Monday, January 18, 2016

When parenting is tough..and you get help.

I don't quite know how to jot down all of these thoughts or whether anyone even reads what has really become more like a family journal of sorts rather than the earlier years of this blog where I posted more and on more varied topics. 

In my reflection on 2015, I wrote about how last year was more of a down year of us settling into life as a family of five. However, 2015 was a pivotal year in parenting for us.  

Peaceful isn't a word I'd use to describe most days in our house. We've raised our voices more than we'd like to admit, lacked patience, and consistency. Sometimes giving in seems worth it when you just can't muster the energy anymore and you have a particularly strong-willed child. Last year we started to get phone calls and notes home from school. We've always had challenges at home (more often than not, when I'm solo parenting) but until recently, they never flowed over into school or other settings. There were so many different things it is hard to even remember them all. Recess incidents, not following classroom instructions, being silly, acting out. "We'll talk to him", was our standard response. While we were looking to the school for suggestions or answers, they were looking to us. We didn't have them. 

We did what many parents are afraid to do for fear of labelling their child, or labelling themselves, we  looked for help. We got on a waiting list for behaviour counselling services. These services are free through our local social services department. While we waited, we attended some parenting workshops that were offered where we met many other parents who were just like us, facing the same sort of challenges, and some with children who have been diagnosed with developmental disabilities (our son has not been diagnosed as having a developmental disability). After 5 months, we had our first appointment with a specialist. She did not meet with our son but rather has supported us in our parenting by listening and providing us with tools and suggestions. I also started reading anything I could get my hands on about boys, education and parenting, from the library and online. More than 80% of our counsellor's caseload are parents of boys. 

Slowly we have been adjusting our parenting approaches and our expectations. We're learning that our number one priority is to set our son up for success and that means looking for opportunities where he can thrive and be successful based on his strengths, personality, etc.  We look for opportunities to catch him demonstrating good behaviours and to praise and acknowledge his efforts. We're signing him up for more activities (we previously tried to keep him less programmed with all the talk of over programming kids these days but he is a kid that needs more stimulation and some of the challenges were coming from boredom). Things at home have been much easier and far more positive lately and things have improved significantly at school. A lot of the things we've learned through this experience have been useful for parenting all of our sons. Our two older sons are very different in personalities, strengths, and interests (we're still watching our youngest grow into his personality each day). Prior to getting help, we had a singular parenting approach mindset. We wanted to be consistent with our approach for all of our children. We now know that our parenting approaches will be different for each child based on their unique needs and that is okay and that is what will work best for our family. 

I think in many ways, we've grown and begun to overcome our own insecurities about being judged for seeking help or around others thinking his actions are a reflection of our parenting or lack of parenting skills. In all other areas of life, some of the strategies I've learned in order to become successful have been to seek out help through lessons or mentors, to read up, and to keep on practicing. I felt much more at ease and confident having an infant the third time around than I did the first. Two big picture things have stuck with me from sessions with our counsellor: 1) Our son has a lot of really exceptional qualities 2) So many parents don't seek out help at all, especially if they don't have a diagnosis, or when they finally do seek help, it is much more difficult because they've waited so long. 

I'm really glad we decided to get help. We've become more open and honest around other parents and have found that we aren't alone. I'm also so fortunate for the advice of many of my colleagues at work who have boys similar in age and older and who have shared their stories, strategies, experiences, and knowingly sympathetic acknowledgements. We don't have to do it alone. 

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