My heart leaped into my mouth as Soccer Mom, with her matching foldable chairs and ice-cold Gatorade, glared at me. I wanted to explain how hard I tried to be a good mom, to raise a kind human, but I swallowed the words so I could vomit them at my 5-year-old son on the ride home.
Didn’t he know that pushing another child was unacceptable? Hadn’t I taught him to use gentle hands?
Despite implementing the parenting books that promised me a new kid by the week’s end, I often wondered why he was still so difficult to parent. Reoccurring visions of an emotionally unstable, reckless adult gripped my throbbing mother’s heart.
Fear-based parenting is a vicious cycle.
Repeatedly, my son and I went on this unmerry-go-round of misbehavior and misguided anger. I longed to be one of those even-keeled moms who never raised her voice and used psychological magic to tame her children. Harnessing self-control, I practiced deep, cleansing breaths, but by most days’ ends, I was the same ragged mom who let her amygdala snap under pressure. Always, the fear of my son’s failed future whispered from the shadows as a wicked premonition.
Years passed. Friends encouraged me that my child was “just fine.” These reassurances temporarily bolstered me, but I always deflated again. Deep down, I knew something was wrong.
And then COVID hit. With less social interaction, my son spent most days having four- and five-hour meltdowns that left our entire family worn thin. The smallest changes to our schedule could destroy his mood.
Weeping, I called my friend one afternoon while he was in the middle of one of these epic meltdowns in the other room.
“What am I supposed to do with him?” I asked, choking on a sob. “We can’t go on like this.”
At her suggestion, I sought a play-based therapist. Within a few sessions, the therapist referred us to an Occupational Therapist, where my child was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). As I read the list of possible behaviors associated with SPD, I felt validated for the first time. All the good parenting advice in the world wasn’t enough to make these challenging behaviors disappear on their own.
Partnering with therapists allowed me to trade out my crude parenting tools for more effective ones. A year passed. Then that same friend who suggested therapy picked my son up for a playdate. “There’s a light in his eyes that wasn’t there before,” she told me.
I thanked her for noticing the change in him. It didn’t happen overnight. Healing was (and still is) slow, grueling work, but now I have better parenting tools geared toward a child with sensory needs.
For any family wondering if their child might have SPD, I encourage you to trust your instincts and have your child tested. I wish I had done so earlier—and that I understood the misguided behaviors I feared were the result of my son’s internal struggles.
Maybe SPD will follow him into adulthood, maybe he’ll grow out of it. Either way, I am working harder to call out the good I see in him—because those are the words I want to leap from my heart into my mouth.