Sisyphean Parenting

Sometimes, when you’re trying to parent a child with language delays, some things you are trying to do can make you feel a bit like Sisyphus. You push the rock up the hill, and, just when you think you’ve made it, the rock rolls back down again.

Admittedly, it’s a pretty small rock, and a pretty small hill. But it does get tiring, the endless pushing.

Stinkerbelle has made great leaps and bounds in her language production. She talks almost non-stop, and you can understand a lot of what she’s trying to say. Yeah, there are gaps, but I am not too concerned. She’ll catch up, eventually.

Where we struggle is with her receptive language. She’s still way behind where she should be for her age, apparently, according to specialists. According to us, however, she can’t understand a lot of what we’re trying to tell her, and this is a problem when you are trying to teach her things.

We find ourselves repeating things over and over and over again. Part of the issue is that she is, by definition of one of the therapists, “a charmer”. She’s so social and so gregarious and so charming that she will act for all intents and purposes like she knows what you are telling her, and her mannerisms and body language leads you to believe she understands you.

And then the rubber hits the road and she doesn’t do what you ask or does something that shows you she didn’t understand what you just said to her AT. ALL.

We repeat, we simplify, we repeat some more, we use key words, we use actions, we mime, and we speak VERY SLOWLY AND DEFINITELY AND CLEARLY. It’s a challenge, mostly to our patience.

And, admittedly, I find myself getting more tired and more tired these days, and my patience gets shorter and shorter, and the truth of the matter is that we all end up upset and frustrated.

A big lesson I have been trying to teach these days is about strangers. First off, I have no idea if she even understands the concept of strangers. Like, AT ALL. But the thing is, we have to use the words because she will hear them all the time in school or whatever, so we can’t get around it. So I’ve been banging on and on about STRANGER THIS and STRANGER THAT and STRANGER DANGER and STRANGER STRANGER STRANGER.

She’s four. She needs to learn this stuff.

Stinkerbelle is, however, the most social of kids. She loves talking to people. Any people. Any time. She loves to be out with people and interacting with them. She has been this way since she was born.

But the problem is, she WILL talk to ANYONE. And lately, she will run off down the street bellowing HELLO to go talk to a total stranger.

And it has to stop. For her safety, it has to stop.

I don’t want to discourage her sociable nature. I don’t mind it. Her dad and I are talkers and social ourselves. The problem comes in that now that she is older, and she’s not always attached at the hip to Mom or Dad, so it’s not always appropriate or safe for her to run off talking to anyone and everyone.

But try to teach the concept of “stranger” to someone with the receptive language of a 2-3 year old. It ain’t easy.

Today, Stinkerbelle wanted to go outside and go for a bike ride. While we were out in the yard, a car pulled up and parked up the street about 20 metres or so. A young woman got out and started walking along the sidewalk. No sooner was she opening the car door and stepping out than Stinkerbelle was bellowing HI! HELLO! at her, and took off running up to meet her.

I bellowed myself for her to get back up on the porch with me, and when she was back, I tried to explain. Stranger = people you don’t know. Stranger = not a friend or family. We don’t talk to strangers.

Blah blah blah was basically what Stinkerbelle heard.

“Do you understand?” I asked her.

“Yes, Mom,” she said.

And 5 minutes later, riding down the sidewalk on her bicycle, she saw some workmen across the street working on someone’s house.

“HI!” yelled Stinkerbelle, waving furiously.

Again with the speeches about strangers and not friends and blah blah blah. Again I try to grasp if she’s understanding.

“Yes, Mommy. I’m sorry, Mommy,” said the most obedient kid in the world. I felt like a heel. But she HAS to learn.

10 minutes later, we went around the corner and, across the street, there were more workmen, delivering gravel.

Again, Stinkerbelle was yelling hello at these men we have never seen before in our lives.

And this time, I got angry. I was getting frustrated with repeating myself over and over again in the space of 15 minutes. I was getting frustrated and angry because my (INCORRECT) perception immediately defaults to SHE’S NOT LISTENING TO ME, parent mantra of the ages. I got cross and whipped out The Consequences: if she does it again, no more bike ride.

“Do you understand?” I asked her, crossly.

“Yes, Mommy. Don’t talk to strangers. I’m sorry, Mommy.” She was penitent.

I was frustrated.

We were both miserable.

The thing is? She DOESN’T understand. Not at all. And I forget that, all the time, because my brain just naturally goes to SURELY SHE MUST GET IT BY NOW I HAVE REPEATED THIS HUNDREDS OF TIMES.

