Love and Acceptance, You’re Doing It Wrong..?

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.

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25 Responses to Love and Acceptance, You’re Doing It Wrong..?

  1. mrsstone says:

    Wow. I’m sharing this.

  2. Amen! In order to show my children love, I have to look for the places where they can extend themselves and guide them to those things. I have to help them push their boundaries .Or else they will be trapped and miserable.

  3. xaraxia says:

    Well-written response. I’d say it goes both ways, too. If you have to be completely accepting of autism to show love, shouldn’t the child be completely accepting of your misery if they love you in return? Of course not. I never tell my son that I wish he wasn’t autistic, though of course I have my days where I wish things had been different. But I have no qualms about getting annoyed about the hell that is toilet training him, or his rather painful obsession with the mole on my shoulder. I love him, and he knows it. I wouldn’t change his personality, with all his quirks, because then he wouldn’t be my boy any more. But it breaks my heart to see him in tears so often; to fear that he’ll be ostracised at school because of his toileting issues. It upsets me BECAUSE I love him. I can accept him for WHO he is without always being satisfied by WHAT he does.

    Only ten minutes ago I was growling at him over another accident (I know, I shouldn’t, but I did). I just asked him “do you know how much I love you?” And he yelled back “VERY MUCH!!”

  4. M.J. says:

    Ah, the joy that is neurodiversity…

  5. thorgerdur says:

    Glad you wrote this.

  6. Neurodiversity NONSENSE from TPGA. The comment by TPGA :It’s a cold and painful truth that a lot of parents of autistics fail to adequately love them.” Is not an isolated occurrence. It is just the latest shameful attack on parents trying to help their children overcome the deficits that led them to seek medical attention for their children and result in a autism disorder diagnoses.

  7. Flannery says:

    Excellent! Thanks for writing it.

  8. Matty Angel says:

    I didn’t read the whole post, cause it was a bit long and confusing for me 🙂 but I was just thinking. I do not accept or understand some things about some of my friends, but I still love and care about them very much 🙂

    I say understand because its hard to accept things you don’t understand 🙂

  9. Sunshine says:

    “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.” Agreed!

  10. @undefined says:

    Wow. I posted the comment you’ve mispresented badly here. When you’re talking about the kind of love parents universally feel for their children then of course it’s a huge insult to question it, whether you’re talking to the best parent ever, a run-of-the-mill alcoholic, or Josef Fritzl. All parents can relate strongly to each other about those feelings. But should that stop the discussion? I suggest not, because as Amy Sequenzia wrote, “What I am saying is that acceptance is about the child, or autistic adult, and their self-image.” We know, for example, that more autistics are murdered by their parents than non-autistics. Of the rest, how many are given the emotional nourishment required to prosper as adults? This is a very valid question, and there is no need for anyone to feel defensive over it. Simple love and acceptance is easy; you’re probably good at it.

    We have a fantastic resource of adult autistics who can express themselves eloquently in writing, who began life at every imaginable point on the spectrum, and who were subject to every possible kind of parenting. Why not let’s ask them?

    • I wonder if you realise you just perpetuated one of the most damaging and inaccurate myths about parents of autistic children. I hope you only speak from a place of ignorance, and not one of intentional abuse. Your claim that autistic kids are killed at a higher rate is inaccurate; please do research before sharing such damaging claims:
      I’d love to have seen you come here to explain and maybe even apologize, but you’ve only made things that much worse with such an outrageous statement.

    • blogginglily says:

      I guess I just don’t see the “truth”, cold, hard, painful, or otherwise in your statement regarding adequate love. It reads like, and I don’t MEAN to be insulting, this is just a general statement, a rebellious teen lashing out against his parents for his unhappiness. “You never loved me anyway.” Depression/anxiety/mental illness. . . regardless of how fully accepted anyone ever is, there’s STILL no guarantee of happiness. To universally blame “inadequate” love seems pretty simplistic.

    • M.J. says:

      “We have a fantastic resource of adult autistics who can express themselves eloquently in writing, who began life at every imaginable point on the spectrum, and who were subject to every possible kind of parenting. Why not let’s ask them?”

      Silly question, why should I assume that some random stranger who has some form of autism is going to have some special insight into the needs of my children when they know nothing about them? Do you think just because they share a medical label that they should have some special knowledge of everyone who has the same label?

      It has been my experience that expert clinicians – even ones who have spend decades helping people with autism – will typically not offer any sort of opinion until they have actually had a chance to evaluate the child. So why should I assume that some stranger on the internet who I don’t know is going to be able to tell me something relevant, especially when it comes to something as personal as whether I accept my children in the proper way or provide appropriate “emotional nourishment”?

    • Shazza says:

      “Why not let’s ask them?”.
      You do realise that not all autistic people speak in unison don’t you? So whose voices should we listen to? And how dare you presume we parents don’t anyway. Of course we do. Doesn’t mean we always agree, just like autistic people don’t always agree.

      Your claim above about rates of murder of autistic children is so ridiculous and hurtful I can only think you are trolling.

  11. ProfMomEsq says:

    On one level, you do need to “accept” someone to love her. But, love doesn’t start and stop with acceptance. It evolves into support, encouragement, discipline and many other complex emotions and interactions needed to create and sustain a relationship. Neither accepting nor loving a person requires accepting her behavior 100% of the time. There is a very, very fine line between “acceptance” and complete abdication of responsibility as a parent. I think you’ve done a great job articulating that here. Thank you for this post.

  12. blogginglily says:

    I love that there are smart, compassionate, open-minded people out there like you, to make MY feelings of irritation at comments like that seem as if they’re in good company.

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