I get a lot of parenting advice that makes me cry.
I don’t consider myself a big cry baby or a bad mom. And yet, if you give a mom enough unsolicited and completely irrelevant advice, you’ll be sure to have her crying and feeling terrible about herself in no time.
I wasn’t going to write this post for a host of reasons. But then I was reminded that God doesn’t give us our stories for nothing. They are our stories, and they matter. Our stories connect us to one another. They help us learn about one another and develop our understanding of points of view that we would otherwise never consider. Our stories encourage empathy and broaden our eyes to take in experiences that are not our own, but that we hold the capacity to understand none the less. All of this happens when we share our stories.
I don’t write about personal details here on the blog because I’m narcissistic or looking for ways to stroke my own ego. I write and I share because I know my story matters. I write because it’s important for us to understand that all that we know is limited to our own experience and that if we truly want to understand others and develop insight and understanding and empathy and wisdom, then we have to start by sharing our own story and listening to others.
Here is a little bit of my own.
I don’t consider myself an excellent mother, by any means, but I do love being a mom. I love my kids and this gig we call motherhood and I’m acutely aware of how precious this season of life is. I was born into motherhood with a baptism of fire, an experience that I’ve written about before. (You can read those posts here and here). I have no qualms about telling you that I had incredibly unrealistic expectations of motherhood that were immediately crushed from the gate. To make matters worse, my identity had been built on the shifting sands of career, status, and relationships, which lead to several years of for lack of a better word – struggle.
I struggled as a mom, a wife, a friend, and as a human being. I didn’t know who I was. I felt like everything I wanted was ripped from me and replaced with everything I was sure I couldn’t handle and definitely didn’t ask for (or want).
Now, six years and three kids later, I can look back at all that from a place of personal growth. God has been good to me and graciously showed me who I am, and who I am not. I’ve mellowed in my motherhood. I’ve learned to let go of a lot of things that didn’t matter, and my eyes have been opened to the few things that matter deeply.
And yet, through all that, a certain struggle has remained.
My oldest, continues to be a tough kid. Oh sure, the initial struggles of having a baby born too early have long since past, but now we face a new world of struggles and frustrations.
This year, Theo was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. Kids who have sensory struggles face a spectrum of issues, but one of Theo’s chief struggles is that he is sensory seeking.
All kids know and understand their world through their senses until about the age of nine. This means that they learn and grow and understand through their senses. But for kids like Theo, their brains can’t process what they sense. In other words, their brain can’t make sense of what they sense. Everything enters their brain like a rush hour traffic jam and gets stuck/lost/confused. As a result, some kids – like Theo- become sensory seeking because they are constantly and desperately trying to orient themselves in their world through sensory input – but can’t.
What does this look like for Theo?
This is why Theo isn’t content to just go down a slide – he needs to climb up it. His body and brain crave intense physical exertion in order to get the input they need. Theo’s brain literally can’t make sense of his world without that heavy input. This is why he is constantly climbing too high, flinging himself off things, covered in mud, hiding behind all the displays at Lowes and Aldi, and why – recently – he hauled an entire load of wood from the garage to a tree to build a fort, all by himself. It’s as impressive as it is maddening. He becomes quite focused and obsessive when his brain is seeking sensory input, causing him to almost not be able to see or hear anyone around him outside of the task he focused on.
And it makes him destructive.
It’s kinda like this…If you were to put a drug addict across from his personal brand of drugs, with only a glass window separating the two, you would end up with a lot broken windows, right? That’s kind of how it is with Theo. Theo is on one side and his sensory input is on the other, and alllll of our stuff is the only thing separating the two. He isn’t destructive because he is malicious. He is destruction because his brain is, well, a little desperate. So in all his sensory seeking, he ends up destroying our house, our furniture, his clothes…pretty much everything. And it’s the most bizarre thing to witness. It’s not like he throws things in a fit of rage. It’s more like a benevolent giant who can’t quite help destroying everything in his wake. He feels bad, but he doesn’t know what to do about it.
You honestly can’t understand it unless you’ve lived it.
This is why I’ve encouraged Theo’s budding chef skills. It’s a full body skill that requires a lot of movement, quick thinking, and fine motor skills. Anything that requires Theo to zero in on the task in front of him – whether it’s cooking or Legos – helps soothe and calm him.
On top of Theo’s sensory struggles, he has inherited some of his parent’s strongest personality traits: he is bull headed, willful, creative, curious, inquisitive, and refuses to go with the flow. He doesn’t take things at face value, and because his mind is constantly working, he needs an intrinsic – often intellectual – motivation in order to do something.
And therein lies the rub.
All of these qualities, I believe, make for one incredible adult. I have no doubt that Theo will climb mountains, cure cancer, and/or become president one day (or something like that). His capabilities are boundless. But how do you parent that kid? How do you keep a kid like that safe? How do you parent the rest of your kids and take care of your spouse and your home and your job and everything else you are responsible for? Theo is a full time job, and it’s exhausting and frustrating and most days, I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, I just know I’m tired and feel like I’m messing it all up.
I can’t tell you how discouraging it is to hear modern parenting advice that does nothing but leave you feeling like you are a colossal failure – and honestly, most days I feel like that on my own.
As I mentioned, a common struggle we face is the destruction of our home. Theo is not violent. He doesn’t yell or do things maliciously. His destructiveness is purely the result of busy fingers, an inquisitive mind, and a brain that is constantly pushing him to seek out more and more sensory input.
People tell me that we need to MAKE him understand that he has to respect our home and things. Other people tell me that my frustration at seeing my home destroyed reveals my own selfishness. People tell me to do time outs, while others say DON’T DO TIME OUTS YOU WILL RUIN THEIR PSYCHE!
