I’m a Better Parent to My Struggling Son Because of My Own Issues

I watched my son jump into the air during the sparring session at his martial arts lesson, just as his partner lunged forward with a foam sword.

The combination of being airborne and bumped resulted in my 8-year-old son landing hard on his back. Fortunately, just his feelings were hurt. But as his embarrassment turned to anger and he let out a barely stifled yowl, I recognized a familiar site in his red face. Myself.

Once we were back in the car, I turned to him where he sat in the backseat and told him that I understood him. I’d lost my temper earlier that very day with a colleague at work and apologized.

I’m grateful for my own struggles, because they help my son with his.

Like my son, I have a fierce temper. I suffer from anxiety. I’m quirky.

He’s the spitting image of my husband, but on the inside, he’s very much a mama’s boy. My son’s similarities to me have only increased as he’s gotten older.

My son has struggled with behavior issues since he was in preschool. He’s brilliant, but has always been defiant. If he perceives unfair treatment by teachers or after-school care providers for any reason, he loses his mind. He’s sharp and naughty enough to skillfully argue with authority figures. Our family has had countless meetings with teachers and principals over the years, trying to resolve the behavior issues.

Recently, we’ve implemented a successful reward system in school, and are continuing to work on behavior in the after-school program. What’s also really helped the whole process is me being open and honest with my son about my own struggles.

I’ve always had a temper, but never acted out in school the way he has.

As a child, I was someone who “beat to my own drum” as my mom called it. Sometimes, the kids were behind my oddness. Like when I convinced the entire two classes of first graders that I had fairies to dole out too tiny to see that could be stored inside a desk. Frankly, I even convinced myself.

Sometimes, the kids weren’t behind me. Like the way I’d stare at a chunk of my hair pulled between my fingers and run around the yard daydreaming. They thought I was weird. Hell, I thought I was weird.

Similarly, my son is very much an imaginative feeler.

He’s scared to death of the dark and roller coasters. He gets really, really mad when he stubs his toe. He wonders about topics like death and love. Sometimes to the point that these thoughts make it difficult for him to fall asleep at night. My son is thoughtful. Once he wrapped up his own toy to gift to a classmate for the kid’s birthday.

Meanwhile, my husband and 4-year-old daughter are more level-headed and rational. My husband is wonderful with our son and they share many interests, like super heroes and action figures, but my husband can’t get inside my son’s head like I can. He doesn’t understand his short temper or anxiety. But I can. And that is a gift I can give my son again and again.

I’m committed to helping my son work through his emotional anguish and difficulties controlling his temper. That means doing whatever it takes, including frequent meetings with the principal and teachers, cooperating with their plans for him, and regular visits with the school counselor. It also means being honest with my son about my own difficulties and shortcomings, and using my experience to help him navigate through his own choppy waters in life.

The tides are starting to turn for him.  A stringent reward program in class, combined with my husband and I following up with the teachers and implementing consequences at home, have been helpful. My son seems to appreciate my efforts to connect with him on his level.  He told his counselor about how I led him in a calming breathing exercise  after that recent karate class meltdown. Honestly, I could use the calming as much as him.

Being able to connect with my complicated, smart, overthinking son is a gift, and I intend to treasure it.