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Language Log

Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 - 6:56 a.m.

Woke up fine but read a message from an old friend and got upset again. This is a friend from back in my zine days, a penpal I used to exchange vast tracts of verbiage with and I’ve been recently writing to a bit more after many years of only shallow contact. He’s always been willing to absorb my angst, and I have extra these days. But I had vented to him about U’s meltdown last night, just trying to illustrate how fucking frustrating and emotionally intense and hopeless things feel sometimes, and he, himself autistic and childless, comes back with some kind of vague critique about my parenting— “you need to stop playing beta to your son’s alpha” and now I’m just really sad.

It’s hard to know what to do with that kid. We’re regularly in intractable situations with him. And it’s so exhausting. Maybe we are too flexible at times when we shouldn’t be. But let’s say you’re walking down the street and your 7yo is pissed about something and dumps water on you right then and there. What do you do? Oh yes and there’s a group of people gathered to go into a concert right there in front of you. You’re embarrassed, and you have an audience. What do you do? I’m so curious.

Imagine how that unfolds.
Imagine how you yell at him sternly and big sister starts to freak out because she’s triggered by yelling. Now she’s yelling at you to stop yelling.
Imagine now that you do Standard Parent Technique #1 and you threaten to take away his iPad for the rest of the day unless he apologizes.

He doesn’t apologize. Instead he yells at the top of his lungs that he NEVER APOLOGIZES. He’s stopped walking and you’re feeling the spectators’ eyes boring into you but he doesn’t give not one singular fuck what anyone thinks about him.

But let’s say you can get him to keep walking and you don’t have to try to pick him up, kicking and screaming and trying to bolt into traffic, and walk the rest of the way to the trolley stop with him like that. Let’s say he comes quietly and you all go home quietly (hah).

Now you have to follow through about the iPad. He isn’t going to accept it glumly, he’s going to fight tooth and nail, literally, for that iPad until it is the very next day. He will wreck the house, hurt his sibling, and make loud noises. You will have to lock him in a room and guard the door while he melts down. He’s kicking the door and telling you he wants you to die. Do you suppose it’s voluntary? Do you suppose that this is not traumatic? And the other kids are mad at you too for being so mean. They’re trying to pull you off the door, the little one is crying and biting your leg.

But hey, everyone tells you good parenting is following through on threats. So you stick it out.

Eventually, having stuck it out, it’s the next morning. The child never slept because he had a mission and was full
of adrenaline. He’s literally still in there raging, the room is wrecked. You never slept. The other two kids did and they’ll be up and needing to go to school/have breakfast soon. Technically it’s the next day and you could give him the iPad. So you say, ok, it’s time for you to have the iPad again.

You’re relieved that it’s finally over.

Only now, it didn’t go how he wanted again. He wanted to get the iPad BEFORE you had said he could. Now you’ve said he could and THAT IS WRONG, it needs to be under his control. Wait, that doesn’t make any sense! It’s like he’s not motivated by rational motives. So now he goes into fresh paroxysms of anger. This time he wants to destroy the iPad. Now you have to put it somewhere safe real quick and guard that place from him bodily, or he will try to break that door or climb to it or knock over the shelving to get to it to break it.

Eventually he does get tired, but then he actually never uses that iPad again. He actually never does. That iPad is dead to him. That’s another story, with a whole new set of conflicts.

But there. You won, you held that limit like a Good Parent. Has he learned anything? No, because his brain is such that now you’ve just traumatized him, he’s actually slightly more labile now and sees you as an enemy. Less likely to comply next time you need him to. Good job, parent. You have the approval of ignorant fuck people who theorize about parenting everywhere.

Ok, all that was an intellectual exercise, but every part of it was fairly realistic as to what would happen if we were as inflexible as everyone tells us we should be. And we’re supposed to be “consistent”, even if it makes jumping in front of a bus more and more attractive every time.

As it is, U is getting more and more self control. Not like a light switch, but gradually. A little more success here and there. I stand by it. But having to explain this over and over is exhausting.

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