Mental health food for thought.. - by Christy Smith

Published on 28 February 2022 at 20:27

While shopping recently, I noticed a mother hurrying through the store. I could hear a small child crying his eyes out. He wanted this, and he wanted that.  He was in a mood that could not be satisfied. As a mother, with a child that struggles to regulate, I knew that it didn't matter what he was given. He could not bring himself together, even while clutching the bag of M&Ms that his mother had frantically thrown into his hands.  I recognize she was doing everything she could to temporarily restore order in the store. I could see her trying to keep cool in the heat, with all eyes on her. Likewise, I have been here far too many times. The M&Ms did not work, he did not calm down, and momma felt she would run out of options. I knew she was in a panic before her shopping came to an abrupt halt as she darted out the door. 


   This little boy could have been a special needs child or not. Does it matter? No. He could have been tired and simply needed a nap. He may have been unregulated because it was the holidays. Typically, young children learn these coping skills as they grow to start at a young age.  However, some people, such as myself, require a great deal of assistance in adjusting to these skills. As special needs mothers, we understand how important consistent routines, patience, and understanding are for our children. The holidays disrupt the balance and are likely to throw our child into a whirlwind.  This will put us in a situation similar to hers, if not worse.  Many of us mothers with easily unregulated children become prisoners at home. As for me, I am at a point in my son's life where I understand his needs. I understand that this type of behavior is normal in response to seasonal changes or life stressors. Over time, I have learned how to make it easier. Yet, nothing is perfect.  Whatever the cause, I was familiar with the list of possibilities because it had been my normal and daily life for the previous 12 years. Everywhere I went, I felt compelled to isolate myself in order to hide our "normal."   A life most people can not even imagine.  


   I was fully aware of her sense of shame and embarrassment.  I spoke to her, hoping to calm her down.  I blurted out, "It is okay, it is a mom thing. You do not need to panic."  I wanted to say more, but I knew her panic was so intense that she did not hear me. She did not slow down. I hoped she could somehow feel better. I just wanted to say, "I get it."  It would be reassuring for me to know that someone "got it" during my darkest moments. This made me think deeply.  What needs to change? 


I, like many other special needs parents, understand that you cannot control your child's mood. Every child has their own mind. Imagine that. We teach our children to mature and become self-sufficient individuals. We want them to think for themselves and complete tasks on their own.  So they are bawling their eyes out in a store, trying to work through the unknown reasons and feelings that are too much for them right now in this vast world of wants, needs, and crazy confusion, and THEN we quiet them.  For what, a child being normal? A child learns to do all the things we start teaching them at an early age.  Are they not allowed to feel and work through their emotions?   Isn't that teaching them to now suppress it? Does that line of thought contradict itself?  Buddy, suppress your feelings because others do not want to hear you cry, right? 


  Unfortunately, our society is too quick to pass judgment on parental behavior.  We are bad parents because our children cry, throw tantrums, or cause a big scene. Our children cry in public; our reactions indicate that they are doing something wrong.  Not every tantrum a child throws is the result of a caregiver's skills.  This appears to be the first thought of most people. We, as caregivers, run around afraid of being judged while teaching our children to be silent around other people or in public places. This could be one of the reasons why things are going wrong in the world.   Today, as a society, we wonder why our children are struggling with mental health issues or attempting suicide.  However, we have unknowingly taught them to suppress.   


  It is acceptable to let your child cry in public and be a part of this world. It's not okay to feel like you have to hide with every tantrum and scream that your child lets out.  False perfectionism is at the root of our problems. It's created all over social media and even in everyday life.  I, for one, lived by the motto "fake it till I make it," only to crash and burn as a special needs mom.  We keep our sadness, shame, guilt, loneliness, and other emotions hidden from our families, friends, and the rest of the world. This is a contributing factor to the isolation and silence surrounding what is more important than ever for our world to learn and understand. As a society, we confuse and shut down our children.  Mental health should be normalized for all ages, and learning to regulate is part of that. It is fine to go shopping and live your life even if you have a hiccup. It is acceptable to go to a restaurant while your child is having a tantrum.  It is okay to be normal.  Everyone goes through it; some simply have more hiccups. This is the TRUE part of life of all ages. Unfortunately, the "perfectly" very fake world that we have created is what makes mental health so difficult to talk about. We are suppressing the truth.  What is perfect? Who is perfect? The perfect world does not exist.  Why are we isolating one another?