Why did I do it? Because I actually had children.
One thing I know for sure is that when you have kids of your own, you toss all preconceived ideas about what you thought you would be like as a parent right out the window.
All of them. Trust me.
“I’ll never let my kid suck their thumb” I used to say.
Years later, I cried happy tears because Marley learned how to suck her thumb, which meant she was using her mouth for something that wasn’t screaming. If sucking her thumb meant she would be quiet for three minutes, I was all about it.
“I’ll never let my kid become a T.V. zombie.”
Years later, I put Nicholas’ favorite show on Netflix (Ask the Storybots) so I can make dinner and feed Marley at the same time without him throwing all of the Tupperware from the low cabinets down the stairs.
“My kid will only eat healthy, home-cooked meals.”
Yeah, right. We let him try ALL of the things.
“My kid is going to have a strict food and nap schedule.”
I mean, we try, and usually it goes alright, but no guarantees!
“I’m a teacher. I manage 20 kids at a time. My kids are going to be the best behaved kids out there.”
(Not pictured: my children being complete hellions).
Need I say more?
This is why whenever I hear someone say “When I’m a parent…” I just drown the rest out. They don’t even know what they don’t know! We are just out here surviving most of the time!
And they really don’t know what they would do if they had a child with special needs.
It isn’t really in the fantasy, is it? You don’t imagine that someday, you will be married, have children, and one of those children will have a medical diagnosis of some sort. You don’t see your family portrait containing a child with Down Syndrome, or in a wheel chair, etc. Our narcissistic brains just imagine ourselves smiling in a portrait with adorable, mini versions of ourselves, who are good at the same things that we are, and have the same flaws.
Let me tell you from experience, that when you get the news that your child has Down Syndrome, everything you thought you knew becomes completely irrelevant.
Suddenly, everything seems “delicate”. You aren’t considering what is best for “your child”, but more so wondering if it is best for “a child with Down Syndrome”. It was like he wasn’t the baby I thought I was going to have, but something fragile that I was in charge of protecting. It seems silly to even say that now, but that is how it felt.
It took me months to realize that this was not the mindset I needed to be in.
Fast forward a year or so…
At about one year old, Nicholas started doing some “naughty” behaviors. The first naughty behaviors are cute. SO cute. He would push us away, or do something after we said “no”, which he totally understood. He just wanted to do what he wanted to do. That’s when this face was born:
I call it “Dr. Mean Lips”. This is the face he makes whenever we say no to something that he wants to do. This is the face I get when I won’t let him dump my coffee out on the couch or throw my computer down the stairs (I know, I’m so mean).
The therapists were all excited, because developmentally, he was supposed to be a “brat” now and then at that age. And of course, us special needs moms are supposed to be happy when their kid is developmentally on track for something, right?
So, Nicholas started testing us. If we said “no, Nicholas!” he would put his hand on whatever he wasn’t supposed to be touching and give us the mean lips look. It was as if he were saying “oh, no to this? What are you going to do about it?”
Ok. This is it. This is the part where we have to start disciplining our child. Here we go.
Wait. How do we do that?
You are reading this because you follow this page, so you see the cuteness I am dealing with over here. Do you want to yell at this face?
You want to say no to that kid?
Yeah, neither do I most of the time.
Oh wait, I forgot, he has a disability. How do I discipline a child with a disability?
Am I supposed to be more delicate? Should I let him get away with more because he “doesn’t understand”?
This is the part where I go back in time and slap past Mary right in the kisser.
First of all, he does understand. Do not let him fool you. He knows he is being naughty, and he knows what “no” means.
Also, I would never want Nicholas to grow up thinking that he can misbehave and it will be okay because he has Down Syndrome. That is what I have in the back of my mind when I make decisions like this.
I have learned that Down Syndrome isn’t something we need to tip-toe around. It is just something that makes Nicholas different. I don’t need to second guess what behavior I think is right because of it.
I want him to know that he has to be aware of the low expectations that people might have of him because he has Down Syndrome, and that he needs to change their perceptions by being a kind and hard-working person.
So, back to present-day Mary. Although Dr. Mean Lips makes me want to crack up most of the time, I have to keep my straight face when I say NO, and I have to stick to my guns. I have not been considering Down Syndrome whatsoever when making disciplinary decisions, and neither has my husband. It is HARD, but he is our kid, no matter the chromosome count, and we want to do what is best for him. He and Marley are going to have the same behavior expectations!
Discipline is such a touchy subject among parents. People LOVE to judge other people about their decisions. Everyone thinks they have the secret potion to the well-behaved kid when their kid does something right. If there’s another kid acting up at a restaurant, people LOVE to say “wow, I would never let my kid do that”.
Here’s what I learned. You can’t really generalize these parenting “tips” to work for everyone, or even a large group of people. You have you have to gauge what works best for both you and your child. You have to be comfortable that what you are doing is best for your child AND meets all of your needs as a parent.
Sure, take in all of the advice. I definitely do. Nod and smile when you get the unsolicited parenting advice from random people. Try things, more than once. But, if they seem to work for everyone except you, you are not the weirdo, and I guarantee you are not alone. I have found that there is not a single parenting choice, aside from abuse of course, that I could ever judge because I do not know what it is like to be in their shoes!
Our journey of disciplining our children has begun, and I cannot wait to share it openly and shamelessly with you all. The baby years are leaving, and are being replaced by crazy toddler years faster than we imagined. We are in it! Buckle up, people!
There’s one more thing I used to say about my future parenting style, and it’s the only one I’ve stuck to.
“I will love my kids unconditionally. No matter what.”
That one is my favorite, and I am crushing it.