It's a fact—kids and moms benefit when autism dads are as involved as their partners when it comes to raising kids on the spectrum. A new study, published recently in the Maternal and Child Health Journal, suggests that kids develop better and moms are less stressed and less depressed when dads take an active role in caregiving, reading to the kids, and other parenting tasks. The study's lead author, Daniel Laxman, looked at data from over 3,500 children, including some with autism and other disabilities, and found that paternal involvement potentially increased children's communication skills and offered moms a chance to catch their breaths and do self-care activities.
Research like this seems so intuitive to me—I mean, duh!—of course dads should to be involved. Of course moms will feel less stressed if the entire weight of childcare—for kids with and without special needs—is not on their shoulders. Most married or partnered parents I know—my husband, Adam, and I included—are committed to co-parenting and sharing housework, nurturing, discipline, and all the other aspects of raising our kids.
So, why do we need a study that tells us dads should be involved?
Because reality—especially in houses where a child has autism—can be very different than ideals.
Despite our lip service to co-parenting, too often the "Autism Supermom" is celebrated for doing it all, being it all, and taking it all upon herself. I know. I've been there. I've tried really hard to be that mom, to not ask for help, and I kind of liked it when people admired how much I got done. But being that mom left me exhausted, depressed, overweight, and a shadow of former myself.
My husband wanted to help; but, as he wrote in a blog post about coming to terms with our son's autism, he didn't know what to do in the culture of "kick-ass autism moms".
It's taken us four years to figure out how to balance caregiving and taking care of ourselves and each other. But, I think we're getting there. I'm going away this weekend, to a writing conference that I look forward to all year. I'll be there with one of my best friends, and it's going to be a lot of fun, but I always worry about leaving Adam and our boys. The first time I went to the conference, I approached it in true Autism Supermom fashion. I'm embarrassed to admit that I pre-made every meal for everyone. I set up four sitters for two days. I left lists and schedules, and I worried. But, Adam was fine. He did a great job caring for the kids, and they survived and thrived without me. Still, every year, I worry about leaving the house for a few days. I can't help myself. Finally, bemused by all my stewing, Adam said to me a few days ago: "You baby us too much. We're going to be just fine here. Enjoy the conference, know we support your desire to be a writer, and don't worry about us. Dad runs a tight ship, and we're going to have a great time."
And this year, I believe him. I'm not pre-making any meals. I'm not laying out any clothes. I'm not going to worry. I'm just going to go to the conference and leave everything in my husband's more-than-capable hands. He's got this, and I feel relieved and grateful to have such an involved partner.
Image: Father and Son Swimming via Shutterstock