I wrote this article on April 23, but needed to let it sit and marinate. It was a hard article to initially write, but now I feel more comfortable sharing it. Maybe my experiences will help another parent.
My life is crazy busy. Well, honestly, the busiest times of my life are every weekday in the morning before I leave for work and when I get home from work to the time the kids go to bed. Sure, I'm busy at work, but it's work, and I get paid for doing it. I'm not sure if this is the reason it feels so different, or the fact that I feel more in control there. After work, I'm mom, wife, laundry boss, maid, cook, chauffeur, and any other hats that need to be worn, too. What I can't do, Eric is doing. Some days are so nuts-we will have been busy with some event, say a grandma's birthday party, get home late, homework isn't complete, and the kids are way past the point of needing to go to bed. These are the nights when Eric and I fall into bed, too, just as exhausted, after finishing a million other chores that need to be done. Sound familiar?
Mornings are always horrible, regardless of how much rest the kids have had. Because the kids have put in their time at school and are tired when they come home, we see the worst of them. Not listening. Sibling fighting. Their bedrooms of doom, where you don't want to walk in for fear of stepping on some stray toe breaker of a toy. Sometimes wonder what others think of me when they meet my children. Okay, I'll admit it. I think of it often. I'm pretty sure they are both great kids to others most of the time, but I have doubts on their behavior, especially my son's, because lately his home behavior is less than stellar.
For example, last week, Evan was mad at me for telling him to write his spelling words five times each.
He had tried reasoning with me. "You see, Mom, we don't write our spelling words out for our test with a pencil like you make me do. We use our school iPads. So I should use the Spelling City app to study. It only makes sense," his tone and body language has just told me that I am the biggest idiot on Earth.
My answer resulted in an over exaggerated audible sigh that seemed to take more effort that humanly possible. "Evan, I already put your iPad up. You can't throw a screaming fit about your sister chasing you into the snow because you had your new shoes on when you started it by throwing snowballs at her." (You heard him sigh, did you?) I mean, who knew that when you throw snowballs at your big sister, she would chase you down and give you a white wash with the remnants of the big April snowstorm from the week prior? Obviously Evan thought I should think he should be in the clear and Alexa should be punished. It would be one thing if he were truly innocent, or even if this same scenario with him starting a snowball fight and her ending it had never happened.
He was extremely tired, which is Evan's world means that he somehow has the right to be mean to me when I don't agree with him. "I'm not doing five, I'll do three," he said with a finality to his voice.
I know right now where this path is going to lead, but I decide not to take his bait and instead picture myself yelling at him for him being a pompous jerk. I remind myself that he is only eight and I cannot succumb to the anger that is starting to boil within me. So, taking a deep breath, I say, "You slacked off last week, writing the words only three times each and then you skipped several days of studying. Your grade ended up not being your best. You need to do five times for each word this week and show that you can score better." He proceeded to throw his body on the recliner and let out some sort of whining that I am doing a miserable job of tuning out. I consciously kept my voice even, because I really want him to make a good choice here. "Evan, you have a choice. You can write them five times each and finish the rest of your homework or you can go to bed."
His response? A sort of growl-yell and this: "You can't make me!"
Obviously, he didn't make the good choice. I am beyond disappointed in his choice, but my patience is done. I struggle to maintain a non-yelling voice. It's very directed, but not quite yelling, "Okay. You made your choice. Go. To. Bed." Obviously my tone was serious because he stomped upstairs, but not without yelling, "This is so freaking stupid!"
I am not surprised at his reaction, just saddened. He had just lost the opportunity to eat dinner, it's already 6:30 and he went way over the top with his anger, so this time out was going to be long. Plus, I need a long amount of time away from him. Likely, he will fall asleep and wake in the morning before I muster the energy to tell him to come downstairs to chat about his behavior.
Even more upsetting, this is the first day back in the school routine where Evan had the privilege of having his school iPad home. He has been grounded from most everything fun (all electronics, tv, playing with his toys) for the past two or so weeks when he had the temper tantrum to end all tantrums at school. He has worked hard making good choices and keeping his anger in check. Eric and I have worked very closely with his wonderfully patient teacher, trying to give him tools to manage his temper: Count to 10 before you say anything, walk away, tell an adult, try to see it from the other person's point of view. You know, all of the things every parent has tried with their kids. Only, it wasn't working for Evan.
