I come from a long line of procrastinators.  It is kind of genetic.  There is always a tension about what constitutes over-sharing and yet it is apparently important to speak up about mental health issues, despite the discrimination this induces.  I’ve always had problems concentrating and getting started.  Organisation is not my forté.  I’m not sure whether anyone noticed.  Girls are good at hiding that stuff.  Plus I was kind of smart and I had compensation strategies that got me by.  I got through my first degree somehow (burning the midnight oil and eating a lot of chocolate).  I got a job in the government and worked my way through some of the ranks (burning the midnight oil and eating a lot of chocolate).

I was the Taskforce queen.  I could pull it out of a hat when deadlines were tight (it takes a lot of adrenaline to get my mind out of first gear).  Routine jobs?  Tedious and stressful (probably because they involved organisational skills that I did not possess).  I live in nuance, and that is often an uncomfortable place to be for a policy adviser.  (I do have some sympathy for our former prime minister who was constantly being criticised because he couldn’t give a simple answer.)  It is hard to sum up complex policy considerations in three talking points.  Still I managed, because you know, hard work.  It is the solution to everything, right?  At least that is what I thought.

Trigger warning.  This post contains material that may distress some readers.

As you can imagine, this type of stressful lifestyle can lead to feelings of hopelessness and anxiety.  All of which is perfectly manageable when you are only responsible for yourself, but when kids enter the equation, compensation strategies may not be enough and life can turn to shit test even the most resilient.  Plus, you know, quirky parents often occasion quirky children.  Young boys aren’t so good at hiding the concentration and procrastination problems.  But they are pretty good at hiding melancholia, mostly with anger.

Nobody heard, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
Not Waving but Drowning (Stevie Smith)

My love and I tried to get help.  I kept saying to my child’s teacher that there was something wrong with my child because he would explode when he got home from school.  But apparently there was no issue at school because my child was perfectly behaved there.  So by default, my fault.  My parenting.  Of course, the good behaviour didn’t last.  I said to another teacher that my child had a learning disability but my concerns were not taken seriously.  And yet, said child had never picked up a pencil voluntarily in his life.  As you know, every child develops at a different rate.  And thank you, I do know that not every child is a genius.  We did come across some wonderful teachers, but ultimately they can’t perform miracles.  So commenced the endless rounds of assessments and therapies with reluctant child(ren).   To add to the misery, there was no shortage of arguments about homework and assignments not submitted.  My belief in hard work as the panacea to all ills took a pummeling, but I was not ready to let it go.

When the child refuses to engage, no one says “Just give up.”  No, they say that the job market is very competitive and your child’s future depends on getting a good education (which means doing the work).  Or they say “Just love your child.”  This is difficult to do when you are living in the house of horrors.  Suffice to say, my family has seen many doctors and counselors, some wonderful and others not so much.  When my son absconded from the counselor’s office, the counselor’s solution was parent counselling.  God knows we needed yet more positive-parenting counselling.  The standard advice was to praise children when you see them do something good, provide them with opportunities to learn consequences, and reward good behaviour.  I am sure this works for some, but it didn’t work for us.  Those strategies only work when your child cares about something.  If they don’t, you soon go down this deep, dark hole where terms like abandonment, attachment and conduct disorder are thrown around.  There is suspicion.  By default, the parents are to blame.  There is parental guilt.  Maybe the experts were right.  Although nominally part-time, I worked long hours (to compensate for my slow processing), and I shouted at my kids who wouldn’t get ready for school.  Organisation was not their forté.

I suppose the signs were there.  When a five-year-old tells you tearfully that he wished he never was, it is heart-breaking.  When your child hasn’t had a shower for two weeks and smells terrible, and despite the removal of everything they hold dear in their life (which by that stage is virtually nothing), still refuses to comply, should you just dismiss that as childish behaviour that can be rectified with a good kick up the arse or some other assertion of parental will?  If an adult behaved in the same way, would that behaviour be dismissed as childish behaviour that requires a firm hand or some unwanted treat as an incentive to achieve compliance?  Well, no.  I recently read an article about two mothers who were trying to raise awareness of depression in young children.  They struggled for years for answers.  My heart went out to them.  I hope the article helps other parents in the same position.  If only ….

