This isn’t what I thought parenting would be like. I imagined myself with my daughter, HK, playing dress up and having tea parties, going shopping and hosting birthday parties together. I imagined my love for Halloween would be shared with her and we’d both have a blast planning our costumes- we’d both be very girly versions of whatever. I thought that her childhood would be filled with cuddles on the sofa watching movies, baking together and all of those other common mother-daughter bonding experiences. I was excited to be a better mother than the one before me and I had so many future plans for us both. During my pregnancy, I was sure that I’d been carrying a boy for the last nine months, but when she came kicking and screaming into this world I was so glad that I’d had a girl after all!
But, I never thought that she’d be kicking and screaming her whole way through childhood.
By age two or three, I was court-ordered to give equal time to her biological father. But, he instead let her spend that time with his parents. On alternating weeks, she lived with them from Sunday to Sunday. I noticed that she wasn’t hitting all of her milestones that toddlers should. The word “No” was unacceptable to her and when spoken to her, she would get worked up and hold her breath until she turned blue. Inevitably, I’d give in every time. I wondered why it seemed like I was having a harder time with parenting than other parents. With advice from family, I was reassured that it was just the “terrible twos” lasting longer and she’d grow out of it. Her pediatrician didn’t seem to worry, either. But, I suspected that more was going on during the time she spent with her grandparents. Upon more investigation, which was hard to do given that her grandparents and I weren’t on the best of terms most of the time due to my disagreements of how they were raising her during their time, I found out that she, indeed, was being spoiled rotten over there. It was likely to be the reason she developed these behavior problems, I thought.
By age four she was a full fledged “tomboy” and seemed to have a limitless supply of energy. It was getting her into trouble at school by the time she entered Kindergarten. She was looking forward to this time for a long while and she couldn’t wait to ride the school bus like the big kids. I hoped that Kindergarten would bring much needed challenge and structure to her life as her boredom was often the culprit of her bad behavior. But, Kindergarten was a nightmare and I took her out two months in. Her teachers would call every other day requesting that I pick her up because of yet, another accident. She received bad marks constantly and within just a few weeks, already had one trip to the Principal’s office for a paddling. Her teacher complained that she was very often disruptive to the class and that she didn’t follow directions. During a meeting that I scheduled with the guidance counselor, I was told that she may just not be ready for school yet and to wait another year. I was truly devastated and I felt hopeless and worried for my daughter’s future. This is when I knew that we needed help and that it couldn’t be just me being an incompetent parent. Something is wrong, here.
Upon entering Kindergarten in August of that year, I had finally gotten her biological father on board with a better custody arrangement. He agreed to visitation with her on weekends while she was in school and promised that she would be spending less time with his parents. We hoped that this would help her behavior by limiting the homes she went back and forth to and creating a more strict and structured environment for her. After her fallout from Kindergarten, we agreed that we would spend this time working on her issues so that she, hopefully, would be in a better condition to successfully complete Kindergarten that following year. We also agreed that she’d spend that following summer with him on the condition that she not be in the care of her grandparents without his presence. He was happy to agree, because even he saw the difference that spending time with them made on her at this point. I wasn’t entirely sure if letting her spend the summer with him would be helpful or not, but I’ve always tried to keep him present in HK’s life, given that we were never married and don’t live together. I was also desperate for a break, myself.
