It has been a very challenging season at our house lately with Matthew’s very difficult behavior. It seems like December is always a hard month, for reasons probably having to do with parenting an active boy who loves the outside, which is hard to do in the Pacific Northwest in the winter.
But I also think that the routine of school, the pressures on our boy, and the sensory overload of Christmas with its lights, decorations and presents culminate into a rather challenging time of year.
This year Matthew is struggling.
Well, to be honest, that is a nice way of putting it: this December Matthew literally exploded.
I have commented to some friends lately that the hard thing about parenting our boy isn't that he's delayed or has learning challenges or can't talk or needs help feeding himself or is still wearing pull-ups, or any of that. The thing that is most challenging right now is that his behavior quickly disintegrates into full on dysregulated tantrums with the flip of a switch. He goes crazy, lashing out, throwing things, trying to bite and hit… Like a crazy, wild animal who doesn't know what to do with his dysregulated body.
I have decided that rather than hide away in my own little house, trying to pretend like everything is fine, it's probably time that I start writing some blog posts about this experience. If nothing else, maybe other parents out there will read the posts and realize that they're not alone in the journey of parenting a dysregulated child. It is so, so hard and not something I would wish on anyone, but it's our story right now, so I'm trying my best to live into it.
Parenting hard kids from hard places is the experience that many international adoptive families have. I must admit, my husband and I were hoping for a different story: a kiddo who needed some medical support and a little extra support developmentally, but who quickly caught up and was able to experience a typical childhood with learning, friends, and regular growth. This, unfortunately, is not our story.
I have spent weeks and months feeling a conflicted mesh of emotions about all this: bitterness towards other families whose adoptive kids are doing well, anger at God or the universe for landing us with this child, exhaustion at the amount of energy it takes to parent Matthew and do it well… but in the end I am trying to choose gratitude: gratitude for the ways that Matthew changes us, gratitude that we have the skills and energy to care for him in the ways he needs, and gratitude that we have the privilege of being his family and his advocates in life.
But I do want to say – with honesty – that parenting a child with behavioral issues involves a whole load of grief I wasn’t expecting. It literally consumes us. It takes the life that we thought we were creating and turns it up on end, and gives us a very different life. This doesn't mean that our new life isn't of value… But there is grief and loss involved in letting go of what we thought you were getting ourselves into so we can be open to the life that is actually ours.
I could tell countless stories of how this looks on a day-to-day basis in my own life, but suffice to say it creates a lot of questions, tears, and prayers. It’s life changing and stretching in ways I never imagined.
Over the next few weeks, I hope to share – in little short snippets – some of our experiences with the many aspects of parenting a child with behavioral challenges: these include medication, sleep, timeouts and consequences, structuring one's family life in a new way, and caring for oneself as a parent in very difficult circumstances.
Since I am surprised when I look at my blogs stats to see how many people read my blog each day (thanks to a couple sites that feed people my way), I want to offer this: if you are at the end of your rope and need some encouragement or a listening ear, please don't hesitate to reach out. I do not have answers or any kind of special wisdom, but I do know how it feels to do this hard work, and I am always glad to sit alongside someone and bear witness to the things that are so very hard. My husband and I go to an adoption conference in our area every year, and one of the most powerful things at that conference is the ability to identify and stand alongside other families who share some of the things we feel. Last year they handed us little signs that read "#metoo," and every time another parent said something that we could relate to, we held up our signs, feeling a little less alone.
One of my favorite singer-songwriters, Carrie Newcomer, has a song that has sustained me through the past few months. My favorite part is the chorus and the bridge that follows:
You can do this hard thing, you can do this hard thing
It’s not easy I know, but I believe that it’s so
You can do this hard thing
Here we stand breathless and pressed in hard times
Hearts hung like laundry on backyard clothes lines
Impossible just takes a little more time
I sing it to myself in the shower, in the car, when I’m hiding in the corner of my bedroom sobbing, when I’m taking deep breaths and walking through the rain in my neighborhood.
It reminds me that even when this parenting journey threatens to destroy me, still I can hang in there and make it. We all can.
“Impossible just takes a little more time.”