6/10/2012

Not for the Faint of Heart: Parenting

We all say hurtful things to the ones we love. Some things we mean, and others we're just using the other person as a punching bag. Sometimes the damage we do with those words can't be undone and can't be healed, and relationships end.

Parent/child relationships are different, though, or should be. As parents, we're supposed to develop thick skins and our children by the age of two are working hard to help us get those thick skins with their repeated cries of "I hate you!" ringing in our ears. Those words and feelings continue on through adolescence as we as parents impose order and rules on our children for their safekeeping.

"You're so unfair!" "You never let me do what I want!" How many other phrases are there that are just standard playing fare? We get inured to them, so often do they fly at us. It's just part of the price of doing business.

And yet, there are times when our children's words cut us to the core, wound us like we have never been wounded before. Sometimes those wounds were intentional and deliberate attempts to hurt us, destroy us, devastate us, pay us back for real and imagined slights dished out and kept careful track of over the years.

How we react, what we do with those words, our next moves after these gauntlets have been thrown down have the potential to destroy our relationships with our children.

What do you do, though, when those deal-breakers--those so-hurtful, so devastating comments--come from an adult child with autism and intellectual disability and are stated so matter-of-factly and innocently, with no intent of causing harm? What do you do when you know there was no intent to hurt, no meanness there? Just a gut-wrenching honesty from your adult child's perspective that you are left ill-equipped and open-mouthed as your heart hits your stomach and your soul sinks?

What do you do? Anger's not appropriate. Explaining won't really work.

There's a chasm between the two of you that only you are fully aware of. And you know it isn't going to be crossed. So you're matter-of-fact back as you tell your son that in all your life you've never heard something so hurtful as that. And you keep driving to your destination, because, really, what other option is there? The two of you were on your way someplace. You can't take him home because you need his help, so you drive. You cry silently, and you drive.

And when you get there, put the car into park, turn the key to turn it off, your son, who's been looking out the window the remainder of that very quiet drive, glances at you, and says, "I'm sorry I made you cry."

And you look at him, because that's all there is, simple words, as honestly said as those that cut you to the core and left you speechless, and you hand him the keys and ask, "Can you remember where we parked?" And when he says yes, he can, you turn and walk beside him into the book sale the two of you do every year together as a team, and you wonder how to make the hurt go away, when hurt wasn't intended.

But you know, it never is that simple or that easy and the hurt stays and you wonder how you will ever breathe easily again. The rhythm of years annual book sales together pulls you up and the two of you work as a team, in unison, filling some bags separately with your own choices, and others, together, ooohing and ahhhing over selections, and you hand him money with full bags and watch him leave to pay and put the bag in the car, as you pick more books, your head continually bobbing up to look for him before returning down to look at thousands of books to choose from.

The drive home is quiet. Peaceful? No words. No discussion. Just quiet, as the two of you resume your normal mother/son relationship of coexisting in different but overlapping realities.

4 comments:

melbo said...

This is so beautifully written but I can only imagine it hurt like hell and probably still does.

K Wombles said...

Thanks. It did hurt like hell, but he meant no harm, and we hugged it out. He's such a sweet young man he'd never intentionally hurt someone.

Jean said...

Ouch.
My NT kids have said a few breath-taking words to me over the years, but (so far) my autie dude hasn't.
There really is no rule book when dealing with this situation when autism is part of it.
You seem to have handled it really well (years of practice, no doubt), but that initial pain is blood chilling.
Hope you feel better soon XXX

K Wombles said...

Thanks, Jean. I appreciate it. Doing better today--he's sunny and smiling, and it's hard to stay hurt when he's having such a good day. Somedays, I really wish I could live in the moment as he does.