The Narcissistic Parent of the Special Needs Child

So in her new autobiography (no link–please don’t buy it), Toni Braxton apparently spends some time speculating that her child’s autism may have been God’s punishment for an abortion she’d had. I’ll leave others to argue the theology here. I’ll even let others discuss the inarguably revolting, small-minded, bigoted and hurtful assumption that autism is a punishment. I’m just going to focus in on the mind-boggling narcissism of that statement.

So this is all about you, is it, Toni? Your previous behaviors in some way influenced the child who was born to you? Does that mean children are meted out according to how we’ve conducted ourselves in the past? “You once swore at your mother and shoplifted–you get a kid with a learning difficulty”; “You, over there, nice work on your college thesis! You’re going to get a smart and adorable little girl, just like you always wanted!”

Oh, for fuck’s sake . . .  (Excuse the language, but some things are so ridiculous they deserve a hearty “for fuck’s sake,” don’t you agree?)

As my smart friend Angie pointed out, this is really just the flip side of the people who say that special needs kids are “bestowed” on those parents who are so patient, kind, and strong that they can deal with it. If you’re a mom struggling with a tough situation, feel free to think that–I’m of the “whatever gets you through the night” school of parenting. But here, on my page, can we all agree that our children aren’t a referendum on us and our behaviorbut people in their own right? That no one is handing out children based on our past activities or some secret personality test?

Here’s the deal: when you decide to have a child (or, you know . . .  just have sex without using birth control), you’re signing an invisible contract, one with a lot of small print on it. And that small print says that there are no guarantees about the kid you’re going to have. If you want baby perfection, get a doll. Real kids come with real problems and real surprises. From the moment the sperm hits the egg, you’ve given up control (actually, if you were doing it right, there was a fun loss of control right before the sperm hit the egg, but that’s not really the point here).

That baby is going to come out of you with his own agenda, needs, and brain. (Any parent who’s tried to get a newborn to sleep at night should have learned this lesson already.) He is not a reflection of you. She’s not a reward for your great patience or punishment for your evil deeds. He’s not here to fulfill your unfulfilled dreams. She’s not here to reflect glory on you all the days of your life.

Here’s what the real deal is: by getting pregnant, you agreed to love and look after this child for as long as you both are alive. And your job is to see your child for who she really is–imperfections and all–and to make her the absolute best, most realized, most comfortable version of herself she can be. For some kids, that may require multiple trips to the hospital; for others, it may include a lot of speech and behavioral therapy; for others, it may be more of a “sit back and let him rip” kind of situation.

You give your child what your child needs, and you give it with love and acceptance. This is your child. He’s not a good conduct medal and he’s not a punishment and he’s not a way to prove you’re a better mother than your sister. Look at your child. Know your child. Love your child. Teach your child. Be there for your child. And maybe hold off on buying any more Toni Braxton songs on iTunes.



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25 responses to “The Narcissistic Parent of the Special Needs Child

  1. Carlee

    Toni is clearly off her rocker — kids don’t get disabilities in “retribution” for their parents actions or lack thereof.

    However, there’s about a 95% correlation between parents and kids — as in, 95% of the time a smart, sweet, well-adjusted kid has a smart, sweet, well-adjusted parent. And vice-versa.

    It’s the other 5% that’s scary as all get out!

  2. t52665

    Excellent column. Just in case Ms. Braxton reads this, I’m going to take a stab at what you didn’t – the God part. Psalm 127 says, “Children are a gift from the Lord. The fruit of the womb is a REWARD.” God did not say, “Healthy blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughters are a gift.” He didn’t say, “Children – except for the difficult ones – are a gift.” He said, “Children.” Period. God entrusts our children to us. Period. Yes, I’ve cried in the shower telling Him he picked the wrong mom for one of mine. He reminded me that he picked ME, so even with all my failings, for some reason I AM the right mom for a difficult kiddo. But my difficult kiddo is a gift, as are all my kids, not a curse. A blessing – even on days when I can’t see it.

  3. Juanita

    And, she hits that ball out of the park… this!

  4. Hallefuckin’lujah and thank you for putting my inarticulatable (yes, I just made that up) rage into words.

  5. Children with autism have special gifts, but because of their hypersensitivity they often develop the disorders of the B Cluster from environmental factors. If they are given a safe and nurturing environment where they are validated, their gifts can be preserved. Unfortunately, many autistic children have parents who also are hypersensitivity (Narcissistic/Borderline), and will not be able to recognize their needs. Narcissistic mothers tend to dominate and “smother” their sensitive children out of ignorance and denial. It is important for other family members to help them and support both the mother and the child. Mother’s do not become Narcissistic by choice, but usually through their own childhood of traumatic stress from Narcissistic parents.

  6. Thank you so muc!!! I love this!!! I couldn’t have said it any better!!! Thank you so much!

  7. grace

    But my college thesis really was awesome! Home run Claire … As always!

