School Daze, Consequences, Parental Guilt and Marital Love - Just Another Day in the Life of Mom
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like this much of a failure as a parent.
I got a call from Vincent’s principal this morning. My soon-to-be-four year old son was sent to the principal on his 3rd day of school.
Regardless of the situation, how can any parent say “Not my fault.”
On some level, it’s my fault. I did or didn’t do something right that caused him to act out in a negative way.
Friday afternoon, I was stopped by Vincent’s teacher and warned about his behavior. He was acting out by swatting at children and screaming at his teacher. He refused to follow directions and insisted on going off by himself over and over again.
When she said that, my heart practically tore itself in half.
“Going off by himself over and over again.”
Immediately images of him playing by himself in a room full of children as I picked him up from daycare flooded my mind. You guys have heard me talk about this before. I can’t help but feel responsible for my son’s social immaturity.
Aside from the fact that he was hearing-impaired his first two years (which stunted his speech and comprehension), he didn’t have much interaction with children his age outside of daycare. Why? Because he was never given a sibling.
I feel so angry and so guilty for this. When I heard the teacher cite the same exact symptom I was so keenly aware of every time I’d pick Vince up from daycare, I knew in my heart just how disadvantaged Vincent was made by the situation between my husband and I.
I immediately became livid. After putting Vince into the car, my blood pressure must’ve soared as I had visions of tearing into John for his selfishness… his thoughtlessness. How could he not see the damage he was doing to Vincent? All I wanted to do was scream and yell at him, myself. I wanted to punch and kick him. I wanted to do everything that Vincent had done as if John feeling it would somehow make him realize how incredibly wrong he was.
I quickly realized I needed to cool down. I almost felt like I wasn’t in my right mind. On a logical level, I fully understood that my rage was simply masking the root of my emotional maelstrom. I felt guilty and depressed; sad and hopeless. All of visions I had in my head of creating the perfect family environment for my children was taken away from me and I’d let it happen. I never provided Vincent the sibling I wanted him to have. Little Myla, the sister he has in Heaven, slipped away under my watch. All of the anger and rage that I was directing at John was simply a bait and switch. If I was able to focus on him, I didn’t have to realize how much of the blame I shouldered for his deficiencies.
Logically, I fully understood all of that. Emotionally, however, I didn’t give a hoot. I wanted to call him and tell him that if he was home, he should leave. Maybe find a friend to spend the night with ‘cause I didn’t want him home with me. I wanted so much to lash out in the most spiteful, angry way I could to make him feel just a fraction of the hurt I carried.
Thank God my logical side fought back, because my emotional side was gunning for separation. It really, truly was. That is not, however, the Christian way of handling problems, and I really have tried so hard to grow myself into a better example of what it means to be truly loving in my actions, especially with John.
Plus, in my heart, I know that’s not the answer. It’s not fair to John who is not entirely to blame. So I forced myself to calm down. I forced myself to refrain from spewing lava the moment he walked into the house.
However, he could quickly tell I was upset. I said we’d talk after Vincent went to bed, and he backed off. Somehow, by the grace of God, he actually backed off. Normally he will push until his curiosity is satiated, but in this instance, he did not. That gave me enough time to collect myself and slowly vent, alone, until I was ready to discuss things in a manner that was fair to both of us.
So after Vince went to bed, he asked. At first I didn’t know how to delve into it. I was really worried I wouldn’t be able to restrain my tongue. I wanted to be fair, but I was still emotionally raw. I have no doubt I didn’t handle myself perfectly, but I can say I made the right decision. I’m glad that I waited until Vince went to bed, and I’m glad that I resolved to talk things through with John rather than remain dedicated to heaping blame and anger on him without his knowledge.
I explained what the teacher said. I explained my experiences picking Vince up from daycare. I then explained that I truly believed Vince wouldn’t be as socially behind if he had a sibling. I felt guilty for not providing him one, and I was angry that John couldn’t see how damaging that was to him. I explained why I didn’t say anything earlier, and I also explained how incredibly angry I was on the way home. However, I also explained that I understood anger is my self-defense mechanism, so it’s the emotion that crops up most strongly when I feel sad or guilty.
In fact, it’s pretty safe to say that the angrier I am about a given situation, the more upset I am about it. Anger, to me, is a controlled force. I feel empowered and in-control when I am angry. I’m able to speak eloquently and my mind is razor sharp. However, the second I allow the sadness, guilt or despair creep in, my eloquence goes out the window, I feel as if I’ve lost control and I am left weak and vulnerable.
Doesn’t that seem strange? But it’s true. Angry Gina is like a brilliant lawyer poised to tear into a guilty convict. Upset Gina is the babbling convict who wants to cry in the corner. Very, very seldom does Upset Gina come out to play.
So through my conversation with John, I felt a tug of war going on between these two sides of myself. I knew that in order for John to understand that I didn’t hate him or fully blame him for everything, I had to be honest about my feelings of failure and guilt. However, in order to get my thoughts across in a clear manner, my words were edged with anger – not to reprimand John, but to help me keep my composure.
To my surprise, John did not defend himself or try to make me understand that my view of siblings was wrong. Instead, he apologized. He said that he understood I was in a terrible situation. He sympathized that I felt guilty for having failed Vincent in this manner. He did point out that there were other ways of giving Vincent the experience of other children his age, but he didn’t counter me when I said the experience of siblings is without equal.
