Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Being a bad parent

This is just a quick post about how it feels like I am being a bad parent... it always has done... because I have "that child" is one of my three children.

"That child" who is clearly not always well liked by teachers because he does not behave the way children are expected to behave in school (mostly because he is protesting the fact that he cannot learn the way they teach in the only way he can in a state of over sensory panic)

Until he was almost three I had a calm and content child... so I assumed I had lucked out on having three amazing children... his older twin sisters were/are model school students... they work hard, they know how to say the right things, they are polite and considerate...

Then, suddenly it was like someone flipped a switch - and this child before me seemed to be at war with the world is it did not perform they way he liked it.

Every day when I picked him up from preschool I heard about the things he had not done, the problems he had caused... and I would meet these comments with efforts of trying to do a better job so that they would not be repeated... of course his behaviour in the preschool/school is completely out of my control and power... but it still made me feel like a bad mother... this child of mine was causing problems...
I remember in his final year of preschool when his new teacher said something positive about him... I actually cried... in fact I am tearing up right now... it was so overwhelming to constantly hear negative things about your child that the positive words just made me a ball of emotions...

I also remember getting an angry email from a mother of a child a few years later accusing my son of being mean to her daughter and teasing her. He was calling her fat. Now I knew at the time that my son could say things as they were without adding any value to them... ie that fat was not a negative but simply an observation... for some reason society has place a negative value of fat - so that it has become an insult.
When I asked my son about it he told me that she was fat... (I knew the girl was overweight too) but that he had noticed that when he said that to her she would leave him (he did not notice that she became sad) - the problem had been that she would come and disturb him all the time because he was an English speaker and this fascinated her... and she would follow him all the time and would not leave hi alone when he repeatedly asked her to leave. But she did when he said "you're fat". He used it as a last resort tool to get rid of her, not as a phrase to tease her.
The long angry and abusive letter I got was of the kind that makes you feel like a bad mother... and I had to count to a hundred before answering that one... but I did pointing out the facts of the case, that I would talk to my son about how he was making her feel, but that she also needed to talk to her daughter about not harassing my son - I got no reply from her.

I have to frequently let my son know that certain words and certain phrases might be considered insulting by others - and he is surprised just about every time... sometimes I really need to convince him that the phrase is not appropriate, that even if HE thinks the sentence is not insulting he has to consider how others listening will perceive him.

As he gets older he gets better at this. As we have practiced with more phrases... but it is still an almost weekly event about what can/should be said... from a socially acceptable point of view

Today he came home from school and said (for the first time in many many years... and the tears are coming to my eyes again) that the other children in the class like him.

THEN there is all the stuff about being a good parents and giving your child freedom and letting them decide themselves how much screen time they get and when they go to bed and all of that...

I simply cannot do that... despite the fact that I talk about a democratic classroom and children making decisions... my children's well-being will always come first. There are decisions that I have to make, decisions that are not popular with my son because it means he cannot access screen time like he wants to... which would probably be ALL the time. I need to manage that for him... but as he gets older I see him being more capable of being able to make these decisions for himself... but my child with autism/ADHD is in many ways like a toddler... he might be almost 14 but in some instances his social and emotional reactions are like a toddler... and his decision making skills have been there too.
As he matures he will get more power in the decision making department... based on his ability and his well-being.

Working with toddlers and young children there are many things they want to do, that you know as an adult are not good for them... and that you have to make that unpopular decision so that you know you are working with your child's long term well-being and not being happy for the moment.

I see that he is going to be capable of doing all of this himself... but what maybe the average 11 might be able to manage about screen time management is something my son still struggles with at almost 14... but is getting there. I want him to develop a self regulation so that when he is an adult and I am not there to help him with regulation he will be able to have a balanced life, that he is able to have control over when he plays on screens rather than the screens compelling him to play like an addiction.

There was a time when my son got so aggressive when he played... or more correctly when he finished playing (to eat, to spend time with family, to have a bath, to go outside) that he made family life pretty miserable for everyone... himself included... because all the time he was trying to work out how to get back onto a screen, how to ensure he got more time than his sisters (as they shared) etc etc. So we rationed the time - gave him 10 hours a week that he could decide how he spent those 10 hours - so that somedays after 2 days there was no time left... and he got on with building lego, drawing and doing other stuff... he got the chance to re-discover the non screen things in his room.
Once he had made this rediscovery - in a way was rehabilitated - he gets more freedom... personally I would love to take his smartphone from him, as he is on a screen so so much more than what I would like...
BUT at the same time I see him using the screen to socialise with others... I see how he is great at negotiating, planning, leading in games and extremely generous... and I see this is slowly seeping into real life... he has always been generous, kind and loving... but in the school environment he is often too overwhelmed to be able to show these skills - so far to frequently he has been seen as the opposite.

BUT every now and again I just HAVE to put my foot down and get him off the screen and to do something else... there has to be a variety in his life... not just screen play and learning... but a hundred languages... and its hard to be using all those hundred languages if you are constantly being the language of a screen.

Then there is the whole outdoor bit... and how good parents take their children outside, and that nature is good for them... and how children feel at ease and better outside...
This is not always the case... it is a uphill battle to get my son outside - despite his love of frogs and other creatures... he is not at peace out there... he is literally whining every step of the way when we have gone for nature walks... to the point where as a parent you are literally screaming inside. There have been times where I have had to just walk off and let my husband take over for a while, as my patience has come to an end...
I see other parents taking out their children and having a fabulous time in nature, or museums or other activities... all impossible things for me and my son (but fully possible with my daughters... so we have had to do things where as a family we have had to split up to meet all their needs).

Internet is great... you get access to so much support and so much research... but at the same time it can make you feel like a bad parent because you simply cannot do the simplest of parenting things.

my son, not understanding why he cannot paddle in the freezing fast flowing river


  1. Marta Mazowiecka-Kocyk17 February 2018 at 01:00

    Amazing post Suzanne. I cried reading it because balancing as a good parent according to everyone else is such a tough job. I am still in a fight within myself to balance what I think is right for my children and what the world says. I fight every single day over screen time as my 9 yrs old son is also unable to regulate himself. He too finds it difficult to come back to reality after watching/playing on screen. Being a EY teacher I am very hard with myself feeling the pressure of knowing what's best for children (surprisingly my children hate nature walks too) and knowing the needs of my own children. Just read this beautiful manifesto about our needs and decided to rewrite it and discuss it with my family. "...we all have the same needs but different ways of fulfilling them. The needs of all of us are important. My feelings reflect my needs. My actions reflect the need to fulfill my needs. In my relations I will find a peaceful way to fulfill my needs". I am searching for it everyday.

    1. thank you so much for sharing Marta... it feels so important to share our stories and to feel less alone in all of this.
      I agree being an ECE teacher makes it feel harder... especially when he was younger and my interactions with his preschool teachers was seldom positive... it made me feel not only a failure as a parent but as a teacher too... it really does make you soul search to find that self belief that you are doing the best you can.

      beautiful manifesto - thank you SO much for sharing it.