Having objective feedback from other caring individuals was invaluable to me— a mom with anger issues who was often unsure of herself.Gratitude spills all over when I think of everything I learned from my Parents Anonymous group members. They taught me how to communicate better with my children, which issues were important and how to approach the school with different issues. I also learned how not to do some things and that can sometimes be as important as getting immunizations or learning how to teach them about the birds and the bees.
Meet four inspiring parents who helped me bring up Chelsey and Katie:
Elaine arrived to our group quietly but when she began to tell us of the issues she was dealing with it would grab you by the throat and pull you by heartstrings. She and her husband adopted three little charmers who filled their lives with love, family and nightmares!
Elaine often said, “These children just like anyone else’s— these happen to have issues but they still belong to me.”
That is where ordinary family life ended and the roller coaster ride began. A doctor once told Elaine that each of her children should have been an only child because that was the amount of energy, patience and stamina it required to parent them. Saying they were not easy would be a gross understatement.
Elaine’s oldest, a daughter, was diagnosed with an attachment disorder and high-functioning Asperger’s Syndrome. Her daughter was very bright and artistically talented. She also had extreme sensitivities to things like clothing size tags or labels and lines on the toes of socks. She could scream for hours on end for no apparent reason. Simply asking her to choose her clothing could be a trigger or perhaps having a test in school that day could set into a screaming fit at home. Because of the non-stop screaming there was an underlying fear of being reported to child protective services. The daily stress was incredible. Once her daughter would go out the front door she would look and act like any other child; her school teachers did not see any problems.
The two boys would show different kinds of mental health issues at different times. One was mentally unable to connect an act of misbehavior to a consequence at any time in his life. This meant he was almost always in trouble at home, in school and then later on with the law; he also had great difficulty maintaining employment. I’m not sure if the other son ever received a diagnosis; he began his teens as a perfect child but eventually went against everything he learned from parents, school and his faith shortly after.
What did Elaine teach me? It’s simple really – Elaine taught me that whatever my problems were, it could have been worse… much worse. When Elaine was in group, I went home grateful for the problems that I did have. I so admired Elaine’s fortitude as she dealt with each problem with immeasurable grace and acceptance. I think all the members would agree that she stands as a role model for parents everywhere. We all are much better for having her example; today I would tell Elaine, ‘Thank you.’
Grace was the kind of mom the rest of us wished we could emulate. Some parents put their hopes and dreams on hold while their children were small to focus on raising their children— not Grace. She seemed to manage the house and family needs and still keep on top of her own plans. You could almost hear Grace saying, “Oh, and I have kids too.” She was certainly focused!
During one meeting she was talking about her daughter who was two years younger than her son. Grace said her daughter was being a “crybaby” and complaining about her older brother “picking on her.” Grace blew off the incidents as ordinary “sibling rivalry” but some of us were very uncomfortable. Members inquired and it seemed to be happening any time she left the children at home alone together.
There was something to be said for ignoring sibling squabbles but when you have repeated complaints from your nine-year-old daughter telling you that her brother is “messing with” her— you have a problem. Neither child is twelve – the generally accepted age at which a parent can leave a child home alone. The other key piece of information was that it happens repeatedly and only when parents are out.
What did I learn from Grace? I learned not to stick my head in the sand and to listen to my daughters. My older brother abused me repeatedly when our parents were attending various functions and would be gone for a specific amount of time. Was I reading a lot into the incidents with Grace’s children? Absolutely… her daughter used some of the exact same words that I used in asking my mother for help— so yes, I was reading into it.
As a parent we don’t ever want to think one child would abuse another but it does happen. Teaching love and respect early can help prevent abuse but so can a parent’s supervision. Often we think our children have skills beyond their developmental age but leaving kids home alone without proper supervision is risky and can be dangerous.
We referred to Hilda affectionately as “our Grandmother.” She came to our group when her granddaughter was displaying out-of-control behaviors that could result in dire lifelong consequences. Her daughter, the girl’s mother, was seeking help in other areas but Hilda felt she needed help for herself as the grandmother. A few of the members had teens her granddaughter’s age and some of our youngest members that were the same age were able to give information and a place to vent the issues.
