When You Blame Parents For Their Children’s Differences

I threw a book across the room this morning.

It helped my level of frustration and anger, but not my sense of injustice.

I ordered this particular book last week. I was looking for a resource to help with a few things beginning to stir for my youngest son. Becoming a teenager has shifted some dynamics in our home, and in his overall well-being.

I was hoping for a fresh perspective.

What I got was this –

Two chapters in, the author shared a case study of one family, who had been struggling for years with their daughters various behaviors and mood dysregulation. He described an angry dad, the overinvolved mom, the frustrated sibling, and lastly, the struggling teenage daughter.

He then began explaining (mansplaining? doctorsplaining?) in great detail how all the very normal and understandable actions and reactions on the part of the parents were contributing to their daughter’s disorder.

On and on, paragraph after paragraph, it continued.

20 pages and an increased heart rate later, I threw the book. Then I processed my amazon return of it.

It’s not because I think parents are somehow living in a vacuum or absolved of any responsibility in terms of the family dynamics a special needs diagnosis can bring. I know and have seen first hand how my reactions and decisions can and do affect my son’s well being.

The fact that I can be a contributing part of my child’s problems keeps me up at night.

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No, I threw the book because:

  1. This intense focus on parental blame came in the very first part of the book, before there was even a discussion of medical resources available to help.
  2. The tone was one of superiority and dismissal.
  3. Even if every single thing our children struggle with is 100% our fault, I do not think that a family barely making it through the day needs the heaping shame of blame from the person they are coming to for help.
  4. I wish it was my fault. All the time. Then I could change it and make it better for my child. Try as I might, this has not been the case for us.

I admit, I am a little sensitive about this topic.

Time and time again, I have felt the sting of blame for my children’s needs. For years, it defined me as a mom. I was sure I was failing my children and they were suffering because of it.

And you know what? It helped no one.

It wasn’t until another mom, another family, and another doctor (who incidentally was actually a parent and not a single, overeducated “expert’) encouraged me that I was doing the very best I could and that my sons were better off because I was fighting so hard for them, that we were able to make progress.

It was one thing, ten years ago, when so many of these diagnoses were still new. But now?

Given all we know about brain development and genetics, how am I still reading a book that begins with parent behavior as a reason for a teenager’s significant mental illness?

I have a rule – never blog angry.

I’m breaking my own rule today because the truth is, as I type this, I am furious.

I am angry, but I also no longer feel anything other than incredulity when I read something like this.

I don’t feel the sting of shame and pain of worry after reading that expert’s advice.

I have seen first hand what makes a difference for my kids.

Blame and shame are not it.

I am breaking my rule and writing this furiously, because I know so many other moms are in the thick of it, desperate for answers, for help, for support, for mercy, and I hate to think their pleas for help will be met with dismissive shoulder shrugs and judgement.

We have to do better than this.

Our children deserve better.

And so, I would like to say to you what one of my son’s doctors said to me, long ago..

You are doing the very best you can for your child.

You have more insight and awareness of your child’s needs, because of your day to day involvement, than anyone else ever will.

Your hard work matters.

Your child is better off because of you.

Looking For More Support And Encouragement For Parenting Your Child With Differences?

I have written a ton about this topic.

Please, if you need support and encouragement, read on.

When We Blame Parent Of Children With Special Needs

Is It ADHD Or Bad Parenting?

Doctors, Therapists, and Homeschooling

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  1. Thank you. We are having a very tough homeschool day today and I especially needed to read this. Sigh. Onward.

    1. I’m sorry it’s ben a tough one (and I know you know you are in good company!).
      Hang in there, Mary!

  2. For years, we were blamed for my son’s behavior when he was little. Total meltdowns, to the point he’d bloody our noses. One expert said not enough discipline. Another said too much discipline. It was bloggers who gave me any kind of inkling as to what might be going on.

    Despite arguing with doctors and nurses who dismissed our concerns, we went the way we thought we needed to anyway – as if he had autism and sensory issues.

    Guess what? My husband was diagnosed Asperger’s (when that was still a thing). The very next year the new DSM came out and changed the wording, but he still calls himself that. It took until my son was 6 for anyone to agree with us enough for speech therapy and that was only after my husband’s diagnoses. Then the speech therapist blamed our liking of British comedies for his troubles…and finally admitted (not to our faces, but through a voicemail from her receptionist) that he had apraxia of speech and she couldn’t handle it.

