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My son's pediatrician was a woman who was shorter than I am and I swear half my weight; she was also in her fifties. I met her when she was doing the round of newborns at the hospital at which my son was born. She was the *only* adult who could, when he was newborn, handle him at all without causing an outburst of screaming. So I asked if we could continue to see her outside of the hospital visit. She agreed.

One of the things I really liked about my son’s pediatrician was that she was ultimately an extremely pragmatic, no-nonsense woman. She had strong ideas of what would be best for a child - but she also had strong ideas of what would be best for a family dynamic. She understood that asking parents to do things they simply could not willingly/happily do over the long-term was courting the type of anxiety and resentment that eats away at a family.

I know this because I asked. She made clear - to us - what she thought the most effective forms of treatment/interaction were. But I, in turn, made clear to her what I thought of some of her thoughts. I liked, respected and found her slightly intimidating - but I knew my son. I had some idea how things would work. For instance, when he had an infection as a toddler, she asked us if we would be willing to administer antibiotics by suppository.

Hah. I could think of three ways in which that would totally traumatize our son, and because he was too young, no ways in which I could explain the necessity. The long-term costs vs. the short-term “more effective” were not worth it, to me. I did what I generally did in that office when presented with something I felt was not helpful: I crossed my arms. No, seriously. I crossed my arms, and compressed my lips. I did not say No immediately; I waited for the arguments that would push it into Yes territory. But I certainly didn't say yes.

She would take one look at me, nod, and move on. She didn’t ask the reasons; she didn’t even judge them. She assumed that we knew our son. (Oral antibiotics at that age were also somewhat traumatizing for my son, but, well.)

The first time this happened, I asked her how she generally approached the “best” vs. the compromise solutions, and she told me that in her experience, it was important for the child’s parents to be as comfortable or happy as they could be, given the work involved in raising a child. Parental happiness made bonding easier, and she felt that that was hugely important.

Ideas about the theoretical “best” choice took a backseat. One of the examples of this was: nursing. Some mothers find it painful, isolating and traumatic, and in those cases, the pediatrician advised them, without qualms, to give it up. She didn't judge them. She didn't assume they were self-indulgent, unfit mothers.

What I learned from this was that each parent needs to come up with a parenting style that does not make them unduly miserable. Parenting is actually hard enough.

My son’s pediatrician felt that, health-concerns of the child included, the family dynamic was extremely important, and she did not ask parents to do things she felt they would resent for that reason. It is hard to do something, day in and day out, that you bitterly resent without some of that resentment seeping over into your interactions with your child. Can you? Yes. Love and need trumps moments of extreme distaste. But if the moments of extreme distaste are your life, something’s got to give.

I know there are books (and books and books) about how to raise ASD children. I read them when they were classified as PDD children. But I read them the way I read writing advice. I looked at what would--and would not--work for us. I reasoned that while these people were experts, they were not experts about my child in specific. I was.

But I also knew that I could not turn my whole house into something foreign to me. I couldn’t. People need their moments of peace, their moments of escape, the continuity of the things they enjoyed before a small child dropped like a bomb in their household. There were some things I was willing to live without - and some things I was not.

Those things will vary from person to person, as they do regardless of children.

I think it’s important to own those needs, and to build them into the household.

For example: in my home, there are more computers than people. It’s like the computers are pets (goldfish pets, not cats or dogs), and we can’t bear to throw them out when they’ve been rendered redundant. I spent a lot of time on my computer. I wrote on it. I played games on it. I kept in touch with people on it. I was not going to stop doing these things just because a child was in the house. (I was, of course, going to be doing a lot less of them, especially in the early years.)

It’s common schoolyard wisdom - and possibly common wisdom period - that playing computer games is not good for your child. But I knew that in order to keep him off the computer, I would have to give the computer up myself. Because, consistency. I was not, in fact, going to stop using the computer. Full stop. Having an insanely resentful, isolated, depressed mother was not likely to add to the joy of his life.

