“Stop Judging Me!”
Six tips for surviving the ill-informed, all-knowing if-he- were-my-kid types.
The other day a client said, “You know, everything before ‘but’ is bullshit.” She was referring to how often people are waiting to pounce with their own opinions, not hearing a word you are saying. It was pretty funny at the time, but now that this line is firmly stuck in my head, I’m starting to see how true it is. And how much I’m seeing it in the struggles with my own kids.
So if you are raising a child with an invisible condition or disability; a spirited child with ADHD; a child with autism, anxiety, or a learning disability; a child who isn’t malleable and who doesn’t do what he or she is “supposed to do,” no matter what you do, say, or try, then maybe you’ll glean something from this post.
My 12-year-old is gifted and has ADHD. He has already decided what he wants to be when he grows up. His brain keeps buzzing through the night. He doesn’t sleep, and is often still awake at 6:30 a.m. when I get him “up” for school. Because he is already on his chosen career path of being a professional gamer (not a widely supported choice by most of the teacher/ adult population), school doesn’t make sense to him. But he can tell you every detail of what it’s like to have a career in the gaming field, and those details are not pie in the sky. He has statistics. He loves to learn, if he is interested.
But what this means is that we are dealing with a double strike—not only is he exhausted because his brain won’t shut down, he also doesn’t see the point of going to school.
And, truthfully, it’s been hell.
We’ve had four school meetings this year, and there have been so many “but’s” flying around the room that I finally stopped the last meeting cold and said, “Can you please use the words ‘I hear you,’ and really mean it, before you use the word ‘but'”?
I’ve told my clients this story and shared my struggle, not because I’m looking for their help but because I think it’s important to be honest. I have always told those I work with that “I’m not a coach because I’ve got all my stuff together; I’m a coach because I know what it feel likes to struggle.” Despite this, I still manage to put one foot in front of the other every day. Most importantly, I will never judge you.
So this post is about dealing with judgment. There are hundreds of thousands of articles, posts, webcasts, and books with “solutions” on every possible kid-related problem, and thousands alone just on trying to get your ADHD child to sleep. I don’t need to add to that clutter.
Instead, here are my six tips on surviving the ill-informed, all-knowing, if-he-were-my-kid types, who love the word “but.”
- Compare invisible challenges with physical disabilities. So right off the hop, you are going “Huh?” But I’ll tell you this works. I am raising two older boys with physical challenges. I’ve seen the red carpet rolled out, in particular at school, to make sure their needs are met. I have never, ever, had to justify a single accommodation that they required. Can you imagine a school official saying, “Well, you know if your son just tried a little harder, he could get out of that wheelchair and run up the stairs and then we wouldn’t need to build a ramp.” Are you cringing yet? Trust me, they will, too.
- Stop the conversation. Do what I did and stop the conversation. Let people know you don’t need their judgment — it’s not useful — and they do not walk in your well-worn shoes. Depending on who the person is, decide what you want out of the conversation. If it is a doctor or therapist and you are looking for solutions to an issue you are having with your child, then steer the conversation to “strategies” and get away from “opinions.” If it’s a colleague or neighbor, just stop talking. They will get the hint.
- Keep your cool. Don’t become defensive. Your child is struggling, you are struggling, and no one else knows what you alone are going through. You have nothing to prove and you don’t need to defend your position. You’ve heard the phrase, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” from Hamlet? If you keep protesting, you will sound guilty, and you aren’t guilty of anything. You didn’t cause your child’s invisible condition or struggle. It just is.
- Be incredibly informed. In order to knock the self- righteous off their pedestal, you need to know your stuff. If you child has ADHD, then learn everything there is to learn about ADHD— the same for autism, anxiety, learning disabilities, and so on. Not only will this help you be knowledgeable when you are working collectively with teachers and principals, but it will also help you from blaming your child for your frustration. Have you ever heard yourself say, “Why can’t you just do what you are supposed to do?” Knowledge keeps this language in check.
- Cut yourself some slack. I read something this morning: “You can strive for excellence without achieving perfection.” I actually think this was the final push I needed to write this post. How many times have you judged yourself and blamed yourself for screwing it up, not being enough of “this” or “that.” We are probably the worst and cruelest when we judge ourselves. And it is easy to do. Just remember, you don’t have all the answers, and it’s OK. Some kids are harder than others. Say it to yourself; then repeat.
- Find your tribe: This weekend I attended a local Writer’s Festival to see John Elder Robison speak, best known for writing Look Me in the Eye and his book Switched On. He is also known for being a successful entrepreneur, a brilliant engineer, and the person who made KISS’s guitars shoot flames across the stage. When he said “I left school in grade nine because school didn’t make sense to me,” I felt like someone had punched me, but in a good way, because that is exactly what my son says everyday. I later asked John if he could find a way to attend all my school meetings with me. The point is: You aren’t alone. There are hordes of us out here raising these wonderful, complicated kids, so don’t go it alone. Reach out to people who get it and leave the rest behind.
There will always be people who live in glass houses, but you should know that many of them walk on a lot of shattered glass. Remember, as a parent and a person, that you haven’t been blessed with superpowers or infinite wisdom. All you can do each day is your best and somehow believe that the love and support that you give to your “long-haul” kid will yield a good result in the end.