By VANESSA BUSH
There is no fear quite like the fear of being judged. Especially when you’re a mom. You worry about how others see you as a mother—whether you measure up. To your parents’ standards. Your kids’. Even, sometimes, your own.
These fears became compounded for me when my son began to have behavior issues in school. The notes from the teacher came in slowly at first, pointing out normal, everyday kid transgressions—your son keeps tumbling out of his seat; he shouts answers, even when he wasn’t called on; he stares out the window when he should be doing his work.
And then the teacher’s accusations came in a flurry—each one pointing out incidents of misbehavior that seemed to get worse with each note: My son couldn’t focus, and was becoming a distraction in the classroom. He was refusing to complete projects, and, in some cases, throwing outright tantrums if the teacher pushed him to do it. Transitions were particularly difficult: sometimes he would just plop down on the playground after recess was over, refusing to go back into the classroom. There were times, even, when I had to trek all the way from my workplace in New York City back home to Jersey in the middle of the day to pick him up from school.
Finally, the teacher went where I prayed she wouldn’t: Your son, she said, should be tested.
Many of the behaviors the teacher described just didn’t happen at home, so it begged the question: Was my boy’s natural boisterousness being stereotyped as “wilding out” just because he’s Black? Were the teachers and administrators at the school encouraging me to have him tested because they didn’t want to deal with a child who has a different learning style? Or were my son’s actions a true cry for help?
I had to see for myself. So I visited my son’s class, carefully observing from the sidelines while he went through his day. And I was pained by what I witnessed: my dear boy, fidgeting and shifting in his seat, ignoring the teacher’s directions, staring into space. His desk was a disorderly mishmash of broken pencils and crayons, balled-up papers and buried library books. His writing journal was a jumble, full of incoherent sentences and unfinished thoughts. He was impulsive, blurting out answers, or waving his arm wildly to get the teacher’s attention. Not even my presence that day could make him stop the behavior—he just couldn’t help it. That’s when I knew for sure that we were dealing with something more than simply “boys being boys.”
I was struggling, trying hard to figure out what to do. I could hear all the judgmental voices in my head:
“All that boy needs is an attitude adjustment.”
“Ain’t nothing wrong with him that a belt can’t cure.”
“They want all of our kids on medication so they don’t have to do the work.”
So many opinions and condemnations batted around in my brain—I knew I really needed someone to talk to. But then fear would rear its ugly head. Would people label me a bad mother—a mother who couldn’t control her child? What mother wants to be thought of as clueless? I was certainly at a loss.
But it was when I finally admitted that I didn’t have all the answers—that I needed help—that a new kind of healing began—a healing for all of us. I started the slow and steady route. My son and I joined a support group for children with behavior issues, while I investigated some pediatric neurologists to have him tested. After several evaluations, we learned that my son has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a chemical condition that causes him to lose focus and become easily distracted. In his case, behavior management is not enough; he requires medication to help keep his brain focused on tasks such as schoolwork and studying.
It was hard to accept the diagnosis at first. I worried about the effects of the medication—would my beautiful boy become a zombie, sleepwalking through life? Would the medication wipe away the personality quirks that make him such an incredible person to be around? And yes, what would the other mothers think? Would they empathize with my son’s plight to my face, but secretly scoff at my decision and accuse me of “selling out” to the pharmacy pushers? Was I taking the lazy way out by putting my son on medication?
But here’s the thing about fear: once you face it down, its power diminishes. I soon realized that I had to stop being fearful and start getting empowered. To this day, I read up on the disorder. I ask questions of the doctors. And yes, I set standards for my son so that he knows that his condition doesn’t give him carte blanche to act out, let up, or give up. In short, I’m being a mom, the best way I know how.
My son needs me to be his advocate, to speak up for him against any misconceptions a myopic society might try to impose. He needs a mom who’s a pitbull with lipstick, not a Beverly Hills Chihuahua. So here I am, standing at the ready to rail against anyone who threatens to pigeonhole or put my child on standby because of his disorder. It’s challenging having a child with ADHD, no doubt. But I think—no, I KNOW—I’m just the right mom for the job.
About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
Vanessa Bush, a mother of two, freelance writer and aspiring chef, gave up corporate life to focus on her family. She writes about this and other escapades on her blog, Food Lovers Like Me.