Tone of voice is a huge topic of conversation in our house.
I have three adopted teenagers with FASD, you see, and they are all hyper sensitive to tone of voice. They find the world around them bewildering and struggle to make sense of human interaction. They sadly seem to start from the position that no one likes them. They believe that everyone is looking at them weirdly on the bus. They often don’t understand when they’ve done something wrong so live every moment in the constant fear that you’re going to be cross with them.
It must be an awful way to have to live.
All three of them latch on to tone of voice as an indicator of how mad I am with them. They notice every hint of impatience, every mildly sarcastic comment, every sideways glance, every physical movement – and magnify it a thousand times. If I raise my arm to scratch my head, my son will flinch as if I’m about to hit him. If I try to chivvy him along because we’re going to be late, he shuts down completely and goes back to bed. If I make what I think is a light-hearted comment, my daughter will flounce off and sulk at me for hours because I’ve been horrible to her. If she gets any sense I’m cross with her at all when we’re discussing a situation, she’ll clam up and refuse to talk about it. We never get to the bottom of anything. If I put a full stop and not a kiss at the end of a text, my other daughter will escalate the conversation into a full-blown row.
And then there’s this.
‘It’s tea time.’
‘Stop shouting at me! I’ve done nothing wrong!’
‘I’m just telling you it’s tea time.’
‘See, you’re shouting at me again.’
‘I’m really not. If you want to hear me shouting, this is what it sounds like….’
I can’t count the number of times each day I have this conversation.
It’s exhausting living each day like this. Totally draining. I have to modify everything I say before I say it. I can’t ever express my disappointment or frustration or irritation. It’s just not worth it for the storm that ensues. I have to find a way to stay detached and to be fully in control of my emotions all of the time.
But to be honest though, I’m not that person. I’m only human, after all. My kids clearly expect me to be super human, but I’m not. They set the bar for parenting exceptionally high, because all they can understand and focus on are their own pressing needs and their own interpretation of a situation. I’m not a therapist, teacher, social worker and parent rolled into one. I’m just me. I had no training in tone of voice during my adoption preparation.
Can you relate to any of this? Do you live with a child – or maybe a partner or parent – who thinks you’re mad with them even when you’re not?
If so, here are my top survival tips that may help you get through another day.
· Remind yourself at least once a day that they did not choose to be this way. Living in that state of hyper vigilance must be miserable at times. No one would choose that.
· Find a way to laugh with them about something on a regular basis. I’ve realised that what my kids crave most of all is for me to enjoy spending time with them.
· Allow them to express what they are hearing or seeing and interpreting. Mine feel able to say ‘There’s that tone again’ and know that they will not be judged for expressing that concern.
· Find an outlet. You can’t bottle all the frustrations etc up forever. Do something to release all these emotions – maybe something physical like running or breadmaking or whatever works for you.
· Don’t feel guilty if you get it wrong. You’re only human, after all. Don’t beat yourself up for that.
· Be kind to yourself. Recognise how wearing it is to live this way. You might wonder why you’re tired all the time. This is part of the reason why. Rest and recuperate when you can.
· Have people in your world you can be real with. Speak to them every day. Let go and say exactly what you think and feel.
· Make their home a safe place where they don’t have to be scared to be themselves. There’s divided opinion on this because some people feel it’s better to prepare kids for the outside world, but my view is that the outside world is hard enough and I want my kids to feel loved and accepted and appreciated for who they are in their home. And so I will do all that I can to accommodate their special needs and make life easier for them.
And finally remember, it’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it!