In Defense of the “Problem Child”

Yesterday evening I read an article in the New York Times entitled, “The ‘Problem Child’ Is a Child, Not a Problem.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/24/opinion/collaborative-problem-solving-children.html) It discussed how the appropriate method of behavior modification should be used by teachers to help “problem” children fare better within the classroom, especially in the earliest, most fragile years of their education.  The article itself was fabulous, and extremely validating to parents of children with emotional and behavioral challenges.  It suggested that teachers receive more training in adequate techniques to prevent situations like the one highlighted in the article—the case of an eight-year-old child having long-term emotional effects, subsequently resulting in educational challenges, from preschool teachers managing his behavior improperly.  It emphasized that poor behavioral management in early childhood can have lifelong consequences.

Unfortunately, I made the big, no HUGE, mistake of reading the comments.  I have never been so blown away by a lack of empathy, and sheer ignorance about this population.  I am so angered and sad, but mostly, I’m disappointed and fearful.  I’ll be the first to admit that much of the challenge with children like this is their behavioral functioning.  However, another significant challenge is that the driving force behind such behavior is completely misunderstood.  Here, right in front of me, was the glaring proof of such stereotypes- and not just any proof, but proof presented in well thought out and intelligent comments in the New York Times.

I am ashamed to admit it, but often, when I am out in public with Man, I find myself making justifications for his behavior in one way or another- An eye roll to a person here to indicate, “I know, I know, I can’t believe he is doing that either!”  or a harsher than necessary talking-to so others around me don’t think that I’m just ignoring such behavior—a behavior, mind you, that he likely cannot control and that my stern warning will do nothing to deter.  I then find myself feeling terribly guilty- why did I feel the need to defend anything my son is doing to anyone, nonetheless a stranger?  Well, the comments section of this article just reinforced exactly why I feel such a need.

The comments fell into a few horrendous categories:

1)      The “bad children come from bad parents” type of comments.  I hear this often, that a child’s behavior is the direct result of bad parenting.  While yes, it is true that sometimes my seven-year-old simply acts like a seven-year-old and, in that moment, I probably don’t handle it to the very best of my abilities—I mean seriously, who parents perfectly all the time?  This is NOT what is going on for a child with ADHD.  Most of the parents that I know personally—and the thousands that I interact with regularly as part of the vast support networks on social media—work tirelessly on their child’s behavior. We use behavior charts, talk to doctors, use family trainers, send our kids to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and are just generally on their cases about every move they make all the time.  We are stellar parents who have literally tried everything, including medication in many cases, and we still come up short.  Why?  Because our children are just wired that way and no matter how hard we work, we cannot completely deter the behaviors that come along with ADHD and other similar disorders.

 

2)      The “parents should help the child, it’s not the teacher’s responsibility,” type comments.  Most parents are doing all that they can with the resources available to them to help their child succeed in and out of the classroom.  This is true for both the parents of special needs children and typical children.  Even the mother of the child in the article stated that she would leave her child at school and then go and cry with worry.  It is overwhelming to have a child like this in a way that is unimaginable to others unless they are going through it themselves.  Diagnoses that largely manifest themselves behaviorally are incredibly challenging to treat.  Like a medical diagnosis, it cannot be treated in isolation; for behavior modification to be successful, every person that works with that child must be on the same page and CONSISTENT.  I often say that “consistent” is my least favorite word- you try getting teachers, coaches, babysitters, grandparents, etc. to follow a specific plan on how to reinforce positive behavior in your kid.  Any slight deviation in the behavior plan can have dire results.  Something as simple as you attending to your other child and not providing the proper, immediate reinforcement can set you back days or even weeks.  A child is at school for a good portion of their day; if the teacher does not understand the behavior plan then the child might as well not have it.  Additionally, many of these behaviors directly impede their learning, and therefore require the direct attention of the teacher, the person who is responsible for educating them within the classroom.

