We adopted Isabelle when she was eight months old. At the age of two she began to change into the girl we know today - the girl we say will, one day, take over the world. The girl who believes that sleep is for the weak and that the word no is a call to arms.  The girl who has turned our lives upside down in the most heartbreaking but wonderful way. 

Do you remember the time before you had kids?  Do you remember the silent judgements you made about parents you saw in supermarkets or on TV, telling yourself how you would do things SO differently when you became a parent?  Maybe that was just me?! I was the best hypothetical parent on the planet. When I look back at the time before we adopted, I smile at my naivety and cringe at my arrogance. I didn’t know any better. And, as the great Maya Angelou said: “Do the best you can until you know better. And when you know better, do better”...Easy right?

Well… no actually.  Not easy. In fact, incredibly difficult and, at times, downright impossible. 

Fast forward a few years and this is what my life as a parent looks like now: 

We don’t eat meals at the table. I don’t take toys, screen time or treats away as punishment for ‘bad’ behaviour. When asked to do something, Isabelle usually replies with a confident and resolute "No" - and I leave it at that. She doesn’t do homework. And we do time in, not time out. Seriously - if the old me walked into my house right now she would have a fit. 

I have done the conventional parenting thing. I’ve done the time outs, the sticker charts and the shouting. Cutting a long story short, let me simply say that it didn’t work. It made our lives hell and I ended up believing I was the worst mum in the world.  

If I had to sum up how I try to parent now, I would say: “Think brain not blame” and “connection before correction”. I try to parent in a very nurturing but structured way, based on strategies from Non-Violent Resistance and Therapeutic Parenting models. I try to view Isabelle’s behaviour as symptoms of her condition – not as ‘bad behaviour’. I try to remind myself daily that, because of FASD, she can’t (rather than won’t) do what she’s told. I try to remember that it’s not a measure of my parenting, it’s just the way her brain is wired. I try to look beyond how she is behaving and try to deal with the feelings that might be behind the behaviour. I try to remember that it is my relationship with her that will be the key to positive change and that for someone with FASD, there is often a difference between what they know and what they can do. 

I say ‘try’ because to do this consistently every day would, in my opinion, make somebody superhuman. It’s incredibly hard work to parent this way and (being completely honest) it does not come naturally to me at all. I fail at it more often than I’d like to admit.  But I keep trying.   

Looking through a different lens at my daughter’s behaviour has taken me beyond the realms of normal parenting. And although I ”know better” now, that hypothetical parent who had all the answers still pops up from time to time, telling me to drop this new-age parenting rubbish and go back to the traditional method of time outs and consequences. 

But I know that I won’t.  I’ve seen the difference that parenting this way has made to my family. Although it takes so much effort, time, patience and practice, the overall pay off has definitely been worth it.

So, going back to Maya Angelou, I don’t think it’s ever as easy as I know better, so I do better. It’s more like – I know better so I try to do the best I can.  That’s all anyone, including me, can ever do.