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Archive for the ‘meltdown (theirs and yours)’ Category

I’ve long been collecting stories (and contributing some of my own) of parenting meltdowns here so no-one feels they’re alone with what has to be one of the scariest aspects of being a parent.

This article is one of the best descriptions of that emotional terrain that I’ve read. It’s from Drew Magary at Deadspin with “Never Give Your Child a Cold Shower: Advice From the Worst Dad on Earth”:

“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! YOU ARE NOT RESPECTFUL! YOU WILL STAY HERE ALL NIGHT OR I SWEAR TO GOD YOU’LL BE SORRY.”

I wanted her to be frightened. I wanted her to cower before The Voice. I thought about my father yelling at me when I was a kid and, oh, how I hated it. One time, I tore down a shower curtain and he yelled so loud at me that I thought my hair was gonna fall out. It scared me to death. I would have done anything as a child to not get yelled at. Even now, though I’m much older and love my father dearly, I dread it when he raises his voice. It causes me to snap right back to adolescence. I looked at my daughter and expected her to crumble, just like I did. I expected her, at long last, to give me some goddamn RESPECT. That’s what all parents desperately want, and that’s what drives them batshit crazy when they don’t get it. Surely The Voice would get me the respect I craved.

“Faka.”

And she kept on laughing. I couldn’t see her anymore. I couldn’t see the beautiful, intelligent, funny little girl that I knew she was. All I could see was this horrible animal. And all I could think was, This is the moment. This is the moment when my relationship with my child turns permanently toxic. I had always believed that you could raise your child in any number of ways and, so long as you loved them unconditionally, you could always remain on relatively good terms. Children are born good, that’s what I believed. They’re born good and if you love them enough, they stay that way. You hope that love is all that is required to keep your son out of jail and your daughter out of the pornography industry. But now the girl was laughing like a demon and I was terrified that things would get no better than this, that this was where the permanent rift between us would begin, the five previous years of love and—let’s face it—hard work that went into raising her rendered pointless. The idea that I could love her and do my best and still get it all terribly wrong was unbearable. I was scared that the fighting would never end, that she would never calm down and just be, that this would be the entirety of our relationship from now on.

And I was pissed. So fucking pissed. I tried my best to lower my voice.

“Please,” I told her, “I’m very close to hurting you right now. Please don’t make me hurt you. Why don’t we, I dunno, talk about dinner? What would you like for dinner?”

“Candy.”

“Not candy.”

“Candy!”

The Voice returned. “GOD DAMMIT, NOT CANDY!” I smacked the floor hard enough to break my hand. Still no fear in her eyes.

“Faka.”

“Fine,” I said. “You want me to spank you? Here we go.”

I jerked her up and sat down on one of the little kiddie chairs in her bedroom. I laid her across my lap as she alternated between laughing and shrieking. This was my first time performing an attempted spanking. I looked at her backside and tried to figure out a course of action. Do you pull the pants down? You don’t pull the pants down, right? That would just be weird. How hard are you supposed to spank? Is it supposed to really hurt? It’s gotta hurt, right? If it doesn’t hurt, then they don’t get the message. I gave a gentle test blow and nothing happened. Then I spanked a little bit harder and she kept on laughing.

I felt like a fucking idiot. I don’t even know how spanking became the go-to method of corporal punishment. It’s bizarre. All I could think about while spanking her was that it wasn’t working, and that the only thing spanking does is set your child up for a life of sexual deviancy. The creepiness of the whole enterprise is right there, out in the open. I took my daughter off my lap and tried to play nice.

My favourite parenting meltdown confession, ever, is Anne Lamott’s in the Mothers Who Think anthology/Salon, with “Mother Anger: Theory and Practice”:

At the same time, if you need to yell, children are going to give you something to yell about. There’s no reasoning with them. If you get into a disagreement with a regular person, you slog through it; listen to the other person’s position, needs, problems; and somehow you arrive at something that is maybe not perfect, but you don’t actually feel like smacking them. But because we are so tired sometimes, when a disagreement starts with our child, we can only flail miserably through time and space and the holes in between; and then we blow our top. Say, for instance, that your child is 4 and going through the stage when he will only wear the T-shirt with the tiger on it. With a colleague who was hoping you’d come through with the professional equivalent of washing their tiger T-shirt every night, you might
be able to explain to them that you were up until dawn on deadline, or you’ve got a fever, and so did not get to the laundry. And the colleague might cut
you some slack and try to understand that you simply hadn’t had time to wash the tiger shirt, and besides, they’ve worn it now four days in a row. But your child is apt to — well, let’s say, apt to not.