in defense of 

3)      Which leads me to the next grouping of comments, the “children like this shouldn’t be in class with regular students,” type comments.  These were the most hurtful comments of all.  I completely understand where the parents were coming from; the comment was always based in the idea that these students take away from the learning experience of other, more typical children.  That’s just disappointing and short sighted.  Let me be clear; I am hyper-aware of how Man’s behavior affects others, especially his peers, but separating him is not the answer… for any child.  My son teaches others empathy and understanding.  He shows them that not all children are alike.  He demonstrates daily how one can overcome struggle.  He provides his classmates with a true cooperative learning experience, as learning to work together with a variety of different people is vital to lifelong success.  He is a good friend, and a kind hearted and genuine child.  He adds to the educational experience of other students by requiring their help with reading and handwriting—when students become the teachers, it is excellent for their development.  He also adds to their educational experience by helping them with anything STEM related.   Many of the comments also expressed concern that these children take up too much of the teacher’s time.  I get that—I want both of my children to get the time they deserve from their teachers and some days they are going to be the children that require the time, and other days it will be someone else’s child.

 

4)      The “children like this are just bad kids,” kind of comments.  No, no they are not.  If a child is acting out, it’s for a reason.  One person even went so far as to say that children like this were all psychopaths and that instead of teachers being trained in behavior mod, they should be trained in the early detection of such a disorder.  I mean… really?  When Man can no longer sit still or his hand is aching from writing due to his poor hand strength, he acts out.  He’s tired; he’s seven; he’s being asked to do something that he simply cannot do.  He is not bad; he is just a child who is challenged daily by his ADHD.

in defense of 2

 

The amount of parental blame in the comments was just startling.  Attitudes and ideas like that only serve to alienate the most fragile of students and their parents.  Instead of looking at the parents, we need to be looking at the public education system in its entirety.  We are failing all students, typical and atypical.  Increasing the number of teachers per school and per classroom, allowing for a smaller student to teacher ratio, would do wonders to allay concerns of all parents.  Creating programs that allowed for more flexibility in learning modality, instead of just focusing on the direct teaching method, would also benefit all students.  Pouring money into our educational budget instead of slashing it to its bare bones would benefit all students.  We need to stop looking for the simple excuses and start focusing on better, more effective long-term solutions.

 

I Would Die For My Children, But I don’t Just Live For Them

I don’t often begin writing a post with its title.  Most of the time, I have an idea that I want to express, so I sit down at my computer and within about 45 minutes, it’s gushed out of me with the emotion, power and force of Niagara Falls.  I then go back and spend an inappropriately excessive amount of time trying to come up with a catchy title that screams “click bait.”  A few weeks ago, I read a comment on a friend’s post. A mother had—and I’m paraphrasing here—stated that she lived for her children and that they were her absolute everything.  Reading such a comment left my stomach in knots and my brain reeling.  With my body tingling and tightened with angst, a realization formed: I just don’t feel that way about my kids.  Of course, as a parent, I was immediately flooded with guilt—this line of thinking just felt all wrong, it felt selfish.  I’m a mother, damnit, I’m supposed to live for my kids, aren’t I?  I hesitated to add my own comment, sheepishly returning to the post multiple times throughout the day and reading what other parents had written before finally deciding to comment myself: “I live for myself,” I wrote, “and my kids benefit from the happiness that I exude because of this.”  I left this provocative statement hanging on that page for all the world to see.

There it was, a perfect blog topic.  A controversial feeling that only the boldest of parents would express publicly. Parental condemnation click bait!!!  However, I didn’t know what exactly I was feeling and couldn’t yet quite put it into words.  A million false starts of a post in my head never made it onto the computer, and then, this week, two things happened. I heard the incredible Brene Brown speak (if you haven’t read her books, get them) and we attended a back-to-school picnic at my children’s elementary school.

Brene, in all her glorious wisdom, talked about the concept of “belonging”.  She began with the following quote from Maya Angelou: “You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all.”  Was she talking about me? Has she been following along on my journey this past year?  This quote, stated so simply and eloquently, encompassed the very journey of soul searching and self-actualization that I have been on lately.

