Easy to Love. Hard to Raise. Yours to Win.
February 1, 2012, marked a milestone in my life. Easy to Love but Hard to Raise, the book I co-edited with Adrienne Ehlert Bashista of DRT Press, was officially published! In celebration, and in thanks to this blog's readers, I'm giving away three free copies of the book.
For a chance to win, just comment on this post, answering this question: How are you like Eve?
Chances are, your name is not Eve. But if you are raising a child with ADHD, LD, or other "alphabet soup" conditions, I think you’ll find that you have a lot in common with the fictional character in the Easy to Love introduction, excerpted below. So, tell me: How is your personal experience reflected in this fictional portrayal? All answers (from parents, grandparents, teachers, and others) are eligible to win a copy of the book.
The excerpt below considerably longer than a typical blog post, so I suggest you grab a cup of coffee before you sit down to read it. (If you’re like me, a box of tissues might be a good idea, too!)
Introduction to "Easy to Love but Hard to Raise"
I’ve been writing an ADHD parenting blog, My Picture-Perfect Family, for ADDitude magazine’s website since May 2008. At first, though I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity, I wasn’t sure why the editors hired me to write the blog. I am not — by any stretch of the imagination — a parenting expert. My only credentials for blogging about parenting kids with ADHD are:
a) I'm raising a child with ADHD, and
b) I feel inclined to write about that experience.
But what in the world could I write that might interest other parents who are facing a similar challenge? No, I’m not a parenting expert, but I am an expert on my child and the complex and contradictory emotions that come with raising her. In time I’ve learned that there’s value in sharing these emotions. Expert advice is not the only thing struggling parents need. We also need to know we’re not alone; to know that other parents are going through similar experiences, making similar mistakes, and searching for similar answers. We need something experts can’t give us: we need each other.
Easy to Love but Hard to Raise started out as a simple anthology; a collection of essays written by parents of kids with ADHD and other conditions (sensory processing disorder, pediatric bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, and an alphabet soup of others) that take the already difficult job of parenting and add to the challenge. My co-editor (Adrienne Ehlert Bashista, Publisher, DRT Press) and I envisioned the stories’ emphases -- on what it’s like to parent challenging children, rather than on the disorders, or the children themselves -- would set this book apart. We’d create a whole book to bring parents of challenging kids together: to show our parent-peers that they are not alone.
The honest, painful, and occasionally funny stories in this book clearly accomplish that goal. In fact, they illustrate commonalities that I never dreamed existed. When the essays are read collectively certain patterns emerge; of feelings this brand of parent tends to experience throughout the various stages of parenting; from when we first imagine ourselves as parents, to when our children become adults. Together, these commonalities paint a fascinating portrait; an archetype, really, of Everyparent of an Easy to Love, but... child.
If the essays from our amazing parent-authors are the heart of this book, then Everyparent is its soul. It goes beyond telling parents that we’re not alone. It assures us that our feelings -- even the dark ones we rarely dare to express -- are normal; even expected. It’s what makes this simple anthology into something more.
I predict that parent-readers will find many elements of this example quite familiar. We've heard and read these sentiments being echoed again and again, by special needs parenting bloggers, and other parents, some of whom are quoted in this book. Still, I don’t expect any one reader to identify with everything. While the Eve and Eli composites are fascinating, in reality every child and every parent is different.
Our hope for other readers, those who are not parenting neurologically diverse children, is that you will come away with new-found compassion and understanding for those of us who are, and for our children.
Meet Eve: Everyparent of an "Easy to Love, but..." Child
Like so many girls and young women, Eve has a fantasy of parenthood, formed during childhood play, and reinforced through years of romantic musings. Finally, it’s her turn to live the fantasy. Her son Eli is born (or adopted). Eve’s a mother! Before long Eve is confused. Although she loves him, the experience of parenting this child is nothing like she thought it would be.
Eli’s differences begin at birth. He’s colicky, impossible to console, overly sensitive to light and sound, and even to his parents’ touch. It seems as if he never sleeps. Eve thinks she must be doing something wrong, or her baby wouldn’t be so unhappy. She is always physically and emotionally exhausted. She privately mourns the loss of her long-held fantasy-motherhood.