He just apologized and said he wished he could change his mind on the matter. I waved him off, not because I didn’t appreciate it, but because I was still caught between Anger and Upset.
The upset side of me wanted to reassure him that I didn’t hate him for how he felt. That side of me fully understood where he was coming from and wanted to let him know that he didn’t need to “wish” he could change his mind.
The angry side of me realized it was about to lose its edge and decided bypassing that statement altogether would be a safer course of action than responding, because how can anger respond to love?
That is, after all, how John answered me. He listened to me, really heard me, tried to understand my point of view, and sympathized. He didn't agree, and he didn't have to. You don't have to agree with someone's perspective in order to sympathize. THAT is the response I've been waiting for.
I never wanted to force John to change his mind. I'd like him to, sure, but that was never the crux of my frustration. It was always his stubborn refusal to even give my point of view air time. I was wrong, and that was that. This is the very first time I felt as though he'd not only heard me out... he'd allowed himself to accept that my point of view wasn't entirely off-base. That doesn't mean he agrees with it, and that's okay. However, it does mean that I'm not the outright manipulator that I think he felt I was regarding children.
Thus, the conversation petered off. John apologizing for his part in my sadness, me accepting that I was stuck trying to figure out a way around this for myself and my family. As a mother, I have to figure out a way to help Vincent grow into a more socially adept little boy. I accept his current difficulties on account of his verbal / comprehension deficits, but I do not accept that these are permanent limitations. They are certainly not excuses for bad behavior.
So today I vowed to work with both the teacher and the principal on getting Vince better transitioned into his new environment. I’ve enlisted the help of his previous teachers, and I’ll be talking to my mom (a kindergarten teacher) later this afternoon. Obviously I also talked to John and we both agree that we’re giving this at least two weeks before throwing in the towel.
Maybe we find out that Vince really is just too young to begin. I, for one, will not make that decision without giving it a real try. Two days is not enough to judge a child’s ability to meet the expectations of an entirely new environment. The principal agreed with me, and we’re going to see what the next two weeks bring us.
Keep us in your prayers, folks. It’d be much appreciated. This entire experience has been so much more challenging than I’d ever imagined.
UPDATE: Since I was asked - Vincent was practically deaf for the first two years of his life. Given that therapy only got him so far, he's still behind his peers when it comes to communicating his fear or frustration. As a result, he relies on physical outbursts sometimes. Physical outbursts include swatting at others or stamping his feet. Both are negative behaviors that could potentially hurt someone, so they are serious. However, he's not maliciously threatening anyone and is reacting, in my mind, as a child of his cognative level would respond. Our job, as parents, is to teach him new coping skills and help him develop beyond physical response. We also need to work more on his willingness to share the attention of adults with other children (again, something a sibling would've helped with). He consistently demands the attention of the teacher, and if he doesn't get it, he simply shouts louder and louder until she's forced to give him attention (even though it's negative attention).
My background is education. I fully understand the dynamics of what is going on and why my son is acting out in the manner in which he's acting out. It makes sense, but my difficulty is how I can help re-teach him better behavior.
Anyone have any tricks or tips?
9/11/2013 08:05:15 am
I want to hug you and I don't even know you.
9/11/2013 08:13:02 am
9/11/2013 11:47:35 am
You're welcome, glad to help in any little way I can.
9/11/2013 07:43:48 pm
I'm a bit confused. Why do you presume Vincent would be acting better if he had a sibling? After all, he's only four. Often siblings are two, three and even four years younger, and at his age things like sharing and getting along don't really come into play as much as they do when children reach seven or eight. Also, there are many, many kids who are an "only child" who are fine when they go off to school. I can remember one of my cousins was an only child and he was a very easy to get along with kind of kid. He never had the problems you describe.
9/13/2013 02:26:59 pm
Bee, the sibling issue is only part of it. As I mentioned in the entry, I fully understood I was clutching that as a main reason in order to justify my anger against John (which derailed my personal feelings of guilt and frustration).
9/12/2013 03:49:32 am
I'm an only child and my teachers used to bother my mother with tales of how supposedly anti social I was. She listened and politely told them to drop it. I still prefer to do things by myself and don't consider myself defective. Vince is only a baby still and he might feel overwhelmed. The first few months of school are very unpleasant for many children. Suddenly you are trapped in a mystifying, regimented environment and your'e expected to act like a big kid when you really ought to be at home playing in the mud. My niece has a sibling and still spent the first several weeks of first grade crying everyday. Don't let the teachers turn Vince into the problem child and forgive yourself.
9/13/2013 02:29:25 pm
Thanks, Dymphna. I agree with most of what you say. I'm honestly trying to remind myself that this is relatively normal for kids his age. After all, I did my fair share of coaching kids just like him through the transition, myself.
9/13/2013 04:14:38 pm
I am so sorry that you're going through this! I will be praying!
9/13/2013 04:35:09 pm
9/15/2013 04:00:27 pm
There are a number of websites/videos that can be used. As far as sign language classes I think google is a good place to start. If there are any Sign Language Interpreting Agencies near you they should also be able to point you to classes. I know youtube has a number of videos of ASL lessons as well.
9/15/2013 04:02:30 pm
P.S. I wanted to add IF you decide to go with Sign language and it seems like he could benefit from an interpreter at school because of the environmental noises making it hard to lip read by law the school must provide one.
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