The other day, I had an interesting conversation with two good friends about how mothers enable their sons instead of asking them to step up and do their part around the house. One friend told about how both of his grown children, who are thoughtful, responsible, and capable adults, were visiting over the weekend but seemed oblivious to the messes they left around the house where they had grown up. My other friend then told about how her husband, who is also quite responsible and capable, leaves messes around the house when they go to visit his parents in the home where he was raised. She commented that his mother never seems to mind picking up after her grown children, which my friend finds unbelievable. Since my friend doesn’t want her mother-in-law to have to pick up after her guests, she comes behind her husband cleaning up his messes, which reinforces his belief that he doesn’t need to pick up after himself because someone else will do it for him.
Because the only child I have raised has autism, I tend to assume that any of his annoying habits are related to the autism, rather than just being typical behavior. When I hear about other people’s children exhibiting similar traits, I find strange comfort in the camaraderie. I know that through the years I have babied Alex in some ways for various reasons. Sometimes I have felt sorry for him because he struggles with issues typical children do not, such as socialization, language, fine motor skills, and sensory issues. I can still remember him as a little boy pleading for me to help him, saying, “It’s too hard for little hands.” How could I resist that kind of earnest logic? Other times, I have not wanted to risk his wrath when he was in an unpredictable mood. Specifically, I’d rather pick up his belongings than potentially have him hurl them at me in anger for telling him to clean up his mess. Often, my need to have things done the way I want them done and when I want them done has led me to do things for Alex instead of insisting that he do them himself. My need for organization has at times made me guilty of being an enabler for Alex when I should have pushed him harder to take on tasks around the house. Not only would he gain a sense of accomplishment from doing things for himself, but he would also learn to be more independent. This self-sufficiency is something we need to encourage him to achieve so that he can do more things for himself.
In training Alex to be less dependent, Ed is much better at teaching him than I am. As Ed has pointed out to me, I tend to ask Alex to do things, such as, “Could you please pick up your dirty socks off the bathroom floor?” instead of just telling him to do things. In other words, I’m much more likely to give requests than commands when I want something done. Ed notes that I probably get this from watching the game show Jeopardy, where every answer must be posed in the form of a question. (I just like to think that I have nicer Midwestern manners than my New Yorker husband.) By contrast, Ed tells Alex directly to do things: “Go get your sunglasses” or “Go take a bath.” His system of communication works much better than mine because Alex never ignores him, as he does me at times, and he immediately complies with whatever directive Ed gives him. Since Alex has lately viewed Ed as the favored parent, I’m hoping that he’ll learn to do more tasks with Ed’s guidance. In the meantime, I must let go of my need to take care of things for him and remind myself that Alex, who towers over me at nearly six feet, will turn twenty in two months. The next time he wants my help, I think I have the perfect excuse to get him to do it himself: “ You’re bigger than I am, and it’s too hard for little hands.”
“My child, listen when your father corrects you. Don’t neglect your mother’s instructions.” Proverbs 1:8