So I experience guilt ALL the time…I’m talking like every single day. I don’t feel guilty about not doing the dishes or skipping out on some work that needs done, but I always ALWAYS feel guilty about my shortcomings as a mother. I am indeed my worst critic when it comes to how well I am raising my kids. I make mistakes, rake myself over the coals, make myself pay and then go to bed feeling defeated, disappointed and sad. My whole life I have been told that I am too sensitive, a soft-hearted person who needs to just, well…TOUGHEN UP! But mothering is the most important job of my life. I can’t screw this up, because if I do I’m not only screwing it up for myself but my negligence trickles down to others. Others who happen to be innocent victims who deserve better.
Typically my guilt is over yelling too much in a day, for things like running late, which is not my 8, 5 or 1 year olds fault, ever. It is clearly my fault because they depend on me to keep them on time and I am always NOT on time. Or I feel guilty for not playing with them enough. Which is probably something I shouldn’t be admitting because clearly I understand the complete importance of PLAYING with my kids, but some days work, email, social media, a new magazine, Say Yes to the Dress, they all just get in the way of me getting on the floor. Other days the guilt comes from less frequent events that just pop up. One of those times happened not long ago.
As I have mentioned before my second child, Big O, has taught me A LOT in his short 5 years of existence. You can read more about that HERE, but briefly over the past year we have implemented new behavior strategies, put our family on an entirely new diet (with much success) and linked up with one of my favorite occupational therapists who recommended a brushing program. Just quickly, in case you aren’t familiar, Big O is a sensory seeker. I never noticed any sensory issues until after his baby sister was born. He loved her and was so proud to be a big brother. He enjoyed holding her and loved touching her soft skin. In fact he loved touching her soft skin a little too much. He would rub her cheeks and ears ALL the time! So much so we began disciplining him for it because he WOULD NOT STOP! But after several months of discipline I began to realize that this maybe was something that O just couldn’t help. He began to tell me, when I asked why he wanted to rub her face so much, “She’s just so soft!” Some other things started coming together in the sensory awareness world as well: O often wanted to rub the inside of my arm when sitting next to me on the couch, he had a very difficult time at school sitting in circle time, constantly moving and reaching out to touch the friend next to him, he would also put his arms inside his shirt to rub his own belly. And the one thing that could make O stop dead in his tracks was a back scratching, the boy loves a good back scratchin’! He loved the sensory input that was provided through skin to skin contact. It took me a while, but I finally came to the realization that no amount of discipline or bribery could stop him from seeking out these behaviors. Again, something in his little brain caused him to crave this input and he could not stop himself. So in following our OT’s recommendation we began (literally) brushing him with a little plastic brush to satisfy the sensory input he craved so that he didn’t seek it out in other ways. The program helped, tremendously! So over the past couple of months I had begun to wean him off of the brushing. He seemed to be handling it okay and if I saw some sensory behaviors pop up, I would just revisit the brushing program once or twice and he would be back on track. Well over the past few weeks the signs have been there; he has been more touchy-feely with his sisters, pulling his arms inside his shirt and putting little things in his mouth and even though I knew the signs, I ignored them.
So fast forward to a few weeks ago at Ninja class. Big O has been loving his ninja class and successfully participating which brings me great joy! But this particular day he had difficulty keeping his hands to himself, touching and teasing another student during class, which clearly isn’t acceptable behavior. Sensei called Big O out during class, giving him a verbal warning that if he couldn’t keep his hands to himself he was going to have to sit out. At the end of class he made Big O stay after so that he could further discuss (and scold) him, letting him know how disappointed he was in Big O’s behavior as one of the veterans in the class and how he expected more of him. Big O handled the disciplinary action well, he argued a bit, but Sensei put a quick end to that and Big O just listened and agreed to try better in the future.
As I sat there and listened the guilt was like a load of bricks on my shoulders. I felt my posture drop as I endured the scolding as if it were my own. Would Big O maybe have been able to hold it together in class better if I had been implementing his sensory strategies at home, was he just touching those kids b/c he was seeking some sensory input that could’ve easily been quenched with the brushing program that I had become too lazy to do? When Sensei was talking to him I wanted to shout out, “But he has a sensory seeking disorder, he can’t help it sometimes, he just HAS to touch!” “It’s my fault, I’m the one who should have to sit in time out next class, not Big O!” No guilt is as great as that in which you know exactly what you could’ve done to avoid your child’s humiliation. Wow, I had hit a mommy low.
That night we started the brushing program back up. And I started processing what had happened earlier in the day. You know it’s hard to always be “ON”, I thought: on with is diet, on with his brushing program, on with the behavior strategies. I’m not always going to be there, hovering over him to rescue him from whatever the world throws his way; it’s unfortunate, but it’s reality. The world won’t cater to him the way I do…maybe it was okay that “O” suffered some natural consequences for his behavior today. After all he handled it all quite well.
Unfortunately our generation of parents has allowed society to place enormous pressure upon us to be EVERYthing for our kids. So much so that it sometimes handicaps our kids from helping themselves. It can sometimes prevent them from using the tools we are trying to teach them to be independent.
You know that saying about using your superpower for good or for evil? As a mother I think it’s our job to help our children learn to use their unique superpowers for good. O’s superpower is his strong will. If I succeed in helping him learn to use if for good, then maybe, just maybe one day we will address him as Mr. President, Big “O”! (a momma can dream, right?!) Parenting him and my two girls is an ongoing and fluid job. Sometimes I feel like I should or could do more to help them. Regardless of my self-assessment of the most important job I’ll ever have, it’s my job to make them be independent using the attributes that uniquely make them them! That day in ninja class my initial reaction was guilt. But after some reflection I realized a year ago O could not even participate in a group activity successfully with peers. He rarely could do those things with me, at home, without frustration. Even though he needed scolded and corrected, and even though I felt somewhat responsible for that, he used his superpower for GOOD that day! He was able to apply the strategies we’ve been working on at home, with me by his side, all by himself. He not only took the class but was able to take constructive criticism well. He may not have liked it but it no longer prevented him from participating or wanting to return to class. And at the end of the day that meant we both did our jobs well! Weight lifted, posture restored…keep mothering on!
Want to learn more about Sensory Processing Disorder? Nicole wrote a fantastic blog explaining what it is and how to know if your child may be struggling with processing their world. Read more HERE.