From Flickr by Rolandslakis

From Flickr by Rolandslakis

I read Facebook updates with envy sometimes. And while I know that often, a person’s social media persona is a carefully curated version of actual life, it appears there are people who are blessed with kids who are “issue-free.” They excel (sports, art, science fair, marching band…), they make honor roll, they look incredibly photogenic in coastal vacation pictures. Then, they head off to brand-name colleges with scholarships and AP-course credit. All of this with nary a therapist, learning difference, or psychotropic medication in their wake.

I have great kids. Sometimes they make honor roll, sometimes they have an amazing game, race, or show. They make me laugh and they make me proud… but we also have issues. Sometimes things fall apart. Way apart.

I’ve wound my way through various issues at all different ages. (And I’m sure I have more adventures to come.) Parenting is hard. And there are times I find myself completely in over my head. And by the look of my Facebook timeline, you’d think I was the only one. But I know that is not the case.

While I’m the last person to ever say I have parenting figured out, I’ve learned a few lessons for those of you who find yourselves newly on the windy, twisty backroads of parenting.

1. You aren’t the only one. You are NOT the only one. Trust me. People may not talk freely about their family struggles. Maybe it’s embarrassing. Maybe they’d feel judged. Maybe they’re trying to protect the privacy of their kid. But this is a much bigger club than you think. Reach out. Find your people. If you need help connecting, try the school counselor, pediatrician, therapist, or friends you trust (who may have a friend in a similar situation). Introduce yourself in the waiting room of the therapist/doctor/tutor’s office. Look for blogs of people going through the same thing. Several of my closest confidants are bloggers who get it, because I’ve been reading their bravely shared parenting stories for years.

2. It’s ok to be sad. This is hard. Sometimes it’s REALLY hard. You may have to let go of your hopes and dreams. You parent the kid you got, not the kid you imagined. There can be some grief in coming to terms with that. If you find yourself completely overwhelmed with sadness, maybe it’s time to get some help, but don’t beat yourself up for having a hard time.

3. Love your kid. This may very well be her most unlovable stage. No one else may be able to love your kid right now. She may not love herself. She will take anger and stress out on you. You will bear the brunt of her anxiety and fear. But don’t give up on your kid, especially when she has given up on herself.

4. Find your experts. Somewhere out there is a professional who will be your lifeline. Finding her is half the battle. (Paying for it is the other half. More on that in a minute.) We have found salvation from counselors, occupational therapists, educational consultants, physicians, and teachers. Here is how I found some of them: the Special Needs forum of DC Urban Moms and Dads (it’s a gold mine), speakers at lecture series for parents (there was one who spoke about the exact issue we were dealing with), my pediatrician, therapists, and my friends. If you need to, have a friend ask for referrals on your neighborhood listserve so your anonymity is protected.

I will warn you – good help is not cheap. I have found that the best counselors/therapists/consultants do not take insurance. Often though, they are worth every precious penny. See if they can help you appeal for in-network coverage from your insurance. (If they are the ONLY practitioner who specializes in a particular problem, you might be successful.) Use your flexible spending account. Save every single receipt. If you can get out-of-network benefits, submit them. Keep track of your total costs (including parking, mileage, etc.). Your records may come in handy for a financial aid application if your child needs to attend a private school. (And if it’s a therapeutic school, you may be able to claim tuition and all your other expenditures as medical expenses on your tax return. Obviously see an accountant for advice.) We have sometimes gone into debt to pay for services for our kids, but it has been well worth it.

5. Let off steam whenever you can. Go out with friends, take an art class, run a half-marathon, go to a movie. Parenting kids with issues is incredibly intense. You feel indispensable. You feel guilty taking a step away. Do whatever you can to give yourself the occasional break. Even if it’s sitting in a coffee shop for an hour with the newspaper. I find it very hard to force myself to do this, but I always come away refreshed.

It’s hard not to compare. Of course there are superstar kids out there, with parents who are blissfully unaware of how much time, money and stress goes into managing kids with issues. There are days when none of this seems fair – to you or your kid. All you can do is hang on and work toward better days. (And the occasional use of the unfollow button on Facebook doesn’t hurt.)