Tough Love Parenting
August 1, 2019 | by jamie beeson
When he opened his eyes for the first time after his brain surgery, he looked around the room and caught my eyes. I held his hand and told him how brave he was. The doctor asked him a question, and Noah slowly turned his head, opened his mouth, and…nothing. He looked at me with a bit of panic and then opened his mouth again…nothing. The doctor said, "This could be from swelling on the brain. Let's see if his language returns after 48 hours."
Let's see if his language returns! Would I ever hear his voice again? What if I forget what it sounds like to have him tell me he loves me? Will I never hear his sweet voice singing himself to sleep in his bed at night? Is this our new normal?
The first day of speech therapy in the hospital was like a dagger in my heart. The therapist sat on one side of his bed, and I sat on the other. She asked Noah to say his name. He looked at her and opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He looked at me, with a look on his face that said "Help me, mom!" as a huge tear fell from his eyes. The therapist said while leaving the room, "He's forgotten how to use his vocal cords. We'll start there."
My 7-year-old could no longer speak.
The year that followed surgery was a climb. Each month that passed with no seizures (what the operation was for) was a massive milestone. Any language that returned was a celebration. After finishing the school year, Noah was behind in reading and writing. It was difficult for him to make the language connections in his head and get it out. I knew that after a year, now was the time to push. It had been a tiring year for Noah (and for us, let's just be honest), but I could tell the season of rest and recovery with gentle rehab was coming to a close. It was time to help the fighter in Noah rise up. So, I committed to homeschooling him through the summer to get his language back.
I straddled the bench at my dining table and looked at his slumped shoulders, quivering lip, and tear-filled eyes. I was frustrated too, I too felt like quitting. I had him turn his body to face me. He could barely look me in the eyes. At that moment, as his mom, I knew the loving thing to do was not to let him quit or be ashamed of where he was but to push him to continue forward and believe for what could be. I wanted to stop the lesson for the day, hold him, and have a treat. Sometimes, the comforting part of parenting just seems easier. But I knew that comfort needed to look different. He needed me to believe in him so he could believe in himself, to push him to a place I knew Noah could rise to when he didn't think it was possible. He needed me to have grit for us both until he could have grit for himself.
I took his hands into mine, and I said with a very clear, straightforward tone, "Noah, sit up tall. Look at me." He barely lifted his chin. I repeated myself, "Sit tall. Don't slump. Look right into my eyes." He cried more. And then I cried. "You, son, are brave. You have survived the hardest battles. You can win this one too. But you can't quit. You won't win by backing off or backing down. You won't learn to read again by giving in when it's hard. You're going to have to do the hard things and keep doing them, and I'm going to have to make you do the hard things." And then I proceeded with something I had learned to do with myself when I needed to do hard things. "Noah, say this with me. 'I can do this.'" His response was weak and timid at best. I asked him to repeat it, louder and sitting taller. He practiced several times before I could hear what he was saying. I told him to say, "I am brave. I am smart. I can do all things because God will give me strength." I could tell he didn't believe this at first. I modeled for him how I wanted him to say it, sitting as tall as I could with a look of determination on my face and an unwavering voice filled with grit. And then, something broke. I finally got him to say it with a 'loud and proud' posture and voice and then the dam released. I pulled him in, and we cried. The mountain climb was exhausting, and the rocks along the way were stubbing our toes. But I could tell he went from broken to brave. Yes, still fearful, but courageous. As a parent, I went from tender to tough. I had to call out what wasn’t yet…see the fighter before he was trained to fight.
As I write, I cry. Noah's last parent-teacher conference was a month ago, and he was caught up to grade level. There was the mountaintop. There was the view we fought for. He loves to read and has not only learned to use his vocal cords to speak, but he’s a singing machine. I told his teacher at the beginning of the year that my goal was his confidence. I wanted him to believe he was capable. Sometimes, I feel that I'm not hitting the mark as a parent. I have days when I'd give myself an "F" on the parenting exam. But, if my son leaves my home knowing that I love and believe in him, that he is capable of amazing things, and he has hope and grit in his toolbox, I feel like maybe we have done ok.
I had always wondered what it'd be like to be content. I’d watch others who seemed to be content and think, “Gosh, wouldn’t that be nice? To love life just as is…to feel that kind of joy and satisfaction." I pondered whether it was possible to be a dreamer, doer, and completely content at any given moment.