My oldest child had a really bad spell during his freshman year of high school. He just couldn’t seem to crawl out of it.
I had been worried about all the changes he was experiencing — his dad and I had separated, he was going to a new school, and was facing a bunch of life changes. But he started off strong, made new friends, and was adjusting well to all the changes.
Then I caught him smoking pot under our deck.
He knew I was in my room getting ready for bed. The deck was right below my bedroom window, so I called him inside to do the same.
“Just a minute,” he said. I couldn’t figure what he was doing out there, but figured the more fresh air the better, as he’d taken to his phone a little too much lately.
After a few seconds, I heard a cough, and suddenly it smelled like my college dorm room. He may think his mom is an idiot but, believe me, I know all the tricks of the trade. By the time I got to him, he was as high as a kite. I had a talk with him, put him to bed, and then I cried my eyes out for two hours.
The next day my eyes were red and swollen, but was head was a bit more clear. I tried to get some information out of him about where he got the bag of pot and the fancy pipe. I got no information out of him, except that it wasn’t the first time he’d gotten high.
“It helps with my anxiety,” he said.
That coupled with the fact that he’d done it right under my nose told me he was looking for some help. He wanted to talk about all the things he was feeling but didn’t know how. So, instead of punishing him, I became more available. I reminded him he should talk about what he was going through. I told him his father and I would only listen. And I reiterated that at 14, he shouldn’t be smoking pot, ever.
Then, I crossed my fingers and prayed like I never have before.
A few weeks later, he was caught smoking pot again on school grounds with a senior. For some reason, they craved a high at 7:15 in the morning before math class and couldn’t wait to get out of sight before breaking out the weed and going to town. He got suspended for a week just as his dad was catching a flight to Paris with the new love of his life. I felt out of control, extremely lost, and very alone.
I had to work but I had a 14-year-old to deal with who wasn’t allowed at school, and fuck me if I was going to let him sit and watch television all day. I don’t think so. I knew I needed help though. As much as I hated to ask for it, I did.
Thankfully my sister, who has a small farm, often needs help with haying, feeding the animals, and tending to her vegetable garden. I called her and asked if she could put him to work. “The harder the better,” I said.
She was over the moon about the help and assured me she’d talk to him. “Maybe there’s something I can offer that you can’t,” she said, and I knew she was right. My son has always loved his aunt, and hopefully she would get through to him.
I hope she can fix this, I thought, because deep down I felt I couldn’t. I felt like I was failing him.
He worked hard those few days. And when he went back to school, his spirits lifted. I thought we were in the clear.
Not so fast though.
Two months later, he got into a fight in the hallway before science class. Another day where I got a phone call and had to come rushing to get my son because he wasn’t allowed on school grounds for a total of 10 days. To make matters worse, not only did he start the fight, he posted a video of it on his SnapChat story which counts as two offenses at his school.
One more suspension and he would be facing expulsion — as a freshman in high school.
I was in over my head and I knew it. I had been a good student. I’d obeyed the rules. I also grew up with three sisters who never, ever got in trouble. My son’s behavior was beyond my understanding. I wasn’t helping him the way he needed to be helped. His father wasn’t helping him the way he needed to be helped. Realizing this was one of the saddest days of my life; I’d always been able to give my kids what they needed and I was angry that I couldn’t.
Again, he worked 10 days without pay — there was no way this kid was getting a vacation. He did hard labor with his father, then came home to catch up on the school work I’d picked up for him. But I knew the days of hard work and the lectures weren’t enough so, after getting a recommendation from a teacher I trusted, I found a cognitive behavioral therapist who specialized in working with boys like my son. He was angry, unsettled, and asking for help in so many different ways.
But that wasn’t all I did. I emailed the principal of the high school asking if we could call a meeting with the superintendent of the school so my son could get a clear picture about what his future would look like if he did, in fact, get expelled.
I didn’t expect her to say yes — I know how busy the school administrators are, how important their job is — but I had to try. I had to ask for my son because everything I said was going so far over his head it was infuriating.
They said yes, thankfully, and the following Friday afternoon I sat at a table with my son as the superintendent snapped some reality into my son about what an expulsion would really mean. And then he told him he believed in him and he knew he would turn it around.
And my son did.
This was two years ago, and the school hasn’t so much as called me or sent an email about my son’s behavior — all because I asked for help. It would have been so easy to shrink into myself and keep our family business tight between our walls. I was embarrassed, I was disappointed in him and myself, and seeking outside help made me fear what others would think of me and my family. But I had to do it in order to break my son out of whatever we were going through.
Doing right by our kids sometimes means asking for help. Even if you are terrified to ask for it, do it. Your kids and your family are always worth it and there are so many people out there who will come to your assistance. But if you sit in silence, nobody will ever know what you need, and that can cause more harm than you know.
If your kid screws up, especially if they screw up big time, don’t go it alone. Ask for help. Please. Sometimes helping your kids the most means letting someone else help too.
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