Handling Unfulfilled Expectations, Disappointments, & Failure

unfulfilled expectations | parenting through meltdowns and anxiety

Disappointments are a part of life.  Unfortunately, we have to face that reality pretty early in our existence.  If I could pinpoint the number one reason for meltdowns, anxiety, and emotional outbursts with my kids, it would be unfulfilled expectations. From my oldest to my youngest, they each have certain expectations of what the day will be like, how their siblings will play with them, where we will go, what we will eat, etc. And if any of those expectations don’t happen, it can get pretty ugly.

I can hardly blame them. After all, even as an adult it’s often not easy to process unfulfilled expectations. I know the usual advice is to set “realistic” expectations, but the reality is that no expectation is truly realistic.  After all, when I have to combat Murphy’s law, my own forgetfulness, people’s short comings (including my own), ADHD multiple times over, and all of the chaos that comes from parenting three kids, the only realistic expectation is getting up in the morning. (And even that occurs earlier than I expect most mornings.)  So how can I maintain my sanity and help my kiddos understand a healthy way to process and deal with life’s disappointments? The answer to unfulfilled expectations is not really what I am expecting but WHO I am expecting it from. 

“My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him.” ~Psalm 62:5

wait upon God | Psalm 62:5 | unfulfilled expectations

You see, it really is ridiculous to think that I can expect anything from anyone else when I can’t even meet my own expectations.  And while I could easily blame a number of people and miscellaneous factors for my unfulfilled expectations, the truth is I’m a sinner—and so is every one else, except for One.  That One is the only One who is perfect, holy, and unchanging.  He is the only One who can fulfill and even exceed expectation.  He is the only One in whom my confidence should rest.

When my expectation is in the right place, the tempest of my emotions can settle.  No longer am I expecting my children to realize I have needs or to be motivated to clean their rooms and finish the dishes on their own; no longer am I expecting myself to have everything under control and to remember the 1001 things I need to be doing; no longer am I expecting my husband to never have a bad day on the same day I have one or to come to my rescue and meet all of my emotional needs.  Instead, I wait for, rest in, rely on the One who knows all, controls all, provides all. 

I have to believe this and live this out with my kiddos. Together, we have to lay all of those expectations in His hands and trust Him to work out the details. So we’ve started praying a simple prayer together:

“God, this day is not going the way we expected.

Please help us to trust you with the day you’ve given us instead.”

Our only “realistic expectation” is that God will come through for us and provide us with everything we need for everything we will face. When He is our only expectation, we receive only fulfillment.  After all, how could we expect anything less from the One whose name is “I AM”?

Homeschooling a Child with ADHD (and everything that comes with it)

homeschooling ADHD | parenting ADHD

Parenting a child with ADHD is challenging on so many levels, and honestly the hyperactivity and distraction is a walk in the park compared to the rest of the package. ADHD rarely comes alone; it’s accompanied by depression, anxiety, rage, sensory processing issues, auditory processing issues, and a slew of other “disorders” and “syndromes.” And as if our kids weren’t challenging enough, there are the additional challenges of battling our own insecurities and mommy guilt, as well as battling what other people are saying and what we think they are saying.

So homeschooling a child with ADHD is, as you might assume, rather chaotic. It doesn’t look anything like I had imagined. And though we are in a much better place today then we were a couple of years ago, I remember the days when I doubted that I could do this. There were days when I felt like I did more counseling than actual homeschooling. There were days when one child would fly into a biting, scratching, head-banging rage, another child would be screaming inconsolably, and my toddler would be smearing poo all over the house. And I wasn’t sure I’d survive the day. But you know what? My kids learned, even when I didn’t think it was possible.

We learned in short spurts (10 to 15 minutes per subject).

We learned creatively and actively.

We learned when we had a chance, in the good moments.

And because of the environment of having that one-on-one attention and plenty of time to burn that excess energy, my kids have done well academically. Our ADHD kids are smart.

And while medication was not the long term answer for our kids, I’m thankful for the gift ADHD meds gave to my family during that time. It helped me to see who my children really were in the midst of that overwhelming fog. It gave me the chance to get my head above water and rethink our lifestyle and habits and routines. It wasn’t perfect: some days the meds worked, some days they seemed to be too much, other days they weren’t nearly enough. But the meds worked enough to help clear the haze and allow me to see that there could be some dietary links.

