As I sat in the pediatrician’s office, teary-eyed and defeated, I thought back to the first day I brought my son here. He was such a happy baby and I was in love with him. Regardless of his restless energy and frequent squirming, I knew he was going to surpass all fears I had of being a mother. Fast forward eight years, and we were back to discuss yet another medication for his ADHD. There was no chocolate, drink, drug or amount of sleep that could relieve this weight on my shoulders.
In the beginning, I had seen myself as a positive and educated woman. However, at some point within this journey, I found myself without answers, feeling helpless and frightened. My “Mom of the Year” award had officially been revoked.
Through my studies of psychology, I began understanding the neurological development processes that do make sense — and have nothing to do with my parenting abilities. What a relief! That said, I also found several opportunities I had missed that would have helped my child’s confidence and self-acceptance. Ironically, it was him who pointed that out, and not in a way I expected.
During childcare and his early years in elementary school, the teachers provided consistent feedback on my son’s behavior – too busy, won’t sit still, social butterfly, blurts out, can’t control himself, and so on. At the time, I became consumed in my mission to “get him fixed”. This became the reason for one of many opportunities I missed as a new parent.
Love your children for who they are.
At the time, it seemed I was being the best parent by finding the right person to help him. As a result, my son tried one thing after another and nothing fit. He was taken to the pediatrician, the psychologist, a few counselors, several kinds of therapy groups, and back full circle, while also being fed 13 various medications that would magically help him focus and stop talking too much.
I became so focused on finding a way to change this negative feedback about my son that I forgot to let him know I loved him for all of those energetic, happy and spontaneous behaviors that made him unique and lovable. How did I miss that? Think of a shopping day when you tried on one pair of pants after another, finally resigning yourself to the fact that something was just wrong with how you were made. After repeated failures, human beings become what they know to be real, and begin fulfilling their new role of existing as The Issue or The Failure.
On that particular day, as we left the pediatrician’s office and got back into the car, I got in the driver’s seat and did not move. After all of the effort his father and I were putting forth, and all of the discipline changes we had tried, nothing had worked. As I leaned forward to put the key in the ignition, I heard a small voice from the back seat calmly ask, “Mommy, do they know what’s wrong with me yet?”, and I turned to see big blue eyes looking hopefully at me. I am not sure how, but I somehow managed to climb into the backseat and hold my baby boy close. My sunshine. My life. My heartbeat.
Sometimes, and even with the best intentions, we forget to enjoy our children because we are so busy responding to the problems we have been focused on. In her research, Dr. Gwen Dewar explained that parental stress is natural because of our cognitive reflex to search for patterns that could be threatening to or for our children. As we see or hear something negative, we automatically begin looking for it to happen again and our role shifts from nurturer to fixer.
My grandmother, who, by all accounts, was the inspiration that molded me into the woman I am, never seemed frustrated or intolerant of my brother and I. I believed I would maintain the same temperament as a mother one day, yet found that it was much harder than I had realized. I have since learned that positive parenting is not about faking a smile all the time or gritting your teeth to avoid slamming your fist on the table or yelling. No, no, no! It’s about looking at the little person you have before you, knowing he or she is adapting to this big world and needing your help to navigate through it. When people tell you that opportunities only come once, they aren’t joking.
The three things that help me most are also the things that have improved my relationships with others who are important to me.
No, really. Stop talking! And stop thinking of that one thing you have to say in order to make your point in the conversation. Children are not born to know and understand their feelings. Let them voice what is important in their little minds and hearts. They need to learn how to express themselves, and see the importance of listening to the thoughts of others. Do you really want to teach them to be the loudest or get the last word in a discussion? If so, don’t be upset with them when they begin showing disrespect and become argumentative.
In the brain’s process of storing memories, remember the right things your children do, too. The science proves we are apt to hold on to the negative far more tightly than the positive, so take the time to focus on the good. Make a list of what he or she does that meets your expectations each day. Celebrate the number of times the toilet seat is put down or the toys end up in the right bin. Don’t fake it, shake it. Lose those bad vibes, or you will find yourself being down and irritated.
Be affectionate. And no, that does not always mean physical interaction. If your child’s diagnosis makes physical touch difficult, find another way! Make a box and draw a heart to put in your child’s box each day. When it’s a down day, open it and remind this special little one of all the ways he or she is so lovable. Give a fist bump or slap flip-flops to give them a tangible confirmation of how much they are appreciated. Put your pride aside, this is a life-changer!
In all of the overwhelming moments, keep this in mind. Your child is yours. He or she is looking to you for directions on how to navigate these curious waters. Opportunities should be seized to teach them how to view situations and respond to life’s many changes. Instead of searching for the next dreadful day of uncontrollable actions, show them the actions you expect to see.
About the Author: Shannon Jones
Shannon writes to encourage others through the journeys of parenthood, marriage, and other life stages, while offering insight into the sources of behavioral and communicative issues. She and her husband are founders of The GRACE Project, a non-profit organization that focuses on awareness and prevention of human trafficking, which provides free services to victims of abuse and single mothers. Grounded in her faith, Shannon sings and reads, smiling through life’s lessons and embracing each day with enthusiasm.
In her goal to educate others, she studies published journals and medical reviews that offer evidence-based solutions through experimental research and case studies. Shannon is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in the field of psychology, with specializations in behavior and neuroscience.