I recently coached a client who was being schooled by her teenage son.
She had a boundary that he was telling her how to enforce.
The boundary was simple: homework before video games. 📚 🎮
As teenagers do, each day after school, her son morphed into a criminal defense attorney objecting to the boundary as a form of cruel and unusual punishment.
And 3 days out of 5, she sustained his objection.
When I asked her why, she told me:
‘His life is already so hard, and I hate doing anything to make it harder.”
In other words: She was pitying her child with Autism.
The Problem with Pity Parenting
While feeling sadness about our child’s struggles is normal, it is not an excuse for disabling them.
Yet, this is exactly what happens when you parent from a place of “I feel bad for you.”
First, it reinforces your belief that your child is a victim. This can lead to over-accommodation and overcompensating, depriving your child of the ability to learn important life skills and navigate situations independently.
Second, it communicates to your child that they are not capable of handling certain expectations or that they should not have to in the first place. This can have the unintended effect of damaging their self-concept and creating learned helplessness.
Finally, if you are constantly bending over backwards to please and appease your child, they will see you less as a parent and more like their own personal Genie 🧞♀️, making it all the more difficult for you to create and enforce boundaries necessary for their development and understanding of social norms and expectations.
Making the Shift
Unlike a Genie, you can free yourself from the lamp at any time. Here is how to do it:
Recognize: You can’t get out of the lamp unless you know you are in it in the first place. This means you need to have the courage and humility to notice when or how you are parenting your child from a place of “I feel bad for you.”
Resist the Blame Game: you may be tempted to beat yourself up or blame yourself for well, everything, but this is not helpful to you or your child. In fact, the more you blame yourself, the less able you will be to stand strong in the boundaries you create. Instead, shower yourself with tons of self-compassion, reminding yourself that you are doing the best you can.
Reframe Your Perspective: Stop viewing boundaries as arbitrary restrictions or punishments. Boundaries are created out of love to provide structure, predictability, and safety, all of which are particularly beneficial for autistic children.
Redefine, gradually: Don’t try to overhaul your entire parenting style or house rules overnight. Begin with non-negotiable boundaries, like safety rules. As you and your child adjust, you can incorporate more boundaries aligned with their growth and needs.
Remain Consistent: Your child may hate the boundary, but they love consistency. In fact, they need it. Therefore, once a boundary is set, maintain consistency. It not only reinforces the boundary but also builds trust.
As always, remember: two things can be true: You can have sadness about your child’s struggles and powerfully parent them to support their best possible outcomes.
P.S. As a recovering Genie, I know what it is like to parent from pity AND how to stop. Better yet, I have the tools and strategies to help you escape your lamp in less than a fraction of the time that it took me. Three months to be exact, which is the time commitment for my 1:1 coaching program and YOUR reinvention.
So, you can spend the next 3 months Googling solutions and guilting yourself, or you can ring in 2024 on the road to your reinvention. To get started, book your complimentary consultation call HERE.