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Parenthood and Learning to Let Go

Episode 216: Amazing Andy and His Wonderful World of Bugs gave us a lot to think about this week. We can discuss the pressure and stress of planning a birthday party or even Max’s meltdown when Gaby changes her sticker rule.

But what really struck us, was  Zeek’s transformation in the way he saw Andy, the party planner. He was put off at first by Andy’s behavior. Why was he refusing help and not allowing people to touch his things? Once Adam explains that Andy does in fact has Asperger’s he is impressed. It was eye opening for him to see that he was living an independent life.

For those families who are preparing for the journey from adolescence into adulthood, please check out our Transition Tool Kit. It is an extremely useful resource.

We love the ‘Experts Speaks‘ portion of the ‘Parenthood‘ website, and we think it is important to share with you, especially this week. Here Roy Q. Sanders, M.D., shares his experience in learning to ‘let go’ of his adolescent son.

Our son Frankie will be 15 in May. Not a day goes by without my thinking about his future. The discussion over the past month has been whether he will go to our public high school or not next fall. He is absolutely sure that the time is right for him to “move on.” Yesterday, while we were cleaning the chicken coop (birds are his thing), he told me, in his own peculiar sounding voice, “I know I have autism. I know I am different. I am okay with that.” When I expressed my concerns about his not having the support that he has now at his current school (a specialized program for teenagers with autism) he told me, “You are worrying too much. You need to let it go.”

I had to smile. How many times have I told Frankie “You need to let it go”?

I suppose it’s difficult for any parent to imagine a child all grown up and taking care of him or herself. For those of us with children on the spectrum – and even though we worry about it every day – actually imagining a kid like Frankie all grown up and taking care of himself and being “okay with his autism” is an almost impossible leap of imagination. But we do know that our children will grow up, and we know each of them will live their lives as independently as they are capable with the tools we have given them.

Here’s another thing Frankie told me: “Don’t worry, you have taught me how to do this. You have taught me everything.” Like Adam in this episode, I tend to get so wrapped up in the day-to-day struggles with Frankie that I forget how much he is learning and how much his (and our) hard work are paying off. I often don’t see that we are making real progress in helping him grow into an independent adult with his own life, his own interests, and his own difficulties and quirks – just like Andy the Bug Man.

What I have seen with Frankie’s typical friendships is the same sort of understanding and support that Zeek gives Andy. Frankie’s friends are all ready to jump in and help. They “have his back.” Because they understand Frankie has autism and that he’s “different,” they do what any good friends would do: they help him out, and do what they can to structure the environment to give him room to be himself in all of his wonderful differentness.

For years I have counseled parents, teachers, patients and all sorts of social groups on how to look beyond any disabilities and see the abilities. I have advocated for inclusion. I have challenged us all to work to move beyond acceptance and toward embracing our children’s differences. I have believed (along with Jennie Weiss Block, author of “Copious Hosting: A Theology of Access for People with Disabilities”) that welcoming and embracing people with disabilities brings a theology of liberation – not only to the disabled but to those of us who are “abled” as well. We are all blessed. Now I find myself on the horns of a dilemma. Do I opt for safety, security, nurturing and growth in a very secure environment for the next few years before “allowing” Frankie the path to more complete inclusion… or do I walk with him now into the messiness of life in the “real world” and all the growth, pain and joy that this choice entails? Do I “allow” him to liberate himself while bringing liberation to those around him? Do I restrict his willingness to give himself or the willingness of others to give to him?

In reality, the choice may not be quite so stark, but it sure feels that way. This episode has been a great reminder of not only how our children’s passions can give them a life of working and loving, but also of how painful it can be for parents to “let go” and “allow” their children to risk the pain, but also experience the joy of living their own life.

Written by Roy Q. Sanders, M.D.

Make sure to visit the Parenthood website to watch full episodes!

  1. Helen Coughenour
    February 16, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    We spend all our time and love learning and teaching our children everything we know to give them tools to live with and by, letting go is inevitable, this we all know , when the time does get here we panic , have we taught them enough, have they learned enough, we have to trust that our children are in Gods hands and they pretty much let us know when their ready so we can fight it or back them , I prefer to back them and give them all the moral support we can, and stand back and watch our work and Gods unfold into beautiful wonderful loving adults.

  2. February 16, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    This really struck a chord with me. I haven’t watched last night’s episode, but I understand how hard letting go is. My son was just diagnosed with autism in January. They recommended preschool (he’s 3 1/2). I’ve been home with him almost every day since he was born. He’s only ever slept overnight twice not under the same roof as me (once when his brother was born, twice when my husband & I left the boys with my parents for the weekend). My mom says I’m overprotective but I think that children need a sense of shelteredness, especially when they are young. So it was very very hard to basically give my son over to complete strangers for 3 hours 4 times a week. Luckily, his teachers are awesome and he loves school. But if he stayed 3 forever, I’d be ok with that too. I don’t know how I feel about kindergarten. :S

  3. Sandy Scott Greene
    February 17, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    I love the insight and it is always encouraging to read :) Sandy

  4. February 17, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    I didn’t know Parenthood was available on their website…….well, or that they had a website. So glad to learn this as I only caught a couple of episodes and would love to watch it from the beginning.

    Randi, I know it’s hard to let go for even those few hours, but know that he’s learning so much in that time away. The time he’s spending with other children is so valuable. The time that you have to yourself, to keep in touch with you as someone other than as a parent, is very important also. For us to be the parents our children need, we also have to remember who we are as individuals and who we were before they came along. Sometimes it’s far too easy to get “trapped” in thinking our children need us all the time, every minute, when sometimes we can use that time to ourselves. There were times when my children were little that their time at school, before it was time for me to go to work, were necessary to have to just remember how to breathe.

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