I so vividly remember my mother telling me in our early years of parenting, “Enjoy this phase for it really is the Golden Years.”
She was referring to the exhausting years of what seemed like neverending days of getting up, cleaning up, picking up; wiping noses, wiping counters, wiping bottoms; longing for the night to come, longing for sleep to overtake the littlest ones, longing for a shower, a hot meal, and an adult conversation; wondering if life would ever really seem to be how we thought it would be.
Two years into our marriage, we were blessed by the arrival of our first son. He was prayed for, planned for, prepared for. Four years later, we were doubly surprised, first by the knowledge that our family was growing again, and by the way, we’re having twins. Five years later and we were expecting again, this time to be surprised by the sudden loss of our fourth child who waits for us in glory. Another year later found us in growth mode again with what we thought was sure to be our last family expansion and we were gifted our spectrum son. Fast forward 10 months later and we were surprised yet again with the one who truly is our caboose.
It seems life has never really been what we expected or thought we had planned. More than two decades into our marriage and we are still finding ourselves surprised by unexpected twists and turns.
Early on, I thought we’d be on the downhill slide of this parenting thing. After all, we were only going to have two kids and the oldest of them are now in high school and college. I’ve never been so glad to have been wrong as our youngest two are currently in elementary school. We are looking at another ten years of bleacher seats watching our kids do what they love.
There are days I still long for night to come and sleep to overtake me, but I’ve come to realize that while the days are long, the years are short. It seems our oldest was just in early elementary not all that long ago and today, he is finishing another round of college finals.
Having a child on the autism spectrum adds to the challenges of parenthood. Please don’t misread me: he is not a challenge, but autism offers us challenges that a neurotypical family will never know. I sometimes wonder in the midst of these challenges if this parenting thing really is just a phase or if we will be the primary caregiver to our son for the duration of his life.
Before we go any farther, let me explain that yes, I know once you’re a parent, you’re a parent for life. Some are lucky enough to “graduate” to becoming grandparents. But when you have a child on the spectrum, there is a question as to whether they will be able to live on their own and if they will be able to function as an independent adult. I wonder about his future in terms of family life because I know social interactions are sometimes more difficult for him than his neurotypical peers. I wonder if he will find someone who will accept him completely for who he is, love him through all of his ups and downs, and choose to spend their life with him. I know him and I know that should that ever become the reality, it will take an incredibly patient understanding person and that they will be rewarded with laughter and joy beyond compare. But I also know that for spectrum parents, there is the possibility that their child will always share their home. For them, this isn’t a phase, but rather life.
Thanks to the countless hours of work and effort invested in our son by compassionate teachers, coaches, therapists, doctors, and friends both near and far, I have hope that our son will continue to grow and develop and eventually catch up with his peers’ social abilities. However, I don’t know that that will for sure happen, or that if it does, when it will happen, and that’s okay. So much of our lives isn’t what we expected it to be when we took our vows all those years ago and yet, it has been an incredible ride!