They say you can pick your friends but not your family. This usually has an implied neutral or negative implication. In my case, I am so blessed to have such a great relationship and have admiration for my entire extended family. They are people that I can look up to and learn from on the whole. That does not mean that they are all perfect all the time, but neither am I. We have Christ for that example. One person, however, my great uncle, Fr. Lester, was someone that I specifically looked up to and enjoyed every minute in his presence. His nickname, used by everyone (not just family), was Fr. Smiley. His resting face was a gentle smile and he always had positive and encouraging words to say. Notably, he always ended a visit as he was heading out the door with saying genuinely, “Keep up the good work!” It didn’t matter what was happening, he always said that. It wasn’t until he passed away recently that I realized how much those words meant to me. It got me reflecting…
Recently, I contributed a monthly series for an online autism focused magazine, on a wide variety of research-based strategies that were proven to better support people with autism. Each month, or over a series of a few months, I would delve into different strategies that I had investigated and used professionally. I discovered this list of 28 research-based strategies (or evidence-based practices) as I went through my graduate certificate studies focused on autism. I learned so much over these courses and was so grateful to have an opportunity to test these out in multiple environments. We collected data and saw huge potential, and eventual success, in the implementation of some of these strategies. The beauty of these were that they were ‘good for all and critical for some’ as they seemed to have a positive impact on many people when implemented with fidelity.
The flip side of this knowledge is that I am always examining my own actions through these lenses. I feel like I am constantly assessing and reassessing my own parenting actions. I admit that the implementation of the strategies is markedly successful, and I like knowing them, to use when I need, but they have become a frame of reference. In doing that, I can become self critical, telling myself, “You could have done more/better/used that strategy, etc.” I know what would work based on research and that is my baseline now. It is a high standard, honestly.
That all being said, parenting is a hard go some of the time, for any parent. I believe that most parents think they could do better, do more, say and do the right thing more often, etc. I wonder if the feeling is more palpable though for parents of non-neurotypical children. Each day is a chance to advance their skillset, whether it be socially related, academically, moving toward independence and/or regulation. I feel a sense of urgency to use the time I have as a parent to do the best that I can in these areas as best as I can. When I work with other parents, they sometimes remark similar thoughts, so I know I am not alone. We love our kids and want the best for them, whatever that may look like each day.
This brings me back to the words of my late great holy uncle: Keep up the good work! I wanted to share those words with you reading this. Keep up the good work! We do not always hear this message in our daily life. Are there ways to grow and do better? Can we grow closer to Jesus? Can we be praying more? Yes, but that is for every parent or person for that matter. Noone is perfect. I just wanted to give you the same message that I heard, no matter what was happening, each time my great uncle, “Fr. Smiley”, left from a visit: Keep up the good work!