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Monica Pickard spent twenty years of her adult life as a child care provider. During that time, with the help of her husband, she raised her son who has been diagnosed with Autism and Developmental Delay. She learned to navigate a world that was new to her – the world of Special Needs. She now shares these experiences and the wisdom they taught her, with love and heartfelt compassion for the human condition.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Do You See Me?

            When I was a teenager I thought I figured out the secret to being a great parent. I decided that when I had kids I would never forget what it felt like to be a kid. I would remember all the fears and anxiety, the joy, the playfulness, the screw-ups and how they made me feel, the feeling of wanting to be understood, and most of all the feeling of never wanting to disappoint anyone. I figured that if I could do that and relate to my kids on their emotional level, I would be a successful parent. Life does not always work the way we plan. Along the way of my growing up and starting a family, my plans to remember what it was like to be a kid went out the window. I don’t blame Joshua’s disabilities for my forgetting and I don’t want to give you the impression that this approach would not have been useful due to his disabilities. I truly believe it would have been useful if I had remembered my plan and stayed in touch with those feelings, especially the feeling of not wanting to disappoint anyone. When we can empathize with someone our fears dissipate and our compassion emerges.
            By the time I reached adulthood I had forgotten my plan. My fears and insecurities took over and became the driving force of my parenting. My ego remained at the forefront of my personality, giving me the false idea that everyone’s world revolved around me. I thought that whatever anyone in my relationships did or did not do was because of me. If I told someone I did not like how they were behaving and they kept doing it, I assumed they did not love me or did not love me as much as they claimed to. I assumed that something was wrong with me when people behaved in ways they knew I did not like. Can you relate to that? Have you ever thought that another person’s actions are because of your flaws? Or, maybe you’ve thought that they were behaving a certain way out of spite towards you. I have thought that many times. I used to watch Dr. Phil religiously. He has said a million times that children have a way of turning things around in their mind and making everything their fault. As many times as I’ve heard him say that, it took me years to realize that adults also do it and that I never fully grew out of it. It is another way our ego stays front and center.
            It’s sad for me to say this, but it wasn’t until just a few short years ago that I realized what I was doing. All during the years of raising Joshua I was living my life and relating to everyone through my unconscious personality. Potty training Joshua was a nightmare! It took years. It’s still not 100%, but it is way better than it was. There was a point when he was young that I swore up and down he wouldn’t use the toilet because he did not like me. I laugh now as I type that because it is absurd! He would have many successes then go back to peeing and pooping himself, so I thought he was just trying to make sure I knew he was the boss. My ego would not allow me to imagine a more rational scenario. So there I was, stuck in my egoic thinking; not thinking about how Joshua was feeling, or even how his disability was playing into his failure. I figured once you get it, you get it, no going back! An accident here or there… okay, but not a complete reversal! I just knew it had to be my fault as a mom. I thought I was doing something so horribly wrong that he did not like me anymore and so he was refusing to use the toilet.

“Do you see me, or do you just see what needs to be fixed?”
~ Dr. Shefali Tsabary, on what our children think

            Years ago I heard Toni Morrison tell a story about her child walking into the room with a picture he had drawn. She said he stood there and tore it up right in front of her. She believes he did that because of the way she looked at him when he entered; as if she were checking to find something wrong, rather than seeing him, the boy she loved. She was happy to see him, but that is not what showed on her face. Hearing that, I was deeply touched because I could picture my own face each time my beautiful son walked into the room. From that moment, I make sure my face shows joy and love.