Many people have been surprised by this. They don’t understand why I can’t just use the computer the way I’ve always used it and tell the child no. This might work for neurotypical children. They pick up layers and layers of social cues and nuance, and the idea that “adults” != “children” is a fairly easy one. Rules that differentiate might be disliked - but the dislike does not become confusion; it doesn’t make the rules themselves impossible to hold onto as something that makes sense.

And here, we get into “know your child” territory. I know ASD children for whom the adult/child distinction is a fact of life. They do not chafe at the differences in the rules; they accept that the rules are the rules, if they’re consistent. If the adults in their lives all follow Adult Rules and the children all follow Children's Rules, they don't find this upsetting or threatening.

My oldest son was not one of these children. He understood that adults and children operated under different rules, yes - but it was a source of confusion and frustration if he could not make sense of why. If we told him something was harmful, but we did it ourselves, it made no sense at all - and he felt extremely oppressed, helpless, overpowered. We could make the differentiation if we could explain it in a way that made sense to him. It was okay for adults to do certain things because of physicality - they were larger, stronger, and any actions that required height or strength were actions a child could not perform. He therefore accepted these explanations.

But if we had cookies before dinner, and he was not allowed to have cookies, we needed to explain why it was okay for adults to have cookies but bad for children. And…we couldn’t. There was no explanation that would make sense of this, to him. It was arbitrary, and arbitrary actions were threatening.

If we stayed up late and he couldn’t, we had to explain, again, why it was necessary. Conversely, because he was rational, if we pointed out that yesterday he was cranky & unhappy about everything because he hadn’t gotten enough sleep, he would accept this -- if it were true. He understood that being cranky & unhappy at everyone was actually unfair to everyone else.

Let me go back to the chocolate before dinner example I mentioned in a previous post. He wanted to have chocolate before dinner one night, and we let him. Our knee-jerk reactions - that desert did not come before dinner, because it certainly hadn’t in either of our homes when we were children - were set aside.

If, after eating the chocolate, he had refused to eat dinner, we could, the next time he demanded chocolate, point out that it destroyed his appetite, as it had the previous time we’d tried this. He understood the idea of nutrition, and the necessity of eating appropriate foods (in theory). He would not be able to field an argument - even if that argument was entirely sub-verbal - against the example he had set himself.

This meant that in matters of preference, we would sit on our knee-jerk, automatic responses, and see what happened. If what happened was a minor disaster, we could then use those disastrous results as a rational basis for denying him chocolate in any future arguments. We didn't assume, with my son. We tried. Failure was helpful for us, in setting rules. Frequently, however, there was no failure. My son ate chocolate and then ate dinner. He had given us no grounds for future refusal.

Likewise, if he could remain awake and keep our hours and be sane, reasonable and happy in the morning…we would have had no grounds for refusal. That one never worked out well for him, because he did, in fact, require sleep not to be cranky & tired & unreasonable. He could see that we were not affected (hah!!) by lack of sleep in the same way, and that he was.

Our rules tended therefore to be cobbled together from experience and inclination. If our inclination was to say "no", because no other children were given the leeway he was demanding, we sat on it. We evaluated first from safety principals (we didn't, for instance, care if adults rode their bikes in the road - children did not ride their tricycles in the road, period. (I could explain this because of the height differential: adults on two wheel bikes can be seen by drivers; children on tricycles cannot.) We let him do things to see what the results were - if safety was not an issue.

If the results were bad, they became proof that he required a different routine and a different set of rules than his parents did. But the key thing is: He was rational and he accepted the outcomes. He did not argue with facts.

If, however, the results were not bad, we accepted that rules are rules. He could do what we did, because we had no rational grounds to stand and fight on. Had we, without that ground, put our foot down we were enforcing our preferences over his with no reason. This really, really upset him. I mentioned in a previous post that our fights were two to four hours in length. Every fight. Also: he would not have the fight with anyone except the person who had enraged him: he wanted them to fix it.

I'm too lazy to have fights of that duration for the sake of my personal preferences. I'm just too lazy. Could I have enforced a set of far more normative rules in my household? Yes, of course I could. I was over thirty; he was under five. But the cost of that enforcement was a slow erosion of any joy: we would have spent our days doing nothing but fighting. The anger and resentment - on both sides - would have become our household norm. He would have felt - with some reason - that there was no justice in our rules: that it was always, and only, a matter of power.

