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“The Guilt Is Endless”

I accept what the experts do not — that every part of a child cannot be toned or pruned or redirected.

The guilt is endless.

At every moment there is something I am not doing.

He is having vision therapy, and I don’t make him do his exercises. I am supposed to put Vaseline into his nostrils each night so his nasal passages don’t dry out, and I don’t do it. I am supposed to buy resistance bands to build his arm muscles in case the clumsiness in his hands is actually a physical weakness caused by poor muscle tone. Maybe then he will be able to pour water from the pitcher without spilling it. What I do instead is not complain when the water spills. Every time I visit the mall I forget to buy the bands.

I forget. Morning and night there is always something that I forget. Did I remind him to brush his teeth after breakfast and use the special fluoride rinse the dentist recommended for him? Did I remind him to wear his glasses? Did I remember to tell him I love him? To tell him to have a good day before closing the door behind him and embracing with relief the few hours that stretch before me?

What I do instead of these constant exercises to strengthen his eyes, his hands, and his teeth, is that I learn to be silent. I strengthen my own capacity for patience, to get through the days without yelling.

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Sometimes I sit with him discussing possibilities to help him make the healthier choice about what to eat, explaining the connection between nutrition and disease, and sometimes I cave into the pressure for foods that don’t need chewing – white flour and white sugar and white empty plates and endless trips to the dentist.

I spend two hours for each appointment at the private dentist, who specializes in children with anxiety, to fill one cavity, holding his hand like a labor coach and helping him breathe through the uncomfortable noises and sensations of the drill. I take him to specialist appointments all week long. It seems like every part of him needs fixing, strengthening, or toning, and every part of me needs to be patient, to surrender, and to let go—to let go even as I hold on. Yet sometimes my hands slip. When I let go, I simply let go.

He is already 12 years old. Will I be holding his hand at the dentist when he is 15? When he is 30? It seems to me that he misses the desire for independence more than muscle tone, the desire to grow past the age of constant caretaking. So sometimes things slide. I come home and burrow into a book. I cook chicken soup and avert my eyes when his bowl is untouched and let him have dessert anyway.

Anyway. In any case. This is our story. And sometimes I think, “At any other time but now” or “Anywhere but here.” But I don’t say these things.  I remain silent.

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How much of parenthood is silence? How much is an endless singsong of did you, have you, will you? How much is patience and how much is pushing and how much is surrendering to the force of nature that is my son?

He is a tree that will grow, despite anything that I will say or do, a tree that needs rain and not watering, a tree that needs ground — depth and space to burrow its roots into the earth — a tree that doesn’t need, and won’t respond to, pressure to flower.

Are these excuses or wisdom? Am I letting go or letting him be? Is it that I accept what the experts do not — that every part of a child cannot be toned or pruned or redirected? Part of parenting is simply living together, eating together, even though the foods he eats are always different than what the rest of the family is eating? Part of parenting is sliding over to make space for him on the couch when he wants to sit quietly beside me?

I am reading, but I am aware of the in and out of his breathing. I don’t know how much protein or candy he ate today, but I know that he likes being home, that he is comfortable at home, that for him home is a refuge from experts and expectations. I know that he gets up at 7 a.m. and he is tired, simply tired, like me, by 5 p.m.

If he comes home and gives me a kiss rather than slamming the door, it is enough. But is it enough?

The guilt is endless.

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6 Comments & Reviews

  1. Sounds like me situation, what is the anxiety disorder? My child seems to have some sort of generalized anxiety and symptoms of OCD and ADHD. She’s doesn’t seem to want to be independent and is very clingy, needs to be around us all the time, won’t sleep in her bed, refuses to learn to tie her shoes or dress herself. It’s weird, I want her to grow up to be independent, but she’d have to grow up to be some one totally different that who she is now. I want my life back when she turns 18, I don’t want to be solving her problems or being her only friend. But my family history is people without friends. My grandparents didn’t have friends, my parents didn’t have friends. My husband doesn’t have friends, I don’t have friends. All the three of us have is each other, and sometimes we get on each others nerves living in a house that is way too small for us. How will I solve my own problems let alone hers? She hates change. I cut my hair she cries, we move she cries, we change anything she cries at the loss of what she knew and the fear of the unknown. She hangs onto everything that crosses her path, including trash. It keeps her stuck rather than growing and moving forward, because like it or not, you can’t stop time.

