This was a hard week. *SIGH* I kicked my little bird out of our nest, and I wasn’t sure he was ready.

I’m not sure I was ready, either. Well, no – clearly by my reaction over the past couple of days, I wasn’t ready. Here’s what happened:

This past year has been tough. Our son hit the age where his “differences” were causing a LOT of social and emotional strife at school and in extracurricular activities. His self-esteem was faltering, and I knew that something BIG had to happen for him. I wasn’t enough alone.

So in my attempt to find something different, do something drastic and give my son something more than what I could do myself, I found a learning camp for kids who have ADHD and Asperger’s. It wasn’t just any camp, though – it was a 30-day sleep over camp located hours from our house. Yikes. I researched. I called families who have been there in the past. I researched some more. I slept on it. I daydreamed about it. I meditated on it.

Most importantly, I asked our son. I showed him a YouTube video of the camp and his reaction was this: “Mom, they look just like me! Kind of peculiar, but really cool. You know?!”

Yes, baby. I do know.

So we signed up. We prepared. We packed. We practiced meeting new people. We imagined what it would all be like. And then last weekend we dropped him off.

The camp was beautiful. His cabin door literally opens up onto this pristine lake and – aside from the giant bugs – everyone was a little jealous that he was going to get to stay there for an entire month. After we said our goodbyes, he jumped into a game with some other kids, and we just drove away.

And then… my heart broke into a million pieces. I cried – no, I bawled all the way home.

Now, this whole heart-breaking-into-a-million-pieces-thing caught me off guard. What was this about? I knew this was a good decision. I was excited for him. I knew I had done my research. I knew he needed this. So why all the tears? Why all the emotions, insomnia and physical feelings of withdrawal from my kiddo?

After a whole lot of reflection, here’s is what I’ve concluded… Those of us who have kids with ADHD spend an inordinate amount of time protecting, controlling, and guiding our kids. We are constantly anticipating what is going to happen when… {you fill in the blank with whatever situation might trigger your kiddo}.

We are conversing with teachers and principals frequently. We are staying at soccer or gymnastics practice instead of running errands like all the other moms and dads just in case something happens and you need to intervene.

Even when they have a bad day at school, we control and protect on the back end. We follow up with teachers to figure out what really happened. We help our children process it and figure out how they might be able to make it right the next day. We control how the rest of the day goes and how their mornings starts. {If you haven’t checked out how we start our mornings during the school year, check it out here}.

We worry about what they eat, what they watch, who they interact with, whether they’re engaging in school appropriately, whether they sleep enough, and how much exercise they get. To name just a few.

Our kids respond and react to every disappointment, stimulus, and impulse so big and loud that it’s hard for them to be out there in the real world without someone who understands them. So we build all sorts of scaffolding around them to make sure they are as strong as they can be. It’s exhausting. Yet it feels safer than the alternatives.

But once we drove away from camp on Saturday, my son lost all of the scaffolding I have built for him over the course of 9 years. *POOF!* It disappeared. I had to trust that the camp was going to do that, and although I (mostly) have confidence that they will, part of their job is to help the kids learn how to navigate the world without quite so much scaffolding. He’s going to be challenged in ways that will provoke extreme emotion, and I won’t be there to help him. uh… that’s the point…

So here’s what I realized and how I bring this back to you — The things you do for your child every day – even when you don’t do them perfectly or even all that well some days – are huge. They are monumental. But they’re so ingrained in who you are, and you’ve been doing it for so long that there is a good chance you can’t even see it anymore. You don’t even realize the extent of what you do until your kid isn’t there to need it anymore.

But even if you can’t see it or have stopped recognizing the valor of your efforts, I realize it. I see it.

Although you may want – or desperately need – a respite from the stress of raising your child, this role of scaffold builder / caretaker / protector / environment-controller is becoming a part of who you are at your core. Embrace it. Acknowledge it, and give yourself credit where credit is due.

You won’t always have the privilege to fulfill that role. There will be a day when your child leaves your controlled environment and goes into the real world — or just goes off to sleep over camp. If your experience is like mine you will feel a profound loss and fear.

For your child and for you.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the extreme love you feel for your child when they are sucking your attention and energy away from all the other things in life – your other children, your significant other, your hobbies, your self-care. Sometimes all you can feel is resentment or annoyance; the desire for a more “normal” life.

But under all of that is a love that is fierce. A ferocity that — although it might be hard to believe — you will miss when they don’t / can’t depend on you so much.