Do you know what it’s like to take Theo to the playground? Do you know what it’s like to get those looks from other moms who literally don’t get it? Do you know what it’s like to make the decision to homeschool, not because you want to homeschool, but because you saw that public school made all of your kid’s struggles worse? Do you know how maddening it is to try and parent a child whose brain is constantly telling him to do things that a six year old should not be doing? Do you know what it’s like to have your child labeled as a behavior problem at school, when you know the problem is not their behavior, but the horrible combination of what his brain needs and what schools require? Do you know what it’s like to stare into your kid’s eyes and know that their HEART is so SO good, but their BEHAVIOR is so incredibly spastic and energetic and just plain all consuming? Do you???
The reality is, many of you do not.
But also, the reality is many of you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Hear me out – not understanding this personal brand of struggle doesn’t mean you yourself don’t struggle. Being a mom is the hardest job in the world, not matter what type of kid you have. But if we are to truly understand each other and offer our fellow mommas the empathy and sympathy and support they need, then we need to wake up and realize that me expressing a struggle that you don’t experience DOESNT take away from the reality of your own struggle. Good grief. I’m tired of feeling like it’s a competition. It’s NOT. It’s a fight for survival, and we need to stop fighting each other and start fighting FOR one another. Because we need each other. But we also need to be brave and honest to admit when others face things we can’t understand. The mutual vulnerability of one momma saying she’s struggling and another momma saying she doesn’t understand – but she cares – is where the magic happens. That’s called empathy. That’s called love. That’s called FRIENDSHIP, for goodness sake.
But I digress…
Lately, I’ve been going on a lot of walks. Life at home has felt so overwhelming that my way of coping is to get everyone as settled as possible after an incident, make sure Mike is available to keep eyes on everyone, and then head out for a walk. The other day, we had two horrible days in a row. I left my house for the second walk of the day feeling hopeless and in total despair.
How am I supposed to parent this kid? How am I supposed to take care of my other kids when my oldest just dominates my attention and our day? And how – Dear Lord in Heaven – HOW am I supposed to homeschool this kid?
I felt the most miserable because I felt like I had no one to turn to. There is nothing worse than, in these moments, to turn to someone whose response runs the gamut of: “There’s always something” (Um yea. Thanks for the pick me up. Does Halmark know about you?), to “Oh my kids do the same thing” (by and large no, no they do not), to “Have you tried…..” (Just DON’T).
I don’t know how I’m going to do this, guys. I’m just being honest. I don’t know how to parent Theo well while also parenting his siblings. I don’t know how we are going to get through homeschooling this year. I don’t know how to be the mom I need to be. I don’t know how to teach my kids to know God and love others when I can barely keep my oldest from jumping out of things he shouldn’t jump out of, and getting into everything he shouldn’t touch.
I just don’t know.
But I do know this.
I know God is there for me on the days when I know I can’t turn to anyone else because they are just going to give me some stupid parenting advice. I know that he gave me these kids ON PURPOSE. I know that if he entrusted them to me, then I can trust that I’m the girl for the job – screw ups included. I know that what Theo (and all my kids) need is not a perfect mom, but a mom who is willing to admit when she messes up. A mom who humbles herself before God and the people she has wronged and is willing to say, “I’m sorry. I messed up. Forgive me?” I don’t ever want to be the mom who dishes out correction left and right but can’t hear when she herself has been wrong. I don’t want to be the person who just apologizes for hurting someone’s feelings, I want to be the person who apologizes for the behavior that hurt.
They need me to be the mom who isn’t afraid to say she doesn’t know it all or have it all together, and invites everyone to be a part of the learning and the growing. And I know that the same God that is there for me is there for my kids. I know he has big plans for them. Plans that I’m not capable of screwing up. I know that the best gift I can give my kids is not a perfect mom, but introducing them to a perfect God.
Friends, this post is meant to be descriptive, not prescriptive. I’m not prescribing to you a way of parenting that I think to be the best because, good grief, I know without a shadow of a doubt that I don’t know anything. This post is my way of sharing my story with you so that you, the momma with a extra special tough kid, will know that you are not alone. It’s my way of sharing my story with others who haven’t walked this path so that, yes, you can kind of ease up on the raised eyebrow at the park. It’s my way of sharing my story because I firmly believe that most of us don’t need another parenting “How To” book, we need a community of fellow mommas who will cheer each other on – sometime giving advice if it’s asked for or warranted, but mostly, just reminding each other that the tools you need to parent your kids are already inside of you. That’s why they are YOUR kids – whether they were birthed by your body or by love, they are YOURS, and what they need most is YOU. You, with all your strengths, weaknesses, quirks, passions, and interests. Parent your kids out of the wealth of who you are, and who you were made to be.
You don’t need a parenting book, you need parenting support. You need solidarity. You need a friend. I’m here to say that I want to be that friend.
Life isn’t gonna change with your tough kid anytime soon. I keep expecting things to get easier when we hit this milestone or reach this stage. But the truth of the matter is that life doesn’t get easier, we get stronger. We can’t always change our story, but we can change how we view ourselves in the story of our own life.
So let me tell you what I had to tell myself on my walk(s) the other day.
You are not a victim. You are a fighter. You are a warrior momma and you are EXACTLY who your child needs right here, right now. In this season. In this battle.
You’re doing a good job, momma. And I’m here to tell you I know it’s hard, and I know you’re hurting, and I can’t take that away.
But I can be your friend through it all.
Rebekah, your His Girl Friday