In some respects, initial diagnoses are unhelpful because you start to put your faith in them and think things can only get better.  But lives are complicated and messy.  Brains are complicated and messy.  You can’t put people in a box, although that is, of course, what the DSM is all about.  Messy brains often result in a cluster of co-morbid conditions and sometimes it takes a long time to sort out “the problem”.  I’m all for meds, but there is no magic pill.  It is hard to say whether the concentration and learning disabilities cause depression or whether they just correlate.  I suspect it is a bit of both.

I know I’ve been a really shit mum.  No need for sympathy or protests, dear Reader.  In the heat of the moment, I wondered why I ever wanted children.  I didn’t have enough information and I couldn’t cope.  But I had some help, imperfect as it was (the manual needed significant modification).  So instead we learnt by trial and error.  A friend said something one day that made a big impression on me.  She said that her main goal was to get her children through school alive.  It wasn’t advice to me, just a reflection on her own challenges, but it stuck.  I decided to let it go – my faith in hard work and the value of a good education, my unrealistic dreams of success for my kids, my fears about their future.  I just gave up.  But I got something in return.  A relationship with my children.



As co-morbidities go, one child was diagnosed at age 16 years with a severe written expression disorder putting him in the bottom 3% of the population.  Another was diagnosed at age 18 years with a significant visual tracking difficulty.  Mother and children are now doing well.







Kind Regards

Response to the Ragtag Daily PromptLumber.
Click on the link for the full version of Stevie Smith’s poem, Not Waving but Drowning.


43 thoughts on “Chip Off The Old Block

  1. This post is difficult to read for so many reasons. It saddens me, makes me angry. So glad to hear the family has answers. Your honesty and resilience is uplifting. Like I’ve said before, I’d love to go bush walking with your boys! They seem to know so much about nature. How wonderful is that!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I get angry for many reasons too. Taking a few deep breaths here. There are so many ways to learn. They do know a lot about many things, including nature. They are very trustworthy young chaps and I am sure they would be delighted to share with you some of the interesting parts of Canberra’s bushland.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Tracy this post took courage to write. It is hard to bare one’s soul as you just did. I am sure it resonates with readers on many different levels. You may have allowed someone to take a deep breath and feel they aren’t alone in this world. What constitutes success is not the same for everyone, and as an educator, I’m the first to say, the middle stream public education does not fit every child. I know from first hand experience with my son. It sounds like you took the right path for you and your children.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Heather. I hope some people can relate, and those that can’t because they have never encountered such difficulties, think twice before judging people. Thankfully we got through, like many people before us. 🙂 It felt sort of shameful writing about it though, which is why I had to do it. Both sons are continuing their education. They don’t do so well when there is too much focus on book learning, but it is hard to escape that side of things, so they just go slowly. It is not a race, even though some like to make it a competition for the best and brightest.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Glad to hear your sons are continuing with their education at a pace that works for them. In the end, the most important things in life are that we are caring, compassionate people and that we are happy with our life choices.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Bravo! My son ignored reading initially. He was too busy memorizing pokemon cards. In third grade the school finally agreed with his parents that he was behind reading. He then hated phonics and it didn’t work. That summer I said he could use computer/gameboy/video games after he read to himself for 30 minutes with a kitchen timer, daily. Luckily for us, that motivation worked. In fourth grade he did the WASL: the state learning assessment. He was up in the upper 90th % for everything except spelling: there he scored 3rd percentile. Tactile/auditory learner like his mother and like my mother: we spell by sound. He learned that even spell check can’t tell him that globule is not global and that he needed a human proofreader.
    Everyone has talents but not everyone fits our school systems as built! Hugs to you and your sons!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Katherine. I think pokemon cards are a brilliant incentive and learning aid. One of my sons has a huge vocabulary because of them. I also enjoy playing Pokemon Go with another son. This was part of the relationship development, and good to get us out doing healthy exercise together. 🙂 I do find it quite ironic how we were met with resistance about early intervention, but then by the 4th grade, the tide had changed and early intervention was all the rage. So just when we thought that we might get some help, we were told that the school had to prioritise the younger children! One son is a now a coach for a circus skills program. It is a very inclusive program and really suits the tactile/auditory learner. My son often gets to work with the special needs kids. It is a role that he excels at.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I liked this piece for your sincere honesty, Tracy. It is hard raising kids, period. But to struggle and have no help or no one to help. Not a good thing. Very glad to hear that mother and children are now doing well.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I wouldn’t have had a career if I was burdened with tact. You be you, and damn everyone else. I know it must indeed have been very, very hard, which is what makes this all the more admirable. Hang in there.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This was a hard-to-read post. And life for you all must have been hard-to-live. Yet you stuck with it – I guess you had no choice. And apparently you have all more than survived. You really have achieved something worthwhile.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Very perceptive and full of insights. ‘’A relationship with my children.” Many people will recognize the path you have walked and continue to walk. A great deal is said about valuing diversity and being inclusive, the rub is putting actions to words. As you say it starts with having a relationship and maintaining a relationship. Many schools assume that finding fault or placing blame will alter behaviours poorly understood. Blaming and shaming is undermining and insensitive. My life experience mirrors yours in many ways. My five year old son was ‘’off the wall and could not sit still and was crawling under tables. He was not under voice control. (Shame on me!) His report card said among other things, “Does not colour within the lines.” The report card did not say, “small muscle development delayed.” Today he can colour beautifully but I still think of colouring outside the lines as a virtue. Cheers.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Diversity and inclusiveness are favourite topics of mine, Sid. Oh the joys of hyper-active boys! I used to envy those parents whose children would walking calmly beside their parents, whereas the moment my back was turned, my child would have disappeared in the crowd. I resorted to reins. The tantrums were epic. 🙂 And I’m with you, I see this difference as our greatest strength.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. My goodness, and you’re still standing! I can feel some of this as, though our journeys and issues are different, we have had similar issues, particularly with our youngest who was diagnosed with an auditory processing disorder, anyway – what clicks is the lack of real help by those who end up just blaming the parent. So irritating. I am not often allowed to go to some interviews because I tend to raise the temp of the meeting very quickly. Thank you for sharing such a personal slice Tracy.


