HuffingtonPost: Abandoning My Expectations Let Me Become The Mom My Kids Really Needed

By Christen Shepherd

Just as the youngest of my six kids turned 13, I felt like I was giving up on parenting. At first I blamed it on “pandemic fatigue,” but the truth is, it had been bubbling inside me for over a year.

I was done with baking brownies. I was done with planning family outings. I was done with dragging reluctant kids on holiday. I’d started joking with friends that I no longer wanted to be called a mom, but instead a “spiritual advisor.” I used to be a Type-A parent, so never would I have imagined it coming to this.

My first two sons came along when I was in my twenties. They were what you’d call easy kids. They wrote thank you cards, aced tests, and were quiet on car rides. They made me feel like I was good at this whole parenting thing.

When those two were at an age of being able to make their own dinners, my husband and I started getting broody again. Emboldened by how well our sons were turning out, we went big and adopted a sibling group of four.

Ranging in ages from three to nine, they drew us to them, from the moment we laid eyes on their photo, with their optimistic smiles. And when we met them in person, they were so endearing ― children who loved to cuddle or follow us around the farm, immediately referring to us as “Mom” and “Dad.” We learned from their worker they’d been through a tumult of trauma, but I figured, as a seasoned parent with some knowledge of child psychology, I could help them reach their potential.

“Radical acceptance meant not expecting my developmentally delayed son to constantly try harder and do better.”

Ours was the sixth family our new son and three daughters had lived with, so for the entire first first year they tested us over and over to see if we were committed to sticking around forever. On the worst days, they lashed out ― punching me, smashing furniture, running to the main road near our farmhouse, determined to be kicked out before they got attached to me and my husband.

All of it challenged my confidence in myself as a mom ― a role that I invested so much in. A child of the 70s, I was raised by hippie parents, who had me sign my own permission forms as a way of sticking it to the Man. They’d say things like, “Come home when the streetlights are on … or whenever.” So when it was my turn to have kids, as a somewhat ironic act of rebellion, I went the opposite way and became a bit of a helicopter parent.

I’d decided to be the kind of mom who diligently made sure there was enough lined paper for homework, enough cupcakes for every classmate, enough clean socks for the entire week. I was OK with the joyful chaos of family life at home with two boys, but I’d taught them to be on their best behaviour out in the world.

Then along came their younger siblings, who put a whole new spin on chaos. Everything I thought I knew about parenting no longer seemed to apply.

Even though the intensity of their initial testing period eventually waned, and their love and trust grew, there were still so many incidents that had me bewildered and beaten down. One child would have epic meltdowns in stores; another would bolt out of school. All four struggled to remember what seemed to be the simplest tasks, like closing the front door when you enter or leave the house. It was overwhelming.

Within a few years of joining our family, two of our younger kids were diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). We learned that all four had been impacted by substance abuse in utero, to varying degrees.

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