What Happens When You Help a Mom Through a Struggle

If you are a parent, chances are good that there will come a time when you feel like you’re failing miserably. As a matter of fact, it is almost certain that you will feel like this multiple times- daily.  And some of those times will feel larger than life.

I had one of those moments recently- ok, scratch that.  I have had A LOT of those moments lately, but there’s just one in particular that I’m going to talk about right now.

A few weeks ago,  I decided to call our pediatrician for help in dealing with some behavioral challenges in our four-year-old that we had been battling for months with no progress.  Now, it informs this story to know that before I was a stay-at-home mom, I was an elementary school teacher for ten years. I mean, I am licensed and certified to to teach kids my son’s age. This struggle didn’t just get at my mama’s heart, this got into the core of who I had believed myself to be for my entire life. I’m supposed to be able to handle kids.  Oh, the SHAME!!!  The QUESTIONING EVERYTHING ABOUT MYSELF. This ran deep, y’all.

So, after I hung up the phone with the pediatrician, I did what any mother in my position would do and promptly navigated to an online moms community on Facebook to lay it all out for them. That may seem counterintuitive at first, we all know the interwebz to be a particularly judgmental place these days and the mud that we mothers sling at each other from behind the safety of our computer screens is the stuff of legend. So it may not seem like the most logical thing for me to have done.

But these girls are different. I knew that I could count on these, my people, to come alongside me with exactly the right approach to speak into this struggle for me. I knew I could find hope, encouragement, and solidarity with these girls.

And they did not disappoint. Those women knew exactly how to speak to me in that moment. Their words shone light into my darkness, grabbed me by my collar and pulled me back up to my feet in a moment that had brought me to my knees.  How did they accomplish this amazing feat of sisterhood? I have spent many hours mulling over that question in the time that has passed since then and I think it comes down to four major points that are worth keeping in mind for all of us as we try to love each other better:

  1. They affirmed my struggle- It goes SO FAR for us moms (or anyone, really) to hear someone tell us that we are struggling not because we suck, but because the things that we are doing are JUST PLAIN HARD!   When we wade into the trenches of parenting, all of our own warts can seem larger and it can seem like our struggles are all OUR FAULT. To hear someone say, “This is hard stuff, man. It’s not just you” is like shining a light on our struggles that makes them seem just a little bit more manageable.

  2. They told me I wasn’t alone-  A wise friend of mine said in a recent Facebook status that “Me, too” are the two most important words a struggling mama can hear.  To know we aren’t alone, that other people have gone through it as well (and survived!) is sacred in any struggle and momming is no exception. Sometimes, we can be anxious to keep up our own Persona of Perfect Parenting that we are scared to say the words “Me, too” to another mom. But these moms aren’t like that. They said things to me like, “We struggled with that as well with my daughter”  and “Oh, no! My son is just starting to do that, please tell me what you learn.”  Knowing I wasn’t alone gave me so much peace.

  3. They pointed out what I was doing right-   The things we think we are doing wrong can feel SO BIG that we can lose sight of all we are doing right. To be reminded that we are, in fact, not doing exactly everything wrong and to know that OTHERS SEE US DOING THINGS RIGHT is huge. “That is so great that you are willing to reach out for help, he will be so much better for you having made that phone call.” “I admire the way you aren’t blaming him for his responses, I struggle to do that in the moment.” “Way to use your resources, mama.  Let me know what the doctor says!”  Hearing voices from the outside that affirmed me did the work I could not to silence the voices on the inside that were tearing me down.

  4. They offered their advice from next to me, not from above me-  Not too many of the moms moved past the commiserating and affirming into the area of giving advice, but those who did so did it with breathtaking grace.  They didn’t try to convince me that they had it all figured out, they sat with me as equals and offered what they had learned from their position in the trenches. ” There was no, “Well, you just need to…” or “Well, this works every time for me…” or “If you just did _______ this wouldn’t be a problem.” One of the women is a professor of child development at a major university (trust me, you’ve heard of it. Think SEC) and even she said, “Here is what I learned through struggling through this myself.” I can’t tell you how much it means to have advice offered from someone who you know is not judging you because she has been there herself.

Those four points have changed how I speak to other moms in their tough moments.  When I see a mom struggling to make sense of her challenges, I no longer run in wielding sage advice and rush to lay it at her feet. Instead, I sit with her, affirm her, acknowledge her struggle, and only then do I set to the work of sharing anything I may have learned from my own experiences. I don’t know if it makes the same difference to my sister-moms as it did to me, but I’m giving it my best shot anyway. And to those wonderful women who changed my world that day, I want to say THANK YOU!  You made a difference to me and gave me the courage and confidence to tackle my challenges with renewed strength, ready to give the best to my kids because you ladies gave your best to me.