Well, she doesn’t. She’s parroting back what she has heard, but she has no idea what it means. And here I am, expecting her to do as I say, and she knows that I am angry because she did something wrong. She has no idea what that is, but she is still terribly sorry and wants nothing more than to make us happy and not mad at her anymore.

I am, bytimes, terribly terribly unfair to this beautiful child who wants nothing more in life than for us to be happy with her. And I am overcome with guilt.

But I am tired. I am human and I get frustrated. I get tired of repeating myself over and over again, day after day after day. And, in cases like this, I get fearful that some harm will come to her if I don’t keep after her to understand these concepts that she just cannot grasp, not yet.

It is exhausting. And, I understand that by comparison to some parents with children with real, serious, much more challenging-to-overcome speech issues, this is a walk in the park. They would give anything to be in my shoes.

So there’s a little more guilt, because, you know, what’s a little more.

Anyway, we are working with people to help her get past this. Except we’re not, because the organization in town we are to work with, in the two courses we did with them, failed fairly miserably in my opinion. So I have to make a decision about what to do next: go back and try these people again, or spend money and find a private SLP, or do nothing.

I gotta say, I’m leaning towards “do nothing” right now.

I am tired. Three years now we have been accessing professionals for Stinkerbelle’s various issues and gotten exactly NOWHERE. I’m tired of trying all these things that come to nothing. I’m tired of the weekly appointments and the varying competencies of the people we see and the endless judgements placed upon this happy, sweet, lovely little girl.

I kind of just want to let her be.

But then, we have a morning like this morning, where she’s not grasping what I know she NEEDS TO KNOW. And I think, we have to get back to it.

Back up, rock on the back, and push.

I owe it to her to try harder, to be less tired, to be more patient, to do what needs to be done.

And, when the rock rolls back down the hill, to be calm, maintain some perspective, and get ready to push again.

5 thoughts on “Sisyphean Parenting

  1. She will get there, I know she will. She is a very intelligent little girl, and you are a patient & persistant momma. One day the switch will flip, and the light bulb will light up & she will understand – I’ve experienced the same sort of issues myself, when trying to learn another language (as an exchange student, it was 3 of the most frustrating & lonely months of my life). People kept repeating themselves, louder & slower every time, and still it just didn’t sink in. Until one day – it did! I understood! You & BDH have the patience & persistance to see this through, frustrating as it is. Would using pictures help her comprehension? Some people learn better visually. How you visualize “stranger danger” is a bit of a pickle, though.

    • Pictures do help with some things — question words, for example — so one of the things on my to-do list is to make books of pictures to work on specific language skills. And we use story books and talk about the pictures and ask and answer questions and that sort of thing. But some things are pretty abstract.

      But thanks for the vote of confidence. 🙂

  2. I am all about the pictures!! You could just take some of strangers around town (won’t they love that?!), with counterpart pictures of Stinkerbelle doing what she should do for various types of people (e.g. workmen are strangers, Stinkerbelle watches the workmen). One possibly helpful comprehension tip: negatives are an extremely difficult language concept so it is always easier to understand what should be done, rather than what shouldn’t. Children with language problems (or who are under 3ish) tend to hear phases like “talk to strangers” and “don’t talk to strangers” as identical . . . their brains just drop the complicated part.

    Also, you might like the book Once Upon a Dragon: Stranger Safety for Kids.

  3. yep I would be right beside you with the frustration on that one. Painful for all involved, I bet.

    Have you tried the “circles” method/thingy? Where you visually have a small circle with names or pics of close family, then a slightly bigger circle with good friends, then acquaintances in a bigger one, and then the rest of the world is outside the circles? Then you link each circle to, say, hug vs handshake vs wave vs NADA. I know people who have had a lot of success with this with the 4 and up crowd, in terms of getting them to understand boundaries. You could even make a game out of putting the right person in the right circle…. now whether this would make the jump to the real world is still questionable I suppose.

  4. I know what you mean….Abenezer had been home 1 month when a UPS guy came to deliver a package for a neighbour who wasn’t home. As I accompanied the UPS guy up the stairs, MY SON TOOK HIS HAND….my heart FROZE. The UPS guy was embarrassed and I told him…he’s just arrived and thinks you’re a friend…..from that day on I kept a close eye on him. I don’t want him to be afraid of the world, but I want him to know that even friends can do things that are not nice so no one is allowed to touch him, and that if he senses danger with an adult, he is to run away. My boy is very athletic so he tends to seek out others who are playing soccer, basket etc and they are usually older than he is…..so I stopped sending him to the playground alone when I found people I had never seen before sitting on the bench staring at the kids……may have been harmless person, don’t know, not taking any chances.

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