Monday, July 27, 2009

The Trials of Loving Mateo

First of all, sorry this is long. But I had to write it. We are at the point now in our parenting journey with Mateo where we've tried every technique and strategy we've thought of, read, or someone told us to do, and have had no lasting real results or change. I've blamed myself, evaluated my parenting strengths and weaknesses, asked others to evaluate my parenting, and blamed myself some more.

We started off being consistent parents with high standards. But after parenting Mateo for almost two years, the term "picking your battles" has taken on a new meaning. Because everything is a battle. And our standards have dropped, in some ways. Because honestly, who has the energy to make a battle out of everything? So we let a lot of things go. And let me remind you, this is after two years of really trying to change behavior. Because if we choose the battle, we know we're in it for the long haul. Which could mean five minutes or it could mean more than an hour. And the battle could include spitting, scratching, hitting, tantruming, throwing things, calling names, knocking things over, and so on. So you have to ask yourself, a) do I have the time to fight this battle right now b) do I have the energy to fight this battle and c) do I have the patience not to get the sudden urge to get in the car and drive as far away from here as possible?

I'm positive that it wouldn't matter what parents Mateo had, he would still be Mateo, and still struggling like he is now. So I quit blaming myself. Although I have my doubts if I'm doing the right thing, I'm convinced that it's not my fault. Even spoiled children don't have the same issues Mateo does.

So, to other people who don't know us well, don't know our journey, or how far we've come, it would seem as if we're spoiling him and creating this monster. I know that if I was on the outside I would think the same thing. It's true we choose to ignore a lot but unless we want our entire existence to be centered around time-outs and behavior management plans, we just have to. That, and we're tired. So tired. Sometimes I just can not think of a thing to do except cover my head with my hands and cry. It sounds terrible, I know. Sometimes it is that terrible. And sometimes it's not. Some days are really great. But inevitably, after a good day, or a few good days, things go back to "normal". It's funny. I used to think that the good days were normal and the bad days weren't.

Now that he's three, and this has been going on for almost two years, I'm fearful. I know you are probably thinking, he's only three. Three year olds are always difficult, don't label him yet, there's time to change, and all that. But it's hard not to think of the future. Just watching Mateo's inability to cope with anything makes me genuinely worried. Any emotion, feeling, problem, frustration, he just can't cope. You can't get very far in life without the ability to cope. And I don't mean after a long time of trying he loses it. Mateo doesn't wind up to being upset. His switch comes on in seconds. Literally seconds and he's gone off the deep end. And I can't get him back for a while. And usually the problems or frustrations come one after another, over and over, to the point that he's miserable and I'm miserable for an entire afternoon. And he may never recover fully until there's some big change. Either a nap, or going for a ride somewhere, or maybe putting a movie in. It isn't my favorite thing to do as a parent but I do rely on the TV a lot. I never thought I would be that kind of parent. But then again, there are a lot of things I never thought I would do, that I have.

Lately I've been feeling very sad for Mateo. No kid should have the troubles he has. A kid should just be a kid. They should be happy and carefree, not miserable because of the tiniest little things. I really hope this isn't his whole childhood. I hope for his sake (and mine, I suppose) he can stabilize a bit. For now, we really can't follow through much with consequences. Most of the time all we can do is help (or wait for) Mateo to calm down so we can move on. We do make him use his words if he's been screaming. And we do make him apologize if he's hurt someone, physically or by calling names. But he still does it, all the time.

The two main reactions I have when talking to people about Mateo are judgment and disbelief. People will run down the list. Have you tried this... or maybe if you do that .... or he just needs...whatever. If the solution was so easy, don't you think two intelligent, resourceful people such as ourselves would have tried it? And we have. We've read so many books, I've attended so many parenting/adoption/behavior workshops, we've talked to so many professionals. But I have yet to find a strategy that a) works and b) is practical for real life. And other people, who haven't seen this side of Mateo (although it is becoming more apparent and he is losing the ability to hold it together for long) stare at me in shock and horror. Who? Mateo? No way! He's so good. All (enter age) year olds are like that. And then I feel like an idiot who's making a big deal out of normal kid things. So I either stop telling people about it or, if I really want to or need to, I tell them how he put a hole in our wall (which he did). That usually helps them believe me.

Lately I've been having a hard time focusing on the positive. This, of course, also relates to what kind of day we've had. Has he been on a really good streak, where he's listening well, behaving appropriately, etc? Or has it been a really bad day (or few days) where he is all of things I wrote above? This will determine my reaction to other people. But most of the time, I feel like he's a handful. A big handful. And when people see him in public or at church Sunday School when he is behaving well (not saying he usually behaves well in public) they comment on how good he is, or cute, or smart, or whatever. And I usually think to myself, yeah right, you should've seen him this morning while I was trying to get him dressed. Of course we all have those moments with our kids. Strangers or acquaintances see this angelic child all dressed up in cute clothes and an innocent grin when you could have torn the little devil's head off just a few moments before. That's normal. But with Mateo, it's very hard for me to agree that, yes, he is a good boy. Not because I think he is bad. But....we struggle. And when I'm having a particularly hard day, I literally have to think of all the wonderful, funny, cute, and loving things about him, just to keep the negative thoughts away. Of course, I'll always be his mom. And I'll always feel like his mom. I have very strong maternal instincts. Even when I don't particularly like him at one time or another, I'll always be there to hug and kiss him and tell him I love him. Maybe that's the only thing I can do for him. Maybe I can't change anything but just love him through it. Maybe that's something another family couldn't do and that's why he's come to us.

