Every year of my kids’ lives, I struggle with how much to hold on, and how much to let go. I see them slipping through my fingers even as I’m sure they feel I have my hands clutched around their throats, each of them straining for a breath of freedom. As they make their way up through elementary, middle, and high school and then on to college, my husband and I have unique worries for each of them.
And then there’s our ADHD son, who is a 16-year old high school junior. With him, it is worry to the power of ten. Worry to the nth degree. Worry infinity. He’s our Formula One race car brain with faulty Geo Prism brakes, headed for a crash.
We worry …
- Will he (ever) turn in his homework?
- Will that brilliant mind slow down enough to “do” pre-cal?
- Can I get him to take his online SAT course, or is the lure of other screens too great?
- If he only cares about NOW, how do I know he has appreciation for the dangers? Alcohol? Drugs? Sex/disease/pregnancy ?
- You mean the DPS licensed THAT BOY to drive a car? Are they CRAZY?
- If one of us doesn’t do a bed check at midnight, will he sleep?
- Will CPS come get him if I can’t make him shower all week?
- Can he handle the disappointment of not getting into the college he dreams of because of his GPA dragged down by all that missed homework?
- Who’s going to pry him away from screens, out of his room, and into class at college? (And will they be able to make him shower?!?)
This is a list shortened for this article, I assure you.
So, taking just the here and now into consideration for a moment, my son has begged us for years to lay off him about his schoolwork. He wants to sink or swim. How easy it is to say yes, but how hard it is for the lifeguard to let him flail and gasp for breath in the deep end. His first week grades — which I can check online — included a missed homework and a failed quiz. The old me would have gone through his backpack and “trapper keeper,” emailed the teacher, and required him to show me a daily list of assignments, then check in with me as he completed each one.
His psychiatrist and counselor each offered me the same opinion, though: he needs to grow up to be an adult independent of his parents, and he needs to start now. Let him decide what his goals are and how to achieve them. Loosen the grip, Mom. Decrease the monitoring. Let him learn from his results. Step in if it’s health or safety, otherwise, let him use some of the skills we have worked on, but in his own way. Even if it means he fails.
Breathe, Pamela, breathe.
So my son and I talked. Clark said his goals were to turn in homework, make A’s and B’s, excel in debate, and kill the SAT.
I asked him how.
He stared at me blankly.
I asked again, and I saw he was starting to shake his head.
I gave an inch. “How about I trust you, and I only step in if you need help?”
“If I ASK for help,” he said.
“If you start failing classes,” I insisted.
“OK, but I want to do this on my own.”
Ugh. He wants to do it on his own, he wants everyone to quit trying to control him, I know he does, but the reality of those failed grades in week one mocked my intentions.
In the end, all the stars were aligned for me to ease up. Clark was taking his meds. He was showing a normal amount of teenage angst/anger/rebellion, but nothing troubling, and he had reasonable explanations for his non-performance: he had spent too much time prepping for debate (he reached semi-finals in his first tournament, yay!), which was intensive the first few weeks of school, but will then get easier.
Well, he had worked on debate until midnight each night.
So we settled on a temporary “no girlfriend over while you’re doing homework until your grades are all passing” rule, and that he would do homework and SAT prep before his obsession, debate.
It appears there is no precision test to determine how much to let go, and when. But my fingermarks are receding from his neck. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Until next time,
Pamela aka Clark’s Mom
p.s. For a great article with a professional’s view on this topic, I recommend:
How can parents best help treat their ADHD teens? On diagnosing and treatment for ADD/ADHD teen behavior challenges and symptoms.
p.p.s. Have I told you about the upcoming release of “Easy to Love but Hard to Raise,” an anthology about special needs parenting to which I am a contributing author? Pre-orders are 30% off at the publisher’s website — regular release at full price is not until February 2012. Come on, you know you want a box of them Make great gifts!