Thursday, May 23, 2013

Practicality: 21 is Easier than 10

Got an interesting email from a friend last night that mentioned how her daughter was 10 going on 21. I told her that 21 is easier than "10 going on 21"...promise.

Now having raised boys, I can honestly say that I have no idea what its like to raise girls. I wont even hazard a guess what its like. I know everyone likes to tell you that boys are easier than girls.....of course most of them have no boys or are blissfully unaware that the hard part of raising boys is that they don't talk to you about what ails them.

Yes I know that women complain that there are no manly men any more. Men cry and talk about their feelings on Dr. Phil, but that quite frankly isn't the message our young men truly are getting. Alpha males are still the epitome of who boys want to be and alpha males do not cry, talk about their feelings or exhibit any angst whatsoever. For all of Tony Stark's or Wolverine's introspection, the reality is that they are lauded for the historical maleness, the alpha male components of their characters.

Heck one of the biggest criticisms of the new Star Trek movie is that Spock cries. OK, Vulcans are not supposed to show emotion, but Spock is half human. The half he accepted by joining Star Fleet over the Vulcan Science Academy after the chairman of the VSA disrespected Spock's mother. So what is really wrong with Spock crying? Nothing. But there is quite the hullabaloo among Trekkies over this little change in the timeline. Vulcans are devoid of emotion. Very alpha male.

The inability of young males to discuss their feelings, or the societal prohibition that  its not manly to complain and its better to keep everything inside, is  the reason why suicide rates for adolescent boys are much higher than for girls. So most of the fights we actually had with the boys over the years is to try to get them to open-up about what was going on inside them. It's better today. Especially where Mr. Graduate Student (Mr. GS formerly CM1) is concerned. He is also 22 years old and is developing nicely into a young adult. Now, CM2 doesn't openly discuss his feelings, (sometimes we do have a meltdown over things he finds frustrating or overwhelming) but  I also know that if I don't get yelled at by CM2 at least once every few hours he is physically ill or engrossed in a video game. Well at least that is something.

Nonetheless, I found adolescence awful. It's not just the hormonally induced obnoxious behavior, but couple that with the aspergean inability to channel emotional changes and social interactions, you have a rather combustable mix at times. A rather over the top adolescent version of self-interest, self-importance, self-esteem issues and egocentrism run amok in a world that they simply don't understand.

Ten is the cusp of adolescence.  In today's world 10-year-olds carry cell phones, go on Facebook (well some of them), IM with their friends and shop at Abercrombie and Fitch (that store is a discussion for another day altogether). The girls are past sleep overs where they watch Disney movies and have moved on to Twilight and Vampire Diaries. The boys have gone from Harry Potter to the Avengers, Thor and Japanese Anime. Hard core competition kicks in at this stage too. Either in school where grades are becoming the way your children get channeled for middle school and beyond or hardcore sports competition begins (or in many children's realities they have to deal with all of the above). Every parent knows that a college sports scholarship, especially in these days of $50,000 a year tuition, is hard won and takes decades of practice to earn.

But 10-year-olds still feel like little kids at times, which in truth they are. But everything in society tells them that they need to grow up and grow up fast. It's scary. Its frightening. Its confusing beyond anything they have every dealt with. So they lash out. They lash out in not so good ways. Mostly they take it out on you..the full-time caregiver parent. The one who sets the rules and carries them out. The task master and guardian. The one who pulls them back from the brink even when they don't think they are going towards a cliff.

It's hard. This push and pull me relationship. It is the job of the adolescent to try to pull away from the parent. It is their job to try to become more independent and to try to spread their wings. It is the job of the adolescent to test the boundaries of life and to fight with their parents every inch of the way. And it is your, so important job, to try to stop them at every turn.

As the child grows into those very precarious adolescent years, it is your job to make certain that they learn the rules of life as an adult. They need to understand the who, what, where, when and why of every scenario they get themselves into. You need to teach them how to analyze their choices and how to make good productive choices in the end. And our society's culture fights you every step of the way. But this too they need to understand and to reason with. They need to understand that society is not always right and that peers are not always right and that teachers are not always right and yes, even you are not always right (heavens say it ain't so). They need to know that they can disagree with everyone and everything and you will always be there for them, support them and above all love them.

It gets better. At 22 Mr. GS is a doll. Does he have his moments? Of course, we all do. But he has matured and understands the role he plays in the world (well sort of). He has some kind of direction in his life and he knows, we are there for him no matter what.

CM2 at 19, well he is still quite a piece of work. Still testing the boundaries and trying to get away with crap. For aspergeans they say they are 1/3 years behind their peer counterparts for maturity. If that is so, then CM2 is more like a 16-year-old then a college junior. It makes sense with some of the attitude and meltdowns that he has had lately. Stress, anxiety and self-esteem issues were our biggest traumas this past semester. It was not easy. It is not easy when you are dealing with a legal aged adult child who still needs alot more supervision than his peers.

He knows he is different in that regard than his peers and he resents it in some ways.  No he doesn't resent the autism part. He revels in his autism.  In fact on twitter he has proudly exposed himself as an aspergean in his profile (Also characterized himself as Jewish too. No there is no self-esteem issue about who he is at all.) It is the parental supervision he resents.

He complained bitterly about me on twitter the other day. He can't understand how after blocking me I can still read his timeline...but momma has her ways...hehehehehehehe...and he does need to be watched. He had to learn not to give out too much identifiable information, fight with the wrong people or bring unwanted negative reactions to his profile. He learned to have positive interactions on line, well somewhat. But I had to go in and teach him after reading some of his earlier tweets. This too is a social learning skill that aspergeans need to know.

The truth of the matter is, that adolescence and the teen years are hard. It takes parental support, vigilance and determination to get your children through unscathed. Add in special needs and it can be overwhelming at times. I won't lie to you one bit. Like liberty, adolescence requires eternal vigilance on the part of the parent. I have no magic bullet. No true practical solutions for anyone except follow your instincts. If something tells you this is no good then it is. If something tells you to oversee what they are doing, find a way to do it. Passwords, computer histories and strict rights and wrongs are a must. Keep an eye on who their friends are and how they are brought up and what their perspectives in life happen to be. Don't be afraid to fight with your children. Set limits and boundaries even more strict than you ever did when they were little ones. In truth its not your children you don't trust. It is the world you don't trust. It is that one moment when their adolescent lapse in judgement could change the trajectory of their lives forever that you fear the most.

I read a great saying years ago about raising children: if your child doesn't tell you they "hate" you at least once a day, you are not doing your job as a parent well. I learned along time ago that before I can be my child's friend I need to be their parent. I have always followed that rule. It has worked well so far. In the meantime, I always keep my fingers crossed and a prayer in my heart too.


Elise