Therapy Thoughts--Waiting Room Lessons

Today in the waiting room of "our" therapy clinic, I held my screaming almost-two year old and listened to one mom's story about her struggle to get her daughter proper medical care and therapy. As much as I could piece together her story, it sounded as if her daughter was in multi-system organ failure due to dehydration and malnutrition before she could convince anyone that she needed help. Evelyn screamed and kicked and this mom just went right on with her story. As soon as the therapist came out, though, she immediately stood up and went back to talk with her.

Another therapy mom-turned-friend came by and patted my shoulder as we briefly chatted before she had to run out the door to pick something up from her child's doctor for his school. We would be gone when she returned, but we confirmed we would both be there Thursday. Our new Fall schedule lends itself to a fun, thirty minute window where we look forward to overlapping in the waiting room.

A mom of four waited with her three daughters, all of whom were kind and patient as Evelyn bordered on invading their personal space. One mom I often see around town, came in with her son to pick up her little girl who'd had a great day at therapy. The mother of four and the one who came in with her son apparently know each other too. They chatted for a moment before respective therapists came out to discuss each child's progress.

Therapy mom's* can be a lot of things. Speaking for myself personally, we can be scattered, overwhelmed, frustrated, confused, guilty of over-sharing, and a little crazy. But they can also be more patient than other parents. They know all children are different and all are of infinite value. They are more able to find the bright side. An age appropriate temper tantrum because the child wants to do it herself--awesome! They are more prone to believe your story or your thoughts about your child, even if your thoughts sound unorthodox or unusual. They've been (or still are) there.

It struck me today, though, that therapy moms, possibly more than the general population of moms, need someone to listen to their story. To be honest, it was a little strange that someone would continue to tell her story while the listener's two year old decomposed. And it got me thinking how probably few real, compassionate listeners therapy moms have. I hear story after story of pediatricians who refused to give referrals for evaluations. I'm thankful that my experience has had no resemblance to that sad, reason-less trend. Grandparents can sometimes be overly confident that the child is "perfect" or overly concerned and, unfortunately, poorly equipped to communicate those concerns appropriately. Teachers can be over worked and overwhelmed to get through the day with an entire class full of children. They may not have time, energy, or resources to be a sounding board for a concerned parent.  And many women don't have many actual friends to listen to whatever happens to be going on in life, including your puzzle of a two year old for whom things don't appear to be completely typical.

So, just like we all need people with whom we can freely share our or our child's "story," those of us with slightly atypical stories probably experience the need to be heard, understood, and encouraged even more acutely.  And today, I noticed all of these moms doing whatever they can to help their child--at home, certainly, and at school, and at therapy--dropping everything and standing at attention when their child's therapist entered the waiting room. My kids can be screaming and running. It's possible I'm almost screaming at them to stop doing those things; but it doesn't really matter. The mom has zeroed in on her child's therapist, and she listens and explains and asks questions and hopes for answers. And while the questions and particulars might be extremely practical in nature; there is something so powerful about a good or bad report. Whether it be a yearly evaluation, a goal met, or just a really great day; the encouragement and hope it can bring is strangely powerful. And, unfortunately, the converse is true as well.

And, as all of this dawns on me; I suddenly feel sympathy for these therapists. Many of them would be considered "young" in the professional world, many of them do not have children of their own, many of them go above and beyond every day.  They are doing a great, life-changing thing, but they are not trained to walk moms through the "therapy" experience.  And they can't always know how well the parent is coping.  I'm not sure, but I don't think they take a class on that; although I'm sure under a good clinical instructor, it could certainly be touched upon and discussed as part of good "parent communication."

Suddenly, the therapist's job is not only to be magically capable of making extremely difficult and often repetitive work fun, engaging, and productive for the child, but it also falls to them to ensure whether or not the parent is living with realistic expectations, plugging into a support network, liaising with the appropriate doctors and specialists, and finding ways of dealing with these extra stresses in a constructive manner. That's to say nothing of the parents they encounter who still need help moving into a parent role where they can learn to make caring for their child a priority. How much of that could depend on any one professional, regardless of their educational background?

So, as I left the waiting room, having watched the dynamics of the afternoon; I realized how much pressure and anticipation I can unknowingly place on the poor, unsuspecting therapists who treat my child. Of course I expect them to do their job with excellence; but I want to make a conscious decision to maintain a diversified portfolio of people with whom I can connect, vent, or find support. And, by doing so, I hope to be able to bring encouragement to the waiting room both for the therapy moms and for the therapists.

*While there are certainly therapy dads who bring their children, work with therapists, and have, no doubt, their own stories to tell, I do not make it a habit of speaking with them at great length.

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