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.
With Lynn Koegel, cofounder of the Autism Research Center at the University of California Santa Barbara, she co-wrote Overcoming Autism: Finding the Answers, Strategies and Hope That Can Transform a Child’s Life and Growing up on the Spectrum: A guide to Life,Love and Learning for Young Adults with Autism and Asperger’s.
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.