This is what the journey of motherhood has been for me; trying to find out where I, both as just Laura as well as Man and Lady’s mom, fit into this complicated world.  And the answer was right there in front of me in 1000-pt font and illuminated on a giant screen: nowhere, but also everywhere.  To belong doesn’t mean to “fit in,” to perfectly fit some mold; it means to always be your most authentic self.  When you’re authentic, real, and true, there is no place you don’t belong.  Honestly, most of my life, even before having children, was spent attempting to achieve this.  I essentially thought that having children would accomplish this very goal for me.  I would finally belong somewhere concrete, I would belong to motherhood.

I was wrong.

From the time Man was born, I lived and breathed for his every need and want.  As he got older and the demands of his ADHD took hold, my mood, my sense of self, my very being, revolved around his various successes and failures.  If he had a play date where he didn’t destroy a friend’s home, I was thrilled for a month.  If he pushed a child down the slide at the park, my week was over.  Everything he did dictated everything I felt.  Add the fact that I had another typically-developing child just 18-months his junior who also needed my love and attention and by the end of the day I had nothing left but my congratulatory glasses of wine and my misery.  I wasn’t belonging; in fact, the opposite was happening, I was losing myself more and more with each passing year.

Last year I decided that I had had enough. I stopped drinking, returned to school to pursue my dream degree, and again begin the lifelong pursuit toward finding my most authentic self. I have never been happier or felt more of a sense of belonging.  Furthermore, my time with my children has become more meaningful, fun, and contented; I am able to be present for them in a way I never was before.  In allowing myself to accept my truth, that I needed more than just motherhood to complete me, I have become the best versions of both Laura the person and Laura the mother.

 

fam school

Family back to school day!

 

Yesterday, at the kids’ school picnic, I was reminded of just how significant this journey is and how important it is to be steadfast in its pursuit.  Usually Man shies away from big events like these. They are too crowded for him and very overstimulating.  However, due to the way the day’s events unfolded, I unexpectedly found myself standing on the school playground watching my kids play, feeling miserable – a feeling which had become all but foreign to me in the last year.  Instead of adopting an attitude of belonging, I let my worries and fears about Man get the best of me.  I watched every move he made, I saw every social success, every stumble, and everything in between.  Instead of allowing myself to see what a HUGE step and triumph this was for him, or to even enjoy some time chit chatting with lovely ladies who I don’t often get to see, I was an emotional mess.  My mood was, once again, tied to his every move, and ironically his moves were mostly absolute perfection.  I was transported right back to a year ago and it was a harsh reminder that that person no longer belonged on the playground.

There is no doubt of how much I love my children. I would take a bullet for them, donate a kidney, and if it was possible, painstakingly remove every obstacle and hardship that this world will throw their way.  I love them with every fiber of my being.  I would die for them, but I can no longer just live for them.

mothers day

 

Back to School With ADHD

Even before I had children, I always knew that the end of summer was near because of one specific commercial. I can see it now: a dad glides gleefully down a store aisle, gingerly tossing school supplies into his shopping cart as his children follow behind him.  “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” plays in the background as an announcer plugs the great sales on all things school-related at Staples. 

As a student, I always loved purchasing school supplies. Putting dividers into new colorful binders and filling my pencil case was always so exciting.  With each new year, came new possibilities and I truly looked forward to all of them.  Even now, in returning to school as an adult, I get a little thrill each semester when purchasing textbooks and fresh packages of erasable pens.  Dorky? Absolutely!  However, completely true. I love being a student and assumed that my son would as well.  How could he not?  He is brilliant and always interested in learning.  Most of our time together is spent answering questions about obscure subjects or listening to theories on even more abstract concepts.  I mean, his hobbies include learning all about sharks (do you know what ovoviviparous breeding means?  Because he does.) and building Rube Goldbergs.  The very idea that school would not appeal to this child’s brain never even crossed my mind.

Like the dad in the commercial, I figured that back-to-school shopping for Man would bring me the same joy.  I would relish in the excitement that he would get from a new folder covered in hammer head sharks and a new 12-inch ruler, as that meant he would get to measure things all day, another favorite pastime.  I would meet him as he came running off the bus on the first day and listen intently as he eagerly told me all about his new teacher and all the fun they were going to have that year.  A little unrealistic?  Maybe, but in those early years especially, much of school should be relatively enjoyable.  They should instill a joy of learning and an understanding of the importance of school.

