I’m one of those people who feel the need to research a topic to death. This pertains to anything in my life so when I got pregnant it was only reasonable that I get my hands on parenting books. These didn’t really help but when my son was diagnosed with ADHD at age 3 (his diagnosis was changed years later), I went back to the books. I needed to understand how to parent a child with a disability. I guess I just needed comfort, knowledge that I could do this.
What happened was the complete opposite. I was left with a feeling that the books were useless. It’s funny when you read books about parenting a child with a “behavioral” disability that the advice is not only the same across the board but it was all completely useless. It’s because of this that I’ve wanted to write Mother’s Curse and yet I’m at a loss.
There were two pieces of advice that I remember most – 1. have a schedule and 2. have your spouse help. Okay – hmm. The first problem I had was the lack of spouse. I didn’t meet my husband until my son was 5 so there were some really tough years where I didn’t have the option of having someone else deal with problems. I had little respite and no in-house support. My parents lived nearby so I could get help when I desperately needed it but that usually had to do with days I needed a babysitter over days were I just couldn’t get X to do what I wanted or needed him to do (don’t get me started on potty training, I’m grateful that boy isn’t still in diapers).
The biggest problem was I am not a routine person. I have a lot of the same traits as my son. In fact, I never would have thought my brain was different from the rest of the world until he came into my life. I was just quirky, I guess. I didn’t know that as a very young child I had been diagnosed with ADHD nor did the concept that I might not be neurotypical cross my mind. I wish I had known because it might have made some difference in my growing up years but then there are days when I wonder if getting my son diagnosed was the right thing to do since he still has to live in this world.
I’m terrible at re-direction. I’m just as distracted as my son. Who’s going to keep me on task so I can keep him on task? The reality is – no one. My son doesn’t realize that the majority of the time when I give him a countdown, it’s to keep me on task more than him. If I remember to give him how many minutes until whatever, then I know to pay attention to the time and the fact that he has an upcoming task. Otherwise nothing would ever happen in our house.
Okay, that may not be true but it would be a whole lot less smooth than it is.
If I were to write a parenting book for parents who have children like mine this, what advice would I offer?
1. Write it down. If it’s not on the calendar or in my planner it does not exist. That is the rule in my house. If you have something you want me to remember – make a note, send me an email, tell me often because I won’t remember. We have a calendar in the living room, I have a planner and we have a white board. Many times the same notes are on all three.
2. Natural consequences are best, not only because they make sense but they are easier to remember. I hate grounding my son because no one ever remembers when he’s ungrounded (and he never goes anywhere). Even at 16 we send him to his room, more often than not this is just an opportunity to separate him from whatever task he’s doing that is getting him in trouble. We’ve tried all sorts of creative discipline but it doesn’t work for him or us.
3. Make life easier for yourself. I let my son sleep with me until he was 5 years old (almost 6). He only got booted out of his bed because I was getting married. People gasp but I don’t care, I needed sleep and to get it, I had to let him sleep with me. Otherwise, I spent far too much energy trying to keep him in his bed. He doesn’t have any mommy issues because of it. I also let him have a pacifier until he was 6, at that time he decided to give it up. Worked for me. We had too many challenges in our life to fuss over something so small.
4. Teach your child to be independent. This goes with making life easier for yourself. The first thing I taught my son was how to make his own breakfast so mommy could sleep in. It’s one piece of advice I share often. My son can do his own laundry, sewing and cooking. Not always as well as I can but they are skills I know he has. I don’t have to worry about him eating if I am running late because I know he can cook and clean up after himself.
5. Learn the difference between normal development and the disability. This is especially important when your child becomes the dreaded teen. We’d like to blame all the behavior issues on his disability and beg the doctor to medicate them away but that’s just not going to happen. There is no cure for brat. It happens. They promise I’ll like him again later. I still love him and there are days when his disability actually makes me love him more. and this carries on to my last point:
6. Learn to love the benefits of the disability. My son held my hand until he was a teenager. He still snuggles on the couch with me and he’s 16. There are days when he asks if he can curl up on my lap. He’s bigger than me but I will admit I let him. I will hold him in agony because for that moment my son loves me so much. There are things about him that amaze me that I might not have noticed had he not been neuro atypical. I understand him which makes it cool that our brains work similarly. I love talking to my son because his view of the world never ceases to bring me wonder.
So maybe we’ll never be parenting book parents and we may be the sort of family that even Nanny McPhee can’t fix but there’s lots of love in our home. All I can hope is that my son turns out okay. I’m sure there will be lots of regrets but that just makes the good things even better. I’m never going to win mother of the year but I’ll always be there. I will fight for him and even if we don’t win against the world, I still win because I have my wonderful son. I just hope he knows just how much he has changed my life. I may not be the mother I thought I’d be but I’m the mother I was meant to be.