Here we are again. It’s Monday and that means return to work/school etc. which is a bummer most weeks, but today was especially difficult. For those of you who don’t know, our almost 9 year old struggles with some mental health issues. We’ve been on this journey (which is the nice way of saying exhausting lifestyle) for a few years now and although we have found some things to help, it never really gets easier.
Today he refused to go to school. Some people will say “He’s 8, make him go. You’re the boss!” and I’ll take this time to let you know that he may be 8 but he’s over 100 lbs and can become violent at times so caution needs to be exercised when trying to be “the boss”. His behavior effects our entire home and everyone in it and there are many battles we have to choose to avoid. We did all our normal things that typically work and all it accomplished was him ending up curled up in a ball, sobbing which isn’t really productive for anyone.
Since he was little, O had what we cheerfully called “grumpy days” and was prone to curling up with me, blanket and pacifier in tow to avoid the world. As he grew, it was clear that his moments of defiance went beyond “normal” and we noticed other behaviors that were emerging and were more than concerning. On multiple occasions we went to our pediatrician and described what we were experiencing. Professional after professional told us “he needs consequences” or “it’s his age” or other things that make you feel like you’re just bad at parenting. We continued to try, I read a lot and tried different things but with time it only got worse. We reached a point where episodes were daily, sometimes multiple times a day and had increased in severity. Situations went from a simple refusal to put a dish in the sink to full screaming, furniture throwing, hitting/biting/kicking in SECONDS.
This was the point in our doctor care where everyone starting asking us what triggered these episodes. Makes sense right? If you can figure out what causes them then maybe you can avoid them. We had no idea. On one occasion we were on vacation and the kids were happily playing in the pool when O started to hit and tease another child out of nowhere. Its hard to identify the trigger when you go from 0 to 10 in a matter of milliseconds. In this particular instance I ended up having to jump into the pool in my pajamas to retrieve him, not so much a fun vacation memory for me. Being unable to identify a trigger also took away the possibility of one of the most frequent recommendations we were receiving which was to try to intervene before it escalated… welp, out of luck again.
One year (I think we were 3 years in at this point trying to get help) O went in for his physical and had gained 30 lbs since his prior visit. Overeating was another “symptom” we had been reporting but now they were finally listening I guess, once the scale showed them I wasn’t exaggerating. We finally got a referral to a developmental pediatrician which has kicked off a series of great referrals and we are now under the care of a therapist and a psychiatrist who are helping. THREE YEARS we flailed in space, feeling like we were bad parents or that we had made some terrible mistake and felt hopeless we would ever live anything resembling “normal” (as normal as this house can be, anyway). This isn’t to say all our problems are solved, they clearly aren’t. We maybe have one episode every week or two now and they don’t get as physically violent anymore so I’m certainly grateful.
I have learned multiple lessons being O’s mama. One of them is that my control issues are not his problem and I have to deal with my own triggers before I can help him deal with his. Having someone physically, verbally and emotionally batter me triggers my childhood trauma and interferes with my ability to be the mom he deserves. I’m working on it, and many other things. Another is that I’m not “the boss” in the sense that he should listen to every single word I say without question. Many will disagree here but I actually pride myself on being vocal enough to stand up for myself when I feel things aren’t right. I don’t want to take that from him so I am finding ways to separate control and respectful disagreement which is sometimes a difficult balance. Again, I grew up under “ultimate control” and I don’t really want that with my children. I believe that most kids WANT to do well and be good people and they do the best they can, when they can. I cannot even begin to count the number of times people have told me my kid needs to be smacked into submission. Let me ask you this: How many times have you had a bad day or were suffering from anxiety or depression and someone punched you in the face and you were magically a better person? I’m going to bet the answer is none times.
Today is a hard day. It’s not the first one and it certainly won’t be the last one. It’s one of the ones where I feel like I must be doing something wrong or not enough things right and that he deserves a better mama who could take his troubles away. I’m sure there are many who will judge me on this, that’s OK. I assure you that NO ONE can judge me harder or make me feel worse than myself. Today is a day where I need to take some space and feel my feelings. I need to take lots of deep breaths and drink lots of tea and remind myself that no one loves that kid harder than I do and that I will NEVER stop trying, for both of us.