The kid who is always getting in trouble at school.
The kid at the restaurant who is throwing a huge tantrum because the food isn’t “right”.
The kid who can’t seem to sit still on the plane and is always getting into everyone’s space.
The kid at the swimming pool who won’t share any of the water toys.
The kid at the playground who bullies the other kids to get her way.
The kid who never seems to be listening to the coach.
You’ve probably seen kids like this or at least heard tales of them from other people. They’re the kids who are labelled “troubled” or “difficult”, or my personal favorite, “emotionally disturbed”, labels that often become like an indelible tattoo stamped across the child’s forehead, eclipsing any hope or chance of them being seen as more than the sum of their challenging behaviors. These labels also have a tendency to have fingers pointed at the parents as the root cause of their child’s problems. What these labels and judgments don’t do, however, is offer help and support to the child and the family.
I normally don’t write about parenting issues here in the kasbah, but I’m going to break from the usual and hope you’ll bear with me. I’m moved to delve into the parenting arena because of an article I recently read in the Huffington Post about The 6 Secrets Special Needs Moms Know But Won’t Tell You. I was surprised at how much of myself I found reflected in it and then surprised at myself for being surprised by this in the first place.
Welcome to the awkward conundrums in my funny little brain.
In the article, the author, a parent of a special needs child, spelled out the six things that other people probably don’t know or don’t realize when encountering someone who is parenting a child who requires specialized attention and care. I’ve previously shared that I am the parent of two children who were both adopted at older ages. My two children had chaotic lives from birth through ages 5 and 6 (when they were adopted) and because of this they have developed some special needs as a function of the coping skills they created to deal with the unpredictability and traumatic events in their early lives.
Finding ways to help them meet their needs and helping them develop better coping skills is something I am constantly striving to do as their mother. It has become second nature. I live and breathe it and usually don’t think about how much energy and time goes into it.
So when I read the Huffington Post article and saw the secrets of parents of special needs kids, I was once again reminded how out of the range of “normal” a typical parenting day is for me. I was both glad to be reminded I wasn’t alone and sad to be reminded our little family still functions outside of the norm.
I was also inspired to create my own list of secrets parents of special needs kids (who may also be adopted) have but don’t tell you:
1. It is a tough, demanding job parenting a high needs kid, one that requires a high level of diligence, supervision, and patience. Because of this, I can be physically, emotionally, and spiritually worn out as though I just spent the day single-handedly running a preschool of fifty caffeinated monkeys. Because of this, I’m usually on high alert, waiting for the other shoe to drop even when things are going well.
2. Because of #1, I have a weird and snarky sense of humor. It gets me through the tough times and helps me to laugh off the little things that really don’t matter.
3. Because my kids sometimes find the most socially inappropriate thing to do or say at a time when the most people will witness it, we don’t often get invited places as a family. The isolation that comes from this is, in a word, yucky.
4. The isolation is difficult to recover from because a) many people tend not to forgive or forget your child’s past transgressions and only remember your child at their worst moment instead noticing the person they are today; and b) most people find it’s easier to avoid someone than to admit they didn’t know what to say or how to help during the tough times. I get that. And it’s never too late to reach out and connect. I’ll be grateful for your non-judgmental friendship.
5. My kids will change and grow at their own pace, in their own time, just as you and I and everyone else will grow and change in our own time. Just because you’ve told me about my child’s awful behavior from earlier in the day doesn’t mean I can go home that evening and “cure” my child of ever doing that again. Their trauma reactions and anxieties will not go away overnight because I gave them a stern talking to, took away privileges, or supplied any other consequences. They will return to school/camp/practice tomorrow with the same baggage they had today, hopefully with the understanding that you will not turn your back on them (or me) because of the previous day’s problems or because they haven’t been magically cured overnight. The pressure to change in order to fit in and be accepted is overwhelming and unfair to them. Remember we’re all a work in progress and some days are just rough ones with many set backs.
6. Quite often, it takes more energy, effort, and persistence for my children to get through a day than it does for those of us who were fortunate to have had a gentle, nurturing start to our lives. When you’re carrying the heavy baggage of your past on your back, even mundane tasks can be overwhelming. Because of this, I’m going to cut them a little slack once in a while and priortize their mental health needs over that history paper, perfecting that dance routine, or getting that school project done just right. We all need a break now and then.
I don’t regret a single second of my journey with my kids. They are the light of my life, even when their behaviors are the bane of my existence. I’m not sharing all of this to rant or vent or complain. I merely want to shed some light on those families with the really tough kid that you may know who could use your support in whatever way you can give it.
And now it’s your turn, generous readers. Are you a parent of a special needs kid? What has your experience been like? What have you found to be helpful and supportive? Do you know anyone who is parenting special needs kids? Have you found ways to lend a helping hand or has that been something with which you struggled. The tea is ready and the pillows are fluffed. Sit, sip, and share. I always love to hear from you.