Not too long ago my daughter was invited to a birthday party. When I told her she was invited to a party she asked, “What kind of party is it?” This is the first question she asks anytime she is invited somewhere. Before she even knows who the party is for, she always needs to know WHAT KIND of party it is. Translation…is it a situation she can tolerate!? Most time she is invited to something she enjoys..bounce houses, princess parties or trips to the farm. This time it was something she knew she couldn’t handle and when I asked her if she wanted to go she told me she did not. And I fully respect that. If I have learned anything in the past five years of being her mother (and I will add that this lesson did not come easy and took many bad decisions on my part) it is that my daughter cannot be pushed into something she cannot tolerate. Doing so will result in complete chaos for her, for me, and for anyone around us who has to witness one of her meltdowns.
Whenever my daughter is invited into a situation that may be too overstimulating for her, I do my best to try and give her enough information to make an informed decision as to whether or not she wants to participate. If it is something she has attempted in the past then obviously she bases her decision on her prior experiences. If it is something new, and she is unsure, I try to explain what the situation might entail as best I could. I pull up a website or a You Tube video of the experience if I can. I explain to her that if she does want to attempt to participate we can always leave if it becomes too much for her. But ultimately I leave the decision in her hands. She knows best what she can handle.
However, each time I find ourselves in a situation where we have to decline an invitation because of my daughter’s sensory issues I get a knot in my stomach because I am faced with this dilemma: do I make up an excuse as to why we cannot go or do I tell the truth..that we are declining the invitation because my daughter has sensory processing issues and the situation is just something she knows she cannot handle. And, selfishly, I hate being in this position. Sometimes I get lucky, as I did in the last case, where we actually have a prior commitment and cannot attend anyway. But, for the most part, I am not that lucky and I tie myself in knots over how to handle responding to an invitation. If I tell the truth, I feel that I am perceived as a coddling, overprotective mother who is sheltering her child. I feel this way because I have been told this at one time or another by people who don’t understand my daughter’s needs. But it’s not even the naysayers that steer me towards making excuses. I am surrounded by many people who mean well yet still make me feel uncomfortable. I can be out with my daughter somewhereand someone may ask, “How come she is ok now?” or “Is this really the same child you are talking about because I’d never tell just by looking at her?!” And instead of being able to answer their questions confidently, I clam up…never knowing how to respond even if I know the answers. So that is why I sometimes feel it easier just to make up an excuse. However, if I make up an excuse or lie by omission, I feel like a hypocrite. I spend all this time writing about my daughter, telling the world how proud of her I am, and here I am being less than forthcoming about her issues for fear of being judged. Also, in assuming that I will be judged unfavorably, aren’t I the one being judgmental of others?!
I confided in a fellow “sensational mom” about my inner conflict surrounding the last invitation we received and she very wisely told me that I should be telling the truth. She said that the people in my life who are true friends will understand our situation and accept it, even if they don’t fully understand. And that, for the most part, has been true. Not everyone in our world understands Sensory Processing Disorder, but they haven’t judged it either. They ask questions about our situation not because they don’t believe but because they want to understand. They comment on how well adjusted my daughter seems to be because they are amazed by her progress not because they doubt what I tell them about her. The problem isn’t other people but my own insecurities about myself as a parent and a human being. I feel I may be judged because I have judged people unfairly. I feel that others are downplaying my daughter’s issues because I have downplayed her issues in hopes that maybe they weren’t as big a deal as they have been. So what my wise confidant made me realize is that I am really my own worst enemy. My insecurities are self inflicted and, in making excuses for my daughter’s issues, I am taking the easy way out.
Even after this revelation I wish I could promise that, the next time I am in this position, I will tell the truth. But I can’t do that. I’d like to think that I will but I’m just not so sure. I still don’t now if I am confident enough..I don’t know if I am ready. What I can be confident about is that there are more situations my daughter will participate in happily that she couldn’t before. There are less times we have to decline an invitation and more times that, even in a new situation, she will succeed. But instead of beating myself up over how much I have yet to learn, I have to instead be OK with where I am now. I will get to a point where I feel confident about the decisions that I make for my daughter. I am just not there yet. This doesn’t mean I love my daughter any less or am ashamed of who she is. It’s just evidence that everyone develops at their own pace..and just as my daughter is a work in progress, so am I.