Two nights ago I lay awake for hours, unable to find sleep no matter how much I willed it to come. One painful, desperate thought kept going through my mind: I had failed my son.
It’s been a really hard year for my boy. It’s been a really hard year to parent him, as well.
We’re not strangers to difficult years, though. The early years were especially challenging. When he was four my son’s pre-school teacher basically gave-up and asked he be moved to a different class.
By the middle of his kindergarten year, after consulting with a specialist and having him tested for a variety of learning disabilities, we were told he had severe ADHD and delays in fine-motor skill development. His disorder had also led to delays in his social development. But we were also told he was incredibly smart, and the child psychologist believed that with the right treatment and classroom modifications he could be very successful in school. And she was right.
For the next 3 years we saw a big difference in our boy. He responded well to the medicine and excelled in school, receiving straight-A’s two years in a row. Despite the initial delays in his social development he managed to make friends and was generally a very happy kid.
Then last year the small private school he’d been attending since he was 2 closed and he and his sisters started at a new school in September. It’s a good school with small class sizes, a special education resource, and Biblical foundation. But it’s different.
I completely underestimated how hard the change would be on my boy — a child who likes routine, who sees the whole world in black and white/right or wrong. He declined academically and acted out in the classroom. We met with the teachers, principal and special education resource multiple times. We put into place new plans for behavior management and test-taking. Still he struggled. My straight-A child strained to get B’s and C’s. And then came his first D’s and even an F.
At home my husband and I struggled, too. My son rebelled in various ways, trying to assert some control. His natural-born curiosity, fearlessness, and lack of impulse-control led to some really scary situations. We took him out of hockey, the only sport he’s ever loved, so he would be able to focus more on school. We took away his prized Lego’s when he refused to clean his room and when we found dangerous items he’d found and hidden. We tried incentives and rewards, we tried punishment and consequences. Many nights we sat by his side to help him focus on homework until we finally sent him to bed, drained from fighting with him. Other nights we were just plain tired and didn’t have it in us.
The school year ends next week and I can’t say I feel like there’s been much progress. And so, I am left with that sleep-stealing, heart-breaking thought that I failed my son.
I could have done more. I could have monitored his grades more, met with teachers sooner, and caught-on to patterns quicker. I could have spent more time double checking his homework. I should have showed more patience and less exasperation. I should have told him how wonderful he is more often and told him I was disappointed less.
Every note home from a teacher, every missing homework assignment, every stern look from a stranger, and every comment made by another parent strengthening the self-recrimination.
Then there’s all of the well-meaning (usually unsolicited) advise from others. I could write a book.
And because of all of this I have kept the truth tightly guarded, careful about saying too much to too many. Even with our closest friends, and in our small group Bible study where we have been reading The Power of a Praying Parent for the last 16 weeks, I have been careful about how much I reveal.
But then during our study this week a friend revealed her deepest worry and fear: that she’s failed her children. While our circumstances are different and the struggles our children are facing are not the same, I know how she feels. And as my sweet friend shared her fear, I felt God urge me to tell her that this is a season in her parenting journey and it will not last forever. I also tell her that I believe prayer is powerful, and when things are hard and we feel like it’s all out of our control, we must lean on God and prayer even more.
Later that night as sleep eluded me and the thought that I had failed my son echoed in my head, I wondered why I couldn’t find comfort in the same advice I’d offered my friend a few hours before. I didn’t think for one second that she had failed her children and I completely believed the words God had placed in my heart. But I couldn’t apply them to myself. I had prayed all year for help, for change, for direction, and I still felt at a loss.
So I did the only thing I knew to do: I turned to the Word to try and find some comfort and wisdom. Sometimes words of comfort come quickly, other times, not so much. I read through several Psalms, 1 and 2 Timothy, and parts of Isaiah. I was encouraged by the Word, but felt nothing I read was speaking directly to my failures as a mom. Then I settled on Ephesians.
“So overflowing is His kindness toward us that He took away all our sins through the blood of His Son, by whom we are saved; and He has showered down upon us the richness of His grace—for how well He understands us and knows what is best for us at all times…Moreover, because of what Christ has done, we have become gifts to God that He delights in, for as part of God’s sovereign plan we were chosen from the beginning to be His, and all things happen just as He decided long ago. God’s purpose in this was that we should praise God and give glory to Him for doing these mighty things for us, who were the first to trust in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:7-8, 11-12 TLB)
It was in these words that I finally found comfort. They reminded me that God alone knows what’s best for me and my family at all times; that we are His chosen and that He has a plan for each of us. They reminded me that I am to praise Him for all things…even difficult parenting seasons.
And this is what I was missing.
I have been so focused on the hard, the less-than, the short-comings, that I have not taken time to praise God for this year. I confess, I have not looked for the good. I have forgotten that this is only one chapter in a book that’s already been written, by an author who delights in me and my son, an author that understands how I feel before I do, and who knows what is best at all times.
And finally I realized, it was time to change my prayer. Instead of asking for God to get us through this season, to change my son’s behavior, or to show me how to “handle things” I need to say “thank you”.
Thank you God for this season. Because although it’s not been easy, I know it is still part of your plan for my boy, and for me. Thank you for understanding my son, even when I don’t, and for choosing us to be Yours. You know what is best for us and You see and understand things I do not. So I entrust my son to you. I let go of my failures and hand them over to You. For even though I fall short, Your love never fails.
To the other moms and dads who feel like they have failed in some way: remember you have a Father who knows what is best at all times, even when you don’t. Take comfort in that and sleep well tonight.