Let’s face it. Parenting is hard. H.A.R.D. In the beginning, especially the first couple of months it is ALL work and very little reward. Yes you have this beautiful child, this life that you created. Your child is a miracle. Your child is beautiful. Your child is a screaming, needy, milk guzzling, bundle of poo that doesn’t care if you are tired, hungry, sad or happy. His wants and needs come first…period. Without as much as a word of thanks, or even a sly wink or head nod to acknowledge that he recognizes and appreciates the sacrifices you are making for him.
My first son was only a couple of months old when I broke down crying at my Mom’s house and tearfully told her how being a mother wasn’t anything like I thought it’d be. It was so hard and so unrewarding. Then I cried because I felt guilty for thinking and saying such things. She smiled and said very calmly and confidently, “It’ll get better. Your first parenting payday will come soon enough and it will make all of your efforts worthwhile.”
She seemed so sure that things would get better I held onto her words and her calmness like a life raft in a storm. Parenting paydays, huh? If you say so. A couple of weeks later I was dressing Owen and tickling his tummy when for the first time his entire face lit up in a grin from ear to ear. He looked so happy and adorable I did everything short of standing on my head to get him to do it again. It was wonderful! Remembering what my Mom had said, I thanked God right then and there for my first parenting payday. For the first time I felt that he saw me, that he recognized me as his mommy.
Another time, Owen had just turned two years old. I was changing his baby brother’s diaper on the floor when Owen loudly “snuck” up behind me. Playing along, I turned in mock surprise. He suddenly became very serious, leaned in and kissed me right on the mouth! That was the first time he ever kissed me! It was such a sweet and unexpected surprise. I didn’t know anything about autism at that point in our lives but I do remember thinking that it was odd that he never kissed us. Since he was my first, I just assumed that toddlers didn’t give kisses. That was such a beautiful moment, a parenting payday that I’ll cherish forever.
I don’t know how a neurotypical 3 month old or two year old responds to their parents because both of my children were later diagnosed with autism. I only have my own experiences. Neither of my boys seemed to care who took care of them in their first year of life. As long as their basic needs were met they were happy. It’s a very difficult thing as a mother to share a body with a tiny being for 9 months only to have the connection severed at birth. I kept waiting for a sign or something in both of my boys that would show me that they recognized me: my voice, my smell, my touch. Something that said, “You are my mommy.” Eventually they learned that I was mommy but it never felt instinctual. Does that make sense? I always thought that there would be this unspoken connection shared between the mother and child from infancy. Maybe this feeling of disconnect is the first red flag for autism or maybe that’s just what it’s like having a newborn. I’d love to hear from parents of both neurotypical children as well as parents of children with autism. I’m curious, was your experience the same or different?
Having two boys on the spectrum, am I missing out? Sure, in some areas. There are certain typically developing things that I haven’t got to experience yet. Like back and forth conversations and unprompted affection at appropriate times. I will experience them but in their own way and in their own time. No child comes with a handbook on how to raise them but most follow developmental milestones that you can use as a guide. Raising children on the spectrum is like having the same guidelines as everyone else but in a different language. You can see all of the milestones that they will eventually meet but you don’t know how or when they’ll get there. You learn to rely on faith, patience and unconditional love to get you through
Having two boys on the spectrum, what have I gained? A fierce and protective love and loyalty for my children that I didn’t know I was capable of. I’ve gained confidence in who I am as a person and as a mother. My entire perspective and outlook on life has shifted, my eyes have been opened up to a larger, more beautiful world full of paths less traveled. An appreciation and gratitude for life, family, my husband and my children that I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for experiencing acceptance of my children’s autism diagnoses. One of the best perks of raising two boys on the spectrum is that the parenting pay days are commensurate with experience. I have to say that I am one well paid autism mama!
Getting back to the paydays, Owen went through a terrible phase shortly after he was diagnosed where he would lash out at me angrily: kicking, hitting, and pulling my hair. He had an extreme reaction to his little brother’s cries and because he was unable of telling us what was wrong he lashed out. Usually at me. Even knowing that, it hurt that I was the main target of all of his frustrations. At night he would wake up screaming, wild and out of control. I would go to him and try to comfort him but couldn’t get close because he’d lash out at me. Through countless nights of trial and error I learned to stand across the room from him and count out loud until he calmed down enough that I could approach him. It was terrifying and heartbreaking. He was only two years old. Three years later, when he wakes in the night and I go to him his body visibly relaxes just by hearing my voice. I sit next to his bed and he’ll hug my arm or put my hand on his head so that I can scratch it with my fingers. He’ll sigh and say, “Mommy, I love you” over and over. I stay until he falls back to sleep thanking God for giving me this child to love. I consider that my payment for all of those sleepless nights. All of my worries and fears for him are completely forgotten in that moment.
My next big payday was when I was putting my youngest son Eli to bed. I put him in his crib and kissed him goodnight. As I began to stand he reached out his small hand and lightly touched my chin, saying in his little stuttering voice, “Mommy, I love you with my best heart.” His words immediately brought tears to my eyes. I think he was trying to say, “I love you with all of my heart.” Something I say to him frequently. I love you with my best heart is so innocently sweet and pure. Those words filled my heart and completely pushed out all of his whiny, clingy, fit throwing moments from earlier that day and replaced it with such a fierce love and gratefulness for this little person that I get to call my son. “I love you with my best heart,” is one of our families favorite sayings now.
My paydays come when I least expect it, from unprompted thank you’s, excuse me’s and please’s to listening to them laugh and play with one another. One of my most treasured favorites is their absolute belief in mommy kisses; no matter how painful the injury everything will be okay once mommy kisses it.
My Mom was right. The parenting paydays have come and I am so grateful for the two little men that call me mom.
What are some of your parenting paydays? Please comment below and let me know. I’d love to hear from you!