My child was recently diagnosed with autism—for the second time. If I found the initial report from this past fall sharply illuminating, the complete evaluation report we received on Monday was by far more circumspect.
Parenting a child with special needs poses unique challenges when it comes to maintaining our family values of bodily autonomy and personal agency—values that we have developed in response to my own background as a child abuse survivor and our subsequent education on the topic. Toilet training, in particular, has remained an enormous question mark for years. My child has needed a great deal of assistance, and many things that come naturally or make a certain amount of innate sense to a neurotypical person do not occur to him. Despite our attempts to help him habit-train privacy routines, for example, they are easy for him to forget or ignore simply because he feels zero compulsion to modesty, even as he ages. I have faith he’ll surmount this complication eventually, but his brain is going to get there differently than mine did. This isn’t generally a big problem, but occasional situations crop up that trigger the fears I have that are rooted in my own background and advocacy training. Even as I own and manage my triggers, separating them out from the situation in front of me and dealing with each separately… I do routinely still have to face a particular dilemma.
How do I meet my child where he is and help him develop healthy and safe personal boundaries from the ground up?
The abstract solution is straightforward enough; the implementation, however, is not.
Though my child is good-hearted, an eager learner, highly intelligent, and naturally very curious… his stubbornness quotient is enormous, well beyond that of a typical grade-schooler. When the stubbornness isn’t at play, the distractedness settles in full force. Between these two impediments, exhaustion, frustration, and overwhelm rises up daily on all sides. We are all steadily working on strengthening our coping mechanisms: self-regulation, co-regulation, self-soothing, comforting, patience, owning our triggers, resilience, verbal articulation, CBT…
And, still, my husband and I often resort to choosing our battles.
Sometimes I focus on maintaining my child’s hygiene and lose sight of the need to guard his privacy. Sometimes I focus on guarding his privacy and overlook behaviors that are less than hygienic.
Frequently, I just can’t do both. I do my best to cover both priorities, and I try to improve my tactics, my resources, and my approach on an ongoing basis.
But at the end of the day, I pick my battles.
Note, when I pick my battles, I’m not defending my choices or my actions by projecting them onto you, dear reader.
At least, I try hard not to do that anymore. Cause I used to—a lot. I used to say, like everyone else I know, “You pick your battles.”
But, while I’m sure you do—pick your battles, that is—your battles aren’t mine. They don’t apply to me. And I don’t pick them. And you don’t pick mine.
We, each of us, pick our own battles; and I have found owning my choices in battle—rather than casting about for another person to share their victory with me or take on my shame if I fail—has freed me to do the best job I can with what I have.
That is the only work that makes sense for me to do.
Before, I would hold myself up to standards that only made sense for other people. People without my history, without my skillset, without my hangups, without my strengths, without my weaknesses, without my resources or lack thereof.
My battle choices are not prescriptive for you, and yours aren’t prescriptive for me.
Just above there, I typed, “How do you meet your child where he is…” before I caught myself and corrected it.
How often do we do this? I read a viral twitter thread recently wherein posters were confronted with this tendency in themselves. Over the past few months it has deeply shaped not only my own perspective, but my husband’s.
“Like ya do.”
“As one does.”
“You know when you…”
“How do you…?” (rhetorically, non-literally)
Let’s own our battles. We’re the only ones out there who can fight them.
Like ya do.