Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Yelling at Your Kids

Ok, you parents out there, are there any of you who never yell at their kids?  That was a rhetorical question.  If that's you, I don't want to know.

Actually, there was a time when I did wonder how mature, thoughtful, spiritual people could ever yell at their kids.  When Josh was about three years old, I remember talking to a fellow mom who was really struggling with yelling at her kids.  She was a little depressed and her husband travelled a lot.  She confided in me, assuming that all parents struggle with yelling at their kids, or losing their patience in their own way, now and then.  At that moment, I realized (but didn't say to my friend) that I had never yelled at Josh.  Sure, I cried, I despaired, I stressed, and I yelled at my husband but I never yelled at Josh.  It seemed impossible to yell at a severely intellectually disabled child.  Yes, he frustrated me plenty but he has such an aura of not being able to help himself that I found it easier to not let my frustration out on him.  And not having ever yelled at my only child, it was easy to think that I was just not "a yeller" and never would be.  After all I loved my child and was committed to compassionate, sensitive parenting in a safe, calm environment.

Then I had typically developing children.

My daughters are lovely people.  They are bright, charming and often delightful.  However, typically developing children have "normal" characteristics that Josh just never developed.  They try to manipulate situations.  They experiment with lying.  They speak disrespectfully.  They blame and compete with each other.  It turns out that these are things that take quite a bit of intellectual capacity to be able to do.

I've realized these are some of the things that really push my buttons and cause me to lose my cool when I am stressed. I am definitely no longer someone who has never yelled at their kids.  I don't think I'm a chronic, out-of-control yeller but I definitely could work on my tone just as much as my girls need to work on theirs.

Recently, I've been trying something that seems to be helping me.  I just respond to everything they say with "I'm not sure.  I'm going to have to think about that."  Or I just say, "I don't know."

"Mommy, you promised that we could watch TV!"

"I'm not sure."

"Moooommmm, Hope took my toy!  I want it back!"

"I don't know...."

Jim and Dr. Charles Fey, of the Love and Logic institute, call it "going brain dead" and it's one of the strategies that they suggest to help parents to stay calm in the midst of stressful situations.  They tell you to find a simple, neutral mantra like "that's so sad" and just say it over and over again, especially if your child is trying to draw you into arguing with them.

My girls don't love it when I respond that way but at least I am not adding my own emotional fuel to the fire.  It creates some space and some time for everyone (including me) to mellow out and not argue or yell.  Most times, coming up with a good argument only amps the situation more whereas a statement like "I don't know" slows things down in a helpful way.

I think that it's ironic that what I am finding useful in my parenting to me is to become a little bit like Josh and be intellectually impaired (or at least, disengaged) so that I might be emotionally wiser.  And the truth is, when things are heated, I often really don't know what to say or do.  But I do know that creating a brain break for all of us is a gift.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Everyone Else

It all began as a simple conversation about summer camps for kids with special needs.  The other moms that were standing around with me at the birthday party for a child in Josh's special education class began sharing about various day camps for special needs kids that they had absolutely loved.  When I asked more about them I realized why I had not tried them.  These camps were way beyond my price range.

This should not have surprised me because all of our kids are 1:1 type of kids.  That is, they each need a full time, dedicated adult to be around them at all times.  Our kids can't be at regular camps where they have a teen counselor for every 5 or 8 or 10 kids.  No, many of our kids have seizures or would wander off or would have no way of participating in most activities without constant attention and guidance.  Higher ratio of adult to kid means higher cost.

In that moment, I realized that there are a lot of resources out there for kids like Josh.  I just can't afford them.  And these moms could.  I looked around and realized that every child at this party had come with a parent and a full time nanny.  One boy had come with two nannies (one for himself and one for his typically developing sibling).  I started imagining the freedom that I could have if I had a full time nanny.  And a nanny for Josh's sisters. . . what would THAT be like?

Among the guests at the party were the aides or therapists from the school classroom.  Apparently, the birthday girl's family had hired several of them to work with her at home, for private pay.  I had no idea that you could do that but I could guess that their time came at a significant (for us) cost.

I looked around the house that belonged to the family that was hosting the party and realized that it was a lovely, lovely home.  I heard that they were in the midst of moving to a larger (probably lovelier) home in our same city.  I saw the nice cars that the other guests drove to this party and imagined that they, too, lived in lovely, spacious homes where their children experienced excellent developmental therapies in tidy, well-organized rooms.