They can be like rats. I mean this in the nicest possible way. But they may still be drooling, covered with effluvia, trying to wrestle underpants on over their heads because they think they’re shirts, but in the miniature war room of their heads, they still know where your nuclear button is. They may ignore you, or seem troubled by hearing loss, or erupt in fury at you or weep, but in any case, they’re so unreasonable and capable of such meanness that you’re stunned and grief-stricken about how much harder it is than you could have imagined. All you’re aware of is the big windy gap between you, your lack of anything left to give, any solution whatsoever.

 

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This article in The Atlantic by Phoebe Maltz Bovy, “The ethical implications of parents writing about their children” is incredibly unforgiving of mother writers and bloggers. She sets the benchmark very low for the test of appropriateness with writing and it’s anything that may embarrass your children when they’re older. My god, I think the topic is way more nuanced than this writer is letting it be in her article.

Still, anyone looking to question the ethics of parental overshare faces a tough audience. The ubiquity of confessional writing has spilled over into confessions that implicate not so much the author as the author’s still-underage offspring. Readers are meant to celebrate confessional parenting-writing for its courage, perhaps also because it is a rare creative (sometimes lucrative) outlet for women who identify primarily as mothers. Yet these parents’ “courage” involves telling stories not theirs to tell. Confessional writing is about risk. An author telling of her own troubles risks her own reputation and relationships. But an author doing the same about her kid risks primarily his, not hers.

This is a particularly troublesome topic at the moment because of some high profile writing by mothers about their children with disabilities. People with disabilities already pay a high price for prejudice, can they afford to pay any more when their mothers write about their disabilities in very unflattering terms? However, mothers and carers also pay a high price for caring work that is grossly undervalued in society and poorly supported, can they not write about that penalty?

In reply to Maltz Bovy’s article I would say yes, this confessional writing about mothering is controversial for good reason (it’s a quagmire for all confessional writing), and yes, there are unequal lines of power in the relationship between parent and child, and yes, mistakes are sometimes made. But I have thoughts on both the blurriness of the line between what is my story, as a mother, and what is my children’s story and also some thoughts on the brutal hostility that is shown to mothers who dare to write about their experiences (and yes, I think in part that this is a gender issue)..

Here, in my own article, “Complaining about motherhood”:

When mothers do complain about their children, particularly in public, they often pull punches in a ‘cereal all over the floor, those loveable rascals’ kind of way. Motherhood is so tightly scripted that even when someone appears to ad-lib they are very often reading rehearsed lines. Complaining about my children feels a lot like complaining about my job. The tantrums, the squabbling, the whining and the interruptions – these are the monotonous meetings, the jammed printers and the difficult bosses I may complain about to colleagues over drinks. But that’s not necessarily how the complaints will be received. The line between your story, as a mother, and your children’s is thin. Who owns this tale of woe and its right to be told? Unloading is liberating but troubling for a parent, all at once. Mothering is a role that will dominate my life for at least twenty years and there is plenty to say about that preoccupation but it is almost impossible to write about without treading on the privacy and powerlessness of my children.

Here in my post, “Too sexy for breastfeeding”:

There is something else worth considering about Furry Girl’s criticisms of Young, and that is the way in which she can’t distinguish between mothers and mothering. Yes, Young’s daughter can’t give permission for being included in her mother’s artwork, neither can mine give permission for my writing. But who owns Young’s experience of motherhood? Who own’s mine? Where do Young’s and my experiences of early motherhood and our desire to explore these all-consuming aspects of our lives end, and our children’s ownership of them begin? Can Young, who describes her devotion to her baby daughter so lovingly, not be trusted to know? Does being sexual as women (or even sexually objectified unintentionally) spill dangerously over into our responsibilities as mothers? Does it prevent us from good mothering? Because incidentally, I also attract readers here from time to time looking for something apart from feminist discussion, who are instead seeking ‘sexy breastfeeding’ stories and images. (And what a crushing bore they must find it all, once here).

