Extreme Parenting: Choose Your Battles

posted in: Large Family, Special Needs | 33

Living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

You’ve heard of extreme sports, extreme couponing and extreme makeovers…Well Chuck and I are now practicing something we call Extreme Parenting: The Choose Your Battles Edition

Now, as a parenting philosophy we believe in regular (and early bedtimes), teaching children to obey, teaching them to show respect for their elders and authority figures. We believe in feeding them healthy foods (most of the time) and occasional treats. We believe in flexible routines and clear expectations. This parenting style has served us well over the last twenty years. 

But not anymore. 

The struggles we have had with our son with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) have completely trumped anything we have dealt with in the past. We have had to come up with completely new parenting methods that, honestly, don’t seem to work well for anyone.

Attending Refresh in February gave us a new, united perspective. I think to a certain extent, despite our reading and educating ourselves about FASD, we somehow keep expecting things to improve, even if just a little. We are expecting him to get “better”. Better at following the rules, better at handling transitions, better and accepting he can’t always have what he wants. Refresh was a reminder to us that FASD doesn’t get “better”. Does he learn and grow? Of course, but the prenatal damage to his brain doesn’t change. 

Ever.

One life changing thing we learned at Refresh is: people will FASD tend to operate at half their chronological age on a daily basis, and when they are stressed, you cut that number in half again. This means in our case, we can expect our son to act like a six or seven-year-old on a daily basis, and like a three or four-year-old when he is upset.

After our ridiculous Autism Evaluation Adventure we have begun asking ourselves…what if this is just really immature behavior? What would this look like if he were four, and we told him no? Or to turn off his movie? Or if another child was playing with his favorite toy? Would a three or four-year-old act like this?

We have been seeking professional help for our son’s behaviors for over two years. Guess what? The experts don’t have the answers either. The most useful help we have found is from other parents of children with FASD. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any that are struggling as much as we are.

We have dubbed our new method of parenting: Extreme Parenting: The Choose Your Battles Edition.

We’ve all heard about the importance of choosing your battles in parenting, right? We have taken this to a whole new level with our son (and only him…the old rules apply our other kids). What does this look like?

We no longer require him to come to the dinner table (which will make him fly into a rage). We “allow” him to eat his limited diet (as if, at thirteen we could “force” him to eat something). 

Our son, for some unknown reason, our son has drastically reduced the number of food she eats in the past year. He now eats, almost exclusively: Ramen noodles, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, raw oatmeal with milk, brown sugar and raisins, and cereal. I told Chuck, he is practicing to be a bachelor. He now has all the cooking skills he needs!

He comes home from school and fixes a couple of peanut butter and honey sandwiches and watches movies on his DVD player or reads.

As long as he isn’t being dangerous to himself or others, we try to let him do his thing.

Does this seem like great parenting?

No.

Does it reduce conflict, meltdowns and raging by 80%?

Yes.

Does it make our home more peaceful for everyone?

Yes.

After thirteen years of parenting a child with FASD we have had few successes in modifying his behavior. So what if we just stop trying and attempt to live together peacefully?

This is our new philosophy.

I’ll let you know how it works out.

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33 Responses

  1. Jessica

    That isn’t bad parenting. That is parenting to the individual. Each of my children are individuals and sometimes some rules don’t apply to one of them for various reasons. You are being a good parent to his individual needs.
    This isn’t defeat, it’s simply a new chapter.
    You’re doing the best you know how and that is good parenting.
    Can I ask, because I’m limited in my fasd knowledge, what does adulthood look like for children born with this damage?

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      If they can stay off drugs, away from alcohol and out of jail, they can do well. The half the chronological age thing still applies. Experts are now finding that adults with FASD who can avoid those three things, are often doing well by their late 20’s. The trick is, avoiding drugs/alcohol/jail until then. Not an easy task for an individual who was born an addict.

      • Renee, it sounds brutally exhausting. But what a fresh way to look at it – the half (or a quarter) of their chronological age. In some sense then, there IS hope that it will get “better”. Not that the damage goes away, but that if you can protect him from drugs/alcohol/jail long enough, he’ll develop enough life skills / coping skills to do well. Praying for that!
        Julie

        • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

          Yes, but no more exhausting than fighting him all the time…

  2. I am assuming you have read The Explosive Child by Ross Greene, if not get a copy quickly. I am not overstating anything when I say that book changed my life. I had to let go of lots of things, like dinner as a family, but the peace allowed us to rebuild relationships. And years later, we eat as a family. Please feel free to message me if you want details (or just support).

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      I’ve read it a few times. The last time was just a couple of months ago, and I actually found it very discouraging. The book relies heavily on being able to talk to the child (during times of peace and non-conflict). My son does not have the verbal abilities to discuss the thoughts/feelings nor the ability to connect his actions with those feelings.

  3. there is a great place near where Chuck’s parents live called the Asante Centre, Renee. There focus has always been children and adults affected by FASD. Perhaps they would have some information that you could be encouraged by in your struggles for your son. I will pray that he can be kept safe from addictions and jail. If you do call the Asante Centre, ask for Audrey and mention my name

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Thank you for sharing. How I wish this weren’t across the border from us!

