A couple of weeks ago during a group parent coaching session, one of our moms was talking about how she was dreading going on vacation with her extended family. This mom explained that while she can feel great (or at least, pretty OK) about how she parents her high-energy, sometimes-defiant and always-emotional ADHD son when she is in private, her doubts begin to creep in big-time when judgmental family comes around.
All of the other moms on our virtual call started nodding their heads up and down. Some even had tears in their eyes. Everyone felt the same way.
Later that day when I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, I came across a post from AT Parenting Survival that said,
“Don’t let others who don’t understand your child’s struggle make you doubt your parenting.”
It was perfect.
See, almost everyone raising kids with ADHD can relate to this quote. Our kids just don’t respond to the same kinds of parenting techniques that our friends and family use. And well-meaning – but uneducated – people can try to offer advice that makes you feel like you are doing everything wrong.
Even when you know in your heart that you’re following well-researched, expert advice, a simple side-eye from a judgmental mother-in-law can make you question everything in a moment. Worse yet, it can make you throw out all of your newfound parenting knowledge and resort back to techniques you know won’t work to build your child’s skills. Our need for approval is a force to be reckoned with.
When I feel this way – and yes, I’ve had my fair share of parent-doubting-moments myself – I ask myself three very specific questions. These questions always help me regain my focus and confidence and do the next best thing for my child.
(1) What does my child need in this moment?
Your child has needs. Their behavior leaves clues about what those needs are. Perhaps the need is to calm down. Perhaps the need is to learn a skill they struggle with. Perhaps the need is to rejuvenate themselves with a nap. Or their need is to connect with someone so they can re-regulate.
When trying to decide how to respond to a particular behavior, always ask yourself what your child needs.
Whatever the need is, it wins out over any need your family / friend has to feel comfortable or good about your parenting approach, doesn’t it?
(2) What would I need if I were in my child’s shoes?
Sometimes the first question doesn’t provide me a super clear answer and I’m left with a few options of how to respond. To gain clarity, I move to the next question: “If I were in my child’s shoes – experiencing their perspective, their feelings, thoughts and fears, what would I need? What would help me cope? What would I need to learn?”
When we can put ourselves into our child’s shoes and imagine life from their perspective, answers become more clear.
For example, imagine your child is beside himself with sadness/disappointment about not being able to play with a friend. He’s been counting on it all day. He had planned out in his mind what they were going to do. He was brimming with excitement, and then it was suddenly called off.
To get into his shoes, I want you to think “What would I need if I were beside myself with sadness about something I was really looking forward to doing? Something I had gotten my hopes up for? Something I had spent time planning for and had high expectations for?”
Answers become more clear, don’t they?
It wouldn’t help you in that situation to be told to “just get over it” or “stop crying,” would it? It probably wouldn’t make it any better if someone were to tell you “it isn’t a big deal.”
It might, however, help to have someone offer a hug and tell you that they totally understand why you’re so disappointed and say nothing at all. It might help for someone to ask you if you’re open to hearing about how they handle big, overwhelming, disappointing feelings.
Here’s another example. Imagine your child has forgotten to pick up his wet towel off of the floor again. It’s not that your child wants to leave the towel on the floor. But your child’s ADHD makes him move from one thing to the next without pausing. The wet, mildew-inviting towel doesn’t even cross his mind again… until you start yelling about it.
So get into his shoes. Ask yourself, “What if I had a task at work that, for the life of me I could not remember to do? Something that I really hated doing, that didn’t mean much to me, that I really don’t understand the reason behind, but that I knew had to be done regardless?”
It probably wouldn’t help if your boss yelled at you, demeaned you, or threatened to fire you. That would probably not help you remember and would create some really big anxiety and incentives to lie when you forgot in the future.
It might, however, help if your boss sat down with you to explain why the process / task was so important. It might help if your boss sat down with you to figure out how to create a reminder in just the right place to get you to do it. And it might help if your boss gave you a positive incentive (bonus, anyone?!) for remembering to do the task.
(3) What FEELS right to me?
The third question to ask yourself when deciding how to proceed with your child is, “What feels right to me? What is my gut telling me?”
You know a lot more about your child and their unique struggles than anyone else on this planet. You know what has worked in the past. You know what hasn’t.
No one else has had the unique experience you have had with your child.
Here’s the paradox: parents who frequently question themselves and their approaches are usually the best parents.
Why? Because you’re open to learning. Trying new things. Re-looking at a situation. Parents who question are usually humble enough to know that you don’t know it all. This makes you primed for learning!
The problem arises when your questioning becomes so intense that you lose your center. When the noise from all the opinions around you becomes so loud that you can no longer hear your own compass.
When this happens the best next step is to take a step backwards. Give yourself some space between your child’s behavior and your purposeful response to that behavior and listen quietly to your inner insight. The answer will come. You’ll have a sense of what feels right in your bones. Don’t ignore that instinct, mama. It’s powerful.
Now here is the kicker! When all three questions are aligned – when your gut instinct lines up with what you believe your child needs, and what you would need in a similar situation, you know you’re on the right path.
Let that well-meaning-but-uneducated advice roll off your back. And deliberately move forward in the way YOU – your child’s mother or father – believe is best.
You’ve got this.