In this post, Eve wrestles with Eli’s problem behavior throughout his preschool years, and beyond. Eve says:
“I expected standard discipline tactics to work, but they just don’t. I seek out new parenting strategies, but they don’t work either.”
This is a common theme in the parent-authored essays in upcoming book Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories (DRT Press). Some of the parent-authors who expressed this sentiment were parenting other children with relative ease before their ETL child came along. Others started out fairly confident in their abilities to discipline their future children, based on what they’d learned from their own families and other life experiences. But their ETL kids reacted to discipline like no other children. Confused and shaken, these parents immersed themselves in learning new parenting methods. In essay after essay our parent-authors wrote that neither tactics designed for typically developing kids, nor those aimed at challenging kids, worked.
Here is an excerpt from the book’s introduction:
“Eve had expected standard discipline tactics to work with Eli, but they just don’t. She’s frustrated and angry, with Eli and with herself. She reads parenting book after parenting book, and tries strategy after strategy. Nothing works. And when they don’t, Eve blames herself. Eve starts to question her ability to parent.”
Rachel Penn Hannah is one of several contributors who echo this sentiment in their essays. She says this in her essay, “Butterflies”:
“We have two older children, so we knew that parenting Sarah was radically different. A bedtime routine that involved lowering the lights, reading a book, nursing, and singing worked well to get our older kids to sleep when they were babies, but nothing seemed to help Sarah. My older two children only had to be told once that they couldn’t buy something special at the grocery store, but with Sarah saying “No” to practically anything led to a major tantrum. Time outs were an effective way of getting my older son and daughter to calm down. Not so with Sarah, who reacted with rage. Why had our parenting seemed so natural and effective with our two older children and yet felt so inadequate with Sarah?
I sought out advice in books and on the Internet. I looked to William Sears for advice on the “High-Need” baby, and then, when Sarah was a preschooler, I read Raising Your Spirited Child. To this day my bookshelves are filled with the parenting books that I bought hoping to find answers that might help us to help Sarah.”
Contributor Laura Boss tells a similar story in her essay, “My Dance with the Devil”:
“Both my mother and father were certified “Parent Effectiveness Training” (P.E.T.) teachers, passionate about the power of good parenting and determined to share their opinions and skills with the world. The P.E.T. approach was win-win, neither punitive nor permissive, but a way of resolving conflicts so that both parents’ and children’s needs are met. I’d watched my sisters raise their children using P.E.T. methods – Active Listening, I-Statements, and No-Lose Conflict Resolution—with great results. When it was my turn for parenthood I was ready. I knew the formula and was committed to its implementation. I didn’t expect it to be easy, but I did expect it to work….
…Al and I altered Nathan’s diet, practiced “Positive Discipline,” followed the “Spirited Child,” “Difficult Child,” and “Strong-Willed Child” programs. We tried sticker charts and schedules and we set limits. We set limit after limit after limit after limit. We set up power struggle after power struggle after power struggle, which ultimately resulted in a lot of screaming and crying and frustration for all of us.”
Here’s one more example, this one from the essay “To See What It’s Like” by Sarah Conover:
“Had we raised only our firstborn, Nate, we would be oh-so smug, with little sympathy for or understanding of parents of high-maintenance children. Nate was the kind of child to whom you could calmly state, as you maneuvered the car onto a busy freeway, “You’re in a time out,” and he would immediately silence. He didn’t argue with us until he was 15.
Jamey was different. She stood her ground right from the start. Her first word was “More!” Arms outstretched toward us, palms rotating like greedy little animals, she was hungry for more of everything life offered….
…Doug and I sought out a therapist for guidance in handling the situation. Over the years of parenting Jamey we’d worked with several. Despairing, with little reserve of goodwill left between our daughter and us to face the present calamity, we reviewed with the therapist, list-like, every behavior modification strategy we’d ever tried. They were all bankrupt. None had prevented the present situation, nor could any promise to control the future. What was left for us to try? What else was there?”
Do you expect standard forms of discipline to work with your ETL child, but they don’t? Do you research and test out different parenting methods, only to discover that they don’t work either? If so, tell us your story! And say it with me: “I am Eve!”
In my next post, Eve learns that other adults—family, friends, even strangers—blame her for Eli’s behavior.
In May 2011, I introduced Eve to attendees at the annual conference of the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health through a poster presentation. As part of the presentation I listed 23 quotes from Eve, and for each quote, asked parent-attendees to put an M & M in a cup labeled either “Agree” or “Disagree” to indicate if the quote matched their special needs parenting experience.