Having a kid who struggles is isolating. You feel alone and confused and you are suffocating. No one knows what you’re dealing with, how could they? No one talks about it for fear of the “finger pointers.” Those who have not had a challenging child have a common reaction – wild child = neglectful (or oblivious) parents.
No one wants to expose anything that may invoke judgment. I am very open, typically confident. We taught our kids the importance of manners and kindness and we role-modeled it for them. When you have a child who, in spite of all these best efforts, is disrespectful and unruly, you cannot help but doubt yourself. All the psychologists in the world couldn’t allay your fear that it was your doing, your fault. So you DON’T talk openly, and you sacrifice the chance for real support, even just through the comfort of company.
Because this is YOUR KID, it’s not like making a fallen soufflé. It’s so very personal and sacred. The lack of control DOES at some point feel like a weakness; it IS embarrassing. A lot of people can empathize, but it’s totally different to live inside the skin of it.
To the Parent Workshop we went and get this – you go down to where your kid is, but you can’t see them. We knew Violet was in the woods behind the place where the meeting was, but she was never to be seen, or hugged. I was starved for her, even just a glimpse. I’ll admit it, I tried to peek. Didn’t work.
Two parts to the workshop – info gathering and experience sharing.
The invite to the workshop meant that Violet was about halfway through the phases. They were teaching us the tools to help the kids acclimate back into whatever the next step was; giving you enough time to practice. We were all dying to see her. Yet, I had a consumptive feeling growing like weeds, overtaking my newfound confidence. Fear. She was working so hard, as we had been. We hadn’t seen each other in months. I did not want to backtrack. We had ironed out so many wrinkles in our family vibe and I needed to maintain the even keel.
The workshop drilled the language protocol focused on active listening, feeling statements, clear boundaries and conflict resolution. It also discussed some brain mapping of thoughts and reactions (mid-brain to fore-brain) that were awesome to understand. The freedom of making it so black and white was a total relief. The connections COULD be exercised, it could be managed at some level.
· Repeat what they say nearly verbatim so they feel heard. Ask questions.
· Take space when you need it, even to contemplate a response.
· Don’t speak from an emotional place, ditch emotional reactions altogether.
· Use “I” statements only. “You” sounds too judgy.
· Create the structure of limits and consequences, mean what you say – follow through – don’t bend to placate.
· Give choices to empower.
· Meet resistance? Repeat decision emotion-lessly until absorbed.
I began reviewing my notes, attempting role-plays with my husband who REALLY loved that. “Honey, let’s practice! I HEAR you saying that you don’t want to go to the movies, right? I FEEL frustrated ABOUT the tone of voice I heard BECAUSE it sounds like you don’t care what I think.” Ohhhhhh yes, who WOULDN’T love that? (sarcasm)
Sitting with 16 parents, we shared our stories.
To hear each story was like someone pulling an element of your own memory and shoving it in your face on a platter. The similarities were actually BIZARRE. Some of the dialogue was even identical. My angst had company. I heaved a sigh and squeezed my husband’s leg as each parallel universe concluded. You wouldn’t believe the flood of stranger vulnerability. It was crazy-liberating. The mind trips of guilt, shame, repression, resentment, cyclical dynamics, being overly emotional, feeling out of control, feeling helpless! ALL mirrored with every tale.
There was SUCH value for me, for us, hearing other people’s experiences. This was when I started feeling like I should write things down. If I was getting this level of comfort from ONE day of talking to others, what could I achieve writing?
These are not kids who you could easily identify with developmental delays or physical impairments. These are kids who are anxious, depressed and dealing with issues that are SO internal. They act out of their discomfort with rage and anger toward their families, their friends, THEMSELVES. These were the kids who without intervention, would end up being the “bad” kids. The ones the world wants to push out.
UHHHHH. The wrenching heartbreak around parents who have struggled for so long, blamed themselves for so long, is palpable. The absolute tear-jerking realization that you have given your child a future with HOPE in it? So totally overwhelming. The feeling in the room was charged.
I did write things down – like 2 million and 40 things. Looking at them on the paper? I was STRONG. No problem, I could DO this. I had the recipe, there it was. The veritable family fix, IF you could do it all without emotion. Anxiety strutted its heavy-gut boots back onto center stage.
There were parent calls once a week, which tracked people in similar phases of the program. I had never been a part of a support group and maybe even avoided them unknowingly. This one I joined. Someone finally spoke up – they were scared too. Ahhh, it’s not just me, it’s OK. I was calmed just by someone saying it. The end of this trial was near, we were ready for our next phase and We Were Not Alone.
“I felt it shelter to speak to you.” – Emily Dickinson
Not being alone. Not being crazy. Not being the worst parent ever. Not without a bucket-load of work to do. Major comfort in company, solace in support.
Like a warm blanket in one word - PHEW.