Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Part 2 of Pride and Anger: Accepting Yourself

 "God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference."

This post is Part 2 on parenting exceptional kids.  Click here to read Part 1.  

Lord, make me humble but not yet.

Marriage and motherhood can force us to see ourselves as we really are.  It's hard to accept yourself!

A recent thread on the Facebook group "Not So Formulaic" discussed how we can cultivate love for our difficult child.  One mom, Julie, commented that it's all very humbling when you didn't expect being a mom to be so hard.  She wrote:
"...before I became a mother, I was fairly successful at most things I had tried.  Motherhood has brought out things in me that I didn't even know were there.  I had always been taught that being a parent helps you to grow in holiness, but I don't think I was prepared for what that really meant.  Even though the blackness of my heart is not what I wanted or even thought was in there, I think God has used it to reveal and prune things in me I didn't even think I struggled with."

It can be jarring when the focus on "fixing things" turns from fixing your child's behavior to fixing your mindset.  I remember wanting to scream to one of my kids who was dawdling as we were piling into the car, "GET WITH THE PROGRAM!" when in reality I was the one who needed to chill and adopt some reasonable expectations.  Ginny, of the Facebook group "Not So Formulaic," wrote:
"There was a time that I spent a lot of effort wallowing in my despair, feeling like things were never going to get better and becoming increasingly more convinced that I was raising menaces to society (I'm being dramatic but you get the drift).  I was very angry, and my kids knew it.  When I had a massive fit and collapsed in a heap of tears only to have my 5-year-old kneel down next to me and beg God to save her mommy, that's when I finally resolved to get help."
She writes about this here.  Since then she has developed a treasure chest full of resources for parents having some of the same struggles.  For many of us it takes hitting some kind of rock bottom to let go of our pride and get the help we desperately need.

Getting help may mean a parenting class, counseling or medical consultation for you along with a professional evaluation, diagnosis, and therapies for your child.  It may also mean a big change in lifestyle, job, or schooling choices.  Since anxiety and depression can make parenting even harder than it already is, getting holistic help and re-setting family dynamics are crucial.  Be prepared:  your marriage may improve.  And that's where you can begin to see the hard work and long-suffering pay off.  You are becoming a better person (even if some days you'd be happier to go back to who you used to be).  You are being stretched to the limit and that's when you can grow in humility.

It's refreshing when your struggles lead to a sudden "Eureka!" moment, like one mom, Jessica, describes after finding herself resentful of her son's repeated misbehavior:  
"Wow, how unfathomable is the love and mercy of God.  Because how many times have I sinned the SAME sin a thousand times again and again?  God probably has the same exasperations when I do what He's 'told me not to' over and over...He forgives me as many times as it takes.  He never resents me, He is always completely willing to welcome me back with open arms, even knowing I'll screw up again.  And I realize I'm called to have this kind of love and mercy for my son.  As the Father loves me, so am I called to love my own son."
And that's when you realize that by accepting yourself, embracing humility and asking for God's grace everyday, you are in a much better place than you were before.  Oftentimes it is by accepting your child, and then yourself that your faith life grows by leaps and bounds.  Your marriage and all of your personal relationships can only improve, and you have that difficult child to thank for it.

A Montessorian's Examination of Conscience: Pride and Anger

“There are two sins, in particular, which tend to distort our true vision of the child. They are pride and anger. Hence, humility and patience – their opposites – are the virtues most needed by the would-be directress.”  E.M. Standing

The above quote could just as easily apply to a parent, especially one in a constant state of anxiety over her child.  But our anger, anxiety and frustration can get all mixed up.  Sometimes what looks like our anger is really fear--that our quirky child will never make friends--or sometimes it's our shame or frustration with his behavior--ohmygoodness, would you PLEASE stop screaming because everyone in the checkout line is staring at us!  We may not always realize that our desire to be respected by those around us--at church, at a family reunion, at a work-related barbeque--has slowly eclipsed our desire to love and nurture, and our drive to responsibly raise the child God has given us has lost out to our drive to impress.  

Everyone's children embarrass them at some point.  In response we may giggle or we may get angry and harshly correct them.  Or maybe we calmly correct in the moment and laugh about it later.  Which response is for the child's best interest?  Which is just the result of our pride? 

A child's behavior can cause us to question his future, our sanity, or our own parenting.

