Drop the darn house, will you!

lollipop guild wizard of ozYou walk into the therapy session and know that your child is going to do whatever is needed to get that compliment or sticker afterward. When you have a child like mine, they go all out to get even more:  a reaction or someone to tell them that they don’t deserve it.  This is the one who challenges you into thinking that the mayor of munchkin city is the one that should be able to rule the whole office.

Parents like me know the reality of having over 5 different therapists in a single year who give up on a 4 year old. Other therapists are not really sure what to do and that, too, can turn out to be a nightmare for everyone. Reality hits home when people in the waiting room see you coming and tell their children to stay away from the “little” monster coming in.  Do you know what control looks like from a little one all of 4 years old?

The developmental stages of children are used a lot to explain a child’s behaviors to parents.  But they don’t explain that being super bossy and taking charge of other kids your age, or even older, can create social issues. Nor do they explain that if you are telling lies, you are not just “cute” or have a strong personality.  They don’t make it clear that when your  4 year old starts to push kids off swings and take control of the playground, well that’s not about social skills.   I remember telling our therapists these stories when my child was 4 years old.  I kept insisting that these things were not age related and definitely not developmental.  The therapist would say,” It all gets better by observing and following your example.”

What do you do when your child is 16 and it isn’t? What do you do at 18 and it isn’t? Where do you go and how do you explain it now?

Well, the lifesaver is that parents find other parents.  Sometimes it is not the local baseball team or soccer club or even the PTA in your town. Parents like me usually find other parents who are not even in their community, dealing with the same challenges while trying to figure out what to do next.

Did you know what when you try to be the parent you wanted to be you quickly find out that you have to change and adapt to your child’s needs? And while you learn about  trauma, emotional and behavioral health while experiencing it all at the same time, it feels like a never ending tsunami?

I enjoyed the article by Richard Donner that looked at the way parents of children with mental health challenges react to  “Welcome to Holland”  a poem by Emily Perl Kingsley. The poem compares the experience of becoming the parent of a special needs child with landing in Holland, when you’ve planned a trip to Italy.  You have to learn to accept the lovely things about Holland and accept you are not going to Italy after all.

In the article, Barbara Huff, the first director of Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, reads the poem and says, “I’d be relieved to know I was going to Holland or anywhere for that matter, but the reality is that the plane I’ve been on hasn’t landed yet and I don’t know where we’ll land. There aren’t any guidebooks and I don’t know what phrases to learn. About the time I think I know where we’ll end up, something happens. I would be happy to land anywhere if somebody would tell me just where.”  Her experience, the article says, is shared by many parents whose children have mental health needs.

It really is very different to wake up and walk out of your home with a child and you cannot figure out what is happening and the reasons on what is happening..

I remember times when I tried to explain to people what was happening and I needed to get them to understand that how my child was acting wasn’t because I was a bad mom.  I wasn’t a mom who did not care or want better for my kids. I remember people telling me that parenting classes would teach me what I needed to know.  Or they’d say that I needed to be more strict, or even put him in daycare with rule.  Yes, that would be better.

Really? I have gone to so many classes and continue to try and try just to get it right.  Sometimes it works for a bit then it shifts . It shifts for the same reason.  My intelligent kid figured it all out.  Even when I was consistent or strict, it didn’t seem like the answer.

So, as Richard Donner wrote, for parents whose children have mental health challenges it’s not as easy as adjusting to Holland.  Even when you plan, a disaster can appear – a runaway roller coaster, a tsunami, or maybe a tornado touches down in my back yard for me.  So, just drop the house and change our lives so that the mayor of munchkin city can be happier and not as stressed and most of all have lots of friends.

Meri Viano is our guest blogger.  She is the parent of two sons and a daughter who continue to inspire her blog posts.

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