Saturday, 24 November 2012

Hello, I'm Sophie, and I'm a bad parent

I used to think that being a parent was about knowing what was best. I'm your Mum, I know what's good for you, do as you're told. Eat your greens, brush your teeth, go to bed early. Say please and thank you.

In practice, knowing what is best actually means issuing lots of commands, albeit commands sweetened with love and good intent.

I used to think that being a parent was about being the one who was in charge. I'm always right, don't think you can get one over on me. Who do you think you are?

In practice, being the one in charge actually means being the only one allowed to make decisions.

My daughter will soon turn 11 - a decade, and a bit more - and now only now am I learning that I have to let her make some decisions. I have to meet her half-way. Or more often, three-quarters of the way.

This isn't the soft gush of a well-intentioned pre-teen's mum. I'm not talking about letting her make her own mistakes. I don't mean that I need to treat her like the adult she will far too terrifyingly quickly become.

I'm talking about the humbling experience of learning very late on that my child needs as much control as she can possibly have, and that my job is simply to temper that, rather than wrestle it away from her for as long as I can in order to Teach Her What's Right.

Earlier this week I sat through a day's training for autism professionals and parents and was told very simply that because of the way my child's brain had developed she would always take authority and that the best I could do would be to find the mildest way of imposing it.

This is so far away from how I've always seen being a good mum. I've always prided myself on dishing out the same kind of tough love and setting the same lofty goals as my mum did for me.

However I realised a while ago that entrance exams and grammar schools and swotting and straight As are all out, where my daughter is concerned. Now I realise too that laying down the law in the way that my parents did (and which I have always believed was a sensible model which instilled humility and respect - go on, call me old school) is also out.

So this week I took a deep breath and agreed some very basic stuff with my daughter. I had a conversation with her in which rather than insisting on having my way because that was just the way it went I listened properly to her explain why the flush of the toilet is too loud and the rush of water alarms her and why, after 8 years of fighting me about it, she simply cannot bring herself to do it. So we've agreed that for now, she doesn't have to. After that we did a deal about how many times a week she has to have a shower. And after that, after of five years of negotiating and yelling and ordering her to bend to my will, I accepted that my daughter simply won't use the hot tap. She's too frightened of the sudden change in temperature. So we bought medicated wipes and antibacterial gel instead.

I'm sure that some of you reading this will have got there way ahead of me and may well be shaking your heads in disbelief at my ignorance and idiocy in trying to impose 'normal' parenting strategies. Others of you probably think I'm a sap and may already be predicting that within weeks I will find myself trying to master the three-ring circus that my child insists I provide before she will contemplate getting out of bed. (Though frankly given the battle that is getting her up in the mornings, I would gladly provide clowns and elephants if I thought it would solve the problem.)

This feels a bit like standing up among a circle of strangers in a slightly draughty church hall and announcing: "I'm Sophie. I've been parenting my kid wrong for years."

But at least now I can start trying to do something about it.


  1. Congratulations on finding your own way :)

  2. Well it sounds like I'm doing it all wrong too, then. :-(
    I'm going on an Earlybird course for my Gracie (she's 8 and so like your Grace it's incredible, but I told you that already via Twitter). Hopefully it will explain all these things to me and maybe I'll be able to do a better job with my girl, too.

    So funny - my Grace also refuses to use the hot tap and can be hideous to wake up. I just put her talking book cd on and climb in with her for a cuddle. That seems to reduce the grumpiness. Your mileage may differ. :-)

  3. Hiya! Grace will learn. I learned with time. I'm happy though you found your own way. I also have Aspegers Syndrome. I'm 22 and I go to a College in Macon, GA. Your daughter will learn give her time.

  4. Your article is going to save me hours of desperation. Your story is so similar to mine. Our daughters are the same age. Mine hates bathing. Showers scare her; they remind her of bad things.We argue over everything as I feel like I need to be in control and teach her the right things . We repeat ourselves endless but she just doesn't understand even though she is bright. None else sees this. After 4 years CAMHS have still not officially diagnosed Aspergers and all the time we live with our lives being controlled by my daughters behaviour. I too am on medication otherwise I cry constantly. I love her to bits and tell her all the time but she is beginning to hate herself. I will continue to read you blog in order to help me realise its not my fault or hers, just the way God made her. ( whom she hates!)
    Kate x

    1. I went through 2 years of blaming myself for my bad parenting and questioned myself so often as to where I had gone so wrong with her. I spent over 2 years trying to understand her rages, emotions and meltdowns...and then we went private and got her assessed. Life is on the up again, she has changed schools recently, we understand what sets her off and calmness is resuming. Good Luck.

  5. Kate, Kate, you are doing so well and you are not alone and it's not your fault. It's exhausting and demoralising at times but you can get through it. We waited 5 years for a diagnosis, so I know how that feels too. Is there a way I can contact you to pass on my personal email address? Would rather not post it here. If you're on Twitter I'm @SophieRunning. xx

  6. Thank you for the positive comment. Tonight happened to be one of the best ever. No fuss at bedtime! Will try to access twitter and find you! Many thanks x

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