Are you the parent of a child with aggressive and rebellious behavior? Do you find yourself feeling exhausted after homework time, reinforcing rules and boundaries, or dealing with negative school behavior?
If so, you can probably relate to Zenia Marsden, the mother of a child with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and author of Oppositional Defiant Disorder: A Mother’s Survival.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, about 1-6% of school-age children suffer from ODD. Many more children struggle with multiple diagnoses, known as co-morbidity, such as ADHD, depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. What’s more, symptoms of depression — such as fatigue, moodiness, poor appetite and sleeping patterns, hopelessness, or even suicidal thoughts — can worsen symptoms of ODD.
This complex picture of health can also weigh on the wavering strength of the family system, causing problems in marriages, within parenting practices, and even at work. Unfortunately, although Marsden’s book does let readers know that they are not alone, it offers no solutions and portrays some inappropriate parenting choices.
Marsden begins by introducing her readers to a special education teacher named Susan Bettinger who reviews the typical behaviors of an oppositional child within the school environment. Most children with oppositional behaviors, she shares, are “angry and frustrated, generally for unidentified reasons, and strike out verbally or physically, or both, when they’re given directions or being corrected.”
Not only do the teachers of children with ODD suffer, but so too do the parents. Because they are responsible for their children as well as for working with instructors, many mothers and fathers experience shame, guilt, and fear — fear of being blamed or ridiculed for their child’s behavior in school.
As Marsden writes, “my son caused me no end of grief. I feared for his future and his life.” But while she clearly demonstrates the stress of the situation, Marsden writes in a way that makes it difficult to follow her story. There is poor grammar and punctuation, a lack of chapters, and a general lack of organization in the book. Moreover, the topic of ODD periodically gets lost in conversations about holidays, a failed marriage, and other subjects that seem irrelevant; the book veers into memoir territory when it could have been more useful as a tool to enlighten other parents.
While as a therapist reading the book I appreciated the honesty of the author and the examples she gives of her hopelessness, the book is potentially detrimental to desperate families who are seeking answers. Marsden appears to lack the ability to filter her experience and tailor the information for her readers. She also seems to not have learned from her own improper parenting tools.
If you were a parent of a child with oppositional behavior, would you have your child search for the right size wooden paddle to receive corporal punishment? Would you put your child’s nose in his own urine if he urinated in his bedroom? Would you report what you did to a mental health professional twice?
While Marsden does express regret for listening to advice from friends, she recounts such behaviors toward her son with slight oblivion, perhaps in an attempt to give the “raw” story. It is somewhat irresponsible, however, to include memories of corporal punishment and other inappropriate parenting behaviors without frequently emphasizing to readers that these behaviors should not be mimicked.
By the end of the book, Marsden writes that she believed her son needed to find a passion in life, something that would distract him and guide his behavior, and says that he ended up going into the Navy. Unfortunately, the author fails to provide readers with a reason for writing the book or what she felt others might gain from it.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder: A Mother’s Survival
Plicata, May, 2013
Paperback, 108 pages