Revelation: Parenting is a social skill too

This is a picture of indomitable me: Look at the Cartier watch. I bought it with the stock sale from my first startup. It felt like money was falling from the sky, so ten grand for a watch was nothing. We walked through Central Park every day to get to the top nursery school for autistic kids in NYC. I got him the best speech therapist, the best occupational therapist, and I was networking to find out what was next.

A few months after we took this picture I sold the watch to pay for more therapists. More out-of-pocket expenses! More social skills!

Parenting is a social skill. A lot of my own social-skills-impaired parenting was performed in front of the TV watching iCarly with my kids. I have to distract myself from obsessing over all the conversational volleys I missed while we were playing with Elmo and Zoe.

I jumped on Jeanette McCurdy’s memoir about starring on iCarly and her mom and her eating disorders.

Yes, bad social skills and disordered eating go together:  Are social situations overstimulating? Overcompensate with restrictive eating! Anyway, I relish each interview Jeanette gives where she reads another scathing email from her mother.

There should be more scathing book reviews. Scathing is so soothing. For example, in The New Yorker, Parul Sehgal discussed why Jenny Odell’s book Saving Time feels like such a time sink. I’m not linking to her book. I have to have great links so I don’t lose my job to ChatGPT.

I’m getting pickier about what I link to because now that we have ChatGPT, the quality of my writing has to go up about 400% to make sure I’m always ahead of ChatG. I’m calling it ChatG because we’re friends. Anyway we cannot use all those syllables for something we talk about all day long. And also, I’m keeping the PT for myself.

ChatG is predicting the potential mental health minefields we’ll see from ChatG. One of them is getting too attached to AI, and a sign of too attached is making pet names. Like ChatG.

Dear God, please, make attachment to AI my biggest mental problem.

I’ve spent my whole life focusing on what I did wrong, so I can be better and better. The indomitable me sees that I am not good enough but knows I am good enough to fix it.

Y has said to me more than once, “Stop, don’t say you’re a bad mom, you’re my only mom. Do you know how that makes me feel?” I thought saying that would make him feel relieved that I know I’m autistic and autistic parents are high-risk parents and I am not deluding myself, but instead I’m trying to do better.

He wants a mom who respects her own efforts. I didn’t realize this, though, until I was talking with one of my favorite autistic moms of autistic boys. And I criticized her as if she were me. I heard how I talk to myself in how I talked to her, and I wish I could snatch it all back so it disappears.

I get angry at everyone else’s incompetent parenting so that I don’t feel so alone in my own incompetent parenting.

I asked ChatG what I could do to stop. And the advice was so obvious: practice self-compassion and get support from other parents. What was not obvious to me is that these things have to go together. All this time I’ve been criticizing my own parenting as a way to win your respect, so you don’t run away from me.

Which is, of course, is probably a sign that you should have run. So thank you for staying.

26 replies
  1. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    Imagine yourself going back in time and wrapping your arms around the parent you were when your kids were young, and telling her you know she is doing the best she can, even when she knows her best isn’t very good. I don’t know a single parent who can’t honestly do that, autistic or not. We are all a hot mess with varying levels of mastery over our hot-messedness.

      • Penelope
        Penelope says:

        Ha! I thought the same thing! Then I thought, I am gonna need to say something really good in response so he knows I appreciate his comment. But I am relieved to see your reply because I don’t think I can do the hug my younger self thing. Mostly I am telling my younger self I had such nice skin.


  2. Ann
    Ann says:

    We are what they’re stuck with .They hate when we criticise ourselves. Even if they do it-that’s different.
    All your efforts for them are documented here.
    During lockdown I found my eldest half sister.The German authorities found their Dad because they wanted him to pay for college.I didnt have contact for 15 years.He know emails my daughter in Ireland. His German daughter is upset he lived so near and didn’t contact her.He regrets all this.
    We stuck around.When they are older they realise we are flawed human beings.I’m hoping they saw we tried and will be able to forgive us

  3. alan
    alan says:

    sometimes it’s complicated to respect our best efforts as good enough…what if it becomes an ego/arrogance issue and people say I’m too full of myself?!

    anyone who followed your posts over the years knows you were and are a dedicated mom to your boys! keep telling your doubting critical brain voice that in spite of the uncertainties, “I have always done the best I could in every situation!”

    we all do the best we can with what we have and who we are…same is true for you. our best never was and never will be perfect.

    our children and friends often feel more safe and secure when they notice that we are thinking and feeling in reliable ways because we seem secure and steady about our lives and decisions :)

    your boys seem to know and are thankful they have you for their mom!

    ps: no caps is my way of saying “I don’t really care what chat gp thinks” :)

  4. GenerationXpert
    GenerationXpert says:

    Although it’s probably counter intuitive for you, I think you should focus more on what you get right and do more of that. It’s easier to repeat a positive than undo a negative.

  5. harris497
    harris497 says:

    When you can look in the mirror and honestly say that you have done your best… at anything, that is enough.
    You do not lie to yourself, and you reveal enough to be completely transparent, even when you do not intend to be or when it will cost you. What could possibly encourage anyone to stay away? Well… unless you reveal too much about them.


  6. Oana Botezat
    Oana Botezat says:

    I’ve been staying for years, more than ten :). Not going to leave. Started to follow your writing when I had no kids, now I have 3.

    I’ve asked ChatGpt for help this winter to teach my 7 year old (youngest) to ski.

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      Me too! Thanks, Cortney. My kids were young before there were iPhones, so each picture is so precious. And we took only one picture at a time since it was film, so we only rarely got really good ones.


