So, by Sunday night, all was well. Ethan went round with flowers to say sorry to the person he’d upset. I was proud of him. And I learnt how difficult it is for Ethan to see things from another person’s point of view. Even down to him doing exactly the same thing as the person he’s criticising! So it was a learning curve. And we all moved on.
Until Monday! When life got in the way. It started well, with Ethan taking the kids to school. But by the time we were both sitting down for breakfast, things had gone wrong. ‘I had to get really cross with Ava,’ said Ethan. My heart sank. And the story unfolded...
‘The last time I saw her,’ continued Ethan, ‘was crossing the road from our house. After that she’d just gone. I kept expecting to catch up with her but never did. Then I thought I’d definitely see her waiting at the zebra crossing. But she wasn’t there. I presumed I must have walked past her so walked all the way back to our house looking for her. When I couldn’t find her I just had to go back to school to drop the boys off and there she was. Waiting for us at the school gate.’
Now I knew, immediately, that Ava would have met up with her friend and her friend’s mum who live a few doors down from us and walked to school with them. We often all walk together, Ethan’s often walked with them too. I knew she would have done this in full view of Ethan and presumed it was OK because he didn’t say otherwise. And I knew she wouldn’t knowingly have done wrong by crossing the zebra crossing with them and not with him. I also understood that Ethan would have been stressed, oblivious to all of this, worried and very annoyed.
Ethan exploded at Ava at the school gates and (mortifyingly for her) shouted and smacked her bum in front of other kids. Whatever your thoughts are on smacking, by far the most painful aspect of all of this for Ava was that it was happening in front of her mates.
Ava started crying as soon as I collected her from school that day. She said she’d tried to tell Ethan what had happened. She was indignant that she’d looked back when she reached her friend and that Ethan was looking right at her and didn’t mind her walking with them – Ethan says he never saw. I know how frustrating that is. It can seem like Ethan is looking but what his eyes see doesn’t register with his brain. Ava says that she didn’t even realise that she’d crossed the road until she’d got to school because she was so busy chatting with her friend and her friend’s mum and they’d all just naturally crossed together. I could completely understand this. And, of course, Ava should have waited at the crossing for us like she’s been taught to. And she knew she should have. But it was a genuine, honest mistake. Ethan just didn’t pause and listen long enough to hear that. And even if he had ‘listened’ to Ava’s side of the story, I don’t think he would have understood at that moment.
The choice I had in all of this was how I would respond. In the past I would have shouted and screamed. Told Ethan how horrible he was, how he’d failed as a parent, how the kids would grow up to hate him, etc, etc. I might not have used those exact words but that would have been the gist of it. This time, I stopped. I didn’t automatically rush to defend my kids. I tried to see things from Ethan’s point of view, particularly in the context of his Aspergers. I understood that he ‘saw without seeing’, I understood how stressed he would have been that the situation was out of control. I understood how just getting three lively children aged 8, 5 and 3 to school is a huge, chaotic, stressful task for Ethan and how he wouldn’t have been able to take in everything that was happening. And I understood that he wouldn’t have been aware, or understood the effect on Ava, of other people being around during the telling off.
I calmly explained both his and Ava’s perspectives to Ethan, as I saw them. And he listened and accepted what I was saying. And regretted how he’d reacted. That day after school, I explained to Ava how her daddy’s brain didn’t work the same as other people’s and why he’d reacted the way he had, and how he’d seen but hadn’t seen her going off with her friend. When Ethan got back from work he apologised to Ava (he’s getting good at apologies!) and they hugged and had some quality time together.
And I learnt that I need to take the time and effort to understand Ethan far more than I now do. That, as the kids grow, they need to understand too. That I need to equip myself with knowledge of what we’re all dealing with. That yes, I will be the one trouble-shooting and peace-making and picking up the pieces most of the time. And I need to find ways of getting support for myself in that. But empathising with Ethan instead of tearing a strip off him, seeing and praising the good and helping him work through the bad, leads to a better outcome for us all.