Well, it's been nearly a week since I posted last. I've had a few different ideas start to form only to just sort of fizzle. At the same time I've been knee deep in back-to-school prep (for the kids AND hubby) as well as the constant demands of plain old, every day motherhood.
I've mentioned before that my eldest is struggling with some behavior/developmental issues. We could probably very easily get some kind of diagnosis that would get us some kind of medication and give us some kind of relief. However, my husband and I have prayed long and hard over the subject and believe that God has another plan for us. As such, we've been embroiled in a long, drawn out struggle over our son's growth in the areas of self-control and social skills.
This is a bit of a side note but I hope it will bring encouragement to someone facing the same dilema: This journey has been agonizing. Picking him up from every day of every school year thus far has come with a litany of antics, acting out and misbehaviors, we have had looks of distain, felt the shame, been subject to judgments regarding our likely parental short-comings, etc. Then, through all of that, trying to respond with unconditional love to the "source" of the struggle has, at times, felt impossible. Last school year we picked up a copy of a book called Transforming the Difficult Child by Glasser and Easley and it provided us an amazing paradigm shift. One of the first things the book shared was how prejudicial the world is towards the parents of an intense child. Facing perceptions that we are ignorant to how severe the problem really is, how lax we must be in our discipline of the child, about the kind of junk we must be feeding them, and so on, leaves us seriously (and constantly) questioning our abilities, motives, approaches and evaluating our probable mistakes. However, the authors pointed out, the parents of intense children are typically the most proactive, well-read, active learners and problem solvers those therapists have seen. If you are the parent of an "intense" child then know these things 1) it's not your fault 2) you are doing your best 3) there are alternative resources to prescription drugs 4) God has a plan and a purpose even for this 5) you are, in fact, not alone and 6) I am praying for you because I understand.
I remember sharing the kids section of our local Books-A-Million once with a woman and her autistic son. I smiled and sympathetic and understanding smile and told her "God must really trust you to take care of a boy who needs so much more care than the average." to which she replied curtly "Yea, that's what people who have no concept of the situation comfort themselves with." She walked away before I could tell her that while not to the same level/depth of intensity, I could indeed relate and it has, indeed comforted me to believe that God must trust us greatly to give us this boy who needs an extra measure of understanding, learning and problem solving.
One thing I've dealt with for a long time now is the meltdowns and tantrums when he's confronted with either a task he doesn't want or discipline of any sort, which, between him and I, can quickly become a power struggle. I've tried several different methods of asking, bribing, cajoling, yelling... all to no effective avail. The other day I had a little epiphany that could only have come from God. It occurred to me that when we need to develop a character trait (take patience, for example) He gives us chances to practice it. So, when my son was acting out of control the other day I decided to give him the chance to practice just the opposite. I set a timer and told him he had to sit, cross-legged, hands in lap for the allotted amount of time. If he moved from the tile on the floor he was sitting on or talked, time would start over, if he railed against me, fought it, threw tantrums, etc. then I would add minutes.
It all seemed simple enough but as I anticipated, his attitude quickly racked him up a two-hour time-out (of sorts). Historically, if he fights me long and hard enough I've had to retreat and regroup but not this time. It took WAY longer than two hours to complete the consequence but I sat in the chair near him the majority of the entire time, telling him I was with him, reading to him from the bible (which he accused me at one point of writing my own), giving him gentle reminders that he could "do all things through Christ who gives (him) strength", that a loving parent provides discipline, and that no matter how long it took I would not be moved. During that time, especially when I felt my emotions begin to boil, I felt the Holy Spirit whisper "with much love... with much love, great things..." and I knew it was a reminder to not be the disciplinarian but rather the loving shepherd. It helped me stay calm and steady, avoiding what would have otherwise been a power struggle. When the timer finally reached 0 and beeped we both rejoiced, had a cuddle, a prayer and a little talk about love.
