Every morning the same argument reverberates through my house as my son refuses to eat breakfast unless it’s pasta with butter. Every morning he blames me when he forgets to brush his teeth, can’t find his favorite green shirt or misplaces his shoes. His “blame mommy” list is long. He can’t get out of the house without arguing with me.
My wife and I frequently wonder if he is going through puberty, but he can’t be, can he? He’s not quite 10. “Mommy, leave me alone! You don’t get it and you never understand anything,” he laments when my response to a question annoys him. He exhausts me. His arguing, along with my need to get his twin sisters dressed and off to day-care and myself ready for work, make me wish I could crawl back into bed. But I can’t.
Most mornings, my wife steps in with, “Jonathan, you are being unkind and you need to apologize. Think about how you would feel if someone said the same words to you.” He rolls his big brown eyes and contemplates his next move. I silently hold my breath and divert my eyes from my wife’s stare, wondering how she’s always the one with the right words, when I’m the one with the degree in counseling. I avoid having a tantrum of my own, and focus on preparing my breakfast.
She waits for his response. Silence fills our house.
He begins to speak, and I interject: “Don’t apologize if you don’t mean it.” And there we are, back on the hamster wheel of confrontation.
“See, see, she doesn’t even let me talk. She always does this,” he tells my wife. I remain silent as anger erupts inside of me.
This is what I asked for — these children, our children — and I need to be more patient. I worry that I don’t have enough patience for them, for myself or for my wife. Most mornings I feel like I’ve worked an entire shift before I get him to school by 8:15. We usually pull up to his school just before the doors close and the bell rings. I race to drop his sisters off at day-care before work.
After I drop them off, I pull over and take a deep breath (or maybe a few).
I open my mouth and purse my lips, then call upon anyone who will listen to me in that moment (usually God) and say “Please help me get through this day. I am strong. I am capable. I can do this.” And I do. I keep my eyes closed and try to compose myself. When I open them, I take a sip of my now-cold coffee and look at myself in the rear-view mirror.
Most of the time I do a pretty good job of balancing it all. But when I really look into my own eyes, I don’t always like myself. I don’t like how impatient I can be with our tween son. I don’t like my inability to refrain from commenting on every little thing he says, every eye roll, every time he stomps up the stairs instead of walking.
He is straddling the line between young boy and teenager and has the maturity level of a 5-year-old. He also has special needs: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and Asperger’s syndrome (which is on the autism spectrum). So, I feel guilty when I admit he exhausts me. I feel angry when I can’t reason with him. I feel tired and at a loss. How do I help him when I am too exhausted to figure out the best approach for his atypical neurology?
I don’t always think about his special needs; I refuse to let him use those as a crutch. But there is a fine line between making excuses for his deficits and having unreasonable expectations. I have the same high expectations for myself, for my ability to parent him, to mother him.
So, on my way to get him from school, and before he gets in the car, I make another commitment to him and to myself. I promise to model the behaviors I want him to display, things that I learned in Counseling 101 but don’t practice in my own home.
What I want from him is simple: respect. But maybe I don’t respect him enough. Maybe I’m not as patient with him as I am with his younger sisters. Perhaps I can phrase my requests in a way that allows him to hear me better. I need to change my tone with him to allow him to be the person I know lives in his heart.
He is not perfect, and never will be. Neither am I. But like him, I am capable of making a change for the better, and I can commit to doing it for him.
Nikkya Hargrove is a wife, mother and writer based in Connecticut. Find her on Twitter @Nikkya1128.
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