            We have expectations as parents. We push and prod and cajole our children to achieve, especially when they have fallen behind their peers. We want the best for them and we think pushing is the only way to bring it out in them. We forget that they want to please us. They want to succeed. They want to excel. They don’t want to fail. They may not show their feelings to us because they go into defense mode when we come at them with our expectations. Sometimes our children display a fa├žade and sometimes they simply can’t communicate their feelings, but they may be hurting inside. And as adults, we have forgotten the pain of falling short as a child. We forget that they want to be seen for their effort and not their failure. We forget that they are not extensions of us and that they are their own people with their own ideas, and maybe they don’t need to do what we did the way we did it and on the same schedule. We let fear of their failure take over. We project into the future what life will be like if they continue to fail and we parent from a place of fear. We think we need to instill fear of failure into them to motivate them, but we have forgotten that it’s not necessary. We must give credit to the effort. We must begin to focus on the effort. Showing them that effort matters more than success could bring out so much more success because they will never fear to try. To fear to try is the failure, not failure itself. With failure, you learn what not to do. It is our job to help them find an easier way or a different path to achieve the goal. It is not our job to place our fears onto them. We don’t do this on purpose, but we must recognize that we do it so we can stop doing it.

“You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.” ~ Dr. Phil

            If I had known then what I know now, peace would have prevailed in our home and in our lives. I would have been more compassionate for his situation and much less fearful. If I had stuck to my original plan of never forgetting what it’s like to be a kid, if I had added another level of empathy for his disabilities, imagining what that must feel like for him, our lives would have been much less stressful. I would have related to him in reality and from his point of view. I would have been fully present in each moment with him. He would have behaved exactly the same way, but I would not have projected my insecurities and stress onto him. My mind would have been free of past and future. All of the regrets of the past and the fears of the future would have dissolved as soon as they appeared because I would have let them go. I would have known that what was right in front of me was a miracle child; a magnificent teacher who was showing me how to just be and accept and experience life. I probably would not have done this in every single interaction. Even now there are times I get lost in ego and forget. Just doing it half of the time would have brought more feelings of being loved into his awareness. This is what children need; to know they are loved, to feel it when they walk into a room or when they can’t or won’t do something you want them to do.

            If you are new to this blog and don’t know me personally you might assume that it is easier for me to say this because I know how my son turns out; he is 26 now and I don’t have to fear 'the future' when he becomes an adult because it is here. I made excuses like that, too, when great pieces of advice came into my life. I let the fear override the advice. Most of the inspirational stories I read were from people who had success the way it is typically defined - their child overcame something, or achieved something great and rare for someone with their disability. So, I dismissed them as not being relevant to my story. I was unsure how my son would turn out, so I could not take a chance on the great advice… just in case. I would think things like: Yes but, that’s easy for you to say; your child is grown and successful. Or, Yes but, you have more resources than I do, so of course, your child is successful and it was a loving and wonderful experience for you! I’m drowning here!
            What I’m telling you is that it does not matter how your child turns out if they don’t feel your love. Love is what matters. Your resources don’t matter. Your child’s age and abilities don’t matter. Letting go of your fear so they can feel your love is what matters. I held onto to fear and control with a tight grip his entire childhood thinking it motivated me and him to achieve more and do better. Still, my fear of his future dependence came true and my son is living a life far more dependent than I had wanted for him. That is not what matters. His feeling my love is what matters. The only thing my fear accomplished was to keep him from feeling the full force of my love up until I understood what I’m telling you now. It is not possible for a person to love someone any more than I love my son, but it is possible for you to show your child that love; to make sure they know it; to make sure they feel it and have no doubt of your love, no matter what.
            My advice to you is this: Do not 'Yes but' this post. Pay attention to how your face looks when they are in the room. Don’t focus your attention on your other tasks and problems while your child is present. Be there with them in your mind, heart and spirit. Release your fears about their future. Don’t focus on the failures, focus on the efforts. Help them find a way around a problem by displaying love and empathy and compassion for the feeling individual they are. Teach them to find the solution to a failure by learning from their mistakes. Teach them to show their emotions and their fears so that they can be overcome. Whether they are high functioning or not, make sure they know you see the beauty of who they are. My son and I are here in our future now and I want you to know that however your futures turn out, you and your child are going to be just fine.

My love, as always!

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