As someone who has edited a book about parenting children with invisible special needs like ADHD, ADD, OCD, Anxiety, Autism, FASD, and any number of other alphabet-soup diagnoses, I’ve noticed something curious: people have started asking for my expert opinion about parenting.
I am the expert on nothing except stress, I say. And not in a how-to-overcome-it-and-lead-a-happy-life kind of way, either. As in, I am constantly stressed and since every time I seem to get over a particularly large parenting hurdle I see another up ahead. I have no real idea how to tame the stress monster that threatens to take over my life.
My son’s behavioral issues seem to come in cycles. Because of his processing problems and potential for sensory overload (all of which are due to prenatal alcohol exposure; he has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder), the more calm and contained we can keep things, the better. But then something happens, like we go on a trip, or we have a visitor, or my husband has to work a lot, or we go to a family party, or the seasons change, or they’re having a field trip in school, or what he thought we were having for dinner isn’t…and it’s an all-systems go moment for him, and the part of his brain that functions pretty well in calm moments stops – and the impulsive, sensory-seeking, wild mind takes over.
When he’s worked up it takes Herculean efforts on our parts to manage him. Tantrums, throwing things, screaming, impulsivity, swearing, arguing for the sake of arguing – and no real way to stop him besides physically removing him from the situation.
Every time something triggers him, his behavior triggers me. If he blows, I blow – maybe not always in the moment, because in the moment I have to deal with him – but I can feel my shoulders rise, my throat get tight, my head begin to throb, and unless I can handle the situation quickly the stress monster has me, and has me good. Even when the incident is over I can’t think of anything but what just happened, how I could have managed it better, and how terrible a mom I am.
Recently my son has been in a good cycle. At home we’ve been keeping it calm and predictable. I’ve had time to exercise, see friends, and have a little fun. My children have been getting along. My husband has been balancing his job and home better than he has in a while. I’ve felt like I had a handle on my life and my stress. All has been great, until…
Carpool. My son goes to a school for children with special needs – learning challenges, behavioral problems, and difficulty regulating their emotions. It’s a good fit. It’s also an hour from home.
Carpool usually is quiet, except when it’s not. And yesterday it wasn’t. I don’t know what was going on with them, but the minute they got together they started sniping, goading, and teasing each other.
All efforts I made to stop it, including asking them nicely, asking them not so nicely, threatening to involve parents, threatening consequences to my child, didn’t work. I was ignored. And we still had 20 minutes left in the car.
My guy escalated fast: he swore at the other two kids and threatened them, then pulled his fork from his lunch box, bent it in half, and waved it around. “I’m gonna shove this up your butt!” he yelled to one of the kids.
I pulled over.
I then took my child from the car and swatted his behind. I screamed, “What are you doing? Why are you acting this way?” He screamed, cried, then said if he had a gun I would be dead. We got back in the car.
For the last 20 minutes of the car ride there was complete silence. We walked into school, the kids put their lunches away and went out to the playground, and I burst into tears. The school director gave me a sympathetic ear but it did little to calm me.
The rest of the day I was a mess. I couldn’t think of much else besides what happened in the car and how I completely mishandled it. How did spanking him solve the problem? How did screaming? But what would have been better? Completely ignoring them? Allowing him to continue to scream obscenities? Allowing them to continue to tease him and goad him and grin when they got him to explode?
I have no answer. And I’m not writing this in the hopes that someone here can tell me what I should have done. I can’t change what happened. I can only try to change what will happen. And part of that is taking a break from carpool for a while – a good long while. Several extra hours a week driving in peace is worth it to me, as is keeping my boy – and me – calm. Anything to keep that stress monster away.
(Image courtesy of flickr user autumn bliss)