Today we had a victory in our home. My sensory sensitive daughter could not find anything to wear. Everything was bothering her, even though she has a drawer full of extra soft cotton leggings and cotton shirts. So we spent the better part of an hour trying to find something acceptable. I was annoyed and I was frustrated. So was my daughter.
Here was the victory. She did not melt down. She did not throw herself on the floor and collapse into tears as if summer vacation had just been cancelled. She breathed deeply and she showed frustrations in a measured way. She used her words to share her feelings. This was our victory. And I told her I was proud of her because it was true.
Did I want to pull my hair out? Yes. But we are no strangers to meltdowns in my home. All the triggers were there and yet she held it together. She expressed her feelings without bringing down the house. She worked together with me to figure out a solution. I am sharing this now with all of you because I know that many of you are in the same situation. You know this is a big deal. This is worthy of celebration.
As some of you know, I am a not only a psychologist who works with parents of special needs children but also a parent in this struggle too.
Toddlers, Tiaras and the Reality of Acceptance
Sometimes, I admit, I watch those reality shows that showcase toddlers dressed up as beauty pageant contestants. These show fascinate me. And not only because I am a psychologist thinking about all the future business this will generate.
I am fascinated as a parent of child with learning and sensory issues. None of the minutia of the child beauty pageant would work for my daughter: the noise, the lights, the driving to remote locations, the endless waiting and let’s not forget the clothes. I am fascinated as the parent of a child who often cannot stand to wear socks. I learned early in my life as a mommy to not care too much about how my kid dresses, whether my kid brushes her hair, or even if she wears sneakers to gym class.
So I watch, with a mixture of awe and amusement, these beauty pageant moms cajoling and harassing their children into sequined outfits and teased bouffant hairstyles.
Now we can critique these parents on multiple fronts. It is a psychologist’s smorgasbord of dysfunction. But here is the other thing, while I want no part of the world of pageants, I am a tiny bit jealous of these parents who can clearly impose their own hopes, dreams and unfulfilled wishes on their children without one slip of regret or reflection. These are parents, broadly speaking, that have specific ideas about success in childhood. From the clothing to the dancing to the primping these pageants are all about the hopes and dreams of the parent. Hopes and dreams that they transmit to their children whether that child likes it or not.
When you are raising a quirky kid, it becomes clear pretty quickly that your job as a parent isn’t to impose your vision of activities and accomplishments but to help your child excel in their own unique way.
Often that means letting go and even grieving your ideas about the type of child you thought you would parent. Embracing the child you were blessed with is an art form. Parenting a child that doesn’t quite fit in allows you, the parent, to practice letting go of that perfect idealized child of your dreams.
In fact, I believe all parents come to this place. The place where you accept who your child is and support their actual needs and self generated dreams. As the parents of special needs children, we are the lucky few that get to practice acceptance and letting go. We practice this early and often.
I care about how my daughter behaves when she feels frustrated. She feels frustrated a lot and needs a lot of practice learning what to do about it. It is a victory when she expresses her distress in an appropriate and modulated way.
I care how she treats other people, even when she is in distress. I care about her learning that it is ok to make mistakes.
Our victory is in showing determination, even when you fail. This is a work in progress… a two steps forward one step back situation. Not all days are good days but I hope the general direction is good.
Determination and resilience, this is what I want for both of my children. I do not know what life will bring for them. Of course, I hope they both will accomplish great things and be successful. But whatever comes, I do know that determination and resilience will serve them well, no matter what.
It just so happens that in our house, we practice developing determination and resilience, one pair of itchy pants at a time.