Disclaimer: It took me several years to get to this place.

I spent a lot of years as the mom that was constantly assessing my ADD son’s behavior, especially in public.  Was he being too loud, too figidity, not sporty enough, too artsy, not ______ fill in the blank ____enough.  In my desperate need for him to fit in, I was making him feel more different.  Our ADD kids are different.  Let’s be okay with it so they can be okay with it.  What I have since learned from Brene’ Brown’s work and writing is that fitting in actually blocks a sense of belonging.  The goal is to belong. To show up.  “To let yourself be seen and known for who you really are.”

Our journey to true understanding about the need for belonging started with a painful last day of school for my son in 6th grade.  It had been a tough year.  We both were looking forward to a more relaxed summer.  Instead of the exuberant boy  the last day of school typically brings, my son came home broken.

He sat across from my desk with his head hung low, tears welling up in his eyes, refusing to make eye contact.  When I asked what was wrong he simply replied, “I got a D.”

Well I knew he had a D I had been watching his grades online for weeks!  We had been discussing this D almost daily!  My heart ached that he somehow thought that the power of pure desire to have something other than that D would have transformed that final report card.

This is a kid with pure intelligence masked by pure ADD.  I common combination that leaves the head and the heart in a constant battle.  His desire to do good, to be good, to get good grades, beaten to a pulp by his hurricane brain of thoughts and ideas and missing homework.

I lowered my gaze to meet his and slowly his eyes met mine and I said, “Hey, I know you got a D, we’ve talked about it but you must remember you’re also probably the smartest kid in your class.”  This is such a confusing concept.  With a glimmer of hope he said, “How do you know that?”  I pulled his tests from the drawer in my desk.  Tests the school had conducted, one to assess his place at the beginning of the year and one to cover their tracks at the end of the year to see if they were doing a good job.  At the beginning of 6th grade my son’s tests showed that he was reading as a senior in high school and writing as a sophomore. Four to six years ahead of grade level.  His end of year test showed him in the top 10% of the state in language arts.  His report card however told him he was “dumb”, a D. His words not mine.  He had received a D in language arts.  A grade of a D for missing assignments, ones that he had completed and then somehow didn’t/couldn’t get back to class on time to receive credit.  Some points had been removed for his messy handwriting, the list of in-congruence goes on and on.

What I saw in my son in that moment was shame and disconnect.  I vowed on that day not to send him back into an environment that left him feeling this way.  I had no idea what our other options were for education but I knew this wasn’t working.

I spent the summer searching for other options and stumbled upon a Montessori Charter School.  It was in that school in his 7th and 8th grade year that I began to learn and understand the difference between fitting in and belonging.  In this montessori school my son found his place.  He found a place where true relationships could blossom without being clouded by the need to fit in.

I like to see myself as a “connector”.  Much of what I learn and write about comes from connecting pieces and parts of my learning in ways that can be of help to our ADHD community.  Brene’ Brown’s writing about vulnerability and shame has become central to my understanding of the ADHD relationship.  Here she writes about the difference between belonging and fitting in.

…..contrary to what most of us think: Belonging is not fitting in. In fact, fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging.

Fitting in, I’ve discovered during the past decade of research, is assessing situations and groups of people, then twisting yourself into a human pretzel in order to get them to let you hang out with them.

Belonging is something else entirely — it’s showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are — love of gourd painting, intense fear of public speaking and all.

Many of us suffer from this split between who we are and who we present to the world in order to be accepted, (Take it from me: I’m an expert fitter-inner!) But we’re not letting ourselves be known, and this kind of incongruent living is soul-sucking.

In my research, I’ve interviewed a lot of people who never fit in, who are what you might call “different”: scientists, artists, thinkers.

And if you drop down deep into their work and who they are, there is a tremendous amount of self-acceptance.

Some of them have to scrap for it, like the rest of us, but most are like this neurophysicist I met who, essentially, told me, “My parents didn’t care that I wasn’t on the football team, and my parents didn’t care that I was awkward and geeky. I was in a group of kids at school who translated books into the Klingon language. And my parents were like, ‘Awesome!’ They took me to the Star Trek convention!”

He got his sense of belonging from his parents’ sense of belonging, and even if we don’t get that from Mom and Dad, we have to create it for ourselves as adults — or we will always feel as if we’re standing outside of the big human party.

The truth is: Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.

When we don’t have that, we shape-shift and turn into chameleons; we hustle for the worthiness we already possess.

 

If we are to raise confident children with a sense of belonging we must first embrace our own vulnerability.  We must embrace their differences and let go of the stereotypes and need to fit in.  Belonging is learning how to learn, not how to get good grades.  Belonging is being a Gift from God not a brain to be fixed.

Please reach out with your whole heart and have the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.  Pass on this courage to your sons, your daughters, your ADD loved ones.  Don’t ask them to “hustle for the worthiness they already possess”.

If we are to create the kind of world that accepts our ADD loved ones, we must first accept them at home.  We must be the change they seek in this world by advocating for their strengths and cultivating a sense of belonging that leaves them ready to share their gifts with the world and never allow them to hide their head in shame.

If you’re serious about cultivating a better relationship with your ADD loved one then start by watching this TED talk by Brene’ Brown.  Then pour through her books in a way that helps you be better, love better and parent better.

Our son is now midway through his freshman year in high school.  He is the most amazing young man I’ve ever met. I not only love him, I like him a lot.  He still has trouble finding both of his shoes but he has found his place in the world.  A place where he knows he will struggle but has learned to communicate about his ADD without  using it as an excuse.  He likes his differences and hopes that soon he’ll latch on to a cute girl that likes them too.

 

Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, love, innovation and change.

 

Who doesn’t want more of those in the coming new year?

 

 

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