I Could Have Handled that Better!
by Pam Wilson
On a Thursday in November, my 12-year-old daughter Jessie was frantically studying for tests. It seemed every time we turned around there was a test or project. My husband Kenny had taken on test studying—he was very good at it (read: patient beyond belief). I was much better at creative projects and reading/editing papers (read: not so great at creating study guides and impatient with kids who say they’ve studied and they really haven’t and want you to help them memorize).
Kenny had studied with Jessie during the week because she had dance class this particular evening before her test. I was supposed to be meeting the Playgroup Moms for our anticipated monthly dinner.
My mistake (I see it oh-so-clearly now) was being in the same room with Jessie right before I was going to leave. I had waited too long to get dressed, helping her study and making dinner for the kids.
As she was eating dinner and getting her study guide out she asked, “Mom, do you want to help me study?”
“Sure,” I said, “I have about five minutes before I have to get dressed.” I should have walked away.
As we began to “study” it became crystal clear to me that she didn’t know the material and wanted me to help her learn it. “Jessie, look over this again while I get dressed and then we’ll try again,” I said and began to walk upstairs.
“I need YOU to help me study NOW!” was her response.
As a parent, I knew that we were reaching levels of anxiety not normally associated with calm, productive studying.
“Jessie, I’m not sure you know it well enough to study,” I said. (My second mistake which I now see oh-so-clearly.)
She didn’t agree.
I really needed to leave at that point for a variety of reasons. First, I was going to be late and second, and maybe more importantly, this was not going to be resolved. Kenny must actually help her “learn” the information, but everyone had failed to mention that to me.
I got dressed, and came downstairs to find a very frustrated, angry 12-year-old. She was very mad at me (of all things). “Maybe you need to stay home and study instead of going to dance class,” I said.
“Just go!” she shouted at me.
I should have just walked OUT the door. Instead, I said, ““Do not ever speak to me that way again, young lady.”
At this point Jessie was trying to make a copy of her study guide for the car so Kenny could help her study while he drove her to dance. The copy machine wouldn’t work, she was crying and looked at me again and shouted, “GO!”
This time I walked away. I felt terrible about leaving her like this. “There has to be a better way,” I thought.
Jessie went to dance, a wise choice for an active kid who needed a diversion and physical activity to work out her frustration.
I texted Jessie from the restaurant, “I love you. Have a good dance class. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine right now luv ya 2,” came the response. While I enjoyed being out and always appreciate this group, I had half my mind on getting home early enough to talk with my daughter.
I got home in time to tuck Jessie in. “Jessie, I am so sorry. I should have handled this differently for you. I need to recognize and help you recognize when you are getting frustrated,” I said. And I believed this.
It wasn’t until the next day when I was relaying this to my friend Jean that the real learning for me took place. Jean had great insight. “Through your talking with her, you are teaching Jessie first how to study and second how to handle frustration in a better way. That was so great that you apologized. I bet that made her feel so much better.”
My friend Karen had even more good advice. “You know as parents we don’t always know how to handle everything. Or how to handle something well. And that’s okay. You let Jessie know you were learning something and hoped to do it differently in the future. It’s okay to say, “I could have handled that better.” At least you were able to see that part clearly.”
Looking back on the study incident I do know I could have handled it better. Luckily (?!), almost the identical situation occurred not one week later. I was prepared this time. As Jessie and I began to study and I realized she meant learn, I asked her what she needed me to do. She explained what would best help her and then we went over the information which she knew very well. We both handled it better this time.
More importantly I realized that as her mom, I do need to teach her by modeling, expectations and discussion how to more effectively handle frustration. I know I need to handle frustration, anxiety and stress in a more positive, productive way, too.
I’m working on that. I KNOW this oh-so-clearly now.