By Georgy Norris
Being a parent is the hardest job you’ll ever love. I agree with that sentiment completely as I continue to steer my kids, 19 and 21, into adulthood. In my role as a parent partner at Hillsides Education Center, I offer support to parents who have children struggling with school and life, mostly due to mental health diagnoses and possible learning disabilities. Being the parent of children with both, I try to offer support through my lived experience and give others hope that things can improve. While both of my children struggled in different ways, it is with a sigh of relief that I can say they graduated from high school and have become pretty decent adults with whom I enjoy spending time. During our most difficult days, I was not sure that would be the case and yet here we are.
I was recently asked to think of one thing that made a real difference in getting through those tough times. My response is, acceptance. While we had many therapists, teachers, and support services that helped immensely, the one thing that helped me remain supportive without losing my mind was this concept.
I like to illustrate this point with a story I heard about a couple who planned an awesome trip to Sweden. They researched the weather, people, food, history — everything they needed to prepare for the trip. They packed up and boarded the plane, excited for their trip. Upon landing, the pilot announced “Welcome to Italy! Enjoy your stay.”
Can you imagine? All prepared for Sweden and now to find yourself in Italy? This jarring experience can be compared to what parents feel when they find out their child has a disability or diagnosis that will make life for them more challenging. It is not what the parents planned on, but they can choose to accept this new reality and make the best of it, or spend their time being miserable because it is not what was planned. In other words, when in Italy, enjoy the pasta! I chose to accept both of my children for who they are – struggling with some difficult medical challenges — and make the best of it. This enabled me to be less anxious and more available to be the supportive advocate I needed to be in their lives.
When I talk about acceptance, here is another example. I come from a family who placed a high level of importance on education, including college or beyond. My parents and four siblings were all college-educated, no questions asked. We just knew you went to college after high school. So, imagine my feeling of loss when neither of my kids wanted anything to do with high school, much less college.
I did everything in my power to get them to finish high school. Somewhere along the way I let go of that “dream” I had, and really tried to see how hard everything had been for them and why college may not be part of their story. It made a huge difference in how I treated them and related to them, which made a big difference in the relationship I now have with them. I accepted their limitations and struggles, and focused on getting them through high school being healthy, happy people. I was elated they both survived to graduate and begin their adult lives as good, decent people. I am lucky I didn’t lose myself in the preoccupation with forcing college.
This is just one example, but truly, in every area of raising my children, I found that acceptance was the answer. Don’t give up. Ever.
Georgy is a mother of two, a 21-year-old son and 19-year-old daughter, and a step-mom of a 30-year-old daughter. Georgy says that while she has a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and a multi-subject teaching credential, neither of these “qualified me to be in the best job I have ever had, that of a parent partner. Helping others through my shared experience of raising children with special needs, has been very rewarding. I hope to keep doing this for as long as I can!”