None of the other children in his kindergarten class were allowed to play computer games. None. Zero. I know that some of the parents thought I was … not parenting well. But those games were one of the few things he really enjoyed that we could also enjoy. They were things we could do together. We did go out to the park daily, we did go out for our long walks, we did go to the Science Center - but in some ways, I was there as supervision and safety consultant. I was part of his computer life as an active participant. I played Diablo and Diablo 2 on our home network with my son - as did his father and godfather. I also played games that I could not stand because he was excited about them. (I did like Diablo and Diablo 2). I have heard "Grandma and me" more times than any sane human being has ever heard it because, my younger son also really liked it, and then my son's godfather's sons, after, did as well.

Therefore, in our house, all educational theories aside, computer games were not an issue. I used to do a fair amount of email and etc., with my small child in my lap. He helped me. I cried once or twice when his help involved a symphony of key strokes that deleted all the writing in the MS Word document - which would have been fine, but that symphony also included the keyboard shortcuts for “save”.

I could give up junk food. That was not hard for me. If it is hard for you, don’t give it up. But understand that you will need to set up reasonable rules for when your child eats the junk food, as well.


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 4th, 2012 12:29 am (UTC)
My son has had his own computer since he was 18 months old. I was working from home as a consultant until he was almost 3 and he wanted to help. Needless to say, the typing done by an 18 month old is not conducive to getting paid by the client.

His computer however, was NOT hooked up to the internet. There were plenty of games on CD that he could play at that age and I think he was even doing the 1st grade games by the time he was 4.
Jun. 4th, 2012 01:48 am (UTC)
His computer however, was NOT hooked up to the internet. There were plenty of games on CD that he could play at that age and I think he was even doing the 1st grade games by the time he was 4.

I don't think my son's computer (and he did also have his own in the end) was hooked up to the internet until he was twelve and we were playing WoW together. But once it was, he was off and running; I think he was twelve when he first encountered the Giants in the Playground forum. There are a lot of people who shared his interests posting there - but they are a very, very heavily moderated forum.
Jun. 4th, 2012 12:43 am (UTC)
Now there was a woman who was self-assured. Cool, calm, and collected.

And speaking of creatures with a bad reaction to a stimulus, have you ever noticed how docile a calm rat is around a human. Because we tend not to hunt them consistently rats are not selected for an innate fear of people.
Jun. 4th, 2012 05:59 am (UTC)
Plenty of things we don't hunt consistently are still afraid of humans. Rats and mice both live pretty closely with humans, and humans consider both vermin and exterminate them when we can. Mice and rats are hunted by plenty of OTHER things. So any wild rodent will have prey instincts, and will bite you if your corner it.

On the other hand, I'm not sure why domesticated rats are, as you say, much calmer around humans than other domesticated rodents. I tend to believe it's because they're smarter. ;) Mice are dumb as rocks, they don't know any better than to be afraid and bite. But even mice will become accustomed to humans and not bite them the more you handle them. I think domesticated rats are sweet, but I've encountered wild rats who were definitely NOT sweet.
Jun. 4th, 2012 08:01 pm (UTC)
Note I said, "calm", in situations such as you noted the rat is going to be stressed and upset. Give the animal the opportunity to relax and explore and you'll find that he'll get used to the presence of the human, and may even become used to exploring you.

Where extermination is concerned, keep in mind that it is not a constant thing, and so the evolutionary pressure to select for a human fearing rat just isn't there. Human-rat encounters tend to vary, so selection pressures, when they occur, will tend to vary as well. And here you thought evolution was a simple thing. :)
Jun. 4th, 2012 08:43 pm (UTC)
Well I was just an animal caretaker/molecular biology tech in a research lab for 6 years, most of my experience is with domesticated rodents, so what do I know about rodents or evolution. I just know the rats were sweet, the mice were jerks, and they were all in-bred. Which leads me to believe it wasn't so much that rats co-evolved with humans not to fear them (coz you could make the same case for mice) but that something else was a factor. Rats are demonstrably smarter and have different colony structures than mice. That always seemed more likely to me.
Jun. 4th, 2012 12:46 am (UTC)
Nods. At one point I had to explain to my son that he had to learn to play the teacher game, and sometimes that meant irrational stuff happened but that this was just the way things were. We had many, many chats about the teacher game.