There are boundaries, of course, but they need not impose the complete separation of mother from self.

Here with my post, “Reluctant blog material”:

There is something to be suspicious about whenever people jump on a bandwagon against a practice almost entirely pursued by women, which parent blogging overwhelmingly is. Feminism has a rich history in the liberation of making the personal political - of destigmatising ordinary but shamed aspects of womens’ lives, and the solidarity which can come out of sharing one’s own story with other women only to find theirs are touchingly similar. Indeed, much of my interest in writing a feminist motherhood blog arose from this idea.  And yet, to be honest, like some others I’m still rather ambivalent about the decision to blog about my daughter.

When I started writing here it was with several purposes, among them was the desire to create something for my daughter to read when she was older. I’m imagining she’ll want to know more about who she was and how she came to be than I could otherwise recall without referring to this blog. Maybe she’ll also want to know who I was back then, too. But as my interests with the blog have developed, I find myself increasingly writing about other facets beyond the personal and I frequently wonder about their compatibility with the journal of a childhood. This is particularly the case when I write about contentious topics, posts which attract new readers from varying sources, readers I don’t have any kind of connection with, and readers who have an axe to grind. These posts, I know, can incite debate if not outright hostility, and they attract trolls too. And all the time, just above or below each contentious post is a cheerful little post about my daughter, with a photo or two of her. I feel like I am rolling over and showing the trolls my soft underbelly. See, right here, that would really hurt. I’ve tried to prepare myself for the inevitable attack when it comes, and I’m trying to be ready to see it for the stupidity that it will be.. but still, soft underbelly, very soft.

And here in my post, “Parenthood takes you to the edge”:

Mummy and Daddy blogs really get a hammering in the reputation stakes of writing, they’re all supposed to be sappy and mindless like parenting itself perhaps, but these two posts prove how much of parenthood is not sappy and mindless at all. Parenthood can feel like flirting with your own disintegration. These two posts tell me a lot about the experience of becoming a parent, about being pushed to the edge and holding it together, and about losing your very identity and forming a new one; stuff that I’ve never seen properly said in a parenting manual. Writing like this is so personal and yet universal all at once. There are many terrific reasons for blogging but the ability to liberate others through your own honesty is worthy indeed.

Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town.

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get born is seeking honest portraits from parents, that is, photographs showing the crappy bits of parenting instead of just all the lovely bits we tend to record in photos. I have mixed feelings about the photographs of kids having meltdowns because those photos tend to make me feel a little sad, and almost intrusive looking at them, but I love these photos of tired, bored parents. Love them.

This project was, in part, inspired by this piece from Claire Bidwell Smith in The Huffington Post:

What I don’t take photos of is my husband and me bickering at 5 a.m. because our oldest has awoken from a nightmare and the baby is stirring and we’re both sleep-deprived and stretched too thin. I don’t take photos of the two of us taking turns bouncing a colicky infant around our living room at 9:30 p.m. for the sixth night in a row, after the toddler has finally gone to bed and we’re both exhausted. I don’t take photos of the bottles of wine I eye greedily throughout my day, hungry to take the edge off this stressful time in my life. I don’t display the envy I feel for my friends who don’t have kids, my friends who are enjoying summers at the beach and traveling to visit friends and family.

I also don’t take photos of my fleshy postpartum body that makes me turn away from the mirror every day, scolding myself for not sticking better to my diet. And I certainly don’t take pictures of our sorrowful bank account, the very one that leaves me crying in heaves once a month as we struggle to make rent and pay preschool dues. I can’t take pictures of how frustrated I feel to not be writing, to barely have time to respond to emails or to help friends with projects. I don’t know how to capture the anxiety I feel about how my husband and I will make it through our girls’ early years and survive happy and romantically attached. I can’t show you the moments in which I feel worried about my career, my future books or about when and how I’ll ever find time to write again.

Ohmygod, how much I like really honest conversations about parenting and long-term relationships and balancing work and family. In fact, I have a whole category on this blog dedicated to parenting meltdowns.

