I have been a parent for more than 13 years now, and I certainly underestimated many aspects of this journey.
It’s tough work. I never thought parenting would be easy, but I am guilty of not understanding the complexities involved with raising kids. They change over time and seemingly daily in puberty.
Though I didn’t feel this way when I was living it, the early days truly are the easy times. When my boys were young – they are just 19 months apart in age – there was a tremendous amount of physical demands. Diaper changes, physical lifting each day, baths, outside runaround time and floor playing. There was a lot of defense being played to keep them safe. There was much to do, and it was taxing.
Nowadays, all those physical necessities are long gone, but the mental anguish is real. Daily challenges range from the banal to the serious and vary by child.
- For Beckett, 13, the concerns seem more normal for kids his age. I know this from talking to many parents. These commiserating chats often serve as opportunities to lift each other up. I find conversations with parents of like-aged kids to be therapeutic and rewarding. There is comfort in knowing we are all swimming in the same lake confronting many of the same concerns.
With our neuro-typical child, who oftentimes is more difficult than his Autistic little brother, these challenges involve puberty, school work, social relationships in and out of school, manners, intense emotional highs and lows and ADHD. He keeps us on alert every day and we have learned to accept this as life with our live-wire kid.
One of the toughest lessons I have learned recently was difficult for me to accept. I believe Pam struggles with this as well. No matter how involved and dedicated parents are, there are instances when your kids screw up. I feel like we are in an extended phase right now with multiple situations unfolding each week. When situations arise, Pam and I have both been guilty of blaming ourselves and questioning whether we have been too soft with our discipline or not consistent enough with expectations. On occasion, when he has felt backed into a corner, Beckett has lashed out at us with comments along those lines, shifting the culpability to us.
The mental battle I seem to constantly wage internally is whether it’s normal puberty related issues or if it’s out of bounds. I know the teenager’s reluctance to go to bed at a reasonable hour and difficulty in getting out of bed are par for the course with most his age, especially boys.
However, I never expected the kid to be such a non-starter. Because he would rather do just about anything other than school work, Pam and I are essentially working through middle school with him. He knows he must do his school work and he has done well for the most part in a challenging time for all kids, but it does require some constant reminders from his parents and usually significant involvement from us to keep him on task. It’s exhausting. I underestimated how difficult middle school would be.
- With Carson, 12, how to navigate his disabilities are a constant concern. Over the last two years with the pandemic, specifically, he has regressed socially.
Carson has always been shy and introverted. He can be socially awkward, anxious, defiant, combative and unpredictable. These traits are more obvious when he is in public and especially so in unfamiliar settings.
For example, he annually sees a specialist at Wilmer Eye Institute in Baltimore. In the past, he has participated well during the appointment despite being nonverbal and requiring help reciting letters during the eye exam. At the appointment this week, he was difficult and refused to cooperate with the doctor trying to assess whether his eye condition would require surgery. He was having none of it and the doctor knew it. Whether it was shyness or general opposition is unclear but probably both.
Carson will never be the life of the party. He prefers to be in a room by himself than in one full of people or even a few folks. The regression has gotten worse though over the last couple years and this incredible social anxiety spotlights his shortcomings requiring more of his parents.
I’ve found myself sad and worried lately about Carson. Are we doing enough to support Carson? Are his shortcomings becoming more pronounced because we are not pushing him enough? It’s fine to have these thoughts but dwelling on them is unproductive,
I must accept a chronic uncertainty exists when it comes to Carson. What Pam and I must constantly gauge is how far to push him and when. If we take it too easy on addressing his disabilities, like speech therapy, we are surely hurting his growth toward his best self. We also know raising the bar and forcing him to do something he doesn’t enjoy will invariably result in tumultuous behavior and negative outbursts. It could be why he only makes sounds in front of a few people.
It’s a balance of elevating expectations for him while also keeping him comfortable and settled. All the while we also try to remind ourselves to live with wellness and a certain amount of expectations for our own quality of life.
I underestimated how difficult balance would be.