Hilda had much to offer everyone and with interesting perspectives on parenting, often comparing it to raising her prized show dogs. We often laughed but Hilda made a lot of sense, her parenting and grandmothering were beyond reproach. Hilda spoke her mind and shared her wisdom and life-lessons freely; she was kind and straightforward.
During one meeting a new member showed us a wooden spoon and explained how she used it on her eighteen-month-old toddler. I had already briefed her about Parents Anonymous and the non-violence stand but it was more than I could take. I blurted out something about using the spoon on her and she took offence. I apologized immediately but it seemed that I was only digging the hole deeper. If the mother wanted to know how hard and how long you had to hit a two-year-old in order to get them to stop touching things, she obviously came to the wrong place.
At the next meeting everyone told me that I had said to the mom what everyone else was thinking. You just cannot get a two-year-old to do or not do anything! I felt awful that I blurted out what I was thinking because I knew – in time – the mother might have given up her wooded spoon, but I doubt it. She was a die-hard pro-spanker that was insulted when anyone said anything against spanking.
Hilda tried to reassure me by saying, “What’s on your lung is on your tongue.”
We all looked puzzled and I asked what she meant by the expression. She said it was an old Jewish expression used for some people who speak too quickly. She said, in a way it was a good thing because it showed I was honest but I spoke without thinking it through.
Hilda was right— I spoke from my emotions rather than taking my time to think it through. I made a mental note to try and curb, if not control, my tongue. Over the years I could tell you about some of my more embarrassing lung-to-tongue goofs but I would rather not. I can say that I am much better at holding my thoughts closer until I think things through.
So what did I learn from Hilda? Shut up, think first, zip the lip, put a sock in it, choke it, shut the trap, hold my tongue, dummy up, muzzle it or bite my tongue! A round of applause for Hilda!
Janie and her husband had three rambunctious boys to look after. They were a handful and the group members were always astonished at the boys’ inventiveness when it came to new antics. One morning after the boys became quiet Janie went to investigate. In the kitchen she discovered their two Labrador retrievers had been covered with margarine by the boys who ranged ages two to seven. The dogs were licking the boys and dog hair was everywhere! The boys could not stop giggling, even when Mom began to yell.
For Janie, taking care of the house and keeping up with those boys was exhausting. The boys kept her on her toes watching them, keeping them fed, schoolwork up-to-date and mountains of toys picked up. Janie had a hard time saying ‘no.’ ‘No’ was only a challenge to see who was stronger, Janie or the boys and the boys won most of the time.
One week she arrived at the meeting completely spent. The night before, one boy discovered his Gameboy was broken. He wanted another one and at first she said ‘no,’ but after he cried and begged she changed to “I will look on ebay tomorrow.” The promise of tomorrow was still not enough – he wanted it now – at 9:30 p.m. at night! All the group members were sitting on the edge of our seats waiting to see how she would get through this but you might have guessed it… she sent her husband Alberto to look for a Gameboy that late at night and it had to be a specific color.
Everything I had learned about instant gratification was true; we had talked about it in group many times. Evidently Janie, like many parents who hold out the hope that this time would be different, that this time the child would be made happy or pacified with an object. When peace comes at any price, if we ever give in, we only increase the price for the next time.
What did I learn from Janie? I learned that gratification comes from within. We cannot buy peace like we cannot buy happiness. I also learned that love should never be confused with money or things. They are not the same thing. I know Janie loved her children but look at all she sacrificed: peace, contentment, self-gratification, her energy, self-control, self-worth, money, etc. It is our job to teach our children. Can you tell me what you think Janie taught her sons?
I would love to hear from you, what do you think?
Jackie Saulmon Ramirez has served as a volunteer with Parents Anonymous® of New Jersey, Inc. for more than twenty years, giving and getting support. Find her at her contact page.