I’ve been mulling over this post for a while and today it all came together. I read this article titled: Maybe We Haven’t Been Critical Enough Of Our Fellow Moms and its thought-provoking response by Christy at her blog Christy’s Houseful Of Chaos.
They both poked a nerve.
You see, I’m accustomed to being judged. Publicly by strangers I don’t even know. Privately by family who should know better. It’s a part of my life that just came with having kids. I’m not even going to say it’s a 2e or special needs thing, because parenting is the most judged thing I’ve ever done. Shamed even. If you don’t follow the “right” parenting methods prepare to be shamed.
So despite my muzzy-headed wonky post-surgery self, I’m sitting down at the computer and trying to polish up a post. Please be lenient – no one writes well when they have tubes stuck up their sinuses.
Let’s get judging.
I am the mother you see in the grocery store with the misbehaving kids. I am the mom with the constantly stressed expression. I am the mother whose kids cause young couples to turn to each other and say “our kids will never act like that in public.” I am that mom.
Here are a few things that I do that other people really judge. Before you go all crazy-eyed on me and call CPS, please read the explanation under the numbers. There really are reasons, good reasons, that I do these things.
1. I snap my fingers at my kids to get their attention.
I don’t just snap my fingers, I whistle. I sing, I use the shiny coaching whistle with the piercing shrill “tweet!” if I have it. I clap my hands loudly. Whatever it takes to get their attention, I do: including screaming their name and running like a mad person. I get looks from people. Lots of looks. Comments too sometimes. So why do I do all this? Because the Engineer just doesn’t hear me. It doesn’t matter how many times I call his name, and ask him to come here, he just won’t. I’m not sure why he tunes me out. Sometimes it’s behavioural, sometimes it’s unconscious. His siblings do it too; mostly because they’re copying him, and because they are the most strong-willed children I have ever met.
What do you do when your child doesn’t stop when you call, and heads right toward a busy street? What should you do if you can’t get their attention as they try to do something incredibly dangerous? You do what works.
2. I drag my kid out of the store by his arm.
It looks bad. He’s fighting every step of the way and probably screaming at the top of his lungs. Why do I do it?
Because he pulled his elbow out a few years ago.
The doctor warned us that we had to be super careful when holding his hand because it can easily happen again. If he’s having a melt down I simply can’t hold his hand – he will pull hard enough to pop the elbow out again. I often have to manage a meltdown with one hand because I’m trying to hold onto the other two kids at the same time, so I end up holding his arm. I can’t let him go because he will blindly bolt away. He’s too big for a harness now, and I have no other options.
3. I stare at my phone a lot.
I’m not ignoring my kids. I’m not on Facebook looking at cute kitten videos. No, I’m trying to communicate by text and email to various doctors or family and friends. You see, I can’t make phone calls with the Engineer around. It’s a trigger for him. I can only make calls when I’m alone, which, since I’m lead parent, is almost impossible. I’ve found ways to make this work but it means I’m texting or emailing a lot. It looks like I’m an absent parent.
4. I let my kids do things you tell your kids not to do.
They want to play in the mulch? Not a problem. They ask to splash in the water from the sprinkler? Sure! Do I care if they whiz a hotwheels car down the slide at the playground? Nope, as long as they don’t hit anyone with it. They can have that stick for a toy. They can carry an acorn in their pocket. I let them play in the grass instead of walking on the path, and I let them climb on bike racks. They get to walk on retaining walls and jump from rocks. They even got to splash around in a stream at the park and get completely wet and muddy just because it looked fun.
Why? Because I pick my battles. Clothes can be washed, hands can be cleaned. I’ll be there right with them to make sure they’re safe as they’re climbing. It’s not worth fighting over something that’s so minor we’ll forget about it the next day. I chose battles where people get hurt. I’ll fight tooth and nail to keep him from throwing things, hitting people, or pushing and shoving.
If I was always on his case about the little things he would hear a constant stream of negativity. I don’t want that. I want him to make good choices and do what’s right. Getting clothes dirty isn’t comparable to hitting his little brother over the head.
5. My house is a mess. No, not a little jumble, a huge mess.
I’m talking you can barely see the countertops. There are school things piled precariously on my desk. There are books stacked so high in my bedroom that I can park my drink on them while I read. Now, the floor is fairly clear, and toys are generally put away where they belong so that the kids have room to play. But I make no excuses about the massive dust bunnies under the bed and the sad state of the bathrooms. Why? Because I have autoimmune diseases. I have a limited amount of energy, and I chose to spend that with the kids instead of cleaning obsessively. Cleaning gets done, but not regularly. It’s not on my priority list. There will always be dust bunnies. There won’t always be a toddler to pick up and spin in circles while he chortles, or three little kids on the sofa with me reading a book together.
I’m hoping that when the kids are older they’ll remember the time I spent with them and not the mess on the counters or the piles of laundry.
