Be An Encouraging Spouse

When you are deployed like I am currently, you have a lot of time to think. For an analytical-type person like me that can be both a blessing and dangerous at the same time. Lately, I have been missing home quite tremendously. That is normal with deployment. My home, however, if it is anything like yours is full of autism. Autism creates a culture of its own in our home, and if an untrained observer looked at our home objectively she may use words such as “hectic”, or “disjointed” or even “haywire” on most days. Then there would be the few serene and peaceful days where there are no melt downs, arguments between my wife and I usually induced by the rigors of the autism-driven stressful life and everyone in the family is humming along what is more than likely a normal day (for most families).

I miss the hectic and haywire of my family living with autism.

More than anything though, I miss being there for my wonderful spouse. She is a godsend for our boys. Is she perfect? In many ways I think she is. She, though, would certainly demure and then provide a lengthy list of everything that she is failing at. She’s an overachiever for sure.

Her days are tough. Autism makes them tough. Sometimes unbelievably and unrealistically tough. And with the schedule she has with finishing up here BCBA classes, and now stepping back in (a little at a time) into the professional passions she has always had I know that life is only more stressful. I miss being there to encourage and just be near my spouse to let her know that whatever happens I am right there and have her back. That security isn’t readily there for her right now and I know it has to be tough – but she never shows it. She never tells me. She just braves and endures it. Perhaps its because she doesn’t want to add stress to my deployment and all its rigors by venting about the challenges autism brings to our home. She’ll share some of the difficulties with me, but I know she protects what she is REALLY feeling sometimes. She is a warrior in the defined sense of the word.

Now, I am far from the expert on this topic. And I strive to get better at it all the time – even despite deployment. A wise friend told me years ago that once you are married you no longer live life for yourself. It’s not about you anymore. It is about the leadership and service that you must provide in your family to your wife and to your kids. I believe the misunderstanding of this by men leads to many problems in marriage. In fact, I believe that 95% of the problems caused in marriage are the man’s fault! There I said it! Part of that “dying to self” mentality is the practice of encouragement to others. This is an area that I practice, but yet long to get way better at it for the sake of my wife, children and the world around me. I strive to be better so I can help make her better. My wife deserves all the encouragement she can get with the role she provides in our home. She never quits, she never tires, she’s always, always serving the needs of our boys and she always is on her A game. She is a fighter.

But, she is human. That drive she exhibits in all things is a choice. It is a die-to-self attitude that she displays by choice. Support and encouragement by me can only fuel the drive and perhaps lighten the burden on occasion.

Please take the time to tell your spouse, your partner, the one in the fight with you that you love them. Tell them that you appreciate them. Tell them that you have their back and are there for them – through anything, till the end! Point the things out to them that they do well, because many times they are too busy with autism to see the good and the effects of the good they do. Make sure they know they are special and making a difference in yours and your children’s lives. Serve her. Talk with her. Share with her. LISTEN to her.

Encourage her – every chance you can. If you are reading this and your spouse does not do the above – then YOU do it back to him or her. Do it anyway. Even if they DON’T deserve it. Serve anyway. Lead anyway. The practice of providing encouragement will eventually lead to reciprocation. Just like a smile – hard to see one and not smile back at the person. Get me?

Here are some nifty encouragement quotes to finish with:

“When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

“I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.” ~ Mother Teresa

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” ~ Winston Churchill

“When life give you lemons…

You know the rest of that one…

In Advocacy,

Mike

Happy Father’s Day 2011!

Its one of the greatest charges and responsibilities of a man. Second only to being a loving husband. Men who are given children are given the opportunity to demonstrate true leadership, mentorship, discipline and integrity every day of their lives. “Father” is the word for God on the lips of small children! Nothing is more important in the households of America, and especially those households walking on the pathways in autism together, to have a strong, central father leading the way and setting the example for all in the house. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6

On this Father’s Day 2011, I am 6000 miles away from the family that I love and am directly responsible for. Being away this time has been especially tough, but I don’t know why. Perhaps it is the age that my boys are in, or perhaps it is the age that their Dad has become now. In my older age I find myself looking more now to the past than I have in years past. I still consider myself a forward thinker, looking for the opportunities and new challenges I can tackle tomorrow. But, in these last few months of a fair enough of solitude I have really been looking at and analyzing my role as a husband, father and leader of my household. Introspection is good now and again. However, nothing new pops out at me. There have no new revelations that have gripped my heart and soul. There have been no “AHA” moments as of yet. But, there is always, always that little voice in the back of my mind that whispers in my ear, “You can do more”, “You can be much better”, “Work harder to be the man I designed you to be.” As of late I have been reminded of my capacity for more and greater challenge in life. And later in the year when I return home, I will be able to execute in all the areas that I am working on bettering myself in. One of those areas for sure is the area of parenting.

