Isn’t it strange that dealing with our children’s issues can force us to face our own? That’s how it’s worked out for me, anyway. It’s been a process, but I’ve found that the concern that my husband and I have for our four children and their wellbeing motivates me more than anything. And there are times as a parent that you know that something’s not quite right. It could be that your child is suddenly having difficulty in school, he seems a little more withdrawn than usual around you, or she no longer enjoys the things she used to look forward to doing. A parent knows.
Facing our own issues through our children
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how becoming a parent can force us to face our own demons, if we haven’t dealt with them already. What I mean by that is that the negatives that haunt us—like low self-esteem, lacking confidence, or anxiety issues—can come back to bite us when we have kids. And as protective parents, often the things that we don’t see, or won’t see, in ourselves can become crystal clear in our children, especially as they get older.
What’s ironic, I think especially for moms, is that we’ll move heaven and earth to do for our children what we wouldn’t take the time to do for ourselves. Why is that? For me, it was the learned habit of always putting myself last.
Searching for answers
But there is a bright side to this. The good thing is that in dealing with the issues of our children, we can often find the answers to what ails us as well. The solutions that we search out for our children (e.g. therapy, meditation, affirmations) can also work for us. I guess it’s another way that parenting can be a gift.
I’ve written in the past about how filling out a questionnaire for my son helped me to examine myself, and what drives me, more carefully. For years, I suspected that something wasn’t quite right with one of our boys, but I couldn’t explain it. It started with little things. He freaked out the first time we went to a bowling alley, although it didn’t bother his siblings. It took a while for him to get used to the sounds that seemed normal to us. The first time he went to the circus, he spent most of the time with his hands over his ears, although he didn’t want to leave. I thought he might be somewhere on the autism spectrum, though highly functional. But I was told by experts that that wasn’t the case. I was somewhat relieved, but still not satisfied.
After searching for answers from our pediatrician and others, an unexpected incident finally showed us that we needed some more insight. Our little guy was somewhere between kindergarten and first grade at the time, and it happened out of the blue.
We had just finished watching a show at an amusement park, and as we left the darkened theater for the bright daylight outside, we noticed something was off with him. It had been a live show with loud music and lots of bright lights and sounds. Suddenly, we could see that he was experiencing severe sensory overload. His three siblings were all fine, but when we looked over at him, his head was wobbling strangely on his neck; he looked like a little bobblehead doll. We asked him what was wrong, and he said, “I don’t know.” He couldn’t control it. We didn’t know what to do. All I can tell you is that it was a genuinely scary moment for us as parents. Eventually, he returned to normal and the wobbling stopped, but that was the last straw for me.
Trusting the experts—and your friends’ network
As soon as we returned home, we reached out to our son’s pediatrician, and that was enough to convince him that we needed to find answers. We considered possible specialists and referrals, but it was the pediatric specialist that a friend referred us to at Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Jersey who helped us to figure it out. Part of the diagnosis was sensory processing disorder (SPD), something that also explained his natural sensitivity to loud noises. As I mentioned earlier, I had suspected for a while that he might be on the autism spectrum, and it’s sometimes mistaken for that (which we would have handled as needed), but this was something unexpected. We’d never heard of SPD. If you suspect something similar, there are checklists of symptoms that you can review for starters.
But long story short, we were able to find and treat the problem with occupational therapy along with a plan for school. For me, half the battle was just knowing what was wrong. I’m the type of parent who wants to know what I’m dealing with and then address the problem so that we can get the best outcome possible. So, I was relieved to finally know what it was. Over time, we saw lots of improvement and progress. And, ironically, it was the introductory questionnaire provided by this specialist that made me think about my own issues as well.
Finding out more about myself through this
There were some questions related to anxiety, and the doctor actually asked whether I’d suffered from it. That was my aha moment. Before then, it had never crossed my mind. But as I reflected on my own habits, slowly that began to change. Fortunately, my son didn’t show any real signs of anxiety, but I did. I realized that I had just formed a lot of coping skills over the years. But now, being aware of it helped me to look for the signs in our other children. Had anyone taken after me? I saw some signs.
The moral to the story is that I found out a lot about myself through seeking help for our son. The process hasn’t always been easy, but it’s taught me how to advocate better for him and for his siblings when needed. It’s also taught me to remember my own needs. So, as we consider the changes we’ve had to undergo during this pandemic, I’d like to share that I’m a firm believer that a child’s learning environment can either complement or complicate his or her issues. We have to be careful about that. I’ve seen certain environments actually trigger and heighten levels of anxiety in one of our other children. We even changed schools once because of it. But that’s another story for another day.
As parents, we have to ultimately decide what’s best for our children. That’s no easy feat. And in the end, we know that no parent is perfect. But we can learn and grow together.
Regina Cash-Clark is a wife and mother of four (twins plus two) who lives in Somerset, Franklin Township. She teaches writing as a full-time faculty member at Ramapo College of New Jersey.