SAHM No More explores the the ups-and-downs of navigating a new world of parenting, transitioning from married stay-at-home motherhood to a full-time working, divorced motherhood. And there are a lot of adjustments being made—a lot of adjustments and not a lot of sleep.

The email I received went a little something like this:

Dear Ms. Iversen,

Perhaps it is time for you to start communicating better with you son. He has not handed in his homework assignments for the last two weeks and is putting himself in jeopardy of failing. As his teacher, I can only do so much. It is really up to you to make sure that he is doing his work. Might I suggest looking in his backpack at night and sitting down and talking with him about his day? That might help.

Mr. Science-Teacher-Who-Shall-Remain-Nameless

The effect that this email had on me came in stages: denial that this science teacher even knew what he was talking about—maybe he had confused my son with someone else; instinctive and nearly blinding fury that my parenting commitment had been questioned; wounded self-doubt about my skills as a mother; steely resolve to figure out what was going on with my son’s academic progress; and, finally, a mixture of all those emotions as I sat there, looking at my computer screen, wondering, what am I doing wrong?

My older son started middle school this past September. He went from a neighborhood school with 58 kids in his grade to a large school with over 300 kids in his grade, none of whom he knew well, most of whom he didn’t know at all. And although he had always been an excellent student and had been placed in an advanced-track program, I worried that my son would get overwhelmed by all the changes that were going on, both academically, and at home. Because of my new working hours, my son comes home from school and has to start—and hopefully finish—his homework before I return from my job. I thought I was staying on top of it though, checking his bag each night—okay, most nights—and consistently going over his completed homework. After his first month of school, I hadn’t seen much in the way of science assignments.

But it kept slipping my mind to look into the situation. After all, my son was diligently working every day and he had never had a problem keeping track of things like this before. What could possibly be going wrong? As it turned out, lots of things. I was the one who contacted the science teacher finally, asking why I hadn’t seen any assignments. And the email that I got back—paraphrased above—was as startling as if I looked in the mirror and saw that someone had drawn a big red F on my forehead.
First, the reality that my son hadn’t been handing in his work was shocking to me, if only because it was completely unlike him. But equally as bad was the implicit—actually, no—the explicit accusations that I wasn’t doing my job as a parent. That’s not true! I wanted to yell at the computer. I am doing the best that I can. But what if my best wasn’t good enough? Why, when I wasn’t even the one in trouble at school, did I feel like crying? I felt terrible. Was I not checking my son’s work enough? Had I been missing any red flags?

I asked myself accusatory question after accusatory question, blaming myself for pursuing my own dreams at the cost of my children’s future. What I’m trying to say is, I went to a pretty dark place before realizing that I was tormenting myself and I hadn’t even talked to my son yet. I called him away from the book he was reading and asked him why he hadn’t been turning in his science work.

The look of misery on his face as he tried to explain to me how overwhelmed he felt as he adjusted to his new school and that he’d been doing the best he could and that he’d try to do better, well, it flat out broke my heart. We had a long talk about how he could organize his schoolwork in a more effective way and promised each other to stay more on top of what he needed to do. But in the moments that I saw how hurt he was that even though he was trying his best to navigate a new and strange world, it still wasn’t good enough, I realized how similar his situation was to my own.

But it helped me to make a renewed promise to my son, to let him know that I would be there to help him get through the adjustment period in his new environment any way that I could. It’s not that I’d intentionally forgotten to do that, but it can be so easy to get overwhelmed and to think that everything will be just fine.

As for the teacher who suggested that I learn to “communicate better with my son,” I overrode the urge to write him a strongly worded letter about his own lack of communication skills and decided to move forward and just focus on my son’s needs. I can accept that some people will make judgments based situations that they know nothing about, and I can accept that I’m not the perfect parent. Now I can just remember to keep the promise to my son and make sure that he thrives with the support that he needs from me, until he can do it all on his own. Even then, of course, I’ll be there. I might not be able to have it all, but I will try with everything I’ve got to make sure my kids can come close to having everything they need.

(photo: Vitaly Korovin/ Shutterstock)