On Seeing Your Children as Whole.

By: Jen Shoop

Last week, I read an earnest, eye-opening essay about receiving an autism diagnosis for a child. I have a friend who has a child with autism and the piece helped me better understand the unique and largely unseen responsibilities she carries, and the way in which places that are not neuro-diverse (which I presume to be a lot of places) can be unhelpful and injurious to her efforts, and to her child.

The essay is about autism, and I do not want to redirect or diminish its focus, but I left not only with a deeper sensitivity for my friend but with the kind of buzzing energy that happens when you’ve just seen something spectacular and everything seems changed in its aftermath. The lights are brighter, the music is louder. I left like a charged electron. I resumed my maternal responsibilities thinking maybe I’ve been overlooking, or forgetting, some of the deepest truths of motherhood–about what it means to carry the role of “mother” and how to honor your children as people rather than tiny bundles of energy that need to be ferried from place to place and instructed in the ways of the world.

In the essay, the authors write:

“Nothing about your child has changed. Your child is still your child. A diagnosis is a label that will help you connect with services and resources.”


“An Autistic child is not a thing that happened to YOU. Your Autistic child is not your new personality. Venting about kids is perfectly normal for all parents, but some people seem to be training for the pathologizing Olympics. What’s worked for us is focusing on the unique aspects of our kids instead of engaging in complaints about them. They’re funny, they love numbers, and they can eat an impressive amount of bagels for someone their size. They’re human beings, and we talk about them as such.”

The through-line is that our children, no matter what diagnoses or labels or issues or inconveniences or strengths or talents they have, are humans — complex, interesting, worthy of love, prone to moods. I forget this too often. I slip into problem-solving mode: “Well, maybe he’s hungry,” or “I wonder if this is because we overscheduled her.” Or I march through my days, just barely keeping up with their barreling requests. Or, even in lovely moments, I might be snuggling and praising them without truly seeing their idiosyncratic magnificence.

My children are not riddles to be solved. They are not projects. They are entire universes — multiverses — of emotion, intelligence, humor, sensitivities, memories, affection.

My children didn’t happen to me. They aren’t ancillary characters in my narrative. I must resist the desire to fashion them after myself and instead led them be the protagonists in their own stories.

In short, I read this essay and I walked downstairs and I looked at my children with new awe. I noticed the affect my son now wears when delivering a joke: he simultaneously squints and dullens his eyes in a kind of mock flatness he learned from his sister. The way he observed, then learned, this humor is fascinating. So, too, my daughter’s dinner table questions about muscles versus bones at the dining room table. “But what would happen if you had a bone in your tongue?” and “What if you only had muscles in your legs?” Her curiosity about these things, the way she sorts through the information, testing hypotheses until she has reached a point of agreeable comprehension only discernible to her, astounds me. It is impossible to maintain this kind of wonder on a daily basis, but my God, it is important to step back every now and then and see them from the outside in, or perhaps, the inside out. Or any way that gives you the whole picture.

Carrying this energy with me into the school year, when sometimes I feel that I only catch slivers of my children through brief dinner table conversations and random admissions in the car, which seems to be, for whatever reason, where my children feel most comfortable sharing their rich interiors. Determined to see their wholeness.

Onward, mamas —


+Navigating my daughter’s eye condition also helped me better empathize with parents whose children have special needs.

+More on maintaining wonder as a parent.

+Some phases of motherhood demand a kind of retreat from everything else. That’s OK. Everything is a season.

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Shopping Break.

+These pointelle lounge pants are in my cart, asking to be ordered to complete my fall hygge vision.

+A REALLY good new style from Barbour. More great transitional fall coats here.

+A great fall Mom bag, under $300. Would also be great for a working gal (would fit lunch, laptop, notebooks, everything!) or a student or a teacher!

+In my forever journey to fight against the dark circles under my eyes, I recently came across this brightening cream from Replenix. I think a Magpie told me about this awhile back but someone else was just raving about it. Intrigued, especially since their medical grade body wash is THE BEST — the only thing that’s worked for my body breakouts. Going to try next.

+Thanks to a Magpie rec, I just ordered two different styles of Falke socks for fall — going to see if I can pull off socks with sneaks or loafers. I ordered these and these.

+Absolutely adore this cabinet.

+My fav maxi skirt, now available in a chic black or navy. (Use code TIKTOK20 for 20% off.)

+So, I tried and love the True & Co. triangle bra. It is absurdly comfortable and yet provides great coverage/lift and looks great under everything (smoothing, no lines, seamless, etc). But…is it just me or is the unsexiest bra you’ve ever seen? Like, it reads orthopedic? If it didn’t work so well (and wasn’t so damn comfortable), I’d have hidden it at the bottom of my drawer. I’m curious about Skims’ new lace-trim bralette — it’s so pretty, but will probably interfere with necklines?

+Love this brass rechargeable stick lamps.

+Cute Halloween jammies for girls.

+Khaite vibes for much less.

+Seriously sophisticated top for an evening out.

+For the fashion-fearless: don’t…hate…these?!

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6 thoughts on “On Seeing Your Children as Whole.

  1. Hahaha — I SO agree about the True & Co bras! I reach for them so often, given their comfort level (and unparalleled smoothness) — but I’ve had the same exact thought re: their orthopedic-like unsexiness! I think it has something to do with the shape of the front half and how high the cups come up. I actually do find it to be too obtrusive with certain tops, so there I rely on Skims or those fab racer back bras from Amazon that you’ve recommended! I also have the lacy Skims on wishlist standby 🙂


  2. Just added both bras to my cart. I have lots of pretty ones but find myself reaching for the comfortable ones so much more often. Thanks for the tip!

  3. I loved this essay, Jen. So many profound quotes. I look forward to reading the essay you linked to!

    Just this morning, we were at our third occupational therapy session (!!) and when I was talking to the therapist after, I asked if her goal was to diagnose my child with something. She quickly explained no, it is not even in her scope of practice to diagnose, rather, to get to know him and support him and I felt something in me relax.

    Along the same lines of viewing your children as a human, I feel I’ve kind of reached Parenting Philosophy Fatigue and the way I center myself rather than getting caught up in the labels (is this gentle? Permissive? Etc?) is to remind myself: this is, above all, a relationship.

    I think you might enjoy Heather Lanier’s memoir “Raising a Rare Girl” on her daughter being diagnosed with a rare chromosomal disorder. My favorite “parenting” book I’ve ever read!

    1. Hi Joyce! I love these musings and agree with you on eschewing the labels and coming back to the center: “this is, above all, a relationship.”

      Thank you!!


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