About a year and half ago, we began an elimination diet and I journaled religiously—everything we ate and every behavior. After awhile, some patterns emerged. It took several months of watching those patterns and eliminating different foods. But eventually, both my older kids went off meds and my youngest (never on meds) also had dramatic improvements in his temperament and sensory issues. My daughter’s journey took a little longer and involved a few more supplements, but eventually she was able to reach a healthy baseline. Are they cured? No, the dopamine and seratonin issues show up in the DNA; it will always be there. But we are able to manage their challenges best right now with diet and supplements.

My kids are still a very active, loud, dramatic, funny, personality-plus crew of hooligans. They still have BIG EMOTIONS that we have to work through. But in spite of all of the challenges, we’ve had the chance to see the treasure, too. You see, ADHD rarely comes alone; it comes with creativity, innovation, humor, imagination, and a wild sense of adventure. We are never short of laughs and unbelievable antics. My life is full and rich (and loud) and never dull, not for a split-second.

homeschooling active learners | ADHD | parenting ADHD

Is homeschooling the right option for your ADHD child? Only you know that. But I definitely don’t regret having homeschooled ours and the opportunities they’ve had to excel in learning in spite of their challenges, to love learning because we can keep it short and active and customized, to have meaningful friendships that allow them to be loud and quirky and every bit who they are. Can you homeschool a child with these obstacles? Sure you can. Just like you can wake up each day and parent. There are good days and bad days in homeschooling, just like there are good days and bad days in parenting. There are days when it is the most amazing experience ever, and there are days when I wonder what on earth I’m thinking. But there’s not a single day when I wouldn’t do absolutely all I could for my kid.

So if I could have a moment with myself of two or three years ago, if I could tell you what I’ve learned over the last few years, I’d say it’s okay to feel inadequate and helpless and imperfect. It’s okay to not know the solutions right now. It’s okay that you aren’t the “fun mom” or the “creative mom” or even the “patient mom.” You are still the perfect mom for this job, because God chose you for this child. And He doesn’t make mistakes. ADHD doesn’t come alone; and you are a key component in the journey.

If you are new to this journey and need a friend, I would love to hear from you. I also highly recommend the book Superparenting for ADD.

Want to follow more of our journey?

Motivating Your Child with Anxiety

child with anxiety | homeschooling ADHD | homeschooling dyslexia | motivation

Over the last few weeks, I’ve mentioned our top motivation-killers at my house: Big Emotions and creativity. Today, I’m revealing the last of our big three: anxiety. I’m not sure if the anxiety at our house is rooted in the ADHD or the dyslexia or something else entirely, but anxiety has been a real motivation-killer at several different points in our homeschool. How do you get your child moving again when anxiety has her totally shut down?

While a lot of the same ideas for motivating an intense child will also work for the anxious child (our anxiety is usually emotionally intense), there are a few things I do differently when dealing specifically with my daughter’s anxiety.

5 steps for motivating your child with anxiety

  • Reassure first. Don’t reassure with logic! (I’ve mentioned before that I am really working on this.) Know your child and what that child needs. Reassure with affection and sentiment: “I love you and it’s okay. We will get through this together.” I think, perhaps more than anything, my anxious child needs to be reminded that she’s not alone, that I’m there supporting her through all her struggles.
  • Validate her feelings and assure her that you will do all that you can to prevent her fears from becoming reality. “I can see how that would be devastating, but I will not allow anyone to laugh at you.” “I can see why you would be terrified, but I will make sure that [whatever the fear] doesn’t happen.” While my natural instinct is to tell my child that what she feels will never happen and logically explain why that fear is absurd, this just doesn’t have the same outcome as telling her that I will not allow that fear to occur. Sometimes, I can’t make that promise. It’s not in my realm of protection. In those cases, I reassure that if it were to ever happen, we would overcome it together, that she wouldn’t be facing that situation alone.
  • Be for her, not against her. I mentioned this in my post about motivating your intense child. Of course, we are “for” our children. But it is easy to default to an “us against them” when the work isn’t getting done. By positioning myself as the ally, I and my child work together against the obstacle or natural consequence, instead of against each other. I am not punishing her with the consequences; the consequences are hers. But I want to work alongside her to find a strategy to help her make good decisions and avoid those consequences.
  • End on a positive note. Humor, a secret code word between the two of us to reassure her in anxious moments, a treat (food heals the soul), a hug—anything that seals the deal and provides a little nudge of momentum. 
  • Set up the learning environment to reassure the child the next time you encounter that obstacle. When we begin a subject or an assignment that I know my daughter is naturally anxious about, I begin by going over what we’ve discussed before, and remind her of what we are doing differently this time to make sure that her fears are not a reality. Reading used to be our anxiety-subject; then it became spelling. For a long time, she would burst into tears and shut down at even the sight of an assignment that required spelling. Slowly, we’ve worked through the anxieties from both of those subjects. And the other weekend, she picked up a spelling book on her own on a day off to work through some of the activities! Talk about a miracle! Though she is not completely confident in spelling, we’ve definitely come a long way. 

