Behind the Parenting Mask

Parents are pretty good at wearing masks, keeping up a solid front in the face of stressful situations, making sure the kiddos don’t know when things are barely in our control. Most parents are good at that. Even I, who has been told by several people that every emotion I’m feeling is seen on my face — even I am pretty good at putting up an fairly controlled front.

One night last week during dinner, my husband, our two younger kids and I were eating dinner while our eldest son was in the throes of a tantrum – screaming, crying, and hitting himself hard on his head. My 8-year-old daughter asked me, “Mamma, you don’t seem upset. Don’t Bhai’s (brother) tantrums make you sad?”

Why yes jaan (darling), they do. His tantrums make me very, very sad.

But I don’t want you to see me sad, I don’t want you to see me as I feel inside – helpless and not in control – so I hide that and try to keep dinner conversation flowing, make sure everyone is eating, make sure that homework is completed, my work deadlines are met, kids are bathed, Qur’an is read, prayers are said, “Tom & Jerry” and “Cupcake Wars” are watched, groceries are bought, therapy is managed, meds are given on time, conversation is had with husband about things other than kids and autism, Facebook is checked, and that everyone goes to bed at a relatively decent hour.

Most times I follow in the footsteps of Holly Hunter’s character in “Broadcast News”

Maybe I’m making a mistake by keeping up appearances. Sure, I’m a warrior mom. But I’m a vulnerable mom, too. Maybe it’s not healthy to endure the stress of keeping on a calm face for everyone. But I remind myself that for the children, yes, you have to show them that you’ve got this. The difference, though, is that I am realizing that my younger kids are getting older, and I need to ask them about how they feel towards Lil D’s meltdowns. I need to let them know, calmly, that it too makes me sad.

 I need to make sure I explain why the rules are different between them, and at times make a big to-do that I have the same expectations for all my kids – even though I always don’t.

So when Lil D is trying to bolt out of his chair at dinnertime, I insist that he follow the rules – sit properly, eat his meal, and tell me “all done” when he is ready to get up. For years this has been our protocol – this is a part of the routine that he should know. But for months now, he’s been testing me, engaging in tantrums when I insist he stay seated. That’s when I say, “Lil D, you know the rules. You and your brother and sister must all sit properly when eating,” – and I make sure the other kids are in earshot when I say this.

When the younger two get in fights and call each other names, I tell them name calling is not allowed, not for them, not for Lil D, which always prompts one of them to say, “But Bhai can’t talk!” And I reply, “Doesn’t matter. Someday he may talk, and the point is that name calling is not allowed for any of us.”

Extreme Parenting

It’s tricky and exhausting, switching gears and parenting tactics with the kids. Two weeks back I attended three evening meetings – the first was one held by our county on, among other things, how the exceptional education department facilitates transitions for autistic (and other special needs) student  from elementary to middle school, and from middle to high school. (Lil D is transitioning to middle school next fall, and I am freaking out.)

The second meeting was another one held by our county’s exceptional education department, this time to discuss changes to the gifted program (our daughter is being considered for the gifted program). The third meeting was an open house at the middle school where my son may go next fall. To be in that middle school amidst all the craziness and talk to the autism teacher, who quite calmly and pleasantly told me that she has handled the transition process for dozens of students, and that my son would be fine – well that freaked me out even further. She, and we, has no idea what we are in for.

During that same week, my daughter was taking benchmark exams at school. Though she is just in third grade and these exams are not terribly difficult, we spent extra time studying and helping her prepare. And, also during that same week, I took my youngest child for testing and interviews at a number of private schools where we live — as he will be starting kindergarten next fall, and we are trying to figure out where he should go.

That busy week perpetuated a nagging feeling that plagues me: with my kids having such different needs, I often feel like none of their needs are fully being met. I have spent ten years going to the bat for Lil D, managing all of his affairs, researching new therapies, medical interventions, keeping his massive educational and medical file organized and up-to-date, writing his IEPs, keeping in constant contact with his teachers. And that’s not about to stop anytime soon.

But, as my husband reminds me from time to time, we have two other children, and we both have jobs, and we want to spend a little time together each day where autism and kids don’t dominate the conversation. So, as the saying goes, something’s gotta give.

Can someone tell me what that is?

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