Did you know that you don’t really love your child, and that you’re lying when you say you do, because of your attitude towards their autism? No?
Quote from a very recent comment over at Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism:
“If you want your children to be happy and grow up healthy (autism or no) you have to fully accept them. That’s what love is: plain, simple acceptance. It’s a cold and painful truth that a lot of parents of autistics fail to adequately love them. They can keep saying it but it means absolutely nothing if the child doesn’t feel accepted.”
I wish this was an anomalous comment, but it’s the exact sort of comment I’ve read far too many times since I started blogging, and it is so deeply flawed and intensely aggressive, that I have to say something… in fact, many somethings.
First, love is not a quantifiable competitive sport. The love a parent feels for a child is utterly indescribable, and until you’ve had one yourself it is hard to do justice. It is the kind that makes you lay down everything you own and treasure – including your own life – for that child’s wellbeing and happiness. To tell a parent that their love is “inadequate” is an astounding mix of ignorance and meaninglessness; by what standard do they fall short? If the person doesn’t do exactly what you think they should do, think exactly what you think they should think, their love will therefore be inadequate? What a terrifying prospect and suggestion (and I fail to see how else to read that nonsense); that someone has the monopoly on defining adequate love for a child. How utterly bizarre, and what a flawed proposal.
Even the notion of acceptance here is so simplistic as to be unhelpful, and even damaging. Acceptance in a broad sense – for example, acceptance of a person, which is what matters here – is not to be confused with acceptance of every tiny aspect of what a person does, thinks and behaves. I accept my son utterly, I will always love him, no matter what he does. But in no way does that mean that I will accept his every action, his every thought, his every illness, his every challenge, his every word. To do so would be doing him a disservice as a parent: I need to be ready and willing to guide and educate and when necessary, judge him. Because that is what parents do. It is what we must do. All of us – not just those of autistic children – we all must be willing to help our children become the best they can be and to reach great heights. You don’t do that by accepting everything about them in that less general sense; that is just confusing together two very different types of acceptance.
Maybe I don’t accept my son’s bucked teeth, so I get him braces. Maybe I don’t accept him hitting his brother, so he gets time out. Maybe I don’t accept autism in all its manifestations in him, so I teach him to talk, and to not self-harm, and to read others’ emotions. That does not mean I don’t accept him, nor to even the tiniest extent, does it mean I don’t love him. Absurd. Offensive. Ignorant.
Note too that the commenter says that despite all protestations to the contrary, the love of parents like me, is a lie, because of this commenter’s versions of acceptance and their criteria for love. So all my words, mean nothing. The outcome is pre-determined. How do you reason with someone like that? You can’t, because they deny the value of your words and emotions. So I don’t bother replying to them directly on someone else’s blog, I come to my own, because here I respect and value other people’s feelings, and I don’t deny their genuineness, I don’t tell them how to love, or that their love is inadequate, because I am a parent and I know how truly horrible those sorts of attacks are. Here, I feel safe to speak my emotions.
The idea that love means nothing if a child doesn’t feel accepted, is again, so removed from the function and role of parenting, that it is bizarre. Many children are frustrated because they think their parents don’t accept their every decision, or they mistake their parents’ actions and words for lack of deeper acceptance and love, when the parent is just doing what parents have done time immemorial: Challenged the child, helped the child grow and develop, and disciplined the child to help shape their moral character and aid them to make the right choices in life. That’s our job. To not do it, would to fall short as parents. Sometimes that may leave the child feeling less than fully accepted, that does not negate the parents’ love or make the parents inadequate; to say it does is to grossly simplify a parent’s job and emotions.
So this is what it comes down to for me: If you want to argue about what’s best for a child, and what are good parenting practices, go for it. If you want to figure out the nature of autism and why it’s good or bad, feel free. But the day you tell a parent their love is inadequate, you’ve crossed a line you should have never approached. Our love for our children is something fierce, immeasurable, and endless…
For a few it’s not, but that few exist outside the autism world too – there will always be parents who abuse and neglect, even despite the depth of love they have for their child. Child abuse is so often the consequent of multiple factors, including parental mental illness, and should not be simplified to “lack of acceptance” or “inadequate love;” that in turn over-simplifies the horrors that lead up to and come from abuse. To lump parents of autistic children in with abusers and neglecters, is to return to old disproven theories of refrigerator mothers; theories which damaged the children and needlessly tore loving families apart.
Questioning love for the purposes of scoring points in a debate, is playing dirty and deserves no respect. I didn’t want to write this post – I didn’t want to bring attention to such views – but the fact is these cruel statements are all over the internet whether I comment on them or not. And I, for one, am sick of these cruel mind games: If you can’t mount an argument without resorting to these lines of attack, then you had no argument to begin with.