We are not our best intentions
Parents of special needs children aspire to be loving, compassionate, patient, understanding, and skilled with their children. No responsible parent wants anything less.
This applies to any parent, even though it is written specifically for parents of special needs children.
So, you’re cruising along with these wonderful intentions, feeling pretty good about how you’re managing, then something happens. Maybe it’s one of those pressure-cooker late afternoons when you’re trying to make dinner, you only have an hour before you have load everyone in the car for the carpool pickup, one of your other children needs help with a school project due tomorrow, and the dog throws up on the carpet.
Your special needs child picks that moment to launch into her fourth temper tantrum of the day. And you lose your cool. You scream at your typical child to figure out the project herself, scream at your special needs child to stop crying, scream at the dog for being sick. Even in the midst of your yelling, you know deep within you that this is most definitely not the person you aspire to be.
After the dust has settled, guilt sets in. That little voice inside your head begins to berate and criticize your loss of composure. You humbly agree, and tell yourself you knew better than that. You should be better; you should do better.
Parents of special needs children are so very good at imposing guilt upon themselves. Often it’s a secret guilt, because who in the world wants to admit to a scene similar to the one I described above? How can you explain when most people can’t understand all the family dynamics that led up to that moment and therefore only negatively judge the moment?
On being human
Has anything like this ever happened to you? I suspect we’ve all been there at one time or another. Or maybe many times or another. We’ve all had the best of intentions, only to find ourselves not living up to them.
But slip-ups and setbacks are inevitable, especially in ongoing, high stress situations. As Christina Perri sings, we’re “only human.” Honestly, if we were all perfect, life would be pretty boring, and this human experience wouldn’t be quite so, well… human.
Kindness to Self
Positive self-talk after an inevitable slip-up is key in determining how quickly you recover and how far you ultimately move toward that image of your best self. Whenever you are feeling defeated or doubtful about your parenting skills, that’s exactly when you most need to treat yourself with kindness.
Remind yourself that you are only human. Remind yourself that you are always doing the best you can given the circumstances. Remind yourself that even though you didn’t handle that particular situation well, you can do better in the future.
A teaching moment
Let’s say your son’s class at school is learning the multiplication tables. Math is difficult for him. He’s spent a lot of time studying with the help of his teacher at school and with you at home. He’s doing pretty well and feeling somewhat confident. The day of the big math test arrives. Your son feels anxious, gets confused, forgets what he knew, and fails the test. He comes home feeling upset and defeated, certain he will never master multiplication.
As a loving, compassionate parent who wants your son to be happy, learn, grow, and succeed, how do you react?
You certainly don’t verbally beat him up for failing a test, even though you are disappointed in the outcome. You explain that learning math is a process that takes time. You applaud your son’s efforts and progress to date; you support and encourage him. You might also identify tweaks in how he studies or takes the test so he can do better next time.
It’s the same for you
When you feel you have failed, correct the negativity inside your head and offer self-encouragement instead. Remember that you are gaining new skills, just like your child, and that learning is a process. Show yourself as much kindness and compassion as you ideally share with your struggling child.
Next, I will write about some tweaks parents might make to better realize their best intentions.
Meanwhile, I encourage you to be kind to yourself. In the long run, you and those you love, will benefit greatly.