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Just a heads up, this post is about suicide.

This story in the Sydney Morning Herald is lovely. It is lovely because this man had the courage to approach strangers and intervene in this incredibly sincere and gentle way:

For almost half a century, Don Ritchie would approach people contemplating suicide at the edge of The Gap, just 50 metres from his home in Watsons Bay, his palms facing up.

Mr Ritchie told his daughter Sue Ritchie Bereny he would smile and say: “Is there something I could do to help you?”

And this whole piece on Joe Biden’s recent speech in Politco is absolutely stunning about the experience of being suicidal and going through profound grief.

Vice President Joe Biden, in a moving speech to families of fallen troops on Friday, recounted the dark days following the tragic deaths of his wife and daughter and talked about understanding thoughts of suicide.

“It was the first time in my career, in my life, I realized someone could go out – and I probably shouldn’t say this with the press here, but no, but it’s more important, you’re more important. For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide,” he said. ”Not because they were deranged, not because they were nuts, because they had been to the top of the mountain, and they just knew in their heart they would never get there again.”

It reminds me of two things, the wisdom of those who have lived through awful times and the genuine humanity that still drives some politicians.

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Sometimes you see this cultural phenomenon and it’s so perfect in explaining everything that you just think Case Closed.

You know, I’ve kinda even participated in one of these photos before. Long story short. Lauca’s first school photo for kindergarten, she was having some kind of melt down (yes, again), and you can’t see me but I am actually in the class photo. Wheeeeeeeeeeee.

Link via Olivine’s Charm School.

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Bill and I were in foul moods this morning but what a relief it was to find that we were both angry about the same things and it wasn’t each other. This time it was the state of the house and the behaviour of our children. Because recently it has been about one another, in a scary, suffocating kind of way. I’m not good with that kind of anger in a relationship, I’m not the sort to naturally back away from anger, I’m not the sort to try and cover it up, nor the sort to ride it out and trust that this is the ebb and flow of relationships; I think about moving on at times like that. Maybe it is because I am the daughter of a single parent, I don’t have the fear some women have of going it alone with children. I have a kind of gallows humour about the difficulties that path would involve, but not a complete aversion to it. The arguing brought up very old arguments for us, arguments impossible to resolve, and with this some very bad old habits that we both thought we’d outgrown. I’m only writing about it now that the moment has passed because honestly, I have no perspective when I am in those moments, I couldn’t write about it sensibly, couldn’t write about it with any kind of optimism, couldn’t write about it with the sense that only two weeks ago I was thinking I would compose a message of hope to new parents based on my own experiences about how much better it all gets.

While I was this angry I talked to my friends about how angry I was with Bill and how angry he was with me. If I can be so bold, this is my piece of relationship advice for you, have friends you can talk to about that anger and who aren’t afraid of it and then hold nothing back. Even better if they will share their own honest moments of anger and disappointment with you. Nobody wants to be the only person whose relationship ever falters.

I received lots of wisdom. Some of it reassuringly matter of fact: “you will either grow together or grow apart but you can’t stop growing”. Also, “women heading into their forties are restless with energy and self-awareness but they’re often partnered to men in their forties, and men at that age are becoming increasingly inflexible and self-assured, after all, they are quite literally the patriarchs by then, they are busy becoming their fathers and probably inadvertently expecting their mothers as their wives now”.

Some of the advice was refreshingly realistic: “friends say to me they don’t know if this new relationship of theirs is the one or not and wonder when they will feel that and I tell them I’m married to this man, have three children with him, bought two houses together and love him dearly but I still make a decision every single day about whether to be with him or not”.

Some of the advice was just the relief of knowing that others go through the same thing; those friends who share their quietest, most secret moments of doubt with you.

And some of the advice was terribly clear-headed: “have you thought about the fact that you and he are under incredible stress at work right now? No wonder you’re hating each other, you’re both flipping out”.

They were right, actually. For a time there both our jobs were simultaneously being ramped up with demands while facing possibilities of job insecurity. Most often I am aware of the impacts of home life on working life, but really, you can’t underestimate the impact of the reverse. Thankfully we seem to have passed through all that safely and like magic our anger is dissipating.  However, it feels like the house slid over the edge in that time and it is chaotic with mess right now and our children are increasingly frantic for our attention. So we’re annoyed, he and I, but in a shared kind of way.

