The other day a client said....."you know, everything before 'but' is bullshit." She was referring to how often people are just waiting to pounce with their own opinions, not really hearing a word you are saying. It was pretty funny at the time but now that this line is firmly stuck in my head, I'm starting to see how true it is. And how much I'm seeing it in the struggles with my own kids.
So if you are raising a child with an invisible condition or disability; a spirited child with ADHD; a child with autism, anxiety or a learning disability; a child who isn't malleable and who doesn't do what he or she is 'supposed to' no matter what you do, say or try - then maybe you'll glean something from this post.
My 12 year old is gifted/ADHD and has already decided what he wants to be when he grows up. His brain buzzes most of the night, he doesn't sleep and is often still awake at 6:30am when I go to get him for school. Because he is already on his chosen career path of being a professional gamer (not a widely supported choice by most of the teacher/ adult population), school 'doesn't make sense' to him. But he can tell you every detail of having a career in the gaming field and they are not pie in the sky. He has statistics. He loves to learn - if he is interested.
But what this means is we are dealing with a double strike...not only is he exhausted because his brain won't shut down, he also doesn't see the point of going to school.
And truthfully - it's been hell.
We've had four school meetings this year and there have been so many 'buts' flying around the room that I finally stopped the last meeting cold and said "Can you please use the words 'I hear you' and really mean it before you use the word 'but'"?
I've told my clients this story and shared my struggle, not because I'm looking for their help but because I think it's important to be honest. I have always told those I work with; "I'm not a coach because I've got all my shit together, I'm a coach because I know what it feel likes to struggle, and despite this, I still manage to put one foot in front of the other every day. Most importantly, I will never judge you."
So this post is about dealing with judgement. There are hundreds of thousands of articles, posts, webcasts and books with 'solutions' on every possible kid related problem and thousands alone just on trying to get your ADHD child to sleep - and I don't need to add to that clutter.
Instead, here are my 6 tips on surviving the ill-informed, all knowing, 'if he was my kid' types who really love the word 'but.':
1. Compare invisible challenges with physical disabilities: So right off the hop, you are going 'huh?' But, I'll tell you this works. I am raising two older boys with physical challenges. I've seen the red carpet rolled out, in particular at school, to make sure their needs are met. I have never - ever - had to justify a single accommodation that they required. Can you imagine a school official saying...."well, you know if your son just tried a little harder, he could get out of that wheelchair and run up the stairs and then we wouldn't need to build a ramp." Are you cringing yet? Trust me, they will too.
2. Stop the conversation: Do what I did and stop the conversation. Let people know you don't need their judgement - it's not useful - and they do not walk in your well worn shoes. Depending on who the person is, decide what you want out of the conversation. If it is a doctor or therapist and you are looking for solutions on an issue you are having with your child, then steer the conversation to 'strategies' and get away from 'opinions.' If it's a colleague or neighbour, just stop talking. They will get the hint.
3. Keep your cool: Don't become defensive. Your child is struggling, you are struggling and no one else knows what you alone are going through. You have nothing to prove and you don't need to defend your position. You've heard the phrase "the lady doth protest too much, me thinks," from Hamlet? If you keep protesting, you will sound guilty and you aren't guilty of anything. You didn't cause your child's invisible condition or struggle. It just is.
4. Be incredibly informed: In order to knock the self righteous off of their pedestal, you really need to know your stuff. If you child has ADHD, then learn everything there is to learn about ADHD. Same for autism, anxiety, learning disabilities and so on. Not only will this help you to be knowledgeable when you are working collectively with teachers and principals, but it will also help you from blaming your child for your frustration. Have you ever heard yourself say "why can't you just do what you are supposed to do?" Knowledge keeps this language in check.
5. Cut yourself some slack: I read something this morning..."you can strive for excellence without achieving perfectionism." I actually think this was the final push I needed to write this post. How many times have you judged yourself and blamed yourself for screwing it up, not being enough of 'this' or 'that.' We are probably the worst and cruelest when we judge ourselves. And it is really easy to do. Just remember, you don't have all the answers - and it's okay. Some kids ARE harder than others. Say it to yourself - then repeat.
6. Find your tribe: This weekend I attended the local Writer's Festival to see John Elder Robison speak, best known for writing Look Me in the Eye and his new book Switched On. He is also known for being a successful entrepreneur, a brilliant engineer and the person who made KISS's guitars shoot flames across the stage. When he said "I left school in grade 9 because school didn't make sense to me" I felt like someone had punched me, but in a good way, because that is exactly what my son says - everyday. I later asked him if he could find a way to attend all my school meetings with me. The point is, you aren't alone. There are hoards of us out here raising these wonderful, complicated kids - so don't go it alone. Reach out to people who 'get it' and leave the rest behind.
There will always be people who live in glass houses but know that many of them walk on a lot of shattered glass, so just remember, as a parent and a person, that you haven't been blessed with superpowers or infinite wisdom. All you can do each day is your best and somehow believe that the love and support that you give to your 'long-haul' kid will yield a good result in the end.
Judy Mouland loves to challenge the status quo and chip away at the word ‘normal.’ Over the years, she has learned to embrace and use her own quirky brain to succeed and is passionate about the power of self-awareness. She became a CTI (Coaches Training Institute) Life Coach for people with ADHD, LD, OCD, aspergers, autism and other conditions after serving for 20+ years in local, national and international settings, most recently as the C.E.O. of the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada. She works to empower her clients to live life on their own terms - no excuses - and to uncover their brilliance so they can shine. She is a TrueTilt Certified Practitioner, a team member at Psychological Services Associates (PSA Ottawa) and a member of the International Coaches Federation. She freely admits that most everything she knows she has learned from her exceptional children, who never let her brain become idle. You can write to Judy at firstname.lastname@example.org and her empowering blog posts can be found at: www.judymouland.com/blog