Author: Karen Copeland
This morning I am feeling very reflective about my journey as a parent of a child who learns differently. If I am to be totally honest I reflect on our journey quite often. I think because it grounds me, or maybe I just obsess a lot, I’m not sure. Regardless, I think this is what I will write about today.
This was an unexpected journey for our family. Initially we tried to dismiss the possibility that our path was going to be different. We continued on with the parenting style we thought was best, even though time and time again we were not seeing results. It was a very difficult time. After a few years, and many ineffective attempts at intervention we realized that our family was going to go on a journey to an unfamiliar destination.
There are people in this world that seem to cope well with the unfamiliar. I am not one of them. I like to know where I am going, I like to know what I am doing, I like to know what is expected. Because of this desire, I began to research. What could I do differently as a parent? How could I figure out what was underneath my child’s behavior, what was motivating it? What was my child trying to communicate to me? At the same time I was asking myself these questions, I was internally berating myself for not being able to “handle” my child, feeling like the worst parent in the world. It didn’t help that I started noticing “the looks” when we were out and about, these simply confirmed my failure as a parent.
Have you ever felt torn in two directions? I had discovered the strategies that would work for my child but they seemed very different than the strategies typical parents might employ. I wrestled with my knowledge of what I could do, but also with how I was being perceived as a parent by others in my family, in my community. I would try these new strategies and experience small glimpses of success, but then I would revert back to my other, ineffective parenting style. It seemed like a never ending battle, but thankfully, I persisted.
I will let you in on a secret. While I am much more grounded in my approach to parenting today, I still have these setbacks where the “old me” sneaks out and tries to sabotage all my efforts. The difference is that I discovered this is pretty normal. You see, change, especially when you are learning a new behavior, isn’t linear. It isn’t like you just say “I’m going to do things this way from now on” and it magically happens. All new behavior takes time. I would suggest it takes an element of failure to ensure the new behavior becomes stronger. Because while it sucks when we fail, it can strengthen our resolve to do better. The challenge is to forgive ourselves when we fail, and use that to motivate us to proceed down our new path.
When I had a setback, I owned it. I apologized to my children, to my husband and I promised to do better. I tried to remember to gentle with myself, and not beat myself up so much for not being perfect at this. I reflected on what was happening for me that I felt I couldn’t do things the new way. I learned my triggers. And slowly, but surely I became more confident in my new approach. And with that confidence, the opinions of others started to not matter as much. In fact, some opinions began to sway towards understanding and accepting our approach.
I had the opportunity to attend a session with Dr. Ross Greene in November 2013, and he gave me and all the other attendees a gift in that workshop. Dr. Greene said “Being a good parent means being responsive to the hand you have been dealt.” I wish I had heard that many years ago when we started on our journey. I wonder if it would have given me the permission I thought I needed to do things differently? But maybe I wasn’t meant to hear it then. Maybe I was meant to experience the struggle, to persist and endure, to fall down and get back up again. It has made me who I am today.
There are so many gifts that have been brought our way as we have ventured down this new path. I am liking this new destination. It’s not always easy, there have been difficult days for sure, however I think we have become better people as a result. We have discovered empathy and understanding. We have become more flexible. We have discovered unimaginable courage and resiliency.
No, change is not easy. And there are many ups and downs, moving forward, stepping back.
Embrace those moments. Learn from them. Be gentle and patient with yourself. It is worth it in the end.