Tuesday, 6 August 2013

How Worried Should I Be?

I picked up a book which has been on my shelf for over a decade: Worried All The Time: Overparenting in an Age of Anxiety and How to Stop It by Dr. David Anderegg.

It's a useful book, counteracting the culture of fear which the media and Internet thrive on.  He explores the common fears of parents: that their children will be hurt or assaulted, that the decisions parents make as their children are toddlers will decide their child's future as an adult and that the world is more competitive and more dangerous than it used to be.  He points out the flawed logic behind each of these concepts and offers the common sense reassurance that parents can relax, children and fate are both more resilient than we would like to be believe.

However, I find myself in a very different frame of mind than when I first read it (before I was even pregnant).  I didn't want to be an anxious parent.  I wanted to teach my kids that the world is forgiving, with a short attention span.  So they don't have to be perfect.  Mistakes are acceptable.

But now I have real worries.  If I screw up at being a parent, my children may not be able to achieve independence.  And this isn't pie-in-the-sky anxiety, it's an actual possibility.  (Which, incidentally, is why I have little sympathy for parents who are still helicopter parenting their perfectly capable adult children.)

The question I found myself asking was this: are my fears justified?  This is the first generation of high levels of diagnosis for autism.  Even 10 years ago, it was much more rare than it is today.  We simply don't know what the prognoses are for all of these kids across the spectrum.  We're still learning what can be effective treatments at certain developmental points.

There's a lot of judgment, fear and shame across the Internet when it comes to parents whose children have autism.  How dare you not try treatment X?  How dare you care about expense when your child's health is at risk?  Don't you know that the window of opportunity is slamming shut?  Don't think!  Do it now, now, now, now, NOW!

Effort is still important but maybe we should cut ourselves a little slack for being pioneers in a still unknown world.  We won't always make the right decisions but that doesn't mean we failed.  We only fail if we give up trying.

We are often more gentle with friends and strangers than we are with ourselves.  So today, I'm going to take a little time to look in the mirror and see myself as a stranger.  Someone who deserves credit for effort and perseverance. 

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