Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid
Parents of children with ADHD don’t need to hear about the accomplishments of other “perfect” kids. How to combat negative feelings when other parents brag about their children’s success.
Parenting a child with a disability like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) means letting go of your fantasies and learning to live with reality. And one reality we must face is that parents who incessantly brag about their child (“perfect parents”) will always be around. They have been since the beginning of time.
“Eve, do you realize that Abel hasn’t lost one sheep yet? He’s amazing.”
“I know, Adam. And how about Cain? It’s wonderful how well they get along.”
Despite the fact that we live in the same neighborhood, attend the same church, or belong to the same book club as these braggers, we feel worlds apart from them. That’s because we have different goals and ideas about success. For example:
Them: “We only stay at hotels with the best accommodations.”
Us: “We only accept IEPs with the best accommodations.”
Them: “I was ecstatic to learn that Logan is at the head of the class.”
Us: “I was ecstatic to learn that John went to class.”
Them: “Princess is involved in a lot of activities. She has ballet on Monday, soccer on Tuesday, theater on Wednesday.”
Us: “Susie’s busy, too. She has occupational therapy on Monday, counseling on Tuesday, and tutoring on Wednesday.”
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During the holiday season, there’s an even more excruciating pain — reading boastful newsletters from perfect parents. You know them, those joyful greetings that brag of every accomplishment their perfect children have made since conception.
We think it would be more interesting and fun to receive in the mail an imperfect newsletter: “This year, our family saw more ups and downs than Kirstie Alley’s bathroom scale, yet we feel blessed to have survived it all, and to have somehow found the positive (and the medicine cabinet) amid all the chaos. In January, Amelia, our 10-year-old, was diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and learning issues. Our psychiatrist put her on anti-anxiety medication, which, unfortunately, made her anxious, and me depressed…Wishing you and yours a happy, hospitalization-free holiday season.”
The Wrong Message
We poke fun at the braggy newsletters, but we’ve met parents of special-needs children who get depressed when they receive them. One wrote to us: “I had just put my daughter in the hospital, and I came home to a newsletter from a friend. As I read about all the accomplishments of her family, all I could think of was how much mine has struggled. I couldn’t stop crying.”
When parents of typically developing kids ask us whether they should talk about their children, we advise them to know their audience. Don’t tell a parent of a child in a wheelchair how fast your child can run.
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Though we often feel worlds apart from parents of perfect kids, we do have something in common: We’re all proud of our kids for one reason or another. It’s just that the reasons we’re proud differ. Many parents of special-needs children assume that perfect parents don’t care about our kids. We think that people do care about our kids, but sometimes they forget whom they are speaking to.
Or they don’t know how to ask us about our kids without upsetting us. This is why we start talking about our kids, even before the perfect parents ask. “Jenn is 16. She tried out for the field hockey team and made it. I’m proud of her because she’s been through so much.”
The truth is, we like to hear about the success of every child. But if you brag about your kid, you have to be willing to hear us brag about ours.
Excerpted from Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid, by Gina Gallagher and Patricia Konjoian. Copyright 2010. Reprinted by permission of Three Rivers Press, New York, N.Y.