“I hate you and I wish you were dead.” The words stung, though not as much as they did the first few times they were uttered. My 5-year-old looked at me with fire in his eyes and in that moment, it was hard to believe he was the same little boy who compliments me whenever I put on more than leggings and a T-shirt. He hugs so hard it takes my breath away. But his words can knock the wind out of me just as much.
I was a naturally compliant child raised by loving parents who had high standards. They expected a lot from me, and I generally didn’t disappoint. We had rules and discipline and it all seemed very logical and orderly. My sister and I both grew to be educated adults who follow after Jesus and care about those around us. I thought I could just replicate what my parents did and get the same result. But none of my kids fit into that mold – my middle son being the one furthest from my comfort zone.
I’ve read dozens of parenting books and tried so many discipline methods, but nothing seems to work, at least not consistently. My sweet little boy can literally turn on an emotional dime and become a terror. I feel guilty for the days that I don’t like him. I think I am failing because none of the ways I parent are working. I dread taking him out in public, especially with my other children. Basic family tasks, like making it through a church service or a grocery shopping trip, wipe me out for the rest of the day. Keeping him from running away or rolling on the floor leaves me frazzled. Trying to restrain his wild, flying limbs exhausts me. Sometimes we just stay home; it is easier, but lonely.
For years, we had been encouraged by well-meaning friends and family to have him diagnosed, with something, anything, to explain why he didn’t behave like a normal child. I always fought this because I thought he was just a high-energy boy. In my mind, he deserves to know he is loved just as he is and that being an energetic boy doesn’t make him deficient, but I still didn’t know what to do with him. We met with a child psychologist who concluded there were no major red flags other than he was likely a gifted child. A year later, I am still facing the same daily battles. I’ve decided that I don’t care what we call it, but I need help.
As we begin the formal process of getting help, both for us and for him, I’m still not really interested in a label or diagnosis unless it comes with tools. How do I make it better? Can I make life easier for us, at least easier than it is now? It’s scary. A big part of me fears us going through this long and expensive process, only to be told that my child can’t be helped. What if this is my parenting failure and I must learn to live with it?
It’s still hard to accept that the way in which I was parented doesn’t work for my son. I thought the way my parents did things was the right way. I’m being forced to confront my preconceptions about parenting. I wanted to do what my parents had done, as if checking off all the right boxes was a guarantee of a desired outcome. However, I am not my mother and my son is not me. Just as my faith has become my own, rather than blind acceptance of my parents’ teachings, I must discover a way of parenting that works for my unique children.
I keep falling back onto one assurance: God loves my son. He is not an accident. I was meant to be his mother, which means there is hope for both of us. Help, in whatever form it comes, is possible. I still yell more than I would like to, but I try to speak words of love and encouragement just as often. I affirm his efforts, even when they aren’t perfect. I’m learning to adjust my expectations and praise him when he exceeds them. When in doubt, I wrap him in the tightest bear hug I can muster and tell him I believe in him and that he is, and always will be, loved. We don’t know what’s ahead of us on this journey, but I know I want to learn to love him more and better, just as he is.
Bethany Vitaro lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania with her husband and three children, where she is Co-Coordinator of her local MOPS group. She blogs at thelaundryblog.wordpress.com, knits compulsively, gardens optimistically and writes in between.
This article currently appears in the fall 2017 issue of The MOPS Magazine. If you didn’t get a copy and would like your own, you can subscribe to get The MOPS Magazine in your mailbox every season. If you subscribe, forward your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll shoot a copy of the current issue in the mail to you for free … just because we like you.