4 Feb 2016

Why are you reading this instead of giving your child attention?

Competitive parents are the new media bugbear. WHY are you so competitive?!?, roar the tabloid online press next to a list of links to articles such as "Ten Reason Why this Mom is the Best Mom Ever!" and "Are You Ruining Your Child's Chances Forever With Your Slovenly Hair?" Competitive parenting has probably been around since one early woman said to her friend "Ugg is so TALENTED with his cave painting, I think he's going to be the new tribe leader" while her friend sat looking at Igg wondering why he was trying to eat a rock. Parenting is inherently egotistical: what people are really saying is "LOOK at this FINE HUMAN I have created. BEHOLD his magnificence, which is entirely down to ME!"

The difference is that the internet makes it easy to say things you would not even consider saying to someone face to face. Mentally judging Jenny at number fifteen for wearing her pyjamas on the school run is one thing, but the Daily Mail, which survives due to the ire of readers, actually DISABLED COMMENTS on an article about the Jenny at number fifteens of the world. Even five years ago, social media hadn't taken over our lives to the extent it does now. Should I get a load of disparaging comments on this blog, my phone will ding to tell me within seconds of them being left. Hate, direct to your pocket! Yay! Shun social media and you're a luddite, but never before have other people's opinions been in your face with such intensity and constancy. Write a particularly eloquent tweet, and thousands of people will ding into your phone, agreeing and applauding with every RT. The parental ego has been turned into careers of monetised blogging, and the judgement that lies within every Do This With Your Child post and pinterest gallery drives others to compete.

I am as braggy and proud of my children as any parent on facebook, but my GOD it is DEPRESSING as a parent of an autistic child to see the constant barrage of other people's top parenting blogs.This particular post struck a chord:

The irony of making the post, and then sharing it on facebook, so other bored mothers can read it on their phone while ignoring their children made me chuckle, but that's not the point.

Do you know how many times Jimmy looks at me a day? Not to garner approval or disapproval, or to show me a 'cool trick', or to see my reaction, but to just make eye contact? About twice. Do you know how many times Jimmy looks at me if he's engaged in a game? Never. Do you know how many times I have to say Jimmy's name when he's playing to get him to break his focus and talk to me? About thirty. Maybe I should tally up the amount of times I say his name in a day and make it in to a judgemental, but inspiring facebook post so it can go viral. SEVEN YEARS AGO, SHE HAD A BABY! BUT YOU'LL NEVER BELIEVE HOW MANY TIMES THIS MOM HAS TO SAY HER SON'S NAME A DAY! IT'S LOST ALL MEANING! SO INSPIRING HUN!

The inspiring, yet judgemental post bids us farewell with this poignant message:
“In a world where we are accepted as who people perceive us to be and not who we really are, in a world where validation comes from how many followers or likes we have, in a world where quality time with loved ones is being replaced by isolation and text messages from the other room, I beg you to be different.”

People have always been judged by who they are perceived to be; that's how perception works, and putting it online hasn't changed that at all, aside from to give random strangers the right of reply. All the parents at the school think I'm a redhead YET I'M A NATURAL BLONDE! IT'S THE LIE THAT WILL TEAR HUMANITY APART!
But when your kid is autistic, having them accepted as they are perceived resonates very differently. He's either a monster, or a normal kid who doesn't look at people. The nuances and vagaries of his personality are ignored by those who either try to put him into a box marked Weird or try to make him be neurotypical so it's easier to deal with the idea of him. The reason I blog about him isn't to validate his existence or gather likes. It's to give people we know (and those we don't) a better understanding of how autism works, and to show other autism parents that they're not alone. It gives me an outlet where I can talk about him and me and our family without people trying to fix it or make me feel good with false platitudes.
Jimmy doesn't exclude me because he doesn't love me. Jimmy excludes me because that is how his brain works. He does not have this need, that most of us take for granted, of constant physical reassurance and psychological contact with his fellow humans. He does not need what is often described as 'love', but really means emotional connection. People exist to serve a purpose, and as he grows older, I hope he learns to broaden that definition of people to include their emotions and needs as well. But he doesn't yet.

BUT, when he does, when he makes eye contact, when he wants a cuddle, when he asks a question about you instead of of you, when he notices your emotions, when he randomly tells you he loves you, when he laughs with you, when he briefly makes that connection, it is beautiful. It may only be a few seconds a day, if that, but it makes it worth it.

It gives me more satisfaction in those seconds than a thousand years sat watching his neurotypical brothers play to see how often they look at me.