Some days, I feel as if I have held my breath for my son’s entire life.
When my son was born, all my expectations went right out the window. My “Gerber Baby” moments never materialized. Those warm moments of cuddling my cooing, happy baby were the stuff of dreams but certainly not reality.
The hours of crying and walking the floor were nothing like I imagined. When he did sleep, I held my breath for him to stay asleep so I could have a few moments of peace and rest. I was afraid to move or do anything that might disturb the hard-won stillness.
Once he stopped crying 24/7, I held my breath anytime we went in public. My fear of a loud, screaming disruptive episode were often realized. Looking back, I probably contributed to those by being uptight and rigid. I got exactly what I often expected. My husband and I almost never took him out alone. We tag-teamed every outing just in case one of us had to leave the store or event with him screaming at the top of his lungs. I will admit to acting as if I had no idea whose child was causing a scene once in Target when all eyes turned to my embarrassed husband leaving the store.
Once he was mobile, leaving home had a whole new set of challenges. I held my breath as I struggled to keep him under control and close to my side. The same energy that went into crying now went into breaking free and taking off on his own. Every trip was a new chance for fear and embarrassment to take center stage.
A gas station visit where he came out of the car and ran around each side as I chased him back and forth is still a vivid memory. Finally, a man at the pump beside me asked if I wanted him to catch him on his next trip around. I was obviously having no success and was becoming more frustrated by the minute. I imagined this man thinking that he would never have allowed his child to act that way.
Judgment from other parents was my constant companion. If you have a child who is physically challenged, you receive sympathy and understanding. If you have a child who has emotional or behavior challenges, you receive condemnation and nasty comments. I am still amazed by some of the comments I received from seemingly otherwise decent people. They broke my heart and my spirit.
Once he entered a daycare setting, I held my breath every day waiting for the call about his bad behavior or the note I would receive at pick-up time with the details of his daily antics. I’m still eternally grateful for the few child care workers who didn’t see a bad kid and a bad parent but saw a struggling child and a struggling parent. I still hold them in high regard and appreciate every kind and thoughtful comment I received from them.
Going to a party at a home or other venue was stressful and exhausting. I always assumed if trouble started between kids, mine was in the middle of it. Today I realize I probably projected a great deal of that onto my son. Children generally meet our expectations whether good or bad. I really regret that I spent so many years expecting the worst. I suppose it was a chicken and egg situation, but I still have many regrets.
Once the school years began, a whole new set of fears and challenges came our way. From an elementary school where he made a break for the front door and ran away to the decision to leave him in a regular class or put him in a self-contained EBD classroom, our decisions become more impactful and more difficult with the passing years. Our decisions and his behavior now had longer-lasting consequences. The daily roller coaster continued for all those years of formal education.
The teenage years offer even the most confident parents a chance to be worried and afraid. The choices that teenagers make can ruin their lives in a flash. My son, still impulsive and short-sighted, was no exception. I think now that many parents experience the stress and fear during the teen years that we had dealt with for his whole life. Maybe the teen years are in some ways, the great equalizer. I think challenging children add an extra level of insecurity, however. Most parents hold their breath often during the teen years. I think we held ours through each and every year!
My son is an adult now. I have to admit, I sometimes still hold my breath. Does a loving parent ever completely stop parenting? I don’t think so.