‘Terrible Twos’ Got Nothin’ On Teens!

I heard countless moms refer to the ‘terrible twos’. That phrase is often thrown around when their toddler is freaking out in the middle of the mall or having a meltdown at a birthday party, or throwing things, yelling, and stomping their feet in classic 2-year-old fashion at a restaurant. It’s almost an excuse for the little ones’ misbehavior. “Oh, yeah, well it’s the terrible twos.”

I’ve seen it many times. My children didn’t go through the terrible twos. Not that I’m “mom of the year” or had some magic solution to calm their nerves. Absolutely not. All children progress and learn at different levels. I also was home for two years with each of my babies, so the fact that they had me all to themselves at two may have lessened the effects. Whatever the reason, I never experienced the horrifying tales described above. However, I witnessed it over the years on many occasions and honestly was always baffled by it given the fact that I never had to endure such torture as a young mom.

I believe God blessed me with a well-mannered three-year-old boy because He knew I was carrying a special child at the time and had bigger concerns. I believe He blessed me with the ability to teach my little boy excitement and build up so much pride in the fact that being a big brother was a badge of honor that I never dealt with sibling rivalry or jealousy. So for me, two, three and four-year-olds were nothing but fun. Thank You, Jesus!

However, He slammed me with the teen years, after years of parenting, so I could experience the true turmoil of parenting.

My son definitely knew how to push my buttons when he was 13-18 years old! He got punished a lot for disrespecting. We went head-to-head many times. He had his phone taken away and lost opportunities to attend parties. I will say though, it’s changing now that he’s 19 and we usually have discussions like adults. Sure they get heated at times, mostly because I’m still trying to be ‘mommy’ and also because he got the “I like to be right” gene from my DNA. But he works hard, pays his own bills, and has the freedom he desired in years past. So it’s now not as much of a battle, as a conversation about his choices.

Teenagers are unpredictable and emotional. One minute they love you and the next you think they hate you. Hormones are out of wack and their emotions are all over the place. The unpredictability of what may happen next is unsettling, to say the least. Us moms never know what we’re going to get from one day to the next… hell, from one minute to the next. So it’s no wonder we feel stress and worry for our teens. Our once sweet children loved us unconditionally, now pout, yell and throw fits when they don’t get their way.

Faith is no different in this regard. Lately, it’s been a constant battle of wills.

What is different? …

If you’ve read previous posts, then you know Faith has Down syndrome and is now fifteen years old. She is also nonverbal. She does use some sign language but only very basic signs. She also has an iPad with a speech app that helps her to communicate. However, during those times when she’s aggravated, she doesn’t care about stopping her fit to walk over to wherever she last left the iPad to calmly select the correct buttons that express her feelings at that given moment. So it is very frustrating for her (and me) that she cannot have a conversation, or explain why she is upset.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad.

There are moments of pure joy. She enjoys puzzles, dancing to the latest songs, and shutting herself in her bedroom to watch her favorite tv shows. She even loves to help with laundry, setting the table, and emptying and reloading the dishwasher. And, yes, I should be very grateful my teenager actually likes doing chores, and believe me, I am.

But, there are also days (like yesterday) when I feel so helpless I honestly don’t know what to do. I was so frustrated and overwhelmed it drove me to tears and left me second-guessing myself and wondering if I was a good mom.

Faith adores her Mommom Barbara. My mother is always willing to have her girl-time and graciously give me a much-needed break from time to time. She has always loved up on her and showered her with so much love and affection from day one. When Faith is at “MaMa BaBa’s” they do nothing but laugh, play games, do puzzles, sing, dance, go out to lunch, and have more ice cream than old-mommy would ever allow. So, it is completely understandable that she wouldn’t want to leave with me when I show up to take her home.

However, a stubborn ‘sit-down’ in Faith’s world can last anywhere from 20-45 min.

She’s been known to sit in the car, in our driveway, and wait us out. She has sat on a school bus for 20 minutes holding up the other children because she refused to get off. She has plopped on the floor at the Shop Rite check-out counter blocking other shoppers and preventing the next person in line from paying for their groceries.

In times like these, I do not get embarrassed. In times like these, I jump right to ‘what am I doing wrong as a mom’ and ‘how have I failed as a mother’ because she just won’t listen to reason.

Teen Faith is too big for me to just swoop up in my arms and carry her as an unwilling child out to the car while protesting. Those days are long gone. When she decides “I am not leaving!” then I am left to attempt to reason with my special girl. There is no trick to the trade that changes her mind. She is as stubborn and as strong as a mule and if she doesn’t want to go, well then… we’re not going.

So I’m waiting at my mom’s yesterday and my helpful family is all having their hand at convincing Faith that it’s time to go. Nothing works. They tried reasoning with her. They tried getting her excited to go home for dinner. They even pretended to leave, saying goodbye and hiding in the bedrooms. Nope. She’s too smart for that. Matthew was using his high-pitched theatrical, fun voice and offered a piggy-back ride. Not happening. I sat there watching everyone trying so hard to help me and I felt so grateful for my loving, supportive family. But at the same time, I felt bad that at this point all the failed attempts had taken over 30 minutes and we were now inconveniencing everyone else and affecting their schedules and plans for the day.

I started to cry.

I started thinking about all my other commitments and obligations that needed to get done. I did have plans for my afternoon. I grew more and more frustrated and felt completely helpless. I wondered where I went wrong with her. I thought about the fact that her hormones affect her behavior. I felt hurt that she was always so excited to go with my mom or her dad, but she could care less about going with her mommy. I know that she is with me the majority of the time so I’m not an exciting option. I decided to use that to my advantage before I had a complete breakdown. “Faith, Do you want to go in Aunt Dawn’s car with brother!?!” I asked in the most excited, happy voice I could muster through tears. That was it. She got up, took Matthew by the hand, and walked out after 40 minutes. At that point, I didn’t know whether to applaud, laugh or cry. So I actually did all three. We all rushed out before she could change her mind.

The rest of the night she was totally fine as if nothing happened. I, however, was so emotionally drained and exhausted I went to lay down. My mind and my heart needed time to heal. Thank God for my husband who entertained her and had her help with dinner and setting the table so I could decompress.

There is no lesson here. I have no pearls of wisdom when it comes to parenting a special needs teen. All I can do is share my stories, in hopes that you will not feel so alone if something similar happens to you. If I had to give my unsolicited advice or provide suggestions I would say this:

  1. Pray for guidance and wisdom… often.
  2. Always love your child and act loving no matter what.
  3. Stay calm; because yelling or having your own fit only makes it worse.
  4. Don’t second guess your mom-powers. It’s not about you.
  5. Rely on family to help when needed.

Is your special child a teenager? What obstacles do you face? What has worked for you? Drop your comments below. I’d love to hear what you have tried and what works for you and your child. I share my thoughts and feelings with you, so that you may find comfort in knowing that life is hard at times. And you are not alone. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Take care of you! Stay well!

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