“I Envy Your Honor Roll Student — and That Makes Me Equal Parts Ashamed and Resolved”
“My husband and I grew up as ‘overachievers,’ but our daughter struggles with everything — and that is sometimes painful and envy-inducing. But when a doctor pointed out something I hadn’t seen before, my heart swelled with pride.”
Before we got married, my now-husband and I met with our minister for a prenuptial “interview.” The conversation was uneventful, but our minister asked one question that has always resonated with me: “How would you handle things if, one day, you have a child who struggles more with academics than you have?”
The question seemed to come out of left field. But then he pointed out that both my husband and I had done well in school, were close to finishing advanced degrees, and seemed to take scholarship and success quite seriously. Would we place high expectations on our child or children? At the time, we both thought it was an unusual question and chuckled a bit at the idea — kids were not quite on our timeline yet. We answered, of course, that we would let our future children be who they were in life and not push them to be “overachievers,” as we were sometimes called.
I think back to that conversation often these days. As the parent of a child with auditory processing disorder (APD), ADHD, and dyscalculia who struggles very much in core academics, I sometimes wonder if the minister somehow knew that this was going to be our path. Without getting too religious, was raising a child with significant learning differences meant to be our challenge, or even, our purpose?
I can tell you that I do not know the answer, and likely never will, but I do hear those words echo in my body whenever I feel frustrated about how long it takes my daughter to complete a basic math problem, to read a chapter in a book, or to launch a basketball into its hoop.
Painful Truths About Envy
Because my daughter has dyscalculia, simple math calculations can easily become complex. Because she also has APD, which affects working memory, addition and multiplication facts are neither easily memorized nor easily recalled. As much as I accept who my daughter is and love her even more for working through her learning differences day in and day out, I struggle not to “expect more” when those emotions creep in. Feelings of jealousy and envy weigh on me.
This “grass is greener” syndrome emerges whenever I see a “typical” kid my daughter’s age – the way they tackle school assignments, the way they engage in conversation with each other and with adults, even the way they carry themselves. I suppose little bits of jealousy began to infiltrate my mind when other toddlers began to talk before my daughter could; this sentiment only grew as she entered Early Intervention and was then assigned an IEP – a classification she will likely carry through college – while other parents learned of their children’s academic “gifts” and “talents.”
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard other parents complain that their children are “so bored” in school because they are simply “too smart” to be in regular classes. Or, how they need to seek out additional enrichment courses so that their children can “feel challenged.” It can be painful to hear how other kids are excelling in so many ways while I am just trying to keep my kid on a single path, without falling off an edge.
Just to be clear, I know every family struggles in its own right. In fact, when it comes to education and opportunity, I applaud the parents of those children who need more, want more, deserve more. We are all simply seeking out the best for our kids so that they can thrive — we are just doing so on different levels.
Take, for instance, how learning differences affect more than just the classroom environment. As a neurological disorder, ADHD impacts a child’s (and an adult’s) maturity level. When impacted by APD, which can cause a delayed response to a question or trouble understanding a busy conversation, social situations can be awkward or misinterpreted. My daughter has instinctively figured out how to navigate some of these social-emotional challenges, often by sticking to groups of 2 or 3 at a time or finding friends who respect her enough to participate in a slower-speed dialogue.
As a parent, however, it can be hard not to focus on how kids without such challenges can participate in group dynamics with ease. Their ability to make quick, casual, and even ironic or humorous comments makes them seem so much older and more mature compared to what I see in my daughter when, in fact, they are right on target for their age.
APD can also impact coordination and motor skills. The central auditory processing system may connect to the vestibular system (that is, the area of the brain responsible for body movement, spatial orientation, and balance). So some children with APD — like my daughter — experience related gross and fine motor delays. On a practical level, this can make participation in team sports taxing and diminish handwriting or the ability to manipulate tools. So while many children with learning difficulties may be able to compensate, and even excel, on the field or through a paint brush for example, others (i.e., mine) are fighting uphill battles in and out of the academic setting. Again — envy invades.
Emerging from the Trenches
About a year ago, I met with a neuropsychologist about my daughter’s ADHD to see if medication may be helpful. After sharing her medical and social history and talking about some of the circumstances she faced, I thought for sure he would say something like, “Oh yes, there are a few problems here…” or “We definitely need to help her work on X, Y, and Z.” But he surprised me be my saying this: “Your daughter sounds quite resilient.”
The word resilient lit a fire in me — a sense of instantaneous pride. Yes! Why had I not seen that before? Through every math problem, every book reading, every social situation, every fall, my daughter kept going despite the roadblocks presented by her very own brain. She didn’t let her learning differences hold her back.
I now keep this notion of resilience close to my heart. But as life happens, envy still rears its ugly head from time to time. Surely I don’t have a solution to this age-old vice, but I am trying in small ways to get over it and past it.
I join in on the pride and joy that other families feel when their children succeed and, at the same time, I recognize that no family or situation is perfect. I keep a gratitude journal that highlights my daughter’s small but mighty wins. I remind myself often of the apples versus oranges adage and I keep myself educated on the learning differences gifted to my daughter — how they work, what they impact, and where they can be modified with tools, technologies, support, and love.