About a year ago, I bumped into a mom from elementary school days whom I hadn’t seen in years. Naturally, we began catching up and trading stories about our kids. The other mom started listing off all of these amazing things her daughter had been up to. She was a proud parent and she wanted to share the good news! But my heart sank a little. I couldn’t shake the nagging thought, “Oh, please don’t ask me how my son is doing now.”
Moments like those are hard. I would start asking myself what I could possibly brag about. Yay, my son is passing all his classes? We haven’t had a screaming match at home in months?
To be honest, that’s where our bar was in those days. My son is one of those kids who's worked really hard just to stay above water. While his classmates were getting ready for college, my son was overwhelmed and just getting by, focusing on gaming and having fun. It was becoming clear that he wasn’t ready to be completely independent in college. And I wasn’t sure how to handle it.
Education Comes in Many Forms
Education is more than just a value for me – it’s what you do. All four of my grandparents have advanced degrees, and being an overachiever myself, I followed the same path. I had always assumed that my brilliant, gifted son would do the same. But he's going to need something different to get there, if it turns out to be right for him – because he's way behind his peer group in terms of self-management. He’s going to need more focused training in Executive Function skills.
Shortly after running into that mom from elementary school days, a new possibility appeared: my friend’s daughter went on a gap year. I had never considered that to be an option before – it just felt like a way to stall. But when I saw how much my friend’s daughter was accomplishing, I gave myself permission to look at things differently.
A gap year isn’t an excuse for kids to avoid real life; it’s a space dedicated to preparing kids to be more successful when they move on to their next phase of life.
I realized that this is exactly what my son needs. As much as he loves learning, he still has trouble motivating and staying on top of the work load. He needs some time to continue to develop his independence and some self-mastery skills. And he needs to figure out what makes him feel happy and accomplished.
Finding Peace with My Child's Differences
The things that motivated us as young adults are not necessarily going to be the same for our kids. We have different interests, and even values. And that’s okay. Thanks to the coach-approach, I’ve been able to look at things differently. I’ve found ways to connect with my kids, communicate in a more positive and effective way, and put our relationship first.
In the grand scheme of things, my son is accomplishing a lot. He’s really happy, has good relationships with his teachers, and he can advocate for himself. This may look different than what other kids are achieving, but that’s no less a reason to celebrate. As parents of complex kids, we sometimes have to remind ourselves of this, because it’s all too easy to fall back into those moments of shame, judgment and doubt.
If I bumped into that other mom again today, I probably would still hesitate. It can be hard to not use the world’s standards to set the bar for our kids (and for ourselves). But I have my priorities straight, and I can find my way back to the pride I feel for my son.
My son knows I have his back. He knows that what is most important to me is him feeling happy, self-confident, and on a path to successfully launching into whatever is next for him. He’s still the overwhelmed kid trying to get by in all his classes and earn the privilege to wear a cap and gown – and he's almost there!
More importantly, perhaps, together we've learned to take things as they come. When we don't let our inner judgments get to us, it makes all the difference – for both of us.