I am certain I am a slow learner in many things. I have felt quite insecure about that in my life… I consider myself smart and intelligent, but why is it so hard for me to get my head around certain stuff? Why do I miss the messages people are communicating when their words don’t say what they really mean or intend… sarcasm – even though I can do it sometimes, can be hard for me to follow fast enough for the flow of a conversation. My brain has to process something when the words are different to the meaning… and I can miss that and as a result, miss the whole point and meaning of an exchange.
Imagine what that does for a relationship of any kind! As an autistic, it can be really hard to read and understand social cues and conversations. Now I have made it my life’s work to study this in ways people would laugh at or not believe, because I am learning now I have always done these things at an unconscious level and somewhat instinctively. Autism in females presents differently to autism in males. Often, autistic females are way better at “scripting” social cues and conversations than autistic males, and imitating others to demonstrate these skills. It is very hard work. For me ( I am not going to speak on behalf of all autistics, as we are all different, and our challenges manifest differently from the same difficulties), I was awesome at managing the pressure of maintaining the flow of life – conversations, interactions, life, relationships, etc etc… or so I thought… but did not know what I did not know, and looking back I see huge gaps in what I thought I understood and my perceptions of things, and those of others. As much as I could manage things, I would always hit burn out. I was drained dramatically and needed quiet, space and decompressing time. If I could not manage those periods of decompressing from everything and everyone, I didn’t cope, and some of my worst behaviours, meltdowns, arguments and decisions would stem from those challenges in my life.
It is very easy for me to look back on these patterns now. Previously in my life I just always believed I was a bad person, and of course that belief about yourself has consequences.
This leads to how I have studied humans and their interactions and their “whys” a lot harder than most people typically do this in their life… I wanted to learn to fit in, and be ok. I always unconsciously chose mentors from a young age… I modelled behaviour and people, their psychology and beliefs as much as possible. I chose those who I felt were respected, and liked, and had qualities I admired personally. From a young age, they were teachers, or as I got older, colleagues or bosses, and often I made those people my friends. I have immense affection and gratitude for them, because in my life and world, they saved my life. Without the relationships I have with those people in my life, I would have been a ship lost at sea all my life. Their mentoring, and modelling was a lighthouse in the dark for someone like me. That value can be very hard to convey in a way they understand it. I was obsessed with learning from them. Often I modelled their ways, even though I might not have understood them all. As I got older, this sometimes caused me stress, as it conflicted with my authentic self… so it could be confusing.
But at 44, the understanding of my own journey in retrospect is a gift, and allows me the freedom to own who I am for my strengths and weaknesses, and be ok with that… and that is very healing. I truly hope that my journey and late understanding of so much helps me be a better mum to my son, and liberates him to be true to himself and to value who he is proudly, 100%.
Something I have struggled with in my life is the concept of “venting”. I have recently observed my strong response to some groups I am in, where there are a lot of parents of autistic children, who are all venting about the burden of having an autistic child in their life. I have felt uncomfortable about this way before I could even understand it. I personally have chosen a respectful, gentle, attachment and conscious parenting approach with Seb. Some days I am better at it than other days… and some days I am absolutely horrible at it. But my choice is very educated and clear about why I choose this, and as it turns out, it is excellent for autistic kids, just as it is for all kids and people! I am very clear on the big goals of what I am hoping to support Seb with as he grows in life with this approach, which means the things many people get stuck on day to day are not as important or as irritating as other parents may find them. I don’t relate to people who call their children derogatory names, or speak of their children in ways that hints of any disloyalty to their child’s spirit, character, personality or behaviour.
I do not “vent” about my child in ways that would hurt him to read or hear at any time in his life, or that he would not feel good about. I certainly do not see my child as a burden in my life – and trust me… our lives are full of stuff we do to help us be a better family, and be better people, and learn and grow as best we can.
It angers me to see parents venting on social media or with each other about the difficulties their child is feeling and experiencing… as if it is about them… and they are being hard done by. It angers me that this “venting” bonds people and strengthens relationships, and even forms attachments to each other. For me as a person and a parent, it feels disloyal and disrespectful. How many of us have experienced people speaking about us, or our most difficult moments where we responded in a way that we did not feel good about? Did anyone ever feel good about knowing what was being said about? Did anyone ever not feel humiliated or ashamed that their experience was being shared with others in a non respectful way, and where they were a burden to someone else? There is nothing about it that feels good, is there? I mean, even in situations where I can logically appreciate that my actions made another person feel bad or stressed etc, it doesn’t feel good that I was a conversation piece “that needed to be said” “of gotten off their chest” so someone, who I usually love, could feel better about their relationship with me. That venting about our kids, is complaining about how they are giving us a hard time, not appreciating that they are having a hard time… and that is heartbreaking and selfish.
Now I get that everyone is at a different learning place, and I get we all have different resources in our lives. I have been a venter in many of my own situations when at my lowest points in life. But this journey of watching others speak about their children in ways that, frankly, are ableist and disrespectful, really grinds my gears.
