Parenthood

What I learned from my 10-year-old’s meltdown

A story about an epic meltdown regarding homeschooling.

Last night, my husband Brad reminded me of a painful (but positive) memory. It came up at the dinner table as we looked across the table at our overwhelmed and discouraged son, Ben (age 10), who is warming up to the 2020 online school year, and well, hating it so far. He sat with his head in his hands, refusing to answer our questions about how his day was, and opting to write a note on a sticky pad instead. The note read, “worst day ever.” Perhaps this is a step-up from the previous night when he cried for over 30 minutes, unable to get a word out.

It goes without saying that my heart broke. Nobody likes to see their kid struggling. And yet, I also know this feeling all too well and I know what it feels like to be on the other side of it. This too shall pass, I told myself silently, as I reached across the table to hold his hand.

“Listen Ben. I get it honey. I have been where you are. So. Many. Times. In fact, my Mom tells me that when I was little I used to get so stressed out when school was about to start that I would often end up in tears, not just for a day, but for a couple of weeks. Apparently, I would routinely cry the week before school started, because of anticipation, fear, and grieving the end of summer (which, truth be told, I still do.) And I wouldn’t stop there. I would also cry well into the first week of school as I adjusted back into the routine of school, because of utter overwhelm.”

He pulled his head out of his hands and looked up at me momentarily as if to say, hmmmm, maybe you DO get it.

My mother claims that my pattern was very predictable. I would be a mess for approximately two weeks and then miraculously pull myself out of my funk and get on with things. I wish that I could say that grammar school is where that pattern ended once and for all, but I would be lying. Change is hard. I share this story because I am guessing that this scene is not only playing out in our home, but some version of it may be playing out in yours too.

After hearing me attempt to console and relate to Ben, Brad chimed in and reminded me about the first time he saw me cry out of utter fear and overwhelm. He walked into my office, after we had been dating three or four months (some 16 years ago now) and interrupted me having a “moment”. A moment where I felt unworthy and “in over my head,” to be specific. The way he remembers it, he walked into my office and I was laying silently on the floor staring up at the ceiling. When he asked, “What’s wrong?” I stayed silent. But the genuine concern in his voice flipped on the tears switch and gravity pulled those tears right down my cheeks and into my ears. Ever tried crying while lying down? It isn’t ideal. He asked again, “Oh hun, what’s wrong?” and then I sat up and cried harder. I admitted to him that I was feeling like an imposter. I was a relatively new executive coach, who had recently started my own business and hung up my shingle. I had clients. I had people who respected me. I had people who were paying me money to coach them, and yet, I had a tape going in my brain that sounded a little something like this: “Who are you to think you can…[fill in the blank]?”

Last night, I had a hunch that Ben was feeling that same sense of overwhelm, fear, not-good-enough, I bet everyone-else-but-me gets this online school set-up.

On that fateful night in my office, the thing that had set me off was not knowing how to transition everything to a digital calendar. Meanwhile, I was coaching some of the smartest technology leaders on the planet. The girl (young woman actually) who had spent nearly a decade ‘off the grid’, leading wilderness expeditions, was now coaching tech executives. That all too familiar voice “Who are you to coach tech executives when you can’t even figure out how to transfer and color code your outlook calendar?” was screaming at me. Yes, I had a graduate degree in Applied Behavioral Science (coaching and consulting). Yes, I had a knack with people. Yes, I figured out down the road that what I did in the wilderness for all those years was almost identical to what I was now doing under fluorescent lights in the great indoors. But I did not see all of that then. All I saw that night as I lie on my office floor, was little old (actually young) me, struggling to feel worthy and battling the fiercest inner critic. I saw that same inner critic in Ben last night and I wanted to rush in and save him from it (as if that were possible).

The moral of the story is this…

How you are feeling today is not how you will be feeling tomorrow. Feelings are temporary (the good ones and the bad ones — my apologies if you didn’t already know that).

Your level of skill and competence today will be greater tomorrow.

Your level of confidence in yourself, if you stick with it (whatever “it” may be), will grow exponentially.

This is not just a pep talk. I know this from experience. This experience is what helped me not rush in to “fix it” for Ben or think that I even can. Whether you are in fifth grade, like Ben, or a full grown adult like me — who just literally got my first “seniors discount” as I booked a room for my family at Zion National Park (at the ripe old age of 50, true story, WTH, insert puke emoji here)…

This. Too. Shall. Pass. And when it does, what will be left is a more confident, gritty, and resilient human.

To all of you struggling with kids melting down, or your own personal meltdowns, or the meltdowns of complete strangers in grocery stores or parking lots or your workplaces, just remember: this too shall pass.

Mitch Shepard is a mother, wife, passionate world traveler, and executive leader. As the CEO & Chief Truth-Teller at HUMiN inc, Mitch has spent nearly 20 years coaching & training some of the world’s top leaders. Her specialties are leader/manager effectiveness and inclusion. Visit www.humininc.com and www.mitchshepard.com to learn more and join our mailing list.