Reply To: High-Achieving Kid Envy at Graduation

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First, let me say, “been there, done that!” I felt that same way quite often when my son with ADHD was younger! And it reminds me of this quote that hits home for me:

“Expectations are resentments under construction.” (Anne Lamott)

As parents, we all have hopes (which I think are actually expectations in disguise) for our kids; and when they don’t live up to them, we do end up disappointed and resentful (and sometimes even feel like we’re grieving–which is maybe some of what you were experiencing in that audience; maybe in a way you were mourning the death of your hopes and dreams).

What helped me when I was in the throes of all that envy, resentment, disappointment, etc. when my son was younger was to realize that it was my thoughts causing me to feel bad, not my circumstances. (Case in point: I didn’t think my son “should”/could be athletic, so I didn’t feel bad at all that other kids were getting awards for athleticism but he wasn’t. But when it came to academics, I did…same situation (other kids getting awards but not my son), but different thoughts and feelings about it because of my thoughts about what kids “Should” do in terms of schooling.

What changed my life (and my relationship with my son…and is the reason why I am a parenting coach now and the reason I wrote a book about all this) is when I finally learned that if you want to feel better, you have to think better –Every feeling can be traced back to a thought so if you want to change the feeling you have to change the thought.

What I realized is that although I couldn’t change my son, I could examine my thoughts (and expectations) and the “shoulds” I had in my head about kids and school and parenting, etc. and decide if they were serving me or my son–and if they weren’t, then I had to change them.

Your son may never be what would be considered a “great student”. Your thoughts about this (“It’s not fair”, “Others are judging me”, etc.) are what is making you feel awful. If you change your thoughts (for example, you could think instead, “Although academics are not his strengths, he has others.” (e.g., he loving and caring to others, or he is artistic and creative, etc., whatever his strengths might be.) or, “Kids with ADHD are several years behind their peers; maybe he just needs time to get in the groove.”) When you think better- feeling thoughts (like when you notice and recognize his unique gifts), you will feel better and it will have a ripple effect on how you
act toward him and how he acts toward you.

I think the best thing you can do as a parent, especially when a child has a challenge like ADHD), is to find a way to feel good now no matter what your son does or doesn’t do, and to put your focus on having a healthy, strong relationship with him (and finding things about him that you respect, admire and like) so that he will feel close to you and be willing to lean on you when he needs to and most importantly he will know and believe in his heart that he is good, and valuable and loveable exactly the way he is. THAT is what will serve him well and help him become a happy, productive adult–not some award from middle school.

The bottom line is that you can’t change him, you can only change your thoughts and your reactions to him. The alternative is that your disappointment and resentment toward him will end up negatively affecting your relationship with him, which will in turn just cause a vicious cycle where he might do even worse just to get back at you.

In terms of you feeling like others are looking at you thinking you are a “dumb, inept parent”, it reminds me of another quote:

“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do” (Eleanor Roosevelt).

Every family has issues, concerns, etc. Those kids with the awards may be horrible to deal with in other ways. You just don’t know what goes on in others’ homes and just like they have no idea of your struggles as a parent, you really don’t know theirs either. But as I keep saying, it’s your thoughts about what they are thinking that are causing you to feel bad. What you think is what matters, not what others think. Sometimes easier said than done I know, but I was able to get there so I know you can get there! You are not alone. We are all here to tell you that what you are going through is perfectly normal!

Oh, and by the way…My son and I are living proof that there is hope. My son is in his mid-20s now and not only is he a high school and college graduate (with Honors), but he’s now a teacher (yes, the kid who did not do well academically and hated school back then now ‘goes to school’ every day willingly and has a lot to offer his students due to his learning how to deal with and/or overcome his own ADHD-related challenges!) So I can tell you without a doubt that there is definitely hope! But I can also tell you that it may not be on your timeframe or go in the way you think it SHOULD. (One of the most important things my son told me now as an adult was, “Mom, I had to get there on my own.”)

I hope this helps,

Joyce Mabe
Parenting Coach for parents of teens with ADHD, author, school counselor, mom of adult son with ADHD