensued! This is just one example of how the simplest shifts in mindset can pay huge dividends! Over the years since then I have made numerous shifts in my mindset and experienced greater success in my parenting and in my children’s ability to function independently and successfully! (Click here to learn more about our Mindset Makeover Training.)
Mindsets are not that complicated to change. The simple shifts in mindset can page huge dividends!
Today I frequently interact with parents who have children that are transitioning, or about to transition out of high school, who are struggling with motivating their child to move forward in life. Often their child is suffering from depression, anxiety, and feeling defeated. When I hear this, I recognize the path they have been on as the one I was once on too!
Mindsets are not that complicated to change, and the sooner you make adjustments the more fruitful they will be in both shaping your child’s future, and helping you to enjoy the experience of parenting a child with ASD!
Who knew we had so much power over our own experience and outcomes? Changing your mindset is free and not that complicated when you’re presented with a logical, sensible and effective alternative.