Every one needs help. Every one. Except me.
I’m a perfectionist stay-at-home mom with a master’s degree in social work so I am exempt from needing help. I’m actually trained to be the helper, fixer, advice giver, counselor, and do-it-yourselfer.
So what does a gal like me do when things are going to hell in a handbasket?
She sobs in the bathroom while loudly wailing “I just can’t do this any more!” until her husband says, “Let me help you. Let’s get you some help.”
God gave me all of the challenges I could need to become a better version of myself in motherhood.
My first-born son came into this world in a blaze of glory that left me hemorrhaging and half dead. I was determined I would breastfeed him, but I couldn’t and I quickly learned that flexibility was going to be the key to surviving this gig. In fact, my first-born son happened to be the source of the bathroom meltdown.
This kid is amazing, y’all. He’s SO smart, wildly creative, wise, moral, handsome, and hysterical. People are constantly telling me some funny thing he said or some honorable thing he’s done. I am so blessed to be linked to him in any way, let alone be his mother.
But (you knew there was a but right) when he was in preschool, I got called to my first parent/teacher conference to be told he was having some “trouble focusing.” At the time, I was appalled. I literally could not even fathom someone saying that my four-year-old lacked focus considering HE. WAS. FOUR. Well fast forward to when his brothers got a little older and I saw how they played and developed, and I realized that perhaps big brother did lack a little focus. The trend never stopped. Almost every teacher he has had thus far has mentioned to me that he’s a bit of a space cadet. He’s not a behavior problem. He makes great grades, but when the rest of the class is learning about space, he’s mentally in the rocket ship and left our world far behind.
To add to the difficulty, he also developed a pretty intense anxiety around timed math. My child who could solve any math problem you put in front of him could not solve two plus two if the clock was ticking and began bringing home failing grades on timed math quizzes.
I did what every mother would do.
I searched the internet for tips on attention issues and anxiety. I bought books on executive functioning deficits and how to help kids with them. I made check lists for the morning, for school, for bedtime. I bought planners and flash cards. For two years, I worked with him tirelessly to have him ready for a timed math test or developing strategies to remember not to forget to wear shoes to school.
We were surviving. Barely.
His grades were high, but his spirits were getting low. He started having headaches and vomiting before math tests, and my frustration levels were rising daily.
And then a global pandemic happened and not only was I his counselor, I was now his teacher. I gutted through distance learning. It was so miserable. He lacked the structure and environment that kept him on task, and I lacked patience because I was so worried about what this new season of life would be like.
It was so bad that I developed face shingles, folks. Thirty-four year old women in good health do not develop shingles unless their stress levels are wayyyyyy too high.
When school started back in person this fall, the nightmare started back up again immediately. Homework was taking us 2 hours when it should have been 20 minutes. I was yelling and he was crying. I found myself saying things like:
- “You just like all the attention you get and will never stop all of this stupid anxiety stuff because it gets you out of having to do the hard work.”
- “You’re too smart to bring home a grade like this! You will make A’s because that’s what you’re capable of!”
- “I will give you 5 minutes to take a break and pull yourself together! This is ridiculous!”
(Side note: I don’t type these things because I am proud of them. I am aware of how hurtful and damaging they are, but in effort to be real with you, I’m not going to sugarcoat the mental space I was in.)
One day my husband came home from work and asked if I could talk to him in our room for a moment. He looked me dead in the eye and said “You kind of hate our son right now, don’t you?” He then gave me the talk that every one gave me. He may struggle with this or that, but he’s literally the best kid on the planet. You’re forgetting all of his many strengths, etc.
And this is where the bathroom breakdown started.
Two years worth of work and frustration flew out of me! I cried about how hateful I was being and feeling. I cried about the potential pain I had caused him. But more than any thing I cried because I was the only one that had to work with the hard stuff. I was working sun up to sun down (and then pulling the midnight shift with the baby) on the parts of him that were not beautiful and sunshine and roses and NO ONE ELSE had to deal with those parts.
No one else had to teach him to remember stuff, to breathe through math anxiety, to focus on his homework, to talk to the teachers about his deficits at school. NO ONE ELSE had to shoulder this part of raising him. I literally sobbed like madwoman and emotionally off loaded the world off of my shoulders.
But something incredible happened when I finally agreed to take it off of my own back for a moment.
My husband looked at me with love (and maybe some shock and horror) and said, “Goodness. I’ve never thought about how hard this is for you. Let me help you. We need to get you some help.”
So we got him in with a counselor. We talked to his teacher who has been so perfectly patient with him and has made some special accommodations for the anxiety while we work on it. Dad has taken over homework duties. They decided to do it at night when the younger boys go to bed, and it has been like magic. He is not distracted or afraid of missing out. He gets it done in 30 minutes or less each night and he and his dad giggle while they call out math facts or practice spelling. Sometimes they forget to check the newsletter and miss something here or there, but no one has yet died in the process.
Above all, I get to just be his cheerleader.
It’s not all up to me any more. He has a whole team helping him along and my only role on this team is to be the one saying “Wow! Look at you! You’re doing amazing!”
Because when I did some legit soul searching, I realized it wasn’t always about him any way. It was about me. I wanted to be the mom with the child who made all A’s and was the top AR reader. I’m a perfectionist by nature, and I am ashamed that I had allowed the desire to appear perfect bleed into the lives of my children. I wanted to be the supermom with four perfect boys who could do it all and make it look easy.
I’m not perfect. They are not perfect. And for the first time in a long time, I can honestly say – I don’t give a damn. Perfection is a lie and not worth the face shingles involved in pursuing it.
I couldn’t be more proud of my boy or the team of folks supporting him. Last week he got 37 of the 40 timed math facts done in the allotted time. He came home beaming from ear to ear to tell me about it. I almost wept with relief and joy for him.
Last week he also got the artist of the month award as well as the virtue of the month award for the virtue of enthusiasm.
He really is as wonderful as they said he is, and now that I have finally asked for help, I can see it as clearly as they could before.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, mama. You don’t have to do this alone.