Hey, mom and dad. It’s your kid here, and I have something important to say.
I know I’m only eleven, and you always say I shouldn’t tell other people what to do, but, mom and dad, pleeaaaaase listen up, just for a couple of minutes.
The first day of school just passed. We’ve already been doing things to make it a good year. You’ve adjusted my IEP at the end of last year and requested that I get the teacher who also has a son with ADHD, and even asked if Jimmy can be in my class since we get along and he never ever teases me. Dr. Hansen’s suggestion to stagger my meds so I don’t crash before dinner has been working out pretty well, and even though I hate it, we’ve been sticking to a bedtime routine and plenty of exercise without too much screen time.
But we all know school makes things more complicated, more tense, more tear-filled, more emotional, more exhausting, more defeating to all of us. And, right now, I know you guys are just as nervous as I am.
So, Mom and Dad, there are a few things I need you to do this year, for me:
I need you to give yourselves credit. In those moments when you feel powerless and like a failure, I need you to remember the time you patiently quizzed me on spelling words while I jumped on my mattress for two hours straight, the time you quietly pulled me aside and explained that Jimmy didn’t think it was fun to be pushed off the monkey bars and suggested that I ask him what he’d like to play; The time you looked Mrs. Schwartz in the eye and said your son will absolutely not be deprived of recess, even though confrontation makes you uncomfortable. I do better when you recognize your value.
I need you to care for yourselves. I need you to remember that you are individuals first, a couple second, and parents third. I want you to give yourself permission to immerse yourself in the things that make you feel alive and full of joy. I need you to blast The Cure on your way to work, watch videos like this, keep the TV off a couple of times a week and cook and talk and dance in the kitchen, take a totally indulgent class just because. I need you to never lose sight of yourselves and your own goals and your own joy, no matter what is going on with me. I do better when you are happy.
I need you to accept my limitations without taking them personally or punishing them. If I spend two hours doodling in the margins instead of writing my essay, please remember that my brain gets so easily derailed that it is not realistic to have me go to my room and do my homework on my own. If you tell me to do three things and I only do one, please remember that my brain gets sidetracked easily and doesn’t keep several things in my short term memory at once. If you tell me to turn off my video games and I meltdown in snotty protest, please remember that my brain gets easily hyper-focused and soooo absorbed in something that it truly does feel horrific to be pulled away from the game. If you tell me to get dressed in the morning and you find me in my pajamas thirty minutes later, remember that the follow-through part my brain is not “turned on,” especially before my meds. These behaviors are no reflection of you or your parenting and aren’t in themselves deserving of punishment. They just are. And I do better when supports and strategies are in place as opposed to punishments and lectures.
I need you to notice me, especially the good stuff. I need you to look at me and smile, enjoy my humor, admire my doodles, ask about my video games, get to know my friends, point out how thoughtful I am, enjoy an afternoon golfing or go-carting with me, be impressed with my ingenuity, cheer me on when I get a 67% if I had to work really hard to get that 67%, tell me how proud you are that I included my brother in the game, tell me you noticed I’ve been making a real effort to not interrupt, text me a funny gif that reminds you of an inside joke with me, give me a high five when I shoot the banana peel right into the trash basketball-style. There is more to me than just academics and ADHD. I do better when I feel likable.
But I also need you to ignore me sometimes. There will be times when I test you, when I’m a brat because I’m feeling overwhelmed and inadequate and stretched to the max. Every time I talk back or complain or raise my voice does not need to be punished or even acknowledged. In fact, sometimes your corrections just escalate me more because I was already feeling fragile and not-good-enough in the first place. Sometimes all I need is some space and a good night of sleep to gain some perspective.
I need you to manage your fears. There will be times when you are going to be afraid that I won’t amount to anything. You are going to feel hopeless and fear your own powerlessness. There will be times when are going to fear that you are utter failures as parents. There will be times when your fears will be so gripping and overwhelming that they will come out as anger and rage and attempts to gain control. But this unchecked fear will only make things worse and it won’t make my brain have any less ADHD. Instead of succumbing to the fear, mom and dad, please find a way to notice and manage your feelings. You might get some relief through a therapist, a support group, an exercise routine, cognitively talking yourself through your fear, or just walking away and distracting yourselves with some Netflix. I do better when you are calm and intentional.
I need you to ask for help. I need you to give yourselves permission to ask one another, neighbors, babysitters, principals, professionals, etc. for what you need. If homework time is impossible with work, dinner, and siblings, reach out to other parents ask them what they do during the witching hour. Create a neighborhood meal train; Have a parent-helper come over and sit with me and keep me on-track for a couple of hours a week; ask teachers about after-school no-distraction tutor groups; Ask your tech-savvy neighbor how to configure the computer settings to block social media between 2 and 4. Ask each other for a break when you need it, and don’t begrudge the other person for doing so. I do better when you don’t try to go it alone.
Okay, Mom and Dad, that’s it. Those are the things I’d like you to do this school year, for me. Because when you guys do all of these things, everyone is less stressed and happier, and I do better.
Your son who knows that you wouldn’t change him for the world.
Angelica Shiels is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in the Baltimore-Annapolis-DC area. She sees adults, couples, teens, and kids. Dr. Shiels is also a wife and a mother of three young boys. When she isn't ninja-fighting, catching frogs, or cleaning messes around the toilet, she enjoys spending time on her own couch, which she wishes was yellow, but is actually brown and falling apart on account of three milk-spilling ninjas. You can find her On the Yellow Couch and on Facebook.