Category Archives: parenting
I just read a blog post from a dad who is committed to making sure he stays connected with his kids. (Click the link; his blog is super.)
His thoughts led me to a few of my own.
We so often focus on getting “quality” time with our kids and doing special things they will remember.
But what do you remember from your childhood? If you have memories of your family doing things together, what is your strongest mental image?
Most of my early memories don’t involve anything elaborate. Many relate to simple things we did each week.
Digging in a sandbox.
Swinging on the backyard set.
Board games on the floor.
We wanted to create similar happy memories with our kids.
When they first came to us, I would have argued that “board games” should just be called “bored.” Or, more accurately, “the quickest way to give yourself a migraine.”
In the beginning, they had zero focus and fought us at every turn (get it…because in games you take a turn…), even when something was supposed to be fun.
However, Hubby and I have fond memories of playing games like Risk and Monopoly, and we’re nothing if not determined. Our kids WILL play games, doggone it.
Brain-numbing (to us) choices like Memory and Guess-Who gave us our first tentative game connections with the kids, and eventually they could make it through a full round of Sorry or Trouble.
Doing puzzles also interested them, although we had to buy puzzles several levels below what you’d expect for their age. As confidence built, the number on the puzzle box rose.
Thanks to my aunts and mom, who often jigsaw when together, the kids saw puzzles as a fun hangout time for adults. This, of course, made the activity more desirable.
Our kiddos recently shocked us by asking for family game night instead of family movie night.
And we played Risk, without any actual casualties.
I call it a win.
When you have children, you finally appreciate all your parents have done for you.
You’ve heard this phrase, I’m sure (possibly from a frustrated parent when you were a teen).
For me, adopting the children did not bring the magical instant awareness, mostly because my parents never dealt with this brand of crazy or needed to make the kind of decisions we do. (That’s why I started this blog, because almost no one I know in person can say, “yes, I understand exactly what you’re talking about!”)
However, when we began home-schooling this year, I finally realized the level of work my mother did behind the scenes while teaching four children at home.
Sometimes I believed I was homeschooling myself, even in elementary grades.
I’ve seen a specific expression on my daughter’s face when I direct her to go back to the textbook and look for information. I recognize the look because I remember the way it felt from the inside of my face.
I was less forward about communicating my feelings. My girl… Not so much. She actually says the words sometimes. With that tone.
Why don’t you just teach me instead of making me look it up? Since you’re my teacher…
I smile and explain she needs researching skills.
Almost everything I do these days is with an eye toward the time she no longer needs me—which will arrive even sooner than I expect.
Being needed is a powerful urge. I find myself stepping toward my kids when I see them struggle, even for just a moment. I’m learning to stop, fold my arms and wait.
When I was 6 or 7, I read a story about a little girl who lived on a farm. She and her father were waiting for chicks to hatch. He left the barn for a bit, instructing her to leave the eggs alone.
After he left, one of the chicks managed to create a hole in the shell but struggled to break free and seemed to give up. The young girl cracked the egg for the chick. When the father returned, they cheered the birth of their first chick, but the celebration was short-lived as the chick passed away.
The man asked his daughter if she had helped the chick. When she admitted she had pulled the shell apart, he explained that the chick needed to struggle out of the shell on its own in order to be strong enough to live outside the shell.
The story was actually about obeying parents even when children don’t understand exactly why they should. However, now that I’m the parent, this story holds different meaning.
I watch my friends do things for their children (even grown children)…and in spite of my best intentions, sometimes I catch myself “doing” as well.
Tying the 10 year-old’s shoes. Cutting the 12 year-old’s food automatically. Helping the 14 year-old with the math problem before the child has attempted solving it alone. Never teaching the child to cook, clean up, work a dishwasher or clothes dryer, run a lawn mower, or change the oil. Driving a licensed teen to work or school, not for the lack of an extra car but because we can’t seem to let him go on his own.
Hamstringing and handicapping our kids with love.
Sometimes we can’t seem to fight that strong urge to be needed. Watching them grow up SO fast is a bit too painful. Tying the shoes “one last time” reminds us they are still our children.
I’m not suggesting we should never help our kids, nor that an occasional helping hand will keep them from learning. (Also, definitely not advocating a completely hands-off approach. Children require healthy boundaries and guidance.)
However, since my kids experienced a rough start, I found myself falling into the habit of “doing” for them. Trying to make up for their tough beginning.
About 6 months after the kids came to live with us, I was still helping them dress in the morning—using the rationalization that although they were five and seven, they were emotionally closer to two and four.
Hubby put a stop to it one morning, telling me, “the kid is capable of putting on his own underwear. He’s five. Stop holding him back.”
Disgruntled at Hubby’s interference in my fabulous parenting, I handed the boy his clothes and stepped back to prove that the child needed my help.
And I suddenly realized I was “doing” for them to try to make up for all we had missed. Innocent and loving intent, but in the process, I was actually hindering their development.
