Leigh is an incredible husband and father. He is not without his faults. Which some would see as amplified because, like his son, he has autism. Although it is no longer officially diagnosed, they really fit the Asperger's diagnosis. They are wicked smart too. So, what is it like for a plain old gifted mother to raise children with a profoundly gifted, autistic husband? Much less raise a child with autism together. Compound all that with other children who are gifted with other than autism diagnoses. It is not a walk in the park. Raising these kids with any partner wouldn't be. But a partner with autism himself does make it differently challenging.
I am the primary caregiver since Leigh works (very hard). As we always agreed to parent together, I go to him with parenting concerns and questions so we can decide on the best course together. These are his kids too and he should have input. He wants to be an involved father too, so I do my best to communicate with him.
I deal with the immediate discipline issues, but when big things come up, I take them to Leigh to problem solve together. He takes a while to process, so he often tells me he needs to think about it. I wait days to weeks before I ask again. Sometimes, he has forgotten (not really, but it fell the the recesses of his mind) about the initial discussion. Others, he has come up with a brilliant solution and not had time to communicate it. When I go to him sooner, I feel I am nagging. But when the issue is time sensitive, I must get input or decide on my own which feels like betrayal.
Until a few years ago, Leigh was also rather harsh on Will. Before we understood how to best address him, we both were. Leigh took it quite personally when I privately mentioned to him that I thought Will needed a gentler touch. He felt we were letting him get away with things, when I felt we were gently guiding him through. We also argued about the fact that we chastised Mack and Rory differently from Will and that felt unfair. We had to together reconcile that each child needed different parenting. Rory needed logic. Will needed support and an appeal to his way of thinking (which isn't always easy to ascertain). Mack needs a swift and firm hand and consistent reminders. Kae is a mix of them all and we don't quite have her pinned. Of course, we only THINK we have the others pinned!
Leigh and I had to find a way to work together to parent these very different children who thought they could outsmart us (let's be honest, there are twice as many of them, they can if they try)! Ultimately, because my brain is more adaptable (stop laughing, Mom), I had to adjust the way I spoke to Leigh. I had to present the issues how he could understand them. I had to listen differently and ask several questions about what he meant and how he expected to implement what was ultimately mine to oversee. I had to ask for support from him to carry out the new tactics. And I had to remind him what they might look like.
A simple conversation between adults, right? No. Not even close. These conversations can take hours. Even days. We have to hash out varying situations where the child's behavior might occur. We have to decide if we collectively have the time and energy to put the effort in that is needed for any given set of plans. I have to choose to take on the bulk of the weight of the decision. We have to decide how and who will deliver the decision to the child. We have to figure out why the behaviors are occurring and try to help the child with that struggle too. We don't want to fix symptoms, but the cause too.
Maybe that seems like something every parenting set should attempt. And it is. But, what you aren't seeing is the word battle that goes on in my brain while having the conversation. I can't simply present the problem and what I see as the cause without a million clarifying questions flying at me while any number of children interrupts. All that happens while I try to remember how to present the case to Leigh so he understands, isn't offended, and has time to process what I am asking along with whatever other scenarios pop into his head during the discussion. His anxiety causes him to dream up random, generally unlikely, but terrifying potential occurrences so everyone has to be in their place so he can shove down the voices.
This is no simple nor easy task. But, if you know our kids and how our home runs, you know this is worth it. We work hard. We work together. Our kids are far from perfect, but they are amazing humans whom I am blessed to have the pleasure of knowing. Leigh is the absolute best father I could have dreamed of for them. And a loving, caring husband. Even if he struggles to show emotion. Reflexive listening has been paramount to figuring out these and other challenging discussions. If you'd like tips on how to change your communication, schedule an appointment with me! Happy parenting!