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Parenting on Hard Mode

Feb 08, 2023 05:00AM ● By Matthew Jones

Have you ever played a video game? Like, ever? In most cases you usually play the game on “normal” mode your first time through, then later if you’re looking for a challenge you play on “hard” mode. Also in most cases, you have to finish normal mode before jumping into hard mode. And when you play through the game, it gets progressively more challenging, and each level builds upon the last one.

Why am I talking about this? Well, my parenting journey recently jumped from normal mode (which itself is incredibly challenging) to hard mode. My father-in-law recently passed away, and he had custody of our 13-year-old nephew and 6-year-old niece. My wife’s sister is currently in charge of the little one, and care of our nephew Jayden has fallen to us. So I went from having two little kids to having three kids, one of whom is a surly teen. Usually when your kids grow, it’s by little bits at a time. But now all at once I’m having to learn how to get this kid to do his homework, and take a shower, and clean up his toxic dump of a room. I’m having to learn how to deal with his mood swings and to try to make an emotional connection even when he goes for hours given me nothing but chilly silence.

Those are pretty standard teen things, sure, but up until now I only had to deal with 5-and-under problems. Things like potty training, or sharing toys, or learning the ABCs. Now I have to deal with body odor, and homework, and bullying. And that’s not all. My nephew is also struggling with ADHD and depression (like me), and is also on the autism spectrum (not like me). That plus normal teen issues plus the grief and trauma of losing a caregiver adds up to quite a bundle of new issues to deal with.

But I’ve learned quickly that there are lots of similar issues between raising a little kid and raising a teen. Getting them to eat something other than freakin’ mac and cheese, for one. Making them get up to catch the bus is a challenge both for the kindergartener and the eighth grader. Instilling them with some sort of ability to clean up their own messes is a challenge for all three kids. 

There are some good resources that I’ve taken advantage of to help out. If I’m going to push my already-tenuous video game analogy even further, these would be the cheat codes and strategy guides. One great resource has been the Rappahannock Area Community Service Board (RACSB). The RACSB provides lots of mental health and developmental disability services (among other things) that we’ve taken advantage of. We were able to get in-school counseling for Jayden through the RACSB, as well as psychiatrist appointments for medication management.

And that medication is an important part of managing his ADHD and helping him succeed in school. I know a lot of coping strategies from my life experience with ADHD. But I’ve also found a good resource for helpful articles is ADDitude magazine, recommended by Jayden’s therapist. The autism, however, is completely new to me. Luckily, Fredericksburg Parent magazine has a whole host of autism resources available locally and online. I’ve started digging through the list of resources to find ways to help understand my nephew’s moods and needs, and they’ve been helpful.

I consider myself lucky that I’ve only had to deal with little kids without special needs up to this point. I have so much respect for the parents out there who have struggled with their own special needs kids from the start. Now that my play-through on hard mode parenting has started, I’m hoping to gain some wisdom from them and from all the resources out there. With some hard work and a lot of help from my community, I bet I can level myself up and face this challenge head-on. 

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