Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben
As a parent, you run into a million challenges and questions by the time your child turns one. My ex-husband’s mother would often say “they don’t come with a manual” and she was, of course, right.
Still, there are certain guidelines I hold to when I parent, mostly based on the values that I hold dear in all areas of my life: compassion, understanding, respect and support, among others.
Even then, however, parenting will keep throwing you curve balls. One of them is that as soon as you have two kids or more, they are bound to be completely different from each other. Consequently, parenting techniques that work on one might not work on the other. Especially if one or more of those children happen to be neuro-divergent, as is the case in our family.
Another question I often run into is when to push my kids to do something they are afraid of doing or don’t want to do, and when to just let them be. My son’s sense of what is or isn’t scary is very different from his (step)sisters and brothers. Each of our children has their own struggles, and expecting them to reach the same standard would be as silly as putting a fish next to a bird and asking them both to fly.
This morning, my son performed in his first play, together with the whole class. I’d been worried about this moment since September when I knew this would be part of the curriculum this year. He’d been stressing about it since two weeks ago, when they started practising, saying he didn’t want to do it at all. Some people asked me whether there wasn’t a way for him not to take part in the play, but I decided not to raise that option with his teacher because I know that experiencing success in something he is afraid of is extremely valuable. It stretches his opinion of what it is he can or cannot do. It allows him to build his self-esteem and to be part of something the group accomplishes together, thus reinforcing his social connections. All of these are vital for him.
To my daughter, the idea of standing on a stage with her classmates may also be stress-inducing, but it’s not nearly as terrifying as for her brother. She’s much less frightened in general but does struggle with feeling blocked when having to perform certain tasks (math homework tops the bill!) She requires a much different kind of ‘pushing’, one that I haven’t actually fully figured out yet (probably because I recognize her resistance only too well and haven’t quite solved how to deal with it in myself). Now, I go with a mixture of encouragement, empathy and trying to reframe the issue to make it less impossible from her point of view. It’s just important to know when to stop.
Often I’ll push them both until I feel that they are coming up to an emotional limit, or that the experience is becoming so overwhelming it might do more bad than good. But how do you know when that’s the case?
The best way I know is to listen. Our children tell us all the time when things are hard or scary for them. In some cases, they can be so clear about them, that we wish they wouldn’t remind us a little less. So where’s the problem? Well, sometimes we don’t believe them.
My son is afraid to be alone. So afraid that he won’t stay anywhere alone, which includes in the bathtub when I’m downstairs in the kitchen. This seems ridiculous to me. He can walk to where I am, he can hear me talk, and yet… he will not fetch milk from the cellar where it might be dark unless his sister goes with him. Pushing him in that area means very gently extending the periods of time when I “quickly go put something away” so that he learns that nothing bad will happen.
For my eldest girl, there are times when I’ll tell her ‘even if you don’t finish it well, finishing is more important than not finishing’ when her perfectionism pops up. There are also days when I’ll remind her 20 times that she still needs to clean her room, and put consequences on not having it clean (no sleepovers, for instance).
Sometimes I screw it up. I push too much and end up with a meltdown. Or I don’t push enough and end up cleaning up their rubbish. Often it’s a fine line, but every time I cross it, or let them cross mine, I learn a little more.
I want my kids to be able to take care of themselves, eventually. That means they’ll have to tackle things by themselves that I now do for them. When I’m tempted to do things myself because it’s faster, or easier, or less hassle… that’s what I have to keep in mind. #remindingmyself!
P.S. For those who are now wondering… the play went well. My son did great, as did all the little ones (ages 6-7). We’re so proud!