Something was not quite right with Ryan. We knew it before the psychiatrist predicted our son would end up in an institution.

Our son now does all the things the experts said could never happen. He is a systems engineer at a major aerospace company and loves to surf. This is the same kid who was in the third percentile for speech when he entered kindergarten and had to be taught how to smile. But more important than that, Ryan is self-confident, has friends, and is happy. Here’s part of our story.

teen boy walking alone

How butting out can encourage independence

Following behind Ryan and making sure he didn’t forget anything important became a life-long habit. When he was still quite affected by autism, doing that was necessary. However, my actions of helping too much handicapped him when he got older.

I couldn’t understand why when Ryan was in college, he spent so much time perseverating about unimportant things and had trouble making decisions. I always attributed this lack of confidence to the horrible bullying he had to endure in middle school.

That was partly true, but some of the reason for his lack of confidence was me. I created the problem. It took me years to figure this out, and it happened only after I talked with Barb, my friend and unofficial shrink.

ryan-autism-surfingBarb lives across the street and is not really a psychologist at all — I only think she is. When Ryan was still in college, Barb and I had a very important therapy session standing in the middle of the street in our bathrobes. I shared my frustration when I said Ryan is so accomplished, but he still lacks the confidence he should have. Barb helped me realize that my overprotective hover-mother behavior was the real source of Ryan’s confidence problem.

Barb said sometimes we do too much for our kids. By handling all their problems, we give them the impression that they can’t do things for themselves.

She was supportive and kind, but it was almost as if she hit me over the head. Ryan wasn’t the problem at all. His lack of self-confidence resulted from my actions. It was my love and my interference that were the cause and biggest obstacle that kept Ryan from succeeding.

By doing too much for him and trying to prevent him from falling on his face, I made him feel like he wasn’t capable. When he was little, I didn’t have a choice, I had to do the things he couldn’t do for himself. But this caused me to develop a lifetime habit of taking care of the details in his life for him.

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I forgot to let him breathe on his own.

Breathing room

Whenever I did this with his older sister, she bluntly and quickly stopped me from bulldozing in and taking over. Megan just didn’t allow it. She would assertively announce, “Mom, you need to calm down. I got this!” That was her signal for me to butt out. (Megan started using that phase when I started to edit her college essays without her permission.)

The dynamics of my relationship with Ryan changed forever after that conversation with Barb. The next time Ryan called for help, I reassured him that he didn’t need me anymore because he is very capable and can handle anything. I went on to say that I was surrendering the pink slip to his life and he was on his own.

That single comment changed everything. Ryan is in charge now. He knows I won’t be doing things for him anymore, so he takes care of every detail himself. He is now an engineer doing all the things the “experts” said could never happen. And that only happened after I learned to BUTT OUT!

After the pink slip comment, he started to take charge of his life, he didn’t look back. My butting out changed everything. Now he breathes just fine on his own!

I will never be done being Ryan and Megan’s mom, even though they might like me to BUTT OUT a little more. I know I will have that job until the day I take my last breath.


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