I have a confession to make. I’m not proud of it.
When parents of children with mental illnesses I personally feel are less severe than Tim’s express how hard it is to raise their child, I sneer. It’s almost involuntary. I feel like shouting, “Ha! I’ll trade you my kid for a month, then we’ll see if you still feel like raising a kid with ADHD/OCD/PDD is hard!” I’m not proud of it, believe me. But it’s sort of like my own long-standing pity party, dismissing what I rationalize can’t be pain anywhere near is big as mine. I am hanging my head in shame as I write this, knowing, intellectually, it’s wrong. Save your emails. My brain absolutely agrees with you, even if my heart hasn’t quite caught up.
So when I was asked to review a book of stories written by parents of children with ADHD, OCD, PDD, and eating disorders, I sorta sneered at the idea of an entire book of parents writing essays about the struggles of raising their kids. But my brain knows two irrefutable truths – there aren’t enough stories out there about parents like this, and parents of kids with these types of diagnoses know better than nearly every doctor, therapist, and special education teacher on the planet what is best for their child. I can absolutely relate to that. So I sat down and read “Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories,” edited by Kay Marner and Adrienne Ehlert Bashista. And, after reading it, I think my heart is catching up with my head.
The book contains 32 essays written by real parents of real kids with an alphabet soup of diagnoses, interspersed with Q&A from experts of all types – doctors, therapists, social workers, and one of my favorite writers and advocates, Judith Warner. As I read the essays, I found my self nodding and, at times, audibly cheering, “yes!” under my breath as parents described the frustration, dispair, and, eventually, hope and successes of both their children and themselves. One such essay was by mom Lisa Randazzo, mom to a seven-year-old diagnosed with ADHD. She starts the essay full of joy that her son was selected for an award for an essay he’d written, only to have her joy turn to confusion, frustration, and anger at her son being placed on in-school suspension for a string of disruptive behaviors all tied to his condition. I cheered as she wrote about turning her anger into action. She turned into Mama Bear, educated the school administration, and saw her son receive that and many other awards for what school is supposed to be about – academic achievement – despite his, “scal[ing] the bathroom wall, runn[ing] around…when he is supposed to be seated, laugh[ing] too loud, sing[ing] too much…and disrupt[ing] instruction on numerous occasions with his silly antics.” Lisa learned her own strength as well. “I fell, recover, and get back on the bike.” Amen, sister, amen. My heart and my head completely relate to that.
And no – none of these parents are raising a child with Childhood Onset Schizophrena / Schizoaffective Disorder. And yes – my heart still wishes ADHD was the worst of Tim’s own alphabet soup of diagnoses. But these parents are still living a life very similar to mine. They are educating their children’s educators on how to educate their children. They are battling against family and friends who don’t understand how very different their lives are from the norm. They are agonizing over the decision to medicate or not medicate. They are frustrated, tired, and are trying to save relationships with spouses and their neurotypical kids. They are, well, me. And as much as I know you are all out there, living a similar life to mine, it’s nice, every once in a while, to read my thoughts in someone else’s voice, to remind me in black and white that I’m not in this alone. If my heart has learned anything through Tim’s childhood, it’s that parents like us need to stick together. After reading “Easy to Love,” I’m pretty sure my head can convince my heart that, no matter the brain-based disorder our children have, we are all part of the same community.