 This has not been the case for my Man and me. Every item purchased on the school supply list means just another thing that he must maintain and keep track of.  And getting off the bus for those first few weeks, even months, I’m met with a child who is deeply saddened and frustrated by the day’s events.  In that initial period, I get almost daily phone calls from the teacher and the vice principal, listing his challenges for that day.  In those early months, every morning, I hear a little boy ask why school can’t be more like summer camp—an engineering-based camp that does hand-on, academic-based projects, mind you – and ask the question, “Do I really need to go today?”  Every day, in these final weeks before school begins, I am filled with worry; will this year be the same as the one that came before it? 

ADHD causes specific academic and behavioral challenges in students.  Man has difficulty organizing and executing tasks, making in-class assignments very challenging.  Once he feels like he can’t do something that every other child around him appears to be doing with ease, he does what he does best – runs off and does something else he knows will bring more success.  For children with ADHD, their classroom challenges often manifest as poor behavior.  Most of the time, they don’t even know where the challenge lies, or how to say, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing right now.” What they do know is that causing a disruption will get the attention of the teacher.  It takes a savvy, patient teacher to understand this fact and to have the capability to find the root of the behavior and not just dole out immediate punishment.

Because children with ADHD are wired differently, their intelligence doesn’t present itself in the same way as their neurotypical counterparts.  Man will never, EVER be the child that can complete classroom assignments with little to no assistance.  He does not learn like other children do – lecturing from the front of the room and then expecting him to complete an assignment quietly at his desk is pretty much out of the question.  He has already lost focus on what the teacher is saying by the second sentence; his thoughts began running wild with what was expressed in the first one.  Therefore, he requires a lot of repetition and asks a lot of questions.  Unfortunately, this can make him seem just average, or even slightly below.  Thus, he is treated accordingly by all who must educate him and he misses out on the opportunity to learn on an appropriate and stimulating level.

Many things come easily to Man, however, when something is a challenge, he wants no part of it.  Challenges for other children are 100 times more difficult to a child with ADHD.  It’s like hiking up a steep mountain with an extra 100-pound backpack on.  This is what ADHD does to my child, especially in a classroom setting.  When he is tired and just can’t take on the extra work that each day brings, it makes him look defiant or like he cannot follow simple classroom rules.  He needs a teacher who is going to understand this, look past it, and make it interesting for him to want to attack the challenges head on.  Will this be the year that he gets such a teacher, I wonder? 

Just like neurotypical children, atypically developing children are all dissimilar as well.  A diagnosis of ADHD means different things for different children and the educational strategies are not one size fits all.  When someone tells me that they have experience teaching children with ADHD, that means almost nothing to me.  The most important thing that a teacher needs to understand is that they must look beyond the diagnosis and assess my child’s needs based on what they see, not what they expect to see.  This was not the case last year and he suffered greatly because of it, and as his mother, I suffered right along with him.

Public school, it seems, is not designed well for Man, or any child with ADHD and other learning disabilities.  It’s no one’s fault; they must teach to the masses, and I totally get this – the entire school system does not need to turn on a dime for my son’s specific needs. While I appreciate that the district trains the teachers well and makes accommodations for my son, ultimately the expectation is that as a round peg, he adjusts and fits into their square holes.  In fact, every accommodation he has is to help him function better in a classroom designed for neurotypical students.  They have nothing to do with helping him use the brain he has, to learn to the best of its own ability.  They have nothing to do with teaching him how to use his strengths and overcome his weaknesses to simply learn the information that is vital to his education. 

I stress again that this is no one’s fault; it is just how the public education system is designed.  They do their very best to help with the resources available to them, but the end goal is always the same, to make sure every child is “on grade level”.  It doesn’t matter how much potential the child has, simply whether they meet the national standards for their grade.  Man did 50% of the work that the other students in his class did last year, 50%, and at the end of the year he was on grade level.  While only doing half the work as the other students in his class, he still came out on grade level.  Yes, while I’m thrilled he is on grade level, am I not allowed to expect that he could possibly be doing better if his educational environment was more conducive to his learning style?  Should I just ignore the fact that he no longer qualifies for certain accommodations because he is on grade level, even though the challenges within the classroom are still the same as they were the previous years?  Am I not allowed to be upset that my son already feels disappointed in himself every day because he sees the other children able to produce more than him while trying half as hard?  It’s not pressure that I put on him, it’s simply what he sees going on around him daily. 