Motivating a child with anxiety takes an enormous amount of patience. And I have to remember that even though the fears don’t always make sense to me, they are very real to my child. I’m not always grateful for these moments. I’m not always patient. I’m sure, at times, I’ve aggravated and intensified some of those feelings by handling it the wrong way. But as I look back over the weeks, and think about what God is doing in my life through this journey, I appreciate so much more how God handles my fears.

How illogical are mine most of the time! I have an almighty God who knows and cares: what do I have to be afraid of? And yet, God doesn’t launch into all the reasons why those fears don’t make sense. Instead, He assures me—”Don’t be afraid!” And He’s there for me—”I will never leave you or forsake you.” In the end, these are the verses and promises that both my child and I have to come back to. She and I are both scared, anxious little sheep, but He is the good Shepherd of us both.

Motivating your Creative Distracted Child

creative distracted child | homeschooling ADHD

I love my kids and their unique personalities and gifts. On most days, I love what ADHD adds to their personalities. My kids are funny, innovative, out-of-the-box kids who do everything in a BIG way—messes, noises, emotions, drama, imagination. It’s all big. While I told you last week about how I handle our top distraction (BIG emotions), I’m writing this week about our second biggest distraction: creativity. Yes, believe it or not, I have more than one highly creative distracted child, and one extremely creative right-brained child. While I do love this about my children and have a lot of fun with their creativity and out-of-the-box ideas, sometimes it makes completing the work of homeschool a monumental task. If you, too, are blessed with a creative distracted child, here are a few ideas to get through the day.

