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Monday, October 23, 2017

Parenting and Perceptions (Repost)

I originally posted this nine years ago. I occasionally still feel this way; so this is a good reminder to myself.

As a new mom one thing I struggled with (and sometimes still do) is Kayla's behavior in public and the perception other people might have.

It's not necessarily what I would consider really bad behavior either; she doesn't throw fits/temper tantrums, beg for toys or candy, cries or whines...but she doesn't listen. She takes off down random aisles going where she wants to go. She doesn't have a care in the world or even cares if we're following her. She doesn't care if she's not staying with us. How frustrating is it to call your child back "stop!" "turn around!" "come back here!" and they completely ignore you? Or they think it's a game and see how fast they can get around the corner before you catch up to them.

Kayla was never one to just stand in one place while I browse the shelves for whatever I'm looking for. It would make me a little sad to see other kids just walking nicely and calmly holding their parents' hands, or just standing by their side; my kid would have to be in the cart or else she would take off. (Over the last year she has become better at walking with us, but still has her moments of taking off.)

Same thing with restaurants. It stresses me out to go out to eat with Kayla. We rarely eat out as it is, but now I try to avoid it if possible. She won't stay seated. Up, down, up, down. Fidgety, trying to climb under the table, over the table. I bring things to keep her occupied but it just doesn't work...everything else is so much more entertaining. I hate saying over and over "Kayla sit down!" "Just sit still!" blah blah blah...so we just don't eat out.

I know all parents want and expect their kids to behave - especially in public. No one wants to be the parent who has the kid acting up and everyone else is discreetly trying not to stare at you.

But kids will be kids. They have short attention spans, they're curious, it's hard for them to do grown-up things, shopping can be boring for them, they have moods, they're not always well-behaved.

So while yes, I do expect my child to listen when I'm calling her, or telling her to stop, sometimes I think I expect too much from her. I think I've put expectations on her to be good all the time and when she doesn't I get frustrated. And no child can be "good" all the time. It's not reasonable to expect perfect behavior (although it would be nice!)

I think I've put some unreasonable expectations on her because she has Down syndrome. Because if she's running away from me and not listening when I'm telling her to stop and I end up chasing her down...then people might see that and think "oh she's got her hands full with her daughter who has Down syndrome." Because if we're in a restaurant and she's not sitting still (and I mean standing up on the chair, sitting down, standing up, getting down) someone might look at us and think "thank goodness I don't have a child with Down syndrome; look what the parents have to deal with."

I expect her to have this oh-so-perfect behavior because what if our family is the only interaction some other family has with Down syndrome and think negatively because of it? Whereas if she was "good" all the time then someone might observe and think "oh having a child with Down syndrome isn't so bad."

Of course I have no idea what anyone else is thinking. These are only my thoughts on what they might be thinking. But I do worry about what other people's perceptions are. I worry if they're going to judge a whole segment of society - people with Down syndrome - based on what they see of my daughter.

I know this isn't fair to Kayla at all. It's not fair for me to expect her to be "on" all the time just so she can be a "positive face for the Down syndrome community." She's not the poster child for Down syndrome. And if I don't want people to perceive her "negative" behavior as an attribute of Down syndrome then I need to stop doing it myself..because sometimes I do wonder "would she be acting like this if she didn't have Down syndrome? Would she be this active and impulsive?" And if so would I care as much? Would I worry so much about what other people thought? Would I stress so much when we go out in public? I need to see her personality for what it is - a highly active and curious child (which totally clashes with my more mellow style!)

I do know that her "behavior personality" isn't specific to Down syndrome. I know a lot of typical kids act the same way and some of it has to do with age too. But when you have a disability it feels like everyone is judging you/your child on that instead of it just being "their age."

I don't even know what exactly it is I'm trying to say here! Just that sometimes parenting really is hard; trying to figure it all out - how to raise these little people that depend on you for everything. Trying to do the right thing by them...sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding...but learning through it all.

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