So yes, I worry every day.  I worry that this year will be the same trying year as the last.  He does not deserve that, nor does any child who is like him.  Going back to school, it seems, isn’t the most wonderful time of the year for every family.

 

Handling Domestic and International Terrorism in Two Different Ways: The Unpopular Opinion

Terrorism, n.- the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

 

I have written many blog posts in reaction to the violence and terrorism that plagues our planet.  Years ago, “Man AND Lady Vs Mommy. Written in Memory of Those Murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary,” (Man AND Lady Vs Mommy. Written in Memory of Those Murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary) was crafted following the unthinkable shooting at Sandy Hook, “Bombs of Kindness” (Bombs of Kindness) was published following the senseless attack in Paris, and “Will Someone Tell Me How I Can Do More?” (Will Someone Tell Me How I Can Do More?), came out after the horrific shooting at Pulse nightclub.  While these posts might have made me feel better, allowing me to express my own disheartened and confusing thoughts on each of these incidents, they didn’t really do anything to stop the violence that continues to escalate worldwide.

This week, we witness two horrendous acts of terrorism; one domestic and one international.  While these attacks were both very different, they elicited the same responses from people- outpourings of vigils, deafening cries for change, and the memorializing of those who tragically lost their lives.  I’m here to say that these reaction, in part, must change. That’s right, I am about to express an unpopular opinion; only one of these acts should elicit an outpouring of love and a rally call for change.  As a student of mental health counseling, I have learned a lot about the feelings and motivations behind a person or group’s actions, and with that knowledge, I implore you to react accordingly to what we have experienced this week.

Whether our leader wants to say it publicly or not, the attack that took the life of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville last week, was indeed an act of terrorism.  It fits the very definition provided by Webster and written above.  It was a violent act in pursuit of gaining political clout for alt-right, KKK, and neo-Nazi groups.  The very purpose of their increasingly visible presence in society (after being hidden away for many decades), their marches, and their rallies, is to spread their message of hate, bigotry, and violence. A message that they truly believe, to their core, is the right message.  Their desire is to eradicate all members of society that are not like them.  Let’s just call a spade a spade people, if you are not a White Christian, you are not welcome.  Their drive is, at the very least, to push our country back to the 1950’s; but in their black, unfeeling hearts, it’s really to return this country to a pre-Civil War state.  Sure, would they love this to happen internationally?  Absolutely.  But right now, they would be thrilled to just get rid of all African Americans, Jews, and other minority groups, right here on “their own” U.S. soil.  The sole reason for their existence is terrorism, to spread their hate filled message, gain political power, and make a shift in America that will erase the centuries of arduous work done by those prominent leaders who understand the wrongness of their beliefs.

The fact that I am about to quote Arnold Schwarzenegger is not lost on me, friends, but in the words of Arnold himself, “The only way to beat the loud and angry voices of hate, is to meet them with louder, more reasonable voices.”  Combatting these groups means creating larger gatherings that spread words of love and tolerance.  It means teaching our children to be good, kind, and accepting adults.  It means standing strong in the face of bigotry and hate.  I was watching Heather’s mother, Susan Bro, eulogize her daughter.  She made this speech with a level of dignity and composure that is unmatched by any other mother in her situation- and if we get real, we know there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other mothers in her situation. She beseeched the crowd, and the nation, to stand strong against racism, like her daughter did.  She begged us not to turn a blind eye, but to lean into the uncomfortability that is standing up to injustice.  We cannot look away from this, we must face it head on and call it out immediately upon seeing it.  We must be louder, stronger, and more eloquent than any hate group.  And this must happen from the smallest levels of injustice- like witnessing an act in your grocery story, to the greatest heights, like the marches we witnessed this week.

