I was on the phone with my editor when the email came through from my teenage son’s school. Glancing at it, I had an immediate reaction. Before I could think, I blurted out an honest, but very rude, remark.
Ironically, that’s what the email said my son had done.
Luckily, my editor knows me well enough to realize my outburst wasn’t directed at her and wasn’t personal. My son’s teachers should know that about him, too. But that hasn’t always been the case.
My son has significant issues with social skills. He doesn’t understand that his idea of “honest” can come across as rude to someone else. He also doesn’t do well with changing expectations.
Later on I read the email more closely. Apparently, that day the teacher announced a last-minute change in plans. Instead of working on their upcoming science projects individually, the kids in class were going to work in groups.
Upset by the sudden change, my son had an immediate reaction and blurted out, “That’s not fair, you said we’d do our own projects!” The teacher thought it was rude, even though she knew about his issue. But that’s not what got to me.
What did was this sentence: “We’d like you to come in to discuss your son’s behaviors and hear your ideas for how we might best help him.”
I’ve always been a strong advocate for my child. But for some reason, that statement just did me in.
It was the cumulative effect of hundreds of phone calls and emails I’ve gotten over the years from the school asking me to offer advice or strategies to help. The countless meetings in which I’ve worked with teachers to come up with appropriate classroom . The endless hours spent suggesting and even locating the right services.
Now, once again, my son’s school was saying that they were out of ideas. I felt like I was being asked to be his case manager, therapist, teacher, social skills coach and professional consultant. I came to a realization.
This wasn’t a job I asked for. I’m not even sure how I ended up with it. But I didn’t want it any more. I would still be his advocate. Beyond that, I just wanted to be his loving, concerned, and—yes—often overwhelmed mom.
I don’t get to have fun with my son when I’m constantly processing what happened at school and what he could have done differently. We don’t spend quality time watching dumb TV shows when I’m busy troubleshooting problems that come up. I don’t get to enjoy him as much as I could.
I’m not doing my real job of being mom very well when I’m taking time off to provide strategies for the professionals at his school. And it’s not like I have any new ideas anyway. I’ve given it my all. I’ve tried to be everything. It’s too much!
So when I went in to meet with them about this latest incident, I quit.
“If I had solutions, I would have given them to you by now,” I said. “He’s not hurting anyone; his grades are good. You’ll have to figure out strategies to help with the other stuff without me. I just want to be Mom.”
The room went silent. So, I clarified.
Yes, I still wanted to partner with the school. Of course, I wanted to continue to be an active member of the IEP team. I just needed to take care of myself and simply be what I (and he) needed me to be: his mother.
That’s a job I did ask for. It’s one I know I can succeed at. And it’s one I deserve to be able to devote my attention to.
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