Love Means... by Caitlin

How many times have you apologized for your child’s “behaviour”? Do you find yourself apologizing so routinely, that you question whether you are now apologizing not for your child's behaviours, but for their differences? Apologizing ultimately, for who they are?

In the past, I have apologized to clerks for Simon’s voice being too loud in the grocery store. I have apologized to Simon’s teachers, when he speaks his mind in a literal way that they find offensive. I have apologized for Simon plowing into the walls in his Sunday school classes. I have apologized for Simon not looking at people who are speaking to him, because they think he’s ignoring them. I have apologized to parents on the playground when Simon pushed their kids over.

I had even taken to apologizing to third parties – “Sorry we can’t make it, but it will be too over-stimulating for Simon”.

As my view of Simon’s diagnoses (SPD, Aspergers) have evolved – from “must find a cure” to “must learn to cope” to “must celebrate who he is” – so too has my tendency to apologize for him. Because at some point I decided – this is who he is. What message am I sending to him, when all he hears is his own mother perpetually apologizing for who he is.

Any parent who finds themselves apologizing to this degree for a child, will find that it slowly, insidiously undermines your spirit. And left unchecked, it will surely undermine your child’s as well.

In practice, it isn’t as easy as you might think to get through the day without apologizing for your child’s differences. It becomes habitual, second-nature, a way to show the world that you’re not ignoring your child’s odd behaviours, that you’re not one of “those” parents who really doesn’t bother much with parenting at all. But there are much more meaningful ways to show the world you are a competent parent. Without compromising your child’s self-esteem, or your own. With a little forethought and commitment, you too can quit your addiction to The Apology.

Let’s take the examples I offered:

Instead of: apologizing to the clerk for your child’s voice being too loud in the grocery store...
Try:  using a visual signal with your child to encourage them to lower their volume, and smile at the clerk as you say something charming and witty like “He gets those lungs from my mother-in-law”.

Instead of: apologizing to teachers when your child speaks their mind in a literal way that they find offensive...
Try: explaining to teachers that your child’s neurology makes their thoughts linear and literal. When they say the activity is boring, they are expressing their own true feelings because they have been taught to tell the truth. Assure teachers that, over the coming years, your child will learn (with gentle reminders about how words make others feel) to start filtering their thoughts. Until then, explain that disciplining your child for their neurology will only damage their sense of self-worth, and impede their ability to learn in the classroom.

Instead of: apologizing when your child plows into the walls in his Sunday school classes (or music classes, or karate classes, or)...
Try:  providing a book (like Hartley’s – shameless plug) to those who work with your child, that easily and quickly explains why kids with SPD don’t just enjoy smashing into things – they need to smash into things. Use the book as an opportunity to open a discussion about what alternatives would work in the specific situation and space. Can they place a beanbag in the space for your child to jump into? A small ball-pit? Provide more frequent movement breaks? Allow them to stand to do activities where kids would normally be seated? Or maybe even (*GASP*) allow them to smash into the walls? Make a plan for accommodations everywhere your child spends their time on a regular basis, not just at school. Investing in a foundation of understanding for your child takes more time, but is infinitely more rewarding than resorting to last-minute apologies.

Instead of: apologizing for your child not looking at people when they’re speaking…
Try: offering a brief explanation (even to the lady at the grocery store – anyone who’ll listen) that many kids with sensory issues can only efficiently process one kind of input at a time – and that your child is more able to effectively listen to what they are saying when they aren’t making eye contact.

Instead of: apologizing to parents on the playground when your child pushes their kids over…
Try: ok, well, I would still apologize in this situation – because we all know that when our child get’s hurt by someone, we expect an apology first. But follow it up with a quick explanation that your child has a neurological disorder called SPD, which makes it extremely difficult for them to feel when they are pushing too hard.

And finally, instead of: apologizing for missing a gathering because it will overstimulate your child…
Try: going out on a limb and talking to friends and family about your child’s needs; about your desire to participate, and what your child would need in order to be included. Ask if they are able to make a few changes, to accommodate your child’s differences. You may be surprised how willing people are to help, when they are empowered with information.

So what does love mean? Obviously, it means never having to say you’re sorry.

Caitlin Wray
Welcome to Normal


Shell said...

I usually feel the need to say something and it's hard b/c most people don't understand- and especially if it's somewhere like the store where it's not like the checkout clerk needs to know my son's full history, I find it easier to apologize. When sometimes, I really just want to scream, too- b/c people judge w/o having a clue.

Wow...slight rant there. ;)

Lauren Morris said...

Thank you so much for this post. I feel this way often and I wish more people were welcome to change in the world and wouldn't pass judgment on parents and their children out in public. I worry all the time about what people must think when my son throws a fit or has to sit in my lap to eat at a restaurant... etc. And how they must think, why doesn't she disciplin her child? I do, that is not his problem. He is special. I apologize often, but will try to stop apologizing and start educating people out there that sometimes there is stuff that is just out of our control. It is not like we can just stop living our daily lives and stay as hermits in our home!

