It's safe to say that we become different people because of our kids. We teach them important life lessons, but they have a lot of things — often unexpected — to teach us too. Especially when those kids have a unique need. Not only do we have to learn the ins and outs of "typical" parenthood, but we have to master everyday challenges that some parents don't.
Case in point: my oldest son, now a seventh grader. He has ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder . . . with, I'd swear, an emphasis on the "hyperactivity" part). He has actual trouble sitting or standing still, bouncing — literally — around his bedroom, even in the midst of working on his computer. Obviously this makes it hard for him to focus on anything for more than a couple minutes at a time, so as you can imagine, it's been an uphill battle ever since he started school.
But despite the difficulties we've faced, or more likely because of them, raising my son has been an eye-opening experience. His needs, and learning to help him navigate life by working around and through them, have taught me surprising lessons in . . .
- Acceptance. Let's be honest here: no mother-to-be fondly strokes her pregnant belly and daydreams excitedly that the child inside will have ADHD. And when your child is diagnosed with anything you didn't expect, whether you realize from birth that there's a problem or it takes a little longer, it comes as somewhat of a shock — especially since it's not something they'll just "get over." You hurt on your kid's behalf, because though he didn't ask for this, he has to deal with it for the rest of his life. But with my son, I've come to realize that this is just part of what makes him who he is, like his blond hair and his innate knack for computer programming. He'd be very different without it, and that would just be weird.
- Patience. A kid with ADHD takes foreeeever to complete a task. Even the simplest of commands get all convoluted in their busy brains, and "Please brush your teeth" becomes "Please wander toward the bathroom but get distracted by a toy on the floor and make a detour to give it back to your brother and get sidetracked by the video game he's playing and then engrossed in a debate about whether the old or new version of Minecraft is better." I have learned that, for these kids, it takes more than just issuing a command and waiting for it to get done — and that those diversions aren't necessarily their fault. Because of this, I'm more patient. (Well, slightly.)
- Tolerance. ADHD comes along with a lot of impulsive, "act first and think later" behaviors, which — as any ADHD parent knows — can sometimes make your kid "that kid," no matter how well-behaved they normally are (or how strict your discipline). Since it isn't a visible affliction, they appear to be regular kids acting like fools, which draws a lot of unwarranted side-eye from judgmental onlookers. Now that I know this firsthand, I don't judge parents on the way their kids are acting (or the kids themselves). You never know what their behaviors could actually be stemming from. Which has also taught me more about . . .
- Empathy. Do you know how frustrating (not to mention embarrassing) it is to have the kid that's being louder and more obnoxious than everyone else's at a get-together, or who's getting up and moving around in class while everyone else's are obediently sitting still? It's tough. And when you're the parent of that kid, you face a lot of unfair scrutiny and criticism. I have learned that a little bit of empathy can go a long way — to people who are struggling with others' perception of them, finding a person who understands is like a drink of water in the desert.
- Courage. We ADHD parents might have it hard, but it's nothing compared to what the kids themselves have to go through, and that's how my son has taught me about courage. He knows that he doesn't always have the easiest time socially, but he puts himself out there anyway. He has trouble in school, but he faces each day with a renewed spirit of optimism. And I've had to learn to be brave myself, to boldly and firmly advocate for him in order to get his educational needs met, to defend him when necessary. He brings out the mama bear in me, which is a good thing (unless you're on the receiving end, that is).
- Compassion. I do all this for my son because I know how difficult it must be sometimes to be in his shoes. I do it because I know what a brilliant, beautiful, caring soul he is — even in the moments when all that is eclipsed by his ADHD. I know that he doesn't deserve to have all those warm and wonderful traits overlooked because of something he can't control. And I will support him to the ends of the earth, because he is not his ADHD.
Any parent of an kid with ADHD can tell you that we're constantly in the midst of an exhausting parade of explanations and medications and consultations and accommodations and teacher meetings and IEPs and 504s. Some might say our kids are lucky to have people who will do all this on their behalf. But in the process, these kids are teaching us valuable lessons that make us not only better parents, but better people.
So, really, who's the lucky one here?