Because the days of crazy were becoming more frequent with Evan and we were at whits end, we made the hard decision to take action on something I have known for a while. See, I've been a teacher for several years and have seen countless kids like Evan, who struggle in school because of an inability to maintain focus. It was different, because I was now the mom, not the teacher, and it felt so personal. Evan had the classic signs for ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, even before we filled out the paperwork and saw a doctor. The guilt I had about not doing anything about heping Evan was terrible. I mean, I'm a trained professional, who has helped countless kids just like him. Even bigger than the guilt, the hardest part was convincing Eric that we needed to try something more drastic. I'm glad Evan's teacher was so helpful. She was able to explain to him the same things I had been saying, only coming from someone who is not his parent seemed to be the final key in changing his mind.
We decided to try medication with Evan to help him focus, which we hope will help with his behavior and social interactions with peers. For the past few weeks, we have been hyper sensitive to any differences, and frankly, most of these changes are positive. Evan's behavior has definitely improved. He is a friendlier version of the kid who gets frustrated at every little thing. He is able to maintain his focus for long periods of time and has an easier time working through being upset, instead of having a cow about the littlest things. Granted, there are some things we don't like. Evan has a more difficult time falling asleep. The medicine wears off at the end of the day, and all the nuisances from the disorder come crashing in just in time for us at home. Sure, we could increase the dose, but we just started and want to give it a chance.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy having the best version of Evan around, but It has been difficult to make the decision to medicate an eight year old. Eric and I are worried about the long-term effects. We don't want him to make excuses for his behavior that blame his disorder or his medicine. "I can't help being a turd, I forgot to take my medicine" will not be an acceptable reason for anything, though it does explain things for others. It's a fine line, though. He has already told me that he likes that Eric and I are not always mad or upset with him. He is a sensitive kid, not liking it when people yell at him or express a tone of disappointment or anger. Believe me, it is extremely frustrating to have a kid who is not "listening" to what you told him. He does hear what we say, it's just that he gets distracted very quickly and forgets the task he was doing before starting something new.
Evan, himself, started noticing his abilities very quickly, where before they were clouded by the inability to focus. The very first day of the medicine, Evan was able to sit quietly through church service. Not only that, but he stood and participated in the singing part. This was unheard of before. He would complain that service was too long, fidget the entire time, and it was obvious that he heard little or none of the message. The day he noticed, he said, "Mom, I think this medicine makes me a better colorer. Look!" He showed me ten coloring pages he completed. I said, "No, Evan, the medicine doesn't do that. You've always been able to color that well. The medicine just helps you focus so that you can complete all of these pictures instead of only partly finishing one." The look on his face was part amazement, part realization, and a whole lot of pride.
Evan's new confidence is the reason we are continuing with the medicine. The few glimpses of a fun, pleasant Evan are now longer moments. He can focus on the task at hand, and doesn't fixate as much on little things. Though, we are considering upping the dose. The wear off time needs to last until after the homework routine. All of the positive changes are erased when it wears off. He reverts to blaming others for the actions he is doing, and not understanding any reasoning, because he is too focused on the one thing that hasn't gone his way. Frustration sets in for everyone at home, and bedtime is not fun.
The day we started Evan on medicine, a friend approached me after church and asked how it was going with Evan. Because he had missed her daughter's birthday party the day before due to behavior, I thought she was referring to that. I felt like a crappy mom for not letting him go, even though it was for the best, so I started to apologize and explain his absence. Instead, she was talking about the struggles we were having with Evan's behavior. I told her of the decision to start the medicine and how it has been just in the few hours since he took it. I was feeling defensive, like I needed to explain why we did it. I didn't expect her response. She shared with me her own concerns with her daughter, and then proceeded to tell me that she and her husband looked up to me and Eric (say what?!?) for sticking to our consequences, even though they were hard because they affected the whole family-no tv for him means no tv for everyone in the family. She told me that when she runs into a parenting question about what to do about something with her own daughter, she uses Eric and I as models. I have to tell you, I was pretty shocked. In my guilty mom-who-is-medicating-her-eight-year-old mind, I was thinking that everyone was judging me. Nope, it was just me judging myself. Though my jaw was still wide open in amazement, I did manage to tell her that it wasn't easy to follow through on all of those consequences. Believe me, I still have three bags of stuff from Evan's room that he hasn't earned back from two months ago when I cleared out his bedroom and I am struggling to avoid just "giving them back" without earning them, because they are an eye sore in my basement.
I went home that day and thought about how others see me as a parent. I came to a huge realization that every parent doubts themselves at one time or another and often several times a day. Eric and I aren't perfect parents, but we are doing our best version of it. There are bad days (like neglecting to give Evan his medicine one morning last week! I am so sorry to his teacher!), there are good days (We got the kids to bed at the right time tonight!) and there are great days ("I love you, mom."). If we remember that we are just human, pray for patience, and stop judging ourselves so harshly, it would be a whole lot easier.