Thursday, February 2, 2012

Parenting and Staying Sane All at the Same Time

Note: My favorite part about being a writer is having someone respond to something I wrote and say, "Yes! Me too!" It's comforting to know that others feel or have gone through the same things as you. I often have the feeling that I am the only person who has ever experienced certain things in my life—a terrible, isolating feeling. I'm sharing this story (at the encouragement of a friend) in hopes that it may help others (and I know there are lots out there) who have gone through similar circumstances.

I was completely prepared to be a mother.

I was going to be the best mother any child ever had.

What a lucky kid this baby was going to be.

I mean, you know, I had worked in day cares and church nurseries since I was fifteen. I babysat so much in high school that it was almost a full time job for me. And parents loved me. I was in high demand. And let's not forget the fact that I have a minor in early-childhood education and was completely devoted to being a teacher until I hit the age of twenty-two and developed a bad case of the Who-Am-I's.

That being said, there are two things that motherhood has taught me:

  1. Reality's a funny little guy.
  2. God uses everything to bring us closer to him.

First son was from the beginning . . . difficult. At the age of two, he was extremely high energy—but he was a boy and he was two. At the age of three, he was impossible to potty train—but he was a boy and he was three. At the age of four, his preschool teacher would call me in so that I could, literally, scrape him up off the floor—but he was a boy and he was four. At the age of five, we received weekly notes about his inability to focus—but he was a boy and he was five. At the age of six, his teacher called me in and asked if I thought about having him tested for ADD—but he was a boy and he was six. At the age of seven, his teacher called me in and asked if I thought about having him tested for ADD—but he was a boy and he was seven. At the age of eight, his teacher called me in and asked if I thought about having him tested for ADD—but . . . but . . . but . . .

So . . . something's clearly amiss.

But, I don't believe in giving children serious mind-altering drugs. I just don't. I've never believed in it and I never will. Fortunately for me, I made a wise decision at the tender age of twenty-three. It frightens me now that I made this decision at such a young age when I was quite a different person from the one I am now, but I made it nonetheless, thanks to God—I married Husband.

Though I have core beliefs that I have held for my entire adult life and that I feel certain I will hold for the remainder of my life, I must admit that when it comes to some things, I am easily swayed. When I would spend the entire evening every school night helping my child with homework that should take an hour, I was tempted to give him drugs. When I would spend night after night teaching First Son (who can build complicated legos by himself) the difference between a verb and a noun, I was tempted to give him drugs. When my expectations for honor roll grades fell to hopes of As, Bs, and Cs, and then to hopes of just-please-for-the-love-of-God-don't-fail, I was tempted to give him drugs. When teachers called me in and spoke of the miraculous turn-arounds that they witnessed in medicated children with First Son's condition, I was tempted to give him drugs. And, honestly, the only reason I didn't was because Husband wouldn't hear of it.

Let me say up front that I do not judge anyone who has decided to medicate their children. I disagree with it, but I do not judge it. A few different life decisions on my part and I would have almost certainly been one of those people—so, no judgment.

I'll admit that Husband's uncompromising stance against medicating First Son angered me at first. After all, I was the one taking on the full burden of homework, conferences with teachers, and pressure to do something. But really, it was my pride that was hurt. I always imagined that my children would be like me and that school and good grades would be of the utmost importance to them. And here was my first child, not giving a lick about bad grades or good grades, indeed acting as if he didn't even realize that he was being graded in the first place. Is there a pill that will make him care about how bad he's making me look? Is there a pill for this?

Yes, there is a pill for this. There is also a pill for people who feel that they are not outgoing enough. There is a pill for those who are not as happy as they would like to be. There is a pill for an achy head. A pill for food that won't digest just right. A pill for sore muscles after a hard workout. A pill for someone who wants to overindulge but doesn't want to be fat. Can't go to sleep at night? Take a pill. Can't wake up in the morning? Take a pill. "Why be uncomfortable?" the medical community asks us, "when you can be medicated."

