As parents, we all like to think that our kids are perfect. We love every developmental milestone passed. Our kids are the cutest and the brightest and the best behaved– except when they’re not.
I’m that mom. I’m the mom who cringes when my kid says something inappropriate. I’m the mom who seems too strict. My kids have some serious behavior issues. Not all of them, of course, but many. They came from bad situations and complicated lives. They brought that baggage into our home and it doesn’t just go away, like many people seem to think. So, we’ve learned to adapt our parenting styles to best meet the needs of our kids.
And, there are many more like me. We’re the parents whose kids are whining in the grocery line. We’re the ones who hold our kids hand to cross the street, even though our child seems a little old. We’re the parents who pull our child from the sports team when he or she crosses the line.
Over the years, we’ve heard the comments from other people. When we walk into a restaurant with a dozen kids in tow, people sigh, roll their eyes, or say something rude. And, when we leave, we smile when people compliment the children, even though we know those comments are only reserved for our large family group.
The other day, our in-home helper took my 15-year-old son Austin to the grocery store. He’s autistic and gets easily rattled in public. Once he gets rattled, he starts to make mistakes. He can’t perform simple tasks. He’s nervous. He waves his hands and can’t talk very well. Over the years, we’ve pushed him to keep working through it. That works for him. He keeps doing his task, even when it’s hard.
But, that day, Austin couldn’t concentrate. So, our guy pushed him – mentally, not physically. He said, “You know what you’re doing. You know how to do this. I’m going over to that bench to sit down.” And, he left Austin there to load the groceries on the conveyor – a task he’d done hundreds of times before.
All of a sudden, a complete stranger approached the helper and began to yell at our helper. She accused him of being too lazy to do the job. She kept touching him. Our helper has PTSD and it can be pretty bad. He doesn’t do well with confrontation and he certainly doesn’t do well with being touched. To his credit, his response was appropriate and focused. But, he wasn’t able to convince the woman that her assessment was way off. He knew, however, that he had to stay in control to show Austin that even when things are difficult, you can maintain.
They both learned a lesson that day. I’m not so sure about the stranger.
She didn’t know that Austin needed that push to keep going even when he was rattled. She didn’t know that our helper was there to work with Austin to help make his life better. She didn’t recognize that her yelled accusations made Austin more rattled. She thought she was offering parenting advice.
But, she just didn’t know. Each of us parents our children in the best way we can. We make decisions based on our kids’ personalities and our own unique situations. That kid whining in the grocery line? Maybe she has a mental health diagnosis and is struggling to maintain calm in a crowded store. That older child holding Mom’s hand as they cross the street? Maybe that kid struggles to control his impulses and is likely to rush into traffic without any indication. That teenager football star that was suddenly removed from the team? Maybe that kid’s aggression issues have been intensified and he needs a break from all opportunities to be aggressive.
You don’t know my situation and I don’t know yours. But, whatever it is, we all try the best we can to be the best parents we need to be. Strive to give your kids what they need. Try to ignore the advice and criticisms of other parents. You know your kids better than anyone else.
Rev. Kelly Crenshaw is the mom of 16 adopted kids, two biological kids, guardian of one baby girl and foster mom of dozens. Some are lesbian, some gay, some straight, and some bisexual. Kelly founded a K-12 day school where kids could have a safe, bully-free environment for learning. She is co-owner of a counseling agency that works with children and their families. Send your parenting questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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