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Friday, February 22, 2013

Little Gray Line

I met with an ADHD expert this week. I feel like I need more education on ADHD. Even though I've been living with kids who have ADHD for 10 years, things change as they grow. At certain points during the kids' development I feel like I need some help because of new challenges or questions that I have.

ADHD can impact a child in so many ways, and one huge challenge is that it can make them function developmentally 2-4 years behind their chronological age. I always forget this. So really, my 10-year-olds act in some ways like 7-year-olds, my 7-year-old sometimes acts like a 4-year-old, and then I have my 3-year-old. Whew. No wonder I feel wiped out! My three boys are caught in big boy bodies and their brains sometimes still tag a couple years behind. That must be frustrating for them too, even though I don't think they are cognizant of the delay. 

Here is something I don't know how to master: the Little Gray Line between enabling my boys and meeting their needs. The professionals who work with our family tell me that because of my children's specific challenges, I need to meet my children where their needs are. If one of my boys is having a frustrating morning and just isn't capable of locating his shoes, putting his feet into them, and tying them by himself, then it's ok for me to assist him with all these tasks. That is meeting his needs. 

But then professionals also tell me to step back a bit, to not enable my children and teach them helplessness.

So which is it? Am I a bad mom for helping my kid put his shoes on because it teaches him to be dependent on others to solve his problems, or am I a good mom because I can see that this particular morning the only way we're going to move on with our day is if I eliminate as much stress as possible for the family and find my son's shoes? 

I understand with my brain that the answer is a little of both. I try I not to do too much for my kids, I try to let them experience natural consequences and fail on their own from time to time. They experience success on their own as well. But I feel like my heart knows our family needs a little more on the end of "meeting needs." And although this can be exhausting for us as parents, I know that we can eliminate much of the stress, anxiety, and frustration the boys feel almost continuously by just helping them a little bit. 

Yes, our family looks different than our friends' families. Our home looks messier than our neighbors'. When you have children who have ADHD, you have to modify your expectations. You have to be happy that they threw their coats in the general area of the coat hook, and not be too irritated that the coats didn't make it onto the hook. You have to be pleased when the boys remember to bring their backpacks in from the bus at the end of the school day, and that that particular day nothing was lost or left behind. You just have to modify your expectations. Sometimes I'm really good at this and honestly, other times when I'm totally worn out, it really pisses me off that it is such an intense experience to raise this family. 

I decided to delve into my research again, to look into all the nooks and crannies of ADHD and boost my knowledge and understanding of my kids. Researching helps me be more tolerant because I realize that all we deal with is, in fact, "normal" for families who have these types of diagnoses. When I hear about typical families who don't have to be so hands-on with their kids, I realize that we really have legitimate challenges as a family. Challenges that take a lot of time and energy to conquer. Challenges that are valid, and therefore I am valid in feeling overwhelmed and wiped out sometimes. 

I am still trying to figure out how to deal with the Little Gray Line. Am I doing too much for my kids or too little? It's a battle I face head on every single day. But the ADHD expert I met with this week had some great advice that I think I need to post on my bathroom mirror: I just need to parent naturally, to do what feels right. I sometimes doubt myself and second guess my parenting skills, but really I need to just do what my instinct tells me, and that's the best I can do. So if one of the boys needs help putting shoes on, I can do that. If I find the entryway full of coats on the floor after school, I can remind myself that at least the coats are in the right room. If a boy gets his own fork to eat his own snack, but forgets to close the silverware drawer and the fridge, I can remind myself that at least he was motivated enough to choose his own things for snack! I have to adjust my expectations. Not lower them, just change them. 

I think I also have to give myself some room for grace. Room to just accept the fact that it's ok that I'm tired out and overwhelmed sometimes. It doesn't make me a bad mom because I feel like it's tough at times to handle everything our family has to deal with. Every family has a lot to deal with, and some families just maybe have more intense challenges than others.

As Ella put it so eloquently out of the blue the other day: "Mama, I love you so super much because you lay with me in my bed when I go to sleep and you wipe my butt." I guess the fact that I'm meeting my kids' needs makes even the littlest of them feel secure and loved. I have to remember that and follow my natural instincts. And try not to worry so much about that Little Gray Line.

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