Helicopter Parents, Lawnmower Parents and Smother Mothers

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momsparky
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16 Oct 2011, 10:59 am

I cannot tell you how much this particular collection of words hurts me, and how far back it has set both me and my son. I thought I'd write about it here in the hopes that professionals and other parents will find it and figure out that they need to dig deeper rather than sticking a label on something and walking away. I am by far not a perfect parent. I have been struggling to find the "right" way to parent my son for some time now (and I thank everyone here who's helped me on that journey.) and up until recently had been largely failing. I can't blame anyone for faulting my parenting skills - they weren't very good - but all I wanted was to learn and become a better parent.

However, there was quite a long time when we were seeking help for my son and I could tell that the assumption was that that I fit one of the above labels. Unfortunately, this meant that the focus went from figuring out the problem to telling me this or that action was wrong or to completely discounting my concerns, neither of which solved the problem. Recently, I was more than a little disturbed to find these words in the PEERS training manual, with a very snippy outline of one-dimensional "problematic types of parents."

Allow me to offer my perspective to mental health professionals.

1. Parents are complex human beings. It does our child no good to diminish us into one-dimensional stereotypes, blame us for the problems our child is experiencing, and walk away. We are aware that we have an effect on our children, for better or for worse, and this is why we're seeking help.

2. It is unlikely that parents being deliberately obtuse or argumentative: we aren't bent on getting in your way. I think I can safely say that the primary purpose of a parent seeking professional help for their child is to help their child and family. I doubt any parent is in it expressly to cross swords with said professional (though I suppose this is possible in court-ordered cases.) An argumentative parent is a signal that you either haven't found the root of the problem, or that you aren't communicating well or both.

3. In most cases, there is a genetic link between child and parent: if the child you are treating has a deficit, it's likely the parents do, too...or at least the shadow of that deficit. This is something that requires delicate handling: an adult with, say, a social skills deficit, has spent a lifetime compensating for it. They may well have compensated badly. Just like the child, the parents aren't going to get better if you lose patience or if your expectations are too high.

3. Parents whose children have an "invisible" disability are more than likely close to panicking by the time they seek professional help. Kids with any kind of mental health/developmental/neurological issue don't respond as expected by definition. Yes, one response parents often have is to "hover" or to "smooth the way" - other parents may detach - other parents may attempt to control group sessions to address their child' specific issues. Don't forget that your job in that case is to find out WHY. Addressing the behavior without exploring and addressing the underlying cause is not helpful. You need to offer reassurance that both child and parents will get the help they need. If a parent is doing something at odds with your therapy, you need to explain what you are trying to address, why you are trying to address it, how long it should take to address it, and expressly why the parent's behavior is getting in the way.

4. More than help from professionals, children need help from their parents. Unless the child is institutionalized, your primary job is to help parents help their kids. Ultimately, this is what parents want: we want to be the kind of parents our child needs. More than likely, parents have come to believe this is impossible - you have to show them that it isn't. All therapies should include a parent briefing, to discuss what was done and why, and how a parent can follow up on what was learned at home.

5. If you feel a parent's expectations of a child are too low or too high, instead of accusing them of "making excuses" for their child, or of "griping" about their child, you should have an in-depth conversation with the parent to make sure YOUR expectations are neither too high nor too low; you may have experience with many children, but parents are more experienced with THIS child. If, after exploring the matter carefully, you find that the parents need support in this area, suggest separate counseling or parenting classes that will help align their expectations more appropriately with their child's abilities.

6. We see our kids in pain all the time. This pain more than likely mirrors the pain we felt in our own childhoods. I cannot adequately express how difficult this is for a parent. If you are going to do something in therapy that will be difficult for our child, that will cause him or her more pain or discomfort - YOU BETTER DAMN WELL EXPLAIN WHY. MAKE YOUR CASE IN DETAIL. You need to show us that the discomfort will be momentary, small, and exactly how it will result in our child being able to manage something they couldn't manage before. Cost/benefit analysis - and WE get to decide when the cost is too high.

