I openly admit that I was a much better parent before I had kids. I thought being a parent was pretty simple and I’d have very little issue adjusting to my new role after my son was born. I mean, I had 7 younger siblings and with 6 years of teaching under my belt, I’d had the chance to interact with children in ways that many people hadn’t before they had a child. I had my parenting paradigms in place and I was ready.
Nothing prepared me for how different it is when you have your own child/ren. Questioning all your decisions. Wondering if your choices will have a positive or negative impact. After 8 years, there are more days than not when I feel like I’ve completely blown it and moments, like one that happened last week with my son, that made me feel like the instincts I rely on to guide me in the right direction are completely off course.
Last week my son woke up saying he didn’t want to go to school He’d been on and off sick the week before with a cough that started sounding chesty enough to make a last minute appointment at the doctor. So it was plausible that he was feeling off. Generally, when he says he’s not well, he’s right. But he wasn’t listless, he got dressed quickly and brushed his teeth the first time I asked, which made me think he wasn’t feeling as bad as he claimed. So I proposed that he go to school with a note in his agenda to the teacher to let her know he should go home if she felt he wasn’t well enough to participate.
He didn’t like that idea and become irate; yelling, slamming doors, then crawled crying under his bed. At each stage I stayed calm and stuck to my guns. I asked repeatedly if there was something else going on at school but he kept saying there was nothing.
Five minutes before we were supposed to leave he walked up to me with a note and handed it to me without saying a word:
“I hait you from upset mason to horibl mama”
I read it, gave him a hug and said “You are really angry with me right now” then walked into the bathroom and finished getting ready. He kicked my bedroom door. I went out and hugged him and restated what I observed that he was feeling. He walked into his room yelling that he wasn’t going to school.
In that moment I became completely unsure if my decision to stand my ground was the right one. I remembered an intervention show I’d seen with a boy whose family described him as sweet, happy and loving as a child but who then became angry and violent as a teenager before he turned to drugs. I’d been struck at the time by how heart breaking it would be as a parent to see your child turn into someone you never expected.
I adore my son and all that he is and in that moment I wondered if this was the day he needed me to trust his need to stay home. If this was the day that by not listening to what he said he’d no longer trust me to hear him when he needed it most. The day he lost faith in me.
With a pit in my stomach, I walked into his room where I found him kneeling on the floor by the side of his bed, head in his hands sobbing. I sat down beside him and put my hand on his back. He turned to me, his eyes full of tears and said “There might be something happening at school”. I asked him to tell me what he meant and then learned that for the last two weeks a boy in his class had been calling him a name at recess and lunch when there were no teachers around to hear it. And there it was, the real reason he didn’t want to go. He’d reached the point where his 8 year old self didn’t know how to handle it on his own and needed help to figure out what to do next. Once that was out and we devised a plan, we were ready to go to school and tackle the problem together.
What I found most unsettling in this situation was that I allowed fear to create doubt in myself and my decision. I think children need us to be strong and steady enough to handle all their emotions without compromising the boundaries we’ve set within our families and there was a moment when I considered letting my son to stay home after I told him he couldn’t. But if I had done that, he might not have told me the truth behind why he didn’t want to go and it could have snowballed into something worse over the days that followed. And that precedent might have caused him to wonder what other decisions he could change by putting up enough of a fight.
Doubt and fear are my greatest enemies as a mother. I recognize the impact they have on how I respond and I try very hard to not let them influence my decisions. Yet they both continue to weave themselves in and out of my parenting experience. I know this is because I feel like being a mother is the single greatest task I’ve ever been given and my choices have a direct impact on my children. I also know that I take myself way too seriously at times and if I’ve done the best I can, it’s all I can do. And that is enough because there’s nothing simple about being a parent.