Different is OK, too.
This post has been weighing heavy on my heart for some time now, and I have been pondering just the right way to word it.
Some of you are parenting children who have all kinds of letters attached to them. Your children are diagnosed as RAD, FASD, ODD, BPD, and a host of other things that all mean your child is not “typical.” If I look at your child and compare him or her to another child the same age I will see major differences in behavior, emotional functioning, cognitive functioning, etc.
Your child hits, bites, throws tantrums, and attacks you. Your child pees the bed every single night (still at age 10) or smears poop on your wall. Your child tries to have sex with other children. You can’t take your child in public places because of such extreme behaviors, and your child is not safe to be left unsupervised for even a minute. Your child has destroyed everything in your house, including the beautiful baby book or Life Book you spent hours putting together for your child.
You feel completely traumatized because you are parenting this child, and this child’s behaviors shock you every single day. You feel completely alone because your friends have abandoned you, and your husband stays at work just so he doesn’t have to be around your child, and the therapist is an idiot who judges you. No one offers to babysit to give you a break, and you can’t pay people enough to help you with this child. Your other children are scared of this child, and you are torn between trying to parent this child and also protect your other children and give them a normal childhood.
You do not get things other parents get like handmade Mother’s Day cards, school plays, soccer games, or play dates where the kids play nicely and you sit with your mommy friends, sipping on a drink. You do not get fun vacations or outings or even a trip to the grocery store that doesn’t end in complete chaos, embarrassment, and pain. Your child sabotages every nice thing you try to do, and ruins every single family outing/activity. All your money goes to paying for this child’s therapy, medication, and to keep this child safe.
You have to listen to the other parents brag about their child’s latest achievements, the cute things they’ve done and said, and all the little things that they complain about. “She won’t potty train. She keeps waking up early. She is such a whiner these days.” You want to knock these parents over the head because they have no idea what daily life for you is like, and if your child was struggling with something as normal as potty training or being a picky eater you would be doing a happy dance.
Now I want you to look at things from a different perspective. Remember how you felt before this child was in your life? Remember the pain of years of infertility? Remember the loss and grief after having a miscarriage or a stillbirth? Remember waking up morning after morning crying and broken because you can’t have the one thing you want most in life? Remember spending Mother’s Day holed up in your room, grieving because you can’t do what other women all around you are doing?
Now I want you to think about the women who love children they can’t parent on a daily basis. Think about if your child (who has all these behaviors and letters attached) was across the world in an orphanage where you didn’t even know if she was getting fed? Think about if your child was across the country with your ex who abused you, raped you, and hurt you for years until you finally had the strength to leave, but then the judge gave him custody anyway, and so now your child is on vacation with your ex and you don’t even know if he is safe.
Think about if your child was far away with people you don’t know, and you didn’t know if she was getting food, or love, or her medicine. You don’t know if she is being restrained, or hurt, or ignored when she has behaviors. It is out of your control and out of your hands.
As bad as you have it, things could always be worse. As much as you hurt, there are people out there hurting more. As traumatized and victimized as you feel, you are not the only victim here.
We have to take that step back and put ourselves in our children’s shoes. We have to come to that place of empathy for our children, despite their behaviors.
There are wonderful groups of women who are parenting children just like yours. They are wonderful places to vent, seek advice, and get support. The collective wisdom and strength of the mother’s in these groups is enough to save the whole world. And I mean that.
You have the power to heal, not just your child, but yourself. The reason your child’s behavior disturbs you so much is because you are broken and hurting. You have to let go of your “us versus them” mentality and realize that the only way out is to jump right in with your child and climb out together.
It is not about changing or fixing your child at all. It is about entering that place of pain and brokenness and holding your child’s hand as you walk through it together.
When I hear you say things like, “I can not love this child. I can not bond with this child,” or when you call your child names under the guise of “venting,” my heart hurts. When you say that your child has to change before you will be able to love your child my heart hurts.
I am that child. I have those labels. I have that history of abuse and trauma, and I have been diagnosed with BPD, FASD, PTSD, and other things.
I know that when you say things that hurt me so much you are only saying them because you are hurt and broken, too. You are traumatized by trying to love the child in your life, and from a place of pain and tiredness you lash out and say hurtful things. Hurt people hurt people.
In my brokenness I have lashed out against people trying to love me, and I have hurt them. I push my husband away, I sabotage relationships with friends and family, and I keep myself isolated and alone by my behaviors.
But as much capacity as I have to hurt, I have to love and heal. I also hold my children close and walk with them through their pain, and I heal and love. My husband sits quietly beside me and waits for me to finish my rant or my fit, and I find love and healing on the other side.
I don’t live a “normal” life if you compare me to other adults, but I live a life filled with love, laughter, and joy. There are sad times, broken times, and times that are not “typical.” I do not always work outside the home or go to social events. But I have great capacity to give and receive love.
Your children do, too. So just be careful when you are “venting” and ranting on FB. Be careful when you are talking on the phone and your children are near. Be careful. Be gentle with your children and yourself.
Different is o.k., too. “Typical” children have their own set of issues and there can be great joy in the journey of loving a child who has all those letters attached.
- Whole Child (who blogs at Did I Say That Outloud?!)
Posted by Rachel on Jun 25th, 2013I thank you for your letter I Grandma a hurt child and her mother my daughter I do see both sides of this issue I could not bear the thought of this child being cycled over and over in the system so I did try to influence them to take her and help her and they are but it is a struggle thanks for your story all the stories help us put it into perspective we are learning.
Posted by Sunday on Jun 25th, 2013Thank you and amen whole child!
Posted by Becky on Jun 25th, 2013Where's the "like" button?!
Posted by Rachel DeBruce on Jun 25th, 2013I am in many support groups online and many encourage venting like it has to be nasty to be helpful. I LOVE that our groups are able to support and even vent in a caring and supportive way. We do see some drama occasionally but our members accept and value each other and their children. We can and do help each other find more productive ways to help our families.
Whole Child, I love the way you share your thoughts and feelings in a way that helps people look at themselves and you do it without blaming them. SO glad you are with us.
Posted by In Agreement on Jun 25th, 2013Thank you for writing this post. I do think the line between unhealthy child and unhealthy parent gets blurred so frequently. I appreciate you pointing, "The reason your child’s behavior disturbs you so much is because you are broken and hurting." With the help of a great therapist, I recognized this about myself and my own child a few years ago. It isn't to say my child does nothing hurtful, aggravating or destructing (he certainly does), but it is my reaction to his behavior that really causes our family to weave in and out of sanity and chaos. thanks for pointing this out so outright, but so gently too. It needs to be said and re-said continuously. We are not the first generation of mothers parenting tough kids, but we might be among the first generation to feel so entitled to the right to parent "healthy" kids. We need to keep looking deeply at ourselves, as well as our kids to find harmony in our homes.
Posted by JLD on Jul 9th, 2013MMKr4
Posted by JLD on Jul 9th, 2013My family is blessed with children who were left on the streets. They have been adopted into a loving, financially secure family who prayed many years for children.
Trying to understand the children needs and more importantly the parents needs is one of my challenges as a grandparent.
Your writing has helped my understanding of the frustrations we are dealing with daily.
As soon as we feel progress has been made another obstacle is in front of us.
Why is there a good day and then a day we don't want to remember?
Not being able to help the child only increases the yelling and frustration of the parent.
What can a grandparent do to strengthen the family bond, grow confidence for all the children and be objective when other family members are critical of the situation.