I'm sure there is more I've forgotten, feel free to add on.



PaintingDiva
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16 Oct 2011, 12:39 pm

Great post. I can relate and then some.

The latest bulletin from my son's psychiatrist via a phone call was, "he really has low self esteem Mom". No kidding! Implied in the tone of voice was, what the hell did you do him while he was growing up and don't you know this?

Of course I know this and what is more it makes me very sad to see this in my son. Could I have prevented this? I don't think so, he had something going with him the day he hit the school yard. However no one, and I do mean no one, knew what it was other than teachers telling me your son has ADD can't you get him on Ritalin? And since that response varied from year to year depending on his teacher, we didn't run for the Ritalin. Meaning he has years of people (parents and teachers) telling him he is not trying hard enough at school behind him now.

I am very uncomfortable in group meetings with his therapist(s). I always feel like they are thinking I am too pushy, clueless, and have handled my son completely wrong. I am too hard on him, I am not hard enough, I should have known what his diagnosis is much earlier. It just goes on.

As you posted, no parent has a diabolical plan to ruin their kid's life, or to try and actively lower his self esteem, or give up on him and think he is just a total slacker and fails at life....I want the best for my son, I want him to be happy in life, I want him to live up to his potential. So many things but mostly that he is comfortable in the world and has a job he likes.

And yes, both his Dad and I have our own issues, and no he didn't just come from out of nowhere with Aspergers, as I read somewhere, ASD runs in families and your kid is just the tallest tree in the family forest...

I may print out your post and send it to both his psychiatrist and therapist. I can just imagine, they will deny any such thoughts run through their heads! But they do, and I for one have enough to deal with, without being 'judged' as the clueless bad parent from hell by the professionals.

As it is, my son had an EEG last week, and we are waiting for the results to see what happens next. I am thankful that my son agreed to having it done. As you noted, if the problems have been kind of, sort of 'invisible' to all concerned, including the parents, the teachers by the time you realize what might be going on you are at the panic point.

He is now age 20, dropped out of community college, worked for a year as a dishwasher, they were training him to do prep and pantry work, they liked him, I thought he liked the restaurant, then this past July he abruptly quit and has been holed up in his room, a recluse, ever since, teaching himself Japanese....His explanation for quitting the job, he was never going to get anywhere. View my post 20 year old son hiding in his room for all the grotty details.

Well this became a very long post. But thanks for posting about the labeling of parents of children/young adults with ASD...I had great resonance with it. And if anyone else has tips for dealing with the professionals and retaining one's dignity, and not feeling completely defensive, please post!



Kailuamom
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16 Oct 2011, 12:42 pm

Beautifully written - I think you captured the reality of so many of us.



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16 Oct 2011, 3:01 pm

All the training in the world does not prepare them to really understand the family dynamics of having a child on the spectrum. For the most part, they are clueless.



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16 Oct 2011, 7:31 pm

It is bad enough that we are judged by pretty much everyone we encounter in our lives-cashiers, waitresses, teachers, family members, and even friends (that's the worst for me), but when it comes from health professionals who are the ones we are reaching out to for help it makes us feel absolutely devastated. We are so lost at times, deseprate to help our kids who we see as suffering needlessly, and sometimes a counselor, psych or even pedi is who we need to confide in for help. They sometimes think they "know it all" and see us as not following through or doing things inadequately when they really cannot even BEGIN to fathom what it's like to live our lives!! !!

One of the WORST experiences I've ever had with my daughter was doing what a child psychologist told me to do to handle my daughter's meltdowns. I'll never forgive myself for following his instructions!
:x



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16 Oct 2011, 7:37 pm

I can certainly relate, good post.



