If you’ve ever looked at another family and thought, “They really have it all together!” Guess what, they probably don’t. They have moments of crisis, stress, and chaos that feel overwhelming at times, just like the rest of us.
A year ago our family was in a terrible crisis. One of our children was depressed with suicidal ideation. It was effecting every person in our family, and there were moments where it felt hopeless.
Fortunately, we found an amazing Parent Coach (shout out to Shaleigh) who helped us. One of the first things she taught us was to “parent the stage, not the age”.
In our situation, I realized that although my son was 18 years old (chronologically), he was not at the developmental stage of an 18 year old. As a matter of fact, children with a background of trauma tend to be at a developmental stage that is half their chronological age. That was an eye opener for me.
I began to understand why my 18 year old was behaving more like a 9 year old. His social/emotional development was at a 9 year old’s level. I began to look at a situation and think, “Would I expect this of an 9 year old?”. Usually, it was a yes. That made me understand his behavior differently. It wasn’t so confusing and frustrating once I understood this concept of parenting the stage and not the age.
In regards to trauma, one concern that gets little attention is the impact of stress on a baby in utero. Research shows that babies are adversely effected by a mother’s stress during pregnancy.
A research study published in 2020 revealed that “Stress levels in mothers – measured by a hormone linked to anxiety and other health problems – is related to changes in areas of the infant brain associated with emotional development.” – Science Daily
Our family has experienced this firsthand. With our first adoption we were fortunate enough to adopt our child at birth. We were at the hospital when he was born and took him straight home. We got the infant experience I longed to have as a mother, and I am forever grateful.
Around the age of 3 he started to have great, big behaviors that we didn’t understand. He was such an easy baby, and seemed perfect in every way. He ate at exactly every 4 hours. He slept most of the time in between feedings. He was never colicky or inconsolable. Why was he so different a few years down the road?
When I say different, I mean the kid would not sleep! If I was able to get him to sleep, he would wake up at midnight and be wide awake until 8 AM. Not only that, he demanded that I be awake and play with him. If I tried to sleep he would repeatedly hit me! He would do that for several nights in a row before having one night of normal sleep. I was a complete zombie-mom!
My husband was working nights at the time. I remember our little guy becoming so enraged at night that he began breaking things. He tore pictures off the walls. He knocked big glass canisters off the kitchen counter shattering glass and sugar everywhere. It got to the point that I was so scared I locked myself in my bedroom and called my husband.
I thought it was a behavior management issue, and that we must be horrible parents. Honestly, I didn’t want anyone to know what we were going through because I was embarrassed.
Once we opened up about our struggles, one of the first questions people would ask was, “When did you get him?” When I told others that we adopted him at birth, people would insinuate that our struggles must be related to our parenting. In their eyes, it should be just like I birthed him myself, and any struggles were due to our deficits as parents.
It was during that time that people were eager to give us all kinds of horrible advice. What my son needed most was for us to understand that his behavior was a symptom of his vulnerable nervous system that wasn’t functioning properly. Once he was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, we were able to help him with occupational therapy.
Additionally, it was his experience of being separated from his biological mother at birth that had the greatest negative impact on his neurological development. The reason is because the brain is developing at such a fast rate at birth and several months afterwards. Any negative effect is compounded during that time of development.
It has taken me many years to understand that my children’s behavior is not a reflection of how great (or not great) of a parent I am. It’s funny because I remember my own parents telling me that same thing when I was in the trenches of parenting young children. On many occasions, they would try to get the message through to me that my child’s behavior was not my report card.
Parents, please take a deep breathe and relax because The Parent Report Card does not exist!
If you are struggling family, like so many others, do not give up. There are great resources available. Find someone who understands the research on brain development, and ask them for help. You will be amazed at how quickly it will transform your home.
2 thoughts on “The Parent Report Card Does Not Exist”
As a father of a baby boy we adopted at birth almost 47 years ago, I can identify with this story. Our son seemed almost perfect until about the age of 6 and then strange behavior began. By age 12, he was running away and performing devious deeds that shocked us beyond any limits we could have imagined. He would be 28 before he began to really “come out of it.” By that time, he had spent three terms in prison and fathered two children out of wedlock by two different women. At times, I wondered if I would ever be able to again say I was proud of him. Thankfully, today I can. The life he has lived for the past 17 years makes me proud. Once, when he was in prison and bragging about me, someone asked him, “If your dad is so perfect, what are you doing in here?” He answered, “You cannot blame my dad for my stupidity. Look at it this way. there is only one perfect Father, and look how His children turn out!”
Gene, thank you for sharing your own parenting experience. It is a deep comfort when we know that our own experiences connect with those of others around us. Maybe it’s because parenting can be so very isolating during a time when we need connection the most. In my parenting journey I’ve found that when I begin to feel overwhelmed it helps to stop and think… I’m doing the best I can with the information I have, and I will trust God with the rest! Again, thanks for sharing. I hope more people will be encouraged to join in the tough conversations we desperately need to have about parenting.