Thursday, January 24, 2013

First Anniversary Lists III: Choosing your Battles

One initially formative idea for Full Spectrum Mama was that if something worked in our household it might be useful across a wide range of circumstances (consistent boundaries come to mind). Or, at least, our mistakes might prove instructive (diarrhea [still working on that one]).

But surety in these complicated times has never been a strong suit of our household. Readers have been more likely to laugh or cry with us than to follow my commands.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think “parenting solutions” is, um, drinking…For those who are not struggling with substance abuse issues, may I suggest a moderate portion of your preferred mood altering substance? FSM never cottoned overmuch to vino until single motherhood hit. Now, if she can remember, a glass of wine or beer definitely eases dinner and bedtime transitions [note to self: make note to remind self to drink wine].

And then there is the “solution” – much needed in a Full household - of picking which issues and behaviors to address and which to drop. In the matter of choosing battles, the grandmama of all battle-choosing advice comes to mind. Sure, it’s a cliché. On account of because it’s super wise:

The Serenity Prayer 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Or, for those who are not religious or do not feel that serenity comes from “God,” here is a version from The Serene Atheist (

Through my efforts, I gain the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; 
and the wisdom to know the difference.


Years ago, during an unrelated family mental health scenario, I learned that some traits are known as ‘characterological.” This term refers to aspects of personality and behavior that are neither strictly psychological nor neurological; instead, they are character traits – good and bad – that can be remarkably hard to change. Such traits are not reflections of mental illness or neurodiversity per se but have to do with the will and desires and tendencies of any individual. Thus, one might be characterologically prone to greed or generosity, kindness or cruelty; one might be shy or bursting with flair, honest, sneaky, sunny- or surly-natured…

Character can be worked with, its better aspects supported and its lesser elements healed and diminished; but it cannot really be eradicated.

It’s useful to try to get a handle on what’s what in this area, and to know which behaviors are
unhealthy, pathological or reflections of disorder
functions of disability or developmentally appropriate
and which are
basic, natural self-expression.

This can bring some insight as to whether or not – and possibly how – behaviors can be ameliorated.

It’s also imperative to know as much as possible about your unique circumstances so that you don’t lament OR excuse inappropriate things, or confuse character with a difference, disorder or disability.

For example, it’s hard to say how much of G’s generosity comes from his character and how much from his Aspergian non-attachment to most material goods. Part of my job is to help him develop enough common sense to distinguish between generous and reckless giving. Z’s giant hambone consists of one part attachment disorder and one part inborn characterological star quality. She needs to learn how to balance and channel that energy, but she will always be a VIP.

Figure I – A FULL Spectrum: from (foreground) Z’s jumping into front of the camera-field “Hi, Look at ME: I am fabulous! All The Time!!! Hey! Did you look away? Hi!” to (background) G’s looking-away expression of “Stripes. Stripes. Striiiiiiipes.” Not to stereotype, but this is…typical. (At the Sol Lewitt exhibit at Mass MOCA.)

The camera lens has captured Z in full form, oozing pizzazz. I cannot imagine telling her to back off or tone it down.

G’s absorption in art here seems part poetic, part flakey, part characterological, part Aspie. What should I do to get him to look at the camera for once, shout at him? I could say, “Pay attention!”


Everybody’s got their stuff, right? Whether you (or your child or someone else) are attachment disordered, on the autism spectrum, wonderful in 99 out of 100 categories, mentally ill, spoiled, temporarily or permanently sweet or grumpy or cranky…having a solid perspective on what can (can’t) be changed and what should (shouldn’t) be addressed and healed can be immeasurably valuable in the day-to-day. Knowing what’s what – insofar as that is possible - can help you choose your battles!

Choosing Your Battles List

1.     Safety issues are non-negotiable.
2.     Public humiliation issues are at the discretion of the individuals involved. Only YOU can gauge the unbearable, loathsome edge of your acceptable-humiliation zone.
3.     Is X expressing his/her character or his/her pain/disability/disorder?
4.     Is Y able to change his behavior him or herself or does s/he need help from you?
5.     Are you able at this time to offer that help???
6.     The Ultimate Battle Choosing Question: Can my child (or I, or those involved) learn, benefit, grow or heal from this situation, or should I just let go/accept it?

I have turned this information into a Flow Chart:

                                            Figure I – Choosing Your Battles Flow Chart

This handy, dandy flow chart may help channel typical concerns into decision-making success. As a bonus, options for simple suggestion as well as actual intervention are included in each branch. Whenever I am mired in a real-life situation I always make time to refer to a list or flow-chart, which I naturally have at the ready.*

Next Week: my final anniversary list: "The Complaint Department."

Full Spectrum Mama

*…in my dreams.


  1. Amazing. We just made a nice illustrated list of how to get ready for school in the morning for my son. Now I want a laminated copy of this flow chart to help me get thru the day! Might they be available for purchase? ;-)


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