These posts are old to me but new to some. Enjoy!
The Reality Check (for Domestic Violence Awareness month)
Parenting is not fun 100% all the time. Any parent that says this is lying. I love my kids dearly, but there are days in which this parenting thing entirely sucks. Either two or all three kids are fighting (their longtime favorite is the front seat of my car), someone is sick or injured, or if I’m really lucky, both. I even nicknamed the fighting between Julian and Lily “The Petty Olympics” because they constantly go for who can bring up the pettiest thing and get on my nerves the most.
Other days, my house is a magical place in which dinner is done on time and nobody fights. This is great.
Most of the time, I’m home with the three ring circus, as the kids are jokingly called. Even when I worked, much of the after-school childcare has been my arena. I’m permanently on call while the kids are at school if anything goes down (and it has- I’ve picked up each kid at least once). This leads me to be the enforcer. The not-so-fun parent.
Someone’s gotta do it, right?
This is not to say Matthew is not a good dad, because he is. He simply works a schedule that brings him home around 7 PM and it’s been this way for many years. Many dinners have been burnt in the process of the kids not tearing the house apart, having a meltdown, or fighting. Fighting is a common theme at my house.
If I had a dollar for everytime that Lily told me I am “the meanest mommy ever” I would never have to work again.
She’s 10. She has no idea what’s coming for her in the future.
It used to hurt my feelings that my kids thought I was mean and they didn’t like me…but no longer. I had a chat with my mom, the queen of mean moms. She reminded me that it’s not really my job for these kids to like me but for me to raise them to be decent people.
Good point, Mom.
Now quit buying my kids recorders.
One of our biggest challenges as parents is to do what my mom said- raise our kids to be decent people. They need to learn manners, to fight fairly, talk appropriately, and many other lessons. This may mean not being the fun parent all the time.
I’ve had to let the kids learn to squash their sibling fights on their own (unless things get super bad) because it got draining on all of us. Being the not so fun parent means having to enforce the rules, all the discipline stuff (big bummer), making sure your kids don’t hurt others and teaching them how the world works, especially when they mess up.
I do worry that I’m a bit too hard on the kids. When we’re out in public, I do tend to crack down a lot on their behavior before it even looks bad. One of the last times Julian had to get a haircut, he was so angry he walked out as soon as he was done. He got my evil mom glare as he walked out. I took a deep breath, apologized to the hairdresser and gave her a really nice tip. He was mad that he had to get two inches off the top, not just one.
Matthew tends to be a bit more laid back in general so someone’s got to be be a bit heavier with things. If I wasn’t, I’m pretty sure this house would be a crap show in an hour. This also fits my semi Type A personality. It’s okay to be the enforcer. Kids need structure, rules and guidance. My kids gets that from both Matthew and I. They know that I have basically zero tolerance for certain things but being kids, they will still attempt to push buttons. It’s what kids do.
The biggest payoff, not that I was looking for one, is hearing how well-mannered my kids are when they are with other people. My friend Madonna has five kids. She kept my boys overnight recently and when she brought them back, she told me “Your boys are so good! You should be proud of them. They were so nice and have good manners.”
I thanked her. I guess the not fun mom thing does pay off. She told me her kids are loud and wild no matter where they go, but she and her hubby are working on this. I figured that while my sons are less than mannered sometimes with me, I have taught them something while they have been rolling their eyes and sighing at me.
The lesson here is: your kid might be annoyed at you while you’re teaching them manners and other things but it does pay off.
If you’re the “not so fun” parent, don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s okay to be a bit harder on your kids, especially in the age of super disrespectful kids. I’ve seen videos of kids that shocked me- my mom wouldn’t have tolerated any of that for a second. Kids aren’t robots, they do have thoughts and feelings- but it is good to instill things like respect and good behavior in your kids.
Parenting is a tough job- try to make the mental load a little lighter. Try to have a bit of fun in the midst of the seriousness. I certainly do.
Pics courtesy of Pinterest
My boys were born in 2005 and 2006. I thought I’d never have a daughter and felt a small amount of sadness.
A small change occurred in 2008 in the form of a little girl, Lily. She even got her own post, My Dream Girl
I didn’t think there were many differences between raising boys and girls- at first. I must have been in a sleepy haze or serious denial. Now that I’ve caught up on a few years of sleep, I’m much wiser.
I was once a little girl. I couldn’t have been that difficult to raise, right? I asked my mom if I was as dramatic, loud and messy af as Lily is. We call her room “the kid version of “Hoarders” because it’s never clean for more than a day. My mother told me yes, I was loud (I’m still loud at 35, no shocker), dramatic, but not quite at her level of messy.
