This is my year for autonomy. I am doing for me. Speaking up, reaching out. Saying yes when I mean yes and no when I mean no. But it can’t be just for me. Every year that goes by has to be for my babies, too. What I say and do must take care of my needs, while simultaneously caring for theirs.
Autonomy is no different.
As I give myself my own voice back, I must culture theirs. It is my responsibility to them to offer a platform, shape and then allow them to define their thoughts and ideas.
I shared a photo on IG, prompted by a phrase from another Insta-user, that captured how I am progressing in my fitness journey, which reminded me about autonomy and all the things I see in Addie and Millie as the days go by.
Loved this from the moment I saw it. I love my body with the best nutrition and a good workout every single day so my girls see the behavior… see how I love my body and I give back to it. We don’t talk about diets or fat or weight. We talk about eating well and strength and health. My daughters will know their beauty. Their power. . . . #bodyimage #motherhood #momofgirls #momoftwo #fitmom #fitness #health #wellness #nutrition #love #body #beachbody #coachlife #leadbyexample #aisforadelaideblog
When are they ready?
You have asked me often: How will my child advocate for themselves? When are they ready to answer for themselves?
The answer is simple, though hard to fathom: When you let them.
I am not a hands-off, free-range parent. I don’t shy away from telling the kids NO- redirection only works so far. A firm no is neither hurtful, nor shameful- it is a clear, concise direction from the acting adult. There is no fault in following through with consequence, such as leaving a store, mid-shop, when a breakdown is on the horizon. And no… I don’t help them just because they ask. I want to see effort.
Surely, as long as you’ve followed the blog you have seen both Addie and Millie are snuggled, enjoy movies and relaxation, make messes during craft projects without fear of repercussion… but they also know that when snuggles are over, bedtime is to follow. Once the movie is over, an hour of playground time is a must. And while our crafts dry, we must all partake in the clean up.
Children are children as long as they are… but if we never help them progress their skills, they remain as such. Without the guidance and allowance for attempts and fails, successes and well, that happened events, there will be children who always need, even as adults, within their capacity to be independent.
Find their voice
So, how does one foster autonomy in their child? When does a child begin to advocate for themselves; an extremely important trait, especially in the disability community?
Addie is 4, but started school last year, and we worked hard on her voice versus our own. We opted to not give a talk about dwarfism to the school (yes, of course they know!), but filter her disability through conversations on the playground with other parents, and through her daily activity. This introduction to school and unfamiliar faces has given us a path to explore when she enters public school. In lieu of creating a big first day this is the face of dwarfism, I am hoping to jump into educating about a month in, during Dwarfism Awareness Month which is October. In truth, I am hoping this gives Addie a moment to take in her environment, settle, and ask for help as she goes. If we never let her try, as her parents, we’re creating avoidable failures for later in life. First day of high school, first day at a new job, (perhaps) eventual parenthood… life without us.
She needs to know how to go into new situations, evaluate them- her level of comfort, her physical and emotional needs, and then adjust and ask for help accordingly. I know… she’s only four. But then she is only 5, 6, 7. When is she not only?
Our initial year was amazing. Addie did really well at creating her own narrative and her responses are succinct, “Nope. Not a baby! I have achondroplasia so I’m not tall.” We’ve also been working hard on her being able to voice her refusal prior to anyone picking her up. She needs to be firm that she doesn’t want, nor need, to be carried, and to truly convey, firmly, that it’s not safe play for her. We have given her ALL the information because she will process it as she can. We won’t know the day that all the information will process, but it is all crucial for her to know. She picks up new things every time we talk to her, and I get to hear it every time she tells someone what we call “the deal”.
And I love that she doesn’t need an adult to lay it out. As her mom, I’ve certainly helped her find the words to use, and I explain to parents if anyone seems confused, so they have the proper language to talk to their kids. This has been helpful in all of our activities, from school to dance to tee-ball to music classes.
I am for sure not naive, and know we need to step in if issues arise. We are to be notified by our preschool if any children pick her up or if a teacher hears her talking about her dwarfism so I can address it, as needed. And really, it’s been amazing to have a team working with her, giving her the voice from the start.
Dwarf culture is real, and to deny that her history is different from mine, is a disservice to Addie. Of course, Addie hails from the same Polish, Welsh, and Russian of my parents, and the Irish and Italian sides of her paternal side, but she also has a history built in- specific to her. We share as much of that as we can- the history of people with dwarfism- as we find age appropriate.
However, Addie is very into history right now (when I was young, when daddy was young, when mima was a baby, etc.) and she asks if we were all little, too. These are questions we can answer and have amazing friends to help us with points of reference in explaining. I tell her yes, but our growing up is physically different, where mommy is tall, she will be shorter than most women, like her auntie [Becca]. She wants to know if she can run like me, so we talk about John Young and Juli Windsor and how she can not only run like me, but farther as long as she trains for it (I’ve never run a marathon!). We talk about working in the White House (so she can make new laws), and being an artist.
Our pictures and stories are all diverse in gender, race and disability, so she sees men and women doing things she loves in all different ways. That had made it easier for her to see it’s not little or big, it’s what a person embodies that helps define and shape them. In the past, Addie’s been upset she doesn’t run as fast and we talk about it and why that’s OK. In the heat of the moment, we explain her goals- especially during her tee-ball games. “Get to first base, baby, and then the clean up batter will get you home,” highlighting her strength in grounders and her epic hustle.
We owe it to her to let her find it and grow it. Not build it for her, but amplify it with her.I cannot be her voice, but I can be her microphone. Click To Tweet