I think of myself as a reasonably good parent in general. I certainly have good intentions, though I hear the road to hell is paved with those or something. But every now and then I bump up against something that I still need to grow in, and parenting my “spirited” child forces me to recognize that in ways that parenting my other kids does not seem to.
My son is having some issues. He has been having some issues. They seemed to be the worst during his last year of preschool, and I really wanted to believe that when he got to kindergarten, he would grow out of them and/or be “fixed.”
Not Your Average First-Day Photo
This is probably why I cried when his principal called me and we had a discussion about my son’s needs. It was actually a great discussion, but it forced me closer to the point of admitting that my son just may not outgrow whatever his challenges are.
So I sat down with the paperwork for his SST (student success team) meeting. It is a basic questionnaire, and it asks what I enjoy about my child, what activities he likes, what my concerns are at school, at home, and in other situations, types of discipline I find to be most effective, and expectations that I have for my child. It closes by asking what else I’d like for the team to know.
It’s so easy to fill out what I like about him and what his strengths are. He is the most charismatic little guy so much of the time. He generally has an easy time making friends and he wins over lots of random strangers when he converses with them in the manner of a courteous and attentive forty-year-old man. He’s cute. He’s funny. He’s brave and fairly coordinated.
He Was Participating!
I had to think a bit when I realized that all of the things he really enjoys are either solitary activities or one-on-one activities, generally with the other “one” being an adult. But that’s OK, I remind myself. Filling in my concerns was also easy. They’ve noticed the problems at school. We’re getting better at eliminating the problems at home, though a few remain. We’re getting slightly better at church and soccer, though you never know.
I know what kinds of discipline work best for him(thanks, Kaiser psychologists). I am even getting better at instituting them consistently.
Good Behavior Cards
I paused when I was filling in the expectations section. This is the point when my internal dialogue kicked in.
I guess I don’t articulate “expectations” that much, and I have some negative associations with the word. But I realize, Of course I have expectations for my children. I expect respectful behavior.
I imagine noting on the form, I get thwarted in that.
I expect behavior that is appropriate for its situation. I imagine extending that note to include my second expectation too.
I expect him to put in effort. I expect kindness toward others. I expect compliance.
Sh*t. He does not fulfill any of those expectations.
I suddenly feel torn. I feel like my expectations are too high, like I shouldn’t have expectations or something. But part of me is looking over my shoulder and saying, Some people reading this would think that my son’s problem is that I’m not sure if I should expect these things from him.
I even know that last part isn’t true. I think on the inside I still not only have these, but more rigorous expectations, and I wrote down the ones I think I “ought” to have. And I have received multiple insinuations already that I am somehow responsible for my child’s behavior–I must be like him myself, I must not discipline him, I must not be firm enough with him…you name it. And it’s all baloney, because I value structure and discipline, I myself was an easily cowed and tearful child, and I am sitting here wondering if I actually have secret expectations I’m not willing to face, since I wasn’t even particularly aware of these ones I think I “ought” to have. I pride myself on thinking things like, “If my children make sexual/social/school/substance mistakes as teenagers, I want to be have set up such a relationship that they’ll come to me with these problems.” But meanwhile, maybe I have no room for them to behave in a way outside of what I consider normal.
Despite nearly 35 years of life, a failed marriage, trying to parent an extremely challenging child, and being disappointed countless times, I am still coasting along on my great expectations. I expect my children to be perfect. I expect myself to be perfect. I am in danger of chalking up my son’s perfectly normal behavior to his “problems” instead of remembering that many, many kindergarteners refuse to enter the classroom or settle down during circle time. I am also terrified that I would have a hard time accepting it if it turned out that one of my children was never going to have an easy time fitting into society’s boundaries, which I am extremely rigidly bound by.
May looking my expectations for my children in the eye help me loosen my grip on them.
My Heart Relaxes When I See that Smile