Coddling. Merriam-Webster defines it “to treat with extreme or excessive care or kindness”. It’s interesting, this word. The connotation lurking around it is negative. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the term mentioned in a positive light, although I do think that “excessive kindness” is an oxymoron. Can kindness ever be TOO much? I suppose the answer would be yes…I’m sure it wouldn’t do to be excessively kind to someone who was, say, robbing you at gunpoint. But then again, I doubt you’d use a word like “coddling” in that particular situation. If someone were being overly kind to a killer, we might say they were crazy. Or selfless. Showing kindness in the face of death would definitely be selfless. But was she “coddling” her attacker? No, that wouldn’t make sense. But I digress. I’m sort of a word nerd. Is that a thing? (It’s clearly a thing)
The term coddling gets thrown around a lot in my world. When Pea was first diagnosed with all of his “stuff”, he was not even three years old. In those days, nobody accused anyone of treating a two year old with “extreme or excessive care”. But the little patients inevitably become bigger ones. The behaviors that would illicit sympathy and hugs from others aren’t quite as palatable when the baby cheeks go away. I get it, though. Life is hard. It’s not getting any easier. We have to let our kids fail. Flounder. FALL. We have to do it because LIFE. I’m a FIRM believer in this. They need to learn to pick themselves up and try again. They need to realize that not everyone will always like them and vice versa. If they don’t study, they fail the test. If they forget to bring in their homework, they get a zero. Mom can’t and shouldn’t save the day forever. If they don’t learn how to roll with the punches and get through the bad times, what kind of adult will they be? A craptastic one. Much like the kids that we read about now who organize protests in college and file lawsuits because they got their feelings hurt. Similar to the petty girl who wrote that horrible op-ed piece about not getting paid enough money out of college to afford the lifestyle she was accustomed to. Kids have to learn to work hard – DAMN HARD – to succeed. They have to learn to be GOOD PEOPLE. We, as parents, cannot take the pain away. We can’t fix it all. They have to learn how much life can suck and how to come out the other side. It’s the hardest part of being a parent, in my opinion. It doesn’t matter if your child wears the “special needs” label or not. Each child is special needs in some way or another. All children have a struggle – A THING – that will make something harder for them one day. ALL THE PARENTS have a big uphill battle and it’s work and it’s impossible and it’s doable and some days we do a super job and some days we need all the martinis. But vodka, not gin. Don’t be ridiculous.
Here’s the thing, though. They may be taller, may have lost all their baby teeth and may quote YouTubers all. the. freaking. time. while discussing who they have a crush on…but 2nd graders are still babies. Hard to believe, eh? They love a good show about teenagers, but I busted my big guy pretty excited to watch the new episode of Paw Patrol the other day with his little brother. They still have a whole lot to learn and a whole lot of maturing to do. My Pea, in particular, has some big problems. They are problems that he doesn’t wear on the outside, but they are problems none the less. Now that he’s getting older, I’m moving into new terrain. The era of being THAT MOM has started. I’m the crazy lady who is double checking and triple checking that the substitute teacher won’t be the man who makes Pea panic. I’m the one who has to RSVP “no” to an AWESOME nerf gun battle birthday party because Pea can’t handle that kind of environment. It’s me who requests a teacher who gives lots of hugs and it’s moi who will ask for special treatment when her son has his feelings hurt. It’s true, y’all. I AM A CODDLER. I coddle THE HELL out of Pea. I totally and completely treat him with extreme and excessive care. BLASPHEME, they cry!!
But…and this is a GIGANTIC BUT AND THE REASON THAT I AM WRITING TODAY…I spend just as much time forcing him to do EVERYTHING that you could never imagine. You have, very literally, NO IDEA. You can’t know that when I wake up, I pray that God will give me the strength to do the hard stuff again today. You don’t know how far he’s come and how VERY VERY MUCH we force him to do – how incredibly opposite we are from “coddling” in it’s negative sense.
I have to push a child who has been crying and shaking out of the car ALL THE TIME because I force him to go to school. This is a tough one for people to believe because Pea loves school and loves his friends and pulls himself up by the bootstraps and does a damn good job when he’s there. He’s able to do that because I force him to do it. I had to let him fall. FLOUNDER. I carried him, kicking and screaming and biting me, into preschool every. single. day. his pre-K year. They let us use the back entrance because he was damn heavy to carry like a football. I cried in the car after almost every drop off while I put my hair back into place. That would be hard to imagine if you met Pea today. I did it so that you could meet the Pea you meet today.
