Welcome to Autism Blueprint Quick Tips; A mini episode where I share a quick nugget of knowledge to help you on your autism journey.
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Today’s Topic: How to Build Your Parenting Village
- What is a parenting village and why do you need one?
- How to choose the people and resources that will be part of your village.
- Lesson’s learned from Janeen’s life about the importance of a village.
Transcript of Episode
Before I get started today I want to respect that there may be a few stories and topics in this one that could be triggering. I’ve come to realize both as a autism parent and as a professional trauma therapist, that just talking about difficult things can be triggering to some people. SO I want to take a moment and recognize that because many autism parents have post traumatic stress responses because the nature of our parenting is so stressful and may include some of the events I’ll be discussing today. SO if you are triggered at all by stories of kids going missing or family members getting critically ill, this may not be the show for you today.
SO I just wanted to start with that so you know what to expect.
Why is building a village important?
I often talk about taking care of yourself as an autism parent. And one of my biggest suggestions is to build your village. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a bigger village to raise a child with autism and this village is more for your sake than anything else. Building your village is crucial because autism is hard enough- then life happens; a loved one dies, a job loss, an unexpected diagnosis, a major global pandemic…lots of things can happen and when they happen on top of our already complicated lives, they are even harder to handle. But if we have our village in place, this gets just a bit easier.
There are two times in our family’s life when having this village in place was necessary; when my son was 13 and he went missing behind our house in the woods, and two years ago when my husband had a heart attack and required bypass surgery. I’ll describe how our village helped in these two situations in a moment but first I want to address HOW to assemble your village, then I’ll weave in some stories about how it helped.
Identify the key players
These may include Doctors, sitters, respite workers, family you can trust, safe people, therapists for your child and for you. When my son Ben was younger, Our personal village includes a functional medicine doctor, a pediatric dentist that specialized in working with kids with disabilities, the grandparents, my friends, my husband’s softball/poker playing buddies, pharmacists, and my church prayer group; these players all have different roles and it’s important to be very intentional about defining these roles. Let’s talk about that next …
So when my husband had a heart attack in the middle of the day two years ago, I was at work and he was home with our son- who just so happened to be taking a nap at that time. Luckily he called both his mother and 911 and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. During this time we had the support of friends and family who knew our situation, and came to our aid very quickly. Our parents and respite workers were already in place to come over and help with Ben so I could get to the hospital and know he was taken care of. We had friends drop off food, and come to the hospital to make sure we had the support we needed. These were people I knew I could count on.
Family and friends who didn’t live in the area sent texts daily, called and sent cards, which really makes such a difference when you’re going thru something like that you don’t think it does when you’re doing it for someone but I can tell you on the receiving end it was wonderful. Then there was a neighbor who the day after my husband’s heart attack came over to borrow something- when I told him what had happened, he said “Wow, hope he feels better”…and he never checked in again to see how we were doing. Never even asked how Joe’s surgery went. But that was okay because I already knew he was not one of my key village people. So because my expectations were realistic, I wasn’t surprised or disappointed when that happened and instead of dwelling on it was able to focus on my own family as they got support from the people we had come to rely on. SO this bring me to my next point; keeping your expectations realistic which is crucial.
Keep expectations realistic.
Know who to tell what. Some friends will check in but will not really be there because they either can’t or don’t now how. That’s okay. They are not your key players. These can still be friends, but they aren’t going to be your autism village friends. or example, if you have friends who you tell autism stories to but they have that deer in headlights look and either try to compare your experience to theirs or change the subject quickly or even worse feel pity for you, they are not your village people. But they still might be people you can grab a beer with or go to a movie or forget you’re a special needs parent with.
