Parenting has always been a unique challenge for me and an area where I am constantly evolving daily. As an adult on the spectrum with kids, I have noticed also that my approach to parenting is very different compared to my spouse. I have noticed that my spouse has grown up paying attention to details like how to care for someone when a person has a fever or a cold or how to handle things amicably when a kid throws a tantrum. I tend to use Google search to find answers to things like how to handle things when a kid has a fever. I am usually at a loss for words when my kid throws a tantrum and usually just wait for things to resolve by itself. I can’t say all this learning on my spouse’s end is conscious; I suspect it is a combination of conscious and unconscious organic learning.
Analyzing My Parenting Strengths & Challenges
Most of my time and thought process growing up revolved around playing sports with friends, doing well academically, some unproductive dreamy and self-oriented thinking. Looking back, there was little focus towards specific aspects of life, which may have been useful in the parenting journey. For example, I have spent little time organizing my closet or room growing up and I find it hard to guide my kids well with everyday tasks of that nature. Also growing up with parents who were possibly neurodiverse themselves, but never formally diagnosed brings other things into the mix. For example, my parents have never emphasized the need to work on my interpersonal and organizational skills as these are areas they struggle with as well. There are pros and cons to everything though. I find that I am extremely good at bringing entertainment and play into my kid’s lives in a way that nobody else can while I find it very challenging to establish boundaries and structure. I have seen everybody in my immediate circles from my spouse to grandparents to be much better at being firm and in establishing boundaries with my kids.
The roots of my challenges with establishing boundaries keep going back to two things: (i) anxiety about the effect being firm would have on the situation and (ii) my emotional regulation challenges with swaying to extremes. A real-life example of how anxiety plays out for me is when it is time for my children to leave for school in the morning. I spend the last 10 minutes waiting for them outside in my car by myself rather than contributing to helping them get ready along with my spouse. I fear that I will be overcome by anger in these moments and may end up doing something stupid, which will lead to poor outcomes. For example, I worry about being responsible for getting the kids late to school leading to a tardy remark or taking a shortcut by letting the kids skip an essential task like combing your hair just to get to school on time. Rather, I prefer to step away. I have noticed that my spouse brings a combination of playfulness and firmness to handle these things more successfully.
I have learnt various life skills like communication by reading books instead of relying on day-to-day observational cues and feedback from people. I am finding that combining bookish knowledge with some element of practical “real-life hands-on training” works great for me in all aspects including parenting. Parenting demands both consistency and adaptations to stay in constant touch with meeting the multi-faceted needs of kids ranging the full gamut from basic survival to complete emotional fulfillment. At the surface level, I struggle with meeting my own emotional needs let alone navigating the emotional needs of kids. But I can say with conviction that when I access a deeper part of myself through constant breath awareness and mindfulness that I can certainly see myself doing all the right things more seamlessly. At these times I am more in alignment on my parenting approaches with my spouse. All the so-called limitations that come with being on the spectrum like challenges with interpreting emotions, organizational skills etc. become less of an issue. But it certainly requires a lot of practice on my end, and I have come to realize that not every day will be the same.
While I sometimes find it frustrating to receive feedback from family on my challenges with establishing structure or lack of emotional knowhow, I have learnt to take them in my stride and not let it impact my self-esteem, which was the biggest issue before. Instead, I use mantras like “I love myself unconditionally” to maintain my sense of self-worth. I have now started synergizing my innate playfulness with my kids’ needs to motivate them to do things, like homework they find boring or eating food that they don’t like for example. Many times I spend time along with my immediate family playing various games like “dumb charades” or “floor is lava” to energize the kids to do essential things they need to do but don’t want to do without these strategies. At least from my perspective at the end of the day, playfulness mixed with some dose of practicality and some openness to keep evolving constantly is what it takes to be a good co-parent.
My journey also involved understanding that sometimes my spouse took on more responsibility in terms of handling emotional and organizational aspects of parenting which left her more exhausted. Mismatched expectations of each other in these areas did cause some relationship challenges for sure. We have learnt over time how to compliment each other, be more understanding of our respective unique strengths, partition tasks better, and ask for help when needed from extended family and others in our social circles.