Drop-off and pick-up times at my son’s elementary school often used to leave me feeling like an outsider. I’d hear the parents of more typical kids chatter happily about their children’s dance classes and swimming lessons, wondering if I lived on a different planet.
We certainly tried to do fun activities; it’s just that they often seemed to go awry. Water polo sounded great to my son, who loved swimming, but week after week he found himself sitting on the side of the pool in “time-out” for splashing the other kids a little too enthusiastically, and not being able to stop himself. Dance classes sounded like a great confidence-booster for my anxious, shy daughter, but it eventually became so hard for her to get out of the car and walk into the dance studio that we had to quit. The truth was that almost every day after school pick-up, one or both of my kids would let out all the pent-up stress of the school day in the car, and soon enough all of us would lose our tempers. Often we were so exhausted after getting home that we were glad to just skip the “fun” after-school activities.
I didn’t hear the parents at school talking about problems like this.
I did try to talk to other parents about our struggles. Many were kind and empathetic. Occasionally I’d be reassured that there was nothing wrong, and that my kids were fine, leaving me wondering if it was really all in my head. Some parents would give me advice, apparently assuming that my kids’ behaviour was a result of my poor parenting skills. Others were critical of my children, which was very hard. I once had to race to a Scout camp to rescue my overwhelmed son, and found myself in tears when the first parent I met lectured me about how my son was a bad influence on the well-behaved, impressionable kids in his group.
I can see now that everyone was trying to help, but what I really needed most was for someone to look me in the eye and say “Yep… I hear you. We have struggled with that too.”
Next time I’ll write about how I found the people who could do that for me – my “tribe” of special needs parents.