Jun 17, 2013 0 Share

A Step in the Right Direction


Man in front of breakfast table.  Toddler in Superman costume on lap.
Photo by Julie van der Poel

Originally published October 17, 2011.

Autism is tough on marriages. While autism was not the reason for the demise of my first marriage, I found myself to be a single mom of a 9-month-old, and went through the realization of “something isn’t right with my son” without a partner. Being a single mom is tough. Being a single mom of a child with disabilities is… well, even suckier.

I am very fortunate in that I got the whole marriage thing right the second time around. My husband is an amazing STEP father. I have to emphasize STEP because Cameron refuses to let anyone make the mistake of referring to my husband as his father. STEP is immediately added to the definition of what kind of father my husband is. But it is definitely a step in the right direction.

I’m not sure where my son would be in life, if it weren’t for the influence my husband has had over him, and over me. Way back when my husband and I started dating, Cameron’s diet consisted of two food groups: yellow and white. That would include macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, and the like. There wasn’t much in the way of fruits and vegetables (even yellow or white ones). But thanks to the impartial influence of my husband, Cameron was exposed to more and more mealtime diversity. It didn’t always make for a pleasant dinner, but like a single raindrop starting the Grand Canyon, gradually my son became a “try anything on your plate” kind of guy.

Just as I never thought I’d see the day when my son would willingly eat a salad, I never thought Cameron would ever be able to master riding a bicycle. He was uncoordinated and fearful when it came to trying. My son’s reluctance, though it was great, was no match for my husband’s patience. Back when they were going through the daily drill of learning to balance without training wheels, I was the one making that sucking sound. I felt the need to explain to my husband the ins and outs of sensory integration disorder, midline issues, and all those buzz words I picked up after years of Occupational Therapy. I was willing to give Cameron a pass on learning to ride a bike, because I was convinced he couldn’t do it, and mothers know best, after all. But guess what? Cameron quickly learned to ride on his own, and today riding a bike provides Cameron with the ability to go out and about in the community on his own.

My husband has positively influenced my parenting of Cameron in countless ways. But what if I hadn’t been so lucky? Would Cameron still be eating only mac & cheese for Thanksgiving? Would he not have the freedom he enjoys today of being able to experience our nation’s capitol on his own? As I reflect back on all the positive influences my husband has made, I’m left wondering how much of our behavior as parents is shaping the behavior of our children? Are our children learning to NOT do something they’re perfectly capable of doing, simply because we as parents are inadvertently sheltering them from trying? Sometimes it’s the parents that need the support, as much as the children. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if when we find our resolve being worn down, and we’re tempted to “give in” because it will be so much “easier” on everyone, we could tag someone in our corner to step in and hold the course? While it’s tough asking for help as a parent, it’s even tougher to accept the help we didn’t ask for. Sometimes it takes a step in an unexpected direction to find an easier path.