HOMETOWN Toronto, ON (Canada)
ON THE WEB RunningForAutism.com
NUMBER OF CHILDREN Two boys
FAVORITE CHILD if applicable* (we’re joking*) Whichever one pays for the better nursing home when I’m old! (I’m joking!)
DAY JOB Project manager, freelance writer, mom, wife, Jill of all trades – master of a few
RELATIONSHIP STATUS Married
HOW DO YOU COMBINE WORK AND FAMILY?
Life as a mom who works outside of the home can be very challenging. Between working a full-time job, commuting for two and a half hours a day, and parenting responsibilities, time is very scarce. There are days when I get up at five in the morning to go running (because that is often the only “me” time I get) and only sit down to relax at about eleven at night.
I have the utmost respect for single parents who have to go it alone, without the support of a partner.
I am fortunate enough to be married to a wonderful dad who embraces the opportunity to do his part as a parent. We have established a morning routine that works: each of us takes charge of a kid. My two boys have to go different places at different times: I drop my younger son off at his before-and after-school program on my way to work, and my husband gets my older son onto the school bus. Being self-employed, my husband has some flexibility, so most days he is able to make sure both boys get home from their respective places.
Ultimately, we have the view that everything we do is for our kids. Somehow, everything else just falls (or is jammed) into place.
HOW HAS PARENTING CHANGED YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL?
I grew up with a great deal of social anxiety. I was painfully shy in any situation involving people I did not know, and I was downright terrified of telephones. Because I had such a hard time relating to people, I was a bit of a soft target. It was easy for people to take advantage of me, because I just wasn’t any good at fighting back.
Now that I am a parent, I still have that social anxiety. The difference is that I have found ways to compensate for it. Having kids has given me the motivation to advocate for them. I have become more socially adept, I can carry out my part of a telephone conversation reasonably effectively, and now that I am a Mama Bear who won’t let anyone mess with her kids, I have grown the ability to fight for what is right.
HOW HAS PARENTING AFFECTED YOUR RELATIONSHIP? How often do you have sex? Is it enough? How do you communicate differently (if at all)?
Does any parent have sex enough?!?
That area of our life together has definitely changed in many ways. We always expected that there would be less sex once the kids arrived, but we have been surprised at just how creative we’ve become in making the opportunities.
Our ways of communicating have changed as well. There have been the obvious changes, like watching the words we use in front of the kids. There have also been subtle changes: we have become more attuned to each others’ gestures and body language – we can have entire conversations without saying a word!
DO ANY OF YOUR CHILDREN HAVE SPECIAL NEEDS? AND IF SO, HOW DOES THIS AFFECT YOUR PARENTING?
My older son has autism. When he was first diagnosed, he was on the severe end of the spectrum, but thanks to a variety of fantastic therapists, he is now closer to the middle of the spectrum. I like to think that me and my husband have had something to do with his progress.
My son’s autism creates a unique dynamic in our family relationships. It is particularly challenging for my younger son, who is typically developing, and very socially engaging. By necessity, there are differences in the ways we parent the two kids, and sometimes things happen that seem to my younger son to be very unfair. We try our best to explain to him why things are the way they are, and we try to make it up to him in other ways.
We accept the challenges that come with autism parenting, and we strive to help my son reach his full potential, whatever that might be. As he navigates his way through childhood, we see him learn and grow in all kinds of ways. We believe that the future is a very bright place for both him and his little brother.
WHAT ARE YOUR STRENGTHS AS A PARENT AND WHAT ARE YOUR WEAKNESSES?
Let’s start with the weaknesses! I would say my biggest weakness as a parent is my tendency to be a bit impatient. When I want my kids to do something or behave in a certain way, I sometimes forget that they are so little, and I snap at them. Fortunately, I am learning to rein this in and deal with my kids in a more patient manner.
Another weakness is one based on circumstance. Sometimes I just don’t have the time to do all of the Mom things that I would like. By the time I get home from work it’s already dinner time. And then homework supervision has to be rushed, and try as I might, there are days when I just don’t have either the time or energy to romp around with my kids. I would say that is my biggest regret about my life right now: I would love to have more time to be a Mom.
As far as the strengths go, I am always there for my kids, day or night. If they need me, no matter what time it is, they know that they can come to me. I never, ever deny them a hug or a cuddle, and I tell them all the time how much I love them.