5 ideas for motivating your Creative Distracted Child

  • Let them create first. Trying to set my creative child down to any kind of structured school while those creative juices are flowing is pretty nearly impossible. I’m setting us all up to fail. But I’ve noticed that if I give them the freedom to create first, to express some of that creativity, the release allows them to be able to settle in for the harder tasks. Sometimes all it takes is half an hour. For quite awhile, I gave them the whole morning and allowed them to start their discipline subjects after lunch when they were (a little) more mellow. Giving your child a time to expend that energy and creativity may help him to settle into the hard work later.
  • Give both rewards and consequences.  Of my three kids, my daughter is my most creative, right-brained (i.e. distracted) child. At times, to reward her and motivate her to finish her work, I’ve allowed her to have 5 min. to decorate her page with colored gel pens and stickers if she finishes the lesson in a set amount of time. For my son, allowing him to write a funny comic strip in the margins after he’s worked the exercise is lots of motivation. On the other hand, natural consequences are equally as motivating. “I’m so sorry you played today instead of getting your math page done. I always love to see what you create during your doodling time. How can we make sure this doesn’t happen again?” I’m their ally; I want to help them succeed, but I can’t make their choices for them.
  • Set a timer. In our homeschool, I have always used timers. Early on, I noticed all my children go into an absolute panic if they were timed for something, so I used timers regularly to help them overcome their fears. But secondly, I’ve used timers as a tool to help them become aware of how much time has passed. Children in general, and ADHD children especially, have no concept of time. Time and time management are very abstract concepts; timers have helped my kids understand these abstract ideas. When we first began, I only used the timer in 5 or 10 minute increments, assigning maybe one side of a page; it was a short enough amount of time for them to stay focused and get a sense for how long that amount of time lasted. If they didn’t complete their page in the given time, I’d simply reassure them: “That’s okay. Now, you know how long 5 minutes is. Let’s try again, and this time I want you to try to get this much done.” Over the years using this method, we’ve worked up to about 20 minutes.
  • Use creativity as a reward. Honestly, I should use this one more. But it is rather effective when I have used it. I’ve seen moms use video game time or minecraft as a similar motivator. Essentially, if my child finishes in a decent amount of time, that child has earned the reward of a larger art project. “If you finish all of your assignments by lunch, you’ll have time to paint or sculpt with clay.” Those big art projects take a lot of time, and we just don’t always get to them, which makes them a real treat. The work itself is not necessarily motivating for a creative child, but finishing school in order to tackle a big art endeavor is very motivating, at least for my artsy crew.
  • Leave as many subjects open-ended as you can. This is my go-to. I love leaving assignments open-ended and seeing how they creatively approach the topic. The idea is to let your creative child decide how he wants to learn the material and complete the project. Does he want to write a story about a boy living in ancient Greece or a comic strip of the Trojan War? Would he rather sculpt a Grecian vase or clay models of the different types of columns? Would he prefer to make a display board or a diorama? If my kids are excited about the project, they are more motivated to tackle the harder aspects of learning (like reading and writing, for instance). We recently tackled display boards, and they were a huge hit! One of my all-time favorite homeschool moments last year was watching my daughter learn about Kandinsky’s art. I gave her a set of stickers and told her to copy the works as best she could, in whatever medium she wanted. She chose the stickers she liked best and had a blast with construction paper, tissue paper, crayon resist, watercolor, etc. And the results were brilliant! She did an amazing job, and I had very little to do with it.

motivating creative distracted child

I love having active, creative ADHD kiddos. And I really don’t want to be frustrated with such an amazing part of their personalities. This isn’t a distraction that goes away or that they will grow out of. This is a part of who they are, and it’s here to stay! I want to encourage the creativity while teaching them to manage and set boundaries for it. If you are at odds with your highly creative distracted child, start using that creativity to your advantage. It’s one of those rare distractions that can also be their greatest motivation.

A New Adventure: Taking on ADHD diet

When my homeschool year wrapped up, I embraced the summer break with the resolve to see if we could get to the bottom of some of our health issues through diet. It’s been a roller-coaster two years: two of my kids diagnosed with ADHD and some serious toddler issues, my husband had two back surgeries, a month-long bout of stomach bug (which ended in my toddler hospitalized for three days for dehydration), my husband’s second kidney stone, plus my own mysterious cramping and hormone concerns. Just for myself, I’d experimented with diet and realized I had very extreme issues with milk. Even trace amounts in baking goods would have me doubled-over in about 15 to 20 minutes. So with all that circling around in my head, I really wanted to give diet-change a serious look. We went gluten-free in June, and by July we tackled the ADHD elimination diet called Feingold.

I began keeping a detailed journal of everything everyone ate and daily notes on behaviors and moods.

What the ADHD diet eliminates

To start with, all dyes and preservatives and artificial anything are eliminated. This includes the hidden, non-listed preservatives. For instance, a package might be labeled “preservative free, no additives,” but the packaging has been sprayed with the preservative so the food is still contaminated even though it doesn’t have to be listed as an ingredient. Or, the product may list “corn, oil, salt” but the harmful preservative is in the oil that was used (but that doesn’t have to be listed either.) Bottom-line, Feingold does detailed research, sending out questionnaires to companies to find out which products truly are clean. I’ve learned the hard way, their list is pretty right on.

This also includes shampoos, toothpastes, hand soap, chapstick, laundry detergent, etc. I thought we were doing okay with dyes until I started looking more closely. You would’t believe where these things hide. Even fresh produce at restaurants is often injected with dyes to make them look brighter and fresher. Medicines, vitamins, and supplements are another surprising culprit. Again, no wonder my kids were having trouble.

