Monday, March 28, 2011

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

"These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." (Deuteronomy 6:6-9, NIV)

I know you'll be shocked to hear this, but I often find myself frustrated and exasperated by my children's behavior. Too often I feel inadequate as a mother, wondering if they are learning a thing I've taught them or practiced with them at home.

Right after Christmas we undertook a project that we had been waiting to accomplish for 10 years -- We built out our basement. My husband hired one of his water-skiing buddies, Darren*, along with his partner, John, to take on the huge task of constructing a bedroom, bathroom, office and family room. The kids instantly took to Darren and John, and got in the middle of what they were doing at ever turn.

At the time we had begun the basement project, we were also putting a new IEP (Individualized Education Plan) in place for our youngest. Having received a new official diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder (both sensory seeking AND avoidant) along with social deficits in addition to her ADHD we had some major modifications to make. Especially challenging is the fact that she is allergic to all medications available to treat ADHD. Nevertheless, we worked with the school to begin managing her blurting out, storytelling (ie lies), excessive activity level and staying on task. At home, we were trying to decrease her impulsive hitting in response to dislikes while also increasing her siblings' sensitivity to her challenges. This was no small task!

Ironically, the building project was a physical mirror to encourage me with what we were and continue enduring. These kids are under construction! Just like Darren & John first had to frame the basement out, we've set in place a framework for our kids. We can trust in the solidity of that framework because it's based on God's wisdom and not our own. And without it, nothing else we do could be properly held in place.

But the construction doesn't end there. Raising our children only begins with the framework. Many, many details have to be attended to each step along the way, just as they were in our basement. Today it might be the plumbing (Special needs parents laughably often find THAT a source of frustration, in the literal sense!), tomorrow it might be the wiring, the next day it might be the drywall. Whatever it may be, that activity, experience or situation is a key component of the overall construction of our children's character.

One metaphor occurred during our basement construction that was especially powerful to me as a parent. Everyone knows how much people in the trades hate doing the mudding and sanding of drywall. Darren and John were no different. And I'm sure it didn't help when they emerged from the basement covered in drywall dust only to be laughed at by our kids and called Santa Claus by our youngest! The amount of detail and effort they had to put forth in every seam was astonishing to me. But after they had finished to their satisfaction and the walls had been painted, Darren was disturbed by one seam that was still too obvious for his liking. I gave him a hard time because he obsessed about it to the point where he almost came back on the weekend just to fix it. And the only way he was going to have any peace was to meticulously sand that seam again so it didn't show.

How very much like us as parents! People can assure us that are kids are doing great, that they're polite and well-behaved, but we know better. It still sticks out like a sore thumb to us. Children seem to save every bad behavior for and test every boundary at home. We parents see how many rough edges they still need sanded out, and we give it great attention. And like our perfectionist friend, we will have no peace until we get that worked out in these precious kids.

The next time you get discouraged, like I too often do, remember that these little lives that have been entrusted to our care are "under construction". They are a work in progress. And if frustrations come even to the best of builders, they will come to us as parents as well. But if we keep at it with attention to detail, resting if we must, but not giving up, our work will result in a beautiful structure just like the work of a master contractor.


*A special THANK YOU to the Ratzow Co for their outstanding work and patience with our not-so-typical family! E-mail us at snappin.ministries@gmail.com for contact information if you would like to speak to them about help with your construction project in Southeastern Wisconsin.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Be Care Little Ears What You Hear!

You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. (Colossians 3:7-10, NLT)

My son's fifth grade teacher has a reward program for her students called "Parra Bucks" (named thus after the teacher).  When the children accomplish certain goals, engage in positive behaviors and get their work done, they earn these Para Bucks.  However, when they have infractions of various kinds, they lose those Parra Bucks.  This has great impact in that the students are allowed to spend those rewards each Friday afternoon at her "store" which is full of a wide variety of tchotchkes to delight every kid.

One recent school day, my son left school deflated.  When I asked him what had happened, he revealed that he had lost his first Parra Buck in class that day.  (I thought that was pretty decent for being three-quarters of the way through the school year!)  He also confessed that he had lost the buck because he had blurted out a certain expletive in frustration.  Unfortunately, it was an expletive he had heard at home...  from ME!