What is our aim in all this medication? Are we trying to create a uniform society in which we all act and feel the same? I, for one, have struggled with acute shyness my entire life. In my youth, if I were offered a pill that would make me less socially awkward, I would have jumped at it—anything to not feel so different. Now, though I don't embrace my shyness like I should, I see that it has protected me in many ways and brought me to this place of peace and contentment in which I find myself at this time in my life.

I thank God for this, in helping me to see that He loves me and accepts me for what I am and that it doesn't matter that the world views shyness as undesirable because it is impossible to please the world, but so easy to please God, by merely loving and accepting Him in return.

I had to remember all of this in regards to First Son. No, he will never be a straight-A student. No, he is not going to cry when he is sick and has to miss a school day like I did. No, he will never sit perfectly still in his desk. No, he will not need someone to help him carry his certificates home on Awards Day. No, he is not me. He's just him. And that's okay. In fact, it's amazing, because that's who God wants him to be.

Once I was able to accept First Son, it was easier to help him. Easier—not easy. Husband and I started by taking away all video games and almost all television, except for Saturday morning because we quite like a sleep-in on Saturday morning and with three kids that is impossible without the television (so sue us!). Any kid, not just one who has trouble focusing, should not be watching too much TV or playing too many video games in the first place. After all, these things aren't life. These are things that are used to check out of life. Why do we want our children checking out of life?

Husband and I then, as John Rosemond suggests in his many wonderful books on raising children, tried to discipline First Son with an old-fashioned approach. In other words, not concerning ourselves with his "self-esteem" and instead concerning ourselves with some basic things—you are the child, I am the parent, I make the decisions, you accept them, the same goes for all adults in your life, end of discussion. This isn't as simple as it sounds. Husband and I had become lazy with our parenting. It's easier and more fun to be your kid's friend instead of his parent. But that's not our job. It's a serious business raising kids and we had stopped taking it seriously.

Husband and I don't pride ourselves on our patience, but we knew that it would be impossible to make some much needed changes in First Son without patience. We made patience a priority. In addition to being more patient, we tried to be more understanding of First Son without feeling sorry for him, and to make sure that he was accountable for his actions.

I also forced myself to make him responsible for himself. Instead of checking over homework and making sure it was all completed and sitting neatly in his folder. I would ask, "Do you have everything you need for tomorrow?" And when he said yes, even though I could clearly see his multiplication problems sitting on his desk, I didn't point it out. He would have to take the consequence.

So, he started taking the consequences. Progress reports came out right before Christmas break and First Son's grades were so appalling that I could barely look at them and wanted, like an ostrich, to bury my head in the sand and sing "La, la, la, la, la, la" in the hopes that I could forget all about them. But forget about them, I could not.

We had two problems—First Son was making bad grades and First Son didn't care that he was making bad grades. Bad grades are unacceptable. They just are. So, Christmas break wasn't all joys and laughter for First Son. While his brother and sister were playing with friends and new toys, First Son was reading books and writing book reports on them and editing book reports and re-writing them and completing worksheets and reading more and crying about it the whole time.

A couple of weeks ago, his teacher called me crying too, saying that she has seen the most remarkable difference in him and that he is now taking his time with tests and reading over things carefully and he made A's on three tests! I cried with her and thanked her for her part and she said the most perfect thing that a teacher can say, "It's not me, but God."

It's not me, but God. God gives us everything we need to be parents. Dr. Drames is an angel when I need antibiotics for a bad case of strep throat, but I don't need her to help me parent. It's not me, but God. We know what to do, we know it in our heart and in our head, we just let other people make us doubt. It's not me, but God. Like I could even do it myself. Why would I even want to try?

I'm not ready to start celebrating our victory, yet. I'm not even ready to check out the fourth-grade-hall yet. But still, I finally have something that I didn't have before—hope. This hasn't happened overnight and I think, like all things that are worthwhile, it will still be a difficult road. But there are two things that I know to be true—with God, we can do it and I'm sick of Husband always being right about everything.


  1. Hollie, good for you! My little brother had ADD and they put so much pressure on my mom to medicate. Even to the point of threatening child neglect charges. Craziness. He is now doing great in the Navy, even unmedicated through school. I agree... Pills are so pushed for everything.

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