Next the diet eliminates certain fresh fruits and vegetables that have been, from vast experience, shown to be problematic because of something called Salicylates, natural pesticides that plants produce to ward off bugs and disease. Even though it is natural, some people are extremely sensitive: tomatoes, grapes, apples, berries, cucumbers, almonds, coffee are some chief offenders. Some of these can be potentially be added back into a person’s diet once the key-offenders are found.

But the core of the diet is keeping a journal, making notes of everything, and watching for the patterns that surface. I’ve been blown away. And because I knew from personal experience how fast a reaction can happen, I could see my kids’ moods and behaviors shift just as quickly after eating certain foods.

How long does the ADHD diet take

A long time. It feels like an eternity. We’ve been doing this for 9 weeks, and we are not yet where I want to be though I’ve definitely seen progress and made connections. This is not for the faint of heart. I’ve read many articles that say you can’t treat ADHD with diet, and that specifically Feingold is only 1% effective or “outmoded.” And here’s why I think they say that: it’s stinking’ hard! This is all or nothing: no exceptions. This is not “give it a try for 2 weeks and see.” This is life-altering, leaving status-quo forever. There is no dabbling in this. It’s jump in with both feet. And no lie, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I spent 4 hours on my first shopping trip and did a lot of crying those first few weeks. It seemed impossible.

Also, it gets worse before it gets better. I couldn’t have done this without wonderful moms on the Facebook groups telling me to hang in there and helping me trouble-shoot. The detox of all the crap leaving their little systems is akin to a drug addict going through withdrawal. It’s ugly. But here’s how I knew to stick it out. While I’m thankful for medicine to help us through this transition time, I was always baffled why some days the meds seemed to work, some days it seemed to be too much, and some days it didn’t work at all. Now, it all makes sense, depending on what they ate and what their bodies were dealing with.

What I have learned from the ADHD diet

I’ve learned my kids have three categories of reactions: aggression and violence (corn, corn starch, corn syrup is awful for this); nasty, mouthy, catty remarks and general moodiness (dyes and hidden preservatives, also some salicylates for us, and high-sulfur foods for my daughter); and just plain impulsive off-the-wall silliness, as in what is typically thought of as ADHD (fruit and salicylates, our first hint before it gets really ugly). Note: Everyone is different; the triggers for my kids may not necessarily be the same as someone else’s, though there are often similarities.

I’ve learned that, since cutting my own salicylate consumption, my daily migraines are gone (I only had two headaches last month. That’s it!) The ringing in my ears disappeared when I switched from almond milk to rice milk (almonds are a salicylate). I’ve learned that I can have a few of these fruits and veggies in small amounts and not in the same day, limiting the number I eat in a week.

I’ve learned that bananas are gassed with a corn-based spray to make them ripen faster, causing severe tantrums in my toddler (biting, pinching, and scratching himself; screaming and kicking on the floor; throwing furniture; and other extreme stuff). And that he is back to his happy, easy-going self when I watch what he eats. Also, diet-cheats caused potty accidents almost without exception.

I’ve learned to bake everything. This is huge for me. I hated baking. But going gluten free, milk free, corn free, pretty much left me with no other alternative. And I’ve learned that I really enjoy baking, and my bread machine.

I’ve learned that all the “I could never” excuses, are really just that—excuses. And the Lord has taken all of my “I could never” statements and made me eat them, literally.

I’ve learned simplicity. As complex as these changes are, I’ve learned to keep meals simple and uncomplicated. And they are still delicious. I’ve learned to pack lunches and snacks for everything. I’ve learned you find new favorites. I’ve learned diet changes don’t have to be isolating.

I’ve learned a lot. It’s been a hard journey, but an unforgettable one. And yes, it’s been totally worth it.

Curious about Feingold? Here’s a great ebook pdf that will give you an overview of what’s involved. And if you have questions, I’d love to be there for you and answer all that I can. I know this is a tough road with lots of judgement and misunderstanding, no matter what route you choose. No judgement here; we’re all just doing the best we can for the kiddos we love.

Everyday Challenges of ADHD

challenges of ADHD | parenting ADHD | homeschooling ADHD | ADHD support

Over the last few months since our family’s ADHD diagnoses, I’ve been counting my blessings and learning, always learning. I’ve read three books and countless magazine articles and blog posts. I’ve scoured forums and help groups. Yet the hardest part of this life-altering reality is not the disorder itself but the criticism of others.

