The moment you get pregnant and share it with the world, you start getting judged. You get judged for what you eat and drink, how much or how little you exercise, what clothes you wear…the list goes on and on. No matter what you do, someone has an opinion about it. We all know that it doesn't get any easier once the baby arrives. People judge you for how you feed and dress your baby, if you go back to work, if you stay home, if you work from home, if you have outside help, if you have a pet…Again, no matter what you do someone has a differing opinion about it.
Now a few years down the road you have a child that is not quite “typical”. They are louder, (or quieter), into everything, they have bigger emotions, they cry harder, laugh louder, squeal at every opportunity, climb as high as they possibly can. They will defend themselves and their possessions with all of their being. They may not tolerate you getting into their space. They may not tolerate clothes or shoes, so being forced to wear them put them in a state of stress. Your child may not tolerate being told “no”. They may seem to “ignore” parents and teachers calling to them or giving them instructions. They may have their own way of doing EVERYTHING that may not go along with the norm. For all of this, the parent gets blamed. The parents are blamed for the child's temperament and personality. The parent is blamed for this, but I assure you that if there was anything the parent could do to make life easier, they would do it!
Often parents like me are classified as lazy or ignorant, just taking the easy way out. I'm accused of being too easy on my child. I just don't try hard enough to get him to “behave”. I need to “give him a good spanking” I need to take away privileges, take everything out of his room until he learns to “behave”. I need to make him “work for it” to find a consequence “that really gets him”. Maybe I should embarrass or humiliate him into “behaving”. I assure you this is not about finding the right punishment or consequence. If it were that easy there would be no child with issues, because humans are excellent at coming up with punishments and consequences. I am far from lazy and ignorant. I am not taking the easy way out.
As a parent of a child with invisible special needs, I know that I have spent more time researching and trying every tip and trick out there than most parents of “typical” children. Parents of “typical” children don't need to do this, they are not lazy either, they are just lucky to have kids that are flexible and adjust more easily to life. My bookshelf has everything from Raising Your Spirited Child, The Out of Sync Child Has Fun to The Explosive Child and 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child. I even have degrees in Psychology and Early Childhood Development and Early Intervention with an endorsement in Special Education. I have read everything I can find on how to help my child. I have spent countless hours trying specific exercises, diet modifications, essential oils, occupational therapy, sensory processing techniques and activities, counseling, group social skills classes, allergy testing and elimination, vision testing and vision therapy, meditation, therapeutic listening, and medication. All these things helped. Some more than others. Some we did for a time, stopped, then went back when situations change. I have had many meetings with teachers, counselors, doctors, therapists. My child has had hours of testing. It has cost thousands of dollars. We have provided our own tools at school to help as much as possible. We are doing the best we can with the information available to us. We dig for more information. We have eliminated exposure to chemicals in our home. We have invested in things to reduce stress, we have enrolled him in classes and activities that have been recommended to us.
Over the years we have had to adjust our expectations and plans as a family. We have not done things because we knew it would be too challenging for our son. You may see a family like mine in public. You may witness a child doing something “wrong” and you may not see the parents swoop in and correct the child right away, instead, you might see them trying distraction or redirection, you might see them ignore behaviors that are not hurting anyone else, even if they seem rude to you. Most of us parents with children like this understand that challenging that child in the moment would just escalate into something much bigger. We usually know how to de-escalate our child (or at least do our very best to try). You do not see what goes on at home or out of your sight. We really do not need you to try to tell us what we should be doing. Trust me, if we feel you have the knowledge and ability to assist us, we will ask you!
You may think that we are rescuing our child or saving them from their own actions. In reality, we are trying to help our children succeed and cope with things on a level that they can tolerate. Our children struggle to adjust and adapt to circumstances and situations that most kids get through easily. We try to set them up for success and let them fail in small ways that are appropriate to their level. This may seem like rescuing, but these kids suffer the consequences of things that are beyond their control. They cannot control the intense emotions that flood their bodies and minds. Something very insignificant to most kids can be a huge deal for others. They are not spoiled or acting “bratty”, their bodies and minds react to these small things the same way others may react to a catastrophe. Imagine if scraping your hand on concrete felt like it was suddenly on fire. Imagine that if you found out that you were not having your favorite dinner that you usually have and your body and mind reacted as if your dog died. These reactions are not on purpose, it is a chemical response that the body has to deal with. There are times that we do avoid situations or rescue our child because we are humans and want one less trauma to deal with that day. When every day has the potential to be so emotionally draining, can your blame us for wanting to avoid a meltdown or two? There are phases in our lives that leave some of us with PTSD, some of us cope better than others, because we are all wired differently. Some of us are lucky enough to have the emotional skills to cope more easily with challenging children, but we all have good days and not so good days. Sometimes we screw up big time. Sometimes we have moments that amaze us and we make a great connection with our child.
Just like every parent we want the best for our children. We do the best we can. We are human. We are often asked to blaze a new trail in parenting and it often feels very lonely. When you see a family struggling, please save your comments, stares and harsh looks. Instead, offer encouragement or keep silent and keep walking.
If you liked this post you may also like this one: The Isolation of Parenting a Challenging Child