Military Special Needs Network

Proudly Supporting all Military Families with a Special Needs Dependent

I Walk the Line

The Man in Black.Photo credit: pain_amp1013 via photopin cc

The Man in Black.
Photo credit: pain_amp1013 via photopin cc

We’re going home to visit our family over the Christmas Holiday. As my husband and I are from the same general area, we’ll be splitting our time between the different “sides.” There is always a fine line we walk – making sure that each family feels like they receive equal amounts of time with us; making sure that we fit in as many visits and dinners with everyone as possible. But this is not the Line of which I speak.

No, I am talking about the Line between teaching our families about the boys’ special needs and just letting grandparents enjoy the grandkids they never get to see. I’m talking about explaining why our son with autism will not “get it” the first time grandpa gives him an instruction, or why we keep such rigid schedules and why we cannot make exceptions over the visit. I’m talking about marrying those needs with sitting back and letting the boys have more cookies than normal, relaxing the rules just a bit so as not to ruin every single experience for everyone involved, and understanding that our parents do not deal with special needs everyday.

This Line I walk sucks. It stresses everyone out: my husband, the boys, likely our families – and me, too. I know that I suck all the joy out of being a grandparent. Heck – it’s not really all that joyful being a parent most times. It was never my intent to be a Joy Sucker. I’ve sort of fallen into that role. It’s necessity, really. In the madness of the holiday visit, something, someone must remain constant. I am the only one it can be.

Grandparents seem to forget that well-behaved children are not happy accidents; they require constant work and reminding – especially special needs children who need hundreds, if not thousands, of exposures to rules and consequences in order to be learned and generalized. Nor do they seem to realize that, like many children with autism, my boys are not only master manipulators, but they also have control issues. I cannot just “give in” or “let them just this once.” Once I say something, it is, unfortunately, law. I try not to get into those situations – especially around grandparents – but, if I say that the boys do not get a special dessert or treat if they don’t eat their dinner, that is exactly what it means. If they do not eat their dinner they really, honestly and truly, may NOT have the cookies that you baked with them. It is sad. They may cry or meltdown. Screaming may be involved. However, you can bet that the next time I say they have to do X before they get that cookie, they will do X. And, trust me, you feel worse about the perceived slight to their holiday binge than they do. I promise you. Don’t let their antics fool you (see: Master Manipulators).

I am going to try to relax a bit over this visit. I, too, have control issues (shocking, I know!). I want everything to be perfect: I want the boys to be well-behaved, polite, and so freaking adorable that every ill-conceived stereotype of autism is dashed. I want the grandparents to have so much fun with them that it makes the months and months of missed time disappear. I desperately want a magical holiday visit for everyone involved.

That’s a whole helluva lot to expect from a six day visit.

That’s a lot of walking the line.

Written by Kelly Hafer. Kelly is a Navy wife and mother to three children; 16 year old NT, 6 and 5 year old boys on the spectrum, and a bun in the oven. Kelly has been featured in a collection of essays on special needs children entitled, “Wit and Wisdom From the Parents of Special Needs Children.” She can also be found at In her spare time, Kelly is part of the Military Special Needs Network Executive Board. You can contact her via email at

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