“I Bailed Out My Kid and I’m Not Sorry”
They say it’s important to let kids fail so they can learn from their mistakes. But what if the mistake, though relatively small, will cause such out-sized anxiety that he won’t be able to concentrate all day? What if he just suffered one momentary blip? What if I’m partially to blame? One mom’s decision to save her son (again) and why it was great parenting.
“We made it! Sorry I was late picking you all up, but we’re here on time!” I crowed as I dropped off my son and his two friends at school. My partner, who usually does carpool duty, was out of town. Not surprisingly, my son and I (both of whom have ADHD, though we’re not genetically related) had ‘run out of time’ getting ready to leave the house. I had been so frustrated with myself for not leaving earlier, but arriving in time to catch up with other parents before the Friday assembly, nicely timed with my regular day off, left me feeling celebratory.
Instant evaporation: my son had left his laptop at home, and he needed it first period. Could I go back and get it? And could I hurry?
Do I Bail Him Out (Again)?
Irritation and disappointment welled up inside. He’s in seventh grade in a K-8 school and our time is running out to be part of this community of friends. Every opportunity to be on campus counts for me — plus, I knew going home to retrieve the laptop would put me at risk of missing the assembly!
Nevertheless, I backed the car out and headed home, cursing and shaking my head. A large part of my disappointment was in myself. I remember his fourth-grade teacher, at Back-to-School Night, emphasizing the importance of letting kids fail; if they forgot something, let them figure it out, she said. I knew he could get through the day without his computer, but it would be inconvenient and unpleasant for him. Plus, I knew going home meant missing the whole assembly, always a lively mix of announcements, singing, reports from school sports teams and reminders about upcoming events. Still, I flew back home, stressing over traffic and wondering if I were doing the wrong thing.
Just Where He Left It
When I arrived, I raced into the family room and saw his computer case and headphones sitting on the chair where he always leaves them along with his backpack. “How in the world could he pick up one and not see the other?!” I ranted aloud to the dog. She did not have an answer.
And then it hit me…
Genetics aside, in some ways my son is me, and oh, how I empathize with him! Every day of my life I look past my keys, my wallet, my phone, my shoes. I go through the same pile of papers three times before seeing the one I need. Even I find it unbelievable, every time, that I can look right at and through some things simultaneously. I wonder if my brain doesn’t register what it sees because I’m not consciously looking for it.
How many times has my partner said, “It’s right here…” when I am absolutely certain I LOOKED right there? I still set things down, thinking, oh, that’s a good place for that because I’ll notice it when I pass by later. And honestly, that logic has not gotten me very far in my 63 years.
I cope, I get by, I am successful at work and in my hobbies, but that is largely because of the kindness of those around me. Too often I arrive without the very thing I need. Too often I forget to do the thing I absolutely promised to do as I flew out the door — convinced I would remember — and yet I completely forget. Consequently, for all the positives I receive for jobs well done, there’s probably an equal amount of self-recrimination over things that didn’t get accomplished.
Getting Better but Not Struggle-Free… Yet
Thanks to my relatively-recent ADHD diagnosis, and some good medication, I believe I have a better handle on life and my responsibilities than I once did. Nonetheless, it is rare that I remember everything I need to have with me for every errand I need to do if they are not written down and if I don’t also remember to look at the piece of paper where they are written.
Over time, I’ve accepted that that’s just me, and I am doing my best to meet the neurotypical world without colliding too painfully. And I watch this beautiful, incredibly athletic and musical, funny, loving, wonderful boy growing up, mysteriously sharing so many of my challenges and traits, and I think, was he put here to help me learn more about myself or vice versa? I choose to believe both are true and if we don’t help each other, then what’s the point?
There’s another thing. He manages to get all his work done with little reminding from his moms. He gets great grades. He’s well-liked, kind and productive, and takes responsibility for his work at an appropriate seventh-grade level almost all of the time. Not only that, I’ve watched him (and been him) long enough to know that a day without his laptop is not going to significantly improve his likelihood of remembering it in the future or to track everything he needs. It will be a crappy day and then promptly forgotten. In fairness, his track record for remembering what he needs for school is pretty stellar. My own lateness and rushing may have affected him as well.
Back at school with the forgotten goods, I sadly had missed the assembly but got permission to go to his classroom. He saw me through the window and came outside.
“Thanks. It turns out I didn’t need it first period after all,” he said. “I’m sorry!”
“It’s OK,” I said and meant it. “I love you. How was assembly?”
A friend had given a speech that by all accounts was terrific. His report caused me to experience a moment of resentment and regret for having missed it. Then he kissed me right in front of the window of his seventh-grade classroom. I walked away feeling light and full.
Mind you, I am not saying that someone with ADHD cannot learn from his or her mistakes, cannot become more independent, or should not be held responsible. I am only suggesting that there are times to relax a little and not spend every minute trying to follow some set of rules about your child.
Sometimes, it’s OK to go with your heart.
Postscript: Later that day I picked him up at dismissal and we set out for Tahoe, a three-hour drive that Friday traffic nearly doubled. His other mom and friends were already there skiing and he was looking forward to snowboarding the next day. We had a great journey, listening to lots of Beatles music, laughing, and chatting. For a while, he was on his phone playing games and I listened to an audiobook. But during one of our conversational interludes he said, “Oh, hey, I forgot to take my pill this morning.”
Updated on March 3, 2020