So honesty time…I can be a totally overbearing parent. Both of my boys are adopted and have unique learning needs. Both are diagnosed with ADHD even though it manifests in different ways for both of them. Our oldest struggles with attentiveness and keeping focus, which makes retaining information very difficult from him. Our youngest is hyperactive and when you couple that with his oppositional defiance disorder, it makes educating him somewhat challenging to say the least. However, despite their challenging, rocky, and somewhat traumatic past working themselves through the foster are system, they have amazing personalities. Their default emotion is JOY, Laughter, and pure happiness. They have their moments as do their Dads, but they have a zest for life that should be admired.
As parents of kids with a past and multiple needs, we are always worried about the stigma that comes with those plus being raised by two dads. We are hyperconscious of their backgrounds and advocate for them, especially in school, pretty heavily. They both have IEPS which gives us a pathway to open communication with the school. We are truly doing everything we should and can do as parents.
But we still doubt ourselves so much. We overthink and resort to either doing too much which leads to frustration which leads to adding a toxic energy to interactions. That is really my cycle as the primary caregiver. I over worry, over parent, and bubble up with frustration. I want my boys to do good! I want them to be a success story from the foster care system but that type of pressure isn’t fair to them.
Homeschool and distance learning really brought that to a head. My oldest hovers between 1-2 grade levels behind academically and with the upcoming, and terrifying, middle school transition happening next year, I was convinced I could close the gap. I could use the 1 on 1 teaching environment to really challenge him.
My youngest is doing well in school, and has more behavioral changed. Especially this year, he got himself into a lot of trouble to the point where we were looking forward to quarantine to kind of stop the madness and slow life down a but. He was a train to trouble.
I pushed. I planned. I pushed some more. And I literally has a meltdown a break through about two weeks ago. I realized that my child’s education at home is NOT about academics. It’s bigger than that. It’s about teaching them independence. It’s about teaching them problem solving skills and resiliency. It’s about teaching them self-love and self-awareness. I don’t want them moving on after high school remembering every grade or project. I want them to leave our house knowing their were loved.
Being a lawn mower parent will do them no good. Moving down a path from them and trying to control every variable is going to do them NO good. Teaching them to own their path and cherish the highs and learn from the lows is our job.
yes. We have to guide them. But I want to teach them through modeling what a life of meaning and purpose looks like. Yes, they need us. But they are humans with their own personalities and innate abilities. They are unique and we can’t force them to reflect our visions for them. They just need to be trusted! They need us to be encouraged. They need us there to celebrate their success and comfort them in their failures.
This is what quarantine and homeschooling has taught me. I simple outline their day for them. Tell them the expectations and let them go. I am there to help them is they need it, but I am trusting they will get it done to the best of their abilities. It takes so much pressure off them and I immediately saw them take more ownership of their learning day.
I know many parents already know this, but I struggled in this area! It’s not my job to put my wants and desires for their interest on them. Those are a reflection of my needs and not theirs. It is really about just simple getting out of their way.
There will still be tough days ahead, but I am learning which is the best thing I can do right now. Just keep learning and growing as a person and parent.
All of us leave a mark? Somewhere in life, and I just want to make my mark meaningful. Let me tell you a story based off the amazing children’s book The Dot written by Peter Reynolds. I was a first grade and kindergarten teacher so bear with me here.
The story is about a girl named Vashti who hated art class because she didn’t believe she was a good artist. Her teacher, noticing her frustration, encouraged her to simply make her mark on the paper. Vashti simply put a dot on the page and turned it in. Her teacher said to her “Great. Now sign it. When she shows up to class the following week, she sees her dot picture hanging from the wall in a beautiful frame for everyone to see. This recognition and this validation in the mark she made motivated her to create more, try harder, and fill the world with beautiful pictures of dots. Her school had an art show showcasing her dot art and there she met a boy, nervous about his own artistic abilities. She encouraged him to make his mark. He fills the page with a simple squiggly line. She looks at it and tells him to sign it.
We live in world surrounded by technology that calls everyone to create posts, videos, songs, skits all with the purpose of being recognized. But it feels as though the Internet and social media has just turned into giant silos where we only see and interact with a select groups of people, picked for us by algorithms, data collection, and behavior analysis. We are dropped in these silos so billionaires can make more money. And while there is some amazingly creative content out there, it seems as though social media is simply reflecting the concerning times we find ourselves in. It seems that people create to connect with the likeminded. It also seems that people post to blast and fight with people who see things differently than themselves. Often, it is used as a tool to tear each other down rather than build each other up. It varies from person to person. Everyone has their own connection to social media and their own reasons for interacting with it the way they do. I just want to return to how I first felt about social media. When I would logon to see which old friends I connected with. I connected to people who I hadn’t seen in years. I got to see how their lives develop. It was also a beautiful way to connect with new friends and document the development of our friendships. There was no rush to see how many friends I could get. There was no pressure to post something controversial and then login every 10 minutes to see if my point was validated. There was no rush to make the next viral video. To me, it was just about connection. And now I feel like some algorithm is dictating what connections I see.
I’m not trying to be self-righteous. Trust me, I have been there. I have sought validation. I have used social media to hurt people. I have used it to judge other people’s beliefs.
However there comes a time when you realize it is all so silly. That everyone is just human doing the best they can. And they are just trying to make their own mark on the world. A mark that has nothing to do with me. They are holding their own pencil staring at their white page. Tearing up or judging their page does nothing to make mine any better.
I love to create content. I finished graduate school a few years ago with a focus on educational technology. I studied how students can use emerging technology tools to create, connect and share their learning with the world. I just haven’t been sure what type of content to create. Do I try to Podcast? Do I TikTok, whatever that is? Do I spend my days trying to craft witty observations to daily news on Twitter? Do I cover myself in BB Cream and tanning oil, finding the best sexy pose on Instagram while trying to find the perfect filter? Do I whip out a jock strap and try to push the boundaries of social media with exactly how much of my ass I can show? Trust me when I say that no one would want to see those final two.
If I did that, I might actually gather a following. I might not, but is that the mark I want to make in the online world. Fortunately for everyone, I don’t think those are options for me. I am a gay man, an early childhood educator, a foster parent, an adoptive parent, a husband, and a survivor. I believe in the power of sharing our stories. I believe in owning our vulnerability, shame, and fear because that type of honesty form the types of connections I seek in my life. Those are the stories I want to create and share. I might gather a following, most likely I won’t. But at least I will be creating in a way that reflects my happiness and optimism.
I have my blank page in front of me. I have my pencil ready. And just like Vashti I am ready to make my mark.
Follow my journey on this Instagram or YouTube channel. My Instagram is @Teaching_Jake and my Twitter is simple @TeachingJake.