Saturday, August 23, 2008

"Mommy Time"

I've been homeschooling my oldest son since he had just started first grade.  Every day of the first 9 weeks of first grade had been awful, from the temper tantrums in the morning when he couldn't tie his shoes the way he wanted to the moment he got off the bus completely overwhelmed from his day.  He was perfect at school, but I dreaded the evenings.  And the mornings.  And thinking about the mornings.  And the afternoons.  And the evenings.  Finally, I had decided to pull him out of school, figuring that school was what was creating his stress.

I was part right.  Yes, there was a lot of stress for him to try to be perfect at school (he was terrified of getting on yellow light or making a single mistake), but that wasn't the whole story.  I had no idea how to help him deal with the stress and overwhelm he was feeling because, guess what- no one had ever helped me with mine when I was growing up (not because they didn't want to, but they didn't know how either) and I didn't know how to support him through it.  It wasn't that I didn't want to help him.  I truly did.  I could see how horrible he was feeling and how he must feel just awful about himself, but I didn't know how to make it better.

Fast forward three years and lots of effort on my part to make my family work, along with incredible synchronicities and answered prayers that led me to the right people at the right time and my son was ready to go back to school.  He asked to go.  He wanted to start 4th grade.  My husband is teaching 5th grade this year and he wanted to go with him to school.  I knew that he was ready to handle the stressors that go along with school that he couldn't handle in the past.  And I was ready to help support him through the stress that I knew would come with returning to that environment when he came home at the end of the day.  I felt better knowing that my husband would be in the classroom next door and that there would be lots of communication from school during his transition.  But I knew that we had more tools and understanding as a family now to support him through it.

What I had learned was the most important is that I am really present with him when he is home.  I wanted to be with him and spend time with him, so I made it the priority.  When he was getting ready in the morning and when he came home at night, it was his "mommy time."  He was going to have moments of dysregulation.  I expected them.  But how would we all do with this huge transition?  I must admit I was a little concerned.  But he seemed confident and excited.  I relaxed more once I met his teacher.  We were now ready for the first day.

He started this past Monday.  He came home with a smile on his face, excited to tell me all about his first day.  Sure enough, over the first week, there were moments of fairly extreme dysregulation.  But I had learned that this was about him and not a personal attack on me, so I was able to stay calm and validate his fears and concerns.  He was able to calm down in seconds instead of the hours it had taken before and then we were able to go on with our time together.  
Our "Mommy Time" schedule for the first week went something like this:  In the morning before school, I made it a point to get up with him and just spend some time with him not asking him to do anything.  Sometimes I'd just hold him and help him to get regulated to start his day off on a good foot.  Sometimes we'd just sit and talk.  Either way, he was ready to start his day after we'd spent this time together, even if he had woken up feeling anxious or upset.  Usually this is about 10 minutes long.

After school, "Mommy Time" starts when my husband takes my younger son, who is 4 1/2, to do something special so that I can spend some uninterrupted time together with my older son.  This time really helped him to regulate after his day, knowing that he was special and loved unconditionally no matter what had happened at school.  This first week of school, we spent between 30-60 minutes together doing something that he wanted to do, like reading the book series we've been enjoying together or going outside together.

At bedtime, I go in and spend another 10-20 minutes just letting him talk about whatever he wants to share with me about his day, his thoughts about the next day, or something fun we're going to do together the next day or over the weekend.

As the school year goes on and he adjusts to school, I know he won't need that amount of time every day.  It won't always be like that, but I will do it as long as he needs it.  When he's ready, he'll want to go out and play with his friends after school after a short time with me instead of needing these long times.  I know it is an investment and something I can do to help him transition to his new environment.  It is worth every minute.  He is worth every minute.  Nothing else is more important than our relationship.  Nothing.

I know it is early in the school year, but I am confident that we are all going to be just fine this year.  I know there will be bumps in the road.  I know there will be days when we struggle with dysregulation and meeting everyone's needs, but it is wonderful to feel positive about all that we have accomplished in the past 3 years!  Mommy Time hasn't solved all of our problems, but it sure has made a big difference in my family!  Thank you "Mommy Time!"   

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