Tonight Matthew threw the biggest tantrum I think he’s ever thrown. It’s hard when he gets so worked up and frustrated—hard to see him so upset, and also hard to know how to respond. I probably do a terrible job at it, since I get pretty worked up when he starts throwing toys and hitting me with his fists. He’s trying to be noticed—trying to tell me something—but I just don’t know what it is.
Tonight I couldn't, for the life of me, figure it out.
We’re seeing increasing frustration from Matthew lately, and I don’t blame him. He’s signing a bunch and he’s using his body to communicate now a lot more than he used to (pulling us by the hand, pointing, signing “yes” and “no”) but he’s still very limited in what he can tell us. I’m sure he feels a bunch of complex things—feelings, emotions, thoughts—but he has very little skills to actually communicate those things to us.
Which leads to frustration, which leads to meltdowns. Which leads to giant, huge, hard tantrums like the one tonight.
Every day isn’t hard at our house, but there are enough hard moments that sometimes I want to run and hide in a corner. I’m pretty sure most people don’t really know what it’s like each day . . . don’t know how sad and hard and confusing it is to parent a child who is so delayed. Some days I still feel totally defeated. Some days I have no idea how I’m going to do this for another day, let alone another decade. I long for an ordinary life—where we can go out to dinner as a family, have a five-person conversation, leave our kids with friends while we have a date. These things don’t happen for us. Matthew’s a hard guy to have for any length of time. It’s also hard on him to be left somewhere strange or unknown. He’s not very adaptable.
And yet miracles abound in this life.
A couple months ago I read a book called Swan Mothers: Discovering Our True Selves by Parenting Uniquely Magnificent Children. It’s by a woman whose son has autism spectrum disorder and ADHD, just like Matthew. In the book, she writes about her parenting journey and along with all the hard seasons, the way her soul is shaped and changed by the unique little boy who is hers. I resonated with so much of what she wrote—I felt the hard moments because I know them in my own life. But I also celebrated the small acts of mercy, the support of community, those “a-ha” moments with our “unique” children that make us want to weep..
It’s making me stronger. Aaron too. Without knowing it or asking for it, we are being changed in pretty incredible ways because we have Matthew to love and care for.
Just this very morning, I had a woman who works with me come up and say, “I heard you talking to someone about how you have a son with ADHD. I wonder if I can ask you some questions.”
Turns out, she’s really struggling with her nine-year old son. In addition to ADHD, he also has a really hard genetic condition. She’s drowning with behavioral issues, and she feels really alone. She is desperately in need of a behavioral specialist who can help suggest some strategies in parenting her son. She’s discouraged and feels like a “bad parent.”
I almost started to cry as she shared her story with me.
Turns out we’re not the only ones who are struggling to parent a “unique” child. Turns out there’s a whole army of moms and dads who feel isolated and lost—who are angry about the path they now have to walk, who feel guilty for feeling angry, and who dearly love their child even though it’s hard.
A dear friend and I started this “adoptive mom group” in our neighborhood. We’ve met a few times and it’s been nice, but we were reflecting a couple days ago that really instead of an adoptive mom group, what we need even more is a “mom with a kid who has challenging behaviors” group. This scenario isn’t unique to adoption—in fact it’s present in all sorts of parent-child relationships. Struggling kids, especially kids with neuro-challenges, make for really hard family life and challenging parenting situations.
And there are many people I know who are struggling.
On nights like tonight, when Matthew is raging for some unknown (but likely VERY valid) reason, I try to hold tight to the things I know are true:
1) Matthew is in our family for a reason. I’m not sure I know what it is, or why this boy ended up with us, but there is purpose in him being in our lives.
2) We have the tools and resources to love and care for him, even though it’s hard.
3) We are being changed by this experience—profoundly changed. Radically, to-the-core-of-our-being changed.
4) We don’t have to be alone in this journey—we can reach out to other parents who “get it” and find support, kind words, caring hearts, and encouragement.
Please, if you have a child who is hard, don’t be a stranger. Email or call me—tell me your story. Find other swan mamas, like me, who are also on this journey of discovery. It’s hard, but it doesn’t have to be unbearable.
And it might just change your life, if you're brave enough to let it.