I think I have a couple of posts brewing sparked by some of the questions raised in the comments on my last post. Right now I want to answer a few of the questions that I think I have ready answers to. GB's mom asked if I was going back to work. I think the short answer is not in the near future. I have mixed feelings about that because I miss working, having work colleagues, planning my courses, and adult conversations (in real life ones that is :-)) The plan was for me to stay home for a year. I have now been home for two and most of the time I like it. The "work" feels so much more meaningful in many ways and certainly I think the kids benefit from it. As an educator I see the academic and social progress my oldest have made since they stopped attending regular school with the pressures that they aren't able to manage and I know it is the best choice for them. It satisfies some of my need for course planning, too! So most of the time, I am happy being home and homeschooling and therapeutic parenting.
Lynn asked something that I have been thinking an awful lot about. She said "don't you think the "cycle" of parenting for anyone is that you start out totally dedicated to your child(your life goes onto the back burner) and as they grow and become more independent then you slowly get to return to your relationship time?" I think there is much truth to what she says. This was especially true for us because we got three kids in 8 months (in 2007) so our lives centered around the needs of a new high special needs kid (who wanted to kill us!), a toddler who didn't speak, a newborn plus our daughter with RAD who had to do a whole lot of adjusting in a pretty short time frame. The whirlwind of all that activity and transition and getting to know their needs certainly dominated my life. However I was still working full-time so I still felt the "split" loyalties and responsibilities. In a funny way what helped is that C. and I also got married in the middle of all that and we joked about our "shotgun wedding" (she was 8 months pregnant) and "newlywed" status in the midst of all of the happenings. There wasn't much dedicated time for our "relationship" but we viewed it as "stolen moments" and focused on keeping our communication as clear as possible (essential for our triangulating kids) and it worked. There are times we think they are becoming more independent and we may have more time for ourselves but then they surprise us and don't seem to be ready for that independence. Somehow we foresee needing a babysitter for our son even when he turns 16-17 so we have to find another way to make time for our relationship. I think this is where babysitters come in but our kids have only recently been ready for that. (The two oldest rarely make up stories to get us in trouble anymore so we have a little bit more trust that we won't come home to social services/police investigations which has been a significant fear for a long time but especially since our move to a new state.) I guess in theory, I do hope it is true that they will become more independent and we can go back to the things that are for just us (together and individually) at some point but for now it seems far on the horizon so we work to make it happen now as much as we can.
Bryna is still struggling to fall into a routine with her foster son. We can certainly relate to that especially when we first got Corazon (pre-RAD diagnosis) because each day was like a huge surprise in terms of behavior, attitude, needs, railroading efforts, etc. We created a routine that served our realities (schedule and priorities) and her needs (schedule, safety, physical, emotional, etc.) and moved from there. C. was less comfortable being alone with Corazon for long periods of time and she certainly was most dysregulated when I wasn't around and once I was around she raged and raged and raged. Even now, we have certain things we won't do unless the other parent will be around so it means having to postpone doling out consequences and/or privileges because we understand enough of what might happen and what support looks like for us.The key for us is to keep talking with each other about our fears and concerns and needs and not let the parenting stressors take its toll on our relationship.
Bryna also asked about finding babysitters and preparing babysitters. I don't know how helpful I can be because we have only recently started using babysitters that weren't very close to us and who knew (really knew) what we were up against especially with Corazon. Recently we have hired two different young women to babysit and they both work for us but are quite different. One of them really doesn't "like" kids very much and that works for us with the two oldest because they do worst when the sitter tries to engage and interact with them. The other LOVES our two little ones and enjoys keeping up with them so we can have her babysit those two and ONE of the older ones by giving her clear direction on what to do with each of them. I think we found that what works best is to give sitters very specific guidelines about what the kids are expected to do and have no wiggle room otherwise. It helps our kids feel safe. For example, we would say "While we are gone Corazon may only be in this space, she has all the activities she can do right here so she doesn't need to go to any other part of the house. If she tries to suggest it is time for bed." In our case several of our kids can never be in the same space together for safety reasons so we tell sitters that and require direct supervision if something necessitate their being in the same space (meals, for example.) We will sometimes vary our routine so that the kids feel safest. For example, we might postpone bedtime if it will raise anxiety and allow in bed reading time until we come home of they fall asleep. Or vice versa. We might declare early bedtime and move up dinner schedule, reading time, bath, etc. I think consistency is key for any child with special needs and we don't try to leave too many rules as "rules" but as "needs." That helps our sitters follow our expectations even if they might not agree with them.
Ohchicken, who started all this reflection on our parenting, asked about finding time to be a couple and not feel like we are just co-parents. I think we struggle with this because we have this sense of being a couple as having to do with "alone time" in which just the two of us are doing something together. That's not often possible when the kids needs us right there and then or when one of us has to supervise a raging child while the other gets dinner on the table or keeps the other kids from freaking out. By the time we are done with the day to day we are tired and just need to go to sleep. I think we were friends and colleagues for so long before we had children that we have those connections together so I can still help her with her work and she can support my efforts at homeschooling with insights from those other "lives." That helps. It also helps that we can say to each other what we are missing or needing or worried about even if the other one cannot fix it. We try not to react in anger and frustration and when we do we quickly acknowledge it even if it cannot change at the moment. It helps us keep other dimensions (friendship, colleague) of our relationship alive which helps our relationship as a couple as well. We are getting better about taking the time alone together outside the house by hiring babysitters more often and we find that we may or may not end up talking about the kids when we go out but it is fine either way. I think what has also helped us is that we view our time with our kids as part of OUR time and relationship as well. I don't know if that makes sense but for us spending time "with the family" can also feel like time for us because the kids are happiest, and have fewer issues and meltdowns when we are all together than when left to their own devices. Plus it helps that in TX there are restaurants with attached playgrounds which has made it easier to all go out to dinner and know that we have a half hour of time to chat while the kids are engaged and safe. We can still supervise but use that time to talk, dream and reconnect. I think we try to create as many "moments" like that throughout our days to get us to the times when we can actually spend more substantive time alone together and for us that works. Of course, we always want more time together, we get frustrated when we can't find it and we miss not having that but when it comes down to it we wouldn't trade what we have for anything in the world. We feel so very blessed to have what we have and we try to show our gratitude for that every chance we have.
I am not trying to paint a rosy picture because it's way more complicated than that but I guess I would say that we are very much in love and in like with one another and we seem to have a philosophy that allows us to live as fully as we can in the moment and make choices that we won't regret later. Sometimes that means putting kids above everything else and other times it means leaving them in bed or in their rooms longer so that we can have time to check in and be on the same page or at least what page the other dragged us to!
P.S. for Lynn. Corazon has that lava lamp in her room so I think it must still be in style. :-)