Monday, January 24, 2011

Raising kids with special needs: mushball vs. tough-love parenting

There are times when I'm not sure how to handle certain special-needs situations, like on Saturday, when I found out kids had been mean to Max. (Thanks again, everyone, for the support and advice). And then there are times when I'm completely confident about what I'm doing. I know, if I know anything, that I need to keep pushing Max beyond his comfort level and not give in when he wants me to do stuff for him. But then, there are two parents in this relationship. And one of us is a mushball. Hint: It's not me.

I went to Max's parent-teacher conference last week. Lots of good stuff was said: He's beginning to grasp addition, his reading skills are also developing, they're planning to use his iPad a lot more in class, his speech therapist is going to help us start programming sentences into it, the physical therapist will continue working on life skills (recent score: Max is now climbing in and out of bed!), the occupational therapist is going to help us figure out utensils and cups that will encourage independent eating, ideally in the color purple. Of course.

"Does he always eat lunch on his own?" I asked his teacher.

"Yes!" she said, looking surprised.

At home, Max still tries to get me to feed him. He points to his food and at me, and gives me this killer smile. "Max, I'm not feeding you—you can do it yourself!" I'll say, firmly. Sometimes, I will literally turn my back on him to busy myself with dishes or poke around in a cabinet; when I turn back, he's usually shoveling food into his mouth. This is not what happens with Dave. "ADDDY! ADDDY! ADDDY! ADDY!" Max will chant, knowing that Mushball Dave will cave sooner or later and feed him. And cave he does.

At the conference, we talked about potty training, too. Max will go at school, but he is not into it at home (despite the fact that at this time last year, he made a big show of going potty). This weekend, at the school nurse's recommendation, I ordered Max a purple notebook and some purple smiley face stickers, to see if the sticker system might persuade him.

"I think I might want to get his Dad a sticker system too," I told the nurse, only half joking. Dave needs motivation to not give in to Max. He's a softie with Sabrina, too. I am Mommy Hard-Ass, the one who doesn't let the kids buy the toy at the store, have chocolate milk for breakfast or get out of picking up their clothes off the floor. (Although it is tricky to enforce that last one when you are a grown-up who leaves his clothes on the floor, not that I'm mentioning any names).

With Max, it's so important that we continue to encourage him to do things on his own. It forces him to learn, to use his hands, to feel more confident in his own abilities, to develop. Dave and I have talked about this and he's gotten somewhat better but he remains Mushball Dave. Which is one of the things that first made me fall in love with him, this sweetie of a guy who was so easygoing and good-natured and eager to please. I-r-o-n-y.

Although when Max looks at me with those big eyes of his and says "ORE!"—as in, I want more chocolate ice-cream even though I've just eaten a humongous bowl of it—I can never turn him down.

OK, who's the mushball parent and who's the tough-love parent in your house? Or are you one and the same?


  1. We each have our own triggers for giving-in. I just posted and the links from other mothers are really good. Just saying. Barbara

  2. We take turns.

    Suggestion on potty training that worked with my son: an M&M dispenser. He wanted to work the mechanism so bad he would use the potty. You could buy purple M&Ms (they sell those at the mall by color here, also I bed you could get them online).

  3. With Anya, I'm the "bad mommy" and Josh is the pushover.

    Overheard last night:
    Josh: "Anya, you need to finish your homework before dinner."
    Anya: "No, I want to build this Lego house."
    Josh: "OK."

    I couldn't believe how easily he gave in.

    But with Asher, I'm the pushover. I'm the one who wants to bring him into our bed at midnight when he won't go back to sleep. Or maybe I'm just lazy and don't want to rock him.

    Lesley's purple M&M suggestion is a good one. We used to give Anya jelly beans.

  4. I am halfway between mush and tough, because I set limits and try to stick to them but I like to sell it with lovey dovey style. I hate it when my husband yells to enforce the rule he has just put forth, and the girls just begin to wail if a voice is raised, so I think I am more effective with positive praise and tone and with talking through every step of the event, naming the stages and drawing comparisons to other things they know about and praising the result. But I am not above just picking up a recalcitrant 4 year old and dumping her unceremoneously in her bed for a time out. And, sadly, I do yell when the fourth time I've said get up and pick up your toys someone just looks at me and says no. This may be bad but I also make a lot of deals - my child who MUST eat or hypoglycemia will do untold damange is right now refusing to eat breakfast while she is home sick. I have told her I will play a YouTube video of Nik Kershaw after she eats her (Stonyfield!) yogurt. This is possibly my best shot at getting any breakfast in the child, so I have done the deal. Good method? Possibly not, I'm coming back later to see if any of you have given me tips that will help me. Where is the manual???

