Parenting the neurodivergent kids I have, not the kids I thought I’d have

“Parent the child you have.” It took five words to change the way I parent. And sadly, I can’t remember where I heard them. Perhaps I heard them on a podcast or read them in a book. It doesn’t matter, right? The words were simple. The action, however, I knew would be difficult. 

My children are silly. They hate sitting still for long periods of time. And they’re entirely incapable of being quiet without a screen, a book, or a game to keep them occupied. For years, I’d look at other kids sitting quietly in church or at a restaurant and feel ashamed that mine wouldn’t mimic their seemingly perfect behavior. I threatened, bribed, and begged, but nothing made a difference.

My children are neither academic geniuses nor budding athletes. They’ve tried various sports. But they’ve never scored the game-winning goal. Nor have they brought home a first-place trophy in a dance competition. 

My son gets in trouble in class for talking too much and acting impulsively. And my daughter’s dyslexia makes her afraid to say anything at all for fear of messing up. And yet, for so long, I tried to parent these behaviors out of them.

“Stop talking. Speak up. Sit still. Study harder. Focus. For heaven’s sake, pay attention! What is wrong with you? Practice harder. You’re not doing enough. Just behave!”

I was parenting the children I thought I wanted, not the ones I had. I was parenting them to be the child that I was: competitive, smart, driven, and obedient. It turns out I was at war with their behaviors and with the insecurities of my past. And I’d been counting on their outward expressions as a testimony to who I was raising.

I understand now that my children were coded at birth with software I didn’t understand. One that no amount of yelling would ever fix. 

So, finally, I turned my attention to helping them develop their actual strengths . And not the strengths I’d imagined when I rocked them to sleep as newborns. 

To see their strengths, I had to truly see them. What is the one thing they’re better at than anyone else? What gets them in trouble now but will serve them well in the future  —  like challenging social norms? When they close their eyes, what do they dream about?

My son dreams about being a sports broadcaster. He knew he’d never be the star quarterback or shoot a winning three-pointer in the final seconds of a game. Instead, he’d be the one to remember the stats of professional players who retired a decade ago. That’s his strength: a picture-perfect memory I’m sure will serve him well. 

My daughter’s strength is her strong intuition. Somehow, she just knows what motivates people to do and say the things they do. Her teacher recently told me that the entire class admires her for her compassion and bubbly energy. No one will remember how she used to run up and down the aisles of the movie theater until I just led her out to the lobby to play while the movie finished.

I try not to feel shame when I think back to all the time I wasted coaxing my kids to be something they’re not. I’m working on letting that go. My children know there’s more to me than my yelling, meltdowns, or fears. They love the mom they have. And I love the kids I have.

Learn tips to get past parenting guilt. Read about common worries parents have. And find out how this mom got her parenting power back after years of mismanaging meltdowns


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