One of the hardest things about parenting a kid with special needs who struggles to regulate his emotions, and particularly his anger, is watching him have this struggle as a child. At nine years old. Childhood is meant to feel carefree, safe, and fun. Getting through a day as a child shouldn’t feel extremely burdensome. Adult life is filled with enough stressors and anxiety and hardships.
I often feel insufficient because I feel a part of my duty, my role as Micah’s parent, his dad, is to protect him, to shield him from such feelings. My love and attention is supposed to put a protective barrier between his happiness and the reality of the cold, harsh world out there. My love and care and support are supposed to bring him a deep sense of calm and peace.
But when the battle comes from within himself, I am rendered nearly powerless to help him, it turns out. I’m just another guy telling him what to do. I do let him know that he’s ok. That he’s safe. That I’m here for him. That he is loved. But that doesn’t take away his inner-torment and then the resulting shame he feels because of that inner-torment.
As his dad, that melts me into a puddle. I just want him to be happy and understand a sense of peace as he goes about his days and weeks. This is his one childhood. It goes by so quickly.
This photo popped up on my phone as a memory.
Me, my brother, my sister in a hot tub back in July of 2003. We must have been on a vacation somewhere, staying at a nice hotel. But the thing about this photo is that I don’t remember the specifics, but I can feel the carefreeness of it. Three siblings just enjoying being on vacation.
In this photo you can see my sister Lauren, smiling and laughing, clearing having a nice, relaxing time. My brother, who would have been approaching six years old, has as foam plane, enjoying playing around in the hot tub. And when you look at me you can see that I am carefully watching my brother. I’m happy because he is happy. I’m at peace because he was at peace.
When I think about Micah, I wonder if he is able to experience feelings like this for very long. Happy, carefree, calm. He has good days and he has bad days like we all do. But he has a lot of bad days, though. And sometimes I wonder how those hard emotional days chip away at his own sense of happiness and peace. He doesn’t seem like a child at peace and that breaks my heart.
I had to pick him up early from school again yesterday. This is the second time he’s been suspended in two weeks for overly aggressive behaviors after being triggered by some small decision or instruction in the classroom. Each time we are called by the principal to come pick him up from school I feel a rush of anxiety flood over me. The drive over to the school is full of emotions. I experience all sorts of thoughts racing through my head, but mostly I’m prepping myself to have the composure to be the best dad I can be to Micah in these situations. Firm, but forgiving. Stern, but graceful. Admonishing, but understanding.
The ride back is difficult, too. Trying to navigate however Micah is processing the recent blowup, helping him shape his thoughts and feelings about it all. It’s hard to do once, but as it happens repeatedly over time, it feels like my hope and optimism for him is slowly being ground down into dust.
When he is feeling emotionally tormented, so am I. When he is feeling shameful, I feel that with him, too. It’s crushing.
After a long day, I go to bed with these thoughts and feelings still bouncing around. But eventually I fall asleep and wake up to a new day. When I go into Micah’s room to tell him to start getting ready for school he tells me, “Today’s a new day!” with an excited look of hope of his own. He looks deeply at my face to read me and my response, and so I say, “Today is a new day!” reassuring him that despite yesterday’s turmoil maybe today could be a good day, a day of peace.