Anyone who has children knows being a parent is tough, and being a parent to a teenager is even tougher! If parenting was a video game I imagine raising teenagers as the last and final level before you complete the entire game. But the hardest level! The one where you have to try over and over to figure out the secret to defeating the biggest, toughest boss of all.
I was spoiled with my oldest daughter, she was so independent and so mature for her age. She never gave me any troubles during her teenage years, and we basically sailed though those years without a hitch. She was definitely the exception to the rule. Next came Jabari, and I was quickly snapped back into reality.
His early years
Looking back I realize Jabari may have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to my parenting. He was born when I was in my final year of Veterinary School. I started my clinical rotations when he was just 4 weeks old. The poor guy was away from me more than he was with me. He was such a good baby though, which I am pretty sure was probably the only reason I managed to make it through that year and actually graduate.
Next came toddler-hood. I had my next child (Zaila) only 2 years later. Jabari did not appreciate this new baby very much. She couldn't walk, talk, or play. All she seemed to do was take all my time and attention. He basically despised her for the longest time. It is probably not a shock that he became a very challenging toddler!
As an older child Jabari sort of settled into his own. He was late talking but once he started he just exploded with words. From a very young age he was very intelligent. He loved science and math. He would quiz me about the ways of the world...I often got drilled with questions about cloud formation, or surface tension, or other various science facts as soon as I was up for the day before I had even had coffee! As he learned more and more he then stopped asking and just started listing off facts to any poor unsuspecting person who would listen. "Did you know...." was a constant from his mouth. He could memorize almost any fact and easily do math problems that were well beyond me without the use of a calculator. No doubt he was smart!
When we ran into issues
Things started to get challenging when he started Juniour High (grade 6). He started to struggle more in school, despite all his teachers telling me he was very smart. I found this very frustrating. The feedback was always the same, "he is very smart and capable, but he just won't do his work."
Last year was when things got really bad. He had so many assignments that were late and missing that he was at risk of failing some of his subjects. Everyday I would have to remind him to do his homework. I would make him sit at the table and work on it every single evening, but we still seemed to get no where. He could literally sit for hours and accomplish nothing. It seemed that he could not focus, organize, or prioritize his time at all. The more I pushed him the more frustrated we both got. I was beginning to just think he was being difficult just for the sake of being difficult. He also wouldn't keep up with any of his responsibilities at home. His room was always a disaster, and even when you asked him to do a simple task he would seemingly forget 2 minutes later. He slept ALL the time. There were some days I could not get him to stay awake for almost the entire day. Day after day I was either bugging him to wake up or to do his homework. A year of fighting like this took its toll on our relationship. We both hated interacting like this and began to resent our time together.
The breaking point
By the end of the year I was ready to completely throw in the towel. He was barely skimming by in school and I felt lost with what to do about it. Every single teacher I talked to basically just told me he was completely capable, but choosing not to do his work. One day my oldest (who is wise beyond her years) daughter said to me "Mum maybe he has ADHD? You know it doesn't always present with hyperactivity. Sometimes it is a lack of focus on somethings and a hyper focus on others." It finally hit me like a brick wall. Maybe he is not just being a jerk, maybe he literally cannot focus for a reason that I just don't understand. And if so, than maybe I just need to learn how to help him! Maybe he is not the problem, maybe it is my approach.
So I began to investigate this possibility. I made a doctor's appointment and she seemed to be fairly certain that he had ADHD. However it turned out not to be so simple. He was sent for an EKG which showed a possible abnormality with his heart. He is now on a waiting list for an echocardiogram to make sure his heart is ok. We got referred to a psychiatrist for an ADHD assessment. At this point we have her stumped. She said he has some traits of ADHD, but not others. He definitely lacks focus on things that he is not interested in, but seems to be able to do just fine if something interests him. We also did a sleep study to rule out sleep apnea and chronic exhaustion as a cause for his lack of focus and fatigue. So far we have unearthed more questions in all honesty than answers, however things have definitely been changing as of late.
The light at the end of the tunnel
I think the change in this story all started with a bike! Jabari's bike had been stolen the year before from our yard. So this past summer for his birthday I got him a new bike. I am pretty sure this was the pivotal moment to a change in Jabari's behaviour. He loves biking and he started going out every single day. He started running into friends when he was out, and this lead to him hanging out more with his friends (which he barely ever used to do). His mood changed and so did his energy. He started to seem happier. This summer was also the time I was taking him to all these doctor and specialist appointments. At first he was hesitant about it all but soon he seemed to be at ease with it. I think he finally realized that I was trying to help him. I was not working against him, but instead fighting for him in the best way I knew how.
I still do not know if there is a medical reason for Jabari's learning challenges. What I do know is that even without a diagnosis and without any treatment we have made huge advances in his progress. He is less withdrawn, he is less exhausted, he is more engaged with his peers, he is keeping his room fairly clean for the first time in his life, and he seems to be completing his homework with less nagging from me.
Could it have been this simple all along?
Looking back I cannot help but wonder if the root to all the issues I was having with him was as simple as not having an outlet for stress? He was not getting enough sleep, he was not exercising, and he did not have a social outlet. I feel like an idiot to not have recognized these simple basic things that I know are so important! These very same things that have been a focus in my own healing and self care journey but somehow I couldn't recognize their importance with my own son's life.
There is still a chance we may find a heart problem, a sleep problem, and even an attention deficit problem with Jabari, but I am finally optimistic about the future. I feel like we are back to fighting on the same side together, instead of against each other. And nothing makes my heart happier. Thank goodness for the wisdom of my daughter, because without it I probably would still be muddling along, fighting, stressed out, but still not getting anywhere!
If you have ever gone through something similar I would love to hear your experience and what worked for you and your child. What made the biggest difference?