Quick! Alert the media! I have a groundbreaking statement to share!
PARENTING IS HARD.
Yes, that’s all I had to say. Oh…you knew that already? Well, I’ll be damned. Seriously though, parenting is hard for everybody, especially if you’re trying your best to do it right. It doesn’t discriminate either. No matter your age, ethnicity, station in life, or your circumstances: parenting is challenging regardless. But, I do think that it’s harder for some than others, and that is what this post is about.
I have an ODD child. And no, I don’t mean ‘odd’ as in
I mean ODD, as in she has been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. If you are the parent of an ODD child then you already know the struggle. Before I go any further, however, I would just like to say that I know plenty of people who have it harder than I do and this is not an attempt to diminish anyone’s struggle. Blogging about things has just become a way for me to try to work with the specific cards I’ve been dealt. Having said that, don’t talk to me about what I need to do with my child if you’ve never been in my (or her) shoes.
“That’s just the Terrible Two’s.” (She’s not two anymore, but I did hear that often.)
“She’s just being a brat. All she needs is a good attitude adjustment.”
“She needs to know that you’re in control. Be consistent.”
All your advice to “whoop her a$$!” and show her tough love is completely unsolicited and not at all appreciated. I’m not saying I’m against spankings. That’s not what this post is about at all. I simply believe that consequences (whether positive or negative) should compliment the deed that was done, the message you’re trying to send, & it should overall be beneficial to the child. Spanking is not the blanket answer for everything because some children simply don’t respond to that. My ODD child would rather take the spanking to get it over with and then go on repeating the same behavior whereas my other two children will jump clear across The Grand Canyon to avoid a spanking.
The thing with Princess Sassypants is that spanking just reinforces the things she’s already prone to believe: that we’re just picking on her, nobody likes her, nobody is listening to her, nobody cares about her feelings and needs…etc.. She is incredibly strong-willed and that makes her fight against authority when she feels threatened, neglected, or like someone is trying to control her. It’s not in her DNA to just stop being who she is or doing things that she does just because someone else doesn’t like it. Those qualities in themselves are wonderful! I’m proud of her for wanting to be in control of her own life and for fearlessly being exactly who she is. It’s what the child does with those characteristics that turns them into something undesirable, and likewise, it’s how we respond to those things as parents that is going to be the difference between the Princess choosing to “use her powers for good” or not. I’m still learning how to respond and it has been a long, slow process learning how to put that into practice when I’m disappointed or angry. BUT – the advice to just spank her, put her in her place, or send her to live elsewhere (as if I’m not capable of handling her & someone else is), quite frankly, makes me want to throat punch you.
I’ll admit that when she was first diagnosed with ODD I didn’t believe it. I thought, “she’s just stubborn…a lot of these identifiers don’t even describe her.” After all she’s not destructive and she doesn’t display what I would categorize as “verbal hostility.” She’s not vindictive either, as some of the articles will suggest some ODD children are. I believe that our children are too often over-diagnosed with this or that imbalance or disorder (but that is a post for another day) when really they’re just individuals with individual needs and abilities. Just because a first grader has trouble sitting still in a class for 60 minutes doesn’t mean that child is ADHD. I approached this similarly; just because Princess Sassypants is stubborn doesn’t make her ODD. But as time went on, I watched her, and as I silently educated myself I discovered that she’s not “just stubborn.”
Her defiance lies far outside what is typical of other children. Most children will allow themselves to be controlled to a degree. They know that if their parent tells them something, it’s just easier for everyone if they obey. They may grumble and complain, but they get the job done. A strong-willed child like Princess Sassypants already knows that you can’t physically make them do anything after a certain point & if you can, they’re not going to make it easy for you. You can tell her to eat her vegetables all day long, but are you going to physically restrain her, open her mouth, & force her to swallow them if she doesn’t? If you try, you’re just going to get green beans spit in your face, which is beside the point because she knows you aren’t going to do that anyway. She knows that she gets to choose: eat the vegetables or be hungry. Further than that, breakfast doesn’t seem that far away and, mine in particular, knows that her parents are going to be sound asleep at 2am so if she wants to get up and sneak some string cheese & a cold hot dog, who’s gonna stop her? I could serve her the same meal for breakfast, but she goes to school everyday where they serve breakfast and lunch for free. I choose not to argue with her about this particular thing because it’s simply not worth it to me. Good nutrition is important, of course. I just find other ways to make sure she gets what she needs that don’t involve either one of us fruitlessly arguing, me making extra meals for anyone, or either one of us causing bodily harm to the other. (That’s also another post.)
Will spanking her make her eat? No. Will “letting her know who’s boss” her make her wear her jacket when it’s cold out, brush her teeth if she doesn’t want to, or (in our specific case) stop stealing anything that glitters? No. We’ve tried it. It doesn’t work. Trying to force her to change because we want her to does not work and it will not ever work. Being her dictator doesn’t work. She has to decide it on her own. Giving her choices is what works (& right now, only barely, but we’re still learning as we go). Everyone gets the option to decide who they are and who they’re going to be…it just so happens that she figured that out earlier than most. By the time most kids realize they have a choice they’re already in or approaching adulthood &, in a lot of cases for better or for worse, are a product of their raising.
It’s important enough to repeat: she has to decide what she wants & who she wants to be on her own. I’ve recently made my peace with the fact that no matter how much I want her to stop doing some of the things she’s been doing (stealing & lying most specifically of all) I can’t actually make her. The only thing I can do at this point is change my reaction when she inevitably does things I’m not going to be proud of. I can let her endure the natural consequences of her choices. I can love her for who she is right now. I can let her know that while I don’t love some of her behavior, I do love her.
I’ve already read this book, but I recently flipped back through it and found a helpful list that I’m going to try my best to refer back to when I’m angry and overwhelmed with my child. If you’re in a similar situation, maybe it can help you, too.
Thanks for reading my ridiculously long post. If you have comments or questions, please leave them below. It would be nice to not feel so alone in this and maybe we can help each other. Maybe I’ll even elaborate more on the above list in future posts if it’ll help someone. However, if all you’re going to tell me is some story about how I need to control my child, spank her, or send her to someone else, you can take a long walk off a short pier. 🙂