It’s hard to read and hear from others that ADHD is a made-up disease, or that bad parents put their kids on drugs instead of parenting behaviors. It comes up on nearly every parent page or homeschool forum I visit. It’s implied in numerous conversations from well-meaning friends. Those comments and stigmas hurt, even though I know none of it is true. I’ve seen the challenges my dear ones face everyday, and I’ve seen how medicine has helped them to cope with and overcome these challenges.

A person with ADHD can’t just try harder; and a parent can’t just discipline it out of them. It’s not just a child who’s got the wiggles.

Don’t get me wrong. High-energy is part of the package, but only part of it. Anxiety, anger, and depression are also part of that package. Sensory processing issues are another huge part of the package. Distraction when you want to focus and, on the other hand, an inability to break your focus (hyper-focus) are other issues.

So what does that look like? My child’s tearful claim that he just can’t think when he’s spent an hour staring at 10 minutes of math that I know he is capable of—it’s legitimate. As are the claims that the truck driving by on the street outside is just too much noise, or that the pen scratches wrong on the paper, or that his fingers are sweaty and keep sliding on his pencil and distracting him. And his complaints night after night of not being able to sleep because his brain just keeps going. They aren’t excuses; it isn’t defiance. It’s all legitimate. His race car brain with bicycle breaks CAN’T just try harder. And when he goes into a violent rage at his own inabilities and failures, he can’t just calm down. It’s not my parenting, and it’s not my child. It’s the ADHD.

And when my child has chewed on the collar of her shirt until it is soaked and stretched out, plus eaten the end of a pencil, plus chewed her rubber band bracelet in two, and gotten out of her chair 7 times in the last 5 minutes, and is now actually sitting on the table (all in the same morning). She’s not doing it to push the boundaries or to intentionally irritate me. She’s not making excuses when she says she has forgotten what I have literally told her 1000s of times not to do. She honestly has no idea she’s even done it until I call her attention to it. And when she goes into an absolute melt down because it’s too hard to pick her sweater off the floor, or has disproportionate anxieties about going places, talking to people, or performing certain tasks, it’s not always laziness or defiance. It’s not poor parenting or a “bad kid.” It’s legitimate. And it’s the hallmark challenges of someone with ADHD trying to process their environment.

Now, put all of that together and then add on a toddler who rips through my house like a 3 foot tall tornado (stuffing felt Sir Topham Hat’s into my laptop disk drive and removing his diaper contents); there are days when I think I’ll lose my mind.

But you don’t tell a child who’s having trouble seeing to just squint harder at the chalkboard. You get him glasses. And you don’t tell a diabetic that he doesn’t really need insulin. Try all I want, my thyroid is not suddenly going to start working. I’m going to need some medicine most likely for the rest of my life. We live in a fallen world. We are a broken creation.

Am I worried about their medicine? No. It has been an absolute gift from God. Because I see my children functioning happily. I see their personalities and servant-hearts shine through that fog. I see my daughter, who would have countless melt-downs over putting her shoes away, excitedly giving me a tour of her room she just cleaned by herself or secretly surprising her brother by doing his chore, or delighted to show me how she organized the dishes in the cabinet. I see her joining in conversations and talking to people when normally she would have panicked and withdrawn. I see my son succeeding where he thought he was just stupid. I see him healing his relationship with his little brother and others.

Does that mean all of the challenges disappear? Oh, no. But they are brought down to size. We still have days like what I described above, but it’s not everyday. And I no longer ask myself “What is this child’s problem?” I know what it is, and we face it together.

My children are smart, happy, mostly well-behaved, and energetic—“wide open” as they would say in North Carolina. They are normal kids, who can really struggle processing the stimulation around them at times and managing the rip-roaring speed of their brains.

So if you tell me that this ADHD thing is all in their heads, I’ll totally agree with you. But we will be saying two different things.

**UPDATE: We have since addressed these issues with an ADHD Diet, with huge success. But I still feel the same sentiments expressed in this post, and acknowledge the need and benefit of medicine for some individuals. I’m thankful for meds and the opportunity they gave me to regain some sanity and remember who my kids really were.**