The time is 2016.
I was undiagnosed at that point with my autistic daughter recently turning 15 and my neurotypical daughter the tender age of 3.
Does any of this sound familiar?
“No,” my 3 year old replies defiantly, her arms crossed and a scowl on her face.
She replies, mind you, from the designated break corner in the living room- free from distractions or toys. At one point, there was tidy stack of books in this corner. But she’s long since thrown those to another area of the living room.
One or two of them have even landed near the original pile of toys that lead to this whole situation in the first place.
One simple request, “Can you clean up your toys?”
And her usual response, “No.”
This goes on for maybe five minutes. Sometimes longer.
Neither of us are willing to give and I realize that yes, part of parenting is picking your battles. But this is one of those things that I want her to know. She made the mess, she’s going to clean it up. I’ll still do somethings for her, of course. But she also needs to learn responsibility.
She is unwavering, however. My three year old, with her arms crossed, chin held high; she is firm and inwardly, I admire her tenacity. This stubbornness will serve her well when she’s older, I’m sure. I just wish I wasn’t dealing with it now.
I take another deep breath and remind myself of Daniel Tiger’s calming technique (including singing the song in my head). Then, through slightly clenched teeth, I ask her again.
“Are you ready to listen?”
“No,” she says with a breathy huff as she is now kicking the wall in front of her.
“Okay,” I reply as calmly as possible. “Let me know when you’re ready.”
The Daily Power Struggle with a Strong Willed Child
This is a daily battle, it seems, and has only gotten worse as she has gotten older. Part of me wonders if she’s just being a 3 year old. Part of me wonders if my parenting skills are really that bad. And then, as my older daughter gets home from school, I am reminded of something.
I can handle my autistic daughter but I can’t handle strong willed.
Or, at the very least, I can’t always handle my neurotypical child. But, then again, she has high needs. Just not quite like her older siblings.
It took me awhile to come to terms with this and to also realize that I wasn’t a bad mom because of it.
She talks, a lot. She’s also incredibly defiant and stubborn. She’s spirited. And she’s fiercely independent when she wants to be. Other times, she is attached and affectionate. Sweet, loving, and compliant.
Squeaker stopped sleeping through the night at 6 months. And didn’t start again until she was almost 2 1/2 years old. She also stopped napping around this time and now, her bed time is later than I’d like it to be. I have been told that there’s still hope to develop a more normal night-time routine.
Squeaker also has mood swings. Tantrums like I’d never encountered before one minute to being sweet as sugar the next.
She’s not a picky eater, so at least there’s that.
But, she is proving to be the most challenging of my three children.
Am I really that crappy of a parent?
Sometimes, I had to wonder if it was because I was out of practice. There is, after all, a 12 year age gap between Squeaker and Sweet B while there’s a 15 year age gap between Squeaker and V. But, before Squeaker was born, I was working in a daycare. And I was studying psychology with an emphasis on developmental psychology.
Sure, that’s not a replacement for hands-on parenting, but it had kept me in practice.
So maybe it wasn’t my parenting skills.
I’ve learned, mostly, how to effectively discipline her without yelling. Though, I admit it… I still yell. More often than I’d like, really. But, I also learned that yelling wasn’t helping either one of us. We’d both end up in tears, usually in separate corners of the living room.
As her mom, however, I’m supposed to know better. I’m an adult, after all. I’m supposed to have better control and regulation over my emotions. Some days, I had to wonder just how much she was picking up from me.
I learned, quite clearly, when my lovely and mostly well mannered toddler, used the F bomb in context. “Jesus f*ing Christ!,” she screamed in frustration. I had to leave the room to hide my reaction- equal parts amused and disappointment in myself.
I wasn’t the best, you see, at watching what I said around her.
Still, it never really occurred to me that she would repeat it.
But she did.
Other choice phrases, including: “Oh my f*ing God!” and “Piece of sh*t.”
It was always in context though. When she was frustrated with a puzzle, or when a piece of paper would rip as she was coloring with a little too much pressure.
And there was little doubt in my mind as to where she was picking up these colorful phrases. She was around me most of the day. She witnessed all of my outbursts, my frustration, and my tantrums. First hand, she saw how I handled situations.
Perhaps it was because I was used to parenting a child who wouldn’t repeat what I said. Or maybe it was something else.
How do you balance parenting a neurotypical child and an autistic child?
Whatever the case may be, she is a challenge. She is a handful. Even the supposedly simple things like potty training. It hasn’t been quite as simple as I thought. Though she is picking up hints from Daniel Tiger.
Which, let me tell you- Daniel Tiger, as mentioned before; that calming technique has been my life saver. You know the one…
When you feel so mad that you wanna roar, take a deep breath… and count to four.
That little song has gotten me through many of our recent power struggles.
And let’s revisit that for a second. Power struggle. With a three year old. I’m the adult and I’m in a head-to-head power struggle. How in the world is this happening? Why am I losing control over these situations?
Could it really be possible that I can’t handle my strong willed child?
No. Maybe I was used to raising neurodiverse children, but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t ill equipped as a parent. I have plenty of parenting tools in my toolbox. I just needed to learn how to adapt them. I also needed to learn that I was never old enough to learn new ways of parenting.
It’s been an eye-opening experience, to say the least. And we’re hardly over. She is, after all, only 3 years old. We still have quite a few years to go.