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16 Oct 2011, 8:09 pm

Mama_to_Grace wrote:
It is bad enough that we are judged by pretty much everyone we encounter in our lives-cashiers, waitresses, teachers, family members, and even friends (that's the worst for me), but when it comes from health professionals who are the ones we are reaching out to for help it makes us feel absolutely devastated. We are so lost at times, deseprate to help our kids who we see as suffering needlessly, and sometimes a counselor, psych or even pedi is who we need to confide in for help. They sometimes think they "know it all" and see us as not following through or doing things inadequately when they really cannot even BEGIN to fathom what it's like to live our lives!! !!

One of the WORST experiences I've ever had with my daughter was doing what a child psychologist told me to do to handle my daughter's meltdowns. I'll never forgive myself for following his instructions!
:x


please forgive yourself.
My mom has alot of guilt for not knowing how to raise me and is burdened by guilt. I dont blame her...when she was raising me, autism awareness was zip and AS was not even in the DSM, but somehow she feels that she should have had this magical knowlege of how to raise a child on the spectrum despite a total lack of information. Mother guilt is not logical.
As for you, you were only doing what the doctor recomended and you trusted he was an expert....how would you have known any different without that experience.
When it comes to raising an AS child, each child is unique and the path to success with each child is unchartered territory and the only way you are going to get from point A to point B is through trial and error. You are going to make mistakes because there is no roadmap for your child....you have to pave them. Give yourself the flexability that you give your daughter in learning from your mistakes.

As for the OP's post.
A mental health worker told this to my mother once
"we came from our own dysfunctional pasts, marry other's with dysfunctional pasts...come together at our own dysfunctional breakfast tables with our own dysfunctional families....then we come to work at our dysfunctional workplaces. And we are going to fix your family"

And it is true. Most mental health workers go into the field because of their own neuroses. Alot are more messed up than the ones they serve.

Jojo


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17 Oct 2011, 7:22 am

The shrinks are useless when it comes to parenting advice. I asked two of them point blank what I should do at home and they couldn't come up with anything other than "be consistent". I AM consistent!! ! What I wanted was advice on what thing I should be consistently doing (or not doing). Being consistent while also being wrong can be damaging.

Aftre considerable aggravation, I got my daughter into a special school. I decided to ask them what exactly they did at school so I could do the same thing at home (which would be uber-consistent). Bless them, they had a special meeting with me where they outlined their Best Practices at school and how exactly they rel;ated to my daughter and what they found worked best in the classroom. They gave me advice that was highly specific to her (not generic to "kids" or even generic to "autistic kids") based on their classroom experience with her.

They knew what they were talking about and had good advice, unlike the shrinks. And also unlike the teachers at her mainstream school who would call meetings with me asking how they should handle her in the classroom, because they didn't know what to do. The teachers at the special school spen all their time with special needs students almost always 1:1 or in very small groups so they had true understanding and experience.

The mental health professionals only see the kids for an hour here and there. They have no clue whatsoever.



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17 Oct 2011, 7:33 am

Mama_to_Grace wrote:
One of the WORST experiences I've ever had with my daughter was doing what a child psychologist told me to do to handle my daughter's meltdowns. I'll never forgive myself for following his instructions!
:x


Forgive yourself :heart:

I just wrote in the post above that the shrinks are clueless and only the teachers in my daughter's special school had a clue. I mis-handled her meltdowns at home. Her teachers at the mainstream school mis-handled her meltdowns at school. The shrinks had nothing but "be consistent" as meltdown-handling advice.

After several months at the special school (when she finally got in) I asked this new set of teachers what to do. They didn't say "be consistent". They brought me in for a tutorial on how teachers and other school professionals (OT,PT etc.) handled meltdowns along with their observations of triggers specific to my daughter and how exactly I should be behaving. The ideas weren't common sense. They were things I never would have thought of such as "don't make eye contact",, "speak in a low, quiet voice", "try to stand on the other side of a barrier piece of furniture such as a table or chair so you aren't in her personal space". It all makes sense retroactively. But the shrinks had no idea. Presumably they never actually handled a meltdown before. If a kid melted down in their office, the parent just had to hustle them out and the appointment was over. The special needs teachers were experts at both meltdown-handling and meltdown prevention since literally every student was prone to that.

