Redefining Your Teenager’s Victories

“Mommmmm. I didn’t get my Article of the Week done for English,” my 15 year old daughter says as she struggles to get up, her eyes still heavy with sleep.

“It’s alright,” I tell her. “I’m not concerned about that right now and you shouldn’t be either. Let’s just try to get things rolling this morning.”

I know parents who hold a tough line on homework assignments and grades. We thought we’d be those parents, too.

But we’re not.

Our adopted daughter spends hours every night working. Not at a job. Not (always) on homework. She’s working on managing her stress and battling her OCD and ADHD.  It’s exhausting. Some evenings go better than others, but the struggle is real every evening.

So we’ve learned to rethink our priorities. Our daughter is bright, inquisitive, and intelligent, scoring high on standardized testing, thriving in advanced classes from her early grades. But as a child of adoption, her adolescence has brought overwhelming challenges and unearthed emotions that demand a front row seat. ADHD likely inherited from her birth parents, anxiety that grew with her in the womb and exploded with the surge of her teenage hormones, unprecedented social pressures, and the daily wondering about her origins–thoughts about her birth mother, biological siblings, questions that may never be answered.

The human brain has two main growth spurts: during infancy and during adolescence. These growing pains are real. As her parents, we believe our priority for her right now is to help those synapses in her brain connect and process, to establish pathways that will serve her in adulthood. We want to help her learn how to manage the stress in her life and how to play with the cards she’s been given.

That’s why the homework can wait. Losing a few points for turning it in late is a price we’re willing to pay for her to get the rest her body and mind need.

That’s why studying for the Spanish quiz takes a back seat to snuggling with Dad on the couch, letting his strong arms hug away the cortisol levels raging through her system.

That’s why we read that last chapter of Of Mice and Men to her, so that she could lay still, close her eyes, breathe deep and focus on Steinbeck’s words and not the number of remaining pages.

“You may not know it, but I kicked some OCD butt this morning,” she shares on our drive into school.

“I know you did, babe. Don’t worry about your homework. You can make that up this weekend. Today, your victory is getting to school.”

Some days the victory is just showing up.