How to Drive Yourself Crazy in One Easy Lesson
Let’s say that on Monday, Jimmy is frustrated. He is totally losing it. No, actually, he has totally lost it. For whatever reason, he just cannot do something – maybe it’s a homework problem, maybe it’s tying his shoes, maybe it’s just finding a way to calm himself down. And he is rapidly heading toward the edge, with you very close behind.
On Tuesday, same exact scenario.
On Monday, you decide to help Jimmy. You help him with the homework problem, help him tie his shoes, help him find whatever way he needs to calm down.
On Tuesday, you do exactly the same thing.
Same Jimmy problem – utter frustration at trying to do something; same parent reaction – helping him do it.
What’s the difference?
Well, let’s say that on Monday, maybe Jimmy really, really, really needed this help. And your assistance was the only thing that helped him (a) calm down and (b) do it. “Waiting it out,” “setting limits,” “using ‘tough love,’” “not coddling him,” etc., etc., etc., not only would not have helped … it would have sent him completely over the edge. And you would be sailing right over it with him.
On Tuesday, however, maybe Jimmy actually could have done this on his own, and if you had waited long enough, maybe he would have calmed himself down and done it himself. But … you already helped him do it.
Keep in mind, again, that you started with the exact same scenario both days, and you did exactly the same thing.
On Monday, you were helping him cope.
On Tuesday, you were enabling.
In other words ….
On Monday, you were a wonderful, helpful, compassionate, supportive parent.
And on Tuesday?
On Tuesday, you were a sh*tty, coddling, enabling, overprotective parent.
Now let’s flip the scenario.
You DON’T help out on either day.
On Monday, Jimmy has such a total meltdown of frustration, that it is an absolute nightmare; you both will be sobbing and yelling and then completely drained and exhausted, and everyone in the household will be feeling the disastrous aftermath for the rest of the day …. and probably much longer.
On Tuesday, Jimmy actually accomplishes something on his own, and he feels successful, and you feel wonderful, and you are both so happy and proud … for the rest of the day, and probably much longer. Yay!!!
And here again –
You started with the same exact scenario, and you did exactly the same thing ….
Except that this time, on Monday, you were a sh*tty parent, and on Tuesday, you were a wonderful parent.
As Charlie Brown used to say ….
Somebody once said (not Charlie Brown … and there would be a citation here if we could actually remember who), “Inconsistency is the hallmark of neurological disorder.”
This means that on Monday, Jimmy really could NOT do it. And on Tuesday, he really COULD. And then maybe on Wednesday, he could NOT again.
IT CHANGES EVERY DAY.
And there you are, trying to guess which kind of day it is,, a “Monday” day or a “Tuesday” day, and which of your reactions will be the incredibly necessary “helping him cope” (when he really, really, really needs the help) versus the awful , dreaded and – let’s not forget – horribly-prone-to-judgment-and-criticism – “enabling/coddling/etc.” (when he doesn’t).
OK, since we know your head is spinning, we’ll give you a really easy question to finish up with:
If you do help your child in one of those frustrating moments, guess which scenario people on the “outside” are most likely to pin on you, whether it is a “Monday” or a “Tuesday?”
(PS – For a comic book version of this post – the first installment of “The Adventures of ‘Issues’ Mom” – click here!
OMG you keep hitting the nails right on the head. I recently, now that The Boy is 19 and was away for the school year, tried to let a tantrum play out, to see if we could hit some kind of “reset button” and maybe let him do a thing I knew he could do. And also, break the cycle of always giving in after 30 minutes to two hours of screaming. I missed remembering that there was an additional underlying cause of distress that particular day, ultimately gave in after three hours, and he missed a whole day of work because he just couldn’t reassemble himself in time to salvage it. So now (again, since he’s 19, there are times when he can explain himself, thank God), I just offer to help a little every time. And when he can do it himself, he pushes me away. And (now that I’m 56, there are times when I can rise above the fray and not be emotional, thank God), I move away and let him do it. But those previous 18 years, I was a Really Bad, Enabling, Overinvolved Mother. I recently saw a bumper sticker that I wish I could have, but can’t because that would maybe embarrass a kid who has had enough of that – it said “I’m Raising a Special-Needs Child. What’s YOUR Superpower?”
So you really think you should have been on the cover of OverInvolvedEnablingMom Magazine for all of those 18 years? I have a VERY hard time believing that!
It’s great that you point out that sometimes there is another, underlying stressor, that we may or may not be aware of at the time, and that may (or may not) be contributing to the scene. It’s all so inconsistent. And how wonderful that he can express himself better now, and that you can also step back and take a breath … remember, before you nominate yourself for that magazine cover, that in years past, probably neither of you had the capability for doing that.
What a brilliant description of how I also felt most days. It was exhausting and debilitating. And…very hard to explain to other moms of kids w/o issues.
Yes, “exhausting and debilitating” describes it! Have you seen the comic book excerpt version of this?
This is everyday life for me. My daughter is 7, some days i completely lose my shit, and others i just don’t have the fight left in me. I once had a doctor tell me “you just let her win”….wth, when my child hadn’t slept in 2 days and everyone in the house is in tears, who won what? I’d really like to know.
Wow, a doctor really told you that? I think a lot about how there would be battles over almost anything, but it’s the homework battles that were the worst for me … partly because of how difficult it all was, and partly because of the expectations on myself and my child that he should just be able to do it. What people don’t understand is that ten minutes of homework for one kid could be five hours of frustration and screaming and crying for another (and for everyone around him/her). Thanks for writing, Meggan, and hang in there! We hear you and know what you’re going through, and we support you! xoxx