Fear and worry in a beautiful life

Parents worry. I haven’t met one yet who doesn’t. We worry to varying degrees, but we all have worries when it comes to our kids. With my non-autistic child, I worried when she was ill, when she was having friendship troubles and when she went to the dentist. Now that she’s an adult, I worry that she will manage financially, find a good rental property and be happy in her relationships. Nothing I do changes my worries for her. I parent therefore I worry.

With my autistic son, I have all the same worries. In addition, I have fears. I don’t talk about them much, because they are grounded in my own ableism, but I know from others that fear is not a unique emotion for parents of autistic kids.

I fear for his safety in world that doesn’t accommodate his needs. I fear that he will be lonely or misunderstood. I fear that he won’t find work and that relationships with partners might be hard for him. More darkly, I fear that he will not grow past his current challenges and that this will mean he will not make his way independently in the world. I fear that the way his neurology works will not be at all compatible with a world run on neurotypical norms.

This fear pulls at me like a magnet and draws me into a headspace that is deeply uncomfortable and wildly unhelpful. Learning to resist it requires that I fight hard to remember that fear is just one emotion and needn’t take control of me.

I tell the fear that I am also autistic and I have done ok. I tell it that my son is for the most part, happy, and the future is a place far away that needn’t steal this moment from us. I try and feel it in the pit of my stomach where it resides, and each time it forms silent sentences in my head, I say ‘yes, I hear you’, and then I let the thought drift away before I catch hold too tight. Like a cloud passing slowly in the sky.

If I don’t feed on it, it comes like a wave and passes like one too. Once it’s gone, there is room for acceptance again. There is room for the normal worries that are present for all parents, stronger on some days than others, but not too disruptive. Not as strong as fear and not as stuck as fear.

I have fears for my son. They might not ever go away. I make space for them and remember that they are a tiny part of a beautiful life.

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