I drove, too quickly, out of the neighborhood. The tears stung my eyes, but I willed them away. I will NOT cry. I will keep it together, I vowed silently as I drove.
Mercifully, the tears receded as I resignedly trudged into the grocery store. Heading to the bakery section, I found some plain sugar cookies, then filled my basket with chocolate frosting and glittery, pastel sprinkles. After paying for this sugary lot, I got back in my car and headed for home, mulling the circumstances in which I found myself.
My child had brought a friend home after school. I was delighted, and had such high hopes for this pre-teen get-together. The invited student seemed like a nice enough kid, and I was sure that this time would be different. However, after-school time was tricky for my own child…mental fatigue had clearly set in after a busy day. I could see it in her face as soon as she entered the door. We were used to this, as it has been a part of her life since her illness in preschool. Coupled with her difficulties with “small talk,” it made for some sticky play dates, and often, my daughter spent time alone.
Very quickly, the new friend got bored and began complaining. “There’s nothing to do.” I made some gentle suggestions and tried to engage both girls, but to no avail. As a last-ditch effort, I suggested a cooking activity, which was met with some enthusiasm. My cupboards bare, I set out for the store, angry, hurting and feeling altogether fed up.
As I drove home, I dialed my friend, Julie, who answered immediately. “Hey, friend. What’s happening?” rang her cheerful voice. “I’m having a pity party. For ME,” I responded. Julie’s response was perfect. “OOOOOOH! A party! Pick me! I’ll come!” This, of course, made me giggle, diffusing my bad mood. Julie then asked about the events of the day. “I feel like everyone else’s kids have a million friends, and I am the only person in the world who has to pitch in like this,” I vented. Julie let me get it all out. She empathized, gave practical feedback, and made me laugh again. By the time I reached home, I was ready to guide my child in a positive way.
Parents raising kids with hidden disabilities have these kinds of days…discouraging, lonely, frustrating. Well-meaning folks will eagerly pitch in with phrases like, “Oh, all kids do that!” or “It’s just a phase…he’ll grow out of it!” or even, “You just worry too much…it’s really nothing.” These minimizing phrases can really hurt and quickly close off communication. Parents who have spent hours in a neurologist’s office, or who are driving to daily occupational therapy appointments know that their situation is anything but normal. So, when parents need to vent, LISTEN. Nod, smile, give a reassuring touch. As you do this, try these phrases:
- This sounds so frustrating. What a difficult day you have had!
- What can I do to make you feel better?
- You’re doing a great job with your child.
These kinds of phrases don’t minimize a parent’s pain and worry. Instead, this kind of feedback affirms the difficulty of the situation, and allows the listener to immediately provide help and encouragement specific to the situation at hand.
Oh, and keep your cabinets stocked with chocolate frosting and sprinkles…when dealing with cranky pre-teens, it works like a charm.