For some unknown reason, I received the January issue of Parents magazine in the mail the other day. At first, it just made me laugh because I could imagine the reaction of my fellow special needs parents to these headlines:
* Milestones Ahead! What to Expect This Year – Oh. Yes. We love these charts, don’t we?
* Help Your Baby Sleep Better – Sleep? What’s that like?
* Organize Your Home! – A 30-day calendar (with a house party on Day 31!) that assumes that my clutter can be conquered and my closets streamlined in just one month. This exercise must be intended for the stay-at-home parent whose kids are enrolled in boarding school.
* Mealtime Tips for Picky Eaters – Hahahahahahahaha.
* Raise a Kid with Good Manners – An essay on how to raise a “people person” – to encourage your child to put down her device and interact with the people in-real-life proximity instead. A laudable goal. One tip states: “Have a Staring Contest! See how long you can maintain eye contact with a family member. This exercise gets kids comfortable with looking at another person for a long time. Plus, they love it.” Huh. Yeah, right.
Clearly, Parents magazine is not for me.
To be fair, this isn’t a critique of Parents or other magazines like it. They have their purpose and they offer some valuable tips. I certainly don’t have all (any?) of the answers. My snarky response to this issue comes from my vantage point as the parent of a teenager with autism; I am not their intended audience. It’s just amusing how these articles are so obviously not for families like ours. When you’ve been to feeding clinics, you can’t help but laugh at the good (but still useless) advice to introduce new foods in small portions and at least 15-20 times. When you can rattle off a long list of retired sleep supplements and medications, those tips on how to maintain a soothing bedtime routine could cause some sleepless nights all on their own.
I laugh now, but I do remember a time when magazines like this would cause me more anxiety than amusement. These tips are helpful for new parents. Except when they are not. I know there are parents out there now reading this magazine who are getting the feeling that something about it ain’t “right” for them. I can too easily recall what it was like to read these magazines when my son was a toddler, before he had an official diagnosis. I didn’t know what autism was, but I knew that my son wasn’t talking like all those other kids who were beginning to say the darnedest things. My attempts to copy those cute art projects, bonding family activities, and skill-building lessons seemed to always fall short of the glossy models in the magazines. Their fabulous advice felt more like parenting-fail checklists than positive support. Comparison is the thief of joy and all that.
But after my son’s diagnosis helped to explain why magazines like Parents felt irrelevant, I soon discovered a whole world of special needs families that confirmed that there’s more than one ideal way to raise a child. I could feel safe to ignore most of those quick “easy” tips for creative play dates and teaching manners, and forget those awful “fun” games like staring into each other’s eyes. And, those Milestones charts? Trust me, no one can tell you what to expect this year.
My unique, quirky kid defies almost every piece of advice in this magazine. I’m OK with that. I take comfort in knowing that he’s not the only one.