I’m really struggling with parenting my youngest daughter. If you’ve been following along, you already know the story: She’s 8 and experiences High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Within the past couple of months, her behavior at school and at home has been increasing with episodes of violence and other extreme behavior. She has attributed some of the violence to a . . . being, if you will, that she has given a name to and calls her “dark side.” I see, saw, this as typical childhood behavior, when a child chooses to do something they know they shouldn’t but do anyway and blame on an imaginary being.
She had a psychiatric evaluation last week, to confirm, medically, that the autism is a thing . . . the educational identification and identification through Developmental Disability Services is not sufficient in order for her to receive in-home therapies she needs which are covered by medicaid. Anyway, the evaluator is concerned that this being my daughter’s attributing the violence to is a sign of early onset psychosis. Risperdal is being recommended to address both the behaviors and the potential psychosis. It never occurred to me that “Moonlight” might be more than a typical childhood phase. Silly me.
You may think to yourself that what I’m about to share is expected behavior in how many children may react to their mothers/parents, especially during adolescence. That may be true. However, with the autism spectrum issues, three things are massively escalated: intensity, frequency, and duration. Plus it’s behavior that typically doesn’t start until 14-16 years of age in my own experiences as a kid and with her, now adult, siblings.
Multiple times a day we go through a litany of behaviors, on repeat:
- Piercing, top of the lung screaming. No words, just a nearly glass shattering, ear ringing screaming.
- Verbal abuse: I hate you. I wish you were dead/in heaven. I wish I never had a mom like you. You’re fat. I wish I didn’t have a mom with white hair. Basically, anything she thinks will get a reaction and will hurt my feelings.
- Hitting, kicking, head butting. Now, she’s also using one of her main toys to attack me with.
- Oppositional Defiant behavior: ie. “lalalala” whenever I start speaking. Doing the very thing she’s been told not to do, then running and laughing when I move to give her the consequences, are just a couple of examples.
Intellectually, I know that these things are informed by and related to the autism, or, at the very least, the autism affects her ability to self-regulate, causing the frequency, duration, and intensity of these behaviors.
However, all of these things trigger enough anger in me, that it’s just this side of being rage. I often have feelings of resentment towards her. I don’t like feeling this way about my child, whom I love dearly. It’s pretty messed up, if you ask me.
I discussed this with my therapist when I saw her a couple of weeks ago and I plan on discussing it when I see her again today. It turns out this is actually common among parents, especially those of the same gender as their children, who have experienced childhood trauma: physical, sexual, and/or mental/emotional abuse. Neglect on either physical or emotional levels is also a source of childhood trauma.
It seems that this resentment I feel is “normal,” even if it isn’t acceptable. She gets to have the life I couldn’t have when I was her age.
My stepfather began sexually molesting me when I was 8 years old. I don’t remember my mother being physically present, much less mentally or emotionally present. I don’t know how many times we had moved from one city or state to another. My stepfather was my second before the time I was 6 years old. I never had my birth father involved in my life as a child.
My daughter may have her problems, but, being sexually molested and not having a relationship with her dad isn’t one of them. She’s been in the same school since kindergarten and attended the same Head Start and Early Head Start programs before that. I’ve lived in this apartment for almost 7 years. Even though I have my emotional and mental health issues and struggle with being present in those ways, I’ve always made sure to be present as much as possible. She nursed until she was almost 3 years old and, because of the autism factors, still co-sleeps with us. She requires me to hold her throughout the night.
This isn’t to say that she hasn’t experienced her own trauma. She has. It’s just been in a different context and more as a witness than experiencing it firsthand – other than the interactions where we both feel that I’ve turned into “monster mommy,” with the yelling and mean face and physically forcing her to do things like take a shower, brush her teeth, and use the bathroom.
However, she’s experiencing the stability and safety of a childhood that was never possible for me. Additionally, many of the things she says to me are the same or similar to things I said to my mother weeks before she turned guardianship of me over to her brother, went back to Houston, and committed suicide. Intellectually, I know and understand that it was her undiagnosed and untreated mental illness(es) which led to her suicide. However, that doesn’t stop my subconscious from rising up every time my daughter says and does the things she does and remind me of how horribly I treated my mother.
These are the things this mother is dealing with this Mother’s Day.