Aftre 2 years at this school, her meltdowns have decreased both in frequency and in length. Unlike me, who didn't how to teach this, they are teaching her the very useful skill of feeling when a meltdown is coming on and how to be pro-active herself to prevent or contain it. They had another meeting with me to explain what they'd taught her so I could help at home. That's a lesson she could never get either at a mainstream school or from a clueless shrink.

I am curious what was the bad advice. I just got the useless "be consistent". Did you get something specifically disastrous?



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17 Oct 2011, 9:21 am

Janissy wrote:
Presumably they never actually handled a meltdown before. If a kid melted down in their office, the parent just had to hustle them out and the appointment was over.

This is such a great observation! That should be a requirement for any medical professional who professes to be able to treat kids on the spectrum - "Must have direct experience with handling at least 10 different children's meltdowns" before they can get their license!

We were super lucky that the first professional we encountered on our path was an OT who is absolutely great! He is a very kind, gentle and empathetic man who's focus really is teaching parents how to work with their kids and helping kids learn coping mechanisms for the particular difficulties they are experiencing. He seems to have a bottomless bag of different methods to try and is so patient and understanding. After reading a lot of posts here, I really recognize just how ltruly ucky we are.



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17 Oct 2011, 9:39 am

Quote:
He is now age 20, dropped out of community college, worked for a year as a dishwasher, they were training him to do prep and pantry work, they liked him, I thought he liked the restaurant, then this past July he abruptly quit and has been holed up in his room, a recluse, ever since, teaching himself Japanese....His explanation for quitting the job, he was never going to get anywhere. View my post 20 year old son hiding in his room for all the grotty details.


Diva

It is probably because he went online and read in depth about the workplace requirements. This may have been his interest for period. Here are some of them. http://www.quintcareers.com/job_skills_values.html

First, when I went to college I could only take 6 credits at time. Here is why. The college textbooks were difficult to understand sometimes. The reason was because how they presented it to me came across as vague and ambigious. It was difficult to understand what the instructors were saying as well. A lot of times they talked in a very abstract way which came across as ambigious, vague, and nonsensical.

Second, When I came out of college I did not know that the workplace had many of these inherent requirements. Another thing is jobs these days require experience. How does one gain experience when he has none, no social ability, so from point of view him employement prospects are slim to none? Another thing is how does one juggle 20-30 different tasks? I could not do that if my life depended on it. It would be to much for me. He may have saw this as well. It took me about 6-8 years to obtain my bachleors. Personally, I do not believe I can make it in employment whatsoever. Personally, I have tried to hold different types of jobs and could not do it. He probably feels the same way. Personally I can't meet their standards in any way, shape or form. I've tried to start a business and because of the same problem I cannot. To be honest, I do not know how to succeed in the US at all and to be honest I'm ready to call it quits myself. Pretty much, he sees the same thing.



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17 Oct 2011, 10:23 am

I'm not familiar with the term lawnmower parents, probably because I have no idea how to operate a lawnmower...

The way I see it, teachers and mental health professionals are used to blaming the parents, the kids, and anyone but themselves when problems arise. I'm not saying this is always true, or that it reflects the personal failings of these people (although for many of them, their character can improve) -- but the system is set up to train them to see us parents a certain way so that they can save money for their system.

So instead of saying, "maybe we should look at how we're teaching / reaching these kids" ($ out of the system), they are taught to believe and say "this kid, and the parents, are the problem" ($ stays in the system). Then you add into it, personal biases and snap judgments human beings in general default toward -- and we parents will forever be scapegoats.

I did not want to believe this before. I was infinitely grateful for all the help I thought I was getting for my kid. Until I realized that one bad (wrong) diagnosis or clinical opinion leads to another wrong clinical opinion, and suddenly I have a kid with who is extremely motivated to learn but has made little or no progress in the past year from my parental observation even when his school progress reports are gushing with how well he's doing.

