Love is NOT All You Need When Raising Your Spirited Child


Lately, I have been thinking a lot about love–the types of love, our love languages, and all of the love in my life. While I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude, I also have a heavy heart knowing love is not all you need. 

As my oldest child’s birthday approaches, I am feeling increasingly anxious. Not about how “it goes too fast” or how “he’s getting so big.” I am feeling anxious and ill-equipped as a parent. We are rounding the corner of a decade and he still seems miserable EVERY day of his life. I am in that stage of life where I feel like I should have it all figured out, but don’t. Because I’m human. And yet, I feel all of the guilt, rage, and even shame for my humanity letting me down in this way. 

With him, it has been challenging since conception. I was sick every day of the pregnancy. The labor went on for weeks and the delivery for days. After the final three hours of pushing, he was born face up and I was left with a level 4 episiotomy. I had given birth to a 10 pound, 2-foot tall baby boy. It was straight to the NICU for him. The stress and duration of the delivery had left his blood sugar too low to stay and nurse. They recommended a blood transfusion for me.  

This led to a very tricky postpartum. Being my first pregnancy, I had no idea what anemia and stress did to milk supply. The “breast is best motto and how the hospital approached it was demoralizing, to say the least. 

That first year, in particular, was such a strain emotionally, financially, and on our marriage. Saying he was colicky is an understatement. He was sick ALL. THE. TIME. RSV, pneumonia, hydro seal, thyroglossal cyst, impacted bowels, 107-degree fevers–the list goes on and on. All of these illnesses, while not terminal, are chronic. They require hospital visits and stays. They are mysterious and draining.

Prior to having children, I had never heard anyone talk about those parts of parenthood.  (Maybe I wasn’t listening! I feel like it’s all I talk about now.) Nonetheless, I felt lied to, abandoned, and most of all, alone. I couldn’t admit my feelings to close friends who loved their babies and seemed to live for every snuggle. I felt scared to leave my house because my baby was so inconsolable. What kind of mother can’t soothe her own baby? 

Eight years in, I feel much the same way–afraid to be in public with my child. Humiliated. Ashamed that I can’t calm or comfort him. Worried about his physical and mental health. As the years have gone on the physical, emotional, and behavioral challenges remain but have evolved, manifesting in a number of other ways. 

He spent years getting into “trouble” for crying too much at preschool. We’ve now completed a few years of elementary school and he gets into physical fights–slapping other children, stabbing them with pencils, running away. At home, he is volatile in many of the same ways but also expresses lots of anxiety. He sucks, flaps, and hides.  

We’ve been through lots of testing–medical and behavioral. We’ve seen specialists; tried alternative and traditional healing. We are two loving, committed, educated, parents. We can (mostly) afford the time and resources needed to address these challenges and yet we feel lost. Unsuccessful advocates. We are tired. We have other children to care for now. We are worried–how is this affecting all of us and how can we work together to make everyone more comfortable and have a peaceful household? 

I am losing hope but not giving up. If you have ever experienced something similar–been told your child has “low mood,” is an “orchid,” or something even less helpful, you are not alone. I hope you will give yourself grace and recognize love is not all you need.  

We need to:

  • Ditch comparative suffering. 
  • Keep friends who don’t judge and do listen. 
  • Practice gratitude. This really does make a difference. Focusing on the good, helps me find more good each and every day. This post focuses on the many challenges. My son also has SO many gifts and strengths. 
  • Take regular breaks. I really hate hearing this advice. It is usually given in the context of babysitting. So expensive and remember the guilt above? Breaks look different for all of us. Sometimes I put myself in time out. I leave to take a walk or a bath. While this isn’t the generous self-care that I crave, it is a step in the right direction.
  • Build a deep bench. I have engaged our pediatrician, occupational therapist, mental health counselor, teachers and so many more to gain support and understanding of this beautiful and complicated human in my charge. They help me find my way when I feel lost. They help me see and celebrate his strengths when I feel overwhelmed. 
  • Use practical tools. These are the few that have worked for us:
    • Happiest Baby on Block
    • Raising Your Spirited Child
    • Generation Mindful 

Do you have a “difficult” child?  What has helped you?