The second act of terrorism we encountered this week, was international terrorism.  Again, we see the same vigils, FB posts, memorializing and eulogizing of the victims that we see following every international terrorist attack.  I watch this on television and think, stop, pick up that flower and that card and walk away with it!  I know, you’re probably thinking, “What an unfeeling bitch, this woman is!”  But please, read on and understand why I say this.  ISIS performs these acts to create chaos and garner a colossal reaction, and that is exactly what we give them.  Their desire isn’t the same as the alt-right.  While yes, they would be happy to take over the world, their main purpose is to kill as many innocent people as possible, to create mass hysteria, and punish the nations that stand for freedom and democracy.  We cannot continue to give them what they want!  I’m not saying we shouldn’t fight them, the opposite in fact- we should fight them behind the scenes, quietly, secretly, and cause them the same unrest and fear that they cause us.  We need to elect officials that are strong enough to do this, without feeling the need to play a game of “whose dick is bigger.”  For every act of terror, we need to stop changing our profile pics, stop laying wreaths at the site of the act, and start donating money and time to anti-hate groups.  If you feel the need to show support following a tragedy so to stand up and show the terrorist that you won’t stand for this.  Guess what?  They already know.  It’s what they count on.

If you think that the timing of the attack in Barcelona is a coincidence, I ask you to take a closer look.  During a week of U.S. turmoil, of day after day of our citizens begging our morally incompetent leader to rally against our own domestic terrorism, they strike, bigger and harder.  They watch our every move and understand that this act would have more emotional and social impact because our country was already being torn apart.  No, this is not some crazy conspiracy theory, this is the way these psychos think.  They want mass destruction and horror, and after the week that the U.S. had, a week that was visible and commented on by the entire world, they were primed to get it.  They knew that our “leader” would take the bait and call them out, thus causing further unrest both internationally and amongst our citizens.  We need to stop publicizing our outrage.  We need to stop feeding the trolls.  The minute they see that they have affected us, it fuels them in a most unimaginable way.  It gives them exactly what they want.  It means they have won.

 

Five Things Not to Get us For Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is just around the corner, and while there are lots of posts and sites dedicated to helping you find the most fabulously perfect gift for mom; I’m here to tell you what NOT to get us. You see, on this day, there ARE incorrect gifts, and it’s not just about the thought and effort that was put into it!  I sound like an ungrateful female dog, you might be thinking.  Um, hell’s yeah, I do, this is our day, and if you want to make it the special day that Hallmark has decided it is, you will follow this “what not to get guide.”

 

1)      Plants, flowers, or anything that is alive: I have absolutely no idea how and why plants became a traditional Mother’s Day gift, but the person who started this tradition was obviously never responsible for the life of another human being.  I mean, what exactly is the thought process behind this?  Now that we have become mothers we will suddenly take up gardening?  My thumb was black before the kiddies were born and it remains a serious shade of ebony today.  Listen closely, mothers Do. Not. Need. anything else to keep alive.  We already have the responsibility of keeping our little humans flourishing and thriving, that’s enough!  It’s just cruel to expect us to rear anything else.

2)      Brunch!  Have you been to a restaurant with your kids before?  Would you like to inflict that on your wife on her special day?  Thought so…

3)      Breakfast in bed:  Every morning I wake up to one of the kids in my face, poking me and prodding me with a moist (yes, I just used the word moist) little finger.  As sweet as it sounds to make mommy breakfast in bed, we just want to be left alone to sleep as late as we possibly can… like, 8AM would be GREAT!  Now, lunch waiting at the kitchen table that can be enjoyed peacefully while you are out with the kids?  That I can get on board with.

4)      Hand crafted projects:  Ok, now there might be some other moms out there that are all, “Noooooo, I love my kid’s little crafts!!’’ These women clearly have children under the age of two.  It’s pretty much a guarantee that they are already studiously crafting something at their desks for you at school, so that gift has already been covered… in glitter that will make the house a mess!  But honestly, so many craft projects are brought home every week, I just don’t have the organizational skills to keep them all in perfect condition… forever!  Ultimately, the kids just end up getting upset when they notice that mommy has tossed their precious creations in the garbage, thus, effectively ruining the holiday altogether. 

