By Paula Redmann
Oh, the twists and turns of being a parent. Raising little humans, wanting nothing, NOTHING, more than for your child to be happy, healthy, and strong — to watch them skip down the sidewalk, experience joy, make friends and memories, have birthday parties and sleepovers. To just be a kid.
Cathy Job, Steph Orr, and Carl Young of Bismarck, see their parenting world through a much different lens. They are all parents of kids with aggression issues.
Carl was in the emergency room because he was assaulted by his 17-year-old son. Cathy’s son wrecked her house and then turned his anger on her. She’s sure she got a concussion but didn’t tell anyone. Steph’s 8-year-old son gets frustrated and harms himself, and then Steph gets turned in and investigated for possible child abuse.
Thanks to the Internet, it took just a few keystrokes and a Facebook event for these concerned and caring parents to find each other and to find some peace.
The BisMan Parents/Caregivers of Kids with Aggression Issues is a parent-to-parent group that meets the second Sunday of every month from 2:30 to 5:45 p.m. at the Bismarck Veterans Memorial Library. There is no cost to attend.
“We were really careful with our name,” Cathy says. “We didn’t want to say ‘support group’ because the word support, to some people, implies failure. This is a welcoming, judgement-free place.”
The group started meeting in December with Cathy, Steph, and Carl at the wheel. There were about 20 people at the first few meetings, but attendance doubled last month. Cathy says there’s no special format to the meetings, no guest speaker or lectures.
“We found that it’s not necessary to have a specific topic,” Cathy says. “Sometimes the topic is as simple as, ‘How was your day today?’”
“It’s nice to just vent to someone who gets it,” Steph shares. “I feel I can be heard, and no one thinks I’m a bad parent. Cathy and Carl understand and have ideas for me on how to help my son. We all bounce ideas off each other. It’s free therapy.”
Aggression, as Carl explains, comes in many forms. It could be a child yelling out of frustration with a situation. The frustration can turn to what most parents would call a “meltdown” or escalate to a combative situation or rage, where the child throws objects — even furniture and school desks. Aggressive behavior could include harming family pets, verbal aggression, “colorful” language, or physical attacks on a parent or on themselves.
“There’s some other symptom causing that aggression,” Steph says. “The child is not choosing (the aggressive) behavior.”
While many parents interact casually on a regular basis with their child’s teacher, with other parents, perhaps coaches and scout leaders, Carl explains that parents of kids with aggression issues deal with police officers, school counselors or social workers, protection and advocacy staff, and social services.
Steph has experienced many lows and very few highs, but the good days that her son has are a blessing. Still, she juggles endless appointments and lives in constant fear of what kind of phone call she may get regarding her son.
“I look at my phone and see it’s his school and I think, ‘What now?’ You feel like the worst parent ever, but this group has been so helpful to me.”
Cathy is a single mom, and her two teenage children, a son and a daughter, have both had aggression issues for several years. She tries to find something positive in each day.
“It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve started talking about it. I have felt completely and entirely helpless and alone,” she says. “But now, I feel like I can talk about this stuff and really be heard.”
Steph, Cathy, and Carl all agree that because so much of their attention and energy is focused on their child’s wellbeing, they don’t have time to nurture other relationships, including time with their spouse, their other children, family, or friends. Their kids don’t get invited to birthday parties. Getting a babysitter to enjoy an evening at a movie is out of the question. They walk on eggshells and know that some technique or conversation that worked with their child yesterday, just may not work tomorrow.
Carl says they’re all exhausted, but they’re not giving up. They’ve found a place where parents and caregivers don’t have to feel confused, alone, or worthless. They’ve found a sense of understanding, comfort, and friendship.