Jun. 4th, 2012 01:44 am (UTC)
We had many, many chats about the teacher game.

I think that's a brilliant way of handling it - I wish I'd thought of it at the time!
Jun. 4th, 2012 03:48 am (UTC)
So, are any of you playing Diablo 3 now? :)
Jun. 5th, 2012 01:57 am (UTC)
I only downloaded my prepaid copy 2 days ago, as a reward for finishing page proofs. But I haven’t played it very much because of the multiple deadlines that seem to be running my life.

My son has played D3 a bit - but with his RL and on-line friends; I don’t log in unless I’ve actually finished work for the day, and frequently, that’s not on any predictable schedule =/.
Jun. 5th, 2012 12:09 pm (UTC)
Aww, maybe soon you'll have time!

The husband and I have duo'd through normal and are working on nightmare with our monk (me) and wizard (him) combo. It brings back our old D2 duoing days, save the forced need to be online when playing.

It's a great mindless game though, and I'm enjoying it for that.
Jun. 4th, 2012 08:35 am (UTC)
Robin has had a computer of his own since he was...3? Because, indeed, he wanted to help. He wanted to draw. He does a _lot_ of computer art.

We _are_ terrible parents in some ways (like family meals), but I do try to create as much consistency between rules for him and rules for us. We're lax on a lot of role-model behavior and he does get some 'because we're adults stuff' (like saying certain bad words, since he doesn't understand 'public' and 'private' yet) but I get the impression that the more we can provide equality, the more he's willing to accept some of our crazy rules.

He imitates us so much. It's sobering.
Jun. 4th, 2012 02:50 pm (UTC)
There are 7 billion people on Earth, and I think the official estimate is that there have been at least another 7 billion humans in the course of our existence as a species. Not a one of us had the same upbringing; even siblings raised by the same parents have different--often radically different--experiences.

The whole notion of there being a "right" way to be a parent is so laughable. (Though there are some obvious wrong ways...) 14 billion test subjects, and it's pretty clear there's no sure-fire system. "Figure it out as you go along and adapt as needed" seems to be a pretty darn successful approach.
Jun. 4th, 2012 03:39 pm (UTC)
I really don't get the outcry over kids playing video games, tbh. I mean, I can understand concerns over age appropriateness (though Diablo is pretty mild) but even then, my ex's daughter played Dungeon Keeper when she was 6 and turned out fine.

My folks got the first computer when I was 7 or so. My sister was 3 or 4. We were encouraged to use the computer, and actually, part of the reason that it was bought was so we would have access to educational games. (We were homeschooled, and my parents strongly believed in making learning fun.) Later on, when we were older, the games were not always educational, although I'm still amused I managed to argue my dad into counting playing Civilization and its offshoot Colonization as homework. ^_^

But, the more you write about this, the more that I think about the way my parents raised myself and my sister (I am in the process of getting evaluated for Aspergers; my sister is a classic textbook case), and realize that consistency was a biggie. They didn't really believe in arbitrary rules, unless Dad was in a Mood, and we got used to waiting a couple hours when that happened and then entirely ignoring what he said because he'd later take it back anyway. But while his Moods (I strongly suspect my dad is bipolar at this point, but doctors, what are those?) were illogical and irrational, they also generally followed the same pattern and were predictable, so we kinda learned how to approach it more logically... at least, I did. My sister had a lot more trouble with it.

