Sharon Fuentes is flat out funny. Her favorite topic? Parenting. She writes a monthly parenting humor column for Westchester Family magazine in New York and her articles and essays have been published in numerous regional, national and international publications including Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum. She has her first book, The Don’t Freak Out Guide to Parenting Kids with Asperger’s, so I snagged her for a few minutes to sit down and have a virtual chat about her life, her blog, and the experience of writing a book.
So I’m on your blog, Mama’s Turn Now, and reading your “About” page where you mention being a mom of two children—one with Aspergers and one with severe asthma—and have a husband who travels for his work…You mention that your journey right now is to find life balance. How is the road on your journey going?
Bumpy it is going very bumpy! Ha ha ha
Seriously, at times it is a true balancing act between my own needs and my children’s needs. Before I ALWAYS put my children’s needs first. Heck I put everyone before I put myself. One day I woke up and it suddenly donned on me that I say I would do anything for my children, which I would, but I certainly can’t do that if I am not around. I needed to start taking better care of myself. (I have lost 42lbs since that day!) I also wanted to feel happy. So I decided that I was going to do something for me, something I loved to do. I always enjoyed writing… so I thought why not give it a try.
My blog started out as cheap therapy for me. LOL But suddenly people started to read and relate to what I was writing. It was amazing. One day an editor sent me an email saying she had been following me, loved my writing and invited me to submit an article to her magazine. Opportunities like that don’t come around often so I jumped on it. One article lead to another and well… it just sort of boomeranged from there. I feel blessed to be able to make a living doing what I love! But I have to admit… some days I have to still remind myself why I started all this and to sit back and enjoy it.
Was writing a book a step in that journey?
Not at all! I mean don’t get me wrong, I think every writer has the idea in the back of her head that one day she would like to write a book, but I never thought I actually would. The idea of writing a book came out of a joke comment. I was walking with my friend one morning and telling her another crazy story from my life when she said to me, “You should really write a book!” I laughed, she laughed and then we both stopped laughing because it suddenly seemed like a really good idea!
Did it throw you off balance at times?
It is still throwing me off. Trying to balance a career and motherhood is tough enough but throw on top of that special needs; it’s exhausting! There are certainly not enough hours in the day. And I am fortunate to have a job that is flexible and to work from home. The thing is I will always be a mom first and I am more than okay with that. Once I made that decision it made things much easier really. Here is an example…I was just recently invited to an out of town writers event that the publishers of Chicken Soup for the Soul books are throwing, (I have been fortunate to have had two different essays appear in their books) and I said no without even giving it a second thought because the event is the day before my boy’s IEP meeting and I will be damned if I try to reschedule that thing. LOL Would it have been a wonderful opportunity to have attended the event, you bet, but my priorities still and always will be with my family first. The difference is that now I am choosing to do that, I no longer feel that I always have to put their needs above my own or my career. The knowledge that I have a choice is what keeps me balanced.
You are a journalist and have been published regionally, nationally and internationally—was it easy to go from writing articles to writing a book?
Actually it was. I guess it is because my writing style is very conversational-like and, well, those that know me will tell you, I always have something to say! Ha ha ha
It was nice not having to limit what I wanted to say to a 700 word column.
Your book, The Don’t Freak Out Guide to Parenting Kids with Asperger’s is coming out in October—I’m already hooked on the title alone! It looks as though you are mixing practical advice with a sense of humor…Am I right? Why don’t you share the overall message and theme of the book?
We actually are trying to push the release to the 9th… It’s my wedding anniversary. (That way I don’t have to buy my husband a present! LOL)
We try to find humor in every situation in our house because laughing certainly beats crying! So yes the book does have a sense humor to it. Mainly it is funny though because my kid is hilarious. Honestly, he is one of the funniest people I know. Example: when I told him one day that he was my MUSE, he replied, “Good then I should get 12% of the profit from your book. One year for every year I have been alive to inspire you!”
The message of the book? Well the main thing is to let others know they are not alone and of course to let them know that there is nothing to Freak Out about!
As for a theme, I think what makes this book really different than anything else out there is that it does not focus on trying to change your Aspie child. Instead it concentrates on changing the way parents, parent their children. We present different leadership styles that parents can use to help LEAD their children. So the theme I guess you could say is LEADERSHIP. Funny how you never hear that word when people talk about Autism or Asperger’s, do you? Yet if you think of some of our most famous people throughout history whom we consider to be leaders in their fields (Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Mozart etc.) they all seemed to have had traits that could be considered very Asperger-like. So leadership and Asperger’s really do go well together, thus making it a very effective way to parent.
You collaborated with author, parent expert and licensed counselor Neil McNerney. Tell us about him and why you chose to work with him. What responsibilities did each of you have for creating the book’s content?
Neil was speaking at a parent coffee that my son’s middle school hosted about Homework and how to help out without FREAKING OUT. He is an awesome public speaker as he is humorous, approachable and so very knowledgeable. As I listened to him talk I kept thinking to myself that all these techniques he was telling us we could use with our children and “homework time” could be adapted to help my Aspie ALL THE TIME! I approached him after the lecture, introduced myself and asked if he wanted to write a book together! I think I was even more shocked then he was when he said, “OK!”
The most challenging part of writing our book was trying to figure out how we would write it without confusing the reader, going back and forth between the two of us. So we came up with the idea that writing the book from my point of view, you know the parent of a kid with Asperger’s, made sense. The stories in the book are mine but the techniques are Neil’s. Of course I have tried and tested them all so now they are my techniques too! LOL
It actually was a wonderful working relationship and I am so honored to have had the opportunity to not only collaborate with him on this project, but to now be able to call Neil my friend.
What are you most proud of in regards to the book?
That I finished it! LOL
No really I am most proud of the fact that I was able to keep it positive. Even when I talk about the many challenges, it still stays positive. I am also very proud of how I was able to stay true to my own personal beliefs without alienating others; at least I think I did! There is so much conflict among the autism community; this book is not about all that. This book is about being a good parent which is something I think everyone can agree we all want to be.
What are you hoping parents will take away from reading The Don’t Freak Out Guide?
My goal is that after they read this book, they will be able to look at their children and see them for the wonderful, unique and perfect people they are NOW, and not try to change that! Instead, they will make the effort to LEAD them to be the best that they can be! I also hope that this book gives them the strength to believe. Believe in themselves, their instincts and above all, their children!
Oh and that Sharon Fuentes is one funny lady, yeah I wouldn’t mind them walking away thinking that too!
You title your website and Facebook page, “Mama’s Turn Now – How my son with Aspergers is teaching me to be happy.” I adore that positive outlook! Will you give us a list of…hmmmm…5 ways that your son has taught you to be happy?
- Jay has taught me how to slow down.
- Jay has taught me there is no such thing as “normal” and why that is such a good thing.
- Jay has taught me how to love with all my heart, unconditionally, without expecting anything back, and therefore being able to appreciate it so much more when it is reciprocated!
- Jay has taught me that if you feel like singing… sing, feel like dancing… dance, feel like sitting down in the middle of the road to read a book- okay maybe that one was not such a good one but you see where I am going with this!
- Jay has shown me time and time again how when life tries to knock you down, it’s okay to cry, but then you got to get back up.
Every day I learn from both my children. I think all our kids have a lot to teach us, we just have to be willing to let them do it!
Any final thoughts?
Yes, a reminder to all the parents out there to BREATHE! Stay calm, don’t take things so personally or yourself so seriously and once again… BREATHE!
Thank you for your support and helping us stay calm and carry on with joy and a sense of humor.
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