Excise my parenting shame?
April 6, 2021 2:24 PM   Subscribe

I have small kids who are both very strong-willed and tantrum prone. When they're having challenging behaviors, I'm constantly imagining how people would judge our parenting and then feeling defensive or guilty or just exhausted, which is both unenjoyable and makes handling the behavior harder for me. Any good books or blogs or other media that flip that perspective to help me acknowledge that parenting is harder for us than other people and we're doing our best?

The societal view I'm trying to overwrite is along the lines of "Those kids are out of control. The parents must be too permissive/authoritarian/not applying these common tricks/should've left child-having to more well-adjusted people/etc". These types of thoughts destroy my patience and good humor.

The views I want to have are more like
-Common parenting methods don't work equally well for all kids
-Parents whose kids aren't well behaved are often actually working a lot harder at parenting than parents whose kids are well behaved
-You have to meet kids where they are at AND where you are at

One of my children is diagnosed on the autism spectrum, but I think at least half of the challenge comes from my own poor emotional regulation/other mental health issues. Also no family or friends have every directly shamed our parenting or kids at all; my emotional response is to general societal attitudes towards parenting.

Some of the answers in this recent question relaxed a tension I'm carrying constantly, especially the comment "Having a child with a behavior disability burdens the parent/child relationship. Without a positive relationship, they can't support or correct at all." And I was surprised how many people acknowledged that the kid may not be capable of meeting the behavioral expectations and a blaming approach doesn't really make sense. How did everyone learn to think this way? Was there a pamphlet I missed?

I think if I can steep myself in anti-parent-shaming media, my reflexive thoughts will change. Preferred formats are audiobooks, podcasts, advice columns, maybe internet forums.
posted by Gravel to Human Relations (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
My kid is 20 now and there may be newer resources but Ross Greene The Explosive Child was a huge help to me and my partner when she was young. Really shaped our parenting and gave us the sense that we were doing something on purpose and not somehow failing at what other parents were managing.
posted by Orlop at 2:32 PM on April 6, 2021 [5 favorites]

Highly recommend Hand in Hand Parenting both for parent support but also working with kids, especially when they're having big feelings.

Worked so well for us that I ended up volunteering (and am on the Board now).

All the best to you.
posted by emmet at 3:11 PM on April 6, 2021

Sincerely Your Autistic Child is a very recent book from AWN that may be of interest. I’ve also found solace gathering with parents and children who face the same situations/neurodiversity (waaaaay before there was a pandemic. If you have Netflix, Atypical covers parenting (PG high school) first season has issues, but is much more grounded in lived experience for the upcoming season. Autastic is a podcast you may enjoy. There is a lot out there.
posted by childofTethys at 3:20 PM on April 6, 2021

Also, some of the shift may be the work of Brene Brown PhD about shame, and there is an audiobook “The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting” which may be more in synch with the ask. Please know this parent is sending encouragement, you are far from alone.
posted by childofTethys at 3:32 PM on April 6, 2021 [6 favorites]

Strong recommendation for the One Bad Mother podcast (note: they are affirming of all parent types and genders), where their motto is "You're doing a great job" and they talk a LOT (and invite a lot of experts related to) about meeting your kid where they are and also where you are as a parent/family with finite resources/time/energy, and also about the social pressure and real/imagined perceptions/criticisms of others.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:45 PM on April 6, 2021 [7 favorites]

Books: Playful Parenting, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen..., The Secret of Parenting, Kids are Worth It! All talk about kids as autonomous people who need to control things and have room for their feelings.

For yourself you may want to have a look at Parenting from the Inside Out.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:54 PM on April 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Love these Instagram accounts (some of whom have courses and other content as well):

* @ourmamavillage (My top choice. You may especially like her reparenting and parenting triggers content.)
* @biglittlefeelings
* @drbeckyathome

My kid isn’t on the spectrum but has other issues that make parenting more difficult. I follow some other parents of similar kids (in our case, kids with FPIES/food allergies/GI issues) and seeing how they’re doing helps me too.

The Metafilter Facebook parenting group [More Inside] is amazing!

And my go to rec always is OT if you’re not already in it. Our amazing OTs have helped my son and us as parents SO much, and they are great at understanding and affirming how tough it is. If you can’t do actual OT, some OT books like Sensational Kids might be useful. (If sensory stuff isn’t applicable for you, try whatever topic is more relevant.)

Finally, I’m another parent with a high needs kid in the trenches. Happy to chat/vent/connect via MeMail.

