When your kids are being difficult or just plain cranky, it’s normal to have a bad day in parenting land.
But when that child develops a serious illness, has a disability such as ADHD, Dyslexia, Autism Spectrum Disorder or other Neurodevelopmental disorders, your parenting perspective and emotional responses change instantly.
The Traumatized Parent
Parents can leap from just being a stressed-out parent into PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or Acute Traumatic Stress Disorder, quite easily. Because NOTHING is as scary or stressful as your child with an illness or a disorder. NOTHING. and this affects parents in their deepest emotional response, which in turn affects their quality of parenting.
Here is an example to highlight what can happen: (fictional composite)
Marcia is a very caring parent. She has been an avid reader of parenting books to help her be a better mother since her daughter’s infancy. She surfs the internet almost daily on the subject of raising a good child, an optimistic child, an obedient child. Marcia is looking for the magic to help make her family life easier.
Her child, diagnosed with ADHD, Chronic Pulmonary Insufficiency and sensory motor delays, is a handful.
As Marcia talks about her child in my office, her voice rises louder and her speech becomes more rapid. During the hour, it’s not her child’s issues that fill the room. It’s Marcia. Marcia is frantic.
In trying to gain perspective on her parenting style, she admits that she loses her temper easily, rarely gets a night of sleep anymore, and wonders with doubt and anxiety, if the expectations that she has for her child are reasonable. That her child nearly died running into busy traffic only adds fuel to Marcia’s anxiety.
She is, in short, a ‘mommy mess’, an emotional wreck.
Marcia could be any one of us.
When you parent a child who is atypical, the demands are steep, the day is short and the support is never enough. Parents can literally feel as if they are in the desert with no water. The parent manual that was supposed to show up on the doorstep as the stork dropped off the baby was missing. Parents have literally nothing but their instincts to guide them through the labyrinth of child rearing. And children who are ‘different’ require so much more than you think.
It takes a village to raise a child, but it takes an army to raise an atypical child. But sometimes the army is YOU.
When your child is different, there is no one size fits all when it comes to parenting. Especially when your child is not the cookie cutter variety. Atypical children do not respond to the tried and true parenting techniques. It is more of an art form, learning how to parent your child. Each parent stumbles along, finding out by trial and error what works best for their own child.
It’s a game changer.
This child rearing challenge becomes so much deeper when your child is different than you imagined. Because now, it’s also about you. The decisions you make, the emotional tsunami that happens as you navigate your family’s daily survival and the relationships you make around you will decide the level of the health and well being of you, your child, your partner, and other family members.
If momma ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy.
It’s trite but true. Research has found that depressed mothers are less likely to be able to bond effectively, and to follow through on taking care of their childs’ needs. That’s right, moms need to be happy in order to run their world. Of course, nowadays, this also means dads. So many dads are primary caretakers and have similar needs. Whether it’s a traditional family, single parent family, gay or blended family, there is typically one caretaker who shoulders the majority of the child care issues. And that person is most often needing extra attention. Could that person be YOU? Please get help! Your happiness becomes the most important game changer for your family.
TIPS TO “BE THE CHANGE”:
The field of Positive Psychology has proved that you can change your outlook. One way to do this is by changing your self talk. Ask yourself, “Is there another way to see this situation?”
2.Nourish Those Needs of Yours!
Ask yourself: what have you given up in order to raise your child? For some women, it was a fulfilling career, for others it was freedom to be creative or to travel. Yet for others, the image of an exercise plan is fading as child/house demands increase. It’s time to get it back; people can’t live with emotional deprivation for very long. Pick one thing on your list and try it out. If you have no clue what would work for you, try anything. A neighborhood mah jonng game, even if you’ve never played before. You never know what may
you need time just to do nothing. For some, this means napping. For others, this means reading a magazine and yet for others, this means staring into space while sitting in a hot tub. Sound good? Go for it. If babysitters are in short supply or finances are a burden, You can apply for free respite care is available through social services in your community.
how is your love life these days? Yeah, I thought so. Get to work. Make it blossom. Marriage seminar retreats or books or date night. You know the drill, just try it!
give back. If you think you don’t have time, think again. The science of positive psychology has taught us that if you do something for someone else, you will feel happier. Getting involved in your child’s school, after school hobby, or something that you enjoy (visiting people in nursing homes, taking doggies for walk in dog shelter)
don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Do you need dinners brought to you by caring friends for a rough stretch? Would you like more attention from your family? Make a list and see if you can make it happen for you. I have found that when you bring your mindful attention to a particular need, you open the possibility of having it happen for you.
In short, having a child with a diagnosis is s game changer. With some effort and a lot of support, you can BE the change!
Sending all of you big hugs from me.