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Shannon Casas: Sometimes we all have to share control
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

I’m grouchy when I don’t get enough sleep.

And it seems someone in my house wants to make me grouchy.

Before we even turn out the lights, he’s visited our bedroom countless times, whimpering at our door. We pause the TV, carry him back to his room and put him in his bed.

Then we do it again. And again. And again. And by about 9:30 I’m wondering if I will fall asleep before he does. Except even if I do, he won’t let me stay asleep.

He’ll be at the bedside whimpering.

It’s not that he needs water, or to go to the bathroom or to be covered up.

I’m pretty sure he just doesn’t like to sleep. Or stay asleep.

Toddlers supposedly need 10-12 hours of sleep each day. This one doesn’t seem to agree with the expert recommendations.

The experts also say to put the child back in his bed over and over until he gets the idea. This one doesn’t like that expert recommendation either.

He just wants to be in control of the evening routine, and he leaves no room in the routine for the parents to relax.

The battle for control with a child can be epic.

I’ve learned the best way to fight those battles is with time. That could mean months of consistency, but often it means 20 minutes to stand my ground until the child finally gets it. He’s not going to play outside tomorrow no matter how many times he grunts, “I. Want. To. Play. Outsiiiiiiiiiiide.”

Of course, I don’t always have 20 minutes. I also don’t always have control.

In the world of foster care, I don’t have much control at all. Plans can change on a dime for myriad reasons. I learned in our very first case that as soon as I think things are going one way, they can flip and go in a direction I didn’t even know was possible.

On that roller coaster of emotion, all I can do is hold on and hope I see the hairpin turn just a few seconds before we’re all jerked that direction.

I’ve left a courtroom in tears thinking everything was going to change. And then it didn’t.

I learned quite a while ago that I can’t plan my life according to what may or may not happen with a case.

Even something as simple as a scheduled court hearing can change. I’ve more than once planned for a day at court and felt the anxiety that comes with it only for it to be delayed. In the best case scenario it’s rescheduled in advance and not after I’ve waited at the courthouse only to learn all the decisions are being postponed.

I don’t make the decisions about the schedule. Or the case. All I can do is hope my input is of some value in what decisions are made.

There are so many people involved in a case that none of them have full control. In the life of these kids, sometimes they feel they have the least control. So, they try to control what they can, which sometimes means they scream at me and sometimes means they refuse to go to sleep.

Offering choices to a child who feels he has no control of a situation can help. For example, if he’s screaming because he doesn’t want to go to bed, he can choose to sleep on the floor or in his bed.

Sometimes it helps. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes we all battle for control we’re never going to get.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. You can hear her most weeks on the Inside The Times podcast on iTunes or Google Play.