When Difficult Kids Turn Out Alright

Readers know by now that Erin and I have a big challenge — helping our second child manage ADHD. He’s often difficult. Fair enough. I was a difficult child, too.

Mood music:

Duncan is actually tame compared to the 8-year-old me. He’s never filled up my gas tank with a garden hose. He’s never lit his plastic toys on fire, nearly burning down the house in the process. He’s never stolen money from his Dad’s wallet. He doesn’t bring home revolting report cards. That stuff was all me.

But it’s easy for me to forget those things when I’m the parent. When Duncan leaves a path of destruction around the house, causes scandal in the schoolyard by telling classmates Santa isn’t real or earns a note home from a teacher concerned that he’s not playing well with others, all the worries start about where he’s headed in life.

But I have hope.

Erin found a blog post from Rick Ackerly — a nationally recognized educator and speaker with 45 years of experience working in and for schools, dealing with kids of every harrowing stripe. It’s about how difficult children often grow up to be enormously successful adults.

He writes about an encounter he had on a flight with a CEO and three other high achievers. They talked about how they were bratty, rebellious children, and how the resulting experiences proved more valuable than a college education. He then says:

I put these stories together like this, not to try to convince parents and other educators that being bad is good, nor that one should hope for a difficult child, but to remind us of three critical education principles:

1) Difficulty, conflict, struggle, mistakes, disappointment and failure are where most learning comes from—usually the most important learning.

2) Difficulty is the life we are preparing our children for. We naturally hope that our children will be happy and successful, but that is a mirage–and we know it. The life they will get is a life of challenge, and the best preparation for challenge is challenges. When it’s harder for us, it might be better for them.

3) Raising difficult children might interfere with the rainbow life we were hoping for, but it might be better for the world. Remember Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, the willful child who started a charter school in one of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods when she was 23 and now at the age of 30 is running the thriving, vibrant Academy for Global Citizenship serving 250 students, 81% of whom are low income.

Someday I want to be on a flight from Chicago to Decatur with the Spanish teacher, the CEO, and your formerly difficult child.

Having a difficult child may be difficult, but it is not the worst thing that could happen to you.

If you haven’t seen his blog yet, you need to do yourself a favor and bookmark it. Every parent should read his work.

One would think I don’t need such reminders. Despite my rough patches, I turned out fine. I have a beautiful family, a successful career in journalism and I’m in the best health I’ve been in for years — despite all my self-destructive behavior.

But as I said, when you’re the parent, you forget and need lots of reminders.

Thanks for that, Mr. Ackerly.

5 thoughts on “When Difficult Kids Turn Out Alright

  1. Bill…I think you are the best.
    Diane…ie mom 2
    and so proud of it. Ps wish you guys could come over for pesach tomorrow matzoh ball soup and noodle kugel at 5;30…but understand you are involved in wonderful happenings. Invite is always open. xo

  2. Thank you and I totally agree.
    When a teacher tells me how much my son has changed and how great he is compared to years earlier, I respond- We always knew that, we were just waiting for the rest of the world to see the good in him! 🙂

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