This time of year holds much promise: reflection, renewal, and fresh new days upon which to write your story. And if your last year was like mine, there are many days I would like to rewrite. When parenting a mover and shaker you can often feel like you get more wrong than you do right. Too many conflicts, too much focus on what’s not working, and too much “do this, not that” can leave us feeling disconnected from the very thing that we are building our lives around, our child.
It’s all too easy to spend the first month of this New Year making resolutions about our bodies and habits. It’s much harder to focus on our minds and spirits, to commit to healthy emotional and spiritual habits that will bless and not curse. Working to change our communication, our thoughts, even our parenting habits, is hard and requires reflection on those days that I’d like to rewrite.
While we may finally be able to shed those unwanted pounds and organize the attic in this New Year, the truth is it’s our relationships that are the foundation of our lives and we should start our resolutions there. Looking back is hard to do, but it’s essential to identify how we need to change and grow if we are to continue helping our child to become the person they are meant to be. Reflecting on our own emotional health, reactions, and perspective can be a gift that we give ourselves this New Year. A gift that holds the promise of hope and joy and of strengthened bonds for the future. Because working on what’s inside of us and how we relate to one another will bring about lasting change, joy, and even peace within our family.
Resolution 1 — I refuse to feel ashamed of my child, his behavior, or his diagnosis.
Let’s face it, there’s a word that parents of a special needs child often feel but never utter: shame. When our child has a meltdown at the grocery store we feel embarrassed and start to make excuses. When everyone is bragging about their child’s achievements and we can’t pull out Johnny’s report card, we feel unworthy. And when my daughter’s the only one spinning in circles and jumping during the Christmas program, I want to hide. In shame.
Shame is a thief. It robs us of the truth about our child and ourselves. That we are not 1 moment or 1 behavior, but rather complex humans that don’t always have it together or get it right. We are each unique and have individual strengths and differences. And that’s not just ok, that’s good for our family, our relationships, and our society. High energy, physicality, intensity, and yes, even loudness are good character traits to have and make our family and world a better place.
Resolution 2 — I will define my child by his character and spirit, not his diagnosis and behaviors.
When we’re in a valley where struggles and conflict seem to be around every turn, it’s difficult for us to see anything but the bad, annoying, frustrating behaviors and their negative consequences. We’re weary, and that weariness is blinding. That’s why it’s critical to choose to gain perspective. In a moment when I am frustrated or feel ashamed, I will choose to focus on who my son is as a whole, his spirit and heart. This is a hard but critical choice presented to each of us.
Even in the middle of a season of struggle or downright defiance from our child, we can choose to rise above the situation and find perspective. It means reminding ourselves of who our child is on good days and in times of non-conflict, dwelling on his positive traits and remind him, out loud, of who he truly is. He’s kind, loving, creative, energetic, and compassionate. Reminding myself and him of these character traits will help me to see him in the light of grace and love, not through the filter of his ADHD or a negative circumstance. Don’t we all want to be seen that way?
Resolution 3 — I will use positive, encouraging words that build up during conflict or struggle.
This should be a no-brainer, right? But reacting negatively and allowing our child to rile us up is often the hardest parenting no-no to overcome. It’s also the most critical. Studies have shown that how we react to conflict — the words we use and our coping skills — are how our children will react when they are adults. They aren’t just watching what we do, they are absorbing our behaviors and are, for better or worse, going to repeat them. That’s why I want to use positive, uplifting language even when I’m angry or frustrated.
So when the note comes home from the teacher, yet again, I will remind my son of his abilities and his character, not his failures. When the “NO! I won’t do it!” comes, I’ll choose to breathe deeply and tell my child what an obedient boy he is and remind him of the benefits of listening. I will help him to be more self-controlled by being more self-controlled myself. And that will start with my words.
Resolution 4 — I will stop defining my parenting abilities by my child’s behavior and performance.
I love being a mother, and parenting my son is one of the greatest joys of my life. But, it doesn’t define me. We play so many parts in our lives — parent, sibling, wife, husband, teacher, employee, daughter, etc. Why is it then that so often our self-worth and esteem is tied up in our children’s ability to perform, behave, and achieve?
When our children are doing well, we feel like rock stars. And when they’re not, like failures. The lie we tell ourselves is “if they are good enough, we are good enough.” But, they ARE good enough, and so am I! My worth does not rely on a report card, invites to birthday parties, or making the team. I’m so much more than that, and so are you.
Resolution 5 — I will make enjoying my child with ADHD the top priority.
There are many parts of life we can redo or reclaim, but time is not one of them. So we should treat each minute we have with our children as precious gifts. Yet, sometimes we get so caught up in trying to raise our kids that we miss it! We sacrifice joy and unity for growth and progress. We spend so many hours at therapy, in tutoring, on homework — all good things — that we forget the best thing: quality time. If I counted up the minutes in a day I spend trying to help, mold, grow my son and compared them to the time I spent just enjoying him, the scales would be woefully uneven, to my shame. Let’s not forget the most important thing our children, even those with special needs, need from us, focused and intentional time spent in love.
Parenting a child with ADD/ADHD is challenging. But, it’s also rewarding. Our children are helping us to become the parents, the people we are meant to be. I know that focusing on my emotional health, reactions, and self-talk during this coming year will benefit my entire family and help us to grow closer to one another and the Lord. There’s nothing more vital I could wish for in this coming year!