Puberty has come for us and the current situation is buying bras. I had to get her a real bra recently, not just the cute sports bras. Yikes. She’s 10. Is this a thing? I skipped training bras and went straight to regular ones.
We’re a bit gentler on Lily. She’s more sensitive than her brothers and still may be developmentally delayed. (She is getting evaluated very soon.) That requires a different mindset. I have to teach her different things- to know her worth as the woman she will become, how to say “no” and not feel bad, caring for others (as in a family, should she have one) and many other things. The boys will get the same lessons but obviously slightly tweaked.
Lily loves clothes and has shown interest in makeup which is a great thing. I can’t wait to see this develop. This is just a glimpse into the fun parts of raising a daughter.
These guys have been full of adventure since birth. They have really lived up to the hype of “boys get into everything”. Once Julian was able to walk and talk, the joint adventures began. They have rode in laundry baskets down our stairs, made a slip n slide on the kitchen floor, slid down the driveway on sleds, gotten injured together (Julian ended up with staples in his head) and many more things.
Now they team up to see who can annoy Lily and Mom the most.
Most of the time, the boys are low-maintenance and I appreciate this. Sometimes. I don’t appreciate them wearing the same socks for four days in a row, using their bed as a trash can or any of the other many gross things they do. Ew. My boys have shared a bedroom since Lily was born. They’re cool with this, probably because they can stay up late, talk and plot to take over the universe.
Julian making a bubble at the Louisville Science Center
Being the mom of two boys has lowered my shock factor. At this point, if someone isn’t bleeding, broken a bone or the house isn’t on fire, I’m good. As of writing this, two out of the three have occurred- no worries, my house has never caught on fire. Boys have been much easier to raise- they do get mad, they cry, but with a lot less drama involved.
Well, with one. Julian and Lily participate in what I call “The Petty Olympics” to see who can fight over the smaller things. This, of course, is when Mom is done for the day, maybe even the week.
We feed them, keep them clean, medicate them (both are on meds- Cameron takes one for migraines and SVT and Julian has his ADHD meds) and love them. I think they’re doing pretty well. Keeping them clean is a bit interesting- their showers are destroying our water bill. Lily needs a bit more to keep going but some kids do. We’re okay with that.
Cameron at the Magic House in St. Louis
I’ve been very lucky to been able to have these kids. All jokes aside, they complete my life.
Do you have kids of both sexes? What differences have you seen? If you don’t have kids, what do you think?
Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some truly awesome people. I’ve worked with teachers, nurses, psychiatrists, and more. I’ve seen some of my mental health worker friends go on to do some great things. Some have become nurses, teachers, and one has become a psychologist (he started out as a program specialist). I wanted to examine “unconventional” types of therapy, meaning those that you wouldn’t usually see in an office setting.
Today’s post features two of my former co-workers from the same facility. Brenda was a special education teacher who retired in 2017. She was one of the best teachers I’ve ever met and also has been a great friend- during my bad times, I would sit in her classroom and cry. She’s given me lots of pointers in life and is so much fun to talk to. She also has a great passion for horses, which led me to talk to her about hippotherapy.
Ashley was a mental health worker and she shared the same passion that I did for the kids we worked with. I wasn’t able to work with her very long because I left the facility. She’s a very sweet woman, and I was delighted to hear of her becoming an art therapist. I’m always happy to hear when people reach their dreams and move on to better things. When I came up with the idea for this post, I knew she would be the best person to ask.
Thank you, Ashley and Brenda. It means a lot that the two of you took the time to talk to me.
Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about art therapy. I didn’t even know what kind of degree is needed to be an art therapist. I know that it is done mostly in groups, but can be done individually. It can also be done in hospitals or in other settings. Luckily, Ashley knows a lot more. I was able to contact Ashley via email due to her busy work schedule. She works at a juvenile correctional facility in Louisville, KY as a Mental Health Professional.
Ashley graduated in 2016 from the University of Louisville with a Master of Education in Counseling and Personnel Services degree with a specialty in Art Therapy. She has become a Licensed Art Therapy Associate (LPATA), Registered Art Therapist (ATR), and Licensed Practicing Counselor Associate (LPCA). She is scheduled to take her exam to become a board certified Art Therapist in September. She has been working in this area since September 2016.
I asked what inspired her to go into art therapy and she stated this (directly from her email):
I graduated from Georgetown College in May 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. I specialized in studio art throughout my undergraduate studies. The therapeutic relationship with my artwork is what really sparked my belief in the healing components of art making. I was able to use my artwork as a way to express myself freely and honestly. Having an uncensored outlet allowed me to confront grudges of a traumatic childhood and process through mental health issues that stemmed from it.