I fight the urge to over-help every day. I can’t speak for dads, not being one, but I think this is a struggle for most mothers and possibly all women. I’m not being sexist—I just think that we as women are wired to care deeply and sometimes we take it a little too far.
Allowing them to be children for as long as possible is fine. However, even children can learn to do things for themselves.
And they should.
Once, when I interviewed candidates for an open position, a mother arrived with her son and sat through the interview with him. She handed me his resume. She answered a few of the questions. She presented her unsolicited, glowing commendation of his best traits.
The young man seemed pretty sharp and appeared uncomfortable with his mother’s presence. Based on her personality, I got the feeling she didn’t give him a choice regarding her involvement.
I’m sure she thought she was giving him his best chance. She probably assumed, “as his mother, I know all of his best qualities and can vouch for his worthiness of this position. Who knows this kid better than I?”
Guess who didn’t get a second interview.
That was an extreme case, but she probably started out by tying his shoes when he was 12. The desire to be needed is difficult to release.
But I strongly believe we need to let our kids fight their way out of their own shells.
Require them to have experiences that make them uncomfortable. Allow them to fail while they still live in our house and are able to come home for support and advice.
I’m doing my best to keep myself from cracking that shell. To let them struggle. To allow them to develop the strength they’ll need to survive without me.
Especially since, some days, I’d rather duct tape the shell and let them remain children forever.
Continued from Desolate
When the kids first came to live with us, I clocked three to four hours of sleep a night. The girl wailed until after midnight; the boy woke screaming around in the wee hours.
Every. Single. Day.
The initial sleep deprivation lasted about six months; four months for social services (still the legal guardian) to approve meds and two more months for the doctor to find the correct dose.
I still remember the relief I felt the first morning after we found the right combination, waking around 6 instead of 4 am.
I’d forgotten how it felt. September brought it all rushing back.
This time, I think, was worse.
Digressing a bit: I’ve had a recent epiphany that I experienced almost no change in stamina from the time I was seventeen. Until now.
Sometime this year, I looked in the mirror and realized I am no longer twenty-seven. Or thirty-seven, for that matter. Am I too old for a ponytail?
Apparently, up to this point my brain has been convinced I’m a decade younger, and the shock of realizing I am OH NO middle-aged was a bit too much.
This time, sleep deprivation almost killed me.
Ok, that’s hyperbole.
But I was beyond exhausted. By the end of September, I started telling Hubby I might like a weekend in the acute center, if they actually had white padded rooms available. 48 hours sleeping in a soundproof room…sounds like heaven.
Unfortunately, checking myself in at one of those places wasn’t an actual option. Hubby took over on weekends and let me nap as much as possible while he was home.
Finally, after weeks of phone calls and meetings and waiting, we got the approval call from the treatment center.
Because we were concerned about what our son might do if we informed him ahead of time, I packed him a suitcase during the night. I crept into his room and slipped his stuffed dog from under his arm. The next day, as we drove to the treatment facility, we explained.
We are not counselors or psychiatrists; we have researched and prepared as much as possible, but we are not trained to provide the care you need.
We care very much about you and want to give you the best chance to succeed in life. The people at this facility have the qualifications to help you.
We are NOT giving you up, letting you go, abandoning you or sending you away.
Our son responded with little emotion.
Like I said before, you’ve tried everything. We might as well try this.
His absolute lack of reaction still stymies me.
The experience at this treatment center was a complete change from the acute center. We met the director, head nurse and several staff. While the nurse completed the intake with our son, we toured the facility.
The staff explained to our son that the initial stay would be thirty days; he perked up and I watched determination firm his jaw.
At the time, we didn’t realize this would become a problem.
He thought if he could “act good” for thirty days, they’d release him. And he decided to make it happen.
He hugged us goodbye without a tear, then walked through the metal door with a staff member. It closed behind him with a heavy thud.
We walked to the car.
I expected to feel guilt at leaving him with strangers.
I expected to feel great sadness at leaving him behind. For almost seven years, we’d been four. Now, at least temporarily, we were three.
I expected to feel lonely, to feel his absence, to experience a boy-shaped hole in my existence.
I expected to feel that I was a failure as a mother, having not been enough to help him.
But here I must admit: I felt nothing but relief.
I truly believed the people in that building would be able to help him in a way Hubby and I could not. I knew we weren’t leaving him permanently; we would, soon enough, once again be four. I understood that I’d exhausted every possibility available, turned over every proverbial stone.
As for missing him—maybe this sounds awful, but…I didn’t.
My only source of guilt: the relief at being able to relax.
No checking every thirty seconds. No worrying whether he’d wake before I did. No concern about destruction or harm to property or living creature (including his sister) if my visit to the loo lasted an extra minute.
The first three days after drop off, I slept like the dead.
A week later, Hubby looked ten years younger.
And the nurse called to tell me our son was the best behaved child in the center.
He is so polite. He is kind to everyone. I wish they were all just like your son.
I was gobsmacked. Flabbergasted. Shocked.
How could this be the same child?
Until now, I’d never realized how determined he could be.
Guess how long that dogged kid kept it up.
