I have been absent a year from my blog. Feels strange to type again, the flow of words are slow to my mind, but I feel I have something to say… I just hope I can make sense of what still is very confusing to me.
In light of mental health week, I am ready to share a bit of the journey I have walked with my son. The path we have walked with him has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to face in this life so far. Much of the reason I haven’t written in a year is because of what we have gone through in our family and the focused energy I have had to devote to work and home. But I’m ready to talk about it now.
When my son was born, he had what is called a strong “counterwill“. Him being our first, we couldn’t tell if this was normal or something more. Through his toddler and preschool years I wondered if this was just him being a “boy” or if there was something more to the behavior he was displaying. Our son was seldom happy, always needing something to stimulate his mood to lighten. Some holidays were cut short because of how hard he would make it for us to all just relax and enjoy by his outbursts of anger and malcontent. Yet I also noticed some interesting characteristics about my son that intrigued me. Things like when he would ask what time it was. I would usually round it off saying, “It’s 1:15”, and after looking at the digital clock after my son would promptly reply, “No, it’s 1:16”. I would listen in amazement when he would count from 1-200 and then from 200-1 backwards at the young age of 2. There was something special about him, there was no doubt, but the constant opposition and arguing made me wonder if I was truly cut out for this parenting gig.
School breaks and weekends were a nightmare, turning into constant turmoil, leaving my husband and I exhausted. Shame would flood my soul when chatting with moms in moms groups about how mortified they were when there child would say something like, “stupid”. How could I tell them I was trying to curb my son dropping the “f” bomb? I would shrink away from these groups with overwhelming guilt, wondering where I went wrong as a parent. “I’m a good person. This isn’t supposed to happen to good families!”, I would cry out to myself driving away yet again in tears.
I finally had enough and called a psychologist just before my son’s 6th birthday. I chose a private group because I heard waiting for an assessment in public health could be up to a 2 year wait. I was not willing to wait that long. I knew we needed to intervene in our son’s life now. A thorough assessment was done in a matter of no time, but with a bill of $5000. Our son was diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder, ADHD, mild Asbergers and Depression. It was a lot to take in. On one hand I was relieved, knowing that we weren’t imagining how hard our journey really had been. On the other hand, I had no idea how we were going to navigate forward knowing all of this. I’ve never been into “labels” and promised myself I would never let this diagnosis define my son – in my eyes, his eyes and in the eyes of others. Yet I realized having this diagnosis would help people understand our son a bit better, rather than just casting judgment on him.
We learned a valuable tool called “attachment parenting”. We couldn’t afford any more counselling or therapy so we ventured into learning how to parent our son the way he needed. Through this we discovered that sending our son to his room when throwing fits of rage was not in his best interest. The psychologist told us to bring him closer in these moments. This was hard for me to understand at first, being raising in a strict, British home. I thought this would only reward his unruly behavior, but I decided to give it a go. After this, we no longer would send our son to his room but pull him into our arms and tell him how much we loved him and how nothing would break our connection with him. When he was too violent to let us do this, we would keep him in the same room. Through this we saw our son soften and even improve. Turns out, connection is what he was crying out for.
There is much I can say about all this which I will leave for future posts if I can manage, but I want to leave readers with probably one of the most profound truths I have learned through this journey: CONNECTION HEALS. Disconnection, isolation only increase these unwanted behaviors because they are actually a cry for help. “Look at me!!” Telling our son that nothing will break our connection with him has given him a place of safety with us. In my work with vulnerable youth I can now see with fresh eyes their same cry for unconditional love. They need someone to say: “I won’t give up on you”. It’s hard holding someone who is kicking and screaming out profanities with hatred toward you. But in those moments you really learn a little more what love may look like.
Love stays. Love says; I will hold you in your mess. You don’t have to change to make me feel better or secure. I will be here until you feel safe again. You don’t have to have it all together to earn my love. I got you and I won’t let you go. You are safe. Interesting, in my christian faith I’ve come to the realization that THIS is exactly what God does. It’s kinda blown my mind as of late.
Parents, don’t give up. I would love to hear your story if you have one.
My next show is on this very subject. Feel free to check out our show trailer here. Letters; a show about thriving through connection. Big Secret Theatre Sept 30-Oct 4 2015, Calgary, AB.