Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What's good for AwesomeCloud isn't universal

I think this is a hard lesson to learn: what works for Sally doesn't necessarily work for Sam.

You'd think that a parent with a special needs child would understand this more easily, even if the special needs in question are nothing special. One parenting style doesn't fit all. In fact, sometimes you can observe how the child dictates the parenting style.

We had a big cookout last weekend, and among the people we invited were some old friends of my husband's and their two kids, ages 4 years and 3 months. My first thought, upon observing them interacting with the 4-year-old boy, was, "OMG! They're so strict with that poor kid! He must be so unhappy!"

What my first thought should have been was, "OMG! If I were that strict with AwesomeCloud, he'd be so unhappy!"

This other little boy, however, has some special needs. I don't know what they are exactly, but maybe his parents have to keep a tight rein on him as a result. Maybe what looks to me like excessive control is really much-needed structure. He's not a very happy, giggly child, but maybe it's not his parents' strictness that causes him to be like that.

Cloud is very, very different. He's free and happy by nature, and that kind of structure would be oppressive to him. He's not out of control at all. He doesn't dart into the road the moment you let go of his hand. He doesn't trash the living room in 5 seconds flat. He spills water all over the floor and tucks teabags into his toys, but when it comes to matters of consequence - life, death, or bodily harm - he spoils me by being so good.

And giggly. To take away his giggle would be a tragedy. In fact, my parenting style has become all about the laughter. Me! Imagine! I've never been known for my ability to party hearty and yukk it up, but here I am, filling my son's days with laughter! Why? Well, he started it. I just followed his example.

I'd always pictured myself as the cranky mama sprawled out on the couch with a cup of tea and a book, or a laptop, largely ignoring the kids and occasionally scolding them over my shoulder. Maybe I can still do that when Cloud is older, and maybe without so much scolding. He already lets me talk on the phone, sometimes, so maybe someday he'll let me read a book.

This other little boy did go around begging for some positive attention. I'm afraid people thought I was putting him off because he was annoying me. That wasn't it. I'm just bad at positive attention. I'm bad at understanding kids who ask for it, and I'm bad at giving it when asked. I can't read this kid's signals at all. Maybe his special needs are to blame, but he's an alien to me, so I didn't give him a compliment even when he begged me for it. I feel bad now. His parents scolded him, telling him to stop annoying everyone. That makes me feel bad, too.

It's a family trait. My inability to respond to a kid wanting a compliment... I learned that from my family. I feel bad, but it's a very hard trait to overcome.

AwesomeCloud just laughs, and everyone laughs too and loves him. I feel so lucky, but I feel so bad.

And then there were the friends who had their daughter well trained to ask Mom and Dad before she did, touched, or ate anything. That's an admirable accomplishment, but not something that will ever happen in our household. Can you imagine AwesomeCloud hanging on my arm, asking, "Mom, can I have juice? Mom, can I go to the bathroom? Mom, can I play?" I grow queasy just thinking about it.

"I don't care!" I'd eventually say. "Make up your own mind and just do it!"

Just as long as you never stop laughing.


  1. Thank you for this. I am a very strict momma, but it's really because it is what the Tongginator needs. I mean, I would probably have been strict anyway, but for sure not THIS strict. Her special needs and personality make it so that I have to be uber strict with her. My greatest fear? Is that our next child will sob piteously if I just look at her sternly... and that I won't be able to downshift fast enough between the two of them.

  2. Likewise, I'm afraid of what might happen if my next child doesn't laugh, or needs strict structure and supervision. I don't want to stop laughing along with my son. I'd hate for him to gain the label "the fun one" or "the easy one" because whatever label his sibling ends up with will sound negative in comparison.