A dear, godly friend of mine, Margo Fieseler often challenges both myself and other ladies in our Bible study with the reminder, What spills out of you when life bumps into you?  Ouch!  That is always a powerful admonition to me!  And when my son came home with his aforementioned infraction, those words came to mind once again.

You see, good or bad, we are our children's main instructors.  It is a proven fact that our kids will do what they see us do and say what they hear us say.  While we often relinquish responsibility to schools and church programs, the majority of their life is spent with their primary caregiver(s).  We're the ones who teach them to walk, to talk, to dress themselves, to problem-solve.  Learning right from wrong originates with us, no matter what the cognitive or social abilities of our children are. 

That being said, we can make a deliberate decision.  Do we want to reflect God's glory?  Or do we want to stand in dark contrast to it?  Do we want our children to be a positive influence on everyone they come into contact with?  Or do we want people to greet our children with a sense of dread?  What sort of future adults do we want to leave behind?

Once we have answered those questions, a new one arises.  How do we get it done?  It starts as with everything, by spending daily quiet time in God's word and prayer.  It's during that time that we learn what the Lord wants us to look like and confess our frailties to Him.  We grow to know Him, his ways and his good desires for our lives by reading about those who have gone before us.  We have His commands hidden in our heart.  And we gain discernment and wisdom.  But it doesn't end there, because we're human.  We must also ask for the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us, to take over, create new habits and strengthen us.  Practicing these skills will also make them habit to us.  So when life bumps into us, good spills out more often than not.

Watching what we say or do becomes less problematic when we have given ourselves over to being conformed more the likeness of Christ.  Letting of go of those bad habits and less-than-favorable behaviors will probably take us the remainder of our days on earth.  But moving in the right direction in ever-increasing measure should be our goal.  And when it is, we can feel better about how we are managing the little eyes and ears that are on us, even at times when we are unaware.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Working Against Each Other

"It's better to have a partner than go it alone.  Share the work, share the wealth.  And if one falls down, the other helps, But if there's no one to help, tough!  Two in a bed warm each other.  Alone, you shiver all night.  By yourself you're unprotected.  With a friend you can face the worst.  Can you round up a third?  A three-stranded rope isn't easily snapped."  (Ecclesiastes 4:9-11, MSG)

Recently, my husband and I have begun some remodeling projects on our house.  As the remodeling in one area was completed, all three of our children began to relocate into another bedroom.  Before they could be moved, each bedroom needed to be painted.  While I was fine with doing most of the painting, some physical issues rendered me in need of help on the final bedroom.  I worked on the edging while my husband did the second coat of paint on the ceiling.  I had asked him to work on the opposite side of the room that I was painting on so that we wouldn't get in one another's way, but alas, he didn't listen.  To his detriment, he relocated the foot of his ladder right in my tray of red paint.  And it suddenly occurred to me that we were working against each other rather than being a competent team.

I'm sure you can identify with this story I share.  No marriage is exempt from these sorts of conflicts.  And how many times do we work against each other as parents?  Dad says "yes".  Mom says "no".  Mom questions the doctors.  Dad prefers not to make waves.  Dad wants the kids to gain skills for independent living.  Mom overprotects.

What do we accomplish when we work in this fashion?  Our results are probably not unlike the ones I describe with the painting experience!  We become tied in knots over how to proceed with raising the children, educating them, getting medical care and preparing them for adult life.  Not only that, when our children see us working against one another as parents, it ruins our credibility with them.  We fail to provide stability.  We no longer make sense.  We certainly don't look like we know what we're doing.

So how do we overcome this obstacle that every marriage faces?  Here are a few ideas:
  • Make God the "third" in your marriage! -- Praying together softens your spirits so that you more readily listen to one another and work together.  The Lord also imparts wisdom to couples who lift everything up to Him in prayer.  And, as the above passage states, that three-stranded cord is not easily broken!
  • Decide, what are your "hills to die on". -- As a twosome, you must realize that you can't always have your own way 100% of the time.  Pick the issues that you absolutely cannot compromise on, and honor those issues your partner shares as well.
  • If you come to an impasse, meet with an outside party. -- A marriage counselor, educator or even physician can help you and your spouse reason to a point where one of you compromises.  Facts presented by an outside third party can make for much better decision-making.
  • Define your position away from the children. -- When an issue presents itself, commit to discussing it when the children are not within earshot.  Coming to a unified decision and presenting a united front to the children will only help strengthen your family.
  • Support one another when the kids try to divide you. -- It's the oldest play in the book.  Your child gets one answer he doesn't like from you and attempts to get a different answer from your spouse.  When in doubt, speak with your spouse, and make certain that your children know that whatever your partner says, stands.
  • Be flexible. -- Parenting and family life are not a static, even experience.  Adapting to changing times and circumstances are essential to overall happiness.  When new information becomes available, it may bear making some adjustments.  Do so willingly, without having to be dragged into changes.
  • Be willing to humble yourself and apologize. -- Try as we might to get all of this right, in our humanity, we fail.  I would say that I fail daily!  Humility accompanied by an apology goes a long way towards healing a marriage and strengthening a family.  Holding grudges only turns things toxic in short order.
Hopefully, just these few ideas will make small improvements as you attempt to work as a team of two raising your children!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