  5. Hi Ellen,
    That sounds scarily (is that a word?) like Patricia and myself with our 2 year old triplets. She is hard-ass mommy and I am mushball husband. I think it is easier to be a softie when you don't have to deal with the kids all day. I get to give in and then I am gone at work the next day while she has to deal with them all. I am working on getting tougher... really!

    (Dad to 2 year old triplets - Zac with CP, Nic and Kenadie)

  6. Tim and I take turns between Tough love and Mushball. I'm more of a stickler for school work and behavior. ie 'Jake are you allowed to jump off the sofa and run screaming through the house at home? No. Then why are you acting like this at Nannie's house?' Tim is more of a stickler for independence and life skills. ie 'Jake you can tie your shoes at school by yourself so you can do it at home too.'

  7. I didn't realize I was being a mushball until I observed my son at school today. He did all sorts of things that I would have thought impossible. I learned a pretty valuable lesson today to stop saying "he can't" and to stop doing things for him that he might be able to do on his own.

  8. Lesley: M&M dispenser is a fun idea, thank you! Max has trouble chewing them (tends to swallow them whole), but I could mash 'em or something. Hey, they're PURPLE!

    Danielle: Unlike you, I'm Bad Mommy all around. Seems like giving in with Asher really is about exhaustion... I was much more of a pushover when the kids were that age!

    GingerB: When you find the manual, Fed-ex to me.

    Kevin: I think your scenario is true in many families. In our families, BOTH of us work!

    Julie: I had the same eye-opening experience at Max's school a couple of years ago, when I was feeding him all the time--and found out that he was feeding himself at school.

  9. It's bad when you say to your husband under your breath, "Tell him it's time for bed," or "Say no when he asks for more video game time", but this is me daily! The dads just don't know sometimes and need a heads up, but it is hard to always be the "heavy".

    I enjoy your blog a lot!

  10. We alternate - some days I'm the mushball and others my husband is. We're both guilty of doing too much for Malayna though. We don't challenge her enough. I'll be checking back for more suggestions on potty training since we're having no luck here either. I might try the M&M dispenser!

  11. I'm a tough mushball I guess.

    I think I know why Max likes to be fed--it's a sure bet opportunity to have one-on-one attention from Momma or Daddy. Who doesn't love attention? It's like sunshine, it's invigorating!

    I wonder if he'd eat if you sat down across from him and paid close attention/delivered affirmations while he fed himself?

  12. I really needed to read this today. I do not feel nearly so alone.

    Yeah, I am a bit of a mushball myself and am working on toughening up with my kids.

  13. so i was once watching a learning show about ape mothers . the show explained there are two types of mothers one that keep a constant eye and hover over the childern doing thing for them when needed pampering them always . the second kind of mother seemed almost lazy she would just watch and let her child struggle until he found a way to get it done on their own. she only intervined when her child life was a steak . OH and she knew instantly when the snake was let in the cage actully they both did. but the study showed as the little ape babies grew up the child of the first mother was nervous and did not do much on their own they hung back and watched the world. the child of the secoend mother was more confident and adventurous when confronted he stood his ground. when i am about to give in i reember that ape mother and think HE will be a confident indepent man he will"
    so yeah iam am th tough love and my hubby is the mush ball

  14. I think that I am both the Mom Hard Ass and the mushball mom. Haley gets her way a lot. I also forget to make her do things on her own, I am always amazed by what she does at school or for her father. I can be pretty serious about some things. I just need to focus and pick my battles.

  15. I'm the assertive one even though Abby is nonverbal. My hubby is the pushover. For example the night I was away, he let Abby sleep in our bed. I was NOT pleased when I returned and he told me Abby had NOT slept in her bed. We are trying to get her to stay in her bed.


Thanks for sharing!

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