  4. I’ve always found other parents’ stories more helpful than anything I heard from a doctor–but I also once got real help from a “relationships counselor” (Yes, as in The Rules)–I wasn’t asking for dating advice, just How To Handle The Teenager’s Tantrums and Bad Language. After emailing her, I wondered why I’d ever, ever, bothered with psychologists. There’s a list of these very helpful women on The Rules website–I went to to Robyn Wahlgast, who has a website called New Directions Dating, but you don’t have to have a dating issue to consult her–also her services were a damn sight cheaper than any psychologist I’ve ever consulted.
    I also have found help from books other parents and teachers with difficult children wrote–for example This Stranger My Son, and anything by Torey Hayden.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Thanks, I’ll look into those. Chuck and I have both read may of Torey Hayden’s books. Unfortunately, we have been unable to find an amazing therapist like her 🙁

  5. P.S. and at least he’s not eating pop tarts and potato chips!

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      True! Yay for oatmeal. Of course, we don’t have potato chips or pop tarts in the house…

  6. Crystal in Lynden

    I’m really impressed with the path of parenting you’ve settled on. It makes perfect sense to keep the family harmony. To meet your child where he is at now that you have that understanding.

  7. Inga Sigurdson

    Renee, I am part of a FB group called Parenting FASD kids. There is also a group specific to parenting teens and adults with FASD. It is extremely helpful, sometimes even just to know you’re not alone or crazy. The parents there have great ideas and great resources. You’re right. His brain doesn’t change. But you can still make changes that make life more manageable, for him and for you. It sounds like you are on the right track, but I encourage you to look into the FB group as well.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Thank you for mentioning the group! I have a request to join in.

  8. I have raised 4 FASD children to adulthood. I totally rely on relationship building and frequently remind myself of their developmental ages. Two are ok. Two are not. One still lives at home at 25 and needs lots of supervision to stay safe. Even with almost constant supervision, I can barely keep him from jail. He is a success. One lives mostly at a boyfriends, works two jobs, has a car and license. She struggles with depression and motivation. But is a success.
    My other two are chronically homeless, incarcerated, jobless, addicts with children. Their RAD and FASD combine for disaster daily.
    I have 3 more at home with FASD. 2 came as babies and have many services and are more capable but have major issues. They have odd eating patterns too.
    I share all of this so you know you are not alone and changing the rules for M will help your relationship. Mine who are a success in terms of FASD can handle a relationship.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Good on you for raising so many! Yes, I have no idea what his future holds, but he has all the love, support and prayers one kid can have.

  9. What a long difficult journey. Peace is no bad thing, and sounds like a good goal for a child with a badly damaged brain. I’m not sure what it is about this post specifically, but it feels of long prayerfulness and acceptance of what your son’s capabilities are.

    Some book once explained the difference between parenting children equally rather than parenting them identically.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Yes, we definitely have to parent them differently. For now, we will enjoy the relative peace and just ride this out.

  10. Good on you for adapting to M’s needs. It’s rough. but it’s great you and Chuck are on the same page. As far as diet goes, I’ve seen worse ones. I have not had experience with FASD but I know people parenting kids of trauma who use the approach of “As long as you are being safe and respectful, you my do what you choose. There’s a place for you in what the family is doing but it’s up to you”. It has a lot of merit in challenging parenting situations.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Yes, that is more or less what we are doing. I wish he would join us at dinner, but it isn’t worth the raging!

  11. Meredith

    I’ve always been so impressed with your flexibility. You have standards when it comes to child rearing, and you work hard to maintain those standards…until it is clear that they are not right for a specific situation. Homeschooling was your standard, until there was a time when it wasn’t the best choice for your kids, and then you went with public school. You had standards when it came to eating…what, when, table manners, etc…until it was clear these rules were not best for one of your children, and then you made the necessary exceptions. You look so deeply into the complexities of each of your children, and when an exception needs to be made, you make it. So many people would stand so staunchly with their original standards that they could harm their children, but you set your pride aside and do what’s right for your child. I admire that, and strive to be like you.

  12. Renee, have you ever heard of the book “Not Exactly As Planned: A Memoir of Adoption, Secrets and Abiding Love” by Linda Rosenbaum? I’m not sure if it’s available in the States as it’s a Canadian publisher, but it’s most definitely available online. It’s a fantastic memoir about a families struggles in raising an adopted son with FASD.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Yes, I own this book. I think I’ve read every book ever written about FASD.

  13. Sounds like a good plan to me! That’s how we roll around here too : )

  14. We have an 11 year old with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. We do most of those things you mention, and we are proud of it, not ashamed. The point of parenting an FASD kid is to understand the behaviors are symptoms of underlying brain damage – the ‘hidden disability’ that no one sees and that makes most people expect the impossible of kids who really do want to do what’s right. We too have had a tough road trying to sort out how to change our parenting styles, how to change the environment to suit his needs. I agree 100% the most important thing is to get our child through the teenage years with a good sense of self, and without addictions or troubles that could color his whole future. We have a blog about this too, if you are interested: http://www.fasdlearningwithhope.wordpress.com.

    With all good wishes to you and your family.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Thank you so much for sharing! I will definitely be checking out your site.

  15. It took me until my youngest to realize that “normal” doesn’t mean anything when your kids are too disturbed, to understand why there were rules. My four oldest kids left the house hating me and although we’ve rebuilt our relationship, I really wish I had been less worried about family meals and rules, and more about family peace.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Thank you so much for these words! My son is loved and supported…I know he can feel that, but I miss him at dinner.

  16. Jessica

    I’m in an adoption support group where a lot of us have kids with diagnosed or suspected FASD. Many of our kids have been diagnosed with PANDAS (a disorder associated with strep–usually not easily diagnosed strep) and one of the symptoms in some of the kids is having them sudden severely restrict food. Although it may not pertain to you I would feel remiss to not at least pass along the information.

    Here is some information on it: https://www.pandasppn.org/seeingyourfirstchild/

Please share your thoughts!