It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon here, and I had quite a few things I wanted to get done today. I just realized that I won’t be crossing even one thing off my “to do” list, though, and I couldn’t be happier. Instead, as I write this, I’m sitting on the couch, stroking my son’s head as it rests in my lap. He has a cold and is feeling miserable, so we’ve decided to spend the day snuggling, drinking tea, and watching movies.
Afternoons like this used to be much more common when the boys were younger. I was an “attachment parenting” mom, and physical closeness was a big priority during their early years. Even as they have grown older we are still a physically affectionate family, but it’s just not the same. And now that this son, my youngest, will be heading off to boarding school this Fall, I am fully, painfully aware that the daily hugs and regular, casual check-ins that have become part of the fabric of my days will be much rarer. So, any ideas of productivity are easily set aside today as I soak in this precious time together.
I used to think that raising little ones was hard, but I’m finding that parenting older ones is even harder, at least for me. When they were young there were certainly lots of challenges – sleep deprivation and the need to be constantly alert to choking hazards and other potential dangers was tough. I always knew what to do and felt like I could protect them, though; I was in control of circumstances. Now, however, I am not, and the struggle to find the balance between maintaining a close connection and making room for their increasing need for independence is an even more difficult challenge.
And it doesn’t help that I’m prone to worry.
After more than a decade of practice, the pathways in my brain that give me the ability to imagine every possible worst-case scenario for any situation have become deeply-entrenched. Not to brag, but I have developed a type of x-ray vision that enables me to see all the possible dangers that lurk around any corner my boys might turn. You name the situation, and I can deliver a list of possible problems and harms that can come from it, everything from simple embarrassment to heart-stopping physical calamities.
My worry game is strong.
I am convinced that letting go of our children is one of the hardest challenges life presents us. It is a kind of paradox, actually. How do we stay attached, loving and caring for them every moment of every day, and yet unattached so as to provide the space they need to find and follow their own path in the world?
I think it comes down to trust. Trust that we have helped instill in them the confidence and skills they need to meet the challenges coming their way; trust that their choices are the right ones for them, even if they are not what we might choose; trust that they will still come to us when they need us, knowing we will always provide a soft place to land. And also trust in ourselves, that we can find the sweet spot between attachment and independence.
I have my work cut out for me. Cultivating trust in place of worry will not be easy, but as I look forward to these final months with both of my boys still at home, I can clearly see that this will be an important part of the process. Not doing so would stall the healthy transformations we need to embrace and make the transition even more difficult for all of us. So, I will rise to the challenge, focusing on developing a greater sense of trust that my boys will find their way in the world, while also trusting that, on days like today when they need me, they will find their way back.
He tried to hide it, ducking his head quickly as I walked into the room, but I had already seen his face. He was crying, again, and didn’t want me to see. So I pretended for a moment that I hadn’t, moving through the room and tidying things here and there as I debated whether or not to say something. What could I say that hadn’t already been said many times before? What can a mother do when her child is struggling, and she doesn’t know how to make it better?
This boy, my youngest son, is very much like me. Of my two boys, he resembles me the most in terms of looks, and especially in terms of personality — strong-willed, independent, and often driven by an internal engine that doesn’t seem to have an “off” switch. The latter trait can be particularly frustrating for both of us, especially when we face obstacles outside of our immediate control that prevent us from moving forward — we’re not good at sitting still or waiting. So we have both become very good at work arounds, at figuring out how to get things done in spite of challenges or setbacks, to the point that sometimes other people (even the people closest to us) don’t have any idea how much we’re struggling because we seem to be doing fine. This trait also makes it hard for us to ask for help, because we don’t want to slow down long enough to explain the situation and ask for it, and because we feel like we should be able to figure it out on our own.
Except sometimes we can’t, and by the time we realize that, we’re already overwhelmed and exhausted.
This is the point my son had reached when I walked in on him that day as he was working on a written report. I knew reading and writing were challenging for him, and since they never have been for me, it was hard to know exactly what to do, but I did my best to help him figure out a variety of work arounds, like listening to audio books instead of reading physical books, and typing instead of writing by hand. But sometimes audio versions aren’t available for the book you want to read (which was the case for this project), and sometimes you just need or want to be able to write things by hand. Both of these are very hard for my son, and he has explained to me multiple times that “the words move around on the page” whenever he tried to read, and that he has to focus so hard on spelling words correctly when he was writing, that he lost his train of thought on the bigger ideas he wanted to communicate. I could certainly see evidence of these difficulties in his school work — the simple words and sentences in his papers didn’t come close to matching the depth and complexity of the ideas and questions he could express verbally. This is a kid who barely broke a sweat developing and delivering an hour-long presentation on Hannibal and the Punic Wars when he was in fifth grade, but who cried in frustration as he attempted to hand-write a simple timeline for his presentation board. In short, the gulf between his written abilities and his verbal abilities was wide, and getting wider.
So, as I tidied his room that day, realizing that we were both feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by these issues, I decided it was time to find some help. None of the solutions we had tried seemed to be helping all that much, and it was time to find out why. At first he resisted the idea of visiting a learning specialist and having some testing done, but over the course of a few days and a few more frustrating sessions with his report, he finally relented. In retrospect, I’m really glad that I gave him this time to think it over and to let the decision be his — forcing him to go through an evaluation process would likely have been counterproductive, damaging his self-esteem and undermining his growing sense of independence. Finding the right kind of professional support was an important part of the process, too. Unfortunately, all experts are not created equal, and I had to invest a lot of time in finding someone who could affirm my son’s creative and intellectual strengths, and who could gain his trust by treating him with respect and without condescension.
During my search for professional help, I was excited to find an online tool that gave me a chance to “walk a mile” in my son’s shoes, or, as their web site says, to “experience firsthand how frustrating it is when your hand won’t write what your brain is telling it to.” I asked my son to watch as I tried a few of the exercises, typing, fixing, re-typing, fixing again… the timer ran out every time before I could finish. I couldn’t believe it. How could anyone ever get anything done this way? When my son confirmed that the simulation was almost exactly what it’s like for him, my heart overflowed with compassion and admiration. And then we cried together, but this time out of relief instead of frustration.
So, as we begin this next part of the learning journey together and I reflect on our experiences thus far, I’m grateful that I allowed the extra time for my son to come to his own decision, and for me to find the best learning specialist for our needs. Now that we have a better understanding of how his brain is wired, and why particular activities are harder for him, his whole demeanor has changed. He’s feeling empowered and optimistic, even though we’re still too early in the process to have seen much in the way of results yet. Sometimes just knowing that there’s a path forward, and having someone who is willing to walk it with you, makes traveling even the most challenging of terrain much more bearable.
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Homeschooling and College Admissions – a survey for homeschoolers AND for colleges! Genius!!
My husband and I made the decision to home school our two sons in the middle of their 1st and 4th grade years. It was the end of January, testing season was about to begin again, and we decided enough was enough – it was time for a change. So we jumped into the deep end, knowing instinctively this was the right choice for our family, but without any real plan of what we were going to do or how we were going to do it.