This post is about something I’ve been thinking about for a while, but in realizing my kids have Asperger’s and sharing that with family members the issue has been brought into a new light. I’m talking about our society’s tendency to attribute ill motives to undesirable behaviour in children, and to then blame the parents for not disciplining those behaviours out of them. Until, that is, they are provided with a “medical explanation” for the child’s behaviours.
Those of us who practice gentle parenting tend to come from a developmentalist perspective on childrearing. Leaders in the field like Gordon Neufeld have shared their knowledge of childhood development with parents, including neurological, behavioural, and cognitive information, to explain the basis for childhood behaviours. Kids are not little dictators testing our will at every turn and desperately trying to manipulate us into serving their agenda. Of course, if that’s what you are looking for you are likely to see it that way. Nevertheless, kids have real needs, real feelings, and a real perspective on the world that is different from, but equally valid to, that of adults.
I say this because, sadly, there are many uninformed people out there who know only the behaviouralist model of parenting and these are the people who give mothers like me a hard time. Whether it’s my own mother (who, to be fair, is really trying to understand why I do what I do with the kids) or the neighbours or other parents at the park, I occasionally feel the blame for my children’s behaviours. I feel judged. If Son is having a hard time accepting that it’s time to go home and he expresses that difficulty in an outburst of emotion that is considered rude or inappropriate (or spoilt, or babyish….) the natural reaction seems to be to blame him for not acting better (as if he had made a conscious choice in that instant to piss everybody off) and then to instruct me on how I should be “more firm” and “not let him get away with that”. I have very little patience for the behaviouralist perspective, so forgive me if I sound a wee bit judgemental. I can sympathize with the ignorance of people who honestly don’t know any better, but I can’t sympathize with their need to express their sentiments to the point of rudeness themselves. Here’s a good rule of thumb: mother’s aren’t generally interested in hearing how something they struggle with is “their fault”, no matter how kind the informant tries to be, or how good their intentions.
But I digress. The blaming of me as a parent seems to stop at the gates of Diagnosis. Now that I’m able to explain to the grandparents, for example, why the kids do the things they do and what their struggles are, the attitude has noticeably shifted. It’s no longer how we live our lives, how I parent them, whether they are “damaged” (i.e. spoilt, selfish…any other negative traits that parents supposedly “create” with their lack of good parenting skills). There’s an explanation and it doesn’t involve my skills as a mother. While I honestly don’t get too much flack in this regard (we mostly hang out with like-minded families, and among them I’m just another mother trying to support her kids’ needs as best I can), there was the odd person in my life who suggested that these struggles were my own doing. Suddenly, I’m acquitted of blame. I’m happy that people whose good opinion I seek (e.g. my mother) are off my back now. But all this has made me ask why I had to get a diagnosis for this to happen? And what about those kids (and their parents) who struggle with issues but don’t have a diagnosis to lend credibility to their challenges? My hope is that one day ALL children will be treated with the respect, kindness, and sympathy that a diagnosis can bring. And that’s what I meant by my title.