Mommy, I’m itching, change my shirt. Again.
There are too many people here, I just want to go home!
I don’t like the movies…or the toilet flushing, or the hair dryer, or the police sirens, or sound of that man’s voice, or…fill in the blank. It’s too loud!
Commence hour long tantrum.
Ah, a day in the life of my four year old son.
Before he found the words to express himself, I chalked my sweet boy’s behavior up to normal toddler antics. One moment he was happy, the next he was screaming bloody murder and running around in circles, little hands tightly covering his ears. I didn’t search for a pattern to his mood swings. My first time as a mother, it never occurred to me to even look for one. But, as he’s gotten older, and better able to communicate, I’ve found myself wondering if there is more to his spicy personality.
So, of course, like any responsible parent, I turned to the internet for answers. And, apparently typing all the right buzzwords, my hits kept returning to one thing: Sensory Processing Disorder, a disorder that affects thousands of children and their families.
Some of the information read like it had been written specifically about my son. And, after a particularly hard day, I was convinced he had SPD, if only on the low end of the spectrum. Desperate for answers, and feeling like a failure as a parent, I needed something concrete to explain it all away.
Admittedly, I’ve found myself wishing my sweet boy has something…something diagnosable…to explain away the frequent anxiety he exhibits at times. You see, I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression my entire life, and my worst fear is that I’ll pass this burden onto my children.
The thought of this tears me in two.
So, without telling my he’s just doing what kids do husband, I made an appointment with our pediatrician to try and get some answers. I wrote down everything I could think of that wasn’t normal (ha! what is normal?), left the boy at home, and went in for the diagnosis that would change everything!
I was quick to tell the doctor that I wasn’t looking for a way to change my child, but a way to change myself, and how I reacted to him. I love and accept all of him, even if at times it means I end up locking myself in the bathroom and sobbing, or yelling at him, or drinking too much wine, in an effort to cope with my perceived shortcomings as a parent.
After listening patiently to my very frustrated ramble, our pediatrician explained to me that he didn’t think anything I’d told him fell much out of the range of typical four year old behavior. After a few but-but-buts from me, we moved on to my kid’s poor sleep habits.
For the past year, I’ve fallen asleep next to him. Then, he wakes up a few hours later, finds me gone, and flips out. He gets so unnerved, unhinged, and pissed off, that it can take up to an hour to calm him down. He’s up and down, all night long, and there are stand-offs and shouting matches at three in the morning.
It’s as lovely as it sounds.
My doctor continued, “I definitely think his poor sleep is related to his behavior.”
AH-HA! I knew it! Sensory Processing Disorder interferes with sleep! I read it on the internet!
“It can. But, that’s not exactly what I mean here. Let me ask you, how do you cope with things after a poor night’s rest?”
Well, I usually yell at people, honk my horn a lot, eat too much junk, cry randomly, lose my shit, and run around my house screaming. Ohhhhhh….
We came to the conclusion, that rather than having Sensory Processing Disorder, there’s a chance he’s just a really sensitive kid who’s not getting enough sleep. In turn, he lacks the coping skills needed to deal with the everyday.
So, why can’t he sleep, then? Possibly, because of something called Sleep Onset Insomnia, or Behavioral Insomnia of Childhood. In non-medical jargon, it’s all my fault. Basically, he’s conditioned to fall asleep only when I’m beside him. I’ve become his security blanket, if you will, his pacifier, and rocking chair.
Is it possible he falls somewhere on the SPD spectrum? Yes. But, we need to find out how he handles himself with a good night’s sleep, before we go there.
He may always be a little shy around large groups of people. When he’s ten years old, I might still need to arrive early for the birthday party, before things get too loud and chaotic. And that’s OK. He is who he is!
But, I need to give him the tools to be the best that he can be, and feel the best he can feel.
So, this means one of two things: I either let him fall asleep in my bed every night, and accept the fact that I’m a co-sleeper. Or, teach him to self-soothe and fall asleep on his own.
As of now, I’m at an impasse. Part of me wants to have my bed and my sleep all to myself again. The other part of me can’t bear the thought of doing what needs to be done, to help him sleep confidently, and on his own. A heaping portion of tough love, with a side of crying it out.
Oy! This parenting stuff is such a tough balancing act.
Does he have Sensory Processing Disorder, or he is sensitive like his mama? Or, is he just flat out exhausted?
Is his dependance on me screwing him up in the long-run? Or will crying it out screw him up even more?
Isn’t it my job, as his mother, to be there for him even when it’s inconvenient for me? Or, is it my job to teach him how to better help himself?
I don’t have answers to any of this. I second-guess my parenting at least twice a day. But, I do know that no matter what, I’ll love, embrace, and proudly accept him…and put my focus on expanding my knowledge, to meet who he is.
And, that gives me just enough confidence in my parenting to sleep well at night.
I mean, as well as one can sleep with a four year old’s foot in their ass.