Last month, I was a guest speaker at the ADHD Parents’ Palooza, a fabulous online event presented by my friends and colleagues, Linda Roggli of ADDiva.net, and Elaine Taylor-Klaus and Diane Dempster of ImpactADHD.com.
I chose this title because I’ve been reflecting on my current status as an empty nester, as my youngest- the one with ADHD and other special challenges, moved into her own apartment (with a roommate and support staff) and how much life has changed (and not changed) and what it was like caring for her the last 31 years.
Raising a child with ADHD and/or other special challenges is no picnic. In fact, it can feel like you’re suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). For some of us, we try our best to manage children who may have daily meltdowns. We may have children who cannot manage any changes in their routine. Children who defy authority. Children with ADHD plus anxiety, depression, and more.
And what we generally read about in books and see online is this: how can we be better parents? What are the latest tactics we can add to our tool chest to make our kids happy and successful?
I’m here to tell you there’s more to the story:
What about us? What about OUR needs?
We’ve been conditioned FOREVER to put our children first. And we should. And we do. But at the expense of losing sight of our own needs which are actually equally important, because if we fall apart, then what?
But the part I keyed into in my session, was the words, the feelings that we keep hidden from everyone: our partners, our spouses, our parents, our best friends, even our therapists:
“I didn’t sign up for this”
“Sometimes I wish I could just walk away from it all”
….and even…..”sometimes I just hate my child.”
Woa! No…we aren’t allowed to accept these feelings even within ourselves. Instead, we push them down, deeper and deeper and pretend we didn’t have those thoughts cross our minds. Ever. Until we develop depression. Anxiety. A drinking problem. Stress in our marriages and other relationships because we lash out those feelings towards our spouses/partners, not realizing that what we’re really doing is denying ourselves the ability to allow those feelings to be conscious. To acknowledge them, to accept them, to deal with them.
It’s time. It’s time to let ourselves feel the anger, the sadness, the grief, the loss of that “perfect” child we’d hoped for. That newborn we cradled in our arms with dreams for his/her future. Dreams that are often blown up, as we begin that long trail of IEP meetings, speech, occupational, physical therapies, psychotherapy, psychiatrist meetings, medication trials, behavioral interventions…the endless books we read. Support groups we attend. And for many of us, we hold all the feelings, all the sadness, all the intensity of our emotions deep deep inside of us.
With school starting soon, some of us, no…many of us…will jump for joy because we may see this as 6 hours of downtime where we can catch our breath and gather our energy when our child returns home at 3pm full of energy while ours only gets depleted within minutes.
It’s time to wrap our arms around our child but also around ourselves.