When “Mom” Doesn’t Know Best

WhenMomDoesntKnowBest-PicturesThis column was originally published as part of my “Tuesdays with Madison” series at AutismAfter16.com.

It’s that time of year again for our family—the preparation for Madison’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), the document that details the goals, objectives, and services she will receive through the school system for the next 12 months.

In Madison’s current placement, the meetings run with precision. Materials are sent out in advance so we can review all elements systematically, thoughtfully, and with ample time left for discussion.

I have not always been so lucky.

Although Madison’s intervention services began 15 years ago, I have been a part of IEP and other review programs for over 20 years. Madison’s older brother was medically fragile with multiple special needs. From double-digit-sized meetings for coordination of services to small hospital case management conversations, gatherings to discuss the future welfare of a child can be a land mine for the unknowing parent, I’ve learned.

“So, what does Mom think?” can be a layered, loaded question often used when new information is presented or there’s a stalemate in discussions.

First of all, although I am happy to share my opinion, I cringe at the salutation.

Yes, I am a mom.

Yes, I am, “Mom,” to my children.

But my name is Becky.

Not Mom.

Educators and medical professionals, however, routinely address parents in this fashion. Granted, it is a quick cheat sheet of a label, reminding others of the parent’s role. Yet, we don’t share the reciprocal privilege.

Would I ever say, as I looked at these individuals, “So, what does Speech Therapist think?” or “What does Teacher think?” “What does Doctor think?”

How rude it would be to discount the person to their role.

But beyond the depersonalization—that is almost a standard and therefore, maybe not that big of a deal—the next asked question and its intent is the most revealing.

“So, what do you think, Mom? You know your child best.

And there it is. Now my role has been linked to my responsibility. As a mom, I should know best.

As Becky the individual, however, I may not know what is best. But as Mom, my role, I should.

At least that’s the way I used to hear it, in the early days of dealing with specialists. “You know your child best” haunted me, especially when Madison’s behaviors began to escalate. And I didn’t know why she spun things. Or hand-flapped. Or lined her Fisher-Price people in straight lines. Or wouldn’t sleep. And wouldn’t stop crying.

Or wouldn’t talk.

I did not know best any more.

Perhaps another mother, a better mother, may know. But this mother, Becky Galli, did not. In fact, that is why I needed a good Individualized Educational Plan with specialists who did.

As I grew weary and frustrated with the “lets ask Mom” techniques, I decided to address the situation directly and came up a way to help others help me. Before I gave my answer, I began to ask:

How do you typically manage situations like this?

What resources did you use?

Or, more specifically:

Have you seen something like this before?

How did you respond?

What has been successful?

And then would add:

Do you think this could work for my child?

What would that look like?

Even though I felt I no longer knew best for Madison, when I used these questions I gained the information I needed to strengthen my role and make good decisions for her.

Granted, we do know our children in ways that others, professionals or not, may never know. Most often, however, we have deep experiences—not very wide ones.

By this time in their lives, our children are probably receiving specialized services. Thoughtful questioning allows professionals to show their credentials and experience.

And help us know more in the effort to know best.