Ten years ago while chatting with friends at one of my son’s Little League games, the topic of high-maintenance parents came up. After others told stories of their parents’ and in-laws’ outrageous selfishness and demanding behavior, I told the tale of the laundry on my wedding day. My friend Janet, who has a full set of unreasonable parents and in-laws, was stunned. “That’s the winning story,” she declared. And everyone else agreed. That was the moment I really realized how unusual my mother is.
Going public with that hidden side of my life that afternoon and seeing my mother’s actions through other people’s eyes offered confirmation that I was allowed to look analytically at my mother’s behavior and acknowledge the damage. I hoped – and still do – that this honest reflection will help me escape from some of the ingrained messages she that raised me on and I have – perhaps pathetically – not completely outgrown on my own.
I love my mother and don’t want her to feel bad about herself. She’s not going to change, and I don’t want to hurt her. I don’t want her to spurn me the way she did her mother when she saw that she was being criticized. I don’t want her to read this.
I wrote this not to hurt her or anyone with Aspergers, though I know some of what I say about this condition will wound and infuriate some people who have Aspergers or who love a child whose brain is wired this way. I really am sorry to open that wound. I know my experience is hard, maybe impossible, for you to accept.
In part I wrote this to tell myself to rewire my brain to accept my mother as she is, not as I thought she was and always wanted her to be. It’s so hard to stop wanting to believe that she loves me like I love my sons. I still want her to care about more than what I can do for her.
I wrote this for people who could be open to learning from my experience. One reason I decided to write it in spite of my mother’s feelings and my relatives’ reasonable expectations of privacy and my own dread of being attacked is that I believe I am presenting an important perspective that is thoroughly overlooked, especially as Aspergers awareness grows. The impression delivered by most material about Aspergers is that everyone who has this condition is a child and that this syndrome, while presenting some challenges for families, is also a kind of gift to the world, and the only missing piece is acceptance and accommodation from everyone else. Aspergers does present some gifts, but they are not free.
I know that all loving parents passionately need to believe that their child is what we all imagine: healthy and smart and able and loving. I understand that parents of children on the autism spectrum, already heart-broken by the diagnosis and worried about how everyone else will treat their child, want and deserve the best possible outcome and the kindest possible world for their children. I understand looking for some other form of specialness that compensates for the difficulties that most people with Aspergers face. I struggle with worry that this book will cause more suffering for these families. I suppose this concern is why almost no attention is accorded to the children of people on the autism spectrum.
It may seem cruel to want to be heard since my message isn’t heartening, and I can’t spin it as a rainbow after the storm. Even so, I can’t agree that out of consideration for parents of children with Aspergers or for adults with Aspergers, I should not dare speak of what it’s like to be a child of a parent with this brain type. I know this is a generalization, but I think it’s fair to say that most children of parents with Aspergers grow up as witnesses of our parent’s enthusiastic interest in something other than us, while we learn to be useful to them and take care of ourselves. We cling to the hope that our parent will one day drop the mask of indifference to reveal a hidden true self, to love us after all. We’re used to not having our needs and feelings considered, and every time I feel bad that I am being hurtful and shouldn’t present a realistic portrait of a parent with Aspergers, I remind myself that the issues are no less true if no one is willing to bring them up.
Copyright 2014 Sarah Meyer Noel. All rights reserved.