I said, sotto voce, "And that's because you've clearly never had any kids."
Emma overheard me, turned to look at me and said, "Why did you say that?"
"Only someone who has never had kids could make such a positive statement about how best to raise them."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, until you've had kids, you don't really understand what it's like trying to get them to eat. You're sure that you know the best way, only because you've never experienced anything other than your own imagined success at it."
I was never a better parent than I was before I had kids. I remember sitting with my girlfriend, Leslie (spoiler alert - we get married later in the film), at a Pirate game. There was a mother sitting with her two kids. We broke down all the failures in her parenting after the game. She sat down in her seat, and the two kids sat to her left. That, in my estimation was her first mistake (I'd have split them up, one on either side of me, or so I told my girlfriend). She bargained, she threatened, she failed to follow through on threat after threat, she coaxed, and she cajoled. We tsked to ourselves and thought about all the ways we'd never fail at parenting. Until we became parents and failed at all of them many, many times.
And it's not just parenting. It's everything. I never knew more about politics than I did before I went out and got a job, got married, had kids and sent them to school. I never knew more about other people's weight problems than I did when I was 6' tall and 150 pounds. I never knew more about unemployment than I did before I left college to get a job. I never knew more about disability than I did before I had a disabled child.
Experience teaches so much, but overall I think the most important thing it teaches is how little we really know about anything, how important it is not to pass judgement on someone else's decisions or approach because unless you have experience with it. . . you don't KNOW anything. It teaches empathy, or it should. It teaches patience, or it should.
I hope it's understood that the above implies I'm aware I still make the mistake of judging people without having experienced what they've experienced, but I do try. I do continue to experience and learn and grow. Sometimes it is important to remember that some of our harshest critics are just kids themselves, and as intelligent as they may be, if I may quote Inspector Douglas Todd from "Beverly Hills Cop", ". . . you got great potential, but you don't know every fucking thing." There's some comfort in remembering that some of the most cutting rebukes we receive as a parents are coming from people who. . . for lack of a better phrase, just, "don't know every fucking thing." Nobody does.
So we sat and watched Ippy pass his judgement on my past parenting blunders and I thought this:
I thought I was a picky eater until I met my wife. I thought my wife was a picky eater until we had our first daughter, Emma. I thought Emma was a picky eater until we had our autistic daughter, Lily. I thought Lily was a picky eater until we applied for feeding therapy and learned that other children were being fed from tubes.
There's always something more. Someone always has it "worse" or "different". You don't KNOW what people are dealing with until you trouble yourself to learn or experience it first hand.
And that made me think about this post. . . the ironic idea that with every new truth revealed to us there is still so much about which we remain ignorant; our learning broadens our understanding of how little we know.
Apply this "lesson" however you wish, but if I'm to make this an Autism Community-Specific post, I'll say this. It bothers me to see well-meaning parents harshly criticized by childless autistic adults. I don't necessarily always disagree with their criticisms, but the repeated theme is that because they are autistic, they know better what to do and what not to do with your autistic children. And that's just not a good argument.
Emma said, "I know what kids would eat because *I'm* a kid."
I looked at her and replied, "Yeah, but just being a kid doesn't mean you know how to RAISE kids."
Being autistic doesn't mean you know how to raise autistic kids. Some of the bluntest critiques leveled at parents of autistic kids are coming from newly minted autistic adults. Razor sharp minds in that group, let me tell you. I read their blogs. . . I often have to reread them because their brains are three steps ahead of mine. But that doesn't mean they know every fucking thing.
This post isn't about anything that's happened to me. It's not prompted by any specific blogospheric occurrence, but it's something that I've thought a lot about in general during my brief stint here posting blogs, and reading others' blogs, observing the friction and factions and sort of just trying not to make waves. And there have been a few posts I've read that got my blood boiling and made me want to engage. . . parents killing their autistic kids, parents seeking a 'cure', restraining/not restraining, etc. Their are just some topics where, if I'd have read them in a vacuum I'd have thought, "wow, good point, I never thought about that, you're totally right," then reading the exact opposite view point (in the same vacuum) would have thought the exact same thing. Reading the comments, the judgements, and the criticism by whichever side you wish is what makes my blood boil. Too much judgement, not enough understanding.
We are all still learning. The more we learn the more we find out we don't know. Even our harshest critics may someday learn that the criticisms they leveled at us weren't justified once viewed through the lens of real experience. So try to deflect a little of that criticism's cut with the understanding that the person expressing it may just not really get it, even if it does make your blood boil.
Unless you're just a shitty parent. Then I guess you got what you deserved.