Our youngest son is autistic. When my mother-in-law was alive, her love language to us was taking us out to eat at a restaurant, and I would be so torn.
On one hand, I had four children and helped care for her, so it seemed like a wonderful idea to not have to cook one meal out of the thousands I had prepared over many years of marriage and motherhood! But taking along extra “special” food for my “special” son who had a “special” diet, along with the struggle of trying to combat his behavior the entire time, wasn’t worth the stress I felt. These are one of the many struggles those who care for a special needs child face.
It is so easy to feel entitled. “I deserve a dinner out without our son knocking over his hundredth glass of water and exasperating everyone at the table, dammit! I deserve to relax with a night off!”
After all, I’m not a masochist. I mean, Jesus retreated often and prayed! I need my rest. Oh buddy do I need my rest! But I also chose to receive my children and raise them to the best of my ability, and it is my responsibility to take care of them. However, if I keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result, I will drive myself crazy!
So I decided I wouldn’t do that anymore with him. At some point you have to pull back and ask yourself what is best for everyone involved. I would hate myself for how stressed I was, how stressed I acted, and especially how I treated the rest of my family because of my stress. It was a lose-lose situation. I would leave the house loading my stress trigger, hoping this time he wouldn’t do a, b, and c. Then I would be totally rigid and on edge while we were out, then beat myself up for several days afterward because I felt like a failure… again.
It was not until our son started going to a vestibular therapy that was a bit of a drive from our home that I started rewarding him with a dinner out, if he did well at therapy and behaved while we were there. We have left many restaurants before, and I’ve gotten our food to go more than once. But this restaurant we chose had gluten-free items, which was a real treat! He started understanding that it was worth it to him to behave so he could have a special date with mom and eat his own gluten free favorites. He was nine years old, and I was like, wow! we can do this sometimes!
Since then, we have had some horrible experiences as a family. We have left restaurants as a family. But with every day that passes, these things are farther and farther behind us. Living with autism or behavioral issues is often like constantly looking in the rear-view mirror and seeing what road you have covered. It never feels like you have arrived at your destination; you just have to remember where you started and throw yourself a little party that you are not still “back there!”
As we left our family therapy session today, I was considering these things. We went out to eat, no glasses were spilled, no major behavior issues were exhibited, and we even enjoyed a few laughs together.