If you have a challenging child who tends to act out in public places, you have endured the stares and ugly comments of observers. Sadly, many have no idea how hard it is to manage difficult behavior in public over and over again.
It is mortifying and frightening. The comments, observations, and judgment of bystanders were not helpful. The obvious assumption is that you are a bad mother or father, and your child is a bad child. Many can’t help it. Many could but chose not to. For some, seeing you as a bad parent makes them feel like a better parent. My child doesn’t behave that way so ergo, I’m a great parent.
I internationalized their judgment for many years and saw myself as a bad mother. With the balance of time and perspective now that my son is grown, I have to do an honest assessment.
Was I a bad mother?
If I am honest, the answer is many times I was. I sometimes took the easy way out when I was too exhausted, too overwhelmed, and too defeated. I gave in when I should have stood strong. I argued when I should have ended the discussion. I questioned myself when I should have been confident in my decisions and positions.
I think that having a baby who cried all the time knocked the legs out from under me. When I imagined being a mother, I dreamed of rocking a sleeping baby and playing with a laughing baby. I saw myself with a cheerful, flourishing baby. I did not imagine walking the floor for hours with a screaming baby.
When my son was an infant, I often said that even the very worst mothers could make their baby stop crying. Why didn’t feeding, changing, and playing ever seem to satisfy him? Why couldn’t I do what my friends did; care for an infant who is reasonably happy and content.
Losing my confidence early, left me with no confidence as he grew to toddlerhood, preschool, school-age, and even adolescence. I didn’t have the experience of being competent and confident to build on as he grew. Once I lost control, I wasn’t able to ever regain it.
I’ll have to admit that I lost the fight many times. Most of the time, I did the best I could in the circumstances. Other times, I see myself as falling way short. I tolerated behavior I should have stopped and failed to follow through on consequences many times. I folded when I should have stood strong.
I often think that having other children would have forced my attention away from him and onto my other kids. I wonder if having one or two easier children might have given me back some of that confidence I lost. Maybe I wouldn’t have questioned myself so much if other children would have been compliant and happy.
Adding other siblings could also have left those children feeling slighted in time and attention. I have met adults who grew up in a home with a challenging sibling and they felt that the hard child was always the center of attention and effort. The difficult sibling stole time and support from the parents that they needed.
It really is true that children can overcome many things to be successful adults. The good news is that almost without exception, those that say they grew up with a challenging sibling have seen that child turn out ok. In some cases, much better than ok. These kids often end up more creative, more successful, and more resilient than the average adult. Mine certainly is.
I often wonder if I would make fewer mistakes if I had it to do over again. I don’t think I would make the same mistakes. I’m sure I would make a whole different list of mistakes. I’m also sure he would grow up to be just fine and so will yours.