Yep. I was THAT kid. You know, the one who loved every single thing about school. From day one, I was the desk-straightener, the eraser-beater, the paper-hander-outer. I vividly remember meeting our student teacher in 4th grade and knowing, with pristine clarity, that I would be a teacher. In 7th grade, after volunteering at a summer camp for children and adults with a wide range of physical, cognitive and social challenges, I knew with equal certainty that I would be a Special Education teacher. That laser sharp focus never, ever changed. My first day of teaching was one of the happiest days of my life.
So it was, a young teacher who became a young wife. I then became a young mother. Teaching remained my life. What is parenting, if not teaching, in it’s purest form? The boys, three of them, grew and grew. Bright, happy and hysterically fun to be around. Preschool turned into kindergarten, kindergarten into grade school. You know the drill. I continued teaching, not only my sons, but working with parents of newly diagnosed children in our early intervention program. Then something wasn’t quite right.
Something Not Quite Right
When that sneaking suspicion that something wasn’t quite right with one of my boys and some “funky things” were going on academically, I paid close attention. After all, I’m a teacher. It’s what I was born to do.
Like a mama bear, a lioness, and any other analogy you can use for the ferocity that emerges when you begin to worry about your child – I dug in deep! I was relentless in my pursuit of what was going on, why it was going on and EXACTLY – what we were going to do about it.
Here’s the reality: Everything you learned in school goes out the window when it’s your own child. It’s a different journey all together. I am grateful that I knew the “system”. I was able to advocate a bit more concisely for my child. However, the emotions, those raw, nails-on-chalkboard emotions, fear, anxiety, and intense worry…..well, they can’t teach that in grad school.
Fast forward through tears, victories, setbacks and love. So many adults who loved and nurtured my son’s heart, mind and soul. A few too many who didn’t even try. Double time through the trauma, the drama, the heartache, and the elation. Now, my son is in his early 20’s and making a life for himself. I find myself able to sit back, breathe deeply and gather my thoughts.
Four Important Lessons to Share Over Coffee
I’d love to take my younger self out to coffee and share some insights into the journey ahead. I wish I could make those years just a bit less stressful and a lot more fun. There are so many bits of humor and wisdom I’d share with that scared, worried, and guilt-ridden mom of her newly-diagnosed 6 year old. I’d buy her a cup of rich black coffee, settle into a comfy chair, and begin slowly teaching her, because that’s what I do. I would start with these four very important lessons.
1) Your Child is Not his Disability
Alright, that may seem obvious, but there are times when we are confronted with challenges, when we have to “fight” for services, and when we have to advocate more adamantly than we wish. If not careful, we can begin believing we are fighting for autism, or dyslexia, or sensory processing disorder rather than for the CHILD.
We can get sucked into believing that one service, or strategy or extra hour will “fix” our child. Here’s the thing…..our child doesn’t need to be “fixed”. I’m not suggesting we don’t stay informed and on top of current research, laws and trends, but sometimes, if we’re not careful, we can forget he is just a child. Our child. My child.
One hot, muggy August day many years ago, one of my dearest friends called to see how the first few days of school went for the kids. Sobbing hysterically, I was only able to sputter out, “Terrible! I hate school! He’s dyslexic in school! He’s not dyslexic in the summer!” For many of our kids, school will be the hardest thing they ever do. But it is NOT who they are, and it is NOT the final measure of success. The truth is that it’s who he is on those lazy summer days that are the truest reflection of my son, not his struggles in school.
Important lessons > Create a world that maximizes strengths and minimizes challenges. None of us could endure an environment where all we are presented with are the things we hate the most, the things that make us doubt our worth and abilities. He is so much more than a reading disorder. He is an artist, a comedian, a good friend, and a great skateboarder.
2) Expect the Unexpected
This is a biggie among the important lessons. Not only do we know for sure that unexpected events will happen, but unexpected people will appear as well. I found myself amazed at some of the things people close to me could say, not intentionally hurtful, really, but more from a place of unknowing.
I am an eternal optimist. I don’t believe people intend to be cruel. I can pretty much promise you that when your path is different from the norm, painful comments will be made. Trust that people just don’t know better, whether it’s your mother-in-law or the lady in the checkout line.
On the other wonderful hand, you find gifts in the precious souls of people you never would have met otherwise; teachers, parents, caregivers.
Long ago, when I was conducting an IEP meeting for a preschool child, the father, a high-powered and well-known attorney, began crying. He quietly said, “I never knew about any of this. I never knew people like you existed. I feel like I’ve seen a whole new side of mankind.” I have felt that way with some of my son’s teachers and beloved friends who have nurtured and loved him for exactly who he is.
3) Don’t Borrow Trouble
That was always one of my dad’s favorite sayings. I can still see him sitting in his chair, smoking a cigar, saying, “Today’s got enough to keep you busy, don’t borrow trouble. That’ll take care of itself.” Amen to that.
Sure, we need to be wise, mindful and plan accordingly to maximize, minimize and provide. The truth is this, we all do it, I would look at my 7 year old, 10 y/o, or 15 y/o son, on a rough day, and immediately start ticking things off in my head:
“If he can’t even…..(fill in the blank…tie his shoes, turn in his homework, pass an algebra test), then how will he EVER be able to…..(fill in the blank….graduate, get a job, support a family, etc.).”
There is a tendency to look at your child today and assume THIS is as good as it gets! NO!
Honestly, do YOU know any 10 year old who can hold down a job and support a family? While it’s always wise to keep our eye on the prize, be careful of projecting too much of your fear onto that little boy. His childhood is full of so many amazing surprises, you can’t even imagine.
Important lessons > Focus on the present. Be in the now. Today is only today, it is NOT a beacon or banner of the “end result.” By the way, none of us are end results yet!
Explore More >> Mindfulness: What is it and How can it Help?
4) Celebrate! Celebrate EVERYTHING!
When you have a child who struggles, too often what becomes the focus is what is hard, what is missing, what we wish for. If we’re not careful, we can miss the amazing victories. Celebrate completed homework, find joy in progress made in IEP meetings, appreciate others, and most of all, treat yourself well.
Important lessons > Be kind to yourself. You work too hard. You worry too much. You love and love and love until it leaves you just plain tuckered out. Celebrate the amazing miracle that is your family, your child, the unspeakable amount of love you never knew you had.
Explore More > Parenting and Self-Care
Here’s why – It’s all gonna be ok! I promise.
Breakthrough Parenting Strategies for the Distracted, Disorganized or Chaotic Child
Please join Lori Benson Adams, M.Ed. of Breakthrough Learning Solutions this coming February in an insight-packed, highly practical webinar series entitled Breakthrough Parenting Strategies for the Distracted, Disorganized or Chaotic Child. In four weekly, 90-minute sessions, you will be able to experience, up-close and personal, strategies for success in areas of impulse control, time management, organization and increased independence.
Lori is known nationally for her warm, relatable and compassionate perspective on living and working with children with unique learning needs. During this Parenting Series, Lori will provide simple, ready-to-use methods to make life more calm and organized for all involved!
Register soon as seats are limited. Join Lori for a cup of coffee and tap into your very own personal learning specialist who has lived through it all herself! Click on each image below for more information and registration.