by Debra Delulio Jones, M Ed, Founder and Owner of Parent Intervention & Training
The barbecue sandwiches are stacked on the platter, the hungry crowd has lined up to fill their red, white and blue paper plates, and the smell of chlorine is dripping off the kids. The dinner blessing has been said thanking God for the men and women who served our country well and the privilege of our freedom we share to even enjoy this day.
Just as Momma unleashes the devourers to her kitchen, it starts... the epic meltdown!
It could be over NOTHING! I mean something as small as why he didn't get to go first in line, why are we having pulled pork instead of beef, or how come his new fidget spinner is white and his friend's is green.
Deep breathe! You try to hold it together knowing trauma is the driver of this train-wreck about to derail your fun-filled Memorial Day party.
As your guests begin to eat, you excuse yourself and attempt to keep the boiling over child on medium low. But the scene escalates despite your best calming strategies. Cussing, crying, and raging trumps the sounds of the Beach Boys playing on Pandora. You know if you could just get some food in him, the blood sugar will rise and reasoning can return, but you didn't catch it low enough to turn it around. Thankfully, this was not a scene at our home this year, but one similar could have occurred on many holidays throughout our parenting journey.
We talk often in Trauma-land about what to do about the child in crisis, but today let's talk about YOU - the Momma and Daddy who just had a huge scene hijack your well-panned event for family and friends. A scene you know so well you could have predicted the holes In the sheetrock and the thrown plate of yummies that you're wiping off the floor as you apologize to the in-law who now has barbecue sauce on her white swimsuit cover-up!
Family will never fully understand - as much as we try to explain the upstairs/downstairs brain. "How old is he now?' UGH! If I hear that one more time I'm going to spew! "Maybe you don't discipline him enough..." SERIOUSLY!!! You're thinking something along the lines of, REALLY?!?!?! Then why don't YOU take the next decade and see how that works out for you!
It not only hurts to have a child who suffers daily with the trauma of his past and the damage done to his brain, but it perhaps hurts even worse to feel judged for your parenting, especially since you've spent countless sleepless nights searching for answers on the internet, reading or watching everything you can get your hands on, and begging the God you trust for answers and healing.
You thought that maybe this holiday would be different.... He'd had some good days and you strategized like preparing for war with fidgets and snacks and a sensory gym in your backyard, for Pete's sake! You are doing your part, but it never seems like enough.
How do we as parents cope with the constant disappointment of well-laid plans gone South? Like Taco Bell, heading South of the Border SOUTH!
We've coined a new phrase as we see things getting heated in working with kiddos and parents, "You can turn this around! Not going to Taco Bell today. Breathe so this doesn't go South of the Border!"
Sometimes our playful tone can disarm the fear that drives the simmering, soon-to-be meltdown. But when we missed it, caught it too late, or for whatever reason that meltdown didn't follow suit and tame when we used our calming strategies tool box, how do we have the stamina to not just head to Taco Bell right along with 'em?
Here's a few reminders you probably already know:
1) This is not about me. His trauma is not about me or my need to have a flawless party. I have a special needs son who lives moment by moment with the scars of trauma. They are invisible scars to the untrained eye, but they are there. They will arise at the most inopportune times.
I am his Momma. I will meet his needs and do my best to prevent behavioral escalation, but his brain is still developing, healing, and overcoming, and I will not diffuse them all.
2) I must ask for what I need. If I need the crowd to step out to remove the audience factor, I must ask. If I need a few minutes to regroup once it's over so I don't cuss like a sailor and call my child names he doesn't deserve to my sympathetic guests, I must take the time to let my whacko neurochemicals come back down.
If I need to take my child to a quiet place to reassure him once it's over, I must excuse myself for a while. If I need my cousin to serve dessert, I will ask her to do just that. Healthy people ask for help. That's a behavioral script I use on myself just as often as I teach the kiddos.
3) I can't pretend this will all go away magically. A child or adult with a permanent disability such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has a disability that causes behavioral escalations and lack of emotional regulation. Period!
This is not a behavior problem such as willful or spoiled kid stuff. My friends and family either understand or they don't, but I must stay in reality. Things will happen. Over and over again. This won't be the last family gathering that will be derailed.
I can prepare, but I can't prevent everything. I must know what I'm dealing with and come to a level of acceptance. That was so hard for me. It involved much grief and loss. Loss of dreams I had for him; dreams I had for me; dreams I had for our family's future. Grief is brutal, but it is part of a hard parenting journey.
4) I must view meltdowns as a moment in time. Because it is exactly that. That moment might be an hour, but it is in the big scheme of things a moment in time. I can either bitch and moan about how he ruined our event or I can reset my mind, yoga style, and get back to my party when my child and I are calm. In fact, the best thing I can do for my child is get back on track.
If I can be the bigger person (and trust me - this took years to grasp and I still screw up sometimes), but if I can show unconditional love and forgiveness and get back to a place of joy after a full-blown Taco Bell SOUTH interruption, I model for my child that he can get back on track too.
We can be mindful and think about our thinking. Then realize we have a choice even about what we choose to allow our thoughts to dwell on.
5) I need validation and to express my feelings. This is so much to deal with so I have a trusted friend or family member I can spill my guts to when I need to make sense of what happened. The whole party doesn't need to hear my deepest fears for our future or my temporary desire to disown my child who I just secretly called a really ugly name behind his back!
I need someone to feel what it feels like, but I don't expect everyone in my circle or on social media to bear the weight of this burden. They don't and really can't understand because they aren't living it TWENTY-FOUR/SEVEN!
Quite honesty, it is more than most people can handle and so they react, they defend us, they ill-advise, and try to protect us which isn't always the right answer for our special needs child or our family. And they haven't practically earned an unofficial PhD in trauma and the brain in search of answers. My soul-mate friend can understand, and she is there. You might need two or three of these because let's face it, it is a lot of "heavy" to put on someone.
When my reset is done, at the end of the day or maybe the week or could be longer - I choose love. I choose safety, both physical and emotional safety. I choose commitment to my family.
And on a really good reset, I choose thankfulness. Miss Karyn always said, "Have an attitude of gratitude" to Dane. Wonder if she knew how much she was really teaching me....
How do you reset after a holiday disappointment?
P.S. Don't forget the red, white, and blue wrapped chocolates. They aren't just for the yum and the fun; the serotonin boost is for YOU!
P.S.S. Need time for a big "reset?" Join us in beautiful Lake City, CO on July 13 -16th.