Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Participation Trap

My second child Blake has now reached the place just prior to pre-school, known here as the time for Parent Participation or to me as the Participation Trap.

I went yesterday with reservations as I had a previously failed attempt to fully embrace the program when my daughter was small (prior to two) as the children all played independently (with no benefit that I could see) as the granola eating, over indulging mothers looked on and judged each others parenting skills or the lack thereof. After a public disagreement with one of their 'expert' guests about visual and auditory stimulation and a trip to the dairy farm that made me weep for days after I called it quits.

This time I signed up in another location hoping that geography and passed time would make a difference. One of my dearest friends reminded me 'it was time' so we each put our children into the program. Her daughter who is 5 months younger than Blake is much more advanced which I attributed much of to gender, as girls tend to develop faster than boys in my experience. When they play one-on-one I never really notice or think about his delays.

As a mother with a child who has developmental differences all social situations (I am learning) with his peers is difficult for ME. I do not notice the delays or deficits in our day-to-day lives as he goes about his business, plays and learns in his own environment and at his own pace. Yesterday I had a reality check. Alongside his peers his delays were very pronounced and heart wrenching to me. I know we are not supposed to compare our children with others but we do ... we ALL DO! 

I thought it best to speak with the teacher and inform her that Blake has Down Syndrome. Her immediate response, which I feel well intentioned, was to give me an option to switch him into the 1-2 year old class. I immediately declined and vowed to myself to gut this out no matter how difficult I perceived it to be. I had committed to be there and instantly felt trapped. I watched the clock tick by, each moment feeling like an eternity. Blake played and ran about the room with pure joy, discovering everything he could, at least he was enjoying himself I thought. It made no sense to me to take him back a year in the program. It was counter intuitive that he would learn to speak or expand his expressive language skills being surrounded by those who still babble. I feel he needs to be with his peers and learn from them. I panicked as the foreshadowing of his academic life flashed before my eyes. Is this where my advocacy role for my son and his education begins? The thought in that moment was exhausting.

After "circle time" where I knew only two songs, yard time where Blake was pushed around, out run for toys, out climbed and out talked by the all other children, and the sign up board for adult mommy snack I decided to make my escape 10 minutes early. The walls had closed in, the staring became unbearable so we quietly slipped out the door to race home for Blake's regularly scheduled occupational therapy session manic Monday style.
I am not the type of mother that enjoys socially contrived, phony atmospheres with women whom I have nothing in common with other than a vagina. I don't give a shit about circle time songs or snack for the mom's. It's just not my thing I guess. As mothers we must sacrifice our personal enjoyment for the sake and benefit of our children, right?

The REASON I joined the program is for my son to be exposed to his peers, those of the same age. I want him to be able to play, learn and grow. I also want him to be exposed to others who have other skill sets than he so he is able to acquire them or at least gain exposure to them.
After much reflection yesterday I realized that I had set the trap for myself. With my past experience and my personal adult annoyance with situations like this clouding my judgement I let all of the negative aspects get to me. I usually always look for the silver lining but in a room full of 'normal' or 'un-delayed' children, which is the parental equivalent of the oxygen being sucked out of the space, it overwhelmed me.

What will I do? 

I will free myself from the trap by doing the following:

1) Sticking with the program of his peers (two year old's) and seeing through my commitment.

2) Choosing 3 positive things from each session to reflect on.

3) Being cognizant that this is BLAKE'S time.

4) Realize that Blake will take what he needs from this experience at HIS own pace.

5) Educate every single person in that room about Down Syndrome and how proud I am of my son.

Have you fallen into a Participation Trap with a program? school? or social situation with your child?

Share your experiences below.


  1. I am so so proud of you Lisa. I am glad you came to realize it is about "Blake's Time". I have been to many a playgroup and believe all moms compare their children to others, disability or not. I feel it is just plain ignorance or fear of not knowing better. I am sad to be a woman if this is how you felt. I know you will teach and show them and be Blake's greatest advocate. Just remember you've got big chesticles!!!Love you and proud to have you in my life. That wee man is blessed to have you as his mommy, please DO NOT forget that. Kristen XO

  2. wow. I can relate to so much you say. I have done these classes for years, with my five year old, and now with liam. what I realized yesterday was that EVERY CALSS IS DIFFERENT. each group of moms brings a different vibe. I get annoyed when I hear people develop their friendships for life in these classes- I met my good friends here elsewhere- though in children focused environments to be sure- the library and music time at Boo Boos. since having liam, this weeks class felt like a better vibe than last years. in other classes I have decided to tell the class liam has ds- I say something like "liam has ds, and while I have wondered if I want to announce it, I have decided to do so because before having him I knew NOONE with ds and this has all been new to me, so if you have any questions, please ask me and I am so happy to tell you about him". once or twice someone asked me something and that was it. and I couldn't decide if I wanted to be asked more or if I wanted him to be just another kid in the room.
    the teachers I have had though were ecstatic when hearing the news that he started walking last month. they have been wonderful.
    deciding on which class to be in was my doing, and that's where I did have am oment wondering if, when he was only crawling, I wanted him with other crawlers, or to have the possibility of being run over by walkers who were his age. I consulted with my coach for our neurodevelopment program and she said to jeep him with his peers. I value her opinion.
    I struggle all the time with the comparing trap. like you said, it IS normal. two of my closest friends have kids three months younger and it IS hard to watch them develop skills oh so much faster.
    I have always admired your positivity lisa. maybe we should do an educational presentation?

  3. I also remember thinking those first couple classes with Liam that I didn't feel any connection to the other moms and did it mostly for him. I think this time may be a little different. I hope.
    It's also a little different for moms who have other kids maybe. I felt with Lupe that I got more out of the discussion topics, and this time I don't. Been there, done that. Nothing new to discuss. I still think it's a good thing to do with Liam though.

  4. You have strength and courage that a lot of us can learn from!!