Ludicrous Mama said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ludicrous Mama said...

I've found that looking at each behavior in a different light helps too. Instead of apologizing or admonishing when she says something, I say how much I love her honesty and directness.
When she won't look at someone talking to her, I say that I'm glad she knows her limits and how to cope with them in a sensory-filled environment without flipping out.
When she runs around wild and crazy in ballet class, I just let her. If the teacher can't tell her that she needs to listen and follow the class or sit out, then I'm sure not going to! I yell at her all week long. I don't need to pay THEM so I can yell at her some more!
When she's being too loud, I tell her how much I love her exuberance, but remember? Inside voices here! (And I just suck it up when she starts screeching gleefully once outside, no matter how loud or annoying it is!)
When RSVPing 'No,' I just say it's not going to work for US. Unless it's somewhere like you said, where people understand and can make allowances, it's not worth the headache all around. But that's why I don't just blame it on HER, and say SHE can't handle it. Because really *I* don't want to handle it either. My family all understands and has a space they keep the other kids out of if we need to go there for a bit to recharge from being overstimulated. Even preschool lets her sit in her 'princess castle' (a hula hoop) in the parent ed room that's just for her and everyone knows to leave her alone when she's in it. She's even starting to recognize when she's becoming overstimulated and seeks out alone time, or comes to find me to help her.

Ludicrous Mama said...

I read a book that said to 'sell your child.' Pretend like you want the other person to buy your child. So instead of saying "yeah, sorry she's a handful" you say "She's so full of energy!" Instead of "she's so stubborn," I try and say "I love how she follows through on a task, and sticks to her guns!" These are ALL positive traits in adults, once honed and refined, so there's no sense in getting frustrated with them now! Plus it changes YOUR outlook as well!

Shelley Davis said...

I don't mind apologizing short and sweet to people who I don't know or am unlikely to see often. But my heart just breaks when our grown children come home for family functions with their "normal" children and they don't try to understand their 3 adopted 5 year siblings behaviors. All three kids have SPD. It can be such a nightmare for our little ones with all the noise of a full house, the smells, etc. I feel like it's torcher for them at times. After the big ones go home, I reflect at how I have apologized for the little ones and get mad at myself. Although we have tried to educated the older children, they don't appreciate the behaviors and our reactions to them. They all think they know how they would handle it better. Yes you would handle a child screaming and melting down differently if it were just bad behavior.
I guess that is why we need support groups! How can we expect strangers to get it if educating our families is so difficult? The world does need to be informed!

Hang in there! :}


Danette said...

Caitlin, this is a wonderful reminder to put our kids (and ourselves) first!

Anonymous said...

what a great post. I guess I'm still sometimes stuck in "must learn to cope" mode, but getting to "celebrate who he is". Thanks for the important reminders that those moments are not just teachable moments for our kids, but also for those around us.

Patty O. said...

Oh Caitlin, it's like you are inside my head. I apologize ALL THE TIME. It doesn't help that I have always been the kind of woman to apologize for everything, even well before I had kids. I apologized even when the other person was wrong and I was right. I have this compulsion to keep the peace, and that means I often take the blame, especially when I am exerting my needs--I always apologize then.

Anyway, I am really working on this and I especially need to work on it for Danny's sake. This post was perfect. I love that you give really concrete alternatives. I am definitely going to start looking at this from a different perspective. Thank you!

mommabear said...

This is a great post--and a great reminder. I am a known apologizer and want to shake this. My son was just diagnosed with ADHD and hard to shake those glaring looks. Thank you for the reminder on who is important in these situations--my son :)

ReneeK said...

Wonderful post, yes, some days I do apologize. Then I get irritated at myself because I just made that person think I have a horrible child instead of a child who is very special. It's hard at times when people judge without knowing anything about her. I love how you said, "Celebrate them for who they are"

Heather said...

I'm still learning to cope - to not apologize all the time, to not be embarrassed all the time, to help others accept him for who he is. This is a great reminder, Caitlin, of the struggles that we endure on a daily basis and how we can move forward. Thank you so much for sharing.

Caitlin Wray said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. My whole clan has been hit with the flu over Christmas, so I'm not as connected to my lap top as I usually am.

I still fall into the apology trap more than I'd like, but I do try to put Simon's feelings and needs ahead of the feelings and needs of strangers. I think this is not only an opportunity to spread awareness about our kids' specific differences, but also to remind society at large that "Judge not lest ye be judged" extends as much to children's behaviours as it does to adults'.

Chris P-M said...

I've been so guilty of falling into the "apology trap!" Course, I was raised catholic so the guilt thing is a huge issue (trying to overcome it!).

It is hard to come to the place of balance between feeling the need to explain my son to people, vs. just "letting it go" and moving on. We sometimes feel like we're constantly educating folks, which can get tiring as well!

Thanks for your honest post :)

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