My solution is to engage my analytical brain to keep me sane and to turn this game around like this:

1. If what I am doing is aimed at creating a better chance of my kid leading an independent life, then I am farthest from helicopter smothering parenting I can be. If that means I have to advocate for my kid and become the bane and ire of people working in the system including being called names, I'll accept being called names. I need to save my energy facing my enemy (the system).

2. If my being a parent immediately puts me at a disadvantage of being "Impossible to be fair, objective, and unbiased", then I will play the game of the system: I will write down as coldly as possible what my eyes see in terms of behaviors in my child, then I will take these to the so called "experts" (since I can't ever be one in their opinion) and ask them to interpret these observations.

3. Having experts in my corner is critical. This part will cost me ($) but if I don't pay now, I'll end up paying many times later. This is where I think many of us parents need more of, on our side, in addition to peer support. Having an expert who is able to see the facts without injecting moral judgment is more likely when that expert does not automatically see you as the problem.

I'm new to dealing with all of this and I already see how ugly it gets.



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17 Oct 2011, 3:12 pm

I'm sure that I've been labeled "over-protective" or a "helicopter mother." It is very frustrating to work very hard with your child and spend a lot of money trying to help him, and, when he shows some improvement, people look at him and saw, "See, he's not that bad. She's just neurotic."

Yes, I am the most involved special education parent at my son's school, to my knowledge. However, to my knowledge, my son with classic autism has also made bigger improvements than the other children at his public school. I think that there is a connection.


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17 Oct 2011, 6:02 pm

Janissy wrote:
Mama_to_Grace wrote:
One of the WORST experiences I've ever had with my daughter was doing what a child psychologist told me to do to handle my daughter's meltdowns. I'll never forgive myself for following his instructions!
:x


Forgive yourself :heart:

I am curious what was the bad advice. I just got the useless "be consistent". Did you get something specifically disastrous?


They told me to hold her in a bear hug and not let go until she calmed. A few hours later I had been peed on and thrown up on (not to mention felt like I had just gone through a WAR) and she NEVER calmed (because I was triggering her fight or flight response). She ended up passing out in exhaustion. Want to know what the child psychologist said when I reported this? He said "next time it won't take as long". I wanted to punch that guy! Instead I said "there will NEVER be a NEXT time!" and I never went back!



momsparky
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17 Oct 2011, 6:23 pm

Thanks, everyone, for your kind responses. I will say that we've found help with whom none of the things I've written apply - so it's out there. I hope all of you find it as well.

Mama_to_Grace wrote:
Janissy wrote:
Mama_to_Grace wrote:
One of the WORST experiences I've ever had with my daughter was doing what a child psychologist told me to do to handle my daughter's meltdowns. I'll never forgive myself for following his instructions!
:x


Forgive yourself :heart:

I am curious what was the bad advice. I just got the useless "be consistent". Did you get something specifically disastrous?


They told me to hold her in a bear hug and not let go until she calmed. A few hours later I had been peed on and thrown up on (not to mention felt like I had just gone through a WAR) and she NEVER calmed (because I was triggering her fight or flight response). She ended up passing out in exhaustion. Want to know what the child psychologist said when I reported this? He said "next time it won't take as long". I wanted to punch that guy! Instead I said "there will NEVER be a NEXT time!" and I never went back!


Mama, we had the exact same experience, except I was getting madder and madder as I struggled to hold my son down, which made him madder and madder. We didn't even go back to be told we'd done it wrong. I think this advice works for some people, I've heard parents (obviously either much more patient parents or with much different children) doing it successfully, but it was absolutely impossible for us.

We finally figured out that what worked for us was to put DS in his room, and hold the door closed - eventually, on the advice of a (much better) therapist, we installed a lock on the outside of the door (so there was no chance of us injuring him or us with a door tug-of-war) We've only had to use it a few times, and then only for 5-10 minute stretches. The problem is that every child is different - so even though this worked for us, it might not work for anyone else, just like the "bear hug" thing.