Nothing will cause separation between people, like the oxygen to vent. I have the gift of being able to look back through my life with hindsight and from a different place of understanding than I have ever had, and a great deal more clarity is availed to me as a result. When “venting” is a part of the culture that people connect with each other about, it allows people to settle at the lowest standard of conduct, growth and contribution. Venting is “all about me” and does not focus on the other people or parties and their difficulties with a situation. It loses perspective, and doesn’t encourage growth at all. Factor that into a relationship between a parent and a child, where it is already difficult!
The times I have vented with others in my life, I can look back and see I was self absorbed and focussed on how I was being inconvenienced, or attacked, hurt, taken advantage of, etc etc… it was always about me, and I was always vibing at a pretty low standard of living with my attitude and focus, and what I expected of myself. I have felt that “connection” we are inclined to get with people who allow the space to vent. It is basically permission to function at a low standard we know we are more than, and be good with it. This might be ok for many people to live their life. But people who are HAPPY, and HEALTHY, and are leaders don’t vent.
In fact, they focus on what serves them and others… and they discipline their focus to rise up to the challenge. Where focus goes, energy flows… it’s a neat little cliche, but it is true. When faced with difficult stuff, if we leave our focus in “vent mode” not much good comes of that. We are satisfied with the lowest possible standard – which is all about how “I” feel… with no regard for the disrespect we show to another, and it is a completely emotional response, with no real skill involved to make a situation better for everyone involved. It does not command anything more from us, or to rise up and greet difficulty with skill or grace.
I think as well, when I have been guilty of “venting” in my life, I have been out of integrity with myself. I am not aligned authentically, and am coming from a wound or insecurity, and am accepting less of myself than I know I am.
I can look back now and see that when I was in a leadership role, I did not support “venting” in any way. I felt that venting created a culture of low standards, and self absorbedness. It caused separation, and weakness in people and relationships. It brought intimidation, fear and mistrust, even though in the moments of connecting during this act, people felt closer. It was founded on a poor standard, and would crumble in time. It gave permission to function at a low standard in a team.
I tried to encourage teams to do the OPPOSITE of this “venting” behaviour and culture that those who become reliant on it seem to cling to. I hoped people would trust, encourage each other, be open and honest, command more of themselves, and focus on the big picture of what we were doing and who we were… I wanted my teams to be enrolled in a mission, vision or purpose that was greater than ourselves. Venting undermines this. It says, “yeah, it’s ok to stop trying, to feel upset about what’s not working for the individual, and it’s not all actually real anyway”. It alludes to the stuff being vented as more authentic, “real” and important than the values upheld by the group.
In my greatest times of growth, where my peers were awesome folks making stuff happen, there just wasnt the space to “vent”. Difficulty may have been shared, but the focus was about how to do better, and what was I missing to help me do better… NEVER was the space available to just moan or whine. NEVER! It went hand in hand with emotional fitness. Our emotional fitness is no one else’s responsibility, and no one should bear the burden of our fat out of shape emotions! Emotional fitness is about choosing our focus, and choosing our perspective, and the rest flows from there. Difficulty is something we all experience. Having kids is difficult if you are doing it right.
If you are a mindful and conscious parent, your greatest growth opportunity is through your difficult parenting times. But people committed to growth don’t vent. People that do well financially, don’t whine about how difficult it is to make money or meet their responsibilities. They just do it. They alter their focus. People who have a great body are not whining about how hungry they are for junk food, or how they are tired and can’t work out. People in great relationships do not whine or vent about their partners… they demonstrate respect, loyalty and integrity. Parents who raise great kids don’t talk badly about their kids or complain how hard parenting them is… they respect their children and partner with them in difficulty with empathy and care. See the pattern here?
Venting creates a culture that undermines what everyone essentially wants. I hate that it has taken me this long to piece that together, to manage my own behaviours in difficulty, and to understand when I am in the wrong places and with the wrong people. I think this is key for me… to recognise when I am not in the right place. When i see people who “need to vent” in a group or anything I am involved with, I automatically do not relate these days. When I feel my own need to vent – an old pattern from my past – I can see I need to discipline my focus, and think beyond the scope of myself… the “me me me” attitude has had too much life, and needs to be stubbed out. I cannot be in circles where venting has a place or the oxygen to burn.
Maybe it is that I have too much happening to waste my energy where it doesn’t serve… maybe my relationship with my son has taught be to be more, do more and expect more. Maybe the stakes are higher than they have ever been for me.
If you are surrounded by people who need to vent… watch what you are learning about them, and consider your role in it. Not everyone is open to being held accountable. But if we want those relationships and opportunities in life that people admire and enjoy witnessing, if we want to feel deeply fulfilled, and we want to be healthy and happy… clamp out the venting and make our choices when we observe it swiftly. It doesn’t require a big demonstration refuting those who choose to live in survival mode which is why people gush emotionally everywhere without discipline – aka vent. It just requires you to shift your focus… and the rest flows. I would rather be true to myself, than those who are not even true to themselves.
We are all human, and all slip into unresourceful places from time to time. But how long we stay there, and what we do when we recognise we are there is pretty important. It’s valuable to surround ourselves with those who won’t get in and roll around in the mud with us, but kindly encourage us to stop navel gazing and see the bigger picture.
Think about how you talk about your kids. They hear it, even when you don’t think they do.