I don’t know how to discipline your child. No one outside the small group of people that observe him or her on a daily basis does. Anyone telling you otherwise is selling something.
The reality for many of us on the special needs parenting journey is that it doesn’t much matter; in the classic sense of our children’s intellectually informed decisions and the measured consequences that complete their feedback loops. Discipline when it comes to our kids falls somewhere behind happy, safe and loved. And for many dads, that’s a hard pill to swallow.
So, I’ve got good news.
I’m not going to spend any time on the topic of disciplining your children. Because the importance of discipline, in the special needs father’s world, is entirely about us; the dads.
So much of our lives is locked down by mandatory obligations and engagement that there’s a dangerous pattern that manifests in us. In the times when we’re off the chain, we can begin to see the little freedom that we have as an opportunity to self-medicate with stimulus; stimulus that isn’t always constructive.
There’s a lie we begin to tell ourselves.
It sounds something like this:
This life is hard. And we deal with so many unfair things. We can’t be blamed for doing what we need to do, to get by.
If we tell ourselves that lie for long enough, the behaviors we’ll justify can spiral further and further away from those that align with what’s required of a man with the burden of leading a family with a special-needs child.
I’ve had enough heart to heats with men on this journey to know how near mathematical the pattern is. And there’s one thought we all wish we’d anchored down on the instant that lie first popped into our heads.
No one cares about how hard our life is.
If you decide to start down the wrong path, the overwhelming odds are that it will eventually come crashing down around you. And when it does, no one will give you a single ounce of leeway because your life is hard. In fact, it will be the opposite.
Your friends don’t know how hard it is. They don’t care.
Your kids won’t forgive you because you had the “bum rap” of being their father.
Your partner, who is on the same journey as you and now also has a partner that can’t be depended on or trusted, won’t forgive you.
Nobody cares that you were having a tough time when you made the decisions you made that hurt people.
Listen to this message, coming from someone who knows from firsthand experience.
There is a world of temptation out there. And the belief that we special needs fathers deserve to wander into it is seductive. So put your guard rails up. Stay away from the dark corners of the internet. Don’t slide into anyone’s DMs. And get help if you have ever or are currently suffering from any sort of addiction.
Get your shit together.
Your family is depending on you.
If you’re finding yourself craving the sort of freedom you can’t find in your life, take the lead from the great warrior philosopher Jocko Willink.
Discipline equals freedom. It is an iron truth.
Anything else is just another form of chains.
Previously Published on Fatherhood 2.0