I don’t think anyone starts off parenting and thinks, “I know exactly what I’m doing.” I have been a parent now for almost 16 years and seem to second guess myself more than ever. My wife and I became parents at a fairly young age. We were both 21 and had been married a little over two years. Most people hear that and they seem to think it’s too young, but we were both ready to grow up and do it together.
I remember the first time my wife left me at home alone with our first son, Josiah. Her mom was visiting us in Oregon and wanted to go out shopping. My wife looked at me and said, “Can I leave him here with you?” On the outside I said, “Of course.” On the inside I was screaming, “Are you kidding me? I’m not ready to do this. I have no idea what I’m doing.” There we sat, in our apartment, a stare off with my son and I feared this new way of life.
Since that moment, nothing in our lives has come easy. I am a father of 4 with the older 3 my boys and the youngest is a girl. All three of my boys have Autism, with my oldest being the most severe on the spectrum. He has Tourettes and doesn’t communicate except in movie lines. (He also thinks he is Batman). My second oldest is the equivalent of Sheldon Cooper, just less social. My youngest boy is mostly your average boy except he has a difficult time grasping age appropriate concepts.
I am comfortable with my family now, but it wasn’t always this way. My wife and I struggled to go out in public with the boys just because of the scene it caused at times. When I say my oldest has Tourettes, it’s not what you think. Most people picture vulgarities spewing out of his mouth, but generally he just has random twitches and noises. It tends to escalate when he is in a louder environment. So as you can imagine, it is obvious when we are out in public, something is different with our family.
There were times when Josiah was younger where we’d go out and a stranger would have the nerve to tell us we ruined their dining experience. The thing that bothered me the most, was I as a dad always tried to control him. So the version of Josiah that people out in public saw was the calmed down version because I was constantly trying to control every behavior and quirk. As you can imagine, every public encounter with someone who judged us without trying to understand left me feeling awkward emotionally.
I am a people pleaser by nature, and the more often it happened, the more I would shutdown emotionally and the less we would go out publicly. If we wanted food from outside the house from a nice restaurant, we would order it to go. If we had to run to the store, I would sit in the car with the kids even if it took Wendy an hour and a half. All because I thought I was protecting my children from the world and unbeknownst to me, I was creating an oppressive environment within my own home.
Anytime the boys quirks would arise, I’d try to control it. I honestly believed it could be controlled and if it was controlled, then we could appear like a normal everyday family. Now I know how selfish that truly is.
God has done a lot of work on my own heart. My awakening came when I realized if I didn’t show my children the heart of God, then I as a parent have failed my kids. He opened my eyes to see that each child in their own uniqueness is a gift. A gift that He can use for a greater purpose. For about 5 years now, my wife and I decided that we don’t care about public opinion anymore. We also do our best to let our kids be themselves. So instead, I have encouraged each of them, that they are beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God, and they all have a God given purpose.
Husband, Father, Pastor