The prompt for Feb. 9 was: Sure, you turned out pretty good, but is there anything you wish had been different about your childhood? If you have kids, is there anything you wish were different for them?
I wish I hadn’t had ADHD, or at least had grown up in an era where we knew what it was. It has affected just about everything I have done or decided to do in my life. I had a great family, yet I never felt that my opinion was respected (I was the youngest) and I had low self-esteem. Why didn’t I have more friends, or more popular ones? What was it about me that other kids didn’t like?
It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends – I did, but for the most part they were kids who lived in my neighborhood, or were other “outcasts”. My mother wanted me to be friends with her friends’ children but somehow that didn’t happen. We just traveled in different circles, and besides, they were part of a popular crowd. Although I talk a lot (too much), I have always considered myself somewhat shy around new people. I didn’t know how to start a conversation or was afraid to because I might sound stupid. Once I took a summer school class in typing and was given a ride every day by the son of friends of my parents, who was also taking a class at the same school. I would ride the five miles to and from the class every day sitting next to him in the car, and except for “hi” and “bye” I don’t think I ever said a word to him!
Looking back on it, I now understand that the symptoms of ADHD made social relationships difficult. I was lucky that I did relatively well in school in spite of it, but my parents – or at least my mother – weren’t satisfied, because they felt my intelligence far exceeded my academic performance, which is probably true. All of my report cards came home with one or two As, mostly Bs and usually at least on C, and a comment stating that I “needed to remember to raise [my] hand” or that I became “distracted and distracts others” because I was frequently “talking out of turn.” My mother thought I had a reading disorder because I was a slow reader (ADHD again: hard to concentrate, get distracted), so she signed me up for speed reading classes which did absolutely no good whatsoever – and in fact, I think that type of course was soon discredited anyway.
My parents sent me to a boarding school for high school, where I thought I could “start over” and do everything right this time. But of course, I was still the same person so I had similar difficulties. The good thing was that it was a very small school, so everybody at least knew everybody, not that we were all friends. Still, I made some good, long lasting friendships there. I was more mature and I had also by then better incorporated coping strategies to deal with my disability.
I did well in school, in the end – graduated magna cum laude from college, and got straight As in my master’s degree program. And I have always liked school.
My son was 6 when I divorced his father. Already in preschool and kindergarten, my son started having problems. He had only one or two friends and was a target for bullying. He has inherited both my ADHD and my ex-husband’s cluster of mental illnesses: anxiety/depression/OCD. Growing up in my family, an underlying assumption was that he would go to college. He was certainly intelligent enough, so he made this one of his goals. He tried: he went to college for ½ a semester when he was 19, then tried again in his 20s, and got through 2 years of college credits over a three year period. He has talent as an actor and a poet, but these talents require much more than just ability in order to be developed and to make into a career. He doesn’t have the perseverance or the social and decision-making skills required to support and promote his talents. He also struggles with social relationships: he has few good friends, a immature girlfriend, and mostly gets along very well with older adults, who think he is talented, intelligent and kind (which he is).
I feel that I have failed in some aspects of being a parent. How could I keep him organized if I couldn’t organize myself? I forgot to remind him of things; I wasn’t decisive, consistent, and firm enough with him, so the structured routine he needed wasn’t always in place. Many times I was busy pursuing my own needs and a second career rather than helping him fulfill his potential. If it weren’t for my second husband – a wonderful, loving man who doesn’t have the mental challenges we do – I don’t know where I’d be or what support I would have been able to give my son.
I realize that a parent cannot do everything to make a child successful – at some point, the child grows up and has to learn to make decisions for himself. My son has always had difficulty with that, and in some ways, I have held him back.
He will be 28 later this month. He has a steady full-time job at a gas station. This is his second successful job – he worked in another customer service job for five years before being fired for being late one time too many. I have to remind myself of his challenges instead of comparing him with his successful young adult former classmates and acquaintances, some of whom have married, are starting successful careers, buying homes – all the things you want for your kids. I try to stay hopeful that he, too, will accomplish these things some day. He’s on his own timetable; I have to remember that.