HK’s issues are not all clearly defined, as they changed somewhat over the course of time. Some of her consistent problems include failure to potty train, defiant behavior (less so now that she’s older), constant lying, destruction of anything she can get her hands on, and self-esteem issues. She has barely gone a day without some sort of “accident”. She wets the bed every night and has numerous accidents throughout the day. I have tried everything- taking the pull-ups away, punishment, positive reinforcement, ignoring it altogether, and making her clean up herself and her bedding when it happens. On one occasion, she cut the family dog’s ear with scissors. On several occasions she’s cut her own hair. This has come in steady occurrences always following her privilege to keep scissors being reinstated. If left alone for any significant amount of time in the mornings, for example- getting up before I do and not waking me, she will destroy everything in sight. This has occurred even at the age of six, almost seven years old. Her lying is completely out of control- she will tell you that she’s had no accidents, even when the evidence is clear to everyone, including herself. She loses her belongings constantly and often fails to bring what is needed to school. She forgets directions almost immediately and then fails to carry them out successfully, even simple ones. Lately, she has been exhibiting some worrying behavior related to self-esteem. She often says things like, “I can’t do anything right.” and “I’m not smart.” She struggles with everyday responsibilities that a child of her age should be able to accomplish like brushing her teeth and hair and dressing herself properly. She often complains that she can’t find what she’s looking for, even though it is in plain sight. She is always very messy and even with reminders, seems to forget to bathe appropriately. I am now convinced that her “tomboyishness” is not just as simple as that, like I once thought, because she is very much a “girly-girl” in many ways. I believe it’s rather, her struggling to keep clean and neat and understanding why this is important. I often see other girls her age that she plays outside with regularly in cute outfits and having their hair up in pony-tails or with bows in them and they’re playing in the dirt right along with her! So, it’s not that these other girls are any less of a “tomboy” than she, but that they have a better understanding of what it means to keep themselves in order. Not like HK, who regularly comes home with missing bows and her clothes ripped, dirty, and hanging off of herself. This is just HK. She has no problem sleeping in the filth that she left behind on her bed from the previous night and will often “sneak” underwear during the night and leave herself with none in the morning. This often results in not getting to school on time and she has admitted that she uses this to her advantage because she doesn’t want to go to school. So, it would seem that the desire to go to school every day is diminishing. Through what she has conveyed to me, she seems to be bored at school pretty often. This leads to bad behavior. Her patience level is not that of a typical (almost) seven-year-old. She gives up on tasks almost immediately and cries in frustration when she can’t figure something out, even with help and guidance. This is often something very simple like tying her shoes or cleaning up her room. Going out with her is a very rare occasion. As much as I want to take her with me everywhere I go, she makes this impossible. Along with her accidents and impulsiveness, being away from home is just more stressful than it’s worth. I know that this makes her unhappy, but I feel that my hands are tied. I, too, would like to get out more!
Currently, since gaining full physical custody and moving out-of-state, she has improved somewhat. The new environment (and better rated schools) and being away from her grandparents has seemed to help. Serious accidents at school have stopped and she has gained some independence, like playing outside with friends from the neighborhood. She has started Kindergarten again and this time she doesn’t seem to be getting in as much trouble as before. The accidents overall have seemed to lessen on some days, but it’s still a nightmare on most. At home she is still in constant trouble and this is wreaking havoc on the entire family, most notably my relationship with my Fiance and his relationship with her. On most days, I question whether it’s worth it to even get out of bed. I don’t sleep well due to stress and this makes it hard for us to get up and get to school on time. I long for a good night’s sleep.
Recently, HK was accepted for Medicaid. Right thereafter, I quickly made an appointment with a therapist. She has been tested for ADD/ADHD and has been seen by someone qualified to examine her behaviors and, hopefully, provide some insight into what is causing her problems. The therapist says that she does exhibit some behaviors indicative of ADD or ADHD and other, more troublesome behaviors that we are looking into as well. I desperately want her to be a happy and healthy girl. That girl needs a happy and healthy mother, too. This is dragging the both of us down.
Raising this child is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It is also the most rewarding. Though it is nothing like what I expected it to be, I still have so many plans for us! There are many shopping trips, birthday parties, fashion shows, movie nights, and outings in our future and I can’t wait to experience it with her! For those of you who are also struggling with this, does your child/children experience any of these issues? Have you found a way to lessen or resolve them? I have thought for quite some time now that HK may have ADD/ADHD, but have been resistant to medication. We’re all so desperate now, including her, for some relief. If her therapist diagnoses her with this, I’m open to medication now. I can tell that she knows how limited she is and we all hate that for her, probably no one more than she. She’s such a beautiful, talented child and I wish more people could see that.