Friday, July 3, 2015

Autism Answer: Parenting Propaganda

The four similar looking cars driving on the highway this morning made me smile. I was traveling behind them, windows open, hair down, music playing, and imagining the cars as my four sons. I imaged myself encouraging and cheering and loving them from my position behind them. I even felt obnoxious enough to imagine myself as the wind guiding them forward; together yet separate. 

But suddenly the car second from the front put on his turn signal. As he applied the brakes, slowing down to make his turn, my stomach lurched and I fought a sudden urge to cry. I'm fighting it now. 

The car at the front was now far ahead of us, the car that was leaving didn't change his mind--he left. The cars behind him skirted carefully but without concern around him on the shoulder. 

I wanted to cry out! "Come back! Stay with us! You can be your own car but don't go your own way!! We miss you!" but then I saw that the first car was almost out of my view and I felt my hope and fear pulled in his direction. "Wait! You're going too fast, too far! You have to wait for your brothers! We have to go get the one that got away! We miss you! I miss you!"

Honestly, friends, I held back a tear.
Honestly, friends, I had to get a grip.

Many of you know how I best get a grip. I tell myself a new story. 

So, I sat all four of my beautiful, strong, struggling, different, lovely sons down at a coffee shop in my mind. They were gabbing amongst themselves, laughing and teasing and living in the energy that grows when they are together and completely comfortable. Before they had time to remember the small cracks and jealousies in their relationships, the me in my imagination spoke up. "Okay boys," I told them, surprising myself with the conviction in my voice and surprising myself even more with the authenticity of it, "I have to say something. Please, don't interrupt."

I sipped my organic imagination coffee and looked for a moment at each one of my boys. Then, with a breath and a tiny quiver, I told the the truth. "Ever since there was more than one of you I have wanted, more than anything, for you to have strong brother bonds. Because my relationship with my sister has been such a blessing for me, and because my selfishness as a mom has me wanting you to stay together, my desire for your brother bond has tinted everything I do." 

Even in my imagination I wanted to stop. I wanted to leave it there--a truth shared can be enough. I could tell myself that I told them, that I didn't need to take the extra step and let them go. 

But I love my boys too much. I love my life too much to start hiding and justifying again. So, I continued speaking. Softly so that they would lean in and really listen. I knew I might not be able to say this again. "Everything, boys, has been tinted. And in some way, tainted. Because my want, my desire, is exactly that: Mine. It's not right or wrong, but it isn't fair either. Because as your mom I have so much power. So even though it was always with love that I colored your lessons and games and conversations with brother bond propaganda, it's still true that it was propaganda."

My boys sighed and smiled. In my mind, my boys looked lighter and--interestingly--closer to each other. It helped me gather the strength to reiterate, "You are lucky to have each other, and you are lucky to have the bond you have. But you are not required to have that bond. You are not 'less than' or 'making bad choices' if your lives take you in new directions. If you're world becomes full of new relationships that leave less room for each other. I want you to know that, though I'll probably always tint my conversation with the beauty of brother bonding, I am forever willing to see and celebrate other beautiful bonds you boys choose to highlight. I love all of you so much. The turn signal and brake pedal and steering wheel is with you. And I want you to use them your way."

I felt a smile grow and knew I meant it. Coming back into myself--away from the coffee shop of my mind into the car on the highway--I looked at the son who sat beside me in the passenger seat. I reached over and tousled his hair, pulling him out of his own imagination and enjoying the smile he offered me before turning back to the window, staring out and imagining his own stories. 

It's so important to let our loved ones know that we love them and that we will be there for them. That we'll tousle their hair and let them wander the contents of their minds while we drive. 

But also, that we'll let them go. That we love them so much we want to see who and what they'll discover on their own. 

I had no idea when I drove to the grocery store today that I'd be swallowed up by this imagining and lesson. I had no idea that I'd discover something about the truth of parenting propaganda; how it can come from a place of absolute love and even encourage beautiful things while also having the power to taint absolutely. 

But that's the gift of freedom. Unexpected imaginings and lessons that can safely be shared and celebrated. 

My sons deserve that gift. 

And, I admit, I really, really, really hope they'll often want to celebrate it together. 

Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

*Author's Note: Take a moment to enjoy this amazing song my son wrote! You'll see that the parenting propaganda works. My sons do have a really fabulous and beautiful and strong brother bond. Parents are powerful! And the brother bond is a nice thing that my sons are lucky to have. However, because my desire was so all consuming, it's also true that they feel slightly trapped by it sometimes. Encouraging brother bonding is something I will always say yes to, but that's different from what I've done. I've always painted our days and lessons and games with the belief that brother bonding was necessary and right and an absolute must. That was my mistake. That's what I'll try to do different.