Continued from Excruciating Ride
I often search Flickr for just the right photo, but I don’t always find what I want. In this case, the picture is worth about a million words.
The roller coaster we’re riding with our son right now isn’t any fun.
As I walked into the hall, my son whipped the pencil away from his chest.
“What are you doing?” Reaching for the pencil, I leaned over to see whether he’d progressed through his school work. I used the pencil to point, summoning as much nonchalance as I could.
“You need to fill in these blanks in pencil, please.” I handed the pencil back, adding, “Pencils are for paper; pencils are not for poking people.”
He nodded and took it.
After he finished his school work, I gave him a journal assignment. He wrote about suicide by a pencil stab.
An hour later, he growled in frustration when I wouldn’t believe an obvious lie. He left the house and headed down the driveway. The timing worked well, because we needed to head to an appointment, so I pretended to think he was going to get in the car.
Unlocking the vehicle, I called, “Hey, thanks for getting out of the house so quickly so we can be on time! Do you want me to meet you at the end of the driveway?”
He froze, then turned slowly and shuffled back to the car, muttering, “wearing the wrong shoes, anyway.”
His sister gave him a sharp look. “Were you trying to run away?”
“Yeah, but I need my other shoes.”
She shook her head. “Running away is stupid. What are you going to eat?”
In a cool, flat tone that gave me chills, he said, “Dead squirrels, probably.”
By late August, I was spending an average of seven hours per day closely monitoring our son. Completing tasks became almost impossible; he didn’t want to move, so he began a sabotage campaign. When we put the house on the market, we asked the kids to try to keep things neat for the showings. He thought buyers would refuse to purchase the house if he worked against us. He trashed his room, wrote on the walls in permanent marker, decimated a large planter…every time he wasn’t by my side, I looked for the next bit of destruction.
He did the opposite of whatever we asked and began doing things he’d never done in the past, like climbing out of his window to leave the house. Hubby and I did our best, but…have you ever tried to keep an 11 year-old in sight at all times? It’s even harder than it sounds.
Cameras and a newly-installed alarm system helped, but we still couldn’t supervise 100% of his day. Showers became especially problematic, because he’s really too old for one of us to stand there. He plugged the drain with toys and toilet paper, defecated in the tub and filled the curtain with water, letting it go when it became too heavy (all over the bathroom floor).
Because he is diagnosed as “on the edge” of the Autism spectrum, the in-home counselor suggested we apply for ABA therapy for help with behavior modification. Good ABA therapists have successfully helped non-verbal, low-functioning children learn to communicate and to perform self-care tasks. If his apparent inability to follow directions stemmed from the autism, the therapists would be able to help. And maybe, once he had a habit of doing the right things, he would feel better about himself.
While I sat outside with the supervisor, outlining the challenges of the last several months, another staff member sat with our son to evaluate him. I explained to the supervisor that he’s great one-on-one with an adult, so I expected the other therapist to find nothing. Sure enough, when she joined us, I saw The Look.
The Look, n., facial expression indicating the parent must be out of her mind, as this child is brimming with intelligence and compliance.
Thankful for backup from the in-home counselor, the supervisor and I explained there is more to this kid than becomes obvious in one meeting. We were approved for services, but staffing shortages meant ABA wouldn’t start for several weeks.
A week later, the threats of suicide came almost daily, sometimes several times a day. His moods swung between anger and depression. I couldn’t leave him alone with his sister for even a minute because he started lashing out at her.
ABA wasn’t going to be enough.
We began looking for residential treatment, this time for a program that lasted more than a few days.
“These shutters are a lot more work than I expected,” I sigh. “Thanks for helping me.”
I agreed to paint shutters for a friend. Too late, I discovered they hadn’t been properly prepped before the previous owner covered them in enamel; it flaked off like autumn leaves but gummed up my sander. The only option was tedious scraping.
The paint only held fast where edges met, the hardest part to clean…on every slat.
A five-hour job ballooned into a week-long project. The only saving grace? The lead paint test was negative.
My ten year old son shrugs, scraping an edge.
“If they’re so hard, why don’t you just take them back and say you can’t do it?”
“Because I agreed to paint them. I didn’t say I’d only paint them if they were easy to prep.”
He flicks a piece of peeling paint. “But this is too hard. It’s not what you expected. You should give up. That’s what I’d do.”
After the week he had at school, I think maybe we aren’t talking about the shutters.
Watching black paint chips flutter to the ground like an apocalyptic snowfall, I shake my head.
“Nope. I said I’d paint them. I gave my word. That’s a promise, and I keep my promises.”
“But it’s too hard!” He shakes his little brass scraper in my direction.
“It’s not TOO hard. It’s difficult, yes, and more work than I expected, but I’m going to have a really good feeling when I’m done.
Often, when you work through something difficult, you find out that YOU are tougher than you expected yourself to be.
There will be lots of times in your life when things will seem harder than you expected, but when you finally have a great result, you’ll know the hard work was worth every moment.”
He pauses, thinking.
“That’s why you’ll never get rid of me, even when I’m bad?”