How I learned to let go of fear, anxiety, shame when my son gets in trouble

July 9 | Guest post by Catherine
Photo by Catherine.
Photo by Catherine.

While tucking my son into bed tonight I was flooded by grief and joy simultaneously. He is eight, so I am used to this. Every time he goes and grows up he leaves me with this memory of the younger boy he left behind that day, vanishing in my arms as I reach down to kiss him goodbye. Tonight is different though. Tonight, perhaps I am the one who grew up a little bit, too. It's amazing what a call from school can do.

When he is twelve, fifteen, twenty-one, or forty, will he remember? Will he also have the moment etched in his memory when I picked him up at school after the call from the principal's office — and did not even raise my voice when we got in the car? Will he remember how I almost cracked up when he asked with a big toothless forced smile; "So, how was your day before the call? Want to act all nice until we reach that part of the day?" I wish he could know how much his confidence, and curiosity at that moment affirmed my decision. I knew without a doubt that we had both arrived at the right place. He is ready, I whispered to myself. But am I?

Will he recall how I very calmly said; "I love you babe. I'll always love you. And, I can be really perplexed and even disappointed with the things you do some times. I might even worry a little that some of your choices, like laughing non-stop in class and keeping it up all the way down to the principal's office really can get in your way. But Sam, today I have arrived at a new place. I have realized that as an almost third grader, as a musician, athlete, math wiz, and reader — you are ready. As an eight-year-old who has everything he needs in his heart and his mind to make good choices with yourself, your friends, your teachers, your coaches, your community, and your family — you are ready."

Will he be able to tell me someday what it felt like in his body when he asked me, "Ready for what?"

I could feel the sense of wonder, awe, excitement, and that little twinge of concern his eyes seemed to convey when I answered while looking at him squarely in the rear view mirror: "Ready to decide who you really are."

It was freeing for me to release all the fear, anxiety and even shame I can feel when he gets in trouble. A freedom I fought with for hours from the time school called me to report today's infraction to the moment I walked through the heavy iron and glass doors to pick him up. It was indeed liberating to decide to just trust, love, and believe in him. To let go of all the pressure I put on him all the time, to be the version of him I want him to be. He is not an eight-year-old me. He is amazing at being Sam, and not being a forty-five year old white woman, school teacher, poet in an eight-year-old, brown-skinned boy's body.

He is more than magnificent. He is beautiful, talented, loving, curious, engaging, athletic, scientific, funny, relational, compassionate, and a little too charming. There is nothing missing there.

Oh yes, I'll still insist he write a public apology for any foolishness, and demand that he exhibit respect for his teachers, friends, family, and most importantly himself. I'll still see to it that there are logical consequences when I can't find him in the store, or when he figures out how to buy games on my phone without asking. I'll still expect the world of him. I'll still deliver the part of it I can for his perusal, and participation.

Bottom line is that I will always love and adore him. This is what I believe they call "unconditional love." As I rub his back, and listen to his deep breaths go deeper, as the whirring disco ball night-light races around the room, I want to whisper: "I'm sorry Sammy, I'm really sorry it took me this long to get here. Here, right where you have always been."

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  1. We are getting to this point with my nearly 7 year old. It's amazing how physically and emotionally exhausting letting go can be. It sounds like it's supposed to be a relief and a weight taken off, but instead it's like holding a rope with a million pound weight on the end and trying to slowly lower it to the ground. My son has so far shown a lot of remarkable character and I'm proud of the person he is when he's not caught up in trying to be something else, but I have to realize that even that is a choice he'll have to continually make for himself. Hard, hard, hard.

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  2. Wow, wow, wow.
    This is beautiful. I know just what the author means. It's still a work in progress for me in raising my now 3 year old son, but yes. Every time I move closer to this ideal of letting him be him, we are both happier; every time I stumble and get locked into fighting his nature, we both struggle.
    I'm reminded of a sentence from the book Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves that resonated with me and encapsulates this truth: "Happiness is the result of choosing what is."

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    • Your comment is how I reacted when I first read this – we have little glimpses of this with our 4 year old, and I love reading stories from parents of kids just a little older. It's so great.

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    • Erin, Thank you for the praise. It is absolutely a work in progress, and as soon as I arrived at the point I wrote about here I ran back several steps. Now, I'm back closer to the place I was here again. But, but, but…yes to all the struggle, and how much I ache to not live in that mode so much. "Happiness is the result of choosing what is." is powerful. Thank you.

  3. Oh my gosh, this is so beautifully written and SO inspiring to me as a mama! I love it. And I want to hear more and more and MOAR follow ups to this decision to let your son be the beautiful person that he is!

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