And that’s the thing about being  this feminist and a man in a relationship – we are in love but we are also strongly independent and so it feels at times with us, as parents, that the obligations of domesticity are trapping us together. When really, we are choosing this relationship, there isn’t a sense of fate here, there is instead a sense of mad passion and endurance and vulnerability with us, of pushing and pulling and struggling through it all for an outcome we both want that involves ‘happy’ every bit as much as it involves ‘together’.

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One of Bill’s brothers has been living with us on and off lately. He is a bit punk so I kindly labeled him the kids’ Punk Rock Uncle

Punk Rock Uncle: Yeah, poor Lauca, these moods are pretty bad for her.

Me: Hmm and you know, Bill and I aren’t highly strung, we’re not particularly moody people so it’s been difficult for us for a long time to understand her melt-downs.

Punk Rock Uncle: Weeeeell, you were always pretty flighty.

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What’s that, you think you may have seen us the other night? Well, it’s hard to say.

We may or may not have left the school Christmas concert in the first five minutes because our six-year-old refused to perform with her choir, because she got there late, because in spite of an entire day’s worth of planning and organising on my part that included micro-managing the toddler’s nap, booking specialist appointments for a relative, driving a family home from school who don’t have a car, entertaining Bill’s parents, and having a roast dinner cooked by six it somehow got all fucked up.

And Bill may not have rung to let me know that actually he decided to work back at the office that evening and so wouldn’t be there like I expected to help with getting everyone fed and bathed and to the Christmas concert that night, and oh, sorry he didn’t let me know earlier.

And then we may or may not have run into Bill arriving even later at the school Christmas concert than we may have been ourselves, and just when everything was going to shit, and I may have been marching our howling daughter out of the concert with an enormously heavy two-year old on my hip at the time. Maybe.

And I may or may not have glared at Bill while whisper-yelling to him that we’re leaving can’t you see, thanks a bloody lot. I may or may not have been ever so slightly guilting our daughter out at the same time, too, like a shitty parent does – just once I would like to  see you perform in a school Christmas concert instead of trying to shush you while you have some kind of meltdown with everyone staring at me, and why can’t we be the normal family for once. Bill may or may not have helpfully said at precisely that moment well, you did get her here late, I’m just saying, it isn’t her fault and come to think of it, isn’t mine either.

And that may or may not have led to some angry words from me, in the carpark, right outside the school concert hall, while storming past some loser dad escaping to smoke pot with teenagers who didn’t even blink an eye at our possible row right there.  (Because when you are loser enough to be doing that shit on school grounds you may have participated in your share of domestic arguments before, I guess, but it may have also saved us from feeling like we were the most dysfunctional parents there that night).

So, maybe that was us you saw, maybe.

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You know, Lauca can be so mature and loving and brave and charming that sometimes I feel bad about describing her as ‘highly strung’. Even so, it is a term I use out of delicate politeness because ‘highly strung’ really does not cover it. When we’re in the thick of it, ‘emotional basketcase’ might be more accurate – flailing, self-pitying, catastrophising, despairing, sobbing, angst-ing, complaining, hating, arguing, irrational-ising, blaming, and generally emotional-rollercoasting. And honestly, this kind of mood of hers can go on for hours without pause. It is quite something to endure. Cormac, who is only a year old blinks calmly through it for a while and then eventually starts attacking her in frustration, which does nothing to fix the problem but must feel fucking fantastic.

After we were once trapped in a car with Lauca like that during peak hour traffic Bill and I ended up naming it her ‘Courtney Love’ issue. She was wailing in a voice hoarse from crying, or maybe it was cigarettes, and cursing incoherently in the back seat with ratty blonde hair and tears all over her face and it really felt like we were stuck in a very small space (like a tour bus, for instance) with someone coming down off major drugs. Don’t get us wrong, we’re both big fans of Hole (and our daughter), but no-one has ever described the glorious Ms Love as even-tempered and easy-going. Lauca doesn’t like being called Courtney Love and I get that. I wouldn’t want my emotions to be nicknamed either, but it is ‘fight or flight’ for us; we make light of the situation because our heads are being done in and we are on the verge of losing it completely.