In this recent post  "To the Catholic Mom Raising 'That Kid'" Ginny Kochis writes eloquently about her frustrations as her then 3-year-old daughter throws a tantrum in a diner.  She assumes she's doing something wrong as a mother.  She feels judged.  She compares her daughter's behavior to that of children at church and the homeschool co-op.  Later, long after her daughter's diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, she came to some important realizations, such as:  "Your child’s struggles are not a result of poor parenting."

Parents can feel alone in the trenches when their child is different.  Ginny Kochis writes a blog for parents of differently-wired kids called "Not So Formulaic:  Raising Exceptional Kids Rooted in Extraordinary Love" in which she gives suggestions on educating your children with a mixture of flexibility, ingenuity, and advocacy.  She also started a Facebook group and a members-only community called The Zelie Society to support families with exceptional children.  It's a blessing to have that kind of support, but what about the parent who isn't there yet?  Who has brushed aside suggestions their child may be more than just "quirky," or "SO sensitive," or "intense," or "hyper"?  There's a world of difference before and after diagnosis, with many parents relieved when the results of evaluations finally come in.  When an objective observer and a "childhood milestones" checklist or a genetic test tells it like it is, we can finally start on the road to acceptance.
It's a watershed moment in our materialistic culture to realize that our children are not our own.  Yes, we have a sacred responsibility to raise them the best we know how.  To teach them to know their creator, to have concern and self-less love for others, to control their own base impulses and to use the brain God gave them and His gifts to follow some kind of vocation in life.  But mostly we need to remember ourselves that each child is a gift from God, no matter whether Grandma can't stand the way your daughter chews her nails or the neighbor thinks it's weird your son spends hours spinning upside down on the swings.  It may be really, really hard to raise your child with special needs--whether those needs are visible or invisible--but your struggles are part of your path to Heaven.

Cold comfort when you are exhausted from the latest meltdown or resentful that you can't socialize or entertain like you used to.  Maybe you feel guilty again because she's just pushed all of your buttons and you lost it, or maybe because he's just SO HARD TO LOVE.  Extra guilt if you have other children who are perfect angels and you find yourself wondering why he can't be more like them.  

When you don't feel up to the task of loving your child, ask God for the grace to.  Beg Him for humility, humor and patience.  Do little things, like one mom, Anne--mother to a boy on the autism spectrum.  She wrote:
"My ASD boy was so, so difficult, and I felt my heart hardening to him, resenting him, etc.  I made a conscious effort to spend time with him when he was calm, to look at his face and think of God's love for him, and to actively be kind to him.  I thought a lot about St. Therese and how she went out of her way to be kind to the nun she didn't like.  Gradually, it became easier."
Taking practical steps helps.  When Standing used the word "patience" above I think he meant putting our own timetable aside, but not ignoring issues (see this post to learn what I mean by that).  And I agree with those who say we need to try to help our child be agreeable and sociable--that's part of our job as parents and teachers.  We just need to do the hard work of learning what reasonable expectations are for our child.  If your child were blind, there are many things you would not expect him to do.  But you would also make sure he had special classes in reading Braille, how to use a walking cane, and maybe get a guide dog.  You also, as a parent, would seek out support groups or agencies to help you on your journey.  The support, information and encouragement you would receive would be critical!

In the same way, parents of children with other kinds of special needs have to let go of unreasonable expectations and find support.   The key may be their moment of "annunciation," where parents are fully aware and can embrace the special calling to which they've been invited.  It may not be what they expected at all, but many special needs parents will tell you that they wouldn't change their circumstances--despite the crosses, toils and disappointments they may endure.

You are not alone if you pray for the grace to accept your child.  Read about the next step, accepting yourself, in Part 2, here.  

Even once we accept our children for who they are we may still worry about them being misunderstood or bullied for being different.  This is a song my sister wrote after watching her own child bullied by the neighborhood kids (click for music):

I Have Watched You
© Marie Bellet, Ordinary Time Music, 2001

I have watched you standing there
Acting like you just don’t care
While others laugh and point and stare
And oh, how I love you

I have watched your hopeful grin
Get back up and try again
Right back in the lion’s den
And oh, how I love you

I have watched you from afar
Can it be that you don’t know how beautiful you are?

I have watched you and I see
All you suffer patiently
And the wonder of a heart that’s free
And oh, how I love you

I have watched you from afar
Can it be that you don’t know how beautiful you are?

Gentle child, now, don’t despair
For I have counted every hair
If you could know what I’ve prepared
And oh, How I love you
Oh, how I love you