We talk a lot about awareness in our community. How important it is, how there is always a need for more of it in the general sense when it comes to autism, and how overall it’s a requirement for people to have awareness and understanding for people of all special needs and abilities.
This is great, don’t get me wrong—I, for one, love seeing it everywhere.
But it’s not enough. The real aim, the true goal, is a world that understands our kids.
As men, particularly men in the special needs community, we sometimes talk about also being aware of the value that we place on our wives. How much they do for our families, what they fight for, and how they are a light upon our children’s faces. We talk about how we see them—how we watch them fighting, how we see them battling. We validate their feelings of frustration, exhaustion, and even exuberance in triumphs. We take every opportunity to champion them through their struggles:
“You’re doing great, love.”
“You’re amazing, I don’t know how you do it.”
“We couldn’t do this without you, babe.”
We cheer them on—often from the sidelines—while they’re steeped in meltdowns, aggression, battles for services, their own guilt, anxiety, PTSD, or just trying to have supper as a family for once.
Again, this is great—and the majority of our wives sincerely appreciate the validation. But, like awareness of our kids without understanding what they need, it falls short.
It’s not enough.
We talk about how we see them, how we’re paying attention, and how we appreciate everything they do . . . as if all they need is a pat on the back as we walk by to claim our spot on the couch. Like our seeing them is somehow supposed to lighten their loads.
Basically, what we do to them is stand on a dock and validate their gasping while they drown.
Well, some of us do.
Unfortunately, a lot of us are oblivious to just how magnificent the hearts of our wives are. Some of us aren’t even aware of the level of our spouse’s suffering.
How isolated they may feel.
The lack of support they feel.
Yet, some of us are resentful that they could have the nerve to be frustrated that we aren’t more engaged—after all, we work—right?
We should be able to come home from work and not have any other responsibilities to worry about. We have every right to be frustrated at the fact our wives are too exhausted at the end of the day to give us any attention. After all, we sometimes let them know they’re doing a good job—that should count.
But that’s only because we’ve set the bar that low to begin with.
Don’t get me wrong—I understand there are exceptions here. I understand there are those of us out there that are killing it. But I’m not addressing those that make up the exceptions. I’m talking to the majority of us—I’m speaking to the rule.
The exceptions aren’t even reading this—they’re too busy actively engaging in their wives’ and children’s struggles. Or maybe they are, and I hope they know I salute them.
They’re asking where they can jump in.
They’re seeing a gap in their household’s workflow, and they’re filling it without being pestered to.
They’re doing the dishes.
They’re also seeing their wives—stressed out to the max, on the verge of spinning out—and they’re pulling them aside, kissing them on the forehead, and they’re letting their wives know that they’re present and wanting to help.
They’re taking action.
They’re rejecting passivity.
The truth of the matter is, acknowledgment without action makes you nothing more than a clanging cymbal at some point. It may be effective in winning your spouse’s praise at first, but it won’t take long before you’re just adding to the noise—and you’re both frustrated again.
Acknowledging your spouse’s struggles without acting to alleviate them is a passive acceptance of their suffering.
A harsh indictment, I know. But it’s also one I’ve been very guilty of in the past.
My wife is a compulsive doer, and to be honest a bit of a control freak. Not because she’s controlling—those are two different things. My wife’s inability to ask for help comes from a very deeply rooted anxiety. Like me, she doesn’t willingly put herself in a position to have to rely on anyone. She keeps her guard up as to not be vulnerable to be hurt or let down. Because of that, and because truthfully for a long time I just didn’t see it, I passively accepted the fact that she had a lot of things handled.
For a long time, I let her drown—cheering her on the whole way.
The truth is she had a much better grasp than I did on the fact that until things are right for our kids and our home, she can’t relax. Until David has the acceptance and understanding, the services and the programs he needs to flourish, there is no sitting down. And she’s going to get them, come hell or high water, whether I ever actively engage or not.
We often say in reference to kids who have speech delays or don’t talk that “just because they don’t speak doesn’t mean they have nothing to say”—but we neglect the fact that just because our spouses don’t ask, it doesn’t mean they don’t need us to take action.
And that goes for both sides of the coin. Share in your spouse’s struggles, don’t just acknowledge them.
I promise you won’t regret it.