At one point, he even said, "Mom, I was not created to spend time with other people. I was made to be by myself."
Troy has autism. Social interaction is difficult for him, and he is much more content being by himself than spending time with others.
So, when he made these statements, he was self-advocating, which I want him to do. He was saying he wanted me to respect him and his needs.
In that moment, I was torn. I suddenly wondered if I was making a mistake by making him spend time with us. Was I being disrespectful and not honoring who he is? Or was I doing the right thing? Was I, as I hoped, helping to prepare him to live in a world that will demand that he interact with others if he is to be successful?
I wasn't sure, but I didn't let him go to his room. I held the demand and told him, "Troy, in a family, you spend time with one another. We are having family time, and since you're part of this family, you're going to play with us."
We muddled through, albeit quite miserably, and finished the game.
I was still unsure if I had made the right choice in how I handled the situation. The uncertainty has weighed heavily on my heart.
Today, I shared this story with his therapist and asked her I had made the right choice? Or had I dishonored his needs by forcing him to play with us?
She said, "Our job as a parent is not to make our children happy; it is to help shape and mold them for their future success."
It was such a simple statement, but it lifted a huge weight off of my shoulders.
At that moment, I knew I had made the right choice.
In school, he will not be alone. In fact, he will have to work with partners and groups often. In a future job setting, it is likely that he will have to interact with others in some capacity. In family-life, he has to be able to communicate with and tolerate others. In short, he has to learn that he cannot always be isolated, and he needs to learn strategies to cope with his discomfort.
She did give me one piece of advice to try next time; she suggested I use the First Then system with him. If you're unfamiliar with this, it basically just reminds him that this undesirable activity is not going to last forever, and then he gets to do a more preferred activity. For example, I could have said, "Troy, first, you're going to play this game with us, and then, you can go spend time in your room."
It was valuable feedback, and I will definitely use it in the future.
I know that very few of us strive to be the "cool" parents or want only to make our kids like us. Still, it is easy to second guess the decisions we make and wonder whether we are doing some long-term damage with our well-intentioned actions. In those moments, let's all remind ourselves of our role as their parents and be willing to push them, gently, out of their comfort zones, knowing that we are preparing them for what is to come.