Raising one “normal” child from cradle to independence is heroic, and the fact that it’s already been done billions of times doesn’t make it less so. The sheer number of meals cooked, supplies acquired, instructions given, miles driven, dollars spent and comforts foregone over 21-or-so years is staggering, and that’s not even the hard part.
Raising children to do better than us is the impossible task of every generation of parents. How do we teach them to waste less time than we did? Make fewer mistakes? Read more books? Use less energy? Plant more gardens? How on earth can the parents who elected the current Congress raise children that will someday elect less awful leaders?
The cost of accepting impossibly lofty goals for children is the guilt of inevitably failed expectations. This is a cost that disproportionately falls on women who a) usually provide the larger share of nurture and b) have bigger guilt glands than men.
Raising children with ADHD, bipolar, learning disorders, PTSD, autism spectrum disorders, anxiety, depression and, most commonly, combinations of these is another order of magnitude more difficult. Mothers must imagine not only what all children will need to thrive in the unknown future, but how to modify that for their child’s special needs.
Academic and behavioral support for such children is complex and tiring, and, in the end, there is still less to “show off” or brag about for all the effort. Children with ADHD and other special needs have worse academic records, more need for “special services”, less sports participation, fewer honors and more disciplinary issues than other students.
Their moms, as a result, are less likely to work outside the home. They take fewer vacations, suffer more anxiety and depression and are less likely to report satisfaction with the parenting they provide and with their family’s life together.
Accepting a challenge and rising to an occasion are respected in our culture. So do these especially hard-working moms experience community and family respect for accepting the extra challenge? If you ask such a mom this question, the nearly universal answer is incredulity, a pained expression, and maybe a tear.
Moms of the kids who are more demanding to raise are not feeling challenged, and they are not feeling respected. They are feeling extraordinarily guilty.
This, to me, is one of the clearest examples of precisely how fair and just the world is not. The chairman of Goldman-Sachs will earn a tenth of the salary of an ADHD child’s mom when justice finally prevails.
Tomorrow: Sources of the Guilt