In my personal life I'm just my kids' mom. But in my professional life, I work in special education. A lot of times I work with staff members who really want to build good relationships with parents. But I'm ashamed to admit that there were times where one of my colleagues would sigh and say, "Jeez, that mom. Trying another quack remedy just because she read something on Facebook about someone using it.." And someone else would chime in, "Sad," and someone else would add, "Well, wouldn't you, if it was your kid? It would be hard to give up that hope." Since having kids of my own, I'm often voice #3. There are some practices* that I'll berate anyone for even suggesting, but most of the time I felt kind of sorry for the parents who were trying this therapy or that supplement. I figured they must simply be in denial and I pitied them. I cringe now, thinking about how condescending and superior we sometimes sounded.
I was thinking about this as I was reading an internet forum where parents were discussing anxiety in children, and a lot of people were giving their kids magnesium supplements. I did a quick Google search and couldn't find a whole lot of hard data on the effects of magnesium on anyone's mental health, let alone find guidelines for its use with kids. And yet, parent after parent was chiming in, talking about how great their child was doing with magnesium supplements. And I began to think to myself, Maybe I should try it. Maybe not the high-dosage supplements, but maybe some Epsom salts in the kids' baths. They say you can absorb magnesium through the skin if you do that. It might take the edge off for all three of them.
I was surprised at my own willingness to consider it. It's exactly the type of thing my colleagues and I would rake a parent over the coals for. Her son is clearly disabled, and all she's doing is throwing Epsom salts in his bath? Seriously? Like that will make a difference. So why was I willing to grasp at this straw?
I think that a big part of it is that the advice was coming from a community that was welcoming to me and my son. In the schools all too often we come from the deficit angle. Your child is behind. His behavior is atypical. It's interfering with the other kids' learning. Our other students don't act that way. Do you really think he'll be able to go through life like this? We're so desperate for parents to see the need for help that we beat them over the head with it. The problem is, though, that when someone tells you that your kid isn't awesome it's easy to want to fight back, to show them exactly how great your child is.
These communities, on the other hand, take the opposite approach. Your child is fascinating! He has so many strengths! He reminds me so much of my daughter, except my daughter had terrible struggles with behavior...oh, your son too? Isn't it HARD? Well, this therapy helped and now she feels so much better. Maybe it would help your son too... The high regard for your child, the care and concern, are hard to resist. Instead of tearing your kid down, they just want them to to be the best they can be.
It's a minor difference in approach but a major difference to a sensitive parent. As an educator I always have my students' best interest at heart. I always want them to be the best they can be, so they can share themselves with the world. But I think that I wasn't always the best at communicating that with families.
At this point I feel like I should say something like, "And by the same token, I should understand that when my son's school expresses concerns, it's coming from a better place than it sounds like"...but I can't. I just can't. If I have an entire conversation with you and you have nothing, nothing nice to say about my child I can't turn around and say nice things about you.
I think right now all I can do is pay it forward with the families I work with and hope that educational karma comes back to help my kids out sometime before high school graduation.
* Facilitated communication, I'm looking at you.