In a recent conversation with my husband, he said something that really stuck…and stung.
He said, because we have children with Mental Health Disorders (one Autistic son, one Bipolar son), we need to constantly stop and ask ourselves if we are trying to fit our kids into what society defines as normal because that is what is BEST for them or because that is what we WISH was best for them?
It stung because it is so simple but so true.
It stung because I don’t think we have been asking ourselves this often enough up to this point.
Example. My oldest son Adam is 11-years old, is in the 5th grade, and is Bipolar. My youngest son Alex is 9-years old, is in the 4th grade, and is Autistic/ADHD. They attend an elementary school that is ranked one of the best in the state. They have TREMENDOUS support from the Principal on down. The teachers are AMAZING. It simply could not be a more nurturing environment for them.
Most kids my son’s ages go to public school, right?
This is considered “normal”, right?
And yet, with every academic grading period that passes by, they struggle to succeed more than they did in the previous one.
How can that possibly be when the public school plan looks so good on paper?
Unfortunately, the “normal” public school environment might be what we WISH their normal to be so we are trying to fit them inside that box. But the reality is, that “inside the box normal” might not be what is BEST for them.
It’s so hard to wrap my head around the concept of what the difference between what we WANT our children’s normal to be and what our children NEED their normal to be is.
However, I have figured out this much. This conundrum applies to every parent (not just those who have children with Mental Health Disorders).
Think about that for a moment.
Whether your children have a Mental Health Disorder or not, do we as parents define our children’s normal based on what we WANT it to be or based on what they NEED it to be? This way of thinking applies to every aspect of parenting.
Holy moly is it a huge responsibility to make sure we are doing the right thing–giving our children the normal they NEED and not necessarily the one they (or we) WANT.
Now I don’t mean as parents we should just let go of the reigns and let our children choose what they need their normal to be. Oh my goodness no! If mine had it their way, they would need their normal would consist solely of laying around all day in their pj’s playing video games and eating junk food. Their world would be void of all chores and responsibilities (and, because they’re boys, bathing would probably be optional as well!)
I simply mean, as parents, we yearn for our kids to succeed in life. To find their place in the world and to be happy. However, let’s be honest, deep down we would really like to steer them in a direction of embracing a normal we (meaning us as parents and society at large) help define.
We want their normal to include a High School diploma.
We want their normal to include a good job.
We want their normal to include living independently.
We want their normal to include falling in love.
We want their normal to include making lots of grandbabies (okay, well maybe that one’s just me!)
How many decisions do we make in our every day lives to ensure our kids stay inside the box of normal as we have defined it in our heads? As we WANT it to be?
This is especially true if you are a Mental Health parent. I would literally give up my life if it meant my two sons could live the normal life I WISH for them. The normal, inside the box life, society has defined for them.
But that’s just not reality now, is it?
Nope. My reality is I could really harm my children long-term if I try and raise them with this mindset.
So how do we make sure we are doing the right thing–giving our children the normal they NEED and not the normal they (or we) WANT or WISH for?
The truth is…I have no idea!
Yeah, I said it. I don’t have a clue!
I’m still trying to figure it out myself. My guess is we need to question everything about the normal we create for our children on a regular basis to make sure it meets their ever-changing NEEDS and not just their WANTS.
I don’t think this just applies to the big decisions (like my earlier example of public school versus home school). I think it applies to everything that comprises their world:
Is our home environment meeting their needs?
Is there something we could add/change around the house to work better with how our family functions on a day-to-day basis?
Is our current way of disciplining, consequences/rewards still effective?
Is our busy extra-curricular schedule really what our kids need to succeed?
Is public school, driven by standardized testing, really the most effective learning environment for my children?
Is the family vacation we have planned next summer the best place for my kids to flourish and have fun (or are we going there just because everyone else does)?
Is the amount of homework my children are required to do helping them or hurting them?
Is our current morning (and/or after-school, evening) routine designed to help my children succeed or to make it easier on me?
Is the decision we make whether or not to attend social events based on what we would like to do or is it based on what situations our kids are most comfortable in?
Is the current list of chores around the house based on what life skills/responsibilities they need to learn the most or based on what I need help with the most?
And the list goes on, and on, and on…
Now the hard part. If we recognize our children’s needs are fluid over time, and we recognize we may have to step outside the box (our comfort zone if you will) to make sure we are providing the normal our children NEED, then why is it so difficult to do sometimes?
I think we have the best of intentions as parents. But, we get so caught up in the day-to-day routine of life (I like to call this little game survival of the fittest!) that we don’t take the conscious, uninterrupted TIME to think about whether or not the normal routine environment we’ve created has changed/grown with our children’s needs…or, has it possibility changed/grown in order to “keep up with the Jones'” needs?
This questions should have us hungry, starving for the right answer every day of our parental life.
The answer must be found over time. This has to marinate. This is a slow cooker, not a fast-food drive-in, recipe for success, .
For me personally, the most pressing question right now is whether or not public school is the normal our children really NEED or whether it is the normal we WANT/WISH (and pray) for them to need.
What is the most pressing question for you..?