Eli’s differences continue into early childhood. He won’t follow directions and has violent tantrums, sometimes for little or no apparent reason. He never wants to slow down long enough to eat. He doesn’t share or take turns at playgroup. Eve would love to connect with the other mothers there, but she is unable to relax and talk with them, because she’s constantly chasing, correcting, and redirecting Eli. Neither of them is getting anything positive out of it. They quit going.
Eve had expected standard discipline tactics to work with Eli, but they just don’t. She’s frustrated and angry, with Eli and with herself. She reads parenting book after parenting book, and tries strategy after strategy. Nothing works. And when they don't, Eve blames herself. Eve starts to question her ability to parent. The idea that Eve is at fault is reinforced by others. Family members, friends, the parents of her child’s peers, his teachers -- even strangers in the grocery store -- are critical of her parenting abilities. Eve is far from a lazy parent; in fact, she has no choice but to work harder than most, but her efforts aren’t reflected in her child’s behavior for others to see. Some people express their criticism of Eve outright. Others show their disapproval through their expressions, their reactions. Eve often feels shame in situations where other adults can observe her with Eli, and she starts to withdraw from her former supports. She begins to feel isolated. Being judged by her family hurts the most. They believe Eve’s leniency created her child’s behavior problems. It’s an age-old story -- when children have problems, mothers, in particular, are believed to be entirely at fault.
Those fingers that point at her, coupled with her own self-doubts, cause Eve to stop trusting her parenting instincts. She’s humiliated to know that she’s not the calm, firm but loving parent she thought she would be. She yells too much, but how could she not be angry and frustrated with this child? And, she knows she’s not always consistent, but she’s overwhelmed and exhausted and is at a loss as to how to do any better. She gives this child her all. She has no energy left for herself, her other child/children, or her husband.
She no longer recognizes herself when she looks in the mirror. She feels like a failure as a mother, and that’s tough to swallow, because at this point in her life, being a mother is her defining role.
But despite all this, Eve’s parental instincts keep cropping up. She has an inkling that there’s more to this situation than her poor showing as a parent. Something about this child is different. Something is wrong.
That first inkling cements into valid concern around the time Eli starts preschool, and then kindergarten, when he is expected to conform to more rules. According to his teachers, Eli can’t sit still on his carpet square, keep his hands and feet to himself, or color inside the lines. Eve realizes (or the teachers convince her) that she must act.
Eve begins the search for someone to diagnose Eli’s problems, unaware that this is just the beginning, that her quest will continue for years. She believes that if professionals assign the right name to her son’s problems, then they’ll be able to solve them. He’s diagnosed with ADHD (or sensory processing disorder, or Asperger’s syndrome) and even though Eve was more or less expecting this, hearing the diagnosis hits her hard. This is not what she wanted for her child. She alternates between grief and anger. She’s been ripped off! This is not what she signed up for! But she’s also relieved. Now that she knows what’s wrong, she can start to fix it.
She immerses herself in researching her son’s disorder. She reads books, searches the Internet, and joins some online forums. Knowing Eli’s diagnosis does help -- it explains many things about him -- but it doesn’t solve all of his problems. Eve doesn’t find “the” answer. In fact, she learns that there isn’t a magic bullet; one right answer doesn’t exist.
Like so many other parents in her situation, Eve is initially opposed to giving her son medication. She’s afraid he will lose his personality, and worries how the drugs will affect his developing body and brain. Besides, she’s always heard that medication is just a poor substitute for good parenting, and to some extent, she believes this. So, she tries other interventions first: sticker charts and schedules, changes in diet. They don’t make a discernible difference.
In the meantime, in elementary school, Eli continues to fail socially and academically and has discipline problems at home and school. Eve dreads hearing the phone ring, afraid that the call is from school. Eve questions, educates, advocates, pleads and harangues Eli’s teachers and school officials to find positive, productive approaches to managing Eli’s behavior, instead of losing recess or having in-school suspension, as well as for the academic supports he needs.
Eli’s peers seem to mature more quickly. They stop inviting him to birthday parties. He joins Scouts, but quits because he feels excluded. No one plays with him at recess. Sometimes he’s teased or bullied. Eve aches for him. Her pain is as palpable as Eli’s own.
Eve’s isolation grows in tandem with her child’s. Since Eli isn’t invited to sleepovers, doesn’t excel at team sports, and isn’t part of various other groups, Eve’s not part of the mom cliques that surround these activities. In addition, because of her aggressive advocacy for Eli at school, she worries about where she stands with school administrators, counselors, or teachers.
