I wrote this 4 years ago when my son was entering a new school for a new school year. As we begin a new school year tomorrow, I still feel every word in my soul. I feel it for every kid who doesn’t fit in the boxes put out for them, who has unique struggles to go with their unique gifts. I feel it for my kiddo who is brilliant, funny, and kind. Sometimes he doesn’t feel quite ready for the world, and other times the world is simply not ready for him. Originally published here.
I've worked with kids all my life. I've had those kids in my classes, groups, programs, etc. The ones that didn't fit the mold. The ones who were too loud, too active, too impulsive, just too much. I've known their parents. I have loved those children, and I have worked in earnest to create the best environment for them. I have trained countless staff members on how best to program for these children, how to connect with them, and how to support them. I've seen the parent's relief when at the end of the day, I got to tell them their child had a good day. And I've seen the parent's heartbreak when I had to tell them it wasn't so good a day. I've gotten the hugs that say thank you in a way words cannot. Those hugs said "thank you for seeing me and not just my child's challenges, thank you for seeing my child and not just behavior, thank for you loving and caring about our family".
I was always glad to help. I felt passionate that these kids were good kids (all kids are good kids) who just needed some extra support to excel in a particular environment. I knew what I was doing mattered, but I never fully got it. I mean I did an okay job. I supported parents and kids. Those kids taught me all sorts of things... one size doesn't fit all... we all bring something to the table... the goal isn't to fit in someone's box of expectations.
But now... now I see those parents, those mothers especially, in a way I never could before.
Whether as an adult who still works with children or as another parent at pick up, I see them. Those mothers sighing when their kid screams or nervously exhaling in relief when it goes well, still tensely waiting for the other shoe to drop. I know their heart is breaking a little, or maybe a lot. Their heart is breaking because it's hard to be the mom of that kid. Their heart is breaking because they know their kid is struggling, they know their kid is not thriving. Their heart breaks because no one wants things to be difficult for their child, definitely not this difficult. Their heart is breaking because they are tired and their buckets are empty. Their heart is breaking because they don't know what else they have left to give, what other tools to provide or what strategies to try. Their heart is breaking because nothing makes a person feel more like a failure as a parent than watching their child consistently fail to adapt, fail to fit in, fail to be happy and successful.
Teachers, coaches, instructors, camp counselors, activity leaders... please just love my kid.
Get to know him. See him for who he is, not just how he doesn't fit the system. He's interesting, unique, brilliantly creative, and sharply witty... and he's frustrating, exhausting, limit stretching, and button pushing. Group environments aren't his best place, but he wants to learn and he wants to be there, maybe more than any other kid I know. I know he's not easy. I also know he is sweet, loving, enthusiastic, perceptive, and driven. He's only 6. Please let's keep in mind exactly what are appropriate expectations for a 6 year old. I know this culture is pushing us to do more, do better, and do it all quicker. I know other parents are demanding metrics and results. I know the pressure is on for achievement and meeting standards. But pressure, standards, checkmarks, and boxes aren't going to help my kid. He's got something pretty amazing to bring to the table... to bring to the community, to the world. He's going to do it on his own time and in his own way, and he's going to blow your standards and expectations out of the water. Please just love him, support him, and encourage him. Make room for his passions when it's possible. Appreciate his humor. Help him figure out how to navigate this world that doesn't think at all like him and try not to squish him into a box he was never meant to fit. I assure you I am striving and struggling to do all that and more around the clock, and I would be forever grateful for one more person on our team.
My kid isn't going to fit in any of your boxes. Love him anyway.