This is the second post in a series on parenting a child who stutters as an adult who stutters. For context, I’ve worked hard to achieve my own personal version of self-acceptance of my stutter, and, therefore, may hold different perspectives on how best to support my son’s journey. I offer my story and that of my family to bring awareness to this part of the stuttering experience that both people who stutter often fear and usually overlook as a transition in their journey that we will have to confront.
My wife had been playing with our son while I cooked dinner. This time between when I picked him up from school and when we sat down as a family to eat was when he seemed to stutter the most. It would be an understatement to say that the few months leading up to this night were a challenge for us as parents adjusting to our child’s stuttering.
I wasn’t okay, and my wife was hiding the full extent of her concern because of how I was failing to deal with how I felt. I’d feared this reality for over twenty years and even after all the work I did to accept my stutter, the sight, sound, and wonder about my son’s very real stuttering broke me. The broader context added another layer as I had just launched my memoir on stuttering, Every Waking Moment, so I was talking about my stutter all the time. Yet, I had to hold it together, for my wife and, most importantly, our son.
I took one look at my wife as we ate. I teetered on the brink of a complete emotional collapse when our son started to sing…
You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy
When skies are gray
You’ll never know, dear
How much I love you
Please don’t take
My sunshine away
Tears flowed down my cheeks. I couldn’t hold them back any longer. He knew I was hurting without understanding why. His innocent voice brought me back to reality. In this movie-scripted moment, my perspective began to change—he and we, his parents, were going to be okay, together.
I’ll never forget this moment because its magnitude brought this unwavering clarity and started to cleanse my thoughts of the emotional heaviness that kept me from figuring out what we needed to do to help him.
We didn’t have to do anything.
Well, we did do something at first. I sent an email to my speech therapist to get her opinion on what to do, but it felt inauthentic, like I was going behind his back without telling him. I felt icky because my intent was to try to help fix or lessen his struggle to speak. When the time is right, we know my therapist and her team will be there to help him ease into his stutter.
Because we were already doing what he needed.
My only sunshine opened my eyes to what we had already been doing as parents of child who stutters:
- Structure: We have a structured home environment in which he has predictable routines and activities that we do together as a family;
- Care: We overwhelm him with love, teach him to express his emotions, feelings for others, and show empathy;
- Loving Parents: We show him the loving and supportive relationship of his parents;
- Family: We have made his grandparents and family an important part of his early childhood;
- Education: We placed him in a school that has empowered him to learn and grow into his personality;
- Listening: We listen to and then repeat back to him every stuttered word or sentence that is humanely possible so that he knows he is being heard;
As I’ve stepped back to realize who he is already becoming as a young boy, I see the foundation from which he’ll be able to grow into his stuttering.
However, as his parents, that still doesn’t mean that we’re okay, emotionally and psychologically, with his stuttering, yet. The widespread belief is that we should be okay with his stutter from the start. As with any challenge of a child, we’re feeling it out, learning how best to support him, and adapting to the many calibrations in his pattern.
We see what a wonderful young boy we are raising. His personality and empathetic nature prove to us that he will take on stuttering as one part of his identity.
How can I make such a bold claim when he’s only three and a half years old?
- He says I love you mama and daddy unprompted.
- He runs across the house to give you bear hugs.
- He tells us wild, hilarious, and innocent stories.
- He’s loved to read books ever since he could sit up.
- He spends almost an hour every night procrastinating with my wife talking with her, so he doesn’t have to go to bed.
- He sings Christmas songs in May and Spanish songs over, and over, and over as he plays.
- He talks away to family on Facetime and other video calls.
- He comforts us when we’re not feeling well or have minor injuries like a cut or bruise.
- He anticipates holidays months in advance as if Valentines Day was as exciting of a holiday as Christmas morning.
Our job, as his parents accepting all of who he will become, is to keep his energy for life alive and well, and that’s what we are doing.
But, it comes with an initial toll. We cannot deny it—we’re hurting, each day, as we listen to and watch as his stutter develops. His struggle breaks our hearts. And for now, that is okay.
For more on my experiences of being a parent who stutters, see the following series of posts I wrote two years ago before I knew my son would stutter. Losing the Light: Will My Son Stutter? Turning Up: What Will My Son Think of Stuttering? Daddy's Superpower: Explaining Stuttering to My Son The Hardest Thing to Say: What's His Name? Unfounded Guilt: What If They Stutter?