The real friends are what I call safe people. A safe person has three main qualities; they don’t compare your life to theirs. They have good boundaries and will be honest when they can’t help or can’t call you back rather than ghosting you. And they won’t use things against you or make you feel guilty or manipulate you to get what they want/need. Now you may be saying well then I don’t have anyone safe in my life.And if that’s the case, I’d encourage you to find a therapist and start working on that. And don’t be surprised of you only have one or two poplin your life who would be considered safe. Thats’ okay. But be intentional about who those people are and rely on them accordingly. I’ve had many clients who have been disappointed over and over by friends and family members who let them down , and when we dig in a bit we usually discover they aren;’t safe people. So I ouwld encourage you to think about who in your life you could add to your safe people list.
Reaching out for and accepting help
Feels icky and un-comfy but is crucial.
Plus, there’s the feeling of- oh great I’m in need. Again. I get it- I’m a helper by profession and by nature. I grew up with two first responders as parents. It’s in my DNA to help but not ask for or receive help. But this was something I had to get over if I was going to survive the autism parenting world. When Joe had his heart attack, I had to rely on several people who knew this about me and did things without asking- our friends Julie and Dom came to the hospital and brought gifts they knew would make us laugh. My mom and dad offered to watch my son the day of the bypass surgery so I could be there all day. I had other friends and family members who had never watched my son offer to help out- and I took them up on it because Ben usually require two sitters at a time to keep him safe- and with this highly emotional situation, I knew we ran the risk of a meltdown.
It was really lovely to see the village I had assembled come together and help- without me even having to ask. But I also had to ask- I had to call my friend Jaycie when I needed a good cry and someone to just listen. I had to ask my clients to be patient with me as I took a week off. I had to ask my coworker Katherine to make a few calls for me…and believe me it would’ve been easier to say- thanks but I’ll take care of it….but when asked “what can I do to help?” I was honest and gave people tasks to do that I needed done. But I wasn’t always able to ask for or accept help.
If you don’t have a history of accepting help, people will think you don’t need it. Being “strong” means being able to accept and ask for the help you need. Sucking it up and acting like you’re okay does not equal strong.
The people who knew me best, told me it was time to accept their help b/c they knew I wasn’t good at that, and they sprung into action.
Another time when my village sprung into action was when my son who was 13 at the time, got out of the yard and went missing behind our house in the woods. This stime we needed police, helicopters search and rescue dogs and luckily he was found safe after about threee hours but I don’t need to tell you, it was probably the most frightening 3 hours of my life. At that time his doctor came to my house and waited with us so he would have a familiar face there when the EMT’s checked him out, neighbors who I had never even met were out helping to look for him, and at the time I was part of a church that reached out and sent food, prayed for his safe return, and checked on us the next day. I even had a friend who came to pick up my daughter who was 11 at the time, and texted to say she was keeping her overnight so we would have one less things to worry about. Having these people in place meant that we had a community of people who cared and sprung into action the moment we need them.
So these are two extreme examples of why a village is necessary for your autism parenting journey- but they are important for the mundane everyday things as well. We rely on sitters and respite workers to help us with Ben so we can have some downtime as parents. If you don’t have anyone to watch your child for you at least for a few hours a week, please hear me when I say it was a difficult thing for me to do, but once I did it, I wish I had done it sooner. I think Ben was 10 or 11 when we finally got someone to watch him that wasn’t one of our parents, and it makes such a difference when you know you’re paying someone to watch your child who is trained to do so. we are always on such high alert that being able to let your guard down even for a small amount of time, makes such a big difference.
How do you find people to be in your village? The best resource I have found is other autism parents. We’ve found doctors, therapists ,and sitters through other parents and it’s been the best resource. If you don’t know other parents, find ways to connect with them-local support groups, online groups, even your child’s teacher, can all be ways to get connected with other parents. And they are just as bust as you are- so there’s usually no obligation to return favors or spend a lot of time with them. If there’s one rescue we ASD parents don’t have it’s extra time. I don’t know about you, but my time is incredibly precious and usually planned out pretty well.
So that’s all I have for you today- I’ll leave you with this last thought- a village doesn’t have to large to be affective. Even of you have one or two people you can rely on or ask for help, thats a great start. As your child gets older, your village will grow, some will come and go, and others will stay for your child’s life. But one thing is for sure, we can’t do this alone.