I worry slightly, as the kids grow older, what kind of relationship they’ll have with their dad by the time they’re teenagers.
The kids really do push Ethan’s buttons – and the speed of his transformation can be frightening. Often it’s over the smallest, most ‘normal’ of things – they don’t do what he says straight away, they shout too loud, they answer back: all annoying tendencies that go along with living life with three young children by your side. Ethan though, depending on the kind of day he’s had or how he’s feeling, will snap like an overstretched piece of elastic over these things – metaphorically then smacking us all around the face with his frayed ends.
Yesterday, Oliver pushed Sam down the stairs. I accept that warrants a stern reaction and an appropriate punishment under the controlled judgment of a calm and rational parent...
Ethan lost it.
He grabbed Oliver’s arm and yanked him upstairs, bellowing at full volume as he did so. As Oliver crept back down to see if his brother was OK, Ethan dug the full force of his elbow into Oliver’s ribs, shouting at him to “Get away from us, NOW.” Ethan was almost shaking with rage. I told him to go away and calm down and I led Sam into the living room to give him a cuddle and assess his injuries: bit of a bump on the head and a bruise forming on his cheek. Meanwhile, Oliver had been pushed up the stairs by his fuming father, smacked twice on the bum and sent to bed. I abandoned the injured party (who must have been feeling very put out that the perpetrator of the crime was getting all the attention) and went upstairs where Oliver was crying into his pillow.
“I’ve told him about messing around on the stairs,” Ethan was still shouting and was now really out of breath, through a mixture of exertion and adrenaline, “he has to learn.” What Ethan didn’t know because he has no insight, had never thought to ask and doesn’t plug into what’s going on around him is that, minutes before the tumble down the stairs, Sam was telling Oliver to hit him - to make him melt (they were playing Minecraft and Sam was the zombie). They had been happily chasing each other, Oliver whacking Sam and Sam dramatically ‘melting’ in a heap. So when Sam started descending the stairs four-year-old Oliver, caught up in the game, hit him. He hadn’t, as Ethan’s reaction suggested, thought ‘ha, he’s on the stairs, here’s my chance to really do some damage.’
Yes, of course, he needed to be told off, perhaps punished, of course he needed it reiterated firmly that he never plays, pushes, hits etc on the stairs but, along with that, his motives, the context and Sam’s part in the proceedings also needed to be considered. It is this wider picture that seems to evade Ethan so much of the time.
Afterwards, Ethan was sorry and gutted and disappointed with himself. But what use are these emotions after the event? I suspect the next time something angers Ethan disproportionately we’ll be travelling down the same road.
That said, the article that’s linked to from the Different-Together Facebook page today (https://www.facebook.com/different.together) made me stop and think. Not so much about vaccinations (which is the topic of the piece) but about the way I approach Ethan’s Aspergers:
‘Having an autism spectrum disorder in an ableist world means that you’re constantly exposed to cruel irony. Most frequently, this comes in the form of neurotypical (i.e. non-autistic) people who tell you, incorrectly, that you can’t or don’t feel empathy like them, and then stubbornly refuse to care about your feelings when they claim that you’re lost, that you’re a burden, and that your life is a constant source of misery for you and everyone who loves you.’ Sarah Kurchak
I know I’m totally guilty of this – in this very incident with Oliver I told Ethan how miserable he makes me, how hard it is to bring up children with him, how the kids will grow up to hate him if he didn’t change his ways. I frequently talk to him as the person with the issues who needs to change, driven by the desire of me and our kids (mostly me) to want a husband and dad who fits our mould. I rarely think about his feelings or attempt to adapt myself to fit his way of working. Of course, he needs to tone down his over-reaction to the kids’ bad behaviour and learn to manage his anger – he knows that. But in what ways do I need to try and understand him better and adapt my expectations or even habits, to accommodate some of his ways which aren’t better or worse than mine – just different?