    It took until he was 9 before anyone helped us to get him into OT and PT. Or anyone took us seriously about possible autism. A doctor finally went – yep! Autism! And you’ve done fantastic with him. And apologized for the lack of help we had over the years – told us that in our area there is very very little.

    So finally we got high functioning autism, anxiety, dyspraxia (totally global – the one ST calling it apraxia of speech was just another name). And still, the OT and PT – beyond playing a few games and confirming what it was – phased him out after 12 weeks. 5 hour round trips three times a week. We do nearly everything ourselves now. He’s at a weird in between age – there’s nothing for kids like him anywhere around but there is for little ones and a smattering of things for adults.

    He’s come a long way. He can hold his own in conversation, he does well in new places, likes to go shopping. We developed hand signals so he can quietly signal if he needs to step away and settle himself without embarrassing himself, whether that’s at church or in a store. We even got to go to the aquarium he’s come so far! It’s not sunshine and roses and he’s about to hit 13 in a couple weeks.

    It kills me that doctor after doctor blamed us. Over and over. And come to find out, my mother-in-law and my husband were blamed for his behaviors as well. Only he didn’t have the backup our son has. I still have nightmares about those doctors. I wake up sometimes before a new appointment in a cold sweat wondering what battle I’m about to take on.

    We need help and support. Not blame. Thank you for this reminder!

    1. I have nightmares too. It’s totally PTSD and something that’s difficult to understand if you haven’t lived it.
      Thank you for sharing with us, Crystal.

    2. Wow! You could be telling my family’s story, minus the apraxia. It is so disheartening to realize that after all of the research that has been done and all of the progress that has been made this is happening to families. I am glad you found someone who would pay attention, and I applaud you for not giving in/up & for pushing forward and taking on the role of so many professionals to make sure that your son got(gets) what he needs.

  3. I’m at a loss for how to respond to this. The only words that seem appropriate are, “thank you!”

    May we all move towards are future where we free ourselves from guilt, shame, and judgment.

    1. Amen and again I say, amen!
      Thank you, Jennifer.

  4. Angela P Webb says:

    Thanks for this! Parents have more than enough to deal with. I think Momguilt is real and I have had it with that.

    1. I have had it with that as well! Thank you, Angela. 🙂

  5. Thank you so much for this. I needed to hear it today. We have a relatively strong support base between relatives that are supportive, understanding to doctors and therapists that are very well educated and knowledgeable and also friends and a church that welcome and love kids with differences. I couldn’t ask for much more.

    It hasn’t always been this way and I still deal with the shame that was heaped on me by total strangers and even a church we used to attend. Reading this has reminded me how blessed we are and how far we and our support system have come. I don’t know if I’ll ever reach the point where I’m always completely confident that I’m not the issue but when I read things like this it sustains me for a long time!

  6. Thanks so much for breaking your rule! We are in the middle of IEP assessments for the twins right now and (in spite of this being my 24th year of home educating) every single one of the “experts” have suggested that their learning issues are the result of my poor performance as a teacher. ?‍♀️ So I appreciate the solidarity.

  7. Natalia Gibson says:

    I have found this happening in my family too for both special needs education things and also more straight forward diagnoses based on blood tests. It took me 6 years to get a diagnosis for my daughter that came from a simple blood test but because I started “complaining” when she was 3 that something was off no one would listen, she was too young, and I was just an “over overindulgent mom”. It took me till she was 9 and almost at the point of diabetic to get a doctor to listen to me and not just tell me I was feeding her wrong. My older daughter was pencil thin while my younger daughter was overweight and crying and begging for food (they ate basically the same thing all those years) before someone listened and did the right blood tests to diagnosed her problem. Once we got a diagnosis and medication for her problem, I then had direction to help us figure out the best diet for her. I have found the same problem for myself too. It took me years to be diagnosed with Endometriosis and I went through having doctors tell me my pain and symptoms were all in my head. Having doctors not listen to you can really can make you feel crazy! I would tell people to keep looking for the right doctors to help and to not settle when they feel help should be out there but they are not finding it. Keep trying on their own and keep advocating for themselves or loved one. I think for a person to just accept that they are the sole one at fault for a problem and then not try to find help is probably the only way they could be the only source of a problem and that giving up would lead to more problems.

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