Sunday, May 25, 2014

Parent of a Hitter by Rachel Nemhauser

Seven years ago at a weekly playgroup Nate hauled off and hit another child.  He had done it before and would go on to do it again, but this time was noteworthy because this time the child's mom got mad.  She may have raised her voice at Nate and she definitely turned her back on me when I tried to apologize and explain. Embarrassed, tongue-tied and frustrated, I slunk out of the room and went home, once again mourning the loss of the typical life I thought I'd have before Nate came along.

Being the parent of a hitter (or a biter, spitter, scratcher, hair puller, etc)  is really hard.  It means never allowing yourself to be more than an arm's lengthy away from your child.  It means constantly apologizing and trying to explain.  It means few playdates and even fewer friends. Even the most compassionate and understanding parents will react if their child is getting hurt. Most will force a smile and pretend they're fine with it, but it's obvious they're not.  A few will take their kids and leave.  One over-protective father might threaten to call the police (actually happened to me). In the case of the mom from seven years ago, she requested that Nate not be allowed to come back to the playgroup. Ouch.

This was a first for me.  Nate wasn't wanted.  A member of my community had proposed that this small part of the world would be better without my child.  My heart broke, but something else happened too: I gained a mission. I knew my sanity and Nate's success relied on our ability to be a part of the world, and I knew that the world would be better with Nate included in it.

We went back to the playgroup and I worked 10 times harder to ensure Nate behaved and played safely.  I redoubled my efforts to find recreational activities for preschoolers with disabilities.  I started writing about Nate in an effort to educate our community about his strengths and challenges, and to ensure people saw him as a whole person who just happened to be developmentally disabled.

For years I avoided the mom who got mad, although we ran in the same circles and came in contact with each other regularly.  We never talked about what happened, but I continued to do what I could to make sure Nate safely and meaningfully fit in with the crowd. I never forgot my hurt feelings, but as the years went on the wound was less raw, my feelings less bruised.  I was able to understand that at her core she was another mother lion, as powerfully devoted to defending her cub as I was to defending mine.

Over time something interesting happened: We got to know each other. We are both parents in the same small community. Our kids may not share developmental challenges but as parents we share a passion for raising gentle, loving and safe kids. We have similar backgrounds and values, and even overlapping views on how to raise great children.  When she was worried about the developmental delays of one of her children, she asked me for advice.  When I needed to hire someone for a job, I hired her.  I couldn't have predicted it, but we were becoming friends.

Two weeks ago, long after I stopped expecting or needing one, I received an emailed apology in my inbox. The mom who once literally turned her back on me said she has long regretted that interaction seven years ago, and that she learned so much from watching Nate and I non-confrontationally face the challenges around us.  Interestingly, she admitted she probably would have written me off long ago if I had been more aggressive in my reaction to her behavior, and that it was my patience and kindness that won her over!

I am blown away by her courage to apologize for something that happened so many years ago, and her willingness to allow room within herself to learn and grow.  I'm also gratified to know that because of my own hurt and grief I've been able to live my life in a way that leads by example.  For me there is no room for nastiness, aggression, retribution or hatred.  Instead, I've learned that living my life kindly, compassionately and honestly will always be what is best for Nate.  And that's all this Mama Lion could ask for.

1 comment:

  1. Rachel, this is such a poignant and wonderful story. Everyone, parent or not, learns how to respond to others. Social interactions can be very complicated. Factor in new Moms with their toddlers and you have a setting fraught with fun and some peril. Children aren't born knowing any social customs. It is the parents' job to teach the appropriate interactions.
    Children in a "play" group can be similar to dogs at a dog park. There's the initial caution as the children survey the terrain. Usually there is a toy that one child will pick up. And suddenly other children take notice and desire the same one. Negotiations begin with little hands reaching for the toy. Tears, hitting, pushing may ensue until an adult steps in. Peacemaking happens and harmony is restored.

    The challenge comes when the adults project their emotions onto the child and create a story about motives and intentions. Not everyone parents in the same way. Some have a higher tolerance for wrestling and rolling around. Others prefer coloring or other crafts. Part of the purpose of play groups is to introduce children to new experiences and people. It is also a learning experience for the parents.

    I wish I could say that I always reacted with the best and highest good when my children were "the" problem in the group. My feelings got hurt, i got angry and I cried when my child was being ostracized. But I learned along the way and grew. My children became better for their experiences. And our conversations about appropriate behavior were enlightening. I would never have learned that my son bit the other boy because he had the same name and my son felt he would lose his name to this other child!

    As parents, we love our children so much and want to do right by them. We can learn so much as we move through our children's development. It is a rare and wonderful gift to treat each other with love and compassion along the way..even if it takes 7 years to realize the lesson we needed to learn.