Caution: Coddling the Disorder

It was on a Tuesday when the surgeons stopped my son’s heart and put him on a bypass machine.

I silently sobbed in the waiting room chair every second, of every minute, of every hour, he was on the bypass machine. Every second, of every minute, of every hour, his beautiful heart was not beating. Essentially dead, if not for machines.

During that time I thought about his true heart.

My high-functioning Autistic/ADHD son Alex loves with his whole heart. Despite the challenges his disorder presents, his heart is not bitter. It is innocent and happy. Content with his normal, his heart embraces each new day with a smile.

His heart that was no longer beating.

When my son Alex had open-heart surgery and was on the bypass machine it was, hands-down, the most difficult time in my life.

But Alex’s heart was not done touching other people. He came through the surgery with flying colors and is currently healing, and recovering, ahead of schedule.

But here’s the thing. During the days following the surgery in the hospital (including time in ICU), this kid took everything in stride.

The pain, the chest tubes, the constant poking and prodding, he took in stride.

The kid who has had full-on autistic meltdowns over the most minor of situations did not freak-out, or melt-down, one time while in the hospital.

Not one time.

At first I thought it must be the drugs. I mean he was on quite a bit of pain meds the first couple of days. But as the amount of pain meds lessened, he remained calm at all times.

Then I thought to myself, I bet he is holding his anxiety inside and, once he gets home in his safe environment, he is going to let it rip.

Except he never did.

I hate to admit this because I feel so guilty, but I didn’t know my son was capable of the strength and courage he exhibited during this time. In that moment it hit me. Am I coddling my son’s disorder?

Do I challenge him to rise above his Autism or do I spend all my time teaching him coping skills (with the assumption nothing will ever get better and nothing will ever change?)

Am I spending more time helping him learn how to self-soothe during a meltdown than I am how to avoid the meltdown in the first place?

Do we as parents sometimes get so caught up in managing the treatment of our child’s disorder that we forget to challenge them to push the limits of what they are capable of from time to time? Do we encourage growth or management of the status quo? Do we resist pushing the limits to avoid the potential meltdown that could ensue if we do?

Am I recognizing there are different seasons to each disorder (my other son Adam is bipolar) and adjusting my expectations of what they are capable of accordingly?

I assure you I don’t know the answer to any of these questions for certain. What I do know is, in the days following my son’s open-heart surgery, these questions hit me like a ton of bricks.

As parents, whether your children have Mental Health Disorders or not, we can’t assume we know how far our kids can go in a certain discipline. If we assume, and draw an imaginary line in the sand, we will always push our kids to perform just under the line. We will be afraid to push them beyond the line for fear of them failing. When, in reality, we should not assume where the line in the sand is drawn.

We should encourage our kids to reach beyond their comfort zone and push themselves to perform beyond their own expectations. Once they reach their capacity, allow them to draw their own the line in the sand.

Whether we are talking about grades, athletics, or general behavior, we should NOT assume where the line in the sand should be drawn or we will consistently parent beneath that line.

We should encourage them to advance forward (even when our Momma Bear hearts aren’t sure they can handle it) until they define where the line should be drawn, all while recognizing the location of the line will vary as they go through different stages of life. For then, and only then, have we helped our child achieve maximum growth. That’s all we really want as parents, right?

Who knew it take a team of surgeon’s stopping my son’s heart from beating to realize I needed to take caution and stop coddling his disorder. He is brave way beyond where I drew the line in the sand. If you are reading this, think about your kids and where the lines in the sand are drawn.

Who drew them…?



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