I was talking with a friend over coffee last weekend about the zigzag nature of parenting differently-wired kids. You know, the whole idea that growth and development isn’t linear but rather a series of stops and starts.
I know that parents raising neurotypical kids experience this too, but in their case it might look like two steps forward, one step back while for us it may be more like two steps forward, thirty steps back. Or at least that’s how it feels sometimes.
And then there are other times where our kids make these huge developmental leaps where we experience a marked, positive shift in their behavior and suddenly we find ourselves singing Barry Manilow’s I Made it Through the Rain while doing the dishes. (Or is that just me?)
What I find particularly tough about this developmental trajectory is that it plays right into what appears to be my very short memory. As in, when things are going well, I forget a) what things used to be like when Asher was angry and intense 24-7, and b) all the strategies I need to tap into consistently to help keep him on track.
Enter recent rude awakening.
A few weekends ago, my husband Derin was running a half-marathon in Barcelona and Asher and I went along to support him (plus, sun and tapas). It was just a long weekend—Thursday through Sunday—and I’d talked with Asher about the trip in the weeks leading up to it, but not with my usual attention to detail. I’m on a bunch of deadlines at the moment, and frankly, as a result I’m getting a little sloppy.
In fact, for whatever reason, I decided we probably didn’t need to fill out a vacation planning worksheet after all, and while I was at it, I probably didn’t need to create a detailed daily schedule of our itinerary for Asher either. I mean, he’s been so regulated lately, and again, it was a super short trip. So, I packed the bags, printed out boarding passes, booked tickets to Parc Guell and the Sagrada Familia, and off we went.
It took about, oh, ten minutes into the trip for the grumbling to start. As in, while still standing in the security line at Schiphol Airport. And as the day progressed, the grumbling and protests got louder. By the time we checked into our hotel in Barcelona a few hours later, our family was practically in lock-down mode.
I tried “fix” things, but we never quite regained our footing. And while we enjoyed moments of sun and gelato and art (and as an added bonus, Derin set a new personal record in his race…go Derin!), we also had some pretty low moments as a family due to pretty much everyone’s expectations not being met.
That Sunday evening, we were all relieved to be home. And I was pretty down about the whole weekend and what I considered to be a major mom fail. There was no other way around it—I’d dropped the ball.
But it was Sunday night, a whole week of homeschool looming before me, and I had a choice to make: Continue to beat myself up and start the week with Asher on shaky ground OR be proactive and attempt to move on in a way that would be supportive of our family, not to mention Asher’s growth.
Spoiler alert: I chose the latter.
But in order to move on, I had to make some conscious choices about exactly what I wanted to do, how I wanted to feel, and what I wanted the outcome to be. It’s a process I’ve been through many times before, and luckily, it pretty much always works. (And it was exactly what Asher and I needed to have what turned out to be a great week together, not to mention some new information and strategies to practice.)
Here’s what it looks like:
4 Steps to Pushing the Reset Button After A Rough Parenting Moment
1: Own Up
I have to acknowledge where I screwed up, what I could have done better or differently, and what exactly I did (or didn’t do) to contribute to the situation we’re in. Truth? Sometimes it takes me a while to get there… especially if I take Ash’s negative behavior personally and I go into defensive mode. But if I give myself time to cool down, I always end up figuring out my role in what’s going on.
“I’m sorry” is just about the most powerful phrase a child can hear when it’s coming honestly and vulnerably from their parent. A genuine apology, in which we take responsibility, isn’t just great modeling—it’s an instant diffusor (our kids typically don’t want to hold grudges—they just want to feel heard and seen).
3: Forgive Yourself
The thing about holding grudges (see above) is that many of us can be harder on ourselves than anyone else. Long after we’ve hugged and reconnected with our child, we may continue to feel guilt or shame and beat ourselves up for not knowing better. I have to intentionally let myself off the hook and remind myself that I’m doing the best I can and I’m only human. (Plus, the good news is I’ll get plenty of chances to do better next time.)
Now that everyone’s feeling connected again, it’s time to debrief and figure out what exactly happened and why so we can learn from it. We usually do this by pulling out the whiteboard and brainstorming, giving us both a chance to talk it through from our own perspective. Once we have our list, we go through our “where things went wrong” points and try to come up with a plan for each one for how we avoid this same situation in the future. This is essentially Dr. Ross Greene’s incredible Collaborative Problem Solving approach, which is our go-to method for getting dealing with any sort of crisis.
About Debbie Reber
Deborah Reber is a parenting activist, New York Times bestselling author, podcast host, and speaker who moved her career in a more personal direction in 2016 when she founded TiLT Parenting, a website, weekly podcast, and social media community for parents like her who are raising differently wired children. The TiLT Parenting Podcast has grown to be a top podcast in iTunes’ Kids and Family category, with more than 500,000 downloads and a slate of guests that includes high-profile thought leaders across the parenting and education space. Debbie’s newest book is "Differently Wired: Raising an Exceptional Child in a Conventional World" (Workman Publishing, 2018).
Prior to launching TiLT, Debbie spent more than twenty years writing more than eight inspiring books for women and teens, and working in TV and video production for CARE, UNICEF, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network. In 2013, Debbie moved from Seattle to Amsterdam, where she currently lives with her husband Derin and homeschools her 14-year-old son Asher.