I Finally Got Professional Parenting Help (& it Made All the Difference)

I always thought my oldest child was a little tougher to parent than the average kid, but I had also never changed a diaper before he was born, so I assumed my struggles were due to my own ineptitude.

He is a spitfire, a hellion, a butterfly. I am equal parts amazed and terrified of what he is capable of, because he is both magical and maddening. He asks tough questions about North Korea and human sexuality, sometimes in the same breath. He’s loud and fearless and sensitive and terrified. His abilities are boundless, his emotions are big. So much about him is typical, and so much of him is not. He throws emotional tantrums, will refuse to wear pants, and can’t remember what he’s supposed to do before school every morning. However, he can recall in vivid detail the time we went to the park when he was 2-years-old, as well as quote facts about Jupiter and Albert Einstein. He entered a talent show when he was 5 and delivered a stand up comedy routine that brought the house down. His Michael Jackson impersonation is riveting and his vocabulary is expansive.

Sometimes he looks straight at me and says, “You can’t control me,” and I say “You’re right. But I CAN guide you.” Then we have a big discussion over the fact that yes, he does need guidance, because he is 7-years-old and I am 36-years-old and that is how life works. I tell him that it is my job and my honor to guide him to adulthood, but what I don’t say is that it’s a hard job. A humbling job.

Related: 7 Signs Your Child Needs to See a Therapist

After years of muddling through, toughing it out, and reading countless articles, it became clear to me that I was not equipped to parent him without some professional help. Our relationship was suffering because we were having trouble understanding each other, and I could not allow that to continue. I wanted to help him overcome whatever obstacles he was facing, but because I couldn’t pinpoint what they were, I had no idea how to help him climb over them. I hated seeing him struggle in ways I didn’t understand, and I was tired of wondering if my reactions to him were actually worsening the situation.

I felt like as his mother, I should inherently know how to fix this.

I felt like a failure.

It was a hard pill to swallow, enlisting a child psychologist to join our village. The modern village looks different for us than it did for our mothers; mine includes a therapist for myself, and a therapist for my child, because I needed to procure help for myself in order to be able to help my son. I had to get over my ego and accept that my husband and I had spawned a child that we were not sure how to deal with — not because of any deficiency on his part, but because we were flat out of ideas.

We didn’t have any friends or relatives who could help guide us, because everyone else was just as mystified as we were. That didn’t stop them from offering their opinions, however, and casting judgmental looks our way when situations got out of hand.

Sitting in the waiting room with my child, waiting to see our new village member, was one of the most humbling experiences of my adult life. I pretended to look through a magazine and tried not to allow my thoughts to show on my face. What was the matter with me? What was the matter with my kid? Why couldn’t I figure this out? What was missing from our lives?

And the biggest of them all: What if he realizes that he’s different?

The answer turned out to be simple: Nothing is wrong with anything or anyone. We are all perfectly imperfect. Having a professional assure me that I’m doing a great job washed away all of my fear and replaced it with a new feeling: hope. And then we formed a plan.

Guiding an extraordinary child isn’t just difficult. It’s backbreaking, formidable labor that I won’t see the fruits of until many years down the road. It’s mentally exhausting and emotionally taxing, but also surprising. It’s lively. It makes me feel things I wouldn’t otherwise feel, consider things I’d never thought about before, and stretch my limits farther than I realized I could stretch … which is often uncomfortable.

In a life that is somewhat predictable, I appreciate the joy and curiosity of my son. I also appreciate the fact that help is available to me when I need it.

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Photo: Getty

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