My son has Oppositional Defiant Disorder. It has been a living nightmare that I don’t wish on any parent. When things are good, they are great. When they are bad, I just want to crawl into my bed and cry. He just turned 13. So in addition to regular teenage angst and attitude, I have someone who flat out refuses to do what I say and argues with me constantly. It is positively killing me. I love him, but I really don’t like him right now. What kind of mother says that? One who is emotionally fucking exhausted? I am there and I don’t know what more to do.
Before you ask, yes we have sought counseling, together and apart. My husband and I have worked with a therapist to learn parenting techniques to help us try to prevent these situations from happening. It worked when he was little, but now that he is older, he is absolutely relentless. He just won’t back down. From anything. Kids with ODD pick a target. I am his.
If he has a bad day at school, he will come home looking for a fight. It could be something that happened six months ago, but if he can argue about it, he is all in. And the worst part is, I fight right back. I just get so tired of listening to his bullshit. And I don’t want him to win. I am the parent. I should win. He shouldn’t be controlling the situation, but here we are. A child is bullying me. I know better than to open my mouth. The experts say to take a deep breath and walk away. They want me to say things like, “This isn’t something that I want to discuss right now. Come back to me when you are calm.” That did work, for a while, but not anymore. Now I just want to scream. And sometimes I do. I feel like such a lousy mom. Like I’m complete failure. This is not what I expected parenting to be.
His attitude sets the tone for the entire family. It’s like his negative energy seeps into the walls. His siblings suffer. I get so caught up in trying to manage his behavior that I often ignore their needs. That’s not fair at all. And they are starting to resent him. They don’t like that he puts me in a bad mood. They don’t want to listen to us fight. They just want normal.
My relationship with him is anything but normal right now. The hardest part is that he knows what he is doing. Sometimes he will storm off and come back a few minutes later to apologize. A lot of times he apologizes to get what he wants. It isn’t always sincere. His demeanor changes when he means it. He is calm, his face is relaxed. His voice is quiet, almost soothing. Those apologies often bring me to tears. That is my baby. That is the son that I adore. He is still in there. He is just being smothered by this other guy. I miss him. I question how I have raised someone with so little regard for what I say. I thought that I had done better than that.
ODD is not something that he has chosen; it is a behavioral disorder. Deep down, I don’t think he wants to be this way. His brain doesn’t work the same way as mine. He gets angry and defiant and bold in situations where I would simply agree to disagree and walk away. He can’t do that. And sometimes, he just flat out won’t do it. That is the most discouraging thing. As much as I try to explain to him that he is hurting me, or others, he just doesn’t quit. It’s like he doesn’t care at all.
My son is exceptionally smart. He is devilishly handsome. And he holds such a special place in my heart, which is why it’s so hard to admit that I am struggling to be his mom right now. He needs me to support him and to help him and to take care of him. I do all of those things. And I do it all gladly. I love to make his lunch and mess with his hair. I do his laundry and clean up his room. I want to be the best mom that I can be. But I resent his behavior. I resent it so, so much. And I feel like it is all my fault. What could I have done to prevent this? Some experts say that ODD is a product of environment. Have I created a toxic home? Does he really hate to be around me? Will this ever get any better? I pray about it every day.
Please understand, it is not horrible all of the time. He can be fun and sweet. He loves to play games and tell me long stories about his favorite things. He will laugh the most raucous laugh you have ever heard. His eyes shine like bright emeralds. Those beautiful green sparklers light up my life. I want more of that. I want the calm and fun family time. My biggest wish is that I knew what he is so angry about. Why he acts like I am ruining his life all of the time. My other kids don’t feel this way. I know you aren’t supposed to compare, but my God, it is just so different parenting them. He is 100% the odd man out. That kills me.
Doctors have told me that kids can grow out of this and be calm, functioning adults. The later it happens in life, the more likely you are to manage things better as you get older. He was about 10 when it started. That makes me feel better. I am also so glad that it doesn’t happen at school or with other adults. It’s just me. I can take it. This is what I signed up for. It’s not a typical path, but in life does anything really go as planned?
He was my first child. He made me a mom. I will forever be grateful to him for changing me for the better. He challenges me. He tests me. But he also loves me. I know that he does. He’s just a kid, a kid who struggles and needs a mom to be his advocate and not his enemy. I know that we can get through this. I am confident that in time, this will get better. But I have to stay the course. I need to walk away, to disengage. This is up to me to bring out the best in him.
My heart will never give up on him. I just have to get my head straight and remind myself not to argue. We both deserve better. I need to be the example. I can’t allow myself to be a victim. I have to be the victor. The one who leads him through this struggle to a happy place on the other side. And I will, because I love him more than anything.
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