For anyone who has been around a while or knows me in "real life," you know that my oldest is a ball of unending energy. His exuberance for life is unmatched by most. Most days he's a baffling mixture of awe and frustration. He's uniquely unique, as all kids are unique. He's just plain "more" of everything.
So I'm reading a book entitled "Raising Your Spirited Child" because doing so can often feel like a lonely endeavor that leaves a parent feeling like a failure, as I often do. Right from the start, I'm hooked. "They are normal children who are more intense, persistent, sensitive, perceptive, and uncomfortable with change than other children." These kids are "the Super Ball in a room full of rubber balls. Other kids bounce three feet off the ground. Every bounce for a spirited child hits the ceiling." The good days are amazing and awe-inspiring. On the bad days, "you're not sure you can face another twenty-four hours with him." And for the parent, it's easy to feel "weary, drained, and much too old for this." It's "confusing, taxing, challenging, and guilt-inducing."
The last one....guilt-inducing...couldn't be more correct. All of it reads as though the author is writing specifically about my child. He's loud, he's persistent, locking in to what he wants. He's sensitive to certain sounds. He's perceptive, noticing even the smallest differences and becoming easily distracted by something as simple as a drop of dew on a spider web. He doesn't handle change well and expects things to be the way he perceives them. Add to that what she calls the "four bonus characteristics," and it's no wonder we're usually at a loss.
He doesn't sleep, eat or do much of anything on a regular schedule. He's not predictable in any way. His level of energy is astounding to even those who have energetic children. While he doesn't run from new things, he has to experience them on his own time and is unwilling to try new things that are just presented to him. He fits three of the four. And she says, "if your child possesses any of [the four], you will need to be even more enterprising."
Raising a spirited child can feel lonely. The normal methods, normal advice, normal reactions don't apply to these children. And the way people respond to you about your spirited child often lacks acceptance or understanding. I can attest to that. I either get, "you need to take control of your child" or "he's only four. All four year olds act like that." Not so. On either account. I work very hard at being a good parent. At setting limits and using routine. At expressing consequences and rewards. I work VERY hard at trying to raise a well-mannered child. And no, he's not like most four year olds. He's not. I know all children carry a semblance of these traits. All small children do. But mine carries MORE. Throw in the intelligence factor and I'm outside the league of most parents. The kid scores in the 99th percentile for fluid reasoning and quantitative reasoning, so at the ripe old age of four, he's able to examine, comprehend, and manipulate his world like a teenager.
He easily figures out how to pull it out in the 11th hour, even when you try to ensure all loopholes have been sealed shut. He still manages. Normal, conventional wisdom on disciplining techniques fails to work with this child because he easily turns the tables. He easily moves on from the consequence.
And even if it looks and feels like he's not listening, he quite easily manages to do what he wants and look busy while honing in on your every utterance. So much so that he can repeat almost verbatim and entire conversation you just had. It's frustrating because you never know when he's listening or what he's picking up on. His ability to multi-task is uncanny.
So far, what I like about this book is that it doesn't beat me up. It states more than once that "you're not the only parent ever to harbor a few horrid impressions of a spirited child." She lists emotions shared by other parents---fear, confusion, resentment, shame, embarrassment, exhaustion, and anger---and states very accurately that, "if you have experienced these emotions, you have [likely] not found a friend to share them with. You've kept them to yourself." Yes. She's right. It's hard to admit that I constantly feel like a failure. That I'm constantly wonder what I'm doing wrong and why I can't figure out how to raise my child. All of this insecurity and constant battling leads to so much negativity that I find myself taking it own on my child. I snap. I yell. I avoid. That's awful and the guilt that comes with that is enormous. It's a vicious cycle and one I am constantly aware of and worn out by. I imagine being the kind of mother that could pack up the car and drive away. Alone.
And if you don't think that's hard to admit.....
And all of that comes from just the first 30 pages. Already I feel more connected and less alone on this journey of raising a spirited child. I know that I'm not crazy. That Ethan is uniquely different. I know that there is hope for this child and that maybe I'm not a total failure. Maybe I'm losing some battles, but maybe I can still win the war. And I know that the same traits that drive me mad now are the very traits that will help Ethan navigate the adult world. He's inspired, strong-willed, opinionated, determined, exuberant and a whole host of other things that will serve him well. And while I may not have a group of moms that can understand what it means to have a spirited child, at least I can be comforted by the knowledge that I do and that he doesn't fit within the confines of the box. Would I really want him to?