Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Life with a child in crisis

My child sobbed the other day, "Mommy, I'm sorry I'm broken. I don't want to create problems for the family."

I swallowed the football-size lump in my throat enough to reply, "Sweetie, I'm sad, too." Pause. Think. Pray. Then, "None of us want you to be broken. But you don't have to feel bad about the fact that you've fallen apart. And you don't have to stay broken, you know. We're all working to help you get put back together"

Oh, it's hard. It's hard to see your child suffer, hard to not-know if or when things will turn around, hard to manage a very complex situation. One afternoon last week I felt like a total failure. I told my child's therapist that it is wearying to try so hard and to give everything I have to give, and still not succeed. She replied gently, "Your child is alive. Your child is not in the hospital. That is success. That is because of you."

I dried my tears and thought, Okay. I can hold on to that. It's not much. On the other hand, it's everything.

*        *        *        *

The child in crisis is perpetually cranky, snapping irrationally at minor things, melting down over next to nothing. Not surprisingly, this triggers the other children. They don't like being screamed at, they feel unjustly accused, they snap back. The family is a pinball machine of anxiety, with one kid pinging off another. The situation exacerbates Big Guy's anxiety issues, another child's anxiety issues, Andrew's anxiety issues.

I keep an eye on my own tension level. When others start to blow I whisper, "Use a gentle voice. Stay calm. Get through the next five minutes." I succeed at this a surprising amount of the time. This is not due to me; it's abundantly clear that I'm not capable of doing what I'm doing. Someone, somewhere must be praying for me. For this I am thankful.

*        *         *         *

There is another snarling-screaming-weeping child incident and I dig deep, searching to find compassion. I know that somewhere behind my child's rank irritability lies pain, and I need to respond to that rather than react to the behavior it causes.

It is hard to shove aside my desire to scream, explode, snap back. I do it because although the short-term effort is exhausting, the long-term consequence of falling apart myself is too expensive to contemplate.

*        *        *         *

At night I wrestle with my ego. It is hard to feel like a good mom when your child falls apart. I cringe at the thought that I've ever offered advice to anyone. Who, me? Me, whose family seems to be in perpetual crisis?

I grapple with the difference between shame and humility. Shame is the I don't want others to know piece, the fig leaf behind which I hide to preserve the image I want people (including myself) to have of me. Humility is honest nakedness, the here-I-am-ness, the willingness to say, "This is hard and I'm bumbling along, probably making mistakes... stay with me. Please."

Sometimes heroism consists of doing something as simple as crumbling the fig leaf. Sometimes, but not always, I can be heroic.


  1. Have I shared this one with you? “Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow.”

    An if it isn't possible to turn off the night voice, tell it your advise has been extremely helpful!! and is only made stronger the more challenges I've seen you grapple.

  2. re: giving advice. I find advice from people who are struggling to be more valuable than advice from people who have things chugging along in perfect balance. When you're struggling/have struggled the advice you give is never smug. You understand that those seeking advice are struggling too and that the best advice has a big dose of empathy.

    I too know the feeling of trying "so hard and to give everything I have to give, and still not succeed." Back in February when you wrote "Then I was sad again, for a bit, at the thought of having to make my life smaller in order to make my child's life bigger" a chunk of my soul was sad with you because I know that feeling too. And I never know where to find the balance between giving, which I willing do for my children, and holding onto myself, because I do need to put my oxygen mask on first. And because we all rely on the other parts (income, social network, etc) of my life to keep the family in balance. I have a friend who reminds me sometimes that there are problems my kids will face when it's egotistical to conclude that me giving more of me is what will fix the situation. I'm working to identify those times, even though I know that more of me always comforts my kids.

    I catch myself sometimes trying to keep things in balance for my children through sheer force of will -- especially when I feel like I've exhausted all of my other tools. As if sitting at my office concentrating really hard to send soothing thoughts to cover my son's school challenges are going to resolve them. Yes, I could justify it as a kind a prayer, but I think Jesus would lead me to let Him cover that problem for the moment and let me focus on the work in front of me.

    I'm slowly learning.

    And I really do appreciate the window into your family that you offer here.

  3. Hang on! There are many of your readers, such as myself, always praying for you and your family. You are doing great!

  4. Thank you for your vulnerability that you share with us. My prayers are with you.

  5. Praying for you, Julia, and your whole family every day. Keep your connection with Jesus wide open as He is the One who is giving you the strength and courage to go on every day.

  6. You are in my thoughts and prayers. You are not alone and you have strengthened me with your words.