5)      A party… at our house:  While yes, it’s lovely to gather the generations of females in the family together to celebrate our societally dedicated auspicious day, if there is anything that this day excuses me from it’s the preparation that goes into having guests at the house.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to entertain, but it takes a lot, cleaning, shopping, preparing, cooking… A LOT!  So no, it would not be easier to just “have everyone over here!”

 

Now that you understand what not to get us, please, go forth and shop!  No, in all seriousness, this is a Hallmark holiday.  What makes me feel truly special is the love and support that my family shows me every day- that is the real gift. This love is felt in a million little ways all the time; from the dinner that you cooked because my day was just slightly longer than yours, to the kids begging for one more bedtime story just to be in my presence a little longer.  Mother’s Day is just another day that I get to feel this love.

Eight Coping Strategies For (Special Needs) Moms

I have always wanted to be a mother. I had a childhood fantasy of having twin girls named Stacey and Tracey (adorable, right?).  I was more than eager to start a family after getting married.  At that time in my life I was working as a speech therapist and not enjoying it.  It seemed like the perfect time to take a break from one job and begin my lifelong dream- starting a family.

I was sure that the void I was feeling in my life and career would be filled the second I became a mother and I would finally have the sense of purpose I was longing for.  And in many ways, this did happen.  Man came into this world, tiny and perfect, and filled my heart with so much love—a kind of love that I didn’t know existed. However, from early on, he was a challenge.  I can recall him military-crawling across the room at four and a half months old and thinking he was a physical phenomenon.  I realized shortly after—when I found he had slid himself to the top of the staircase and was about to take a ride down the stairs headfirst, that a phenomenon he was not.  What he was, was a danger to himself.

People often ask when I knew my child had ADHD and SPD.  I didn’t know immediately what he had, but I knew from birth that he was different, and challenging in a way that many kids were not.  At two, when other parents were reducing their babyproofing efforts, we were upping the ante in our house.  By four, when his peers had begun to listen to directives from their parents—directives that would keep them out of bodily harm—Man was still deaf to my warnings, running wildly through parking lots, thrilled and care free, as I yelled at him to stop.  He was my sweet, loving, first born little boy, and he made my heart sing—but he was (and still is) HARD.

I wrestled with my feelings about this for years.  Parenting was supposed to make me happy and complete me in a way that nothing else did, right?  Imagine my sadness and fear when I had to face the fact that motherhood was taking a larger toll on me than I had expected.  All parenting is challenging, but being the parent of a child with special needs, whether mental, physical, or medical, comes with its own unique set of challenges. It took me a long time to accept that.  I found it nearly impossible to face the fact that being a mom, something I had wanted forever, was not exactly what I thought it would be.  Having such feelings was confusing and depressing.  It was tough to distinguish the feelings regarding my role as a special needs parent, from my feelings about my sweet Man.  I loved my Man, but I did not always love the challenges he threw my way- and that fact in no way made me a bad mother.

It took time to come to the realization that our challenges required a different set of answers than those of my mom friends with neuro-typical children.  Over the last year, I have completely overhauled my life and the way I view my parenting.  Here are some things that I have done to stay sane and productive as a special needs mom:

 

I stopped comparing my child to those of my peers. This was huge for me.  Every child is different and unique.  The strengths of one are not going to be the strengths of another.  This fact is what makes the world go around.  If we were all the same, there would be no innovation, no advancements.  Every person serves a purpose, and my child’s purpose is different than yours.  He might never play soccer, or be class president, but mark my words, he is brilliant and unique in his own right.  He may cure cancer one day.

I sought out other special needs moms. I need other moms of children with special needs in my life.  They are my rocks and my support.  They understand my day to day successes and failures in a way that other moms just can’t.  I simultaneously stopped trying to get parents of neuro-typical children to understand my plight.  It was taking an emotional toll on me to continuously try to get other parents to understand that their day-to-day lives were just different than mine.  I’m not diminishing that their days are difficult, but it truly is just different.

