Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Parental Guilt When Kids Struggle


There are times when parents seem scrutinized.  Are they doing a good job?  What would someone else do differently?  This tendency to critique can reach a peak intensity when a child is struggling with relationships, health, learning, emotions, or behavior.  "Hmmm" people say..."What did I do differently that saved my child from that struggle?"  Parents with struggling kids can receive more than typical scrutiny.  

My son is in the autistic spectrum.  But we didn't always have a word for his struggle.  It took 5 years for a diagnosis.  I still recall some instances of comment and scrutiny that left me feeling shamed and judged.  For example, when my son was 9 months old, he continued with extreme colic.  We had him in day care 2 days a week.  It was clear that the staff were becoming overwhelmed with him.  One day, his caregiver wrote me a note on his daily take home sheet that said, "His crying is disruptive to the classroom.  Please have him better by tomorrow."  I'm sure the note meant that she was overwhelmed, but she did not think about the parental guilt she encouraged.  When I hear things like that, I think "If I were a different parent, could I 'make him better' by tomorrow? What am I doing wrong?" We ended up taking him out of day care and alternating our work schedule to care for him at home.

I remember another time when my son was older...perhaps 3 years old.  He used to want about 5 pacifiers at a time.  One for his mouth, and two for each hand that he would twirl.  I NEVER took him shopping with me, but this one day I needed something desperately from Walmart.  I knew it would be hard on him and me.  Walmart is such a crowded place.  Could we do it?  Dare I risk it? I was self-conscious about the pacifiers, so I let him keep one (to help us both survive Walmart) and I left the other 4 in the car.  Sure enough, the older couple in back of us in the checkout lane explained that he was too old for a pacifier.  Why didn't I just throw it out?  Then they began physically to remove the pacifier from his mouth.  I was as nice as I could be at that moment.  I said something like, "Well for today we are going to leave the pacifier there."  

My child is struggling.  My household is struggling.  We are trying to survive each day.  But the feedback at times has been "If you are good parents, your child would look different.  There would not be struggle.  There would be normalcy.  If only you would parent the way I do."  

The good thing is, now that I am aware of the judgment that can occur between parents, I am so very mindful to compliment parents.  When I see the heart they have for their child, I make an effort to bless them and honor them.  I can acknowledge their struggle, perhaps offer suggestions, but in the end... honor their heart, honor their courage, honor their trying to do the "right thing."

Have you experienced parental guilt?  Have you felt honored by others?  How do you honor other parents and encourage them in their journey?