Artwork was the one thing that challenged me to face my fears and empowered me to overcome them. After doing some research, I was thrilled to learn that art therapy existed AND that there was a licensed profession to boot! There was no question that this was my calling. Here I am, 8 years later, assisting others in finding their own strength and paving their way to freedom.
I thought this was an amazing response, which is why it is directly quoted. Once you find your passion, I’m a firm believer in doing it. Ashley is one of the lucky ones. I have also been lucky enough to live mine, in some way or another. Mine was to help people- over the past decade, I have been able to do that. Some people never find their passion, and that is a very troubling thing.
Art therapists work in a variety of populations and locations. They also work in different art mediums. Ashley works with a really interesting population- incarcerated adolescents. I’ve worked with kids similar to this, and it can be very challenging. She says:
I provide individual and group psychotherapy that incorporates art therapy assessment and intervention. Art therapy assessments are used to gather information, assess their mental state, and determine their mental health needs. Art therapy interventions are used to help clients express themselves and explore aspects of their life that they may have suppressed or struggle to confront. Both art therapy assessments and interventions utilize art media to include 2D and 3D materials. Art media is determined upon client’s presenting mental state and concerns that are being addressed. Art media can range from drawing with a pencil on white paper to constructing large sculptures with found objects.
There are misconceptions about art therapy, and I asked Ashley to address those. Her response was:
The misconception I run into most is that art therapy is viewed as a leisure activity and often discredited. I wish I had a dollar for every time art therapy has been referred to as “art class” or “play time”. Art therapy is one of the most effective forms of mental health treatment because it allows access to suppressed memories, thoughts, and feelings that many cannot or will not express on their own. I’ve had many clients’ artwork that “accidentally” shares aspects of themselves and their lives that they had no intention of disclosing. Often times, these “accidents” expose the true, underlying issues of mental health concern. Art therapy has the potential to break down the walls that reveal that not-so-perfect road that people have detoured. It just so happens that this journey down that not-so-perfect road comes exclusively with color, creativity, and a chance to step out of your comfort zone!
Brenda has a deep love for horses, and she even had one named Billie Jean, after the Michael Jackson song. He was her favorite singer. I had no idea that horses needed a test to be able to be considered for hippotherapy until we discussed the questions for this post. (Brenda and I had a wonderful lunch.)
Temperament Is Important
Horses have personalities just like we do. Some are calmer than others, some listen to commands well and some don’t. However, some horses just know to be gentle with people. A hippotherapist is usually a Physical or Occupational Therapist, and they have assistance from others to encourage both the horse and rider. These therapists have studied anatomy and other areas to know what will be therapeutic for the rider. Riders can go with or without a saddle pad. Sometimes a Speech Therapist is needed to help the rider with speech issues, for example, the child can try to give small commands to the horse as a part of therapy.
Connections Are Made
Brenda has been a side and lead person in hippotherapy sessions, mainly due to her experience as a special education teacher. This means she has led horses and been on the side to assist children and adults as they ride. She currently works with adults with disabilities with tasks such as giving horses baths and grooming. This is done at her barn.
Brenda told me a story about a child that she once saw. *Laura was a child with autism and was non-verbal. She had limited social skills but loved horses. Her mother took her to the country a lot just to look at them. She also spent a lot of time drawing and looking at books about horses. Her mother, however, was terrified of horses. An older horse, about 25 years old, was found for Laura, and she was allowed to ride. After three sessions, she was more confident. She wanted the reigns, was all smiles and seemed more independent. After eight sessions, she got off the horse, hugged her and said, “I love you, Betsy”. Three days later, she told her mother “I love you, Mom.”
When a non-verbal child speaks, it’s a big thing. It’s even bigger when they say “I love you” to a parent.
That shows the power of a horse.
Misconceptions of hippotherapy
Brenda stated that the main thing that she has seen is that people don’t know enough about the healing power of the horse. This is true because I don’t know anything. Most people I know don’t. Special needs children have a hard time expressing themselves, so it is hard to explain it to others. This is very understandable. It definitely deserves more research and understanding.
Would you consider unconventional therapy? What do you think of art, hippo, music or other therapies?
This series was inspired by a Facebook post I read six weeks ago. A member posted this question “Does having a special needs child affect your marriage?” Post after post, people shared examples of how their marriage was tested. Some made it, others did not. I always wanted to create a platform where people could talk and share their experiences, the good and the bad. I cannot thank my collaborator Wrae Meredith Sanders enough for her open and honest contributions. Whatever your decision is, I hope you know you’re not alone and you will make it.
This is the last part of this series. Please feel free to like, comment, and share.
There are many things that I can look back on now and wish that I could change. I’m unable to change the damage that was done to our marriage- both of us did things that we regret but we have been able to move forward together.