Anyway, there it is. Typing all of this out has helped me process all my feelings. Maybe some of you are dealing with the same types of problems, feelings, whatever, and now you know you're not alone. I don't really know. Maybe this was a post just for me and that's all. Either way, I hope you'll keep your comments positive. I already feel self-conscious of my parenting. I don't need anymore judgment.


mayhem said...

No judgement here... It is hard! Hang in there! Even if you don't know what to do to make the behavior go away, it seems like the hugs and I love yous are a good way to maintain your holding pattern while you come up with new ideas.

Erin said...

Thanks for sharing so honestly. I have had similar struggles (I have two three year olds) and find I've stopped being honest with people about it because it's easier to say everything's fine. But on the flip side, I get annoyed that not many other moms are honest about their parenting struggles, too. I appreciate what you wrote and knowing that other moms (and kids) struggle, too.

Molly C said...

I work with a few kids like Mateo. They are sweet kids, with loving parents. Just know that you are not alone in those feelings.

Some kids are just wired differently. I'm glad you know it is not your fault. You will get through this. If you ever wanna chat, my inbox is open!

JonesEthiopia said...

You're very brave to write all this out, sort of like a confession, really. I have no advice for you but no judgement either. I do work with children like this, but not at this age (jr. high). From what I can see you're doing what is right.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled on your blog because it's almost 2 a.m. and I was researching foster/adopt forums because I need some comfort. Our foster daughter is a lot like your description of Mateo. She was placed with us at 27 months, and now that she is almost 39, I feel like we keep going backwards with her at times. It is hard. Hard to love someone who can't communicate with you the way they should, hard to love someone who has issues that aren't their fault, hard to love a child who you love so deeply, but who might, just might be placed back in that dysfunctional home that created the child you struggle with every day. No one said adopting a foster child would be easy, but I was sure it would have gotten better by now. Thanks for your honesty, it helps to know that someone else is struggling and loving a child who they have brought into their home.

Anonymous said...

I too stumbled onto your blog today. I am all about the verbal processing and I want to encourage you to keep pressing on! God brought Mateo to your family by design! Your story reminded me a bit of my husband's childhood. Though his mom passed away before I met him, I would have loved to had the chance asked her questions (I keep thinking we will have a kid just like him). I wonder if she felt the same as you. His dad has said that they literally checked his head for "6's". He said that something "clicked" when he was in grade school and his friends' parents would not allow him to come around. It made him sad and he wanted to change his behaviors. People that know him now could never believe the stories of his youth! He is a wonderful man of God!

Kim said...

We pick our battles with Meechi too. It is just necessary to get through life! I find that I quickly see to his need (and often wants) in order to prevent a meltdown. With my first 2 kids I could tell them "wait until mommy finishes this and then i will get it for you" and it would be fine. I can NOT do that with Meechi. And it is not that he is a brat or spoiled. He simply does not have the ability to cope with not getting what he needs right then. Like Mateo, he goes straight to full on meltdown. There is no build up. No slow progression of his frustration. Just full on freak out.

Now I will say that Meechi is getting better. He has a long way to go, but he has come a long way as well. I can't give you any secret that worked for us. I really don't know what has helped him to change. The therapy? going to preschool and being around other kids? a better ability to understand what we are saying to him? the simple fact that he is older? a combo of them all? I just don't know.

Hang in there and never for one second feel bad about your feelings because you deserve to let yourself feel them. It is hard, really hard, to parent a child that is incapable of dealing with the little things in life. and when there's seems to be no one around who gets it... remember that you are not alone, because me and many others DO get it!

Amy Jo said...

I'm so glad you found my blog so that I could find yours. Oh, my new Friend, I so understand what you are going through. Every situation is unique, but know you are not alone.

You are right, no child should ever have to go through what ours have. I remember lying in bed, crying, while I said the same thing to my husband.

Life with RAD is SO hard. We actually did intense therapy (neuro reorg for almost 2 hours at home every day), changed our diets and used supplements. In the end, I think what made the biggest difference was prayer. :-) We actually did the therapy, etc., for all 3 kiddos as they each had struggles. Again, not sure what our efforts did, so I won't add that to you list, but I WILL be praying for you and your beautiful family!!!

And yes, unless you are living it, no one gets it. Our daughter is sweet and outgoing in public. ;-)

She is still healing, most likely will always be on some level - BUT - life has greatly improved. I pray that yours does SOON.

Sweetest blessings,

Anonymous said...

I know how tough it is.. I have 9 yr old twins who I have had since 26 months and one of them has/had a very short fuse... I soo understand the whole pick your battles.. My Jake was very quick to meltdown.. he has no w improved soo much and I wanted to write and tell you it does get better.. he is learning to communicate his needs better and how to walk away from situations that are upsetting to him.. I just wanted to encourage you and let you know that its NOT you.. its NOT your parenting... these little guys wiring gets twisted up and it just takes time for them to learn to deal in appropriate ways... I have been reading your awesome Blog for over a year and I wanted you to know you are a great parent!!

Rachel said...

That really sucks. I'm with you there with the TV thing. Whenever my daughter throws a tantrum or is somehow driving me nuts I tend to turn on the TV. Its terrible but it is the only way to keep my sanity at that moment. God help me the day she loses interest in Noggin.

Patrina said...

Please know you are not alone... I enjoy reading you blog, as it let me know that I am not in this alone and I am not the only parent that has these feelings. It was great that you were able to put things down on paper.