When I was younger, I would dream about what my life would look like as an adult. What kind of job would I have? What kind of car would I drive? I knew I wanted kids, but how many kids would be running around the yard? When I thought about being a parent, I imagined taking care of them, playing, providing moments of sage advice and wisdom... in my imagination, these are very profound, perfect parenting moments. Everyone can dream, right?
But really, I wanted to have a child of my own so that I could give him or her everything I never had. I wanted to provide him or her with every opportunity. I could not wait to fill this role.
Mila Soleil was born on September 9th, 2014 and from the moment I knew she was coming, she had my heart. When I first saw her, I knew I would do anything for her. I had been dreaming of her my entire life and finally, she was here.
I have lead numerous parent trainings throughout my professional career. In all of them I have stated suggestions very matter of fact, straight-forward manner. Things like, "ignore negative attention seeking behavior" is easy for someone without kids to say, harder for those with kids to implement. At the time, I didn't know what it meant to have your child screaming and crying, with every person in the grocery store staring at you, watching, waiting to see what you are going to do. And you are supposed to ignore them?
Since the day Mila was born she has been my little turkey. Dada gives her all the attention, toys, food and television (when mom isn't home) that she wants. Could I ever ignore her? I don't think so. This got me thinking. What would I do?
Then I started thinking about what I would do if I had a child on the autism spectrum.
For many of the families I have worked with, one parent has a job outside the house and the other parent's job is to stay home with the child. In other families parents find themselves pulling split shift with their partner, crossing paths like two ships in the night, too tired to share about anything but the latest crisis. The divide between parents becomes bigger and bigger, while parenting challenges amount. Throw into the mix financial, employment, and house challenges, along with another kid or two and you've got your hands full. Every parent feels a deep and never ending well of love from the moment his or her child is brought into this world. How each parent expresses this love might look different, but it's there.
Fathering an autistic child has unique challenges. Some might lay awake at night thinking, "How can I help?" "What does my child need from me?" The vulnerability that it takes to talk about your real thoughts and emotions with your spouse, friends, parents, caretakers, and other professionals is sometimes difficult, but wonderful. Letting other professionals into your home, trusting them to make the best decision for your child is something I admire greatly about each and every family I have worked with. It takes great courage to admit you need help caring for your greatest treasure. But the fact is we all need help.
One thing that I know to be true above all else is all fathers deserve (and can!) have a deeply satisfying relationship with their children and partner. I'm a dad that helps parents support their child's development and growth. And this does not have to come from a lecture. Learning and sharing your love can occur at any moment of every day. It does not come from taking your child to Disneyland or buying him or her a new bike. Rather it's in singing the song together that you used to teach them how to tie their shoes. Or it's in creating crazy characters together as you help them cut their chicken nuggets. It is about creating "we" moments.
So, I'll leave you with three tips to help you on your way to building the better relationship you want with your child:
- Be emotionally present with your children. Don't participate in the nightly bedtime routine for the high-five or just the satisfaction knowing your child is asleep. Be there. Feel it. Enjoy it for what it is. If you are enjoying your time, your child will be too. There is only one "now" moment. Make the best of it.
- Share your hobby. Mine is singing. I sing in a barbershop chorus that is currently the international champions. I started singing when I was 8 years old with my dad. What's yours? Figure out a way to share a piece of you with your child.
- Sometimes saying "yes," even though it might be easier to say "no". Being a good dad doesn't have to mean 7 hours at the park. It might be as simple as saying "yes" when you really feel like a "no." "Wanna play Legos?", today the answer just might be a "yes."
Becoming a father has been the "just right" challenge of my life. At times, I'm managing my own anxieties, other times my wife and I are providing scaffolding for each other so that we can both be the best parents we can be. Similarly, learning RDI is also a form of productive uncertainty. Learning new ways to strengthen the bond with my child can at times be stressful but is also exciting. The road is bumpy at times, but journey is worth some of the discomfort that comes with it.
To learn more about the RDI program and how we help families with autistic children, go here.