November 23, 2013

My Son has Autism: a Lesson in Letting Go. ~ Kim McLeod


Why is it so hard to let go?

I go to yoga to sit on my mat and practice “letting go.” I’ve read enough and believe that clinging to what I think I want instead of accepting what is causes me to suffer.

The suffering may be slight, like cancelling my plans to go to Zumba due to other obligations. Or, it may be something bigger—like learning to let go of who I think my children (and everyone else) should be.

When Tyler, our oldest, was first diagnosed with autism, my world completely fell apart. I was beyond despair. It felt like there had been a death. My ideas and dreams of who I thought he should be were completely obliterated.

I remember sitting with Tyler in the car. After six months of waiting, we had gone to see a neurologist our pediatrician recommended. This was over 10 years ago, before the Seattle Children’s Autism Center existed. My husband and I were completely unprepared for a diagnosis, so I was there alone.

After the diagnosis, the neurologist sent me away with the 1-800 number of the Autism Society and wished me well.

Yeah, right.

I pulled over to the side of the road with our son contentedly buckled in his car seat.

I remember staring out the window at nothing and feeling complete emptiness. I was numb. I didn’t know what to think or feel.

Worst of all, I didn’t know how I felt about my son. The label completely confused me. Who was he? Who would he be?

Who was I and how did I feel about him now?

Nothing was all right. Nothing was the way it was supposed to be.

I made an appointment with our son’s pediatrician to try to begin to understand. I had absolutely no idea how to move forward with our lives.

We talked and I cried; we talked some more and I sobbed. After that, there was no more to say. She couldn’t make it better. She couldn’t make it go away.

She did kindly share some wisdom that I try to remember as our children grow. The pediatrician said:

“You are learning something that many of us don’t begin to understand until our children become teenagers.

Our children are not put on this earth to fulfill our dreams and wishes. They are here for their own lives.

Our job as parents is to love them, guide them and help them have what they need to be the people they are to be.”

I understood that as loving unconditionally.

I know this is wisdom of the ages that should be passed along to all. She shared this to help me begin letting go of who I thought Tyler should be. But, I’ve had to think of this lately with our younger teenage son as well.

I loved being a good student growing up. I valued straight As, reading and studying. I strongly identified with being an excellent, compliant student. One day, our son did not have the grades I thought he should have. I felt myself become intensely irritated and angry.

I wanted to control the situation, take away privileges, and just fix it the way I wanted it to be. I was bound and determined that he would be an excellent academic student like me. I dug a little deeper, and found that my ego and identity were completely wrapped up in his grades. What a splash of ice water in my face!

His grades were fine. But more importantly, he appears to be a happy, well-rounded person. He is not me. He is not my husband. He is himself. Our boys are themselves.

I’ve always loved rules, boundaries and identities. At the same time, I notice that I push against them. As soon as I proclaim by way of actions or words, that I am something, I want to break free from that identity. I am always delighted when I discover that someone I’ve formed an opinion about reveals unexpected facets of themselves. It reminds me that we all are dynamic and constantly changing. We get to be who we want to be. We can reinvent ourselves!

Parenting is challenging. Life is challenging.

I want to share my values with my children and husband, but it’s a hard walk to gently let them figure out who they want to be and enjoy what is meaningful to them. How do we keep everyone safe when they want to venture out into the unpredictable world or play risky sports? How do we let go of the fear that they may get hurt, or that they aren’t who we think they should be?

I know this will be an ongoing challenge in my life; to support enough for safety and to share my interests and values when meaningful notes strike a chord.

All I can do is share, not impose. If I can practice “letting go” with each breath of how I think life should be, I may find a bit more ease. All I have is this present moment.



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Editor: Michelle Margaret

{Image: Flickr Creative Commons}

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