Define Success

A few years back, a group of neighborhood friends and I jumped in the car spontaneously to catch a late-night showing of one of the Twilight flicks. While en route to our cheesy cinema treat, we talked about our families. When my friends asked about Jack and his then-hatred of his little brother Charlie, I confessed with frustration that I just wanted to parent my children with success. One friend asked, “What is your definition of successful parenting?”

She made me pause. I didn’t have a ready answer. But I really liked the question. It sort of implied that perhaps my notion of what makes a great parent needed some adjustment. I pondered it frequently, and felt a sense of freedom in realizing that instead of viewing my parenting efforts as inadequate, maybe I needed to let go of expecting myself to look like other parents. I already knew that my family didn’t look like other families, so this cognitive step seemed logical and rather satisfying.

I used to think, for instance, that successful parenting meant that my kids lived in a really clean, attractive house. That as a mom, I made delicious and inventive Food Network-style dinners, regular batches of cookies and brownies, and fresh-baked bran muffins for breakfast. Successful parents, I thought, spent Saturdays at their kids’ little league games before taking their families on outings to the ski resort, the movies, or even just a restaurant.

But as we have added to our family while also meeting Jack’s complex needs, each of the items on the aforementioned list has proven fairly impossible to achieve. I do my best to clean, but I keep thinking about how Lily Tomblin said that cleaning your house when your children are young is like shoveling the walk while it is still snowing (see also my earlier posts about Code Browns). I know how to adorn my house, but my pretty things tend to end up in a drawer or a cupboard lest they face an untimely end thanks to one Jack. Homemade dinners do happen, but they are studies in simplicity and repetition (morbidly picky eaters with sensory issues and major food hang-ups favor this kind of thing, don’t you know). And for a time, I took a lengthy hiatus from producing many home-baked treats. The only excuse I offer is this: I generally chose to do something sanity-saving and self-replenishing like read a novel or meet my friends for dinner instead.

As for sporting events, recreational activities, and fun family times on Saturdays, we just couldn’t make it happen. The parameters of our already circumscribed lives consistently drew more tightly around us. We couldn’t do most things that other families do. Attending a soccer game for Henry required getting a sitter for Jack, or splintering the family in order to meet the needs of our very different children. Outings to public places were stressful, not enjoyable. They frequently went south quickly and drastically, in which case we had to abort the mission.

I’ve learned that there is great success in simply surviving. We don’t do everything that other families do, but if they had a child like Jack, neither would those other families. We manage. We improvise. We perpetually problem-solve.

In the past several months, we’ve seen enough success with therapy and positive behavior changes that we’ve started Henry back in several youth sports teams. We are better able to take a peaceful and uneventful family outing to Grandma’s house, the farm, the gardens, or for cheeseburgers.

We’ve come a long way, baby. I’ve even been making cookies and the occasional chocolate cake. And I’m not even slightly ashamed to say that the cookies originate from a tub of refrigerated premade cookie dough, and the cake from a boxed mix. According to my evolving definition, this is success.

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