I joined online groups and made friends and took Pea to a social function practically every day until he started school. I filled our schedule to the brim. He would whimper and cry and be scared constantly. I took him anyway. We had to talk for hours beforehand and lay out exactly what was going to happen and where and how long he would be there. It was a very exhausting period of time. He needed to learn to socialize before elementary school started and it was hard as hell, but I kept on it. I took him to birthday parties where we were an hour late because it took that long to get from the car into the facility. It would have been much easier not to go, but I took him anyway. He has to live here, on this earth and with these people, and I’m the only one who can throw him in the deep end and force him to swim. This might be shocking if you see him at parties today, but that’s why I did it. So you could see him at parties today.
He’s got a team of doctors. He goes to therapy every Tuesday. I make him miss recess and lunch for his appointment so that he doesn’t miss instructional time. Recess and lunch are what get him through the day and he has begged me to change the appointment time. I do not. I force him to miss his favorite things because “life hurts, son”. It’s probably strange to hear that this bothers him because he leaves school for his appointments with no issue, but that’s why I do it. So that he learns to be kind and pleasant even when things aren’t going his way.
He tells me EVERY SINGLE DAY OF HIS LIFE about something that is bothering him…some little thing that is twisting around in his brain. To Pea, everything is a BIG thing. He has OCD and it manifests for him with constant looping thoughts that he used to call voices. His mind is constantly and endlessly feeding back memories that nobody would ever normally recall. Sometimes he will say them aloud, telling me something that upset him four years ago out of thin air. I don’t pretend to imagine what it’s like being in his head, but it can’t be fun. We work tirelessly to help him push the thoughts aside so that he can pay attention in school and do his work. He has always held himself together exceptionally well at school, but he suffers for this. He has terrible stomachaches and frequents the nurses office. The cost of his easy laugh, his not complaining with every single breath he takes, him holding back his tears to twice a day instead of fifty, is to feel sick inside. He would like to go home every time he visits our sweet nurse. I forced him to fight harder this year and I get to listen to him whisper on the phone that his stomach hurts again and tell him that he needs to stay there. That’s the hard stuff, folks.
I suppose my reasoning behind my ramble tonight is two fold. First, don’t forget that you don’t know what someone else is going through. (I know. I say that a lot. I’ll say it a lot more.) I have so many surreal moments during my day to day interactions with people. All sorts of little firecrackers are firing off in my head while I’m smiling and nodding and wondering inside if I should say what I’m really thinking…share that I don’t know if I can volunteer for the event because it might be one of the Bad Days…tell the truth about why Pea can’t go to the party rather than RSVP no and make up an excuse…tell my old friends that I’m not sure if we can get together because Pea might not be able to say anything to them for the first two hours and I won’t be able to pay attention to them because I’m wondering if he’s okay…it can be rather a lot to live inside MY head, too. And I can tell you with certainty that I screw it all up A LOT. I choose wrong. I’m human…it’s kind of our thing. And I’m going to get accused of coddling Pea A WHOLE HECK OF A LOT as he grows up, which brings me to number two…WHO CARES!?!?! Be strong, my fellow parents! Let’s do this together!! Let’s raise our martinis after the worst day ever (or Dr. Peppers. Whatevs.) and rejoice in the fact that it quite simply DOES NOT matter what other people think! Doesn’t that feel blissful?!?! Regardless of what your own situation is, remind yourself of the following things:
- You are doing your absolute best even though you sort of suck at parenting sometimes. And adulting in general. And math. (that part was for me)
- LOADS of people love you to the moon and back, ESPECIALLY YOUR BABIES!
- Some people think you are an absolute idiot. They might be slightly correct on occasion.
- A handful (or slightly more depending on your number of acquaintances…this is when it would help to be introverted…which I am SO not) think you are coddling your kid too much.
- A bushel of folks think you don’t coddle them enough.
- You thought I was going to say “peck” here, but I’m not because I’m shifty like that. And occasionally an idiot.
Don’t sweat it, y’all. Love each other. Give each other some credit. Trust your gut and do what’s right for your family, even if it’s not a popular choice. If someone looks anxious or worried, ask if they need a hug…guaranteed they do. And MOST. OF. ALL…if your child needs it – even if people on the outside looking in don’t get it, even if you are 99% certain that you’re known as “that mom” in various circles – you go right ahead and be the parent that looks like a stark-raving-lunatic-viral-HuffPost-article-inspiring-coddling-helicopter mama. I know that isn’t what you are. You know that isn’t what you are. And that’s enough.