on holding space for single mothers at the end of their rope

“ms. o, get your boy! cause i’m three minutes off his ass!” she came huffing and puffing into my office not because she had just walked up three flights of stairs but because she had just chased her 15 year old from out of the bathroom and into his classroom. “i’m gon kill him! i swear to GOD! i’m gon kill him!”

images (10)just as i was getting her settled in my office my phone rang. not pausing for breath the teacher yelled, “i think she’s lost it! i’ve never seen anyone be that angry! i had to stand in between her and him to keep her from hitting him in front of the class! do i need to call protective services?!”

“i’ll fucking call ps! ain’t nobody got to call ps on me! i’ll call them myself! and then y’all can raise him! i’m sick of this shit!”

i hung up the phone after telling the teacher, no and that i would handle it. then i let her rant…

“this fool think i’m for this bullshit! every gotdamn time i get settled at my desk here go my phone ringing…my damn phone ring every damn day! why my phone ringing all the damn time? cause his fool ass won’t go to class won’t stay in class won’t finish his work won’t turn his work in won’t listen to the teacher won’t stop talking won’t stop laughing won’t stop throwing shit! I COULD LOSE MY DAMN JOB! WHAT I’M GON DO IF I LOSE MY DAMN JOB! HE AIN’T THE ONLY DAMN KID I GOT TO TAKE CARE OF! BUT EVERY GOTDAMN DAY HERE GO MY PHONE RINGING I’M TIRED OF THIS SHIT! I’M GON KILL HIM!”

and with that last exclamation she plopped down in the purple chair i keep in my office made just for plopping. i asked her if she wanted some water. then i turned on the music for urban meditation radio on pandora, grabbed a coffee cup, closed my office door and went to get her a cold cup of water. when i returned to my office she was breathing steady, i handed her the cup of water and waited.

“i ain’t really gon kill him,” she told me. “i’m just fed up. what am i suppose to do? what am i suppose to do?”

i didn’t want to be another ‘expert’ telling her how to solve her kid’s problems. he was actually a really good person with really poor impulse control. each day i noticed how he was getting better and better with managing his impulses on small things but he wouldn’t take his medication (as prescribed) and refused to apply his strategies on a consistent basis. but she didn’t want to hear about small steps in that moment. his diagnosis was adhd and his noncompliance with treatment had the same textbook familiarity as ALL adolescents with chronic medical conditions. but it wasn’t on her agenda to discuss the relationship between adhd and other medical conditions that teens have to manage everyday. i could have told her about one of my other students who was so noncompliant with his diabetes treatment that he was routinely hospitalized to lower his blood sugar. but she didn’t want to hear about the student with diabetes. i could also have shared with her what the research says about impulse management, increased testosterone levels, teenage angst. but she didn’t want to know about the research.

download (16)what she needed was a break. a moment to collect herself so that she could go back to being everything that everyone needed her to be. superwoman.

see the outburst in her son’s classroom was just symptomatic of too much pressure being applied over too long a time. and the constant calls and behavioral referrals for minor infractions had finally taken it’s toll. in an effort to regain control over what looked like an out of control situation…she snapped. not her finest moment. but completely understandable.

parenting without a partner is hard (understatement of the year).

everyday women and men do it. they make magic happen. their kids are healthy, nurtured, full of positive self-worth, and fully prepared to take the world by storm. and they do it all…they craft these productive, wholesome, brave beings in households with only one adult present.

According to U.S. Census Bureau,3 out of about 12 million single parent families in 2014, more than 80% were headed by single mothers.

for a few, there will be a well crafted village of helpers. aunts, grandparents, co-parents, cousins, friends, teachers, mentors, den mothers, scout leaders, tutors, coaches, etc. who fill in spaces and help guide and direct these vulnerable humans in their care.

but behind closed doors when that parent with no partner finally makes it home…it’s all them. bath time, mom. dinner time, mom. homework time, mom. check in behind half finished or not even started chores, mom. bills to be paid, mom. dryer needs fixing, mom. no uniform for track practice, mom. furnace went out again, mom. back door sticks, mom. car making a funny sound, mom. lawn man trying to hustle you, mom. late to work again, mom.

and that’s just everyday life.

Research indicates that single mothers experience excessive stress and that the stress is a result of the need to provide financially for the family concurrently with caring for the home in ways traditionally handled by both men and women…

everyday life for a mom without a partner is filled to the brim from dusk to dawn with obligation. now imagine that pressure and then add your kid or kids have a chronic medical condition that requires constant monitoring, medication, and management. and suddenly you feel as if the entire deck of life has been purposefully stacked against you. there are moments in the madness when all the ships are sailing in the right direction but because it is such a delicate balance you know that any small thing could throw everything off balance.

download (15)so here comes the phone call from school. and it’s not just one phone call from one teacher. no, it’s six phone calls from six different teachers. and all the phone calls are happening on the same day. and each phone call accuses you of missing the boat, of not getting it, of failing. so you loose your shit. then find yourself holding a belt you grabbed from a co-worker to threatened your 6’3″ 15 year old in the middle of of his math class. you know that you would never hit him but you have to do something because you aren’t a failure. and talking and therapy and letting him join the track team ain’t working so you might as well go up side his head and see if maybe you can knock some sense into his head. and get back to work in time to make the last minute changes your manager just requested from you on the project you have to finish before you can leave for the day. then the one teacher who has called you at least 5 times this week (and it’s tuesday) is now saying you’ve gone too far.

in that moment the last thing you need is more pressure. in that moment the last thing you need is another accusation. in that moment as this kid’s mother, advocate, financier, nurse, therapist, spiritual guide, biggest fan, and disciplinarian you don’t need someone who’s only known him for a fraction of his life telling you what you need to do to help him. in that moment you need someone to just help you.

so i listen. i sit and i listen to them rant. i listen to them scream and i make sure i have tissue for them when they cry. i don’t judge them. i don’t tell them that they’re not doing a good job. i don’t talk to them about ‘next steps.’ i don’t start pulling out brochures. i give them their five minutes to just breath. usually it’s when they start complaining about the music that i go into problem solving mode. but until then, until they can gather themselves back into themselves and regain their composure, i hold the space for them to be human. fully and completely human. with warts, moles, stretch marks, and pimples. it’s when they realize that i don’t require them to be pretty or to make it right that they start to unpack their crap and get down to the business of making the next best choice for their baby.

and make no mistake, it is the rare bird of a mother who doesn’t see her kid no matter how big, no matter how old, and no matter how many have come before or after them, as her baby. if you meet up with that one…well that’s a story for another blog post.

once she’s ready to talk about her baby and NOT her problem, that’s the moment we start to make the plan. for the impulsive wanderer with a penchant for backtalk the plan included eliminating the excessive phone calls. she just couldn’t afford to have so many phone calls go to her work phone everyday and pretty much for the same reasons. we also educated his teachers on adhd and his particular symptoms and gave them specific strategies for addressing the wandering and back talk. then she exhaled, apologized to the teacher in front of her class, and we all sat down to decide how we would put the plan into operation (immediately). turned out that the partnership with that parent and that particular teacher became one the best intervention resources for that kid.

and mom never again came up to my office huffing and puffing and exclaiming she was going to kill him. no, in fact that next time i heard her shouting was at his graduation.

i do love a happy ending.

more than anything, us moms without partners need listening ears (hold the judgment)

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