When you first have a baby, you have little real-world experience to go by. Your only guide to how things will be is through the observations you make of others. Whether from television, movies, or random parents that you’ve surrounded yourself with, the way your relationships with your kids will evolve seems to be set in stone.
That’s what I assumed when my daughter was born. After all, when someone hears you are having or just had a girl, they let out that in-the-know laugh. It’s that sarcastic grin that begs for more explanation. When they do, these cheeky acquaintances all say the same thing.
Uh oh. Be careful. Girls are tough. Ha ha. She’s going to give mommy and daddy gray hair!
There are two problems with that statement. First, I was getting gray hair no matter what. Second…they do the exact same stupid thing when they hear you’re having a boy. No matter the gender, you get the wink, the nod, and the trademark “uh oh”. It seems like you have to have to have some sort of hermaphrodite monkey to escape this reply. Even then, you’d probably hear how monkeys are “terrors in their teens.”
Of course, I can mock this silly response today. But to a new parent, it feels like gospel. It’s a glimpse into a depressing future laid out by, in many cases, someone who has lived it. It is enough to knock you silly and scare you away from the days to come.
It colored how I viewed becoming a dad to my daughter, Olivia, before she even took her first step. It was the image I had in my head until one day, when a co-worker at the time set me straight.
This woman was about ten years my senior and she had kids of her own. She asked about my baby girl and how I was adjusting to life as a daddy. I gave her the answer that I had been conditioned to believe was the truth.
She’s great. I love her. We’re trying to get all the good time in now before she becomes a teenager and hates us. Ha ha.
I’ll never forget her reply. Rather than giving me a chuckle and a sarcastic pat on the back that I had become accustomed to, she looked at me with a dead serious expression. Then, in a stoic voice, she said something that – no joke – changed my parenting life forever.
Oh no. She doesn’t have to hate you when she gets older. That’s not true at all. My daughter is a teenager and she’s my best friend.
It was the words that I had wanted to hear from everyone I had spoken to over that past year, yet never had. I had been floating in a sea of pessimism and learning to tread low-expectation water. This mother had shown me that my fears didn’t have to be. For a parent who wants a positive relationship with their child as they grow older, they can have that. I didn’t have to become a self-fulfilling prophecy that I didn’t want to become.
The same can be said for my son. Having a non-verbal boy with autism can be a challenge. You find resources online that paint them as all sorts of different things. For some, it can seem depressing, lonely, and isolating. Read enough of those “no one understands us” posts and you might feel doomed before your journey even begins.
Just like with my daughter, my relationship with Lucas doesn’t need to be a set-in-stone story that someone else already wrote for me. I write my relationships with my kids. It’s my job to set our own path and make the best life possible. It doesn’t have to be anything I don’t want it to be.
For new moms and dads, there’s a desperation for answers. You want someone to guide you through the future and show you the rights and the wrongs. That’s understandable. They hand you a baby at the hospital and send you home to keep them alive. It can feel like being tossed into the deep end of the pool…while holding an infant.
So, you turn to others for guidance and you should take that guidance as it pertains to tasks and duties. Don’t, however, let anyone tell you what type of relationship you are going to have with them – especially if it’s negative. The life you create with your kids is based on the respect you give, the respect you get, and how you love each other. It’s not about hating you at a certain age or whether you can speak actual words to one another. You create the bonds and you maintain them. Nothing more, nothing less.
Lucas and I have a relationship that transcends spoken language. There’s nothing lonely or isolating about having him in my life. There’s love and understanding. The things he does well, we celebrate. The things he needs assistance for, we work on together. We’ve made our own life together.
Today, my daughter is eleven and we spend countless hours together. We watch shows, play video games, and talk about pretty much anything. She may have an attitude now and then, but so can I. That’s how I know she’s my kid. She’s on the cusp of the age when I once thought she was supposed to hate me, but if she is, then I’m not seeing it. That doesn’t mean that it might not happen. It just means that it’s not something I had to accept as an inevitability that coincides with an upcoming birthday.
I’ll never forget that woman who set me straight early on and explained that you can be close to your kids at any age and through any issues. You determine your relationship. Nothing else does. I can’t stress how desperately I needed to hear that. I’m sure there are people out there right now who do too.
Hopefully, I can be that person for someone reading here today. If you have a baby, hold on tight. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’ll have to lose them one day. You don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to. Anything can happen. Anything can be. It’s up to the two of you to make it happen.
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