Freshman Year Challenges

I low key like a challenge. I like crushing goals and projects. I like pushing myself to do more and different. I don’t think I’m flashy about liking a challenge; I want to focus on the task and not all the stuff around it.

Hope focuses on everything around the task, except sometimes, the task itself. While I look at things at a systems level to figure out how to get from beginning to end, my daughter focuses on every possible step from beginning to end, but not necessarily the beginning or the end.

Challenges sometimes overwhelm Hope. She gets consumed by the individual steps down the line while she’s stuck on step one. She has trouble conceptualizing the system of big pictures that connect A and B. She is skeptical of the process in a challenge. For Hope, a lot of this leads to stagnation and imposter syndrome.

Observing Hope in this first semester of college has been remarkable. When she was at the military school last year, there were so many limits there that, in retrospect, I’m wondering how much I learned about Hope overall during that time. Don’t get me wrong, I saw my daughter grow a lot, but as an individual being, I’m just realizing I’m not sure I learned a lot about her.

These last few months have been totally different. I see my daughter positively thriving socially for the first time since becoming her mom. She has friends on her hall and in her classes. Hope tried out for and made the step team; she got involved in the Black Student Association. The social anxiety that plagued her for years seems to have faded away. When I went to visit for parent’s weekend, she confidently strode down her dorm hall while her core homies congregated to say to hello and be introduced to me. She has only been home once this semester because, even though she is homesick, she isn’t homesick enough to assuage her “FOMO” (fear of missing out) around hanging with the homies over the weekend.

During a lengthy, serious discussion a month or two ago, I asked Hope if she was happy.

She finally said yes.

Sure, she’s not totally happy about every single little thing, but she is overall happy with her social and extracurricular life.

I am thrilled. She’s actually seemed in a much better emotional space than I’ve seen her during much of her time with me.

Hope’s academic performance have been a bit of a different story. I’ve always worried about Hope’s academic performance. It took me a long while to really appreciate the struggles of folks with ADHD. I tried to get her to lean into what she was good at—music. I got tutors and regularly met with counselors and teachers. I expressed grave concerns about some classroom practices and whether the approaches were really teaching kids about how to improve or increase capacity for executive function. Hope is a really smart young woman, but challenges with executive function make it hard for her best to shine through.

Midterms revealed a lot.

College is different. Less grades, more autonomy and more responsibility, greater need for self-direction.

Getting her midterm grades was a bit of a reckoning for Hope. Whatever fears she had about going to college and what the next few years would look like, step by deliberate step, quickly rose to the surface. Despite my certainty that the grades would eventually come, Hope’s realization that she was really struggling was always top of mind. Panic began to set in, and I began fielding texts and calls saying she made a huge mistake in coming to college, she should be home working or going to community college.

My heart breaks a bit when I hear her self-doubt. I also feel guilty: you can’t keep telling your kid how important school/academics are and expect them to believe your more laid back attitude when they really begin to struggle.  I have no track record of not stepping into Hope when she brought home struggle grades.

I’ve listened to Hope work through her feelings. I’ve told her that I believe long term it will all work out and that the grades will come; this is a part of the transition. I’ve told her that she probably wouldn’t have the same wrap around support at the local community college. I’ve reminded her that we originally agreed to one full academic year. I’ve told her that I believe she’s working hard and things just haven’t clicked yet.

It feels like she’s having none of it. She’s practically dragging herself, her intelligence, her worthiness, her ability.

It breaks my heart. We go through a pep talk, I help her develop a to do list of folks to talk to and where to get support. I follow up a few days later. I make it ok to pontificate about what life back home might look like and what my expectations of her might be. I try to channel to the conversation about steps that can help her feel like she’s moving forward, using campus resources and chasing her version of success.

It is very difficult confronting reality sometimes. Hope’s reality is requiring her to step up; my reality is supporting her from the sidelines. As a parent, I am trying to support and encourage, but it feels a bit helpless seeing her be sad about her performance and question her abilities. Hope’s self-esteem about school has always been low, so I’m really sensitive about how hard this must be for her. I believe that largely, these are some of the first big adulting challenges, that she will experience, and adulting, well, it kinda sucks sometimes.

My biggest concerns are about whether she can stick it out past the rough transition, whether she can muster enough belief in herself to right her ship and figure out strategies that work for her and whether her resilience is strong enough to help her not internalize her grades.

Ironically, this is the first time I haven not fretted about Hope’s grades. I knew the transition would be challenging, so I was prepared for not the best grades. My hope was that she passed everything and could continue on into the spring semester where she would feel a bit more experienced and have a few more coping skills.

As we come to the end of this semester, things are really up in the air for next semester. I am not sure how I feel about that; it’s disconcerting. I am eager to hear more of her thoughts and ideas as we spend time over the Thanksgiving holiday. I’m hopeful that we can put together a good pro/con list. I’m hopeful that her grades will allow her to have a full range of options from which to decide. But for now, I don’t know what will happen.

We are going through the motions of preparing for her return to school in the spring. We are completing the dreaded FAFSA. We are looking at her course schedule for next year. We’re planning, so I guess we aren’t completely rudderless.

It sure does feel like it though.

Whatever the decision, I know it will be fine because I know Hope is researching, thinking and being deliberate. She’s communicating about her feelings and about the concrete stuff. We’ve always managed to be fine. We’ll be fine with this too.

About AdoptiveBlackMom

I'm a single Black professional woman living in the DC area. I adopted a tween daughter five years ago, and this blog chronicles our journey. Feel free to contact me at adoptiveblackmom@gmail.com, on Facebook at Adoptive Black Mom, and on Twitter @adoptiveblkmom. ©www.AdoptiveBlackMom.com, 2013-2019. All rights reserved. (Don't copy my ish without credit!) View all posts by AdoptiveBlackMom

2 responses to “Freshman Year Challenges

  • Ellen Hawley

    You remind me of how hard it is to understand–to even begin to understand–how someone else’s mind works. I used to be an editor and occasionally still edit papers for friends, and some of them never really learned to put ideas into any sort of order. I have to see the intelligence behind the apparently random facts, take guesses at why they are where they are, and suggest a structure that’ll hold them together, or at least a process that will let them find one. That’s taught me to respect what you’re doing here: seeing her strengths, the places she gets stuck, the possibilities, the problems, but always her strengths. I think of the two of you often. Wishing you the best.

    • AdoptiveBlackMom

      Thank you so much! Sometimes it’s hard to take that step back and try to string together pieces of someone else’s thoughts and beliefs. I’ve gotten better at practicing some patience with Hope and trying to focus on her strengths while acknowledges challenges. She is doing well overall and I’m confident that she will make good decisions for her; I want her to feel good, strong and confident in her decisions–even in this tricky time of life when the opportunity to do dumb stuff seems elevated. 🙂 I’m learning a lot. lol. Thank you.

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