What Happened When My Child Saw Me Cry Because of Her

by Cristina Margolis
Tired mother helping her mad child with homework
Motortion / Getty

I recently did something in front of my daughter that I swore I’d never let her see me do. I cried. I’m not talking about crying during a sad scene in a movie or because I lost a loved one. I’m talking about crying because of her.

My 8-year old has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and she’s had this diagnosis for a little over three years now. While ADHD gives my daughter many advantages (i.e., the ability to think outside the box), it also comes with many challenges. Completing her homework has always been one of them.

My daughter’s school has summer requirements for its students. Every day, my daughter must complete a bare minimum of 30 minutes of reading and 20 minutes of an online math program. There are other recommendations, like writing in a journal and practicing keyboarding, but it’s nearly impossible for a child like mine to be able to handle extra work when she can barely make it through the basic requirements.

I always try my best to make homework easier for her. I make sure she takes breaks, I let her choose the order of her assignments, and I reward her with screen time afterwards. While these do help her, they can’t take away from the tremendous amount of frustration and anger she feels when she is having difficulty with an assignment. Although she is very smart and has been known for seeing patterns and relationships with numbers the average person can’t see, she still struggles with math. And that is exactly what happened with her the day she saw me cry.

We were both sitting on stools in the kitchen and I was letting her use my laptop to work on her math program. She was having a particularly hard time with a math problem and was becoming increasingly frustrated. I was right there next to her on the other stool trying to help her and encourage her. I was there with a piece of paper and pencil, trying to explain the math problem to her in a different way that I thought she’d be able to understand better.

I was doing my best to bite my tongue and remain calm and collected. But it didn’t matter. She wasn’t listening. She wasn’t even on her stool anymore. She was on the kitchen floor, having a full-blown meltdown, screaming that she will never be able to do the math and that there was nothing I could do to help her.

As her frustration and anger levels rose, so did mine. What was I doing there? Nothing I was doing was helping her. She said so herself. I thought about the fact that her doctor and I decided to give her a break from her ADHD medication this summer in order to help her gain weight, since the medication prevented her from gaining weight during the school year. Did I make the wrong decision? She’s gaining weight, but she’s having a difficult time with her homework. Which is more important?

As all of these thoughts were racing through my mind, my daughter was still having a meltdown. I knew there was no way she’d be able to continue the assignment now, so I told her to go to her Calm Down Area and that we’d revisit the math problem later. But she didn’t want to do that either. All she wanted to do was kick and scream on the floor. I was at a loss. I felt beaten down and hopeless.

Worst of all, I felt scared. I was terrified by the fact that I didn’t know how to help my own daughter. I was scared thinking about what was going to become of my daughter as a teenager and then as an adult. Every part of me felt like getting up and walking away, but I knew if I left that stool, all my daughter would feel is more fear and abandonment. And if her own mother could do that, what would the world do to her?

So I sat there, let my emotions take over me, and for the first time, let my daughter see me cry because of her. Once she saw the tears streaming down my face, her entire demeanor changed. She asked me why I was crying and I replied with the trembling truth, “I don’t know how to help you.” She got up from the floor and held me. Her little voice sadly said, “I’m sorry, Mommy.” I embraced her and together, we cried tears of sadness, frustration, and anger. It was a moment we both will never forget.

By letting my daughter see me cry, something I was so afraid to do, she realized for the first time how much her actions and words affected others. She realized how equally frustrating it is for the person who wants to help her, but can’t because she resists it. She realized how much I truly love her and want the best for her, always. She realized that I will never ever give up on her.

After we talked some more, my daughter got back up on her stool and let me help her with her math problem. She finished her entire assignment. Ever since that day, she has not had a single meltdown during homework. If she begins to feel angry or frustrated, she knows to take breaks. She is learning how to manage her powerful emotions and thoughts, and that’s all I can hope for.