When Your Child is THAT Child!

It was a typical day at the grocery store.

I was calmly and determinedly working through my shopping list one item at a time as quickly as possible.  The sooner I could get us through the store and back out to the car the better.  If we could make it through the shopping trip without any full out, flat-on-the-floor, screaming bloody murder tantrums I’d be pleased!  I had my game face on and I was ready.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the little hand reaching for a can of prunes, of all things. Nobody in our house ate prunes!  I kept my voice cheerful and firm as I asked him to replace the can on the shelf.  He gave a little shriek and made a pinching motion at me in the air with his thumb and index finger, the can still tightly in his grasp.  I repeated my instruction, adding “gentle hands” into the equation and averted my eyes, hoping the break in eye contact would lessen the intensity and convince him this battle wasn’t worth the fight.  But when I looked back he was reaching for two more cans.  Clearly we weren’t avoiding this one.  When I firmly repeated my denial and instruction to replace the cans his eyes darkened and I knew it was coming seconds before his body hit the floor and his scream split the air.  The cans were sent skittering and rolling down the isle.  A kindly gentleman stopped to stare disapprovingly as I grabbed my purse and hauled my kicking, screaming, sobbing child off the dirty floor.

My child and the cheerful, unfazed grocery store cashiers knew the drill as I left my half filled cart and headed for the exit, a ball of wiry little boy flailing in my arms.  If I was lucky one of the cashiers would be kind enough to set my cart aside near the front.  If not I’d hunt it down where I left it and hope nobody had taken it and emptied it, in which case I would have to start all over.  Hopefully I would only need to exit once today!

What was I going to do?

I held my breath as I picked up the phone.

It was the school.


My heart sank as I heard the principal’s voice.  I kept my voice light and tried to calm the anxiety rising in me as I returned her friendly greeting.

“So we’ve had a bit of a rough day and I thought you should know about it.”

From there she launched into a detailed account of my child’s behavior that day.  Aggression and defiance had been the norm for her interactions with both teachers and peers.  This was typical, but the words that pounded my brain and jolted my composure were the specific instances she shared in which my child had hit, kicked, swore at, threatened, stole from and spit at her peers and classroom teacher.  The principal calmly and gently reminded me those behaviors would typically be met with a one day suspension from school.

I promised that I would deal with the situation and hung up the phone, my eyes closing in despair.

What was I going to do?


Some of you know what I am talking about.

Some of you know what it feels like to have your child be that child.

The child that needs constant reminders to use gentle hands and stop interrupting.

The child that needs careful supervision every second at the playground.

The child that will cause you to carefully avoid the eyes of certain parents and teachers because of the things they’ve done or said.

The child that will make family gatherings stressful and Christmas morning unpredictable.

The child that will be at the root of every squabble that arises among children.

The child that will come home with others’ belongings tucked in their backpack pockets day after day after day.

“She gave it to me!”

The child that will lie with ease and spin tales like silk on a spider’s web.

The child that will cause anxiety to press in your chest when he’s out of your sight.

The child that will make simple things like grocery shopping an exercise of humility, patience and self control.

The child that will shut down at social functions after a certain amount of time and follow you around, eyes glazed over and begging to go home.

The child that will receive sharp reprimands from frustrated adults and whining complaints from other children.

He cheated.

She pushed me.

He took my ___________.

She scribbled on my paper.

He bit me!

So what do you do?

What do you do when you’re the mom and your child continually acts out in all kinds of horrible ways because of anxiety, stress, fear, insecurity and brain trauma?  What do you do when other parents look at you with frustration in their eyes or when teachers list the day’s events and then pause, waiting for your answer?  What do you do when social functions become stressful events that leave you feeling lonely and tired from trying to prevent your child’s impulsive behaviors?  What do you do when strangers mutter disapproving comments just within hearing?  What do you do?

I think this is where I’m supposed to give you the answers to those questions.

But the truth is…I don’t have them!

I really don’t know how to handle this sometimes.

I know that it’s important you remember the why’s.

Like why is my child behaving in this way?

Why is he or she reacting to this situation in this particular manner?

Why am feeling threatened by this situation?

But there really is no easy way to deal with all these feelings and emotions.

It gets better in time.

Practice makes perfect…which is not what you want to hear if you’re that parent.

Let go of the idea that your family should look or act a certain way.  You’re bound to be disappointed and disillusioned.

Let others in.

Share the hurt, the struggle, the disappointment, the flaws…without sharing too much of your child’s personal issues.

Be kind.  Always.