Hang in there. You’re not doing something wrong. It’s not just you. It really is this hard. You’re a rockstar and you’re doing great even when it doesn’t feel like it.

(I’m sure many would find my parenting style permissive because I let my son do almost anything that’s not dangerous to him or to others but I DON’T CARE what other people think [except for when I’m consumed by anxiety about it...] because it’s a battle just to get my son to eat and take his meds and drink water and go to the doctor. You. Are. Doing. Great. ❤️)
posted by bananacabana at 6:40 PM on April 6, 2021 [5 favorites]

I remember "Becoming the parent you want to be" as very helpful in modeling kind and non-shaming parent goals. I had a couple of parents of difficult kids who were on private email lists who I could reliably talk to as well - I recommend [More Inside] too.

Also, the 'one weird trick' I had is to use 'good' TV parents as models, a sort of "What would Claire Cosby do?" or pretending this was Fuller House, so what's the appropriate TV way to react, when I am too overwhelmed or exhausted in the moment to calmly respond authentically.

Shame for parenting is very intense and taps into a lot of social control and judgement about your family as a whole. I'm happy to memail with you - I've got five high need kids and basically burned through the shaming to the no-fucks-given fields. That you recognize this as a You issue and not your kids' fault is a huge thing and shows you are a thoughtful and caring parent. You are doing really well and will get to not caring about outside judgement with time and experience (the experience part sucks though).
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:51 PM on April 6, 2021 [5 favorites]

Oh my goodness I know how you feel. It’s so hard. My kids have sensory issues and are now almost 5 and 6 but and it’s a lot easier now because we can talk but I feel super judged and isolated. When they were little it was because they were having regular meltdowns in public but more recently I think I’m more strict than the other parents and I feel judged about that. I think people think I’m “mean” but they have no idea what we’ve gone through. I think I have ptsd from those meltdown days. I mean it, how upset I used to feel when they were getting ready to kick off and I was in public somehow and the feeling of fight /flight bubbling up.

Anyway, I recommend the book “sensory signals” I think it ticks the box of a resource that helps show how some people have a much tougher job parenting because their kids are a lot more complicated.
posted by pairofshades at 11:21 PM on April 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

My kids are grown but we went through much of this with two of them beiing on the spectrum. Raising Your Spirited Child was helpful and the author now has a website with a lot of resources. Once she was old enough, we agreed on a safeword that was a secret family signal meaning wow - time to step back and working on finding some calm. That was helpful but took until she was in around 3rd grade to be ready to use .

It's hard - be gentle to yourself and know that there are more and more people out there who are clued about these issues . But my kids who one might have thought of as incredibly stubborn and fixated as kids are adults who persevere in hard situations, are very empathetic and kind adults. Getting them to that point was definitely challenging for all of us and good self-talk for you will help with both your tension and helping them grow into confident adults.
posted by leslies at 5:03 AM on April 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

We have two children. The older one is very compliant. The younger one has been diagnosed with Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder along with ADHD. Yeah, it's as bad as it sounds. And concern about other people's judgements has definitely been a thing in our household.

What has helped?

The therapists we have worked with have consistently told us, "it is not something that you did." That has been a topline message, consistently, and it has been very helpful to hear it from experts with a lot of experience.

It helps that we have another child who is compliant and well behaved.

Over the last couple of years we have gotten much more open with our extended family and community about our younger child's diagnosis. That also helps. "Mental Illness" is a scary phrase to throw around, but it's accurate and provides important context about what we are going through. They are less judgy when they understand our family in that light. It can go from judgement to sympathy.

As for resources:

Child Mind is my go-to website for children's mental health and parenting issues.

The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child was very helpful, and also includes important messages about what parents are and aren't responsible for in their children's behavior. I don't think it has a particular autism focus, though.

Good luck with this! It's a real issue. It's hard enough dealing with a difficult child. Having to handle other people's judgements on top of that can be really demoralizing. The internet gives you permission to ignore them and keep being the great parent that you are.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:33 AM on April 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

What helps me a lot is staying in the moment, in my relationship with my child.

Thinking of what it looks like to others is trying to manage a relationship with a stranger - wanting to read their cues and adjust. But meltdown is not the time to manage that relationship it’s just not the priority so I completely block out that impulse and get tunnel vision on relating with my kid as he needs in that moment - whatever behavior he needs from me, firm or kind.

