Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Making Peace With Your Problematic Child, Part 1

When I brought my Peter home from the hospital all those years ago, I never dreamed he'd be so hard to raise, or that he'd bring out the worst in me. To me, he was a miracle: an angel baby born fourteen months after the 21-week gestational loss of our son Isaac.

I had been through the most difficult year and a half of my life, further complicated by preterm labor: dilating two inches at 30 weeks gestation, with nearly constant small-scale contractions. They gave me brethine--a preterm labor drug--but it wasn't very effective.

I was on bedrest for 8 weeks, after which my water broke at 37.5 weeks gestation. Labor was routine, but with lots of howling pain because the bedrest started before any Lamaze classes, and the epidural was given too late (story of my labor life, but with my last baby, I learned to breathe!).

I had no idea what I was doing, despite lying there on bedrest for weeks, reading pregnancy magazines. The nurse kept telling me to breathe but I just couldn't manage it.

Pushing lasted two hours, after which forceps were used to help deliver my baby. After it all, Peter was born in good condition, thankfully.

But it wasn't smooth sailing.

I developed preeclampsia shortly after he was born, landing me back in the hospital while he stayed at home with Daddy for five heartbreaking days (or was it four...I can't remember now.) While Daddy dealt with jaundice at home, and the associated daily pediatrician checks, I worked on my breast milk supply while begging God to heal me, and the jaundice.

I pumped breast milk but was told to "pump and dump" because of the magnesium sulfate drug preeclampsia patients are forced to take. One nurse thought the drug wouldn't hurt my baby, having recently been to a seminar where she learned that all drugs are okay--excreted so minutely into breast milk anyway--except for street drugs and cancer drugs.

The pediatrician, however, was adamant: pump and dump. So Peter was given formula in a bottle for the five days I was in the hospital, and once home, I pumped my milk for him until he learned to latch at three weeks old. It was rough going, but after five weeks old, he never took another bottle.

He was fussy from three weeks to five months old, like all my children. I had a rapid let-down reflex in one breast, as well as general over-supply problems. After five months old, they were champs at keeping up with the milk, but still, there were frequent clogged ducts no matter what I did.

Peter spit up copiously about three times after every feeding, for an entire year, and his tear ducts took a year to open, resulting in the green eye junk you see in these babies. Despite cleaning his eyes frequently, I dealt with some nosey comments, such as:  "I think your baby has conjunctivitis; shouldn't you take him to the doctor?"

He also was born with a hydrocele in his scrotum, which required surgery at two years old.

All this to say...parenting didn't come easy for me from the start. It was a delight and I was on cloud nine, don't get me wrong, but those were grueling times.

I wish I could say things settled down, but from an early age, Peter was high-strung and extremely active, walking at just under nine months old, and rarely stopping for a cuddle. He was smart and fun, but by 3.5 years old, he was the main source of stress in my life, and that remains true today.

He has trouble controlling his emotions, reaches a frustration threshold far sooner than most of us, talks incessantly and loudly, unless he's reading, and hyperfocuses something fierce. Once he becomes interested in something, he lives and breathes it, follows you around and talks and asks about it almost non-stop, unless he's reading.

In case you hadn't guessed....yes, it's a blessing this child likes to read.

He has trouble waiting his turn, and our most recent stress was caused by his brother's birthday. Every year when a birthday comes, Peter pressures the sibling into getting what he wants...not what they want. It's an incessant thing, and as a result, holidays and birthdays are extra stressful for everybody, despite discipline techniques employed faithfully. ADHD kids just have terrible control over their impulses, and act like they are perpetually three years old, when it comes to waiting for something. (My son has the hyperactive/impulsive type of ADHD, not the predominately inattentive type).

They also can't control their movement impulses, so hyperactivity is always an unwelcome visitor, no matter how much regular exercise you encourage.

When these kids want something, they go after it full force, even if they realize cognitively that they're driving you insane. They feel guilty, yes, but they have so little control over the impulse, that they can't stop fixating on the desired thing, whether it's a trip somewhere, a keen interest (animals, nature, etc.), a food item, or what have you.

They can be so relentless, hate can creep into your heart sometimes. Oh, not real hate, but a dislike so strong during their relentless onslaughts, that all you want to do is get in the car and drive far away, because there are no answers to this disorder and rarely a break. It isn't something that gets better, and medication helps in only minor ways.

The result is that the child grows to hate himself, and the whole family grows to hate what this child does to the collective peace. In fact, when the child is gone for some reason, the family dynamics are amazingly different. It's bittersweet to love a child so much, and yet barely be able to tolerate them so often.

It's not surprising that these kids grow up with a lot of negative interaction. Their self-esteem suffers because they're always in trouble, people are frequently angry at them, and for much of a typical day, they feel like failures.

There are good things, of course: they tend to be intelligent, fun, and imaginative, but they're so high maintenance that the positives get lost in the fray.

How do you survive your difficult child, keeping your own health intact, while assuring that they feel the full weight of your motherly love? Telling them how deeply they're loved isn't very convincing when 75% of the interaction is negative on a daily basis.

Statistically, these kids go to jail more frequently, take drugs more often, have problematic relationships, and end up depressed. Moreover, 65% of them have comorbid disorders, such as Bipolar Disorder, OCD, autism, generalized anxiety disorder, clinical depression, Tourette's Syndrome, oppositional defiance disorder, conduct disorder, and various processing disorders (learning disabilities).

Of these, my son has OCD, generalized anxiety disorder, Tourette's Syndrome (a tic disorder), and his dysgraphia--difficulty with handwriting, spelling, and organizing thoughts on paper--is a processing disorder.

He's one tough kid to raise, but I'm insanely in love with him.

Next time, we'll talk about how to counteract all the negativity, and how to forgive yourself for not being the parent you wanted to be.

It's not your fault, my friend. This is one fallen world.



Amber said...

I feel your frustration. I too have a child blessed with ADHD. Though he doesn't sound to be quite as busy as your son he definantly keeps us all on our toes, and at times, out last nerve.
Yet, he is incrediably creative and imaginative and able to learn every detail of something he is interested in!

We decided to rename ADHD in our home from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, to;
ADHD= Ability to Do, Handle, and learn all things Differently! We are working each day to see the blessing that it can be!

Christine said...

I'm glad there's someone who can empathize, Amber. Thank you!