Being the Parent

I sat in the developmental psychologist’s waiting room just simply observing the behavior of the parents. Some were busy filling out paperwork, one was reading a book, another was totally in to playing Angry Birds. Not a single one was watching their child.

I watched these children, who were obviously there for a reason, as they screamed, hit one another, and ransacked the poor bookshelves—while the parents were oblivious. You know, because Angry Birds is more important…

One mother (the one filling out paperwork) finally looked at me, who was staring at the child who had a hold of another child’s ponytail, and said, “You know, I try hard.”

I gave her a nod and a smile and continued reading to Jack to keep him calm. He was not happy with the noise and chaos surrounding him, but I was not going to let him slip in to the darkness and lose control. We talked about pictures on the walls, counted our fingers and toes, and looked for pictures in the shapes of the popcorn ceiling.

Here’s the thing:

Regardless of the label placed on your child, you have to parent them. When I say “parent,” I don’t mean simply give birth to or adopt. I mean, take an active role in raising that person.  In the six years I have spent in therapy, I have learned that special needs children need discipline too. Just because they may be developmentally delayed, have auditory issues, or are unable to communicate—that does not mean that you don’t discipline them. Discipline should be developmentally appropriate and it has to work. In our world, Jack sits in time out. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t work, we employ other strategies. When we leave the house, he gets a note-card (the ones that are shaped like animals), and when he screams or starts to lose it, I put a sticker on that card so he has something to focus on other than the chaos that he envisions. There are plenty of creative ways to make this work, but the secret is…the parent has to get involved!

It was finally our turn to see the doctor. We spoke ad nauseum about Jack’s issues, and she asked me how I handle all this? This being…a typical teenager, Jack’s medical issues, Jack’s physical issues, Jack’s emotional issues, therapies, my graduate degree… and I simply told her that I am a Mom. I asked to be a mom. I chose to be a mom. I chose to adopt him. I chose to love him. I chose to be a parent. I want to do what is best for him. I wish I could see him thrive and be truly happy….All the things that every other parent wants. The difference is that every day I wake up and choose to be better that day. I choose to love deeper, forgive freer, and accept unconditionally. How can I ever teach my children to be altruistic if they don’t see it from me?

Parents, I’m begging you. Be a parent. Put down the iPhone. Leave the novel in the car for when you’re waiting in car line. Watch how your child interacts with others. Be aware…that’s how you can better serve your own family! Special needs parents: be vigilant. Just because your child can handle the waiting room (or not), does not mean that every other child there can. Have compassion and love for others who are in the same boat (maybe not the same floor or the same row, but they’re there) with you. Hold a door. Offer a tissue. Give free smiles.

But most of all, give love.

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