Following on from last week I want to share my final 4 (of 8) Key Characteristics of Parents who Survive (and even Thrive). So without further ado here we go:
5. A Positive Outlook – I have worked with literally hundreds of parents in my social work career (and countless more online too). And some of the parents with apparently huge daily challenges are also those with the most optimism and positivity. Yet I have worked with parents who have apparently far less challenges with their children, who just can’t see any rays of sunlight in their life. Well would on earth could cause this state of affairs?
In my experience the level of optimism and positivity in parents, is already well in place prior to any child being born, or diagnosed with a particular label. All of us as parents are the product, often to a high degree, of how we were treated by our own parents. So in many ways the “die is cast” before we even have our own children. This is a generalization, but in my personal and professional experience it tends to ring pretty true.
Now many other factors also impact along the way too – adult experiences, relationships, the needs of other children, housing, income, and the level of a child’s disability and challenges (to name a few). But through it all I am a big believer in the basic Freudian views that our own childhood greatly shapes us as adults. So that many parents have a huge uphill battle as they never had the care, love or role models that they deserved, when they were growing up. And if you then throw a child with Asperger’s or ASD into the mix – you can see how this could quickly become very challenging. So for those of you who had a pretty nice or even idyllic childhood it gives you a better chance of coping – but what about if you didn’t?
Well luckily it doesn’t mean that you HAVE to live the life of a constantly struggling parent. There are things that you can do… There are all kinds of self development programs and therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Neuro Linguistic Therapy, counselling etc. that can help you address some of the issues that may be holding you back. I highly recommend some of Tony Robbins’ self-help CD programs from personal experience. You can pick them up 2nd hand on Ebay often for a cheap price – and they are a great, but fairly inexpensive, way to start looking at some of this stuff. They certainly helped me to become a more loving parent and better husband when I followed one of his programs. Now whatever you choose a lot of these approaches are based on…
6. Expressing Emotions – I have spent many an hour with moms (and dads) who have wept inconsolably about their child for all kinds of reasons. And I’ve also been on the receiving end of some quite harsh verbal volleys when emotions have been on the angry and frustrated side. But no matter what – I’d rather that than silence! Whether through therapy, natural conversation or just sheer frustration those emotions do need to come out. Being a parent is an emotional rollercoaster and if you add in a child with Asperger’s or ASD then it gets even bumpier! And the parents who I find to cope best with their emotions are those who learn to express them (through crying, talking and occasionally shouting or screaming). I truly believe negative emotions to be toxic in your body, and they need to be released – before they can build up and cause you damage.
Again it’s a generalization but this is an area where moms definitely tend to do a lot better than us dads. Women are just much more predisposed to talk about their problems, express their feelings and actively seek help in this regard (for example through counselling). Whereas us men traditionally tend to take solace in drinking beer, changing the subject any time emotions are even mentioned, and engrossing ourselves in all kinds of things to physically do (like mending the house/car, doing extra time at work etc.) – rather than acknowledge our true feelings. Think Homer Simpson – but without the work ethic I just mentioned! I am slightly joking – but I do believe this gender divide occurs when it comes to expressing emotions.
So many men need to work on ways of expressing themselves and talking about their feelings, worries and fears a lot more as a parent. And at the same time acknowledging their wife or partner’s need to talk about their own feelings as well. And for women the challenge is to help facilitate this in their partner without turning them off. Men hate to be “nagged”, forced or cajoled into anything – especially something like talking about emotions. So a subtle approach is needed – whereby mom’s may need to just plant a seed or two in their husband/partner’s brain about the need to discuss certain things. Then wait for that seed to take root and have your husband/partner then take the lead in such a discussion. This may take a few hours, days or even weeks – but the key is to NOT push the issue (no matter how frustrated you may feel at that time).
Again I am talking in generalities here as some men are very highly attuned emotionally, and some women not so much. But on the whole I feel that the picture of women being the better at raising and discussing emotional issues as accurate. A good initial read on this subject is “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus” by John Gray (again you can get a cheap copy on Amazon or Ebay).
Now as these 2 points have covered more ground that I initially intended – I am going to stop here for today. I don’t want to overwhelm you with 1000’s more words to read right now. So I’ll conclude the final 2 survival characteristics next week (of which one is the ability to be “ruthless”… which I’ll explain more next week).
PS In answer to a reader’s question from last week’s article – No I didn’t find the keys I lost when out running! But my training has paid off well as I did my first 10k road race in 20 years recently in just under 45 minutes (which I was very pleased with).