On this Father’s Day 2011, here are some things that I aspire to be like and will work diligently toward until next Father’s Day. If you work on just getting 10% better in one area of your life every year, the advances you will make in self-development will be utterly amazing. The problem is that most people don’t work toward any development, or they talk a good game and spend all their time “talking” about getting better instead of “working” at getting better. Between thought and deed exists a large chasm to cross. Here are the things to do in the next year:

1) READ MORE

Keep reading from good sources of information about how to be a better parent. The best way to become a better parent is learn from those who ‘are’ better parents. Looking at my bookshelf of books that I will read during this deployment, the titles I will be reading to invest in a better parenting self are, “The Power of a Praying Husband”, “Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours”, “Helping a Child With Nonverbal Learning or Asperger’s Disorder”, “Good & Angry: Exchanging Frustration For Character…In You and Your Kids”, and “Finishing Strong: Going The Distance For Your Family.” I also am beginning to dig into good parenting blogs, website and organizations. So far I have found the “Focus on the Family” website helpful in the limited time I have dug into this area. On top of reading good books about parenting I also cycle in good faith-based books to strengthen my foundation in all things I do in life, books on history and important historical figures (I will be reading a lot from the Founding Fathers over the next few years), and then people skill/communication books. I am a firm believer that if more people turned off the ridiculous shows on television and picked up a valuable, personal growth inducing book their life would become happier, more purposeful and more menaingful. I am not totally anti-tv, but one has to admit it sure does waste a lot of time when one could be doing other things in that same time!

2) PRAY MORE

I share this only because it is a part of who I am as a person, leader, father and husband. Prayer means different things to different people. I certainly do not wish to turn you off or have you tune me out when I share that my prayers go out to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is through Him that all the things that make up my being are driven. I won’t linger long on this as I know I run the risk of losing a reader or two as religion and spiritual beliefs can be a touchy subject. But in my heart, for me, as one called and chosen by God to follow His lead in life, I know when to hit my knees in times of strength and in times of weakness and despair. If it weren’t for the faith exhibited in our household by our boy’s parents, we certainly wouldn’t be as strong in the fight for advocacy as we are. This year, I plan to lean on Him even more – something that unfortunately is quite hard at times to do. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” James 1:5

3) COMMUNICATE MORE

I always have to remind myself that 80% of communication is one’s ability to be a great “listener.” There is a time to speak and a time to listen. Most people’s time is to listen in order to increase their ability to communicate. As the age old saying goes, “God gave you two ears and one mouth. You should both in proper proportion.” My plan this year in not just my role as a father, but in all relationships is to listen twice as much as I speak in life. This is especially true with autism. My boys do not communicate the same way or are slow to respond when I speak most times. I need to say things once and give the autism time to decipher what I said before I grow impatient and ask again. “Please take your feet off the table.”……….no response……….”PLEASE take your feet off the table” more sternly (and impatiently) ………”PLEASE…TAKE YOUR….” very stern and lost patience. And he puts his feet down. It doesn’t have to come to that. If I have his attention (KEY), and ask one time with clarity and give his brain time to process in its own way – he will respond! I am supposed to be the normal one in the household! Why am I losing my patience for proper communication with an autistic child when I know he isn’t WILLINGLY defying me! He is PURPOSELY trying to make me angry! He doesn’t even know how to do that effectively anyway! Autistic kids are going to behave in scattered, patience-stretching, loud, obnoxious and crazy ways. That doesn’t give us permission to communicate in the same way. The parent has to keep the cool, level, loving head despite what the children’s disorder is causing them to do. I know this is difficult. I fail often. But this year I will work to get better at it. Through more books, prayer, insightful parenting tips from the pros, support and love from my patient and saint of a wife – I will prevail and become a better father! “There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.” Proverbs 12:18, “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” James 1:26

4) LOVE MORE

Above all else – love comes first. I desire to be more loving to my spouse, loving to my children and loving to my fellow man in general. Perfect practice makes perfect. “The way of the wicked is an abomination unto the LORD: but He loveth him that followeth after righteousness.” Proverbs 15:9

Happy Father’s Day my brothers in autism!

Mike