Tuesday, September 10, 2013

There is no manual

I tend to write a significant amount on this blog about my challenges with parenting the girls.  When I talk about the boys, it's usually a quick snippet of pride or cuteness or vacation smiles.

This will not be that post.

I am really struggling with our 11 year old D.  Outside of our house, he is the perfect child. At school, all we hear about from his teachers and peers is how kind he is, what a good student he is, how responsible and well-behaved he is.  On the sports field, we get constant feedback on what a great player he is, not because of his natural athletic ability, but his work ethic and what a great teammate he is.  He's got wonderful friends.  He loves his little cousins and goes out of his way to teach all of them his "fist bump" or high fives.  He's funny and interesting and silly.

Within the four walls of our house (or in the car on the way home), however, it is a different story.  In short, he is driving me crazy. He doesn't listen...EVER.  I have to repeat myself twelve times to get him to do what I ask.  Most of these things are simple tasks.  Go to bed.  Eat your breakfast, lunch, dinner. Stop leaving your baseball, soccer, (name another sport) stuff by the front door, family room floor, or kitchen floor instead of on your designated shelf.  Get out of the shower (after 30 minutes).  Go to bed.  Stop reading the paper, playing your itouch, checking scores on the computer and get in the car, got to bed, eat your dinner, or do your homework.  You see the pattern.

All of these seem like typical parental complaints.  Kids aren't little robots and expected to follow directions to 100% perfection.  I get that.  But if he would just do it 50% of the time our lives would be so much easier.  What is more difficult to handle is how he treats everyone in the family.  He simply CANNOT stop bugging everyone, especially in the car.  Touching them, teasing them, getting in everyone's personal space.  Last week, I had to tell him to sit in the car with his feet on the floor, hands folded in his lap and eyes closed so he wouldn't be tempted to tease his little brother sitting next to him or his cousins behind him.  He is exhausting.

At times he just seems so angry.  He is the middle child on steroids given our new family situation.  He just wants to be noticed and it doesn't matter if it's negative or positive.

My guilt is on serious overdrive on this one.  He was 7 when Jeanne and Mike died. He knew exactly what was happening and saw all of us fall apart.  He had diarrhea, wet the bed and clung to me whenever I was around.  I don't think I really addressed this at the time since I was trying to keep our household running while helping with the girls. I wasn't the best mom in the first 9 months after the accident, and then his cousins moved in causing all kinds of turmoil.  He was just a little boy.  He still is a little boy. Despite knowing all these things, my typical reaction to him is frustration, anger, and yelling. He knows exactly how to push all of my buttons and I let them all be pushed.  Ugh.

At back-to-school night last week, his religion teacher pointed out a project their class had on the wall.  Each student was asked to cut out three leaves from construction paper, writing an adjective to describe themselves on each of them.  A fourth leaf was created to write down a time when they knew God is with them.  I scanned the wall as the other parents filed out to the next class, trying to find D's leaves.  I noticed other students' work.  "God is with me when I take tests."  "God is with me when I play baseball." "God is with me when I try something new."  All typical, mundane 11 year old items.

I found D's first three leaves.  Adventurous.  Kind.  Hardworking.  Definitely three words I'd used to describe D.  Tears welled in my eyes as I read the fourth leaf.

"God was with me when my aunt and uncle died and when my great-grandfather died."

My sensitive boy.  When I still want to scream "Fuck you God!!  Where were you??!!" my wise pain in the ass points out that he knows God was with him at those times.  And, once again, I get the reminder of how the accident profoundly affected my kids.

I'm not sure what to do about D.  In my head, I know why he might be acting the way he is.  For some reason, though, I'm having a hard time breaking the cycle and usually my frustration wins out over reason or at least a cooler head.  Our crazy schedule and the sheer number of kids definitely doesn't help the situation. I sometimes wonder if the boys are still having delayed reactions to the trauma.  Their needs have certainly always seemed to be pushed aside to the more acute and, frankly, louder needs of the girls.  There are moments when D is especially being difficult that I can still see that little seven year old through his deep blue eyes. Scared. Angry. Sad.

I am probably the millionth blogger to write this statement: PARENTING IS HARD! There is no customized manual for each kid.  While I'm still questioning my faith in all of this, maybe I need to follow in D's steps a bit and try to feel God's presence in the times of struggle.  Maybe this recognition will give me the calm and understanding I need to tackle my difficult boy.  At this point, anything is worth a shot.