I got a babysitter and sought more help from family! For far too long, I thought that I could and SHOULD do it all myself.  I was afraid to put the responsibility of Man on anyone else.  Frankly, following a few bad experiences of babysitters dismissing my warnings about his behavior as me being a “hover mother” and then learning the hard way that I was not, I was also too worried leave him with anyone.  But as he got older, I let go of this fear and accepted the fact that I desperately needed a break and that didn’t make me selfish.  I found someone that I trust and now she spends oodles of quality time with the kids while I spend a little time on me.

Which brings me to the next one, I spend time to myself! I gave myself permission to focus on me.  Being a parent doesn’t mean that I must be my children’s sole caregiver.  I now have returned to school to pursue my passion.

I exercise.  Endorphins are amazing things, my friends!  It gives me a mental and physical health that allows me to face the day to day challenges in my life.  If you feel good about yourself, it makes everything else in your life that much easier.

I accepted that my best was good enough. As a parent of a special needs child, we want to fix our kids, to make that square peg fit into a round mold.  This is just impossible.  All we can do is our best to support them in the way that they need it, and the rest is up to our kids, and that must be ok.

I stopped hiding my feelings and I forgave myself. When I finally admitted that I was unhappy with the life situation I found myself in, I could begin making changes.  You can’t control your feelings, but you can control how you express them.  I was angry for a long time, and now I have the chance to let go of that anger and replace it with more positive energy.  But that was only possible after I could let those feelings out.

Being a special needs mom isn’t easy, in fact, it’s downright hard most days!  However, your personal happiness does not have to be tied to your child’s challenges!

Dear IEP Mom,

Dear IEP Mom,

It’s that season again.

IEP season, that is.  It’s the time of year when sleepless nights and anxiety-filled days all lead up to one single meeting that will determine the course of the next full year of your child’s school career.  That time when you sit alone at a table of teachers, therapists, and psychologists who all think they know your child’s needs better than you do, while you fight to prove otherwise.  A time when you struggle to maintain your composure while simultaneously jumping through hoops to make sure your child’s educational requirements will be adequately met.

I want you to know that you are not alone. That I am there, sitting right next to you.  I feel your frustration when it seems that no one at that table can hear you.  I too wonder why I can see them listening, but how they are not really hearing me.  I am also fighting back the tears as they list my child’s challenges but seem to want to provide little in the way of support—this phenomenon perplexes me as well.  I am your inner voice telling you to remain calm, reminding you that being strong and assertive does not mean having to yell.  My palms are sweating too, and my heart is also pounding—the constant drumbeat of, “Am I doing and saying enough?” is racing through my mind too.

I am here to tell you that you are doing enough.  You need to know that you are a superstar, a fighter in a way many parents can’t understand.  I want you to shrug off the belittling comments that you may hear from others—turn a deaf ear when someone says, “What’s the big deal, it’s just a meeting?”

It is a big deal; it’s not just a meeting, and unless you are going through it, you absolutely cannot understand the depth of its importance.  I too feel misunderstood sometimes, that many mommy friends just don’t understand my struggle.  I also feel alone and exhausted from trying to explain it.

Do you know how strong you are?  That you are your child’s single most important advocate, teacher, therapist, and psychologist?  That you wear many different hats every day just to make sure your child gets from the morning to the night successfully.  I know that, whether the teachers across the table from you see it or not.  You have the strength of 10,000 women!  You alone sit at this meeting to make sure that your child receives the educational support he or she needs—the support that he is legally entitled to which will allow him to successfully navigate the least restrictive educational environment.  I jump for joy right along with you when he thrives and hold him in comfort, crumbling silently inside, when he fails.  That’s right, IEP Mom, you are a rock, a warrior, and a hero!

I am right there fighting alongside of you.  We all are!  So, IEP Mom, go into that meeting with your head held high, your paperwork prepared, and your arguments rehearsed, as this is just another battle in the war that is your child’s education.  However, this time, know that every mom in a similar room, in a similar school, just a town, state, or country away is right there fighting along side of you day in and day out.

~ManVsMommy

IEP meeting