I am fortunate to have a few mom friends who have been an incredible support and blessing to me. Having a solid mom tribe, even one with its members dispersed about, is incredibly important for continual encouragement during our toughest trials as mothers, and essential for celebrating with us our and our children’s biggest achievements, no matter how small they might seem to an outsider. And when you have a special needs child, those pushes of encouragement and spurts of celebration can be everything, especially when we feel as though we have nothing to celebrate. Parenting is hard, and often comes without much reward, except for the hugs and smiles. And although it’s been said that motherhood is the best job a woman can have, some of us still reminisce of the days before we got the offer.
The other night, I spoke with a friend who despite her being a fantastic mom, has struggled with her role. We talked of how it is an endless, draining cycle of feeling like we are speaking to the wall. “Our kids just don’t listen,” we commiserated. We were drained, tired, defeated. We talked of the phone calls and the emails for which we simply had no response. We knew our children would be different beings than us, and that logically thinking they would respond the same way we responded to our parents was unrealistic. Still, we couldn’t help but voice our frustration with the cards we had dealt ourselves. For we had made the choice at the tender age of 24 to start families. We had high hopes for how we’d be as mothers and the wonderful, doting children we’d raise. We didn’t believe it when our loved ones warned us of the strenuous nature of parenthood. We just wanted them to support us, which they did. But our hesitance to heed their warnings cost us greatly. And now my friend and I find ourselves with children who have learning differences, which greatly influences their behavior.
The behaviors. And with behaviors come phone calls, typically from the school saying that yet again, your child had some trouble following directions, or is causing a disturbance in the classroom, or is refusing to listen to the teacher. These phone calls can be stressful; it confronts us about our ability to correctly parent our child, if there’s even such a thing. We feel guilty, as if in some way despite our best efforts, we are still failing. And it can be embarrassing, especially if the calls and emails come on a more regular basis. No one wants to be the parent of “that kid” and when we are the receivers of such news as our child refuses get on the school bus ride home, it becomes more and more evident that we have become the parent of “that kid.”
While I’m still sorting out the deets of how to appropriately respond to the not-so-great choices my children often make, I wanted to share some tips on how to respond if and when you get the “uh oh, your kid ran out the room… again” phone call.
- Listen to the entire story. I can always tell that I’m getting a call of concern by the caller’s tone. At one point, I knew that one of my kids had done something crazy just because the call came in. It used to be that my heart fell and I’d get stressed out right away. I still do not like getting these calls, but I make sure that I breathe deeply before answering the call and find a quiet place to talk so that I am not distracted. No distractions allows me to better understand the caller’s concerns and be able to have a direct conversation based on facts, not emotions.
- Leave the emotions at the “Answer” button. Often times, we as parents have a sense about what kind of the phone call it will be before we even answer it. And it can be easy to want to get angry or stressed or embarrassed right away. Don’t do this! I’m still learning this honestly, because I am a woman quick to frustration (I’m sorry to say) and if the phone call has something to do with an issue that I’ve had with my child before, I tend to feel frustrated. Now, it’s okay to feel the emotion. But don’t let it get have control of how you respond. Stay calm, and gather the information so you can figure out the best solution that will help your child learn how to appropriately regulate his or her impulses or emotional responses within their classroom.
- Ask the right questions. First, it is always good to have developed some kind of relationship with your child’s teacher and its administrators. That road for communication is open from the jump and there is a more relaxed vibe in the air when these conversations have to happen. You can trust that the teacher is not trying to give you or your child a hard time. When this relationship exists, you know exactly what kind of questions to ask as to gauge the entire situation as it happened, from start to finish. It also allows you to gather the right information so that when you are bringing this concern to your child, your facts are in order and you can then try to figure out a good and solid way to better respond to these situations before they happen.
- Create and maintain those relationships. This should really be first on the list. It is so important for us to develop positive relationships with our child’s teacher and the school in general. I realize that some of us are luckier than others in this department, but the attempt is what’s important. This is especially true if your child is on a documented accommodation plan, such as an IEP or a 504 plan. You want to be sure that your child is receiving the accommodation(s) necessary to help them respond appropriately to possible stimulating variables that could affect their behavior. This is a question that should always be asked when that phone call comes through. If unfortunately, you have not been able to gain a level of trust with your child’s educator and you’ve done everything in your power to do so, it is important to know who the chain of command is for your school and the district that it’s in so that you know who to report to if there are major concerns. Having these relationships is important because it allows you to create a solid team of people you trust to better support your child when you cannot be with him or her.
Just remember that it’s normal if you feel frustrated or angry with these phone calls. No one wants to be told that their child is struggling with making good choices, or may be struggling even with their academics. We hold such high hopes, and yes sometimes those include high expectations, for our child so it is disappointing when they make mistakes, especially the same ones over and over again. Just know, despite whatever you may be feeling, it is not your fault and you are doing the best you can. We all have our challenges and even though some days it might seem like you just can’t do it, just hold on. You make more of a difference than you will probably ever know! You are loved!