A different kind of parenting

Amanda and Daniel’s story

By Amanda Preston

Growing up, I always thought I would be a certain type of parent. I remember thinking, I am never going to do that, or, I really want to be a parent who does that! Once I was married, my husband and I often talked about what kind of parents we wanted to be and what we wanted to do. Early on in our marriage we made the decision to build our family through adoption.

Shortly after, we started the Adoption Education Program, which would prepare us to adopt a special needs child through BC’s Ministry of Children and Families. They talked about the two main issues children would have: drug exposure and fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Everything they said made sense. We understood, and we tried to prepare ourselves to raise a child with FAS. But I don’t think anything could have prepared us for what it would look like in reality.

Our eldest son, Mathieu, had been exposed to prenatal drugs and alcohol. Right away, he dispelled all my preconceptions. At night, when I had anticipated rocking my new baby to sleep while singing a lullaby, I was instead holding my child tight, swaddled in a blanket, as he shook and screamed from over stimulation. A simple doctor’s appointment was anything but simple. I had to drag my son into the office while he kicked, screamed, scratched and bit me, and everyone glared at me as if I was the worst parent in the world. When company came over, Mathieu would run and hide in the closest corner. If approached, he would have a complete meltdown.

With my second son, the challenges intensified. He couldn’t be left alone for even a second, for fear that he would escape from the house, turn on the stove or take some other life-threatening action. I couldn’t cook, clean my room or even change another child’s diaper without fearing that he might be halfway down the stairs already. It became a game to see how fast I could perform daily tasks.

We never left the house for social visits until our second son was around three years old – not even to visit our parents. People thought we were anti-social, but no one else’s house was set up to address all the safety concerns that surrounded our son. Even though he wore a protective helmet, one wrong move could have left him seriously injured or let him loose from the house yet again.

Before we became parents, I never imagined that the simple task of going to the bathroom would be impossible unless someone else was home. I never imagined myself crying at the playground because kids would run from my four-year-old son. They refused to play with him because his maturity level was that of a two year old.

Yes, parenting a child with FAS was definitely nothing like I imagined. But I also never realized that one tiny smile could melt my heart. I never imagined that one scream-free visit to the doctor could feel so uplifting. I never anticipated that an apprehension-free visit to the bathroom would bring such freedom. I never imagined that three stickers, earned by my son for sitting through all three circle times at preschool, could bring me such joy. I never thought that toilet training at the age of four and a half would feel like the world’s greatest victory, or that the love my children have for each other would be so comforting.

Parenting my FAS children still has its challenges, often leaving me feeling alone and as if no one understands. Many people falsely conclude that my children are just naughty, or that I am a bad parent. What people don’t realize is that FAS is a medical problem, a type of brain damage that resembles the results of a car accident, and there is no cure. Children with FAS don’t understand cause and effect, and just don’t understand that what they are doing is wrong.

Increased awareness and understanding of FAS is much needed. In the meantime, despite all our difficulties, I wouldn’t change my experiences for the world. I would adopt a child with FAS again in a heartbeat, and I can only encourage others that it is manageable. Ultimately, God will get you through any challenges thrown your way!

Amanda Preston and her husband, Daniel, are the proud (and tired) parents of four beautiful children. They live in Langley, BC, and are leading a ministry in their church to promote adoption. You can follow their blog at Ahomeforeverychildbc.blogspot.com.