Finally, Eli’s problems reach crisis proportions. He sees himself as reflected by those around him -- bad, unlikable, stupid. Eve can no longer sit back and watch this happen. She gives in to a trial of medication.
Meds -- when they help -- help significantly, but finding what works requires ongoing trial and error, and what works for a while often doesn’t keep working. Eve feels guilty about putting him through so many med trials, especially when he experiences negative side effects.
Eve never completely accepts that her decision to give her son medicine was the right one. Eli is easier to manage, easier to love, when his meds are working. Guilt nags her. Is she giving him meds for the wrong reasons? Medication isn’t the whole answer. Eli continues to have problems, such as not turning in work at school, and with controlling his temper. Things worsen as he approaches puberty. Eve’s instincts kick in again, telling her that something more than ADHD is affecting her child. By this time she’s educated herself about ADHD and other conditions. She’s interacted enough with therapists and doctors to know that they aren’t gods and goddesses, they don’t know everything, and they aren’t always right. In fact, because of her singular focus on her child and his condition, she often finds herself educating the experts.
She’s regained some confidence in herself as a parent, if only by learning that her child’s problems are brain-based, they are not all her fault. So this time, even though no one else believes her, she pushes, prods, insists, and squeaks wheels until someone listens. She was right to do so.
In addition to ADHD, Eli has a mood disorder (or OCD, Tourette’s syndrome, autism, an eating disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome). This discovery opens the door to more effective (though still imperfect) treatments. Eventually, in person and online, Eve meets a few other moms of kids with ADHD or similar issues. These women get it. They know how it feels to have their parenting skills judged, so they aren’t about to judge others. Eve and these friends support each other and share ideas and resources. By now, Eve is no longer trying to “fix” Eli’s problems, to “cure” his condition. Instead, she focuses on finding coping skills and tools to help him. She’s learned that each small accomplishment deserves a celebration. Eve also opens up to a few others about some of Eli’s symptoms, and how he deals with them. When there’s no shame, there’s no secret. When there’s no secret, there’s no shame.
Eve and Eli muddle through his middle school and high school years. Eve has always had to parent more vigilantly than parents of neurotypical kids, and years of maintaining this vigilance has made it an ingrained habit. Eve tries to micromanage Eli to get him to do his homework, and the two often clash. Eli wants to stop taking medicine, and for a time, they argue about that. They compromise by lowering his dosage. Eve stays on Eli’s back, urging him not to experiment with drugs and alcohol, reminding him of his increased risk of addictions. Eve worries constantly about Eli’s future. Will he graduate from high school on time? Will he be able to go to college? How will he handle the transition to adulthood? Outside forces start to challenge Eve’s hyper-vigilant style of parenting. Eli must negotiate his part-time job without her smoothing the way for him, as she is used to doing. Eve is awake all night the first time Eli goes camping with a friend, but the police don’t call! Eli comes home safely.
Before she knows it, the time is here. Eli begins community college. He lives in an apartment with a roommate. He hits a few roadblocks -- he learns the hard way that he isn’t good at managing money, and after a dismal first semester he gives in to using the resources the college offers to students with learning differences. But overall, Eve is surprised to find, he’s succeeding.
Looking back, Eve realizes that Eli was coming into his own, finding his niche, long before she saw it. He turned his “bad” habit of doodling into a weekly comic strip for the local paper. He found a few friends that accepted him, quirks and all -- and vice versa. His growing self-confidence pulled him through, even while she still doubted him.
Who would have thought that the boy who spent so much time in in-school suspension would turn into this handsome, caring, creative young man? Eve’s right to be proud of him. He still has symptoms to manage, but he is managing. His differences are a part of him, part of a wonderful whole. Eve releases a sigh. He’s going to be okay, after all.
(May we all be so lucky!)
Are You Eve?
In other words, is your personal experience reflected in this fictional portrayal? What do you identify with, and what doesn’t match your own parenting experience? (Grandparents, teachers, and others are welcome to answer by relating their own perspectives.)
Contest Rules: Answer the above questions in a comment below by 5:00 pm EST on Friday, March 2, 2012 for a chance to win one of three free copies of Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories ($18.95 retail value).
Note: To be considered, leave a comment below using a valid e-mail address. Those who do not will not be included in the drawing.