I come from a large family that likes to talk loud and yell even louder. As a child, I never noticed that we were any different from the other families in my neighborhood. Back then, I think everyone raised their voices: at the TV, at the umpire on the baseball field, and at their kids.
Fast-forward to today. As a mother with two kids with learning and thinking differences, I feel like I’m replaying my childhood, and not in a good way. I’m losing my cool more often, and it’s taking a toll.
My 12-year-old son has ADHD and , like several members of our extended family. Just last week he had a huge soccer game in the city. I had to leave work early and rush home to pick him up. Then, I battled 45 minutes of bumper-to-bumper traffic to get to the game.
As we finally pulled up to the field, I asked him to put on his soccer cleats. But they weren’t in his bag. They weren’t on his feet. They weren’t in the car. They were back at home.
I lost it. I pulled over to the side of the road, ripped open his backpack, and started screaming.
Why did you forget your cleats? How could you lose THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF YOUR UNIFORM? What were you thinking? You need to take more responsibility if you want to continue with this sport!
I went on for at least 10 minutes. Exasperated and stressed out, I’m sure I was a scary sight. Red-faced, eyes bulging and arms flailing. A frightening mom. A monster, I dare say.
My son burst into tears. Then, he started hitting himself, yelling that he was “stupid, stupid, stupid” and will “never be good at anything.”
And that stopped me right in my tracks. I felt an overwhelming wave of guilt and shame. What have I done? What have I become? All the hard work our family has been doing to build my son’s self-esteem, confidence and trust in us was blown out the car window with all my hot air.
I started crying too. I know remaining calm is better, but sometimes I just can’t help it.
I climbed in the back seat with my son and tried to console him. But he wanted nothing from me. He’s older now. Trying to hug him and assure him all is well and that mom made a mistake is much harder than when he was little.
Parents aren’t perfect. Parents of kids with learning and thinking differences can be even more fragile and imperfect at times.
We’re trying to balance home and work life with the full-time job of supporting kids who struggle with reading, writing, math, organization and even anxiety. Sometimes we lose our cool in the most minor of situations. At times like this, we often wish we could rewind time and get a do-over.
My son and I got through that horrible day. The solution was simple in hindsight—he borrowed a pair of soccer cleats from another player. And to try to prevent this from happening again, I vowed to create a checklist of everything we need for soccer.
After the game, my son and I reviewed the wreckage over a milkshake at our favorite ice cream parlor. I spoke from the heart to my boy. I apologized to him for my poor behavior and losing my temper, and said I’d try to be better. I know yelling is not the answer.
But I also explained that I couldn’t promise that it wouldn’t happen again. I was raised in a passionate, fiery family and that’s part of my DNA. He nodded, knowing that he also struggles with anger and strong emotions. You could say yelling, like ADHD, runs in our family.
As we finished our milkshakes, I promised him, however, I will always be there for him and love him. Even when I lose my cool.
Read about alternatives to yelling or raising your voice with your child. Learn how one mom got her child to listen without yelling. And watch as parents of kids with learning and thinking differences talk through tough topics like guilt, frustration and confusion about their kids’ future.
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ToughTopics blog posts are personal stories that parents and other individuals have asked to write anonymously.