  8. Oh reminds me of one time when I went to a play group with my two kids, my daughter has severe autism, and while we were there she was really good but played by her self. And some of us mums start to talk and few there knew my daughter has autism, and this new lady jumped in on the conversation and after a few min she said “Oh you poor dear, how does it feel to have your daughter like that because of your sins” at first I was dumbfounded by her comment, then hurt, few seconds later I wanted to deck her, and a bit later again (and while she still was looking at me like I just had crap smeared all over me I thankfully came too and told her

    “My daughter is a gift from God to me, because if she had ended up with someone like you, now that would have been a great sin”.

    So, I love this post and thank you so much for sharing this.

  9. Barbara Gold

    Claire….this is a brilliant and well thought out response. I hope that Ms. Braxton is simply too ignorant to have thought through her statement, but whatever the case, she is wrong wrong wrong.

    Sent from my iPhone


  10. >>And your job is to see your child for who she really is–imperfections and all–and to make her the absolute best, most realized, most comfortable version of herself she can be.<<

    Great post, and this line the most quotable of all for me. Thank you for sharing your profound insights.

  11. susansenator

    This is so good I want to THREETWEET it! Claire, just beautifully said!! For fuck’s sake.

  12. This covers a lot of really great territory – thank you. I think one of the worst moments ever was when I told our pastor my child had autism and he looked at me with pity and said, “I’m so sorry,” in a way that clearly indicated it was a form of Divine Retribution. I’m happy to report that he was eventually replaced by one of the kindest, most enlightened pastors I have ever known. I know that being a parent has made me a better, more focused and purposeful person that I would have been otherwise; that’s enough of a gift for me, be it from God or anyone else.


  13. Claire

    thank you for your lovely comment. You brought tears to my eyes.

  14. Claire

    huge compliment, coming from the best writer about autism I know, Susan!

  15. Claire

    thank YOU for sharing your story! What a horrible woman that was. But she has to live with herself forever!

  16. Modupe

    If one has a certain church background, it’s not hard to see how Toni Braxton arrived at her conclusion. However, her theology isn’t correct – see this account in the Bible from John 9:1-3

    And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.
    And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
    Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

    God bless

  17. moyalley

    I did leave a comment earlier – not sure what happened….I quoted an account from the Bible – John 9:1-3

    And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.
    And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
    Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

    God bless

  18. I’ve long had eye-rolly syndrome when it comes to narcissistic parents (this is not limited to parents with special needs kids). You hit so many great notes here.

  19. jdrhoades

    Well done, ma’am. Well done.

  20. John Burd

    Braxton struggled with terrible guilt after her decision to abort her child. Guilt affects us in many painful ways, not all of them rational. What’s not included in this Jezebel snippet, but what Braxton does make clear, is that she struggled a long time with these feelings before moving past them. It seems unjust to condemn Braxton for being honest about the pain her abortion caused her, and the fears that followed. The alternative would seem to be that women suffer in silence if their guilt presents itself in ways that we might find objectionable.

  21. Claire

    I’m a great believer in free speech, John. Braxton is absolutely free to discuss her feelings and other people are free to sympathize and agree with her. I find it upsetting that she would refer to autism as a “punishment,” since there are many people on the spectrum who are struggling for acceptance, but it’s her book and she has the right to say it. And I have a right to say that I find it objectionable and to express my disapproval of people who see their children as some kind of reward or punishment, rather than simply as people in their own right. And you have the right to disagree with me!

  22. kean64

    I haven’t read Braxton, so will not comment on what she says, but what John Burd wrote rang true for me. It is really easy to condemn all the “narcissistic” (read, “bad”) parents out there who don’t get it as right as the rest of “us” (whoever “us” is). But honestly, when I read your assessment of her statement–,my gut reaction was that she probably needed to share what the experience felt like to her at the time. And if you’ve never had a negative feeling about your own child, special needs or not, then Kudos to you…But there are many others of us who have suffered guilty or ugly feelings about our own children. Let’s just hope that we can share some of these feelings honestly so that we can get the help we need, and love our children (because we do, you know, love our children) for the wonderful individuals they are.

  23. Thank you. My own special needs daughter will need me for the rest of my life, and someone else after I’m gone. But you know, my other daughter… the one society says is “normal” also needs me for the rest of my life. they are both terrific, loving and at times frustrating. but it is an honor to have these young women in my life. It’s called being a “family”. I find it so sad that parents of autistic or special needs children need some “reason” for WHY this happened to them. Does Toni think she has Lupus because she cheated on her taxes (or whatever, she does seem to declare bankruptcy with remarkable regularity)? How about, things happen and families deal with them. And everyone in my family is a little crazy and a little silly… and yes NORMAL. Variety is NORMAL. It’s what makes life interesting, and I feel horrified if her child ever finds out his mother wrote that. “I’m God’s punishment to you?” Wow. So glad the parents of autistic and special needs children I know aren’t “stronger than other parents”, they are just parents. Loving parents.

  24. Deb Z.

    Clearly, the world is comprised of both small and open minds. Dinosaurs did not live in the time of people and autism is not a punishment for parents’ sins.

  25. Anonymous

    I think Toni Braxton is a loving mother. She has done wonderful things for her son. It seems to me that in the book, she was being honest about her guilt and thoughts and moved pass those feelings. From an autism mom to others, please stop the animosity and condemnation and be more acceptance and supportive of each others. There’re enough hatreds and hostility in this world!!

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