I am honored to have the great and wonderful Tsara Shelton write my first ever guest post! I hope you enjoy it and take to heart the message she is sharing as much as I did...
On Finding my Fraud
By Tsara Shelton
Parenting, autism, happiness.. these have become things about which people tend to come to me for advice, and I gladly give it. Some days I feel confident that my ideas are quite useful.
Most days, however, I find myself actively ignoring the little lady in my head suggesting that I am a big, ugly fraud.
On Parenting: My kids are wonderful. They treat most everyone with love and respect. I have four teenage boys (the youngest is almost twelve) and they impress me daily. However, it is also true that my oldest son dropped out of school to get his GED and is a fan of smoking pot, my fifteen year old came home dangerously drunk with vomit in his hair once when he was only thirteen, my fourteen year old recently admitted to be fighting a small addiction to porn (he rarely sees any, but often wants to) and my youngest plays video games obsessively. Oh, ya. And we love to watch Family Guy together, as a family. Does that sound like the product of good parenting?
On Autism: I was the worst sibling with my autistic brothers. I’m the oldest of eight kids and all four of my brothers were on the spectrum of autism. Watching the way my sisters could comfortably play with them and believe in them made me both green with envy and angry at myself. I tried to pretend, but my brothers could feel the difference and behaved worse when I was babysitting. It was years before I started to believe my mom when she would point out possibilities for their futures. It took me years to believe in my brothers. Does that sound like someone to ask autism advice from?
On Happiness: Passersby like to ask, “Why are you always so happy??”, and my stock response is a chirpy, “Caffeine!!” There is definitely truth in this. I find it’s easy to be smiley and bouncy when my blood is flowing with coffee’s natural stimulant. However, I am also a stay at home mom whose kids are at school all day. I have a wonderful husband who wears the financial stress of bringing up teenage boys on his broad shoulders, a mom who lets me live rent free in her Texas house and calls daily to thank ME for all my help. Does that sound like someone who has figured out the secret to happiness in a challenging world?
So often, when I write articles or status updates, I have to fight with my fraud.
She sits in my skull, and with a snarky grin she laughs and asks me, “Who do you think you are? You don’t really know anything about autism, yet you create a Facebook page and call it Autism Answers? Whose answers? Oh, you’ll just call your mommy and get some from her I guess. And why not? You live in her house and let her pay the bills. Just call her up in Beirut where she’s working with a struggling family of autism. Just call her up so you can create a smart sounding update. Or peek in the book she wrote and just take something out of that why don’t ya?”
I drown out the sound of my fraud by pointing out that although most of my learnings do come from growing up with a wonderfully willing to teach lovingly kind of mom, they are still my learnings. Also, I am the sister of four brothers who were on the spectrum and for years I’ve been mom’s right hand man. Though I didn’t always understand or believe in my brothers the way mom did, I learned to. When my own boys started showing obvious signs of autism (lack of eye contact and language, stimming, sensitivity to clothes etc) isn’t it mom, a global autism expert, who congratulates me on my willingness to both trust my gut and reach out for help? Didn’t I do that??
I have worried about being found out as a fraud for much of my life. I never felt connected to my own choices or convinced that I was making them for the right reasons. I said and did things to sound smart, nice, fun or grown-up, depending on what I thought would most impress.
After becoming a mom, it got quickly worse. Then when I, and others, noticed that my boys seemed ‘strange’ or ‘not quite ready to handle school’ I got defensive and my fraud started to laugh all kinds of told you so’s. For a short period I became a worse mom because I felt a strong need to see my kids looking normal in order to prove that I was in fact not a fraud, but a knowledgeable and natural mother.
I saw myself and didn’t like it. With help from my mom I spent a weekend away and alone, to get to know myself. That weekend changed my life and I started feeling intentional and insanely happy! My boys started gaining skills, finding their niche and keeping their clothes on.
People started asking: Why are you guys always so happy? How do you have such a close relationship with your kids? So I started sharing my tips, tricks and ideas.
That’s when my fraud saw her chance. She piped up with doubts and an unfortunate magnifying glass.
She laughed mercilessly in my head at the word success.
But by now I had realized something about her. She’s the fraud. She isn’t who I am, she is the part of me that tries to discourage and derail. Just one small part of me.
I’m not planning on ousting her completely. She serves a purpose. She keeps it real. She reminds me to celebrate accomplishments that I may not have seen without her incessant nagging to compare with. She reminds me of what my boys are no doubt also dealing with and so I can teach accordingly.
It’s because of her that I insist on finding my own ideas and speak them with clarity, volume and honesty.