My Son's Learning Difficulties And The Words I Needed To Hear

by Kristina Hammer
learning difficulties
MarkPiovesan / iStock

Sitting in a child-sized chair that is forcing my knees to my chest, I resist the urge to get up and walk out. To run away before anyone notices I’m here. I don’t want to be here. This well-put-together woman with the strong facial features and a warm, inviting smile, wasn’t about to set me at ease as it appeared by the sympathy she wore on her face. I knew what was coming, and it was going to sting worse than a slap to the face.

And it did.

It can never be easy for any parent to hear their child is having learning difficulties. To know they are just about failing in school. To find out that they are not even trying a bit. Her face didn’t change as the worst words I have ever heard spoken about my kid came tumbling out of her mouth. The “there, there, everything is just fine” look on her face made those words even harder to digest. Surely, everything was not just fine if my son wasn’t doing well in school. Something is wrong here! Very, very wrong.

I don’t know how we arrived at this point, why I am now sitting in this shrunken-down seat being patronized for failing in my duties as a mother. I mean, I kinda know how, but not really why. The so-called expert reports say that a love for learning starts in the home. Great readers are made when you make reading a priority from infancy. You lead by example. Your children will come to love what you love. Bullshit. I’m calling bluff on this hooplah.

My four kids have owned more books than I have in my entire lifetime, which is a lot because I love to read! My children have been read to consistently since birth. They see both their father and I reading often and learning to do new things through the wonders of the internet. We do math in front of them, talk current events, and encourage their exploration of nature, mechanics, and mess-making fun. Where did we go oh so wrong, then, to have a child who is not only failing school, but one who hates it, too?

Now, I don’t expect my kid to love learning and always want to go to school. I certainly do not expect to raise geniuses who never have difficulty picking up fractions, understanding colloquialisms, or memorizing all 50 state capitals. It matters not whether my kid makes it on the honor roll or pulls a straight C- average as long as he shows up to learn and gives it his all. He has all the tools he needs for success at his disposal, yet he doesn’t use them accordingly.

Routines are in place, homework agendas are being strictly monitored, communication lines with his teacher are open, and he has a place to do his schoolwork away from distractions in our home. Our system works well for the other kids in our family—just not him, as I’m finding out now. All I want in this moment is for my son to find his self-confidence and enthusiasm for learning, to stop waging war against the system he still has another eight years left in.

He is his own worst enemy, and I can’t help but think these learning difficulties are all my fault. I know in my heart they are not, but I have to blame somebody, so I blame myself.

Facing the facts of your child having some sort of learning disability or disorder is a hard pill to swallow. When your child’s teacher is telling you, earnestly and sincerely, that he is sabotaging himself, action must be taken. There’s no way to deny the transparency of the situation; something is broken wrong dysfunctional not working right inside my son, and it needs to be handled with care—stat. This is my baby we’re talking about here, no matter if he is 10 years old already. And my baby has come to hate his schoolwork so much because something isn’t writing right in his brain causing him to destroy the learning process for himself.

We have all kinds of appointments and meetings coming up in order to tackle this problem. My emotions are all over the place, wondering how we’re going to get through this and how I’m going to help my son get his mind on track and find his happy place at school again. I know he has it in him, because he has proven it in years before now.

Something has changed, though, and I beat myself up for not seeing it coming and doing something about it sooner. For most of the conference, I keep my head bowed, for it is beyond impossible to look this teacher in the eye and say what has pained me so much to admit: “I’m defeated. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how to help the very child I gave life to.”

When I do finally look up and into her eyes, it is after I hear her say to me, “Only a good mother would truly care so much to be as visibly hurt as you are by the situation.” I’m met with the same look as when I came in. The “there, there everything is just fine” look. Now, though, it is quite comforting, and I understand why.

Everything will be just fine in the end. This is isn’t the end of the world, or even the end of our road. It’s just a fork in the road, and the time has come for us to change course. This wonderfully patient and gentle-souled teacher already knew it, before I ever came through the door of her classroom. She had softened the harsh blow into an encouraging push in the right direction for my child and me. We can make this work, no doubt. We can get him right back on track again. My son doesn’t have to be his own worst enemy for a minute longer. We got this! Everything is going to be OK in the end.

As I push my tiny chair back and release myself from its hold, I thank her through the tears in my eyes. She pulls me directly into a hug so warm and comforting. “I know you want to blame yourself,” she says in my ear. “I know you think you’ve failed your son and this is all somehow your fault. But it’s not. And only a great mother would sit here with the tears that tell me so, desperate to break down the situation and fix it in one fell swoop. You are that great mother, and you are the greatest mother your child could ever have to face this situation with. You are amazing. Don’t ever doubt yourself again.”

I can’t promise her I won’t, but I know her words will be there in my heart to set me straight again and again. Because I am a great mother to one fantastically awesome boy who will have my heart forever—even if, just temporarily, he is failing school.