A close friend and I took our children to the art gallery this week. Lauca was having a Courtney Love day so it was utterly exhausting. And once all four children got tired and hungry enough to dial in to Lauca’s Courtney Love vibe it got quite unbearable for us. My friend ironically declared, we need drugs. I told her, you’re the doctor with the prescription pad, get us some fucking valium. But she only laughed.

By the way, this post was supposed to be just some innocent photo blogging for December..  so, apparently I need to get some stuff off my chest.

Cormac with thoughts of art or thoughts of Courtney Love, you be the judge?

It has been play-date/sleep-over central here. Lauca, being a die-hard co-sleeper has her own version of the sleep-over, which is to invite your friends over for the night and bunk down in your room, then to abandon them half way through to go and sleep with your parents and your baby brother. Let me state: quite a tiring arrangement for the parents.

Brief glimpses of intense sunshine has meant that I have occasionally been able to take Lauca and a friend over to the neighbor’s pool for a swim. It isn’t Christmas without some sunburn.

And I have also been taking the kids to the zoo. I am that good a mother.

(Such a good mother that I found a goddamn craft holiday hippy workshop for Lauca, and she loved it, and our house is now full of Xmas decorations fashioned out of recycled industrial materials).

Towards the end of one afternoon at the zoo, when I was surrounded by over-tired and over-stimulated children I noticed they were playing “What About Me?” over the intercom. I had to wonder: private joke for the parents?

Bill and I have started watching Deadwood again and I think my New Years Resolution this year might be to fuckin’ talk more like fuckin’ Deadwood. I love Calamity Jane.

There is no real ending to this post.

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I learnt of Autism and Oughtism following her inclusion in the most recent Down Under Feminists Carnival. The blog is a beautifully written and interesting account by an ex-university lecturer of life with two young sons, one neurotypical and one with autism.

Sanctimony in motherhood grates on me at the best of times but if you need any convincing that sanctimony is really not helpful then I suggest reading this thoughtful piece on Autism and Oughtism about her use of television as an aid for her son with autism. Interestingly, while my daughter is neurotypical she is quite highly strung and I have sometimes used television on play dates as a method for giving her time ‘alone’ to recharge in a way that won’t be too antisocial for her friends, so I get the restorative numbing possibilities of TV.

Also, you should read this post, which has me feeling exasperated with the world. Can we not learn to understand and accept, at the very fucking least, the different ways people with autism might have for exhibiting joy? Must we scare little kids with autism out of showing pleasure so they can better fit in with the rest of us?

The most upsetting attempt to curtail this socially undesirable behaviour happened at an ABA play-group for autistic preschoolers. ABA continues to be a controversial technique for dealing with autistic children, though it is gaining increasing mainstream acceptance. I found the ABA preschool group very useful in many ways, in particular it introduced me to other parents going through the same issues, it helped me better understand autism generally, and it gave me some useful methods for encouraging my son to interact with other people and his world. But their one main teaching that I could never feel OK about, was the efforts to completely stamp out my son’s stimming:

Once my son had relaxed enough to enjoy the group – he went from constant tantrums there to eventually actively enjoying the activities – he was happy enough to start stimming. For example, he would be listening to a book being read to everyone and he would start doing his happy dance in his chair. At the time I was so relieved to see him enjoying himself, and thought the ABA therapists there would be accepting of this typically autistic behaviour. Instead they would touch and hold him until he stopped stimming, and tell me to do the same. I was quite heart-broken and upset when it became clear what they intended to do each time, because he didn’t like being touched, and it distracted from what had made him happy, so it would either make him sad or even lead to a meltdown. It felt like he was being punished for being happy.

P.S. I will admit that I know less than nothing about ABA therapies so by selectively quoting above from that post I am not trying to mount any particular arguments against therapy, just that the goals of ‘fitting in’ might not be quite so critical for a child if we could make a little more effort as a community to embrace disability and difference.

P.P.S. If you’re looking for more feminist blogs about parenting children with disabilities then check here.

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