The Desperate Prayers of a PDA Parent
Before I became a parent, I was pretty confident I’d be a good one. When my first son was born, I was so endlessly in love with him that I couldn’t sleep. Exhausted, I would lay awake watching him breathe, admiring the tiny faces he made in slumber. Thank you, God, I murmured, awash in the reverie of new motherhood.
When I gave birth to my third son in four years, I was still hopelessly in love with my children, but parenthood was killing me. My oldest son changed his clothes dozens of times each day, banged his head on walls, and faked injuries. Our house filled with his screams, as he seemed to struggle with every part of his day. My two-year-old came out of his silent shell by unexpectedly yelling “my die you!” at kids on the playground, pushing them and pinching them without provocation. I perpetually hovered a hands length away to keep other children safe from his uncontrolled aggression. He would bend down to kiss my newborn and then punch him in the face. My bedrock assumption that I was a good parent rested on extremely shaky ground. The daily challenges I faced had pushed my nervous system beyond its breaking point. The deep waters of postpartum depression rose up and I was drowning.
I tried to talk to other parents about what I was facing: “It’s really hard to get your kids dressed right?” I would casually ask, desperate for someone whose story reflected mine. “Yeah” they would said, “kids can be so picky,” with a shrug. “So does it take you an hour to get them dressed? Do they have elaborate rituals to tie their shoes? Do they hit you, scream in your face? Are you walking on eggshells all the time?” Startled, blank faces stared back at me, as heads slowly shook. “No, no it’s not like that for us. You should see a therapist.” As pastor, I delivered long extemporaneous prayers every week. Please God let this be our answer, was all I could summon up to pray.
When we started therapy, if anything, it got worse. The psychologist proposed a more rigid set of expectations, rewards, and punishments. When I calmly, lovingly shared this plan, my four-year-old turned to his younger brother. “Come on, let’s get her,” he said and the two of them attacked. They punched and scratched me as I sacrificed myself to protect the baby, and then they ran out the front door. I dissolved into tears. That is not how it was supposed to go. I’m getting this all wrong. God, why is this happening?
It still took years before we arrived at PDA diagnoses, parenting practices, and supportive community that taught me to believe I was a good parent again. The years I doubted, blamed and shamed myself were dark. The pivot came as I asked, what if everything I’ve been told is wrong? What if I trust them? What if I let them lead me?
The day I dropped all demands felt like scales fell from my eyes. “I’m sorry, I’ve gotten it all wrong,” I said aloud to my children. Can I be humble enough to parent the way they need? God forgive me, help them forgive me, I prayed. Today I thank God for the freedom my children model. They will not bend, and now I see incredible strength. They will not follow, and now I see courage to lead. I was so blind, so trapped in trying to be a good parent. Stuck in a role that was never made for me. They are my saving grace, my teachers. Like the old song says, Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.
Amanda Diekman is soulful presbyterian pastor, spiritual director, and autistic contemplative. She lives in her favorite city in the world Durham, NC, with her favorite humans, a husband and three young humans. They live in the North Street community, an intentional residential community with neighbors of all abilities. While she rarely does well in complex social dynamics, she loves the complexity
of the spirit and the complexity of simple questions. Amanda comes alive while woodworking, doing yoga, walking at the beach, and snuggling her kids. You can find her writing at amandadiekman.net and on Instagram at simple.soulful.amanda.