My attention turned to how these moms were dressed.  Their clothes were expensive and stylish.  Somehow, they seemed to have had time to do their hair and put on make up (maybe while those nannies were watching their children?)  I glanced at a mirror momentarily while following Josh around the house.   The tired looking person who looked back at me was wearing a stained t-shirt and $5 flip flops. Her ponytail begged to be redone.

It was in this context that I started down the path of covetous thinking.  Specifically, I began to entertain thoughts like, "Everyone else has a lot more help with their kids than I do."  I began to suspect that "everyone else" can afford developmentally fantastic camps for their special needs kids and that "everyone else" must have plenty of space and resources to take care of yourself and look fabulous at all times.

Now, the problem with "everyone else" thinking is that it's usually formed in the midst of jealousy of a specific group of people that you are focused on and without very much perspective on the bigger picture.  For example, do I really think that all parents of special needs kids have plenty of help?  Does every family have a lovely, spacious home?  Of course not!  In fact, not every family in Josh's class has tons of resources.  It just happened that the folks who had gathered at this party did.

When I am in my right mind, I know that I have been blessed with a lot of support and resources.  It's like when my girls come home and declare that "everyone else" is going to Hawaii or Disneyland for spring break.  There is no objectivity, only desire together with a sense of having been slighted and a good dose of ungratefulness.  Also, there is the refusal to consider and factor in the people who have more suffering and fewer blessings than we do.

Our hearts get to the place of wanting things that others have and we add fuel to the fire by believing, even temporarily, that "everyone else" has them.  The fruit of this, of course, is unhappiness and self pity.  Have you ever hung out with a bitter person who is convinced that they always get the short end of the stick and that "everyone else" has it better?  Not fun, I tell you.  Personally, I'd rather dig ditches in the hot sun.  God, please don't let me be like that!

So, today I am purging myself of "everyone else" thinking.  I am asking God to help me to accept that my life is my life and that He knows what He is doing in laying down the boundaries of my life in the right places.  I am going to continue to put my all into making my life what I want it to be but I don't want to be distracted by (my perspective on) the lives of other people.  I want to be a joyful, grateful person and I'm convinced that covetousness and comparison are not my friends in that journey.

What's your thing that you are tempted to think that "everyone else" has?  How do you need to lay it down today?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Battling Fear

As I write this, my husband is driving Joshua to the emergency room.  Josh has had a fever off and on for two days but this evening he started throwing up and could not keep his meds down.  Josh has a diabetes-like disorder (called panhypopituitarism) which necessitates that he takes a shot and many pills every day, throughout the day.  If he is not able to keep his pills down, he has to be taken to the hospital so that he can get them via an IV.  Thus, we are not allowed to ever be very far from a hospital.  No camping in the backwoods for our family... ever.

I am at home with my girls, with my cell phone charged and close, waiting for a call.  How am I doing?  I realize as I mechanically do some laundry that I am filled with fear.  Dark scenarios of something really bad happening are shooting through my adrenaline filled brain.  I think about how if he dies tonight, my last interaction with my son will be him explosively throwing up all over me.  Was I compassionate to him in the moment?  Was I mean because I was stressed?  I can't remember.

Why do I go there?  Why does a bout of mere fever and vomiting lead me to thoughts about my son's death?

One reason is that when Josh was first diagnosed with Septo-Optic Dysplasia, his primary diagnosis, we asked a service provider if this was something that could threaten his life.

"Has anyone died of this?" we asked.

The woman was taken aback by our question but answered us honestly. She had recently heard of another young child with Septo-Optic Dysplasia who had passed away because she had the flu, was not able to keep her meds down, and had an adrenal crisis.  It's hard to forget stories like that.

I think that the other reason that I am filled with fear is that all parents struggle with fear about our children.  They are these phenomenally precious, wonderful gifts in our lives and we are responsible to keep them alive (and then some).  Something terrible happening to our children is unfathomable but it seems like there is a role for fear in that it helps us to wake up and forces us to give our best to protecting them.

Yet, no parent can live in fear for the long term.  It makes us crazy, cranky and gives us ulcers.  Ultimately, I think it keeps us from being good parents.  At some point, we have to put fear to bed and snuggle up with trust.  What do we put our trust in?  Right now I am trying really hard to put my trust in a God who loves me and loves my son more than I could possibly imagine.  Secondly, I'm choosing to trust that my husband will take the right steps in advocating for Josh and explaining his really complicated diagnoses to the staff at the ER.  Finally, I am trusting that being a good parent does not depend on my being constantly anxious, perfect and vigilant but in doing the best job that I can do according to who God has made me to be.

Well, okay.  Those are my thoughts for this moment.  Now, I'm going to go back to the mountain of laundry.