6. Some days I just want to leave and never come back.
We all have our stressed out, “I-can’t-handle-this-anymore” moments. Special needs parents have them a lot. I’ll be honest: there are a lot of times when I think that I can’t do it any longer. Days when I look at my kids’ faces and think “why did I have kids?” Those are the days that I spend reading a book after putting the kids to bed instead of doing the laundry. They’re my warning sign that I’ve gone too long trying to conquer the chaos and ignored my self-care needs. Which goes back to #5 and why my house is a perpetual mess. In order to do something specific like self-care, other things won’t get done.
7. I do ignore my kids (sometimes.)
When I’m having a bad day (see #6) and bedtimes are still hours away, I cope by ignoring them. I turn up the music so loud that they stop trying to talk to me. I focus on breathing and de-stressing, and I do something that’s instantly productive to give myself a little optimism. It’s better than yelling and upsetting them as well as myself. And it’s temporary. A mommy time-out while still present, because I can’t ever walk away for a second. That road leads to bloody lips and screaming toddlers if I’m not there to mediate and prevent catastrophe.
8. I cheerfully use videos as a babysitter.
There are times that the kids’ tablets have been the only things that have gotten us through a doctor’s appointment or a long checkout line. I have never met someone with as little patience as the Engineer. He can’t handle it. And if we’re in public, he tries to amuse himself by getting into as much trouble as possible just to see if steam will come out of mommy’s ears. What do you do with a child who knows how to push all your buttons? Push back – and give them a tablet.
It’s impossible trying to talk to a doctor when you’re literally fighting to keep a child off the light switch or fire alarm. Body blocking doesn’t work, by the way. And in case you’re thinking “poor discipline,” I’ll remind you special needs child.
9. Don’t touch me. At all. I’m having a bad day.
I’m not sure if it’s a lead parent thing or a sensory thing, but I get to the point where I don’t want anyone touching me. Kid hugs, husband’s hugs, snuggles and cuddles from the toddler – I hate it. There were times when I was nursing the Destroyer that it took everything I had not to scream and push him away because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I feel like a failure as a mother because I should cherish those hugs and cuddles. And I do cherish them when I’m feeling better. Until then I’m just enduring them.
There are days when whole patches of my skin feel like they’re covering swathes of deep bruises. The slightest touch makes me flinch. The brush of clothing against my skin is almost enough to make me cry. It’s an autoimmune thing, and it’s just something I have to endure until it goes away. How do you explain that to a 3-year old who loves to give hugs? I can’t. So I take the hug and try not to cry.
10. I raise my voice more than I want to.
I can’t get their attention. Whoever said to whisper when you want them to listen haven’t met my kids. A whisper gets lost in the medley of screams, whining, yelling, and top-of-your-lungs constant conversation. The Engineer has psychomotor overexcitabilities. He’s in constant motion and he NEVER shuts up! The other two end up loudly talking (or yelling) just so that we can hear them over the Engineer. The only way for me to get the Engineer’s attention sometimes is to yell above the noise.
I don’t really consider it yelling unless I’m doing it in anger. Raising your voice isn’t always a bad thing – raising it in anger or frustration is the problem. The Engineer flinches when I yell in anger. The Destroyer breaks out crying, and the Princess’ face crumples into tears. Yelling is the last thing I want to do when I’m upset, but it happens more than I like because I feel like I can’t get through to the Engineer. I feel better when I don’t yell. The Engineer doesn’t behave better when I don’t yell, but he’s not so anxious. So I’m trying not to yell. And I don’t let a litany of failures weigh me down – I simply try to handle it better next time, and I apologize if needed.
I hate writing this. I know people are going to read it and still judge, despite my explanations.
Someone posted on a homeschooling Facebook group how they couldn’t stand it when parents snapped their fingers at their kids. They talked about how they were in the checkout line at a store and a parent did this, and how they stared the parent down until the parent felt ashamed and quit. It made me sad. It’s bad enough we deal with all this special needs crap when we go out of the house. We also have to deal with disapproval from other people on how we handle the issues and meltdowns. I wish I could say it doesn’t matter what they think – but truthfully, it does matter. Every judgemental look, every comment, every clueless assumption hurts.
Worse, every time someone says or shows their disapproval the kids notice. No wonder the Engineer thinks he’s a bad kid despite all the effort we make to separate behavior from person. Sometimes he can’t help it. That doesn’t matter to those judging us – all they see is “bad kid.” Or “bad parent.”
In general, I try not to judge. It’s not my business. It’s not your business either if you see a child pitching a tantrum in the grocery store. Or a parent dragging their kid out to the car. It’s not my place to say something to a parent struggling to deal with a difficult situation. It’s the parents’ place, the family’s place, the close friends who know the situation. It’s their job to step in and have a hard talk with the parents if they see a problem, and be willing to listen to what’s going on behind the scenes.
Unless there’s actual abuse occurring it’s not my place. And even then, it’s the government officials’ place to step in and intervene (after we alert them, of course.)
I’m vainly hoping that if I write enough about this perhaps people will stop judging so much.
Probably not. I’ll keep trying anyway. If one of my posts causes people to think before judging, it’s worth it.