I call it my “lost decade,” from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s, when my four children were born and I have no recollection or understanding of any cultural reference from that time. Except shoulder pads. I do remember large shoulder pads.
I loved the stage of my life when I was a mother of young children, and after that, I loved being a grandmother who took care of grandchildren on a regular basis, until they moved out of my neighborhood. I am still close to all of them, and, thankfully, enjoy good relationships with my kids and their spouses. So I have been treated to an up-close look at child raising today and can say, as probably no member of a previous generation ever said, you young parents have it much harder than we did. In just about every way.
However, part of the strain, I think, comes from “pathologizing” normal, if not desirable, behavior in kids. There are more “specialists” these days and more insurance coverage and city or state aid to pay for these specialists.
Your generation of parents: She’s got selective mutism; he’s got low muscle tone and needs OT; she needs PT when the cast comes off; he’s anxious and needs a therapist; the baby has texture aversion.
My generation of parents: She’s shy; he needs to practice his handwriting; she should go out and throw the ball around when the cast comes off; he’ll grow out of it; the baby is a picky eater.
Which is not to say that this generation of kids will not be better off with the diagnoses and treatment. But surely parents are more anxious, worried, and concerned, fearing, in too many cases, that their kids are not “normal” and need to be “fixed.”
Selective mutism was a phrase I had never heard of before one of my children mentioned it in reference to her child who was a late talker. I was alarmed, so I read up on it and it seemed to me that she was shy, like many kids, and didn’t like talking to people she didn’t know. Lots of people are like that, and they grow out of it or they don’t. (She did, but she’s still not particularly outgoing.) Does it detract from their quality of life? Probably yes for some, and no for others.
Low muscle tone? Lots of my classmates had terrible handwriting—so they practiced. Some never improved so they became doctors whose bad handwriting seems to be a job requirement. Now everyone types anyway.
When my grandson broke his arm, I took him to the physical therapist. My son, after his cast came off 30 years ago—and his arm looked bowed, not straight (I almost fainted)—was told to go out in the backyard and play ball. The next time he broke his arm, eight years later playing basketball, he went right back to playing on his school’s basketball team when the cast came off.
I was a shy, tense kid who grew into a high functioning adult (if I do say so myself) who occasionally still gets anxious and dislikes crowds. But I “grew out” of my childhood behavior, learned to “fake it,” and adapted.
And “texture aversion?” Generations of mothers and grandmothers have called that kid a “picky eater.” And don’t we all dislike certain foods because of their consistency? So what? Thankfully, there’s usually lots to choose from. Tofu feels like a sponge in my mouth. I don’t go near it.
Sometimes kids really do need help in the form of therapy. But it’s a challenge to make sure that they, and you, the parent, don’t think of them as “broken,” or “less than” other children. How does your son feel when he is taken out of the classroom for OT? How do you, and the school, deal with those feelings? (My husband still talks about the “robins” and “blue jays” in first grade—you couldn’t fool the kids. They all knew which class had the better readers). How does your daughter feel when she observes your discomfort and tight smile when she refuses to say “hello” as you instruct her? How about when you insist that your son stay at the table until that broccoli is finished when he is choking at the sight of it?
In my opinion, the most important thing a parent can do is to help their children develop into their best, true selves. And to do that, all kids need support and guidance from their moms and dads. And yes, sometimes they need therapy.
But in all cases, they need love and patience from us. Lots and lots of love and patience.