Let’s cut right to the chase. Loving a child in today’s fast-paced world is not for the faint at heart. No wonder some couples consciously chose not to parent.
Add in a chronic mental health condition, developmental disability or fragile physical state. The challenges in raising that child can double, triple – maybe even quadruple. A full-time job on top of other responsibilities.
And the effects are real.
The lack of autonomy. The delay of independence. The moods. The self-centeredness. In other words, the child can show many sides from morning to night. Unpredictable. Inconsistent. Disagreeable. Misinformed. Illogical. Nonreciprocal. Malcontent. The list of possibilities is endless.
When those responses became prevalent – sometimes nonstop during the course of the day, parents and caregivers can reach their breaking point. They might imagine a return to their previous life – before child. They might fixate on their dire situation – which isn’t healthy for anyone.
Some pray. Some isolate. Some vent. Some eventually grow angry and become stuck in reverse. Then they can’t move forward – and balance disappears. The negatives overshadow the positives. The glass isn’t half full.
It’s completely empty.
Emotions erupt over the smallest child transgression. Perspective is lost.
Ironically, the adult may even begin to mirror their child’s behavior. No longer entirely rationale. Temperamental. Easily triggered.
At that point, they desperately want to fix the child. They desperately need to stop the negative behaviors.
Now not later.
How can I continue loving this child?
Unfortunately, the “fix-it” mentality doesn’t work in the long-run and usually leads to additional frustration and fractured love on both sides. The more the parent pushes, the more the child pulls away.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve learned many things. No doubt, the journey is long and full of potholes. Periods of improvement can be abruptly followed by regression – particularly when dealing with the devastating effects of early trauma. Yet both adults and children alike need to know that someone truly loves them.
And without that sense of love, healing a broken heart and mind may never happen at all – or not be sustained.
Since I could never force my children into loving me – much less into complying, changing my perception made more sense than “fixing” them. It was the right place to start.
That meant clear boundaries. Dislike the behavior while loving the child unconditionally. Remain connected. Forego grudges. Acknowledge three positives for every negative. Start each morning with a clean slate. And always model a more appropriate response – because the child is watching.
For me, the transformation during my darkest hours began with acknowledging my personal struggle – then reaffirming my ability to love. I had veered slightly off course and found myself distanced from the person who routinely found the best in others. Whether spiritual or not, the words of 1 Corinthians offer perspective. Reading them aloud brings comfort. They enable the heart.
Love is patient. Love is kind…
It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs….It always protects, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
I repeat those words to myself everyday – sometimes more than once.
Meanwhile, I had to connect with positive people and their messages of hope. Some find them at church or within extended families; others at work, in neighborhoods or through community service organizations. In my case I found the people through my sons’ participation in Special Olympics.
In turn, they would raise my expectations. They would renew my energy. They would become a vital component of my self-care.
Each and every day.
Conversely, I remember one summer volunteering for a paid, four-part university study about parental stress. For 90 minutes each week, the interviewer read an adverse situation and asked me to rate my response. Over and over. Probing again and again. Pushy without empathy or support. By the third interview, the sense of hopelessness put me in an extremely foul mood. I excused myself and quit the study.
Perhaps that was the intent of the research – to measure the real-time impact of negativity on parental disposition.
Changing my perception was the place to start.
That brings me to my final point.
Although children can push our buttons, a side of them values our support – whether they tell us or not. Unfortunately, they struggle mightily to put their feelings into words – especially with love being abstract and complex.
This verse from the BeeGees’ Saturday Night Fever hit song, “How Deep is Your Love,” shares insight into our children’s complicated and trying relationship with us parents, caregivers and important adult role models – because we know them best.
I believe in you
You know the door to my very soul
You’re the light in my deepest, darkest hour
You’re my savior when I fall
And you may not think I care for you
When you know down inside that I really do
And it’s me you need to show
Just last week my adult daughter conveyed a strikingly similar message in her words – with a richer, more mature tone of reciprocity and appreciation, after years of personal reflection.
I’ve been thinking about how all of us were put together – all different but all a fit. I believe you are a protector of light, a person who finds good in people and nourishes and protects that good until reaching its potential. You are a very special person. People often compliment you, but they don’t understand how accurate they really are. Thank you for your guidance. I now understand what a guardian is.
I hope the questions have become obvious. How deep is your love? How deep will you continue to love? How deep can it grow?
The love begins with you. DCP
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE
To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love
To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page Andrew Peterson Athlete & Advocate