Choose Your Battles

As parents, we are often told “choose your battles”, which is a way of telling us to think about which battles are worth the fight. Often times it’s another way of someone telling us to “let it go” about one thing or another.

I saw a post in a special needs parenting group I’m a member of on Facebook, where a mom was asking if she needs to force her child to eat healthier foods, even though he hates them and cries when she tries to make him eat them. It reminded me of the time when Sawyer was about 2 years old and refused to eat anything other than puffy Cheetos for months. I remember feeling the worst mom guilt over it, thinking “Am I a horrible mom because I’m letting him eat so many Cheetos?” When I took Sawyer in for a checkup when he was a little over 2 years old, I talked to his doctor about it. I told her “I can’t get him to eat anything other than Cheetos. Is he going to be ok?” His doctor smiled and patted me on the arm and said “He is healthy. He’s growing the way he should, and he is a very happy little boy. As long as he’s eating something, you’re doing just fine. Choose your battles, Mama.”

That has always stuck with me. After thinking about it a lot in the days following, I realized my son’s doctor was right. As parents, we often overthink every little decision we make when it comes to our children and feel immense guilt when we aren’t doing things the way society thinks we should. But the thing is every family is different, and what works for some doesn’t always work for all- especially in a special needs family. I learned pretty quickly that Sawyer was going to be a much different child than either of his sisters, and- especially once we started noticing his delays and his sensory aversions- we learned how to adapt to different situations for his needs.

Sawyer’s needs are much different than my girls’ needs. The girls, for the most part, were very easy-going children and could be reasoned with if something arose that wasn’t the way they wanted it. Sawyer’s brain doesn’t work the same way theirs does, though, and reasoning doesn’t always work because he can’t understand it. His nervous system works differently than ours does, too, so he feels and experiences sensory stimuli much different than you or I might, and some sensations that might be a little uncomfortable for me are literally painful for him. I don’t know how Sawyer’s brain works; I have studied autism and sensory processing disorder for years now, and it’s fascinating to me how differently the body functions for someone with these disorders. Realizing that Sawyer’s brain and nervous system literally operate differently than most people has helped me come to terms with a lot of his “quirks” and I learned a long time ago to choose my battles with him. It’s not always easy, and sometimes it can be frustrating, but I’d much rather “let it go” than fight over it and get both of us upset over something that really isn’t that big of a deal in the long run.

It’s not always convenient to have lines of toys and other objects placed all through the house. I learned to just step over them instead of moving them and making Sawyer upset. It’s not always convenient when your child will only drink a certain brand of snack, milk or juice, but you learn to stock up so (hopefully) you don’t run out. It’s not always understandable to others that your child hates wearing shoes except for one specific pair, but you learn to buy the same shoes in multiple sizes. It’s not always convenient that your child can’t stand to wear jeans, but you find a pair of pants he loves and buy multiples in every color. It’s not always convenient when your child is terrified of dogs and you’re in a store and someone passes you with a service animal, but you learn how to change your route or distract him so he doesn’t have a panic attack. It’s not always fun having to leave an event early when your child gets overstimulated around large crowds and loud noises, but you learn that it’s better to leave an event (or not attend at all) to avoid your child going into sensory overload and and having a meltdown.

A lot of people have made comments to me over the years about how I should just “make him” do certain things:
“Make him eat ______! If he’s really hungry, he’ll eat it!” True, I could make him eat it, but he might throw it up and I don’t want to make him sick. I’ll let him eat what he can tolerate.

“He’s going to have to learn that he can’t avoid dogs forever”. Yes, and we are working on slowly easing him into being more comfortable around dogs. He has an irrational fear, though, and when someone has an irrational fear you cannot reason with them.

“He can’t always wear sweatpants” or “He’s going to have to learn he can’t wear Crocs everywhere.” Why not? Does it really matter to anybody else if he’s wearing sweats or fleece pants, or if he’s wearing Crocs? As long as he’s clean and neat, it shouldn’t matter to anyone else what he’s got on- even if everyone else is wearing suits and dresses.

There have been certain situations where I have made Sawyer compromise. For my cousin’s wedding, I made him wear dress clothes for the ceremony but let him change into comfy clothes for the reception. For family gatherings, I make Sawyer go even when there will be dogs present, and we just make him comfortable in a room the dogs can’t go and he enjoys playing on his tablet or phone until the dogs are put in their kennels. I think it’s important that Sawyer learns that sometimes he won’t be able to have things his way, and he will have to compromise. But there are certain things that I will not force my child to do, and that’s when I “choose my battles”. Not everyone may understand why we do things the way we do in our family, and that’s fine- they don’t have to. As long as my kids are happy and healthy, then I’m doing my job as a mama and that’s good with me.

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