The very next morning, before we could even have breakfast it all began again with some ugly words toward his brother and a tantrum. Before I could even get the words "five minutes" out of my mouth he was yelling rotten things at me. I started adding minutes, he continued. That consequence took even longer, most of the day, in fact, to complete what could have been a mere 10 minutes. However, from everything I've read, researched and learned from a therapist friend of mine, is that he NEEDS to know that no matter how hard he pushes the buttons, no matter how long he fights, we're not giving in or giving up. This is because the underlying message would be "you're not worth THAT much effort". It's part of what the verse in the bible means when it says "whoever spares the rod hates their children but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them" (Prov. 13:24)
On day three of this method he was doing phenomenal for the first half of the day, even served a couple 10-minute "sit-downs" with a great attitude and did a couple chores in the same manner. Unfortunately, he and his brother started acting silly so I assigned another sit-down together. Boy 1 railed, boy 2 complied. Boy 1 took almost an hour to get through his 10 minutes but I can tell he's starting to figure this whole thing out. There was an example in the book I mentioned above about someone getting a speeding ticket daily for as long as it took for them to decide to lay off the accelerator... I feel like I'm handing out speeding tickets BUT instead of him blaming me for them, he's starting to back off a bit and realize that he needs to take responsibility. We keep lovingly reminding him that no one, not even the devil, can force him to do anything; that only he controls his actions, attitudes and words.
I've also read that giving such brilliant children warning after warning is less conducive to them learning a lesson because it's insulting their intelligence. Because of that, over the last few days, whenever he breaks a rule in our home that's been reiterated to him countless times in his short life, rather than lecturing him, I've been instead telling him "That's five minutes; tell me why." It's actually been working so well that I'm beginning to use it on the next two boys.
Don't get me wrong; I by no means claim to have found any sort of magic, fix-all answer, just sharing my most recent approach. The main points I've hoped to make here are 1) to attempt to emulate our Father, the great and perfect parent and 2) how vast a difference our approach, mannerisms and attitude makes in even difficult children. I'm sure we could drug him into compliance, spank him into submission*, and try to conform him by force. None of that, however, would change his heart or address the original source of the problem which I believe to be, in part, due three unavoidable separations between him and I in the first two years of his life. (I was very honored and proud to serve my country but this is one very major reason I do not miss my career) Those instances left him questioning whether mommy (or anyone) has every truly been there for him, no matter what. I think also that on occasions in the past when I've grown frustrated and "gone back to the drawing board" it has inadvertently reinforced that fear.
It's been a very long, exhausting week but also, I feel, a productive one. For a boy who has grown up insecure, I think I may have found one tool to help him find security. If actions speak louder than words then I pray I'm showing him, by spending the day next to him, still in my pj's, no shower, committed to seeing the consequence through, that I really am here for him, no matter what. I pray also that reinforcing that approach with scripture will help him understand that God disciplines all of us, throughout life just as Proverbs 12:1 (NIV) says "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge but whoever hates correction is stupid." ((My son was furious the first time I read him that and indignantly stated that he hates discipline but is not stupid! Then he accused me of writing my own bible... That one's going in my "funny motherhood memories journal")) Finally, I pray that all the struggle we're going through will be for the purpose of helping someone else find a pathway through it, feeling less alone and a little more understood... because, with much love, great things!
*Just a note: I am not against the spankings; he is just the type of kid that I could probably wear myself out on without impacting his behavior. While I do believe in corporal punishment when it's called for, I don't see it as the answer to every issue. It is a very effective tool for out-and-out defiance but, in my mind, not effective for issues of the heart, especially deeply rooted ones.
Today I'm praying for/about:
Today, (in no particular order) I'm praying for...
- Fresh ideas, inspiration and diligence to post regularly again
- My dad fighting mesothelioma too far away for me to hug him
- Children, parents, and teachers everywhere preparing to return to school
- My single friends as they seek God for His guidance in relationships
- Broken relationships; for grace to abound where grace has been withheld
- You; I'm praying for every single person who views this blog.
Thank you for standing in agreement with me for these precious souls!