This is the first part of a two part series. This post, I dedicate to my mother who gave me the strength and experiences that I needed to be able to handle what ever might come may way later in life. It turns out that it is a good thing she did. For that and all she did, I will always be eternally grateful.
I have one of those minds that remembers the craziest things… things from when I was 2, things that everyone else has forgotten… I remember where the scar on my knee came from even though I got it when I wasn’t even old enough to walk.
When you have a mind like that, you have to realize, everything has a lasting effect on you. Everything. Some things have more or less of an effect than others but it’s all there… all the time.
I’d like to tell you about the one thing that sticks out the most in my mind. It wasn’t from my toddler years. It was from my teen years… you know, those rebellious, often depressing, very overwhelming years.
The back story
My mother was what you would probably call “the problem child.” When your mother tells you that they’ve done it all, that there isn’t anything you could do that they hadn’t already done… well, in my mother’s case, it’s probably more true than for most.
She went on to become a paramedic and then a nurse and now works for the city in a government job… she’s done quite well for herself despite what may have been a “troubled” youth.
When I was a teenager and friends (and not friends) were drinking or even doing drugs…. I was a rather depressed kid. I didn’t do any of that stuff and had no interest in it. However, that didn’t stop friends from trying to convince me to “lighten up.”
What my mother told me, which might not be what most mothers would say, really stuck with me. I’m going to paraphrase it but this is the general idea:
I’m not saying you should try those things but I’m not going to tell you not to either. You’re a very smart boy. I’ve done just about everything that you could do so I know that you’d be alright if you did too. If you really want to try things, I won’t stop you. Just be safe and know I’m always here if you need me.
Ok, I paraphrased a lot.. it was a good talk and it wouldn’t make sense if I told you exactly how it went without context. But I think you get the idea.
Freedom to fail
What my mother gave me was the freedom to fail… at the time, I thought “How strange. Why would a mother tell her son to go ahead and do stuff that he could get addicted to and then… who knows what would happen?”
It wasn’t until years later that I realized that the freedom to fail is the exact the same thing as the freedom to live.
We all know that telling a teenager not to do something is the same thing as pushing them to do it. It’s not until you are given a choice that could shape the rest of your life that you realize a few things:
- You are in charge of your destiny. You’ve had control all along… it’s just been pointed out to you.
- Others have failed before you. You can follow to gain the same experiences or learn from theirs. It’s your choice and if you’re smart about it, you will gain valuable experiences either way.
- You are your own person. You are going to have to make up your mind on your own.
- You can only help guide, you can not control. That includes your own children. If your intentions have been good and you’ve done your best, have faith in their decisions.
My mom did have faith in me, even when I did not. Faith that I’d do just fine no matter what decision I made. That’s because she had gotten me to that point where she knew I’d be alright no matter what decision I made.
And in giving me that choice, made a huge impact on who I am today. I see my own children in a way that I know is very different than I would have if I had never had that talk with my mother. I’m not sure if it would be better or worse exactly, just different.
Children of my own
As you know, I have one child with Autism and one without. Would I have the strength, patience and understanding that I have now without my mother having faith in me that day? Possibly, it may have been a little different though.
Autism is one of those things that makes your parenting experience unlike anyone elses. Parenting in general is hard enough but when milestones are missed and all the other challenges that come with Autism, you find that you need to be so much more than the parent that everyone else told you that you’d have to be. It’s so much harder, so much more challenging.
For me though, it’s ok. I learned a long time ago that I have the freedom to fail. Not to fail my children, but to not have the answers. To not be able to be strong every single day of a year’s worth of sleepness nights. To get angry when other parents judge me because my son has a meltdown in public.
It’s not a thicker skin that I’ve developed… it’s that I have a decision, I’ve made a decision. That no matter which decision I make, it’ll be alright. That’s the freedom to fail… that’s the freedom to live.
The world still scares me and I still want to protect my children but I now know that they will be fine. When the time comes, when they are uncertain of themselves… I’ll have faith in them. I know they’ll make the right choice.
She didn’t say it, but she taught me the most valuable lesson I have learned in my entire life, simply by giving me the choice:
- I make my own decisions
- She has faith in me
- If I’m smart, it’ll work out alright no matter what I decide
- The freedom to fail is the freedom to live
Love you mom. Happy Mother’s Day!