  8. Your honest and insightful post will resonate with so many people Tracy, and I’m sure give confirmation and comfort to some. I think you’ve done a wonderful thing writing it, and it couldn’t have been easy. The very little I know about your boys makes me think they have a lot to offer this world. Parenting is such a difficult role: I’m still wondering if I did it right and my kids are well past being parented!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. We mums always worry about these things, Jane. 🙂
      The one thing I never doubted about my children, Jane, is that they had a lot to offer this world. There was always a glimpse of something very wonderful there (I am completely biased), but it was just incredibly difficult to reach and sustain. Of course, other people thought they were wonderful too, but they didn’t have to live with them. 🙂


  9. I applaud your willingness to share your experiences, Tracy. This couldn’t have been easy for you. Being a parent is no walk in the park, even without the problems that you describe. Best wishes to you and your family for 2019 and beyond.


  10. I think it was the marvellous Bette Davis who coined the phrase ‘Getting old is not for sissies’ – I think the same could be said about being different/standing out: it certainly ain’t for sissies either.
    And what struck me the most in this post was pointing out the relationship you have instead with your children – I know many who can’t say that about their mothers and themselves , luckily I’m not one of them. That’s one of the best things one can aim for in my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What a great read. Thank you for your honesty. We are struggling under the weight of learning difficulties, a recent diagnosis of ADHD, medication, and a lack of interest in anything other than his iPad. To add, he’s a twin. Life is all shit but we all do the best we can. I have had many shit mum moments too. I just hope i can raise them well enough so they can afford their own therapy as adults ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Linda, thank you for your comment. I know exactly what you are going through. It is a very hard road. If I’ve learnt one thing through the whole ghastly process is that there are many pathways to learning. Despite my learning Japanese at uni for 3 years, my youngest son’s knowledge of the Japanese language is much better than mine because he has watched a lot of Japanese anime films. Maybe try hiking/camping and help them learn about nature? Our life saver was circus training.
      Circus programs for kids are wonderfully inclusive and non-competitive. It really is the most fun (non) therapy. Much better than the endless other therapies offered for kids with learning difficulties. I should write about it. Circus skill classes are big in Melbourne. I’m happy to chat if you ever need help or ideas. And just remember, when you pull 50 readers and several old notes from teachers out of your child’s bag, that you are not alone. I lost several electronic devices because the kids would keep finding the hiding spots and I could never remember where I put them. All the best. Tracy.

      Liked by 1 person

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