The hand you're dealt
A friend of mine is struggling with a diagnosis her son received earlier in the year (minor to moderate learning disabilities). It isn’t that she isn’t accepting of the diagnosis, or that she hates that her child is being ‘labeled’ (although none of that is happy news). Her issue is that she is a classic over-achiever, and with this diagnosis, her son will have a hard time achieving ‘average’ – whatever that might look like – let alone becoming an over-achiever.
So what is she doing? She’s going overboard on the occupational and other learning enhancing therapies. She wants to push her son to be ‘normal’ and to reach that average C. She wants him to thrive instead of just be mediocre. She wants him to excel, and her thinking is that if she pushes now while he is young, he can train himself to overcome this disorder. She is, like all moms, his advocate, and believes that pushing him will help because that’s what moms do.
But at what cost? The amount of time this family is spending on therapy sessions is phenomenal. He is not an only child, so the other two kids in the family have had to acclimate to this new attention-hog in their family. They schedule after-school activities and playdates around the umpteen OT sessions each week, trying to keep some semblance of normalcy while still pushing pushing pushing. I see my friend growing weary, not just from the insane schedule, but also from the doubt: is he getting better? Is this effort going to be worthwhile? Is this going to help him to be ‘normal’ and if so, at what cost?
That’s the big question, isn’t it? At what cost? As a coach, I am able to look at a client’s life and help them visualize what elements in their life might be sources of negative energy or have a negative influence. As a friend, I can do the same. It’s a hard conversation to have with a friend, but I can be the one to point out what might not be working, maybe suggest that something need reevaluating. But when I look at my friend’s life, I have trouble saying what would be the negative source here. Sure, the ultimate diagnosis. But is the therapy helpful? Is it doing any good? She can’t know. She won’t know until years down the road, and if she were to continue at this crazed rate, she will have paid an extreme toll. Years down the road, she may see the benefits of this labor, and she may not. Her son may still be ‘mediocre’. Can an extreme effort or force of will change that? And, really, is that where she should be putting effort? Would it be better to focus on the sheer enjoyment of childhood, and have playdates and park time and sprinkler fun in the backyard? I don’t know, and that is a longer personal conversation to have.
I know parents react differently to a special needs diagnosis of any kind for their kids. As parents, we want nothing but perfection and beautiful moments for our kids, with none of life’s hard knocks. Instead of applauding the amazing nuances that our kids’ learning abilities have as compared to ‘average’ learners, we focus on the deficits that may be becoming more and more noticeable as our kids age. Instead of appreciating the valuable learning resources our kids’ learning institutes offer, we consider them at fault for our kids perhaps not achieving ‘normal’. Instead of noticing the effort our kids are putting into their assignments, we notice the work of others kids and wonder why the teacher isn’t helping ours over their obvious stumbling blocks or hurdles. I want you to accept a few things: You are doing the best you can. Your child is doing the best they can with the tools they are gaining. Your child’s school is your partner in this process, and will work as hard as you let them, and will help your child find their best way to learn and to soar. The teaching team that focuses on your child’s needs will do everything they can for your child, and they will not stop trying and pushing. Your child’s learning abilities are not your fault.
Perhaps I am thinking out-loud here, and perhaps this is not for me to say. I think, though, as a parent, it is very important for us to REALLY be able to look at our kids, look at their honest potential, and their limitations, and realize what we can do within those parameters. We can only push them – and ourselves – so far. There is a point that we hit that proverbial ceiling and … that’s it. And you know what we, as parents, should do? Accept it. That may very well be the hardest thing you will ever do, but it may also be the best thing for your child. And in the end, isn’t that this is all about? I’m not saying we should celebrate mediocrity; I am saying we should celebrate our kids, though, and it doesn’t matter what their test scores or physical capabilities might be. We should focus on embracing our kids for everything they are and are not.
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