If I’d known that we would disagree so much and loudly, I would have shut the door a little more. I would have stopped and asked for a break–this would have helped more than we realized at the time. I would have asked why we had to be right all the time instead of coming up with a compromise.
If I’d known then that I’d spend many nights crying myself to sleep for so many reasons, I would hit the rewind button. I would figure out each separate reason instead of letting it all become a big ball of depression.
I thought I was doing the right thing–fighting you for Julian’s needs. This turned out to be two evaluations, a diagnosis of ADHD (combined), traits of Asperger’s (later amended to High Functioning Autism) and medications. He also needed group therapy.
Moms are supposed to do what it takes for their kids, right? The only thing is, I did it alone. I didn’t listen to you. You didn’t want any of these things to happen because you were in denial. If I had known what to say and not be confrontational, I would have done it. But I didn’t. That’s where I went wrong.
I tried explaining, even in a way you could understand but that didn’t do it. In your family, disabilities aren’t real unless you see it. Julian has the kind you can’t see. You couldn’t see it, so it didn’t exist. This even applied when Julian almost broke my nose and I had to get X-Rays.
I sought out ways to deal with the loneliness. When your husband is in denial and emotionally bashes you daily, you have to find a way to cope. I drank. That was not productive at all.
I went out a lot with people who turned out to not be good for me, you even tried to tell me, but I didn’t trust you enough to care. I worked out in the gym obsessively and lost 60 lbs. Even my doctor was concerned. I barely ate for days on end. This didn’t help my decision making.
We worked hard to put this family back together. I still have problems opening up to you this day. I finished therapy two months ago. You were there from day one to the last and cheered me on the whole time.
During that time, Julian has grown, and he has done well. He finished group therapy and dealt well with a change in providers. He is going into the seventh grade after a few bumps adjusting to middle school.
You’ve become so supportive of Julian and I. When he has a bad day, I know I can tell you about it. You’re happy when he does well. Raising kids isn’t easy and we have three. Having a kid with special needs makes things a bit more interesting and sometimes difficult. I’m glad that both of us decided to make this work.
Thanks. I know Julian wouldn’t say it but I’m sure he likes his mom and dad being together.
Never at the age of forty did I dream I would marry, then become pregnant a few months later. It took us both by surprise yet we agreed to go on this wild journey called parenting. I had a little more experience with raising a child as my daughter was fourteen when we tied the knot.
I was fat, tired, and cranky–everything a pregnant woman is and probably will be as long as little humans continue to beautifully invade our personal space. There were precautions because of my age and health, but I was sure I would go full term.
But I didn’t. He came nearly three months early. After a long stay at the hospitals, oxygen tanks, and therapy, our baby boy could live a normal life.
We both noticed how energetic he was, how once he started talking he couldn’t stop, and how sleep evaded him. No worries though, I sleep trained him. Plus, kids are naturally talkative and hyper, right?
But he never slowed down. After being kicked out of two daycares, we had him evaluated. I already knew, but I wanted to hear the doctor say it. He had ADHD.
I ran straight towards the ADHD armed with books, natural medicine because our pediatrician refused to help him, and age-appropriate behavioral techniques. You ran in the other direction, straight to the door of denial.
Days grew into weeks, months, and even years. Six years isn’t much time to some, but when a person feels like they’re carrying the load alone, it can seem like a millennium.
The feeling is familiar because I went through the same thing raising my daughter alone. I felt overwhelmed all the time. I feel that way now.
As the primary caregiver, I stay on top of his meds, homeschool him, and take him to the doctor’s appointments.
I know you can argue that since I don’t have a nine to five, I should be doing this anyway. I remember carrying the same load as a full-time working mom too.
Yes, you went to the doctor with us sometimes. You ‘yessed’ your way through the appointments, but the heavy part of the load rests on my shoulders.
When he’s having a bad day, I try to redirect. You punish him by sending him to bed.
If he talks back, I remind him that his behavior is inappropriate, you yell at him and say things he will repeat later when he’s frustrated.
Even when you excuse yourself from spending time with him, he loves you anyway.
If I thought you would really listen to what I have to say, I’d tell you that you are creating an insecure man who will be afraid to share his feelings, think he isn’t good enough and may do inappropriate things to get attention.
But I’m not brave enough. What I am is strong. I’m strong enough to walk away and do it on my own.
I don’t want to, but his well being comes first. The only reason I haven’t walked away now is that much like a little girl, I have hope.
You’re not a bad person. That’s why I haven’t left yet.
Until then, I pray we can fix these broken wings.
Thank you so much for reading this series! We appreciate your support during this month. If you missed any of the previous parts, you can catch up here: