Pretty much all research about education reform points to how important self-directed learning is (especially for kids living in poverty, in case you’re wondering.) It made sense to me theoretically, but in practice it meant my kids are playing video games, fighting with each other, and shopping at GAP

I had to convince myself to embrace self-directed learning. I did that, in a large part, by writing about it on this blog, and you guys would keep telling me your own experiences with self-directed learning. I’d hear you talk about having to put aside your own learning preferences and instead learn to cope with the choices your kids make. Your stories have inspired me to cope as well.

So here I am in the ridiculous position of having a kid who wants to jump through every high school curriculum hoop in order to go to college.

I do not want this. I want anything but college. I have been trying to play the college game. I am actually pretty good at the game. I wrote a five-year plan for preparing for applications, and here we are in year two and we are executing the plan. But it’s hell.

One reason it’s hell is that my son has OCD and it interferes with his time management. I also have OCD, and it ruled my life. Every time I stopped one obsession I’d start another.  I wrote in my diary for six or seven hours a day, I threw up ten to fifteen times a day, in school pictures my eyebrows were almost gone. I couldn’t stop until I found medication that worked. (If you’re curious: Vyvanse, NAC, and Inositol.)

You know how people in AA say they feel like a higher power helped them stop drinking? I literally thank god every morning when I take a pill because I’m so overwhelmed with gratitude over not suffering from OCD, and I need some place to put that gratitude. So you can imagine how important I think it is to treat my son’s OCD.

We have been using medication since he was young. (Started with Sertraline.) Medication is hard to get right, and it doesn’t work for him as well as it does for me. We talk a lot in our family about what is okay to do (stuff that no one sees – pulling hairs that shorts will cover) and what is not okay to do (stuff that kills you – picking your nose can lead to a brain infection).

I get so frustrated with him because I’m trying so hard to figure out what to do about the OCD and he is not able to stop himself. I yell. Even though I know what it’s like to not be able to stop, I still yell. Then I hate myself. I hate myself because as a kid I got yelled at all the time for doing Aspergery/OCD stuff that I had no ability to control. How could I do that to my son?

I want to work with him on the OCD stuff, but it’s so hard because he has a really heavy course load and he’s studying all the time. He doesn’t want to stop studying to deal with the OCD. So I really lost my shit and screamed and yelled and shook his head in the way that a crazy parent kills her baby. “You have to care more about looking normal!” I yelled. “You will get fired! You won’t make friends! People don’t want to be friends with people who look crazy! OCD is crazy!”

He has been to a lot of therapy, so he did exactly what he is supposed to do. He said, “Mom, you’re making me sad and I’m overwhelmed so I’m leaving for a while. I’ll be back in an hour.”

Fuck. Heartbreak. I hate myself. But I have been to enough therapy to know not to tell my kid I hate myself. So I said, “Wait. No. I won’t yell. Please don’t leave. Tell me how you feel. I’m sorry. I care how you feel.”

So we sat on the sofa together and cried. Then I said to him, “I think the problem is that there is not enough time. You have so much school work. You are taking on so much. And I know you’re so smart, but there are other things, too. Look at all the things we are trying to do.” And I made him a chart to see how much he has going on, and how he doesn’t have time or energy to work on OCD stuff and all his school work.

I thought this would make things very obvious to him. I thought we’d agree that he should cut down his course load and just go to a state school, which he would get into fine with just his test scores.  But no.

He ripped my list into pieces. Then he reordered the list items. He said one half was things he cares about and one half is things I care about. The top of his list is school work. He wants to go to the college that gives him the most opportunities.

“But you won’t have opportunities if you can’t get the OCD under control,” I told him.

“Mom, the OCD and the social skills and the family time, those are all your priorities. And I appreciate your help, but my top priority is going to the best college I can.”


He continued. “We can treat OCD with medicine. You do that. I can too.”

I was shocked. We are still at the same spot we were when I couldn’t stand watching him play video games all day. It’s so hard to watch him make his own choices. But once I learned the delusions parents have about video games, I learned that he is great at making his own decisions, and he knows himself best, and I’m the best mom when I’m supporting him.

So I’m going to tell you that the picture up top is my son on his way to the AP biology test. He got a 5. I need to be excited about it and excited about helping him meet his goals. So I’m telling you: He’s doing a good job.