Who Knows You, Baby?
Later this week I am scheduled to meet with the parents to discuss with them my concerns over their child’s excessive anxiety. Anxiety to the point where I think he may have an actual disorder. This is not a child who worries a bit about going to daycare, and misses mummy a little more than most. This is a child whose level of worry and whose practice of fixating on points of anxiety interferes with his ability to make friends, enjoy his surroundings, live his life. I think it needs to be explored by people more expert than me, so that, if experts deem it necessary, it can be dealt with before it becomes even more of a handicap. I am a little concerned about how it will go. I quite like mom. We have a good relationship. She been very open to my input on small daily events, even soliciting my advice on occasion. This, however, is not a small matter. Dad I have only met once, so I can’t gauge how he will respond. In all honesty, I think the anxiety issue probably comes from mom, but judging from what mom has told me of how they respond to their son’s emotions, they are both fostering his anxiousness. So, he gets it by nature and nurture. And so I am meeting with the parents to discuss how he’s managing at daycare. You know that truism, “You are the parent, you know your child best”? I’m kind of ambivalent about it. I have three children, 12, 16, and 20. One thing the years have shown me is that I do and I don’t know my child. I’ve watched my fourteen-year-old bring home new friends, and I’ve thought, “Why on earth is that kid one of my kid’s friends? They’re so different! What could they possibly have to connect them?” Then I’d watch, and in their interactions, I’d see an aspect of my child I’d never noticed before. Seems that friend knows my child, or a facet of my child, better than I. In fact, I like watching my kids with their friends for that very reason: I learn more about them, things I wouldn’t otherwise have experienced. It’s certainly true that we parents love our child best. If you have a gut instinct that’s telling you something about your child, it needs to be taken seriously. It’s also true that you know your child in his home environment. But do you know who he is at daycare? At school? In other environments with other people? If he behaves differently in these places, is it because he “can’t be himself” there, or because he’s being the rest of himself? The other thing about parents, is we generally have a pretty small sample size on which to base expectations and from which to make generalizations. Most families in our society have one or two children; three at the very most. Anything more than that is quite unusual. Many parents have had little experience with children before having their own. So, five years into this grand journey of parenting, you know one or maybe two children intimately. That’s a pretty small sampling. I strongly suspect that my daycare child’s parents have no idea there’s an issue. This is their only child. To them, he is normal. They have no real basis of comparison. Yes, he’s “a bit of a worry-wart”, mom tells me, but “all kids like their routines”, right? She doesn't know. My first child was colicky, screamed for hours and hours every evening, but, being a natural born optimist and having no prior experience with babies, I told people she “was a little fussy”. It wasn’t till my second came along that I fully realized she had been a heckuva lot more than “a little” fussy!! I didn’t know. I have the unenviable task of suggesting to them that he’s rather more than “a bit of a worry-wart” and that while children do like their routines, this particular boy’s need for it borders on obsessive. I will be the first person to suggest to them that their boy is not “normal”. When I tell them this, it will also be suggesting that they, as parents, do not in fact know their child best. What I’m hoping is that they will co-operate with me in some new patterns of interacting with their son. I’m hoping that they will be open to trying new approaches to his anxiety, approaches that ease rather than increase it. I’m hoping that they will be willing to take him to their doctor, even to make an appointment with a child and family therapist. But they may become angry and defensive. They may tell me that I’m wrong, that they know their child best, and there's nothing wrong. They may say nothing, and simply withdraw the child from my care. They may even tell me I’m worrying needlessly. Wouldn’t that be ironic... So, I take a deep breath and prepare myself to give some lovely, loving, kind and conscientious parents some unwelcome news. I hope it goes well.