Are You a Good-Enough Mother?

Hi Folks,

My new post is up on Psychology Today. It’s my response to a friend who said she knows she is good at her job but she can never tell if she’s doing well as a mother to her daughter with developmental differences. Here’s the link

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Finding the “Why” of a Special-Needs Child’s Behavior

My newest blog post is up at Psychology Today, and it has been promoted to “Essential Reads!”  Very exciting for me. Here is the link and

Here is an excerpt: “Behavior is a form of communication, and more often than not, especially in young children, it is not communicating a desire to be non-compliant or troublesome.”

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Autism, ADHD and Executive Function

Is teaching executive functioning skills to a neurodiverse adolescent a futile endeavor?

Here is the link to my recent blog post on the topic.

Thank you for taking the time to read!


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Incubating a Political Conscience

Hi all,

I have not posted on WordPress in quite awhile. However, I have been busy blogging for Psychology Today. Almost all of my columns are still about parenting a child with special needs. This week, however, I took a different approach and wrote (mostly) about parenting an adolescent–as well as collective action theory and social identity. Please check it out!

Here’s the link


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The Sewing Machine

Sam’s sewing machine broke. Completely disabled. Sam screamed with frustration, and I jumped. Racing to the machine, panicked at the prospect of an escalation, I thought, as I do with almost every parenting scenario that faces me, “I don’t know what I’m doing; I just want the screaming to stop!”

I do not know how to sew. I cannot thread a machine, choose a stitch, or finish a seam. My mother sewed most of my clothing and my daughter is working on a new quilt for her bed, but I do not sew. I wish I knew how to sew, but obviously I don’t wish it enough to learn.

I also do not know mechanics or machines. When one of the burners on the stove stopped lighting, I waited four years until the refrigerator broke so I could have both repaired for the price of one service call. My philosophy is that machines work or life moves on without them. Unless I hear the child’s screams, the tremors signaling a meltdown of earthquake proportion. Then life does not move on.

But I am good at untangling knots in yarn and jewelry. Those tasks require only patience and fingernails, both of which I’ve grown. And so it was with patience and fingernails that I tackled the sewing machine—after ordering Sam to find a cat to pet so that I could puzzle through this alone. As with parenting, fumbling for answers is best done without an audience of critics.

The most obvious issue I noticed was a missing screw. Sam explained that the screw had fallen into the machine but she could still sew. Any adult knows that a missing screw is always a bad thing, both physically and metaphorically, so I started with that. Unfortunately, I could not see the screw; I could only hear its rattle. Like many of the challenges of parenting, knowing you’ve got a screw loose does not mean you know what to do about it. So I turned the machine upside down and shook it until I heard something drop. Then something else. Then finally something that sounded like metal hitting the floor. Here was the screw! Unfortunately, the bobbin had fallen out and the spool of thread had flown off. I do not know how to replace these items. Which pin on the top is for the spool? Upending the machine may not have been such a good idea. It’s so much like some of the “consequences” I impose in child rearing. What have I wrought?

After Sam rethreaded the machine and again departed, I put the pieces back together as well as I could. Still the thread from the bobbin would not come up to complete the stitch. Either the missing screw had not been the problem, or the missing screw had been only part of the problem. I felt like I was talking to a therapist about Sam’s anxiety: Maybe x is the problem, maybe x is part of the problem, or maybe x is irrelevant to the problem. With regard to the sewing machine, much like the therapy, I will never know.

So I removed the bobbin, removed the piece of plastic housing the bobbin, put them both back in and tried the machine. It worked! For about five stitches. Kind of like keeping track of homework assignments on a whiteboard. That also works for about five stitches.

I took out the bobbin housing again and again, each time trying to replace it in a slightly different position, each time listening for the solid, definitive CLICK that never came. Eventually, however, the machine made a line of stitches. Her machine was no longer disabled.

The problem with this approach, and the reason it reminds me of parenting, is that I say with utter confidence that the machine will break again. I still don’t know how it works, and I don’t know what I did to fix it. Was the loose screw important? Who knows? How long will the machine run smoothly? Who knows? Just like my kids.

The only real difference is that I know I can bring the sewing machine to a shop, and a trained machinist will repair it. My children are not pieces of equipment, and I’ve yet to meet a therapist who understands human beings well enough to treat them as contraptions for which each part has a well-understood position, function and relationship to the other parts. Parents have no choice but to turn the kids upside down when they run into problems, shake them in the hope that a loose screw will fall out, and then throw every trick in the book at them, hoping to hear a CLICK. Usually that sound of certainty, the sound of a parenting homerun, is too much to ask, but at least let the kids feel secure for the rest of the day.

“Thank you, Mom.” Sam remembered the magic words!



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Eight Rules

Eight Rules That Every Mother Who Is As Good a Mother As I Am Enforces With Her Adolescent.

A FB friend posted this essay, whose title is only a little bit less obnoxious than my paraphrase, with praise for the author and her philosophy. I dutifully read the post, because I want this FB friend to read my posts. By the time I finished though, the only response I could muster was that it must be nice to be such a perfect parent. Too snarky to use as a comment—especially if I want my FB friend to “like” my posts—but obviously not so snarky that I’m ashamed to share it here.

I don’t even disagree with the rules, and most of them I strive to live by: have the children put away their own clothing; talk to teachers themselves about missed assignments. Make your children learn the skills they will need as adults. I get it, and I agree with it. I expect Kelly to adhere to most of these rules, and usually she does. So why am I so irritated?

