There is something so lovely about reading a parenting book that is co-written by parent and child. While the unquestionable affection and mutual respect Sally and Nathan Clarkson have for one another is palpable in their new book, Different, it also feels like an authentic depiction of their experience.
While every parent wonders if they are getting it right, having a child that doesn’t quite fit “the mold,” I daresay, magnifies those doubts.
In this book about an outside-the-box kid and the mother who loved him, there is no candy coating. The road was undeniably bumpy. But for all the difficult moments, this mother and son communicate a distinct, underlying hope that every parent needs in extra doses. The assurance that we are not alone, even on our own unique journeys, is both valuable and comforting.
What I appreciated most about this book was the honesty, yes, but also the admission of the obvious self-sacrifice that was dished out in heaps by a mother determined to love and help her son, whose struggles to adjust to life were diverse and severe. She admits this wasn’t easy and that she was not a perfect person who handled it all with grace. However, the journey to let go of her own expectations was a beautiful thing to behold, that also left me feeling challenged enough in my own parenting heart, yet not defeated.
“…in the end, giving up my expectations—opening my hands to release the hold I had on what I thought life should be—gave me the peace I needed, even amidst the conflict and the arguments. Grace became the oxygen of life to me, and breathed in the everyday joy of being fully at home in my life, surrounded by those I loved.”
There are no excuses found here for children with the extra challenge of labels like OCD, ADHD or ODD, though I’m sure it was tempting for the Clarksons to explain away certain behaviors. Sally says, “Our son might have been different, but he still needed both limits and instruction. In fact, he might have needed these more than other children. So Clay and I worked hard to find a balance between open-hearted acceptance of Nathan’s differences and holding firm on important issues, training him in character and values one day at a time.” And this wasn’t lost on Nathan:
“I was blessed to be born into a family that didn’t try to squish me into a box, but instead pushed me to be the shape that God designed me to be, no matter how different it looked or felt.”
The challenges they faced were numerous and constant, but these beautiful people faced them together. They loved each other fiercely and were stronger for it.
In spite of the hard truths that parents and children with these specific struggles face, the authors of this book keep bringing the reader back to hope. Of her children, Sally states, “If I had not been given them to love, I might never have learned that it’s possible to be content even when life feels out of control.”
“I can honestly say that loving Nathan was one of the best gifts I have ever received from God.”
I sniffled through the last few chapters. Though Nathan’s differences laid out a troublesome path for him, he also experienced plenty of success and tremendous growth as a direct result of his mother’s love and commitment. These things are inspiring, to say the least. I hope every mom who reads this book will feel equipped, determined, and hopeful about her own journey. And, most importantly, I hope she will realize that she is not alone.