You might want to grab a Diet Dr. Pepper and some pretzels for this installment ...
Sam was back in class yesterday. Last night when he got home he obediently took his homework out of his bag, completed it, and showed his completed work to me before putting it back in his backpack.
Sam and I also continued our conversation - calmly and respectfully - about the consequences for his misbehavior. Here at home he is not allowed to watch television or use the computer, and he has some extra chores around the house for a while. (The bonus for me is we're all watching less TV, the kids are finding other things to do together, and the dog gets walked a little more often.) Sam's teachers and the student handbook make it very clear what will happen at school if he exhibits disrespectful behavior again.
At some point it becomes very difficult to know how to dole out the discipline. We have tried it all, and everything at this point becomes as much work for me as it is punishment for him. Even positive reinforcement/reward-based systems are difficult to put into place in our home because Sam gets so steeped in negativity that he just knows he'll never be able to do what it takes to earn XYZ. That doesn't mean I don't do my job as a parent, it just means I am often exhausted and frustrated and prayerful that some of the good stuff is getting through to him.
But we as parents can't spend all our time focused on Sam.
I remember reading somewhere that parents of children with ADHD/ODD should maintain their own hobbies, go out with friends, and basically have a life other than the one where they are constantly hounding their kid. I laughed. Do the people who write this stuff actually have kids with these disorders? It's hard, y'all. It's hard to not wallow in the anger and hurt I feel after Sam spews his negativity at me. It's hard to keep up with the much-needed routines and rewards when all I want to do is scream, "WHY CAN'T YOU JUST DO IT?!?" It's hard for me because I have the luxury of being here with Sam every single day and night, and it's hard for Steve because he isn't.
We have chosen to live this way - with Steve on the road - because even though he has to travel, Steve's job pays well enough that I can be here full-time to do just what I'm doing: focusing on the kids, the routines, the homework, the followup with teachers. And that's what our son needs. The last year I worked was pretty hellish for me. I'm not even sure how I kept my job for all the late mornings, leaving early, and all the personal phone calls I had to take. All because Sam got kicked off the school bus or Sam got into a fight at school or Sam was disrupting his class. God bless his teachers because every single one of them has been an angel.
Connecting with others
All that said, this is why I continue to have a social life. This is why I don't feel a smidge of guilt when I leave the kids in the care of relatives while I take an overnighter to go see Steve. I regularly meet friends for coffee and girls' nights out. I do things by myself - wander around in a book store, go get an iced coffee, sit in my truck at the beach and watch the waves, take naps, go shopping. Heck, even a trip to the grocery store without hearing "can we get some Pop Tarts?" a hundred times is bliss.
I am also fortunate to have close friends who are raising their own children of varying ages with similar issues, so it helps to have people to vent to and know I am not alone. I spend a good amount of time on-line, too, chatting with folks who I became friends with over a completely different mutual interest, but who also have kids who need extra attention. Even the friends who don't have kids can and do sympathize and offer prayers for us.
When Steve and I are able to parent together we try to always be on the same page. I try to keep him updated on what's happening here and how I am handling things, and I always ask for his input. I don't want him to always be The Bad Guy when he's home for such short periods of time, but it's such a relief when I can just leave some things up to him. Sam needs to hear his father's voice reinforcing some of the same things I have told him.
For as frustrated as I get with him sometimes, Sam has also taught me to be humble, to have compassion for others, and to step out of my judgypants and look for the good in everyone. He has forced me to keep my sense of humor, because without it our lives - my life - would be a very depressing place.
I always hated it when people would say "you don't know what it's like to live with _______" but it doesn't bother me so much anymore. I truly believe parents who have never had to physically restrain their child from hurting himself or who have never felt the hurt of sitting in a psychologist's office and listening to the doctor tell them how their child has indicated he doesn't respect them or trust them and isn't proud of his family ... well, parents who have never done that probably don't get it. Parents who have never feared for their child's safety because one stupid thing a bully says to them at school could set off a string of self-destructive behavior ... those parents probably don't understand. Parents who have never prayed that their child would just be granted happiness for today don't know what it's like to live with a child who is so unhappy so much of the time.
Most adults would be appalled at some of the thoughts that run through my head when I am crazy angry with Sam. And they would be deeply saddened if they knew what was on my mind at times when I hurt for him.
But people don't see this because it is not a physical handicap. People (including me) often mistake children with ADHD or autism or Asperger's Syndrome as children with lack of discipline. You know what lack of discipline translates to? Bad parenting. And that hurts.
I try not to care what people I don't even know think of me, but the fact is I always will care on some level. Who doesn't want to be liked and thought of as a good parent (or a good person in general)? When I catch those funky glances from people I want to tell them my son is hiding behind his hoodie because the world screams at him. I told him this needs to be a quick trip to the store and he pulled his hood up so he can keep up with me and won't be distracted by everything. What others see as a brooding adolescent is really a kid who is using his coping skills. He gets through his days the best way he knows how.
OK, maybe he doesn't apply his best every day, but neither does every "normal" kid. So please don't judge us. When you see me struggling to keep my composure or you hear me holler at my kid in the middle of the parking lot, don't assume I'm a lousy parent. When you see my son misbehaving or hear him throw a smartass comment my way, tread lightly; I can tell you with one glance whether I'd like your help or not. Chances are a friendly smile from you to both of us will do the most good.
Remember, everybody is dealing with something. Some people are dealing with a lot. So please be kind in your actions, don't think poorly of these children, and try not to blame their parents.
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I am an open book, so questions and comments are welcome; however, I thought I'd answer one I feel might be brewing ... Why write about this topic? Why share details about your son's struggles? Are you trying to embarrass him?
This is my answer: Why not write about it? It's no big secret that Sam has struggled with certain things since he was a toddler. His begindergarten teacher knew it, his kindergarten teacher saw it, and every kid who has been going to school with him for any length of time knows it. Most adults we are close to have seen some of Sam's poor behaviors and heard his sassy mouth (or heard me tell them about it), and they know at least something about how we have chosen to treat the misfires in his brain. If what he might read here someday embarrasses him, I have done my job as a parent. Kidding! But really, it is what it is and he can't change who he is so we work on acceptance. I think he's more likely to be embarrassed by the stories his friends and family will tell at his graduation open house, if we all live to see it.
I also write it because there is bound to be someone out there who will stumble across this blog, read Sam's story, and feel relieved that he or she is not alone. I want parents raising children with psychological and emotional struggles to know it's OK to be angry sometimes. It's OK to blow your top sometimes (but you might consider apologizing later). And especially if you are going it alone for whatever reason, it's certainly OK to ask for help.