Partly, I think, I am irritated because I feel caught, proven to be incompetent by a stranger who has just failed me on a test. Of course I’m consenting to the evaluation and grading myself, but directing my defensive reaction outward is much more satisfying than turning it inward. I could use the opportunity to become a better person, a better mother, but I know I will not. It would be like all of the disingenuous New Year’s resolutions that are shelved within the hour. Why bother pretending? So I’m irritated because I’m defensive.

The more important reason I’m irritated, I think, is that all of the eight rules presuppose raising a child who will learn the intended lessons from their mistakes. If her children fail to pack their own lunches, they will have to borrow lunch money or food from their friends. Not wanting to impose repeatedly, they will remember to pack lunch tomorrow. But what happens if your child eats alone and will not set foot in a cafeteria because the smells and sounds assault her? Will she learn her lesson about packing lunch, or will she become so dysregulated that she cannot draw a line from cause to effect?

If her children do not roll out of bed with their alarm clocks, their siblings will eventually rouse them. They will run late and miss breakfast (as she tells us). They will get to school feeling a bit disgruntled, but once they see their friends they will be able to put the morning’s scramble behind them and they will open their notebooks for first period. Tomorrow they will wake up in time for breakfast. But what if breakfast is the least of your child’s concerns? What if your child spends the entire day wondering if she received a detention? What if the prospect of this detention worries her so much that she fails to realize it was time to open her notebook for first period? What if the teacher then rebukes her for her lack of preparedness? What if the lesson she learns is that school starts too early for her ever to succeed, and her teachers want her to fail?

If her children forget their homework at home, they receive no credit for the assignment. They kick themselves because they understand their ambitions will be difficult to fulfill without good grades, and they make a point of packing their backpacks tonight, so they will not forget again tomorrow. But what if your child completes her homework only because she fears (even now, in high school) the wrath of her teachers? She has never experienced the wrath, but anxiety is her constant companion. What if her anxiety about the misplaced assignment so overwhelms her that she cannot concentrate on the lesson, she (maybe) makes it through the day, comes home and melts down, and falls asleep having neither located last night’s homework nor begun tonight’s? What lesson has she learned?

One of the greatest challenges of raising a neurodiverse child is not knowing when to let that child fail. Throw the child in the water. Will the child swim . . . or sink? First we have to consider immaturity. Next we factor in anxiety. Third we factor in executive functioning deficits, visual processing deficits, and sleep disturbances. And then we wonder which aspects of the situation will be deemed relevant, because learning the “correct” lesson requires identifying the relevant actor (oneself) and the relevant actions. Treating a middle or high school student as a socially and emotionally healthy adolescent only works when the child matches the criteria. Otherwise, I say to throw the rule book out.

Here are my eight rules for being a good-enough mother:

  1. Make it through the day.
  2. Toast your success!
  3. Make it through the day.
  4. Toast your success!
  5. Make it through the day.
  6. Toast your success!
  7. Make it through the day.
  8. Toast your success!


Implement again on the fifth day.

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Am I a Challenge to Raise?

Sam wants to know if she is a challenge to raise.

I have my computer open to a research study concluding that mothers of autistic children have a thirty per cent higher incidence of heart disease than mothers of neurotypical children, all else being equal. Fortunately for all of us, I have already scrolled past the title, and Sam is not reading the text carefully when she sees the words “challenging children.” I say this is fortunate because, had she seen the title, she would no doubt be insisting that she is killing me.

Is she a challenge to raise? Does the sun rise in the east and set in the west? Every. Single. Day.

And yet I know that I am not allowed to laugh incredulously at her naïveté in asking such a question. So I pause. Kelly, sensing my apprehension, hastily jumps in to explain to her sister that all children are challenging. “I’m a challenge for Mom to raise, too!” she reassures Sam. However, the research about my compromised health and my persistent, low-level irritation with adults who insist, “all children are special” fire my neurons in a different direction. This may be a mistake, but I’m in it for the long haul now.

“Yes,” I carefully answer. You are a challenge to raise. More challenging than some other kids. Do I wish you had never been born? No, certainly not. Challenging does not mean worse. We talk about her artwork and whether she prefers the pieces that require less effort for her to create. She can recognize her pride in some of the pieces demanding more effort, and she seems to realize that effort does not determine value, satisfaction, or even outcomes. For a moment this comparison satisfies her. Then comes the zinger: Do you wish I hadn’t been born with autism?

In my head (and heart, I suppose), I am thinking that I wish all kinds of things. I wish my kids were born good at everything and never needed to learn resilience because they never met failure. I wish my husband and I never argued. I wish Kelly never felt alienated from her friends. I wish sleet never fell when I left the house without a jacket. I wish I could take the good without ever encountering the bad. I wish pain, unhappiness and struggle did not have to be part of existence. Of course I wish that this child were not so consumed by anxiety and fear.

But there’s a reason that last sentence was written in the subjunctive mood. What I might wish for in a hypothetical world is irrelevant. At least I stop long enough to realize that Sam needs a yes or a no. I answer her firmly. “No, I do not wish you were born without autism. I love you just as you are, and I am lucky to be your mother. The last sentence of this declaration requires no qualifications or ambivalence.

After the aforementioned researchers upped my likelihood of a premature demise, they threw in a lifeline. Every positive interaction a mother has with her children during the day lowers her risk of heart disease. As I brokered a dinner-table argument between Sam and Kelly about the relative value of $1.27 (Sam says it is a small sum if it is the amount over twenty dollars she spent on groceries; Kelly says it is a lot of money if her not having it represents the difference between buying or bypassing the candy bar she craves.), I smiled. My heart beats strong.


Next up: Sam dreams that she has to write an essay about whether God put human beings on Earth intentionally or accidentally.

Just kidding! Not about her dream, but about weighing in on this one with a blog post. To my Jewish readers, L’Shana Tovah (Happy New Year).

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