Most people have seen (many times over) the classic Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day in which the main character, a weatherman, repeats the same day over and over again. It’s a comedy film but one that at the end of the day makes us laugh, makes us sad, makes us think and tells a story of the power of love, the value of second chances and perhaps the meaning of life. As a fan of the movie I have found myself on more than one occasion making a sarcastic comment about how I feel like my life is Groundhog Day…..the same thing over and over, day after day and that outlook can definitely lead to feeling as if you are losing your mind. While I realize that my days are certainly not identical it can be easy to slip into an existence of routine and structure that starts to feel as if we are on auto-pilot. Having a child with autism creates a need for structure and routine that exceed those that may be required of all kids or adults. It is important that Charlie has an understanding of what to expect each day and oftentimes the slightest change or disruption to our schedules can be cause for a major meltdown. Due to this, we as a family have become almost too rigid in regards to our routine and for me personally it is stifling to constantly feel as if I must do the exact same things in the exact same order every single day in order to avoid or eliminate the possibility of a meltdown. I have always been the type of person who thrived on new experiences, new adventures and new challenges which is why this fixation on sameness has been even more difficult for me.
In the grand scheme of life, creating structure is extremely beneficial – we set goals, we focus on those goals, we have discipline as a result and we take responsibility for our lives. Having structure, routine and sameness can result in losing weight, getting fit, running that marathon, writing that book, closing that deal and many more positive achievements. On the other hand, an overabundance of sameness and routine can leave us feeling bored, unmotivated and stuck in a rut. The same workout for 6 months may do wonders for our body, but eventually we need to mix it up and try some new strategies in order to break through the plateau. As I have spent time in my own head, thinking about how frustratingly unfair it is that my life feels like Groundhog Day, it finally occurred to me that much of it is of my own doing.
Yes my son requires structure, routine, visual schedules and reminders in order to best navigate his world. Of course we will accommodate his needs in order to help him flourish; but when we fail to make little changes that would require him to consider a new or different activity in our day we are actually failing to parent him in the best way possible. I have to assume that all parents worry about how far to push their kids in different areas of life but when your child has autism you become especially sensitive for so many reasons including:
” I am simply too exhausted to risk the massive meltdown that will occur as a result of this change”
” He finally got used to this new routine, I feel bad to ask more of him”
” Maybe he is simply incapable of doing this”
” Things are working fine right now, why upset the apple cart”
” We just mastered something, do we really need to keep pushing?”
The thing I have realized when I let my thoughts lead me in this way is that I am putting limits on my son in an effort to avoid fear and discomfort and that (in my opinion) is a MOM – FAIL. I may not always serve the healthiest dinners or pack the perfect lunches but one thing I can absolutely do no matter how hard it may be is to ensure my kids know that I believe in them, I will push them, I will help them and I will be patient in acknowledging that change does not happen overnight but it can happen as long as we put ourselves out there and make an effort to try.
It has become quite easy for me to fall into the Groundhog Day trap of living my life and blaming my circumstances on what needs to be done for my kids but the simple truth is that I too have a choice. I can choose to make small incremental changes daily or weekly that will allow us to introduce some flexibility into our days and weeks without turning the whole world upside down. I may not always feel that I am making huge strides yet I am working on paying attention to the small wins that occur daily if I stop to pay attention and notice them.
- Took a totally different route to therapy last Thursday – Charlie noticed, told me we were lost, got a bit upset and then yelled GOOD JOB MOM when he realized we were in familiar territory once again.
- Convinced him after a lot of games to take a bath before dinner (what!!) so that the kids would be bathed and ready when the babysitter arrived last weekend…..he was thrown off that he still had to eat dinner after a bath but he did it, he survived and so did I.
- Went to a store I absolutely knew would not have what we were looking for that day (a Paw Patrol book) because I wanted to get him accustomed to something other than exactly what he expected. He wasn’t happy and had a mini-meldown in the store but at the end of it, we walked out with a different book.
I realize that for most of you reading this list of very minor seemingly insignificant occurrences it may not seem like I am challenging or pushing my son very much but for us, this is what it looks like. We celebrate these types of small wins daily and while I can guess a lot of moms, of young children in particular, feel like they have plenty of Groundhog Day weeks and months in their lives, I am proud and lucky to say that when ours change even the smallest amount we can talk about it for days because the “wins” really mean so much.
As I write this post I am in a coffee shop I have never been before waiting for Charlie to finish therapy. I am scheduling more things for myself to do each day instead of sticking with the same old routine, finding new places to spend my time while I wait for therapy to be done and working to change our schedule so that we can be home more during the week. While I am a bit fearful of changing things up I know it will help (all of us) grow and learn. Thanks again to my little man for reminding me that sometimes it takes a push to move outside our comfort zone but the results are always worth it.