Parenting is Hard

I was crying in the hallway at church. It wasn’t how I expected to spend Sunday when I got up this morning, but then a series of things happened. None of them were big things, they just all hit me in the exact same emotional spot, slicing me open and leaving me in tears.

Patch was too overwhelmed to participate in the annual children’s program at church. He’d had an overnight camp out on Friday where he didn’t sleep well, followed by a Saturday visit from an out of town friend, capped off with a late night Halloween party. On Sunday morning he was in a state where cutting up his waffle to eat it was cause for tears. The syrup wasn’t right and none of us, Patch included, could figure out how syrup could be wrong. But it was. I could not in good conscience put Patch up on the stand in front of the congregation with so few emotional resources and feeling unprepared. I once sat in an audience watching my child have an anxiety attack during a performance. It is not an experience I care to repeat. So I excused my boy to go back home, knowing that this decision meant I was letting down his teachers and church leaders who put so much work into creating the program and getting kids to practice for it. It did not help that this was Patch’s last year in the children’s program, his last chance to be part of it. I’m sad that this rite of passage has been impacted by anxiety and emotional limits, as have so many other important moments in our lives.

Patch came with me to the first portion of the meeting for sacrament, and we planned to let him quietly leave after that. As I was walking into the chapel I was caught by Gleek’s young women teacher, who wanted to let me know that Gleek’s habit of drawing in class was distracting the other girls and causing a problem. She asked if I could tell Gleek not to draw in class. It was such a small request, the sort of thing which should be simple to do. I was left standing there with no time to make clear why this small request actually needed to happen a week ago. In order to comply, I needed time to negotiate with Gleek. I needed to help her figure out alternate ways to manage in-class fidgeting. I needed to remind her how to take deep breaths and stay respectful to teachers even when she is angry with them. I needed to give Gleek her medicine on Sunday morning instead of letting it be an off day as we’ve been doing. I probably needed to create some sort of bargain with a reward so that Gleek was willing to make an effort to learn new skills instead of being resentful and angry at an imposed change. I can tell you that resentful and angry Gleek is the one most likely to make split-second unfortunate choices, particularly when she is unmedicated. My thoughts weren’t organized enough to say all of that, I agreed to talk to Gleek and see what I could do. Then I sat down on the bench with my family and tears began.

I’m sad that simple things—sitting through a meeting without drawing, sitting in a group on the stand to sing songs, attending class activities, organizing homework, speaking to non family members—are so hard for my kids sometimes. It takes significant behind-the-scenes effort for me to help my kids manage these things that the world expects to be simple. And I’m left feeling the unfairness of it. I’m also left wondering if the failing is in me. That perhaps these things would be simple if only I knew how to teach my kids better. Everything I’ve done has not been enough, and I don’t know if I’m capable of more. I get so tired.

Gleek and Patch (before he ducked out to go home) noticed my tears. They leaned over to ask what was wrong and I had to find words to whisper back. I hadn’t even had time to articulate my sadness to myself, so I whispered carefully selected truths to let them know what I was feeling, but to not make them feel responsible for it, nor to guilt them into doing the things. Even if they had spontaneously decided to sing in the program and to not draw in church, that would not have ended my tears. When the meeting was over, I wended my way out of the chapel, eyes firmly fixed on the feet of the people around me. I could feel that my face was red from tears. Anyone who looked me would see that I’d been crying. I looked at no one and took care to pass behind instead of in front of those people who were most likely to notice. I didn’t get away completely, several people stopped me in the hall and gave me hugs. Fortunately the words “Parenting is hard.” Tumbled out of my lips and no further explanations were necessary. They understood and didn’t ask more, which was good because the rest was all a jumble of incidents and emotions that I didn’t know how to sort into a comprehensible narrative until hours later.

Parenting is hard. Those words earned instant understanding and sympathy. I am not the only parent to end up crying in a public place because some small thing made all the worry overflow. Today will not be the last day it will happen to me. I left church early and took my emotions home where I had the space to sort them properly. They still aren’t entirely sorted, but I know what my next steps need to look like. They look remarkably like last week’s steps with only minor adjustments. In the quiet of my house where I could cry without having to explain, I also prayed and got quiet answers to help me know what adjustments to make. Everyone needs to sit down and cry sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we’re doing anything wrong. It just means we needed a rest before carrying on with the work that needs to be done. So, that is what I’ll do.