Search This Blog

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Narcissistic Parent of the Special Needs Child


By Claire LaZenick
May 24, 2014

So in her new autobiography (no link–please don’t buy it), Toni Braxton apparently spends some time speculating that her child’s autism may have been God’s punishment for an abortion she’d had. I’ll leave others to argue the theology here. I’ll even let others discuss the inarguably revolting, small-minded, bigoted and hurtful assumption that autism is a punishment. I’m just going to focus in on the mind-boggling narcissism of that statement.

So this is all about you, is it, Toni? Your previous behaviors in some way influenced the child who was born to you? Does that mean children are meted out according to how we’ve conducted ourselves in the past? “You once swore at your mother and shoplifted–you get a kid with a learning difficulty”; “You, over there, nice work on your college thesis! You’re going to get a smart and adorable little girl, just like you always wanted!”

Oh, for fuck’s sake . . . (Excuse the language, but some things are so ridiculous they deserve a hearty “for fuck’s sake,” don’t you agree?)

As my smart friend Angie pointed out, this is really just the flip side of the people who say that special needs kids are “bestowed” on those parents who are so patient, kind, and strong that they can deal with it. If you’re a mom struggling with a tough situation, feel free to think that–I’m of the “whatever gets you through the night” school of parenting. But here, on my page, can we all agree that our children aren’t a referendum on us and our behavior, but people in their own right? That no one is handing out children based on our past activities or some secret personality test?

Here’s the deal: when you decide to have a child (or, you know . . . just have sex without using birth control), you’re signing an invisible contract, one with a lot of small print on it. And that small print says that there are no guarantees about the kid you’re going to have. If you want baby perfection, get a doll. Real kids come with real problems and real surprises. From the moment the sperm hits the egg, you’ve given up control (actually, if you were doing it right, there was a fun loss of control right before the sperm hit the egg, but that’s not really the point here).

That baby is going to come out of you with his own agenda, needs, and brain. (Any parent who’s tried to get a newborn to sleep at night should have learned this lesson already.) He is not a reflection of you. She’s not a reward for your great patience or punishment for your evil deeds. He’s not here to fulfill your unfulfilled dreams. She’s not here to reflect glory on you all the days of your life.

Here’s what the real deal is: by getting pregnant, you agreed to love and look after this child for as long as you both are alive. And your job is to see your child for who she really is–imperfections and all–and to make her the absolute best, most realized, most comfortable version of herself she can be. For some kids, that may require multiple trips to the hospital; for others, it may include a lot of speech and behavioral therapy; for others, it may be more of a “sit back and let him rip” kind of situation.

You give your child what your child needs, and you give it with love and acceptance. This is your child. He’s not a good conduct medal and he’s not a punishment and he’s not a way to prove you’re a better mother than your sister. Look at your child. Know your child. Love your child. Teach your child. Be there for your child. And maybe hold off on buying any more Toni Braxton songs on iTunes.

About Claire LaZebnick

Claire Scovell LaZebnick grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, went to Harvard and moved to LA. She has written five novels for adults, Same as It Never Was, Knitting under the Influence, The Smart One and the Pretty One, If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Now, and Families and Other Nonreturnable Gifts. I’ve also published two YA novels with Harper Collins: Epic Fail and The Trouble with Flirting.

She contributed to an anthology play called Motherhood Out Loud, and have been published in The New York Times, Self, Vogue and other magazines.

LaZebnick has a son with autism.

1 comment:

  1. This is my first time reading this article even though it is two years old. I am a mother of a 1 year old daughter with special needs, the result of an extremely rare syndrome. I understand your perspective in this, but I think you are being a little harsh on Toni. Most people who have a child born with special needs goes thru phases of denial, anger, acceptance, and recovery. Parenting in general can be difficult, as each child is born with his or her own unique set of challenges, learning speeds, and mental and physical development issues. Add to that mix, a child born with genetic health issues that curb their development and learning further. It is only natural for a mother to wonder, "What has caused this?" "Was there something that I did wrong?" "Could I have somehow prevented this?"

    My husband and I have virtually no medical issues. Even catching colds is rare for us, so when our daughter was born with a host of issues that neither of us DREAMED we would be dealing with in a million years, our natural feelings were to wonder why we had been struck with such unfortunate damming luck.

    NOW we BOTH know better. I realized that my daughter has been the BIGGEST blessing to me, because she has taught me to be selfless in every aspect, to not expect perfection, and of course, my favorite, understanding my own family of origin dynamics which came to light as a result of her birth. I love my daughter more than anything and I expect nothing from her. If I am the great mom that I aspire to be, my love to her will never return void. But, it has taken maturity and experiencing this side of life to get to this point. And I am certain that Toni got to it too.

    It would be really nice if you could reevaluate your perspective of Toni. Parents are not perfect. That includes you too.