Growing up I was scared of my mother. The woman was barely five foot two inches tall, yet every man, woman and child feared her. While my husband, Joseph, admits to being scared of his dad. Our parents disciplined with slippers, threats and tough love.
Now that Joseph and I are parents – we like to believe that our parenting style is different. Earlier this week, we realized that maybe we’re more like our parents than we think.
I walked into my seven-year-old son’s room and found him standing at the very edge of his bed, his arm stretched out, a pencil in hand trying to touch the whirling ceiling fan.
“NORRIN! That is not safe. That’s dangerous!” I yelled. Just like my mom, I’m a yeller. I yell for almost anything (but that’s for another post).
Norrin threw himself back on the bed and laughed. I would have never ever have laughed at my mother. And I don’t like that Norrin laughs when I’m being serious.
Norrin has no sense of fear and no sense of danger. Maybe it’s because he’s a boy. Maybe it’s because he’s seven. Maybe it’s because of autism. Or maybe it’s a combination of everything. But as a parent, it’s scary. I want him to be safe. I need Norrin to fear some things.
I needed Norrin to understand that I wasn’t kidding around so I said, “I’m telling your father.”
Norrin immediately jumped off his bed and ran out the room. I found him in the shower, hands over his ears, eyes squeezed shut. “No. No. No. Don’t tell Dad!”
Now before you get the wrong idea, Joseph is the most mild-mannered guy I know. He doesn’t yell, he doesn’t fly off the handle. But he’s stern when he needs to be. And as a law enforcement officer, Joseph has an authoritative voice.
With head hanging down, Norrin came out of the shower and walked out to the living room to face his father. As Joseph gave him a scolding, Norrin’s big brown eyes welled up with tears. His chin quivered. His body shook. It was the kind of cry that makes your heart ache. I wanted to scoop Norrin up into my arms and tell him that it was okay. But I knew that I couldn’t.
“He’s so scared of you,” I said to Joseph after sending Norrin to his room. I laughed when I said it, not wanting him to feel bad.
“I don’t want him to be scared of me. I just want him to understand.” Joseph put his head in his hands.
“I know,” said Joseph.
I reached out and touched Joseph’s arm. This is the part of parenting that they don’t tell you about. The part that makes you feel like crap and like you’re hurting your kid when all you’re trying to do is help.
After a few minutes, Joseph went into Norrin’s room. He talked about standing on the bed and touching the ceiling fan. Joseph explained that it was not safe. To make sure Norrin understood, Joseph asked if standing on the bed and touching the ceiling fan was okay. Norrin sniffled and said no. After apologies were exchanged, Joseph asked for a hug. I suspected Joseph needed the hug more than Norrin did.
Raising a kid with autism isn’t easy. We cannot follow the same methodologies our parents used for us. And what works for some ‘typical’ kids may not work for ours. We want Norrin to have sense of fear but we don’t want him to fear us. Yelling doesn’t work with Norrin; the lesson gets lost in the fear. We know that, but sometimes in the moment—we forget. We’re working on that.
Read more of Lisa’s writing at AutismWonderland.
photo credit: iStock Photo