I did something over the weekend I don't think I've ever done - I got mad at Robbie. Seven-year old boy with high functioning autism or not, I was steamed. I'm not talking about the flash of anger that occasionally occurs because I can't handle one of the tantrums - and sends me flying back on that wonderful cycle of grief. I'm talking about the normal anger that can occur among family members when one family member is displeased with the behavior of another.
Let's face it. Parents get angry with children. Children get angry with parents. Spouses get angry with each other. Children get angry with each other. Someone does something that pisses off another. That other person lets them know it (often by employing colorful language). They hash it out. They eventually apologize to one another. Then, it's over. That's normal for families.
To borrow a phrase from the Marriage Encounter people, "Feelings are neither right or wrong." I don't know if they first coined that phrase but it is easily one of the most important things I learned from them to help me with my marriage or any relationship. I've found that with an autistic child, however, negative feelings get a short shrift. Guilt has a nasty habit of getting in the way and leading us to believe the negative feelings are wrong.
"How can you possibly be angry with an autistic child? What's wrong with you? Are you some kind of monster?"
Last weekend, I decided to go with my anger. Robbie was treating me like crap. There's no other way to describe it. I was turning into his emotional dumping ground. Fights about going to school. Fights about getting on (and off) the computer. Fights about taking a shower and going to bed. Those were reserved for me. Happy times were reserved for Mommy - at least, that was how it was beginning to appear to me. Finally, I got mad about it - a full blown, storm-out-of-the-house, take a long drive to cool down angry. When I got back home, Robbie was asleep but I was still a bit miffed.
The next morning, he was back at it. "Daddy's a big meanie!' Still angry, I let him know how I felt about it in a calm even voice. I then asked him, "Do you like saying mean things to Daddy?" He said "yes", but I think it was more about how I asked the question rather than the question itself. I wanted to try out going with his negativity rather than trying to fight it or change it (the latter two proving to be wildly unsuccessful). I asked him a few more times until he realized what I was saying and answered, "y-no." I asked him a few more questions along those line and his answers implied he didn't like saying mean things and making Daddy feel bad. He soon snapped out of it and so did I. It was as if our mutual anger took its natural course.
In a short while, we were both better. I apologized. He apologized. He became pleasant. I did likewise. He read one of his funny books out loud and we told each other jokes. It turned into a very fun day.
For a change, I had a healthy emotional exchange with Robbie. I had gotten angry. Hashed it out. Then it was over. I worked through my anger with him rather than beat myself up for feeling that way. Guilt took a back seat this time.
When it was over, it was over. I felt pretty darn good.