An SPD/ADHD Vacation

"Every good action and every perfect gift is from God." (James 1:17, NCV)

Any of us who take a vacation with a child who has special needs know that it can be no vacation at all for we, their caregivers.  And our family's recent vacation to enjoy North America's largest cross-country ski race, The American Birkebeiner, was no exception.  Making accommodations for our young daughter with sensory processing disorder and ADHD was especially challenging.

First, begin with packing.  We need to make sure that this child can wear layers of clothes that won't drive her crazy during our many snow-centered activities.  Do we have socks that aren't scratchy but will keep her warm during our hours outdoors?  How about things that will help her with fidgeting or keep her attention during the trip?  Oh, and don't forget the Epi-Pen and the inhaler!  She'll need two swimsuits as well because one will have to be drying while the other is in use -- She'd never stand for putting on a damp swimsuit.  It's a miracle I can fit it all in one suitcase!

Next, consider the car ride.  This is five of the longest hours of our lives, hoping to keep peace between our youngest and her two older siblings.  Being both sensory seeking and avoidant, she can barely keep herself from smacking her brother next to her while she complains of certain smells in the car.  I ponder if I've brought enough low-sugar snacks and stimulating items to keep her content until our arrival at the hotel.  Thank God, she falls asleep for a bit because sitting still for such an extended period without perpetual motion is nothing short of a miracle for her.  When she's awake, we hear the same question at least every 30 minutes, "How long until we get there?"

By the time we reach the hotel, this is a nightmare, not a vacation!  She's cleverly worn one of her swimsuits under her clothes.  So while we're still trying to carry luggage into the room, she's trying to escape unsupervised to the indoor pool.  Free of her four-wheeled prison, she doesn't hesitate to slap or scream to get her way with the beds or TV in our hotel room.  Everyone is tired and at their limits of tolerance, so there's a chorus of complaining and anger.  At this point, the beer we brought along with us is looking mighty attractive to me!

But God is a God of mercy and unanticipated gifts, so a surprise blessing arrives that evening.  I grant our daughter's curious wish to visit the workout room adjacent to the pool area.  There we find everything a girl with these disorders needs to become manageable.  I stay with her as she tries out the elliptical trainer and the treadmill.  While she's always been an excellent athlete, I'm shocked at how quickly she picks up the rhythm and speed of running on the treadmill.  After she's gotten her heart rate up with every piece of cardiovascular equipment is in the room, she discovers the joy of weight-lifting.  Pushing, pulling, lifting and straining with her arms and legs are just what this child needs!  Her eyes twinkle as we get some water to finish off our workout, and she's far more agreeable to be with for the remainder of the night.

The following morning I don't even have to think twice when she asks to go work out with me during my daily routine.  Although two other visitors arrive while we're exercising, I feel no need to explain why my proud eight-year-old is running on the treadmill.  I sweat while she bounces from machine to machine.  This is just enough to keep her out of trouble until we head into town for her 1K ski race.

Between the pool, skiing and that fitness center, this little girl thrives.  I am so very grateful for the resources I was willing to explore for her while we were on this trip.  There is no doubt that a child like this requires extra grace, but knowing what her needs are and what may meet those needs helps calms everyone's nerves, including hers!  Keeping her attention through new, fun experiences brings more enjoyment.  And recognizing that she has proprioceptive demands that can be met no matter where we are, simply by thinking outside the box, normalizes the vacation time in a strange sort of a way.

What a gift to have some alternate tools on our vacation!  Especially since, in my hurried packing, I forgot the weighted blanket!