When my daughter was about 2 1/2 years old, she took a metal cup and hit me as hard as she could across the face with it. It wasn’t an accident. It was part of a habit of hitting she’d begun, and she did it because she was mad at me for buckling her in her car seat.
We’d been dealing with this behavior, and a few others on the less-than-desirable spectrum (severe tantrums, extreme separation anxiety, a crippling fear of water), for months by that point. I thought I had been handling it all pretty well by reading the books and doing what the experts recommended.
But that day, as my lip began to bleed and the tears pricked at my eyes, I cracked. It was too much. My daughter, the love of my life, consistently and repeatedly hitting me with as much force as she could, was enough to send me right on over the edge.
About a week later, we were at her first appointment with a behavioral therapist. And a few weeks after that, we were going through her first round of evaluations.
Her specific diagnosis is complicated, and ultimately her story to tell, but the result of all that testing was that she had some sensory processing issues, some receptive language and gross motor delays, and she needed some help with forming (and trusting) healthy attachments.
What followed was three years of weekly appointments. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral therapy: we were put on a waiting list for most of them, even though her evaluations clearly indicated a need. With my degree in developmental psychology, I knew how important early intervention was. So, for the first year or so, until we could get into plan-approved doctors, I paid out-of-pocket for her services, to the tune of about $1,500 a month.
My daughter consistently and repeatedly hitting me with as much force as she could was enough to send me right on over the edge.
For the record, no, I’m not rich. I sacrificed a lot to make those appointments happen.
For a while, I joked that these specialists were as much for me as for her but there was some truth to that. Many of her appointments resulted in my learning better ways to help her be the best version of herself she could be. I wasn’t the cause of her struggles, but how I had been addressing those struggles up to that point hadn’t been helping.
I’m not going to lie and say it was all easy. Managing that many appointments was overwhelming and expensive, and there were many times I didn’t feel supported by those who love us most. There were comments about what my daughter “really” needed (a swift spank to the butt, a whole lot less coddling, a mom who was more firm—I heard it all). There were even times I felt like other families didn’t want us around.
As much as that hurt, could I really blame them? My little girl launching into a major tantrum because I dared to go to the bathroom was enough to ruin any play date. I got it. I understood. But I still felt so alone.
The thing was, I knew my baby wasn’t a bad kid. Ninety percent of the time (OK, maybe 70 percent of the time), she was an angel. It was just that the switch could flip for her on a dime.
Through understanding her diagnosis and listening to her therapists, I learned to take things very slow with her. Lots of warning about transitions, plenty of time to breathe when I saw her starting to crumble and a way out of the things that scared her most, which meant we often sat on the side of the pool while all our friends and their kids swam joyfully around. I rarely left her side unless I absolutely had to.
If it sounds exhausting, it’s because it was. And on top of all this, I was a single mom. I have no qualms stating I worked 10 times harder than most moms ever will.
And you know what? That was hard, too. Looking around at my friends who had partners and “easy” kiddos—it was sometimes impossible not to play the comparison game.
But then, I started noticing changes in my little girl. Improvements that occurred slowly at first, and then in leaps and bounds. She grew braver, was better able to express her frustrations, and was willing to breathe and walk away when something was bothering her. Willing to let me walk away when I needed to pee.
All the hard work started to pay off. One day, one of my best friends (who had also been one of my most vocal parenting critics) told me my daughter was lucky to have me; that, clearly, despite all the criticism I’d received, I’d been doing the right things all along. Because, suddenly, she was thriving.
My daughter just started kindergarten a few weeks ago. About a month before that, she was officially retired from her occupational therapy appointments. We’ve been on a need-to-attend basis with behavioral therapy for a while now, and haven’t had a need to go in at least six months.
Speech therapy is still on a bi-weekly basis and probably won’t be ending completely anytime soon—her receptive and conversational language skills still score low, even as her expressive language tests in the above-average category.
But, all in all, her need for intervention and help has been reduced dramatically. Now I look at this kid of mine who has come so far, and who blends in so well with her peers, in awe. She loves swimming, she has the confidence to leave my side and she’s genuinely just a happy kid who takes so much of what life hits her with in stride.
Also, she never—ever—hits me.
Not to brag, but while so many of her peers seem to be entering a season of their own (totally age-appropriate) struggles, my girl seems to be hitting her prime. And it’s one of the best things in the world to watch.
So, to the mom in the trenches right now, the one fighting for a kid who is difficult, a kid who struggles more, currently looking around and realizing she has to work 10 times as hard to help her kid thrive, I just want to say: It does get better. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and all that work you’re doing right now will one day be worth it.
All the appointments. All the money. All the time and frustration and tears. It WILL pay off in the end.
The fight is worth it. No matter what anyone else’s opinion is, you’re doing the right thing by trusting your gut about your kid and putting in the work to help them be the best they can be.
It won’t always be so hard. I know you already know this, but fighting for your kids is so worth it. One day, probably not too far off in the future, you’re going to look at that child and marvel at how far they’ve come.
So, keep fighting, Mama. Keep working harder than any other mom you know because your kid deserves it. And you deserve to witness just how much potential they truly have.