Tonight, I was struggling with my eight-year-old son not wanting to wear his goggles at swim team. Then, my heart was bleeding as I saw him struggling to keep up with other kids his age. I was texting my husband saying, “I am sad that he can’t do the things that other children do so readily.” Our child has autism and developmental delays, and there are no words to describe the feeling in the pit of my stomach when I see him trying so hard but not able to keep up with his peers.
I have moments on a regular basis with all three of my children where I think of the quote, “Having a child is to decide forever to have our heart go walking around outside of your body.” It can be excruciating, no matter what your child is going through.
As it goes, I was feeling protective and had just finished speaking with the swim coach when I received a message from the mother of one of my former clients. “I am not being a good enough Mom. I have yelled and taken my anger out on my daughter and now it is affecting her.”
When parents have this kind of humility and honesty, I can help them. After all, I am in their shoes sometimes and my heart goes through just as much pain. However, I have the book knowledge and training that makes it a little easier to figure out the parenting woes.
My own teenagers have – at a few key moments – told me that I missed the mark as a parent. It’s like an arrow in my heart – but not the cupid happy kind.
At these moments, I told my child I was apologetic and listened. Naturally, my son was much briefer in his description – whereas my daughter cried and shared the pain that she felt when I unintentionally hurt her. I asked, “How can I make this better between us?” and we made it right. Those were key moments of healing, but they were not easy for me. If my kids only knew how hard I am trying to juggle their needs along with bills, household tasks, my work, being a wife… you know the feeling!!!
I am not free of parenting hardship, although I can say that both of my young adults are thriving academically and socially. Yet, my kids had a few instances of rebellion that made me feel scared, powerless, and humble. It can be confusing as a parent to tease out what part of the problem is normal teenage angst versus what part is calling for parental behavior changes. In my cases it was mostly the former, with some of the latter. My grandfather used to say, “little kids, little problems…. Big kids, bigger problems.” LOL.
At that moment when your child has the strength to tell you that they are angry with you (even if not in the most respectful way), that is a moment to repair.
But what about the moments when the defiance is completely out of line and your child just needs to be reprimanded? For example, my son just needs to learn to wear the goggles even though his sensory problems from his autism mean that it is super difficult for him to have stuff pulling on his head and face. And believe you me, my teenagers have both been put on house arrest for a few days or weeks when it was called for.
There is this daily challenge to figure out constantly when to be firm with your child versus when to be flexible and humble. Somewhere in the middle, a back and forth, is usually the answer…. Not just with children but with all humans.
As a parent, it is stroke and kick. Stroke and kick. For example, tonight I told my son “You have to wear the goggles like all the other kids even though you hate them.” Then later, “I am so proud of you because I know that it’s not easy for you to wear the goggles.” When he asked if he could have a pack of gum in Target I answered, “Yes, because you did such a good job wearing your goggles at swim, but tomorrow you need to wear them without complaining to get another piece of gum.” Nurturing followed by rules and expectations is the way to go.
Try to keep the kicking and establishment of rules and consequences free from anger (mixed in with lots of nurturing and stroking) and your child will grow up to be fabulous.
If you are confused about how to parent your child – how much to nurture your child versus when and how to correct them – reach out to one of our Repair Associates for support and guidance.