I used to be a bit of a helicopter parent even before Michael was diagnosed with autism. I was a first time Mom, an anxious character to begin with, and most importantly, I saw that Michael was not developing like the other children around him. He was slow to sit up, crawl, walk and talk, all things related to his developmental delays and later strange behaviors, to his autism. Then I really went a little crazy for awhile. I hovered over him, worked with him to teach him how to play, talk, interact. These were good things and did help over time, along with the wonderful adapted preschool he was going to. But I’ll never forget the word of one of Michael’s first teachers at this school. She saw me helping him put on his shoes and asked me why I was not letting him do it himself. I remember looking at her dumbfounded for a second. Then she said those magical words.
“Joanne, if he didn’t have any delays, would you still be helping him with his shoes at three years old?”
My answer was no, of course.
“Then why are you doing it now? He still needs to learn to be independent. There’s even more reason to not enable him and show him what he’s capable of doing on his own.”
That’s when I realized I was doing to Michael what my Mom had done to me, albeit at a much younger age.
“Don’t treat her like she’s made of glass. She needs to do things for herself and struggle sometimes. That’s how she’ll learn.” My Dad had apparently said those words to my mother when I was two years old or so, and she had repeated the story to me after I had told her of my eye opening experience with Michael’s first preschool teacher.
Needless to say, after that I gave Michael many opportunities to struggle, work and learn on his own, letting him know I was there for him regardless of the outcome. He not only learned to do many things by himself by five years old, but now at eight years old can be heard telling me to leave him alone.
“I can do it Mommy. I’m not a baby.”
Indeed. I learned that the old saying is true. “If you love someone, set them free.”
Truly believing in someone means you love them and let them go at the same time to find their place in the world. It doesn’t matter whether that person is your partner, your child, anyone. Loving someone means letting them make mistakes then learn and grow from them. I have learned that about myself too, and am loving myself along with my victories and failures. The important thing is to get back up again and try.
Exceptional Moms, do you truly let your children fly? If not, it’s time you do. You will be doing them and yourselves a great service. They will learn to trust their instincts and learn from their mistakes, and you will get to experience that pride in them that your parents experienced when you tackled obstacles in your life. They are as capable of doing it as you were, and it’s in the letting go that true love is allowed to continue to grow between the two of you. Until next time.