Chaos to calm: Life with FASD
October 25, 2017
With the 2017 National Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Conference taking place this week on Oct. 24-27 in Calgary, AB, I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss why FASD education is so important and how it changed my life.
Let’s start back seven years ago, when my kids were 5, 7 and 9 years old. At this point in my life, I was always angry and frustrated. My children were ‘bad kids’ that never listened to anything I asked them to do and had multiple tantrums a day. They were very defiant and, as a result, I felt like I had no idea how to parent my kids. I knew they had FASD and that it was likely the reason for their behaviour, but I didn’t really know what FASD was. All that I knew was that I was exhausted and wanted someone to help me deal with my kids. Truthfully, I just wanted to know how to make them behave, and stop making me look like a horrible parent to my family and friends.
I took some advice and enrolled my kids in a special FASD class. In class they did amazing, but outside of the class they continued to make my life miserable. It was very lonely parenting them, and even more frustrating to be constantly receiving ‘advice’ from outsiders (e.g. “give them a spank”, “sit them for a time out”). Support was very limited, and the advice I was receiving from outsiders was rarely helpful.
I remember one of the hardest things I had to deal with was my middle son stealing gum, which he started to do when he was 9 years old. I told him over and over again that “we don’t steal” and to “not take things that don’t belong to you.” I would march his butt back to the store to return what he had taken.
My oldest son constantly lied to me and it drove me crazy. This was especially hard because I could never believe a single word that came out of his mouth. Our relationship became like oil and water, completely emotionally separated, and I was frustrated that he was able to make me so angry.
My daughter was only 5 years old, but holy, could she stand her ground. That girl could have a tantrum that would bring down the roof of any building.
Let’s fast forward to today.
My children are now 12, 14 and 16 years old, and have taught me so much over the past five years. My favourite quote now is: “When you know better, you do better.”
What changed, you ask? Well, my house went from a house of chaos to a house of calm (sort of). I believe the biggest reason for this change was that I dedicated myself to learning everything I could about FASD. And not just learning, but really understanding it. I now understand that FASD is a permanent brain injury, and that what my kids truly needed was an ‘external brain’ to help explain and manage their worlds. I still remember the day very clearly – I was taking a caregiver kick-start coaching course with Jeff Noble when all of the sudden, I had my ‘ah-ha’ moment. I remember saying to Jeff, “Oh my goodness, I want to wake my kids up right now and tell them I finally get it!” Our lives were changed for the better from then on, and I really started to understand my kids and why they did some of the things they did.
I’m not going to lie to you. Two of the hardest things for me the change my thinking about was the stealing and lying. Those were both morals that I grew up with, and I wanted to teach my kids that stealing and lying were not acceptable; however, I needed to find a different way to show my kids how to change these behaviours. I now approach these situations with repetition and consistent verbal cues, such as saying “we don’t take things that don’t belong to us” when entering a friend’s house or store, followed by pocket and backpack checks.
It’s been five years of this routine and I’m happy to say that our stealing episodes are less. My son just needed some gentle reminders and I am happy to do that for him. At first it was hard and I didn’t want to live my life like that, but it was a lot easier for me to be the ‘external brain’ for my kids than to fight all the time. And I bet it was a lot easier for them, too. It was not an easy journey, but once I had my ‘ah-ha’ moment things really turned around for our family, and that’s when I realized no other family should have to navigate the crazy, lonely road of FASD alone. There will always be moments of frustration, but with support and education it truly does help make things feel less lonely.
The FASD Conference in Calgary this week is another opportunity for me to learn and be able to share with others. Our journey with FASD is about educating ourselves and it’s important to never stop learning! I look forward to sharing with you everything I learn at this week’s conference.