As parents, we always want to believe that the decisions we make throughout the day will provide the best possible outcomes for our children. So when someone comes along and tells us that we need to do things differently, it can feel like a huge blow our parenting ego and affect our decision-making moving forward.
My first meeting with my daughter’s former ABA therapist left me feeling incredulous and angry. I learned early on in our journey that therapists will tell you things you don’t want to hear about your parenting methods. “How dare this woman presume to know anything about me after one meeting,” I thought, “she doesn’t know my child like I do.”
Of course, the therapists do know my child – just in a different way. After that first meeting with the therapist, it took all I had to not call and cancel services. As time marched on, her advice and criticisms didn’t ease up, and I constantly fought the internal desire to fire her. But I didn’t, because the truth is, I had no clue how to handle certain situations, and I needed help. Did I follow everything she told me? No. Did I feel guilty for not doing everything she told me to do? No.
Every night, I go to bed asking myself if I have done enough for my daughter: am I giving her everything she needs to be successful? What have I done right? Wrong? I consider different therapies, research new programs, and question every decision I make. It’s exhausting. On top of all that, the advice and sometimes criticisms of her therapists play on repeat in my mind.
At one point, my daughter was receiving six hours of therapy a week from four different therapists, all of whom gave me instructions on how to do things – and how not to do things. I was constantly trying to compartmentalize all the information and make adjustments. The advice of therapists was a steady soundtrack in my mind: “She needs a sensory break”, “Don’t react”, “Stop anticipating her needs”, “Talk to her more often”, “Order the weighted blanket”. This advice dominated my thoughts, when all I wanted was to be her mom – not her therapist or case manager.
My daughter and I recently reconnected with her first speech therapist. We went for ice cream – she brought along her son and dog – and once we had our treats, we sat down outside to catch up. My daughter climbed all over the seats and onto the table before marching down the sidewalk and crawling into the shrubs. She hunted for sticks, she sang, and she approached strangers on nearby benches. It was impossible to have conversation when every other sentence out of my mouth was a plea for my daughter to come back or sit down or please listen.
Later, I heard from the speech therapist (of course), who said she needed to speak with me about “some things” and give me some advice. “Here we go again,” I thought. We have formed a friendship over the last few years and she has seen me through all the ups and downs of parenting and my personal life, so I knew that whatever she had to stay was coming from a place of good intentions, but I did have to steel myself for whatever advice was coming my way. She advised me that in certain situations I need to stop asking and start demanding my daughter do the things I need her to do. She explained that by asking her if she would do it, I was giving her a choice and some situations – like how to behave properly in a social situation – it isn’t a matter of “choice”.
No matter how often I hear it, and no matter who is saying it – it just doesn’t get easier to hear criticism. Their words always stay with me, long after they have been been spoken, their choir of voices echoing through my head as I try to sleep.
Whether or not I can “do this” is even a thought i’ve had on some of my worst nights – this whole parenting thing. It’s a ridiculous internal argument to have because of course I can and I am doing this parenting gig. I have supportive people cheering me on with their insight, tips, and suggestions.
And just like any successful athlete, actor, or business person, I need to stay receptive and open to the advice and wisdom of coaches and teachers along the way in order to be a successful parent. Does it mean I have to do everything they say? Of course not. But I will let go of my ego long enough to at least consider that there might be a better…or more effective way of doing things. It does take a village, after all.