I try my best to foster a positive relationship between my boys. On the one hand, I encourage them to sort out their differences themselves, but on the other hand, I step in and mediate when I think they need it. If they’ve had a scrap, I always encourage them to give each other hugs.
In the bigger picture of things, I do what I can to make the world a better place for my kids to live in. Every year I run a half-marathon to raise funds for autism services, and I assist my husband in his non-profit recording studio to keep youth out of gangs and crime. In the community service we do, we hope to lead by example and encourage our kids to grow up as caring individuals.
WHAT ARE YOUR PARTNER’S STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES?
My husband is very patient and level-headed, but from time to time he expects the kids – particularly my younger son – to display coping skills that they are not developmentally capable of.
All in all though, he is a great dad. He is incredibly proactive when it comes to making sure the boys are being properly taken care of at their respective schools. Sometimes he can be a little more intense than people are comfortable with, but he is working on that! And there is no denying that he gets stuff done.
Like me, my husband is never short of a hug for the kids. He loves to play with them and wrestle with them, and he is very good at explaining my older son’s autism to my younger son in ways that he can understand.
Both of us are very aware of how difficult it must be for my younger son to be the brother of a child with autism, and my husband is fantastic at finding ways to balance the often-conflicting needs of the two boys.
WHO ELSE PROVIDES CHILDCARE FOR YOUR CHILDREN?
We live with my mother-in-law, which has its pros and cons. The kids adore her, and she is always willing to help out with them when we need it. She frequently gets my older son off the school bus in the afternoons.
We also receive funding for respite care, so from time to time we get in a respite worker who has experience with special needs children – that person takes care of the kids so my husband and I can enjoy an evening out together.
My younger son goes to a before- and after-school program that feeds him breakfast, walks him to the school across the road, and picks him up at dismissal time. This program is invaluable to us, and provides my son with the social interaction that he so enjoys.
WHAT IS YOUR WORST PARENTING MOMENT?
After the birth of my younger son James, I suffered from post-partum depression. Anyone who has been through this will appreciate just how terrifying it can be. My mind was in a very bleak, dark place for a long time. I wouldn’t say that I was suicidal, because being suicidal requires a certain amount of energy that I just didn’t have – but there were times when I fantasized about being dead.
As is too often the case, my condition was not diagnosed until well after James’ first birthday. I am eternally grateful to the family doctor who immediately twigged onto what was going on during a visit for something completely unrelated. I was put onto antidepressants and given instructions to see the doctor once every two weeks.
The problem with the antidepressants was that they did not merely bring the depression under control: they replaced it with something equally scary. All of a sudden, I found myself filled with anger all the time. I found myself snapping at everyone around me, and I had to restrain myself from punching walls in rage.
One day, as the kids were fighting over some Lego, I snapped and threw the hardcover book I was reading at James. Fortunately, I have terrible aim – I wouldn’t be able to hit the side of a barn at five paces – and I missed.
But that moment freaked me out badly, and still gives me cold sweats when I think about it. The idea that I could blindly lose control really scared me.
I took myself off the antidepressants. The anger disappeared and the depression came back. But at least this time I had the means to find other ways to deal with it.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST PARENTING MOMENT?
When my older son, George, was diagnosed with autism just over four years ago I felt my world and my hopes for my son crumble to dust as the doctor gave us his prognosis. He said that George would never talk, and that he had virtually no capacity for learning or developing cognitive function. The doctor painted this bleak picture that involved permanent diapering, violent behavior towards the sibling, and possible removal from the family home.
Wow. Not what a parent wants to hear.
By the time I went to bed that night, though, I had made a decision to prove that doctor wrong. I was not going to let this man – who was kind and well-meaning – dictate this miserable life for my child. I took it upon myself to teach my son as many skills as I could, starting with the simple ability to point.
It took almost a full year of reading Bob The Builder books, with George in my lap as I used hand-on-hand assistance to make him point to characters in the book. It was, at times, soul-destroying and frustrating, but the idea of giving up was out of the question.
In the end it paid off. I will never forget the moment of reward for both George and I. I wearily said to George, “Point to Farmer Pickles.” George tentatively – almost shyly – lifted his hand, extended his index finger, and gently touched the picture of Farmer Pickles.
Yes, I cried. I still cry when I think back to that magical moment.
Now, my son is eight. He is still not exactly a big conversationalist, but he is loving, smart and funny, and jam-packed with potential.
What is my best parenting moment? The instant I decided not to give up on my boy.