After my family moved from the Midwest to Colorado, we started a new Christmas tradition. My grandmother, who lived in Rockford, would send a little cash instead of gifts for Christmas. She forbid my parents to use the money to pay bills. It was to have fun, she said.
So, Christmas Day, we’d all go bowling. As we grandkids had kids of our own, we kept on bowling for Christmas. Some years we’d take up as many lanes as a league would.
Those first few years, it was hard to watch the little ones learn to bowl. They would hit pins, but they would also throw a lot of gutter balls. The year the bowling alley offered lanes with bumper guards was its own kind of Christmas. The bumpers didn’t eliminate the gutter balls, but the set-up helped the kids figure out what they were supposed to do. It was nice to sit back and let them have at it. They were set up for success: they got a lot more pins and they learned more quickly how to throw. By the second or third year, my nephew was ready to ditch the bumpers and bowl in a lane with the grown-ups. He bowled great games.
My kids are grown and I’ve stopped parenting, but when Sam needs support now, I try to remember to be a bumper guard, just like I did when the kids were little.
We parents need to stand on the periphery of their lives, far enough back that the kids know they are doing things on their own, but that you’re watching, too. They need that internal message that they shouldn’t worry about hitting a lot of pins, and that they are still going to throw gutters, and sometimes the ball is going to ricochet its way down the lane, but just keep throwing and try to get strong so you can throw it straighter each time. And one day you’ll be ready to go without the bumpers. You will hit some spares and strikes and you’ll throw some gutters. And it will all be ok.
I don’t always remember to be a bumper guard. A few weeks ago, I thought someone had drained Sam’s bank account. Fear turned me into a helicopter parent. Of course, my actions, ostensibly to defend his hard-earned money, upset him. And they created other problems that he needed to solve. When I remembered my role and stepped back, he cleaned up the whole mess himself.
Our culture is changing rapidly. To survive and to thrive, all of our children, not just the ones with autism, need to be resilient. We should not stand over them and help them throw all the balls. That’s not how to make a resilient kid. With each situation, each problem, each opportunity for growth, we need figure out where to install the bumper guards, stand back and let them throw.