Eight Rules

Eight Rules That Every Mother Who Is As Good a Mother As I Am Enforces With Her Adolescent.

A FB friend posted this essay, whose title is only a little bit less obnoxious than my paraphrase, with praise for the author and her philosophy. I dutifully read the post, because I want this FB friend to read my posts. By the time I finished though, the only response I could muster was that it must be nice to be such a perfect parent. Too snarky to use as a comment—especially if I want my FB friend to “like” my posts---but obviously not so snarky that I’m ashamed to share it here.

I don’t even disagree with the rules, and most of them I strive to live by: have the children put away their own clothing; talk to teachers themselves about missed assignments. Make your children learn the skills they will need as adults. I get it, and I agree with it. I expect Kelly to adhere to most of these rules, and usually she does. So why am I so irritated?

Partly, I think, I am irritated because I feel caught, proven to be incompetent by a stranger who has just failed me on a test. Of course I’m consenting to the evaluation and grading myself, but directing my defensive reaction outward is much more satisfying than turning it inward. I could use the opportunity to become a better person, a better mother, but I know I will not. It would be like all of the disingenuous New Year’s resolutions that are shelved within the hour. Why bother pretending? So I’m irritated because I’m defensive.

The more important reason I’m irritated, I think, is that all of the eight rules presuppose raising a child who will learn the intended lessons from their mistakes. If her children fail to pack their own lunches, they will have to borrow lunch money or food from their friends. Not wanting to impose repeatedly, they will remember to pack lunch tomorrow. But what happens if your child eats alone and will not set foot in a cafeteria because the smells and sounds assault her? Will she learn her lesson about packing lunch, or will she become so dysregulated that she cannot draw a line from cause to effect?

If her children do not roll out of bed with their alarm clocks, their siblings will eventually rouse them. They will run late and miss breakfast (as she tells us). They will get to school feeling a bit disgruntled, but once they see their friends they will be able to put the morning’s scramble behind them and they will open their notebooks for first period. Tomorrow they will wake up in time for breakfast. But what if breakfast is the least of your child’s concerns? What if your child spends the entire day wondering if she received a detention? What if the prospect of this detention worries her so much that she fails to realize it was time to open her notebook for first period? What if the teacher then rebukes her for her lack of preparedness? What if the lesson she learns is that school starts too early for her ever to succeed, and her teachers want her to fail?

If her children forget their homework at home, they receive no credit for the assignment. They kick themselves because they understand their ambitions will be difficult to fulfill without good grades, and they make a point of packing their backpacks tonight, so they will not forget again tomorrow. But what if your child completes her homework only because she fears (even now, in high school) the wrath of her teachers? She has never experienced the wrath, but anxiety is her constant companion. What if her anxiety about the misplaced assignment so overwhelms her that she cannot concentrate on the lesson, she (maybe) makes it through the day, comes home and melts down, and falls asleep having neither located last night’s homework nor begun tonight’s? What lesson has she learned?

One of the greatest challenges of raising a neurodiverse child is not knowing when to let that child fail. Throw the child in the water. Will the child swim . . . or sink? First we have to consider immaturity. Next we factor in anxiety. Third we factor in executive functioning deficits, visual processing deficits, and sleep disturbances. And then we wonder which aspects of the situation will be deemed relevant, because learning the “correct” lesson requires identifying the relevant actor (oneself) and the relevant actions. Treating a middle or high school student as a socially and emotionally healthy adolescent only works when the child matches the criteria. Otherwise, I say to throw the rule book out.

Here are my eight rules for being a good-enough mother:

1.     Make it through the day.

2.     Toast your success!

3.     Make it through the day.

4.     Toast your success!

5.     Make it through the day.

6.     Toast your success!

7.     Make it through the day.

8.     Toast your success!


Implement again on the fifth day.