by Cas Faulds
Recently, I read something on a site aimed at providing support to parents of autistic children that made me feel uncomfortable. Like many of these types of sites, it was the typical story of woe and hardship experienced by parents and it was filled with ableist assumptions. But, the thing that stood out most to me and made me the most uncomfortable was the line that said “They taught me how to manage her…”
When something makes me feel uncomfortable, I tend to try and unpack it in order to understand my discomfort. I tend to do this by focusing on individual words because that’s how I understand things. It’s the word “manage” that caused my discomfort. Google tells me that manage is a verb which has two possible meanings:
“be in charge of (a company, establishment, or undertaking); administer; run” and/or “succeed in surviving or in attaining one’s aims, especially against heavy odds; cope”
I’ve heard the word manage many times in relation to parenting my autistic son. I’ve heard people say that they don’t know how I manage him. Some have said that I do a great job in managing him, and still some have told me that I need to understand that not everyone has a child like mine who is so easy to manage.
Here’s the thing: I don’t manage my son. I don’t even try to manage my son because my son does not require management.
I’m not pretending that I have all the answers. I think that parenting is a skill that you have to continuously refine, but what I do know is that a child is not an employee of a parent, and a parent does not have to survive parenting against heavy odds. So, based on that, a child does not need to be managed by their parent.
Parenting is not a one-way relationship where a parent lays down the rules and the child follows them without question. That style of relationship is the one that I grew up with and I’m fairly certain that many people did the same. What I learned from that is that it’s not great to be the child in that relationship. Being the child in a relationship where you’re constantly managed by your parent means that you lack autonomy, and many of your needs go unmet.
A child needs to be loved, accepted, guided and supported by their parent, and this has to be a reciprocal relationship. Parenting should be a two-way relationship where both parties, parent and child, get to have a say about what works for them in the relationship. In that way, both parent and child are able to maintain their sense of autonomy while working together in a cooperative way.
I’m not training up my son to one day become an adult. I’m not wasting my time and energy trying to manage him. I’m using my time and energy to love him, support him, and explore his world with him while he figures out how he can use his combination of unique characteristics to develop into the best adult that he can be, while respecting that his adult version of himself may be quite different from anything that I can possibly imagine.
I think when you stop trying to manage your children, your parenting journey can become quite exciting, enjoyable, and – dare I say it – easier.