How Can I Be Strong as Single Mom When I Feel So Weak?

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Gail’s message on August 19, 2012

Inspired by My Own Worst Enemy by Janet Davis

“Choosing Vulnerability”

Ask yourself:

  • Am I transparent with myself?
  • Can I speak aloud my inner most secret fears or shame?
  • What kinds of situations scare you the most? Intimacy? Shared grief? Anger (yours or another’s)? Joy? Compliments?

Remember a time when you were most vulnerable.

Keeping secrets and trying to hide our vulnerabilities can make us sick. Can you think of a secret (either one you’ve kept or one someone else kept) that caused you at least, tension, at worst, illness?

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

Brené Brown

* * *

My Story

I had completed two summer sessions at the University of Texas in Austin. Damon, my nine-year-old son, had recovered, almost, from serious surgery in June. It had been a stressful summer. Now it was the beginning of another school year. At the teacher In-Service I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. “Teachers must be on campus by 7:30 am.” This was a new policy. My heart sank, a lump formed in my throat, and I stopped listening. More announcements continued, but were drowned out by my thoughts. How would I make it? My young children couldn’t possibly get themselves ready and off to school that early. Another district policy stating that students couldn’t arrive on campus at 7:30 am made it totally unworkable. What can I do?

I was startled back to the present by my dear friend asking our principal, “How can moms with young children do this?” He already had hard feelings towards her. Now she was giving him reason, by standing up for me.  “That’s not really our  problem,” was his reply. Unwelcome tears filled by eyes. Were we a corporation, I thought, or an institute that cared for and educated kids? Everything we had gone through was coming to the surface and my emotions were raw.  Surrounded by colleagues in the crowded planetarium seats I fought back tears. Everyone filed out for break, everyone but me. My friend sat with me for a minute. Then left and I was alone.

Finally I slipped across the hall to the restroom. Nervous and unsteady I started to go to my classroom but quickly realized I hadn’t enough time to do that and get back for the next assembly.

I headed back towards the planetarium. The long hallway was empty. Sun poured through a window at the far end of the hall, preventing me from recognizing the person approaching. As he came closer I could tell it was our principal. I felt cornered. How could I avoid this? He had the authority to make my daily life miserable and unworkable. It was miserable and unworkable enough without adding another obstacle. A single mom, I had to keep my job.

What could I say to him? Why were we the only ones in the hall? Was he going to make this more difficult by trying to explain his position?

When we met, I leaned my back against the wall. It held me up as he faced me. I felt utterly and completely vulnerable. I had to be “all of who” I was as Janet Davis puts it. It was one of the most uncomfortable moments of my life.

Not knowing what to expect I began crying, sobbing so, that I couldn’t speak. I wanted to put up a wall. Now I was embarrassed as well as humiliated. With a puzzled expression he said, What is . . .?” but he couldn’t finish. His training hadn’t prepared him for this situation.

I continued to sob uncontrollably as if the events of the last ten weeks had collided in this one incident.

All my attempts to make life better: nursing Damon through recuperation from serious surgery and complications afterward, moving to another city, managing crazy schedules, attending graduate school at a major university, moving back home to face another year as a high school teacher and as a single mom with three young children. In this moment it all seemed meaningless.

He could attempt to explain why the new policy was necessary. He could remain firm in his resolve to enforce it. He did neither.

He waited, hoping I’m sure, that my sobs would subside. When they didn’t he finally said,  “We will work something out. Don’t worry about it.” I think he was a little embarrassed too. He smiled. I could only nod and mumble, “Thank you.”

I managed to slip across the hall to wash my face before returning to the assembly. If I had given any thought to how to handle this situation it would not have been to break down in tears in front of my boss – not my style, way too vulnerable.

Being vulnerable is often our most honest approach.

“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” ― Criss Jami

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