The first step to feeling successful when raising children – particularly children with complex issues like ADHD, anxiety, learning disabilities, autism and more – is to get out of the muddy river of parenting denial.
Is Parenting Not Exactly What You Expected?
Parenting complex kids is like navigating the rapids in a choppy river filled with rocks and eddies. First, you’ve got to climb out of the water and into a boat. Only then can you skillfully direct your course through the rapids ahead. After all, there are leeches, a rather skuzzy bottom, and it’s hard to see clearly beneath the surface. The sooner you step onto a sturdy boat, and into the light of day, the better your chances of enjoying the ride (chances of survival improve significantly, as well!).
I don’t know about you, but the experience of parenting is not what I expected when I decided to have kids. Before children, I had sepia-tinted images of tossing my head back in laughter at the antics of my small child, and rose-tinted visions of my teenager sincerely asking for words of wisdom from her ‘cool’ mom.
My life was going to be a Kodak commercial.
Was I overly optimistic, or ridiculously naïve? Mostly, I think I was pretty typical.
What Does Denial Look Like?
As a would-be-new-mom, I was exuberant and not very practical. I allowed myself to dream. Good thing, too, because it fortified me through the challenging and difficult times that arrived so quickly after delivery. Visualizing success got me across many rocky streams.
I also had to re-calibrate along the way. I started off on one path, and then shifted my navigation to meet the unexpected obstacles. I tried to keep the end goal in mind. Perhaps my child would not be a Supreme-Court-Justice-Super-Model, after all. I adapted to changing circumstances, and kept my eye on the prize (my child can be a happy, independent adult).
So what does this have to do with denial and parenting?
Well, as parents, we often get stuck an old vision, and forget to re-orient ourselves. When we run into complex issues with our kids, we must change our course. That’s particularly difficult when we don’t see the obstacles that threaten the path. It’s much easier to navigate choppy waters when you are able to see the waves and learn how to cross them with safety.
We knew my daughter had complex health issues starting at 2 weeks, then again at 2 years, then 4 years, then 6. We addressed each health development individually over the years. But to be honest with you – and with myself – I must admit that she was 8 or 9 before I honestly accepted that she has “special needs.” She was diagnosed with ADHD at age 5. But I didn't understand the full impact of what that meant until she was closer to 10 years old.
Don’t get me wrong, we thought we were addressing it, and we were in some ways. But for many years we swam deep in the waters of denial, lost in the current. I just kept believing that, with a life vest on, it was enough that I knew how to swim.
Perhaps I felt that acknowledging the need to "change course" would destroy my visions, either of myself as a parent or her as the loving child of my dreams. I didn’t realize that changing course was actually the solution to staying true to my larger vision.
At the end of the day, most parents want their children to become independent adults with fulfilling lives. It's challenging, though, to shift our vision of their success and help them develop vision for themselves.
The Gift of Course-Correction
The greatest gift you can give yourself, and your child with ADHD, is to acknowledge that ADHD (or whatever issue your child is facing) is one of those bumps on your parenting journey that requires course-correction. It’s not a barrier, but it calls for careful navigation.
You do not have to abandon your goals and dreams when you accept that things aren’t going exactly as you planned. In fact, hold fast to your dreams! They will help you find the strength and wisdom you need to circumnavigate the rapids that lie just beneath the surface of life with a child with all kinds of complex challenges like ADHD, anxiety and more.
But you don't have to stay stuck in parenting denial, either. It's scary down there in the muck and the mud. Step into the boat, and into the light, and get the help you need to help your child succeed!