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The Shame of Parenting an ODD Child: You Are Not Alone (And Why You Need Support)

Posted by Holly Fields

As the parent of a child with ODD it can be very isolating. You feel alone, as if you’re “living in a little prison” as James Lehman says. I am lucky enough to have a good friend whose son had very similar behaviors to oppositional defiant disorder. There was no official diagnosis, but our boys mirrored each other beautifully. We were also both single moms. Without my friend’s support and understanding, my son’s adolescent years would have been even more difficult and lonely for me.  We were able to commiserate about how bad their parent/teacher conferences were, the newest partying escapade, and where the current bonfire meeting place was.  We even laughed at times and found humor in our situation. On the bright side, our sons became quite adept at patching holes they had punched in the sheet rock.

Tongue in cheek aside, those years were devastating for both of us. I felt scrutinized by my son’s teachers for his lack of effort, disrespect at school and disdain for authority. The issue is even more frightening if you can visualize a 6 foot tall teenager on a hormone roller coaster in a blind rage. As Kimberly Abraham, LMSW and Marney Studaker–Cordner, LMSW wrote in their article: ODD Kids: How to Manage Violent Behavior in Children and Teen:

Kids with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD, anxiety and other emotional challenges have a very difficult time finding and keeping tools in their box. They get frustrated more easily than your “typical” child, and often can’t see a way to resolve conflict without aggression. Often, the only tool they have is a hammer!

Add to this the large amount of family disapproval that was heaped on both of us.  Obviously, we were doing something wrong. Instead of support, we were given well-meaning unsolicited advice that would have worked well with other children, but would never work with ours. The violence and defiance our kids exhibited was usually interpreted as a lack of rules or structure — or that they were just plain spoiled.  Translation: we were failures as parents.

By the time parents of children with ODD contact us, they are exhausted, angry and frustrated. They are often racked with guilt and a sense of failure.  After years of parenting an ODD child, I’ve found that one of the most important things we can do as parents is to find ways to calm and soothe ourselves during and after an explosion. This can be anything from taking a warm bath, having a cup a tea, going to the gym, taking a walk or confiding in a good, nonjudgmental friend. Carving out a quiet moment on a daily basis is difficult for most of us.  It’s especially hard to ask for help when you feel isolated or ashamed to admit what is really going on at home. I am so grateful for my friends who have listened to me tirelessly.

There are many theories about the cause of ODD, but nothing has been proven. But there is growing awareness and support for parents of children with ODD. When we have support, we’re no longer alone. We learn to put the judgment of other parents and our families into perspective. We learn to stop feeling ashamed. James Lehman also said, “Blame doesn’t help anyone and it doesn’t change behavior. It’s not about  blame. It’s about taking responsibility and doing the ‘next right thing.'”


About Holly Fields

Holly Fields has worked with children with emotional and physical disabilities for more than 15 years in the home, at school, and in rehabilitation settings, as well as therapeutic riding programs. She was with Legacy Publishing Company as a 1-on-1 Coach for two years. Holly has a Masters Degree in Special Education. She has two adult children, two rescue dogs and one cat.

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