I signed up early for Mommy & Me because there was a petting zoo being the classroom. My eighteen-month-old son would get to pet the goats and feed the bunnies. After staying home for a year with a three-year-old daughter and a baby boy, I was eager to make mommy friends, set up toddler play dates, and have a new social circle. But there were two things I failed to consider: One, my son had ADHD, Hyperactive-Impulsive type, I just didn’t know it yet, and two, other mothers would judge me.
My son ran around. A lot. He crashed into other kids. He grabbed. He pushed. He was smart and funny but also physical. When activities were too loud, he cried. He was eighteen months old, what to do? Friends said, he’s a boy. I shouldn’t expect him to be like his sister. As a new mom, I wondered if something was wrong but he was just a baby. My baby.
Each week, we went to Mommy & Me. Each week, the sage-like teacher ignored me. Each week, moms went out for lunch after class. Each week, my son and I weren’t invited. Eventually the teacher told me the class wasn’t a “good fit.” I sat in my minivan and cried.
This scenario repeated itself through elementary school. My guy loved other kids but sat too close, talked too loudly, ran around too often. At the soccer field, the coach said kick but he stormed off because he didn’t get the ball. In first grade, his teacher said, “I’ve never had a kid like this.” That was the message I got from the school despite years of requesting an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
When the doctor eventually diagnosed my son with severe ADHD, I cried. It felt like it meant: Avoid/Harangue/Don’t-Invite. There were two major shifts I had to make before I came out the other end as an ADHD warrior, advocate and spiritual seeker.
The first was letting go of the dream of who my son would be. He would not be quiet or rules-oriented or easygoing. He would be bright, funny, and have a huge heart. He would often be misunderstood. That hurt the most. For him and me.
I also let go of my “ideal mom” fantasy of myself. Severe ADHD was not part of my fantasy. Nor were other mothers giving me the stink eye at class parties, on the field, or in the grocery store. In the fantasy, I was adept at child-rearing and proud of it. In reality, I was adept at child-rearing. I just never felt like it. I felt like a failure. And other mothers reinforced that notion. It’s as if raising kids was a competitive sport and a mom with a kid with ADHD was an easy knock-out.
I try to remind myself: You are doing the best you can. Repeat. You are doing the best you can. Some days are easier than others. Some kids are easier than others. You are an excellent mother. Your child’s temperament/listening skills are not a judgment of you as a mom. Parenting a struggling child is the advanced track. Congratulations on acceptance into the advanced parenting class. The class may be harder but the rewards are immense.
But I think back to that Mommy & Me class and remember what it felt like. Here’s the truth: If you see a mom with a kid having a hard time, wry comments are welcome. Things like: ’isn’t raising kids a blast? ’or ‘do you need a hug or glass of wine?’ are good. A pat on the back is nice. Pretending you don’t even notice works, too. Please don’t: say to your child, ‘Yes, that boy is being naughty,’or turn to your friend and say, ‘At least I work hard with my kids,’ or narrow your eyes at the mother as if to say ‘a good mother can control her child.’
As parents, we cannot control our children. We do our best to nurture, love, and cajole but we cannot train them like dogs.