Also, seen at the supermarket: some old timer busy body said to a mom of a meltdown kid “you know what he needs? A good smack on the bum!” Mom replies compassionately “is that what happened to you? Did they hit you? I’m so sorry. ” Stopped busy body in her tracks. I’m sure if mom had gone deeper she would have had busy body in tears in a minute but she went back to her kid.

(Opposite example: my 6yo niece was having a Royal meltdown at the store not getting a toy and some old timer told my sister: stay strong honey! You can do it!)

Children are so close to the source they bring up other people’s unresolved issues. So don’t worry if people get judgy it’s just how they were abused. And a surprising amount of other parents understand so you can rest in that.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:26 AM on April 7, 2021 [6 favorites]

I've been where you are and something that helped me so much was watching this hour-long talk from the doctor that runs the Think:Kids program at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The specific technique he talks about there was somewhat helpful in giving me and my husband tools for interacting with our kid when he started melting down and lashing out. But honestly, the first 20 minutes of the video where he talks about a different way of conceptualizing what is going on with kids who have behavioral problems - and how our culture unfairly blames parents - was transformational for me to listen to. I cried watching it, then insisted my husband watch it again with me as soon as it was done. It really helped me let go of a lot of the shame I was holding onto around having a kid that wasn't easy to parent. Highly, highly recommend.

Finding parents of non-neurotypical or other "challenging" kids was also really helpful. Having even one other parent who you can talk/chat/email with about the thing your kid did and having them get it (and not just give really useless advice) is so sanity-saving. I found mine through the mefi group [More Inside], but there's probably lots of places to find people who are going through what you are.

Hugs. It's so, so tough.
posted by iminurmefi at 11:21 AM on April 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have also felt weird about my kids’ behavior. It is hard to let go of these feelings. One thing that helped me was realizing that I don’t feel that way in environments where my kid has been a lot because those people know I’m a good parent Because I am. Another thing that helped me was realizing that if I see other people’s kids misbehaving in public, I always feel sympathetic and actually happy because ‘it’s not just me! This is normal!’
posted by bq at 11:35 AM on April 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Can I also add another reminder that might be helpful? "The image that other people project of their parenting and their children is them on their very best days and even then might have a shine or glimmer that isn't truly there; these people are often also struggling with parenting challenges in ways they don't share."

I'm a parent through adoption, and I adopted my kids when they were 2 and 4. Let me tell you, it feels pretty awful when you've brought your child to the big box store with you and then he screams and tantrums his head off in the check-out area. You also don't always want to talk to family and friends who aren't adoptive parents because you are scared they'll judge you and your kids. It's really tough.

I should also say that during this time, I posted photos that showed us as a happy, easy-going family. We were, sometimes! But that wasn't the lived reality of many days.

What did help: finding parenting groups specifically aimed at adoptive parenting, including with adult adoptees (their perspective is invaluable) -- so for you, I'm thinking parenting groups focused on parenting kids with autism or kids who are like yours in whatever ways seems appropriate.

What also helped was cultivating a few specific friendships with other adoptive parents where we are very honest about some of our challenges. There are things folks outside the adoption triad just don't really get, and it's incredibly validating to spend time with people who like me and my kids and with whom I can also share the very tough things.

I also found it helpful to connect with other parents I didn't know very well but who had similar parenting situations. I have found that talking to anyone dealing with the same thing is incredibly affirming.

My ex-husband and I also learned a lot from an adoption-focused therapist. Originally we thought the therapy was for the kids, but we found that our conversations with her, in which she gave us insight and some parenting strategies, was transformational. I've got back to her off and on over the years, and this has been an incredibly valuable relationship for me as a parent. She really helped my ex-husband in particular figure out how to regulate his emotions in response to one of my kids.

So my advice: find parents in similar situations; find a therapist who works with parents in your situation. You'll get new skills but also get new context and perspective.

But also, would it help to hear my 16 and 18 year old kids are pretty well-adjusted and at least don't tantrum in big box stores or elsewhere in public anymore? Like, our biggest arguments are about politics and our opinions on books and media. Hang in there.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:36 PM on April 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

I suspect nobody I've recommended this book to has ever bought it because the cover is so awful, but The Incredible Years by Carolyn Webster-Stratton is all about parenting young children with behavioral issues, and it's great. I haven't read it for a while so maybe the content has aged as poorly as the cover, but at least when things were difficult in this household this was the only parenting book that I could relate to. The rest left me feeling alienated.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:45 PM on April 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

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