  7. Angie
    Angie says:

    One of the best parenting quotes I read many years ago was that if you are worried about not doing a good job of parenting your kids, it already means you are a good parent. It’s the parents that don’t care about their parenting or believe they have it nailed that are more problematic in the long run.

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      At some point all parents realize that the job of parenting is way, way too difficult to do a good job of anything except loving the kids.


  8. Katie
    Katie says:

    I’ve noticed my boys don’t like my self criticism. I am being humble or self deprecating and they just feel less safe. It’s my job to have it together, for them. Now I go on about how right my opinion is, how much I win where others fall…nonsense really…and they love it. One day they’ll realise we don’t have birthday cakes because I can’t, not because we are doing Gran a favour asking her to make them… or that staying home on school dress up day was not because it was an optional ‘at home day’. I reckon we just have to make it all be ok until they are old enough to figure it out.

  9. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    The bell curve for intelligence among autistics is upside down. Neurotypicals cluster in the middle. Autistics cluster at the ends.

    The bell curve for weight among autistics is also different. One of the reasons is that autistics frequently have poor interoception, including not being able to tell when they are hungry, or when they are satisfied from eating. That means a lot of autistics eat too little, a lot eat too much, and a lot eat irregularly and end up with digestive problems. The result is more fat autistics and more skinny autistics.

    Some autistics solve this problem with research and spreadsheets. According to my calculations, the ideal diet is….

  10. Claudia
    Claudia says:

    Did the father of your boys take an active part in the parenting choices? I have 2 kids, a daughter and a son. My daughter is 22 months older. My son is high functioning autistic, also the age of your children. Back in the day I remember you saying to homeschool, get them a mentor in their interests etc… I really wanted to do this for my son, however my husband and daughter were adamant he stay in regular school. I thought I was doing him wrong by doing that. I was fortunate that his sister became his mentor. She was/is, social, athletic, and helped him gain the social skills to excel in public school. I often wonder how things would be different had he been homeschooled and not gained some of the social skills he has today. Yet, I wonder if he’d been way ahead now in university had we focused on only his interests? All I know as a mother is, I don’t know. I hope this made sense

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      I’ve written a reply to your comment 50 times. I want to say that autistic boys are way more difficult than autistic girls. You have one of each. Because genetics. One of the most difficult things in a family is to talk about autism like it’s a person’s disorder instead of a family’s disorder. Your family has autism, it’s most evident to you in your son. Framing it that way removes the stigma. And once we remove the stigma we can make better decisions about how we parent, how we function in relationships, etc.

      I really really recommend that next time I offer my six-week autism workshop, you do it. You would learn SO much, and people would learn from you. You have a lot more time to go with your kids, but there is a lot to learn to make relationships easier. This is what I tell myself every day.


  11. me
    me says:

    *Off topic*

    I just found out that Heather Armstrong (aka Dooce) has died.

    I started following her blog in late 2009 not long after starting to read the site formerly known as The Brazen Careerist and after PT had raved about her work.

    I read Heather for many years – I loved Chuck and Coco – until her content started to fall off. I picked back up during the early days of the pandemic: I was devastated by everything and her words were reassuring.

    I’d known she was struggling for a long while but am so crushed and shocked to see such incredibly sad news.

    RIP sister Dooce

  12. Angela Tipton
    Angela Tipton says:

    Being a parent is SO hard. I have 2 boys (4.5 and 1.5). I love them to death and would never trade them for the world, but they challenge me… Personally, professionally, emotionally, mentally, and then some.

  13. Mae
    Mae says:

    Uh… yeah…well? This is all very interesting, and intriguing! I don’t have Asperger’s I don’t think, but do have ADD. Found the random article on what it’s like being a woman who doesn’t get along with women, and it was right on. Well, except for the parts about actually having a good job at some point in life! Guess I did have one for a short time, as a sound board operator for a theatre. Loved that. Definitely think like a man, and definitely have no friends. Married men seem scared to have a female friend, and women are bizarre and I think I offend them and they never speak to me again, or just don’t answer texts ever again. I don’t know why, but my husband says it’s because I’m “intense.” I, too, was fine until I had kids! Once, my dad was getting on to me, and I told him he doesn’t understand, because he has a wife, and I could use one, myself! Not a “wife” wife, but one who does wifely things, like organize the house and keep schedules and make kids do chores and pay the bills on time, and plan stuff! I’m not a good wife and mother, and hugging my younger self would just result in telling said self that “you are trying, but that’s not going to be enough, and your kids are not going to be happy, and they’ll have troubles and be damaged, so buck up and try harder!” I can’t figure out consistency, discipline, etc etc. I love learning, but trying to homeschool my kids was a nightmare. I can’t figure out how to have a schedule, or how to find the books we were using the day before! However… I can bake well, and make delicious dinners, so there’s that. Haha!!! And, my kids are clean and cared-for. I do criticize myself in front of them. Figured they should know to be better than me, but if y’all say it’s better not to do that, I won’t! 😊

    • A
      A says:

      Generally they think it’s normal until someone else points it our ir they see things done differently.
      And I want a ‘wife-to-be so I can just hang out with the kids and read / write something without everything else falling down.

      • A
        A says:

        And my best friend was a boy until I ruined it.I can talk to women but when I was single / a single parent for awhile I think they saw me as competition or something to be pitied rather than a friend.I find men easier,maybe cos I grew up with brother’s not just because of being Autistic

  14. parenting
    parenting says:

    The revelation that parenting is a social skill reshapes perspectives. Beyond individual competence, it emphasizes the importance of community, communication, and shared wisdom. Recognizing parenting as a collective endeavor enhances family dynamics, promoting a collaborative approach where societal connections fortify the intricate art of raising children.

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