“You are exactly the mother that your child needs.”
Since I became a mother, this phrase has grated on my nerves because I have struggled to see myself as the “right” mother for my children. If I hadn’t ushered them into the world (I was there, I promise!) I would really wonder if they were mine.
They don’t look like me (God bless those strong Daddy-genes!).
They don’t act like me.
Most days, they don’t want to do the activities I want to do (see FB post from 2011 below, when my twins were 4).
Even deeper than activities, looks, and actions though is that, in my struggle to connect with my sons, particularly my twins, I constantly came up short.
I felt like we were two magnets, pressed together at opposite poles, something invisible keeping us apart.
When we got Benji’s Autism diagnosis, the felt disconnect made more sense, but it was replaced with a rush of “I-don’t-know-if-I-can-do-this?” insecurity. Many days, I feel a profound hopelessness, my bag of parenting empty as I keep trying to connect with a little boy whose brain works differently than mine.
Benji and I don’t have a lot of things in common. I’m not an “activity person.” Even physical connection is hard sometimes.
My connection with Benji is especially tenuous because I am a words person.
I thrive on language. But Benji struggles to communicate.
Talking exhausts and frustrates him…and many times, because it is so difficult for him to share daily events, tell me about his feelings, and sometimes even make sense, I get frustrated too.
My strengths don’t translate to his needs.
The other day, Benji had a meltdown at school. His primary teacher wasn’t around when it happened so I had to piece together what happened. Our conversation went a little like this.
“Benji, what happened at school?”
“I was really angry.”
“What made you upset?”
“I was upset because I was angry.”
“I understand. But what made you angry in the first place?”
“I was just really upset.”
“Can you tell me what happened?”
“Mom, did you know that the fire Pokemon can shoot fireballs?”
“I did not know that. But I don’t want to talk about Pokemon right now. Tell me what happened at school when you got angry.”
Pause. “I didn’t want to play the game.”
“Ok. What were you doing when…wait! Come back in here! We aren’t done talking!”
“Hey check out this Lego rocket I built! Pretty cool, huh?”
“Very cool. So, why didn’t you want to play the game?”
“Because I threw the cards.”
“Ok, so why did you throw the cards?”
“Because I was really so mad!”
And so we went on. For twenty minutes I probed, pushed, use different word combinations, asked different questions, pulled him back to the topic, and finally, finally realized that he got upset because he didn’t understand the directions.
“So, when you didn’t understand the directions, did you ask your teacher to explain them again?”
Pause. “No, I did not.”
Ah! A lightbulb! “Honey, I understand why you got upset. Sometimes I get angry too when–”
“Like Anger! Graaaaaaahhhhh!” he screamed. He loves Inside Out. “I went down the Anger Path!”
“It’s true. But when you feel confused, you don’t have to go down the Anger Path. Instead, you can ask your teacher to repeat the directions. You can ask for help.”
“Can I go play now?”
“Did you hear what I said? You can ask for help. I want you to try that the next time you feel frustrated…”
And he was gone. Like most of our conversations, I wasn’t sure if this one stuck.
But the next day, he came home from school and said:
“Hey Mom! I did what you said. I was confused and I started to go down the Anger Path. But instead, I asked her to say the directions again. And I went down the Joy Path!”
“Benji! I am so proud of you!”
“One Anger orb, three joy orbs.”
“So you were still a little frustrated.”
“Yeah, but I asked for help and I was happy!”
It was very Good. I was amazed, actually. It is not often that I see a tangible result of a conversation we have, especially so immediately.
I was relating this conversation to my mom on the phone a few days ago and she said, “See, Brittany? You are exactly the right mother for him!”
All of my old insecurity, doubt and failures rushed upon me when she said that jarring phrase.
But before I could protest, she went on. “Remember when you were a little girl? Oh, how you made me laugh when you said, “Mom, I like to think!”
And you still do. You are creative and you thought about the way you think and the way Benji thinks. You knew the words to help him communicate and find his words. And see? It worked. He did it.”
I thought my strengths didn’t translate to his needs, but I’ve realized that my strengths are not just in words or communicating. They are in rolling around in another person’s thoughts, in seeing the perspective of another mind and soul, and in really thinking through the heart of the matter.
It’s one reason why I was a stellar English Major. But all those “English skills” are now helping me parent my little boy.
A little bit of faith has crept into my insecure soul, faith that God knew what he was doing when he put me and Benji together.
Being the right mother for your children doesn’t mean that it will be easy. It just means that you–with all your talents, skills, personal history, and strengths–are the right person for the job.
I hope that my story can bring hope, healing, and happiness to you. TheBamBlog is trying to grow! Did this post encourage you or would it inspire someone you know?
If so, please share! Thank you! 🙂