Did I Fail as a Parent with My ‘Other’ Child?

An Interview with My Grown Up Neurotypical Daughter

Autism and Siblings

Editor’s Note: An excerpt of this interview was published on The Mighty. Here is the full interview with my daughter, Molly. What I hope you take away from this is that you, dear parent, are doing the best you can. If you come from a place of love−and I know that you are−your children with and without special needs are going to become the amazing adults you dream of them becoming!

I wish there was a manual with the exact formula for being an awesome parent. No, I wish that there was a course…better yet, a college major and when you earned your degree, you had ALL the answers. Instead you run on gut instinct, do the best you can and hope that you’ll raise loving and compassionate human beings.

Throw raising an autistic child into the mix and the job of parenting becomes even more challenging. How do you care for that child and also do right by your other children who do not have special needs?

My ‘child-raising’ years are complete but my being a parent will never be over. From this new vantage point, I can see the fruits of my husband’s and my labor in both my adult children. I was curious to find out my daughter’s perspective on growing up. How did I do as a mother? Did I fail as a parent? What does she think about having a brother on the spectrum? I thought I’d just come out and ask her, and here’s what she had to say:

What was it like growing up in our family?

Our family is driven and passionate, encouraging and imaginative, immensely supportive, fun (verging on completely silly), and full of love.

And what about me as your mom?

Well you’re fabulous. I’ve always had an exceptional role model in you. You follow where your heart takes you, even when the path it takes you down is more challenging. You are communicative and honest, and you listen. You’re our mother, friend, advocate, confidante, and biggest fan.

What are some of the things you remember fondly when you were little?

I’ve got this thing for stories and storytelling in art and everyday life. I’m fascinated by this culture of storytelling that’s very ingrained in the world, the importance of expression and of how we listen, and how those practices connect us more deeply to others and ourselves. I think this fascination was something that was deeply rooted in my soul when I was a kid. So many of my fondest memories of childhood involve stories: the whole family gathering to listen to Harry Potter books on tape, my crew of imaginary friends and imagining out loud with Jonathan, creating fantastic worlds and disappearing inside of them for hours or weeks, listening to the same bed time stories over and over again, being a part of the music and theater world as a performer and audience member (or even creating my own little shows as a kid).  Those memories have shaped me the most, and have made my life richer.

Now you are in your twenties and we are in an adult child-parent relationship! What’s that like for you?

I get to learn so much about you as a person, not just a parent, which is really enlightening. We are so similar, and I still have tons of things to learn from you. I don’t think that will ever not be true. And I think that’s really wonderful.

interview with my neurotypical daughter

What do you need most from me now?

Presence. The listener and the fierce supporter. The person who will tell it to me straight and who will always hear me out.

What would you rather I don’t do?

You’re my hero. But you’re also a human being. I have room for that humanness in a way that I didn’t have access to as a kid, because, well, I was a kid. I am extremely in awe of your grace in accepting your humanness. I am in awe of your ability to own your triumphs, and also own the much more difficult thing: your mistakes. So. What I think you shouldn’t do is assume that you must do everything right all of the time. Because you won’t and neither will I, but we’ll own that and then kick butt the next time around. This is something you taught me, and for that I’m unendingly grateful.

What’s it like to have a brother on the autism spectrum?

It’s a fairly normal sibling relationship, but there are times when I look to other siblings and their interactions and autism feels like an enormous wall between Jonathan and I. Autism changes the way you communicate, and dynamics between people that are usually a given are not necessarily applicable to someone on the spectrum. I’ve just learned about how to meet Jonathan where he is, and to know that in his own way, he is very present to me as my brother and friend, even if there are times when that doesn’t seem true. And beyond that, it’s exceptional to have a brother on the spectrum. It gives me a lot of permission to think differently, reach out to people and community more openly, and practice compassion and acceptance.

When we were kids running around the house pretending to be superheroes and ninja turtles, our connection was constant. We’ve always met in a place of creativity and imagination. And now, we are learning how to access that space as adults. I would say rather successfully!

Jonathan did take more of my time but I think I was there for you when you needed me. What were some of the things I did for you that really helped?

You always listened. Everything I had to say mattered. I was heard. And here is where this whole storytelling thing comes in again: Both Jonathan and I have different ways of expressing who we are, and those ways were encouraged in us, even if they were off the beaten path. We were treated as individuals with things to say that mattered, and we were encouraged to say them in the ways that meant the most to us. I’m a very introverted person, who prefers to share myself through music or plays about strange characters or by diving into some kind of creative world. Growing up and even now, that way of expression has been valued. That’s helped me learn how to embrace who I am, and extend that value to other people in my life. And I think the same is true of Jonathan.

What’s your relationship like now with your brother?

In many ways, it is just normal sibling stuff. We have a lot of that classic brother/sister, bickering love and those strange unexplainable sibling bonds. We talk about characters in movies and really good TV shows. I send him random pictures of cats in sunglasses. Occasionally, there are short conversations on the phone.

And then, true to form, Jonathan surprises me (and all of us) by reaching out in ways I wouldn’t normally expect. Certain social cues don’t come naturally to Jonathan, which is true of many on the spectrum, so when he stopped speaking about his week for a moment and asked me about my life in New York City without being prompted by anything other than his own interest, I was surprised and delighted. After I answered, he followed up with the very simple yet incredibly astute, ‘but I think moving there has been really great for you. It was a great thing for you to do”. This may not seem like a big deal, or may seem obvious to anyone who knows me, but for me it was everything. He really knows who I am, and he pays attention, and he cares.

If you had a chance to speak to parents who have a child on the autism spectrum and one (or more) who do not, what would you say to them?

Let your kids be dreamers; let them dream big. Help them cultivate a spirit and drive that just won’t quit. Let them live their truth, even if their truth wasn’t what you planned or imagined. Chances are by meeting them in their place of truth they will become people who are even more extraordinary, surprising, and lovely than a person could ever plan for or imagine.

But I’m no parent. I’m just lucky enough to have great role models in you and dad. I watched you tell my brother, autism and all, to dream big and to never feel less than. And Jonathan is one of the most extraordinary, surprising, and lovely human beings I know.

What would you like to say to the siblings?

If you’re open to it, having a brother or sister on the spectrum will give you a crash course in seeing the world in a whole different way: a way of deep compassion, acceptance, and openness. We have a really exceptional opportunity to understand and appreciate the incredible things that someone who thinks, engages, and interacts with the world differently contributes to our lives and the lives of others. I am a better person for knowing and growing up with Jonathan. He teaches me about strength, kindness, fun and openness everyday.

It may not feel like this all of the time as a sibling to someone on the spectrum, but trust me on this one: We are so unbelievably lucky.

Thank you for sharing, Molly! I am so proud of who you are and I am so blessed to be your mother. 

*Photography by Allure West Studios

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About Jodi Murphy

I am the founder of Geek Club Books, autism storytelling through mobile apps for awareness, acceptance and understanding. My mission is to use the art of storytelling and technology to entertain and educate for the social good. I am a 'positive' autism advocate, mother of an awesome adult on the autism spectrum, lifestyle journalist, and marketing specialist.

Comments

  1. What an amazing, thoughtful and articulate young woman! As the parent of one child on the spectrum and one who is not, I enjoyed reading this. I would imagine there is one proud set of parents. Great job!

  2. Trudy Harwell Gray says:

    Jodi, what a thoughtful, lovely daughter you have! You, your husband AND Jonathan have all played a part in who Molly has become.

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