Contributed by: Becky Anthony, momma of Grace, Parker & Ava
I was such an expert on parenting when I had my first child. She even breezed through the “terrible twos” (and threes) with delight, and my husband and I were convinced this parenting gig was a piece of cake, and there were plenty of morons out there that could learn a thing or two from us. Our adorable little girl took her occasional time-outs like an angel, folding her hands and sweetly saying “Sorry, mommy” to wrap up our totally text book time-outs. She wore what we picked out for her, she ate everything put in front of her, she had good manners, was kind to others, shared, gave hugs, said sweet things to the adults in her life, and we were so proud of the job “we” were doing with her. After all, I was a therapist at a Psychiatric Hospital on the children’s unit and my husband was a Children’s Pastor at an amazing local church…we SHOULD know what we’re doing.
Well, since we were so good at this parenting thing, we thought we should definitely have another! So, when our first darling daughter was 3 years old, we welcomed our precious son to the planet. He was a happy baby and we were so thankful for our two blessings. Then, shockingly…suddenly…without warning….without any identifiable cause, our docile baby boy turned 11 months old and found his personality, and his voice, and his will….his Super. Strong. Will. He suddenly went on a “nursing strike” and would scream in horror when I’d try to nurse him (which he had done exclusively up until this point). He arched his back and screamed, cried, and whaled for the large majority of the day now. We were very concerned. We thought there must be something terribly wrong. We took him to the pediatrician multiple times in the coming months. There were no answers and no one we knew had anything helpful to say about this change in our baby boy.
From this point on we just did the best we could. Our toddler all of a sudden became the world’s pickiest eater, a screamer for most of the day (the kind you hear in the grocery store that makes you cringe and you wonder what the heck is wrong with that poor kid’s idiotic parents). He was grumpy, difficult to settle, started having difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Then, when he was 2 and 3 years old, our boy started getting sick. He started getting fevers (usually with no other symptoms) regularly, at least once a month, for about 5 days. The fevers then started to be accompanied by tremors and shakes from the high temperatures, vomiting, and worst of all, night terrors and hallucinations. He would wake up from his sleep and see something that terrified him and would scream and cry. We would pray over him, try to console him and hold him, but they just had to pass. He didn’t respond to medicines, no doctors or specialists we took him to could figure out what was wrong with him. Because he was getting sick so often, his behaviors that were already challenging got even more out of control. He had a hard time getting along with most people, children and adults alike. He screamed and yelled at people often, he wouldn’t eat much, wouldn’t sleep much and every day was a struggle.
Play-dates were tough, Pre-K was quite a challenge for those amazing teachers of his, and public outings were usually atrocious, with Daddy taking him out of the store over his shoulders due to a huge fit more times than I can count. The worst behavior of all is something that most people will never understand and one that was surprisingly like hell on earth, something that was out of our control. We were two well educated loving parents and our 2-3 year old handsome little boy would.not.wear.clothes. Yes, you heard me. He HATED clothes. He only wanted to wear his pajamas, and only certain pajamas at that. To put school or church clothes on this child was a terrible experience that lasted for TWO VERY LONG YEARS. HE would scream, cry, kick with all his might, and IF we were successful in getting clothes on him, he would cry and throw fits for what felt like hours and hours. He said they “didn’t feel right” and things along those lines. We tried EVERYTHING when this was the issue. We did sticker charts, prizes, special rewards, long talks, timeouts, holding him in timeouts, spankings, yelling, sweet talk, picking out comfy clothes with him, I mean…we read all the books, we listened to a lot of advice, and we tried it all. NOTHING worked with this boy UNTIL he was ready, which gradually happened around age 4. Plenty of people in our lives offered advice and suggestions on things we should try with our child. (Most of them loved us, loved our son, and meant to help) but often times, their delivery was not done with the gentleness and grace that should really wrap such conversations). His behaviors were so uniquely challenging that it caused others to say things like, “If I were you, I’d….” or “If that were my child, I’d…”, and “Have you tried spanking him? He really needs to know who’s boss.” We spanked our precious boy so much during those trying two years that at times all three of us (Mommy, Daddy, and little boy) were left in tears. And it still didn’t produce the intended results. We prayed A LOT, we cried A LOT, and we felt like failures regularly. We stopped giving out parenting advice, and we sought God for wisdom in how to best parent this little boy He gave us to raise. We also sought God for our son’s physical healing.
Shortly after turning 4, we FINALLY found a specialist that knew what to do about Parker’s “Periodic Fever Syndrome”, unspecified. He removed his tonsils and adenoids. We were amazed that this was all he needed and yet it took us two years to find a doctor that knew this! Slowly (very slowly) over the next year, Parker started wearing more clothes, eating more foods, sleeping better, and behaving better. He was, and still is (at age 6) still more of a handful than his older sister, and still does things that some shake their heads at, but he has grown a lot and we are SO relieved and thankful.
What we’ve learned from this experience with our now middle child, among other things, is the importance of choosing our words wisely. When we see other parents struggling, judging them is now the furthest thing from our minds. Offering grace, encouragement, and support through our words and expressions of love are what we now extend. Parents dealing with strong willed, difficult children, or children with special needs of any kind need help. They already feel insufficient, not good enough, guilty, and heavy with the burden of how to successfully raise this child God’s given them. So, let me challenge you. The next time you observe a parent dealing with an unruly child, choose your words slowly, carefully, and wrap them in grace. Offer a hug, a prayer, encouragement, and even a break. And above all, LOVE that child and that parent. Hug that un-huggable, fit-throwing little spaz, then hug that mama and tell her, “You’ve got what it takes. Hang in there!” And be there for her (and Daddy too :). Save the judgment, extend the grace, and simply be there.
Parents of little ones in this kind of boat, you DO have what it takes. God gave this child to YOU. Love that blessing of yours, keep praying, keep trying, and stay in the boat. It WILL get better. Stay.In.The.Boat.