  1. I'm not a religious person, but I found your son's "fourth leaf" extremely touching. What wonderful boy. I know you know that, and that's why you feel bad when you don't react the way you wish you could all the time.

    I cringe when I think about the times I've yelled at my kids or overreacted when I knew what they really needed was more patience and a lighter approach. But we're human, and we get tired, and there is just so so much to deal with sometimes.

    Weirdly, I think it's a good sign that your son is disciplined enough to reserve all of his exasperating kid behavior for home. I was obnoxious at home and lovely outside it and it drove my mom nuts. She used to ask if I could please treat the family like strangers because it would be such an improvement. But if he feels safe enough in your love to just be the less attractive side of who he is when you're around, well, it's cold comfort I know, but I do think it's something.

    And you are 100% right. Parenting is hard.

  2. Could you possibly take him away for a day, one night, a weekend . . . just you and him? I hate to even suggest it, as full as your life is. But I have a hunch it might change things around big time. He sounds like such a special kid. Yes, parenting is hard. My kids (3) are grown now. I wouldn't want to do it again. I also don't regret one iota of what I poured into their lives. Parents need people standing in the trenches with them cheering them on in this incredibly complex, grueling task. Becky

  3. Yes it is so hard. You are doing a good job, mama.

  4. I've said it at least a million times--parenting is the hardest job I've ever done. UGH!!!!

    Some thoughts, in no particular order:

    *D is approaching being a teen. They're vile creatures from what I hear. ;o) Seriously, though, I had a counselor that told me my sister treated me like utter crap because I was safe and she KNEW I wouldn't go anywhere no matter what she did to me. It didn't make dealing with all her BS any easier, but at least I knew she felt safe.

    *I yell way more than I should. I've really cut back, but good golly mercy, when you're trying to get out the door for school, all you want is to get out the door for school. That's Lil. It's BEYOND irritating! I get that.

    *I was mentioning my impatience with Lil to my RCIA instructor a few years ago now (goodness! Three years!) and she said she had a friend who would just pray to the Holy Spirit and say, "I'm giving this to you" and for her it worked. There have been moments when I've just reached out to God when I'm sure I'm about to annihilate one of the girls (at times both!) and have felt a calming presence. It's worth a try, what do you have to lose?

    *Yes, it sounds like D is really wanting some attention. He's truly lost in the middle, isn't he? :sigh: What happened to you all isn't fair--to any of you. Grief sucks and it's not fair and sometimes I really want to scream and rail about it. I suppose this is how D chooses to act out.

    *I LOVE D's leaves. I miss working at my Catholic school, I really do. There was something very special about it. :o)

    Okay, all done with those thoughts. Now, do tell, how was the Sing-a-Long? I've been dying to know! I thought about you guys that Saturday. :o)

    Oh, and we're sitting here watching the Nats and Mets, so I'm loving D's shirt. :o)

  5. Oh Peg, This is just so sad. I feel for you and for him. I was thinking this same think that Korinthia said "I think it's a good sign that your son is disciplined enough to reserve all of his exasperating kid behavior for home."

    No advice - or none that would likely work for your family, but know I am here, praying for you and cheering you on.

  6. I don't have any advice either, but just wanted to let you know that I'm here reading and abiding with you, D, and the rest of your family.

  7. Such a hard situation and such a sweet boy, underneath all the pain and turmoil he's experienced.

    We have a 9-year old child who is really hard to get through life's daily activities without 10,000 frustrating reminders. She is helped greatly by having a watch and a written schedule that she carries around with her. 7:15 am dressed and downstairs for breakfast; 7:30 am brush teeth and hair; 7:40 am put on shoes, etc. Then we can say "What does the schedule say next?" and that is somehow one step removed from us doing the nagging and less frustrating for everyone.

    We also have a schedule for getting home from school -- shoes off and on shoe rack, backpack by door, lunch unpacked, etc.

    Electronics are also forbidden in the morning and until homework is done in the afternoon.

    All that said, I am in awe of how you cope with 5 children, 57,000 sports practices and games, and all of the grief and trauma. I only throw out these ideas in case they help.

    Blessings to you and your family.

    1. What great suggestions! Thanks, I think making a schedule with him and definitely having him create it with me might be worth a try. Thanks for all of the positive thoughts, it's greatly appreciated.