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Peace: A Choice

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by Michelle McConnell
Autism Asperger’s Digest
| November/December 201

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the title of this column: The Sweet Spot. For me, it describes the place where we find ourselves balanced between a broad view of life and actually being present in the here and now. Without a view of the horizon, we can fret over needless details, but if we fail to enjoy today, we can become overwhelmed by worries that belong to tomorrow. Finding that sweet spot is obviously easier said than done. Actually living in it, consistently? Well, that’s not something I can say I’ve attained yet.

This sweet-spot mentality comes into play in a variety of situations. When my son had his first real-live crush, I had to think, What’s my role here? Well it’s tricky, I can tell you that. The-big picture view says he’ll carry lessons from this experience with him for his whole life, and that those can be positive or negative. So, in that sense, this feels big to me. But the present reality is, my son has set his affection on a kind, pretty girl who is aware of his differences yet still seems to be genuinely enjoying the attention. What’s the harm? So, I tread lightly between these two points of view. I befriended her mother, first and foremost. I coach him through the process of setting up appropriate times and places for them to spend time together, then back off (but not too far). I’m relieved to say that it’s been a positive experience so far. Now that they are attending different schools, the relationship may die a natural death, but so far his heart is still completely devoted to his first love.

I also find myself having to be intentional about life’s sweet spot as I interact with other parents—especially those whose children also have autism. Some parents are die-hard activists, and I applaud them! I am not one. You won’t find me leading events that are related to autism. In fact, often you won’t even find me participating in them. I’m not opposed to the idea; I have four children and we don’t like to fill our schedule with too many outside activities. And yet, a certain level of connection is invaluable. There are some things I really do need (and want!) to know about. So I intentionally keep myself in the loop, while carefully monitoring my boundaries, not allowing myself to get sucked in any further than I feel comfortable. This was an especially hard balance early on when Luke was first diagnosed. I felt I had no choice but to literally do everything, sign up for everything, join everything—without any thought or discernment. It wasn’t simply that I thought all these things would make him “get better” (though there was that misconception), but more than that was the sense that I’d been initiated into a community whether I liked it or not, so I better ramp it up or I was falling down on my job as an autism mom. It took time to set both of those misconceptions aside, opting instead for a healthy sense of freedom and choice. I choose when and where I want to be involved. I choose what to sign my son up for and what not to have him involved in.

Finally, the sweet-spot mentality plays into making marriage not only work, but thrive. I’ve seen the statistics on autism and divorce and it breaks my heart. None of us are immune to the heartbreak of divorce, and all relationships suffer under stress. But I simply refuse to accept that our marriages must deteriorate because our children have challenges. I believe that with intentionality and (yes) work, we can foster balance in our marriage and family life. I reject blanket statements like “Your kids have to come first!” or “Your marriage has to come first!” These relationships are not pitted against one another—they are integral parts of us and of each other. There is no need for absolutist prioritizing— there is a need for balance.

Your child needs you to kneel down, look them in the eyes, and listen to what they have to say. Your partner needs that same focused attention. Every day. For a few moments, when you’re together, look him or her deep in the eye and give your full attention. This is the best gift you can give a person—young or old—and it goes a long way when the answer (later) has to be, “Just a minute!” Because later is going to come. That’s reality.

A little more on this gift of attention: balance means valuing everyone. If I’m giving my husband my attention and a child enters the room talking, my response needs to be, “I’m having a conversation, please don’t interrupt.” Similarly, if I’m giving one of my children my attention and my husband walks in the room talking, I need to ask him to wait a moment (and he does). Mutual respect—not competition. Balance. Peace. Perfection? I wish! I wish what I’m describing was the reality of every single exchange in our family. Believe me, it’s not. But it’s the goal, it’s what we strive for, and I’d go as far to say that it’s true more often than not. When it’s not, we feel the effects, and it usually doesn’t take us very long to regroup and get ourselves back on the right foot.

Attention is a gift. So is time. I know everyone is telling us to date our partner, but as parents—especially of children with autism—that feels impossible! I’m going on the record saying that it’s not impossible. With four children, two who have diagnosed special needs, and with all our extended family living out of state, we have been through many seasons of life when date nights felt impossible. Sometimes we’ve traded off with friends, which meant the night it was our turn to sit was so hectic and hard that it almost did not seem worth it … until it was their turn and we were out alone. Other times even that has been impossible, so we’ve had to figure out how to have a date night “in.” Time itself is a gift when it’s spent beautifully. My point is, loved people love people. Be intentional with those you love, and find that sweet spot in your marriage and family.

Living in life’s sweet spot is simply my way of describing something we all know when we experience it but don’t always know how to attain: peace. Peace within radiates out to everyone around us. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” I take that as a bit of a challenge. Don’t wait for it to come to you. Make it so. Stop reacting. Start choosing. Keep one eye on the big picture while remembering to be present in the moment. And be at peace.

Copyright © Autism Asperger’s Digest. 2012. All Rights Reserved. Distribution via print is prohibited without written permission of publisher.

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  1. Kim Fields says:

    Love Michelle’s writing? Check out her articles on Homeschooling in our Blog section!