  2. Thank you, Julia Kalish. On a day when I had no one else to turn to, somehow your sharing your burden lightened mine. My 12 year old is like the adolescent version of the 17 month old toddler – powerful enough to get into trouble, but driven by a mind still oblivious to the consequences of his actions. But no one expects that at this age. Except the people reading these posts. So thanks.

    1. My 13-year-old is very similar. Probably more like a 3 or 4-year-old, but the same principal. He can’t coherently answer questions about what he’s thinking. He can’t control many of his impulses. And he still has some pretty AWFUL temper tantrums, that are only made worse because he has puberty in control of his hormones. EVERYTHING, and I do mean EVERYTHING that goes against what he’s expecting or wants at the moment is the end of the world. I almost want to stop giving him chores because the fights over them are exhausting. I almost want to take away video games all together because putting them down is like I’ve killed his pet or something. But I can’t because that’s the only world where things make sense to him and where he has developed real friendships. *sigh*

      1. I hear you! Are you familiar with Kirk Martin’s “Celebrate Calm” approach? Game-changing, even if I can’t do it 100% (or 80% – any and every little bit helps!).

  3. Thank you for writing this. I know how it feels, but it’s good to hear that I’m not the only one that feels the need to give up on the constant attempts to make my son into what he is not. I mean, we do try. We do therapy, we work on skills, we explain and explain until we are blue in the face. But we still end up with sky high dentist bills because I just won’t fight him on food anymore, no matter how many experts tell me a healthy diet is doubly important for him. How the heck am I supposed to get a healthy diet INTO him when he has such severe food anxiety that if you try to cajole him into trying something it takes FOREVER, and he’s already doomed to hate it because he’s so worked up. I give up and let him eat pretty much what he wants, with attempts to hit the five food groups in a day, or at least balance protein and sugar!

    But I do feel guilty. I feel the “but if I would just…” thinking, if I would just do enough he’d be “fixed”. I’ve suffered two mental breakdowns, and even his therapist said ENOUGH! That he needs a healthy, less stressed mom, to be able to thrive more than he needs any amount of therapy or interventions. I actually kind of love his new therapist. He’s convinced that if we just let him find his own path and are patient, there’s hope for his adulthood, it just might take longer than most kids. (i.e. he’s probably not going to move out for college at 18) It has helped me calm down a bit, but not lose the guilt.

    I’m so glad to read your post. I’m so glad I’m not the only one.

  4. The guilt is endless. I have an aunt who always told me she had to choose her battles. My cousin was a very difficult child to say the least. So when the guilt becomes unbearable I think of her or I read an article from ADDitude. This article was especially touching and I felt compelled to comment. My son turned 13 years old today. He told me not to baby him anymore because he is all grown up. But, I’ll never forget canceling most of my son’s services last year, because he was doing so “well” and we both had major melt downs as I have my own mental health issues as well. My son has a team of people who work with him and like the writer there is always something you should’ve done. The good thing about meeting with his team on a regular basis is that they always tell me what a good job we are doing. Even if I forget an appointment, his lunch or medication. On those days when I feel alone I “pat” myself on the back. I have a history of substance abuse and to add insult to injury I used during my pregnancy with my son. That “guilt” is separate. Even though my daughter has ADHD and I didn’t use during my pregnancy with her, almost every day I wonder what my son would have been like had I not used during my pregnancy. So, I stay in therapy and try to take advantage of all the support available to me. I’m also learning to take care of myself.

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