For the most part, though, they didn't do many things arbitrarily and without reason. And stuff that was arbitrary? Like the whole bedtime thing? Yeah, um, I pretty much spent most of my teen years staying up until 1-5am and doing fine. They gave up on that one except for lecturing me about it until after I turned 18, when they decided to set down a bedtime. I moved out shortly thereafter. :P
Jun. 5th, 2012 02:00 am (UTC)
I really don't get the outcry over kids playing video games, tbh. I mean, I can understand concerns over age appropriateness (though Diablo is pretty mild) but even then, my ex's daughter played Dungeon Keeper when she was 6 and turned out fine.

My son was very confused when we asked him to call a Bastard Sword a Hand-and-a-half sword. He didn’t understand why. But his teacher, who was a very nice woman, played no computer games and had no interest in D&D or any of the other games in which Bastard Sword was common, and we were afraid that she would only hear the first word and not...the rest.
Jun. 4th, 2012 05:47 pm (UTC)
It seems to me that consistency is hugely important. As a child I was very troubled by inconsistent rules and they still worry me (airlines. Do not gt me started on airlines.) Which is a roundabout way of saying that you seem to have come up with an excellent approach to parenting for most children, and particularly for your son.
Jun. 4th, 2012 07:53 pm (UTC)
Even for a neurotypical child, I feel uneasy with the idea of asking things I'm not willing to put up with myself. There are exceptions ... I mean, only I would get to drive the car, use the knives, etc., with a toddler in the house. But in many cases, if a restriction is chaffing for me, as an adult with a well-developed set of coping skills, it seems it may be because deep down I don't consider it a reasonable restriction, and that I need to at least think about whether a child gains something from it that's so important it's worth asking him to do something I'm unwilling to do.

Sometimes it is. I mean, no way would I sit in an elementary school classroom day after day, for love or money, yet I would send my children to school. But, you know, if I find it unreasonable to go without a snack before dinner, maybe it's unreasonable for someone else to, even if they're a young someone. That sort of thing.

It's the thing that keeps me from, when volunteering with kids, say, grabbing a Coke from a machine when I know everyone else is drinking water. Being an adult doesn't make me suddenly more entitled to a Coke than a kid is, and it's no better for me to be drinking one than him.
Jun. 4th, 2012 08:06 pm (UTC)
(Which doesn't mean I think it would be write for all families, families all being very different, just that it makes instinctive sense to me.)
Jun. 5th, 2012 02:02 am (UTC)
It's the thing that keeps me from, when volunteering with kids, say, grabbing a Coke from a machine when I know everyone else is drinking water. Being an adult doesn't make me suddenly more entitled to a Coke than a kid is, and it's no better for me to be drinking one than him.

My reasoning at home was very similar. But sometimes it went farther: "If I can't stop myself from snacking/etc., how can I reasonably expect a child to be able to do so?"

And the thing is: he would have noticed. In his various attempts to make sense of the universe, he would have noticed the inconsistencies of expectation. Expecting less from children made sene to him as a child - it still makes sense to him now - but expecting more? No.

And I might have mentioned that all our fights were between 2 and 4 hours in length...so the 'choose your fights' option was highly prioritized in this house...
Jun. 5th, 2012 10:56 am (UTC)
Having a child on the spectrum does mean different parenting. I did many things I wouldn't choose to do, and yes, I was miserable and hid it. It's still difficult because this is not my nature. But I do agree that in bending to accommodate a child after many years of not having one, it's important to keep some amount of yourself intact, though that can be difficult too.

We only did computer games (not being gamers ourselves) when she was encouraged to do a special therapeutic game to increase her memory skills which were creating huge learning issues. For her, computer games then became part of her therapy. And as for TV, which they tell you to limit, limit, limit? She really learned to read while setting up the DVR recorder. She needed to know which shows she'd seen already. (She loves books, we read to her nightly. But independent reading was a long and tedious learning process...and TV helped.) TV also helped her follow a story from beginning to middle to end. With the DVR, she could see it over until she could memorize it. And she had to follow dialogue, something that was REALLY difficult for her IRL.

She owned a computer before many other children. She has her own laptop before most kids (we're a high computer count household). Having a laptop, she learned how to look up movie times and propose times for us to go see what she wanted to see. So I taught her to work back with travel time (40 minutes is typical) for a logical departure time. Because time calculations were proving difficult in math class.

