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Wisdom I received about people who want to judge your parenting (A personal story)


About 16 years ago, as a School Social Worker, I worked with an Occupational Therapist named "Kim."  Kim was a single mom to a boy with nonverbal autism. She did not have it easy. Her ex-husband had significant mental health issues and was not equipped to deal with their son, even for short periods. She was doing this entirely on her own. I learned a lot through my conversations with Kim; perhaps the most important thing I learned from her was not to take on others' judgments about your parenting.

 My son had been with me for almost two years before meeting Kim. At that time, I had moved back to the community where I grew up, as I wanted my son to go through the same school district I went through. (That was a mistake). Before moving, my son had been in a small, self-contained classroom with a fantastic teacher who facilitated his success in her classroom.    

Upon entering the district I went through, I suggested to the Special Education Director that my son go into a smaller, self-contained classroom (like the one he was coming from). Based on how he presented to them, I was told that I was being pessimistic and that I should give him an opportunity to be in a larger classroom setting.

The faculty did not understand how a child who appeared charming in school could be so difficult at home. This is extremely common with older adopted children like my son, who is diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder. They charm people they do not need to have a close relationship with because it gives them a sense of control. Their behavior at home can be profoundly stressful for their adoptive family because bonding with primary caregivers is something they typically do not experience; thus, they fight against it as hard as they can. 

During school meetings for my son, some faculty would make underhanded comments implying that I was overly pessimistic about my son. It felt like an unspoken attitude: "There's no way this guy can know what he's doing as well as a woman could when it comes to parenting." Over lunch one day, I shared with Kim how it bothered me how the faculty at my son's school seemed to not listen to me and disregard the fact that I worked at a school for students with behavior challenges (in addition to coming home to a kid with behavior challenges). 

Kim showed me a business card that she had printed up. The card said, "My son isn't having a tantrum because he's being a brat. He has autism and can't communicate his needs verbally, which is why he's having a tantrum".  

Kim explained that she had this card printed up because when she was out in the community and her son had a tantrum in public, she would need to let him lay on the floor until the tantrum was over. People passing by often commented on her son's behavior, so she made this card to hand out to them when they commented or gave her a demeaning look.

Kim and I often shared our struggles as single parents of extremely challenging kids. She gave me some wisdom that helped ground me: "You do what you know is right. If the school faculty wants to judge you, brush it off. They have no idea what you're dealing with. If I took on every passerby's judgment, I wouldn't be able to function, and then how could I do what I need to do for my son?"

 When kids with ADHD struggle with emotional dysregulation in front of others, people are quick to make judgments about the child's parents. ADHD is not easy to identify; thus, people are quick to assume that a child's behavior is a result of poor parenting.

 If you choose to try to educate people like Kim, I admire your tenacity. Everything is fine if you don't have the interest or energy to do that. (I didn't).

Problems arise when you take on and internalize the judgments of people who don't understand your daily struggles, 

 My unsolicited advice to you: When someone judges your parenting or child, don't engage in it, don't respond to it, and most importantly, remember that it's not about you or your child. Their behavior is about their need to make themselves feel morally superior, even briefly.

 Others' judgments about your child or parenting are about them, not you, so don't take something that doesn't belong to you. 

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