Stay calm.

Pray for humility and compassion.

And know that you are not alone.

Many others have been there and once you start looking you will find them.

Offer a smile to that woman in the grocery store checkout with a screaming three year old thrashing on the floor.

When your child comes home with a horror story of what some other child in their class did that day, offer up a quick prayer for the parent and next time you see them on the playground make sure you smile and meet their eyes.  They are most likely fighting battles you can’t imagine and feeling very alone.

Believe the best about those around you and teach your children to do the same.

Sometimes life just hurts and God knows we’ve all made some pretty big mistakes.





Cry It Out?


IMG_9407-1I remember the first time I cared for an infant.

As a “new mom” to our first foster child, a baby, I was reporting in detail every little quirk in his sleeping habits to our social worker.  What sticks out in my mind is her kind eyes looking at me with a hint of amusement as she said gently, “You know you may eventually just need to let him cry it out!”

Fast forward four years and I’m dragging myself out of bed to go comfort my five month old for the fourth time in one night.

Not hungry.

No fever or signs of pain.

No diaper change needed.

Just wanting to be snuggled and preferably offered a breast for extra comfort!

As much as I absolutely adore
my baby, and have learned sometimes it’s not worth the battle, sleep is something I know I need and this particular night I knew I needed to put on my big girl pants and get him back to sleep without my help.  This was becoming a pattern.


After attempts to rock him, cuddle him and sing him back to sleep I tucked him back in his crib, turned on the singing seahorse and stood beside his crib watching him cry in the warm glow of the night light.  I thought of leaving, but couldn’t bear to leave the room and instead propped my head on the rail inches from him and tried to calm him with my whispered words of comfort.

His poor little eyes filled with big tears and he cried his little heart out.  He’d never experienced anything like this before!  Being such a content little guy, at the slightest whimper he is used to being scooped up.  I thought to myself that this was probably one of the first big moments of stress in his life!

He cried and cried, big shuddering sobs.

Just when I’d think he was almost calm again, he’d start all over again.

At these moments it is really unfortunate to be an adoptive parent who has spent the last three years focusing on attachment, brain development and healing kids from trauma.  As I stroked his cheeks and listened to his mournful cries my heart broke and I felt my chest tighten with anxiety.

All the stories I’d read of babies left screaming for hours on end and the resulting brain trauma flew through my mind.  I was sure he was going to think I was abandoning him and all I could picture was the diagram of the brain in attachment classes with the prefontal cortex all lit up in bright red!

What kind of mother just stands there and lets her child cry?!

At the same time the logical side of me knew this was an age old, tried-and-true method that most mothers use at some point with most babies.  I also knew that tomorrow would not be forgiving of me after a night of fitful, interrupted sleep.  Thirty minutes, an hour, forty-five minutes, or two hours at a time is not a way to feel rested and energetic the next morning!  I would still have to get up and take care of my baby.  I would still need to home school my daughter.  I would still need to get to the grocery store with my two children and do the shopping.  I would still need to get to the appointments and make dinner for my family.  I would still need to do the laundry so my girls had clean clothes for the weekend.  Life would still be there, and I would be a much better mother with a little more sleep.


This pattern needed to stop.

I realize there are all kinds of ideas surrounding babies and sleep.

Sleep schedules.

Sleep training.

Sleep cycles.

But every baby is different, and every mother is different.

At the end of the day you have to find whatever works for you.

After almost 45 minutes of on and off, broken-hearted crying my baby gripped the finger I offered and drifted off to sleep, still sniffling as his tears dried on his pink cheeks.

The funny thing is, as I felt his body relax and go off to blissful dreamland,

instead of heading back to my bed,

I stayed.

I stayed and stroked his soft head.

I whispered to him all my dreams for him,

My prayers for him,

And my apologies for being only mortal when I wish to be so much more.

My arms ached to hold him,

now still and quiet in sleep.

I desperately wanted to cuddle him close and let him feel my skin against his.

I wanted him to know just how very much he is adored.

But of course I couldn’t.

I told my husband later that the worst part was not watching him cry and have his eyes beg mine pleadingly, though that was torturous.


The worst part was that eventually he was okay.

Without me.

Eventually he gave up.

And that broke me.

I don’t know if I’ll do it again.

I probably should, and probably will.

It really does work most times from what I hear.

But I hate it.

I’m designed to be his everything, and that is what I thrive on.

Interrupted nights,

frustrated minutes pacing the floor,

those are really just par for the course.

I’m a mother, after all.




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