So I agree. There's generic advice and then there's interpreting what's best for your kid, for a kid that's outside the box.

What's interesting about TV is that as she's gotten older, she watches it LESS, not more.

OTOH, if I hadn't forced myself to do floor time, she wouldn't be as far along as she is today. There are things you try and they nearly kill you, but if they seem to help, you have to keep doing them. And yes, there are things you try and discard. "Listening therapy" was one of those. I have no idea who that helps.

And that was a great writeup of rules and how your son reacted to them. Looking back, she reacted much the same way. I had chalked that up to being an "only" where there's no clear line between parents and the child.

Jun. 6th, 2012 02:12 am (UTC)
OTOH, if I hadn't forced myself to do floor time, she wouldn't be as far along as she is today. There are things you try and they nearly kill you, but if they seem to help, you have to keep doing them. And yes, there are things you try and discard. "Listening therapy" was one of those. I have no idea who that helps.

Yes. This is part of the "love as endurance" that I am still thinking about, and still want to write about. I do think that we can find some joy in the things that we would never happily choose to do, but also, that as adults the sense that there are some things that have to be done can push us through them. My oldest could not be alone until he was four and a half. So there was no down-time during waking hours - and he did not sleep through the night until he had cut all his teeth. He finally got second year molars when he was four.

If he had had different parents, he would be a different child. But parenting - just like being - is not neutral; it's one half of the equation. I think we grow into ourselves as we gain some self-confidence - and losing our own sense of self makes everything much harder. We're responsible for our children when they're young - and because we're not children ourselves, our sense of responsibility can push us through the hard-but-necessary things. But if we give up everything, it sometimes fosters a sense of resentment, or a sense of what our children now owe us. I call it the "After all I did for you" reflex.

And it's probably not a surprise that I think that the resentment is toxic, when expressed - and of course, if it's *all* resentment, there's no way it's not going to be expressed.
Jun. 6th, 2012 01:57 am (UTC)
This makes a lot of sense. Thinking about it, yep, the rules spouse & I apply to our kids are indeed based on reasons. For example, adults get to eat in the living room and kids don't, because the adults in the household don't routinely make a mess while eating, and if we do, we clean it up unprompted. (Corollary: when the kid starts eating neatly and cleaning up any accidents by themselves, they get living room food privileges.)

Having a kid on the autism spectrum also really brings home the concept of choosing your battles. I'm sure I got many weird looks and snide comments from people when my ASD son was in the habit of picking long stems of grass and holding them in his mouth to shred. But since it wasn't causing him any health issues, and since I needed my spoons for training him not to bite and pinch every time I had to say "no" about something, I ignored it.
Jun. 6th, 2012 02:20 am (UTC)
Having a kid on the autism spectrum also really brings home the concept of choosing your battles.

It did in our household. I really have seen children who are diagnosed on the spectrum who had no oppositional tendencies -- at all. ASD is tricky because it covers such a broad range of behaviours and reactions. But then again, people are tricky in exactly the same way.

I know there were parents in the early years who assumed that if I had raised my child correctly, he would be docile and compliant. But...it's easy to get tunnel vision and to rely on personal experience, because we all have tendencies to do that in real life. Their experiences clearly show that their model is/was successful. The idea that it's child-dependent often doesn't occur to them.

And I know that some parents of ASD children find this hard. No one enjoys being thought of as the bad mother.

But I, too, needed my spoons for the fights that mattered. People might think adults are strange if they pick and chew on grass stalks - but I've seen it multiple times and it did not threaten, frighten, or offend me. If your son continued to do this, it would not be social death - so in your case, it's not one of the fights I would have.

I did have to have the internal arguments with myself in the early, early years, though. The ones that said "what these other mothers/people think does not matter to your son - unless you make it an issue. It should not matter to you. You will never see these people again. You will not attempt to ride herd on your son who is not harming anyone else just because you feel total strangers are looking down on you. If you give up to the 'embarrassing me in public' fears, your parenting decisions will be based in fear, and I don't think most decisions that come out of fear are actually really good ones."
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