My impressions of what motherhood was about before I had children are quite different than what it is really like. I wasn’t so naive that I thought I’d have children who never misbehaved and were the consummate obedient Stepfords, but I certainly never expected a child with a behavioral disorder either. When my son was around 7 years old, we realized that he was different. There was anger and defiance that I recognized were not typical of a boy his age, and were also uncharacteristic of his normally cheerful and sweet demeanor.
There were outbursts and arguments that became too much for me to handle on my own. I knew that this was far beyond my pay grade and that I needed to seek professional help. My son was already being treated for ADHD, and when I brought my concerns to his doctor, she explained that he was exhibiting behaviors of Oppositional Defiant Disorder. I had never heard of this before, but I was instantly concerned. What challenges were ahead for my son and the rest of our family? How would we work through this? What were the long-term effects? Was it Terminal? No. Life altering? Absolutely.
The world of ODD is complicated. There are plenty of people who don’t believe that it is a real diagnosis; they think that the child is simply not being raised right. There isn’t enough discipline. The parent isn’t insisting on enough respect. The child is in charge. Ask any mom of an ODD kid and they’ll fight you all day that not only is it a real diagnosis, they’re likely drowning in it. Every day their wherewithal is being tested and they probably feel like a failure. You see, they remember that sweet baby who they nursed and cared for. There were days of sweet giggles and kisses. That child was not always battling them. But then, in a blink, everything changed.
Don’t think for one second that we don’t blame ourselves. I beat myself up on the daily wondering what in the world I have done wrong. The list is exhaustive. Was it because he was formula fed? Did I let him spend too much time in front of the TV? I was a working mom, so was he unable to bond with me the way that he should have? The experts say no, but I’m still not so sure. I carried him for nine months; surely I’ve had an impact. Maybe I drank too much Diet Coke. I smoked before I knew I was pregnant. That can certainly damage a fetus. Or, God forbid, did I not show him enough love? It’s soul-sucking.
When a child has ODD, they will often target their behaviors toward one person. Lucky for me, I am the one he wants to battle. He always wants the last word. I know I should walk away, but I’ll be darned if I am going to let a kid win. He has to learn respect somehow, right? But when I argue, he is winning. He’s getting a rise out of me, just as he intends to.
That’s probably the most difficult part. He wants to fight me, his mom. Shouldn’t I be the one who he comes to when he is facing troubles? I always thought that I would be the problem solver, not the one who he hates. Hate is probably a strong word, but I am definitely his biggest frenemy right now. I just want him to be happy. It sounds so simple, but isn’t that every mother’s wish? No one wants to see their child hurting. His pain is being expressed in argument and anger. My heart is broken for my baby boy.
I know that I am not alone in this fight. There are so many kids with ODD who are challenging their mothers every day. Those moms love those children. But they are frustrated, and they are sad, and they are broken. They wonder each day why this is happening to their families. And yeah, they look at other families with envy from time to time. You know what? That’s OK. This doesn’t have to be a life sentence. There is hope for change.
There is one absolute truth in this whole thing, and that is that I am a good mom. I do all of the things that a mom is supposed to do for her children. They are nurtured and cared for and loved. My God, they are so very loved. No, my other children aren’t bogged down with the same problems, but I don’t love them more because of that.
Truth be told, I probably love my son the hardest. I do it because I want him to love me back. Sure, he loves me, but I sometimes wonder if he likes me as much as he dislikes me right now. Does he remember his life before he was so angry? Are there flashbacks of happy times that didn’t include daily arguments? Surely there are. And there are bright days ahead. I know that. But I have to put in the time and the patience with him to ensure that those days come.
ODD won’t rule my life — or his. It will cause challenges and heartache from time to time, but I am not going to let it change the way that I feel about my son. I will not give it the power to make my love for him wane. Instead, I am going to work the plan and give him what he needs: discipline and understanding, but most of all, love. He needs to feel like he is seen for the good and not just the bad.
I sometimes think that I am a better mom because of ODD. It has challenged me to be the best I can, every single day. I am guided by an inner strength which I didn’t really know existed. If you are struggling with ODD, you are not alone. There are other moms that are struggling just like you. Don’t forget, you are a great mom and your child loves you. Take a deep breath and walk away. It sometimes feels like there are no winners with ODD, but sustaining your love and patience for your child makes you the ultimate victor.