Storms in Parenting

I was startled awake out of a deep sleep last night by a storm full of thunder and lightning.  As I laid there trying to get back to sleep between bolts of thunder and flashes of lightning I realized that what I was feeling was a lot like we feel as parents of children who have problems with drugs & alcohol, self harm, mental illness, an eating disorder, suicidal thoughts, same sex identity issues, are in trouble with the law, etc.  We are often caught by surprise and it really shakes us up.  I laid there waiting for the storm to subside and just as I thought the thunder rumblings were lessening and I began to relax . . . BOOM . . . there came another loud crash of thunder!  I almost jumped out of the bed I was so startled!  It took a while to calm down and get my heart to stop racing!  And this kept happening.  I was awake for a long time.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not afraid of storms.  It was the suddeness and the loudness of the thunder when I was sound asleep.  It was so unexpected!  I was surprised at how much it shook me up!  Again, this is so much like what we experience as parents in the situations I mentioned above.  When we let our guard down and begin to relax hoping they are making progress, that this time they really do want to change, that they are done with drinking and using, that they won’t cut anymore , that they want a new life, that their mental illness is under control.

Then we find out we were wrong . . . another relapse; arrested again; more bloody cuts on their body; meds aren’t working or they quite taking them; we find a suicide note or journal writings that reveal they are in trouble again . . . it can really shake us up.  We feel like we’ve had the wind knocked out of us.  Our blood pressure rises, our pulse quickens, we breathe faster, our palms sweat, we can’t sleep or we sleep too much, we can’t eat or we eat too much.  We feel like we can’t breathe.  Dare we let ourselves relax again?  Can we ever really rest or is this just a lull before the next thunder clasp startles us into the reality that it’s still not over ?

I deal with the storms my child brings into my life by reminding myself that I am not alone.  God is with me.  He cares more than I can imagine . . . about me and about my child.  He can help me overcome my anxieties and fears.  He can give me peace in the midst of life’s most violent storms.  They may startle me and knock me off balance.  I may be shaking in my shoes, shivering under the covers like I did as a child, but when I reach out to God for help, He will come and I know I will be ok . . . even if my child is never ok. (as horrible as that would be) I can learn to be ok and walk in peace not based on what is happening with them.  The thunder may keep crashing, the lightning flashing, but I will not be shaken.  I know I am held in His strong, loving arms.   What about you?

A Bible verse I really like is from Psalm 23 . . . “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and your staff they comfort me . . .”  and also from Psalm 75:3, “When the earth and all its people quake, it is I (God) who holds its pillars firm.”


Parents in Pain feel similar emotions Americans felt on 9/11

Along with millions of Americans, I was reflecting on 9/11 this past week.  I was remembering where I was and what it was like to experience that day.  The main emotions I felt were shock and denial, grief and loss and fear , just like parents in pain do, whose children are making destructive choices.

1) Shock and denial:  My husband and I kept saying to each other that we couldn’t believe this was real, that it was actually happening!  Not here in America!  It wasn’t a hoax, or a TV show, or a movie.   It felt so unbelievable as we sat glued to our TV watching the events of that morning unfold.  We couldn’t believe our eyes!  We could hardly comprehend what was taking place.  Terrorists here?  No way!  So horrific.  Overwhelming.  Incomprehensible.  Inconceivable.  Unimagineable.  We were completely numb.  I don’t think I cooked dinner that night.  We sat around the table with our children and tried to process what we’d seen and heard.  We comforted and consoled one another.  We read the Bible and turned to God for strength.

2) Grief and Loss:  So much death.  So much suffering.  So sudden and unexpected.  So many lives lost . . .  in the Twin Towers, in the Pentagon, on the planes and those who came to their rescue.  I didn’t know anyone personally who died that day, but I felt like I did.  I shed tears and felt deep emotional pain.  Grief and a sense of loss were heavy on our whole nation.  We shared in it collectively.  Our pain united us.  People made signs and put them in the front windows of their homes.  My 5th grade daughter made one.  It was so touching to see many pop up all over the neighborhood.  People trying to find ways to express their support, to draw strength from each other.  Many purchased American flags to fly from their cars as they drove around town.  The empathy we felt for those who were suffering moved something deep in our hearts.

3) Fear:  Was anyone really safe?  What city or plane might be the next target?  Who should we be suspicious of in our neighborhoods?  We learned we were living with a false sense of security.  We were not invincible to the pain and suffering acts of terrorism could bring.  These events would change everything.  Many things would never be the same again.   How do we return to life as normal?  How do we feel safe now?  How do we not let fear overwhelm us?  How do we recover and move on?

As I said earlier, I realized that these are some of the exact same emotions parents in pain struggle with.  1)  Shock and denial are our response when we first learn our child has a problem with alcohol or drugs, is seriously depressed, is engaging in a self harming behavior (cutting), has an eating disorder, is suicidal, is a homosexual, has a mental illness, was arrested, etc.  We can’t believe it is happening to us, to our child.  No way!   Not possible!  We thought our family was “safe” from those things.  What will happen to them now?  Would we ever be the same again?  What next?  What now?  What do we do?  Incomprehensible.  Unimagineable.  Inconceivable.  We, too, are numb and can barely function.  It feels like life needs to stop so we can have some time to try and grasp what is happening, to regain our equilibrium.

2)  Grief and Loss :  Our hopes and dreams have been shattered.  We’ve possibly lost our relationship with them.  We feel a though they’ve died.  Our hearts are broken.  We feel crushed.  We are overwhelmed with sadness.  Tears flow like rivers.  We go through all the stages of grief as though they had indeed died.  How do we go on?  How do we keep living when we feel like we’re dying and we’ve lost our child forever?

3) Fear:   We are full of fears of all kinds – of the what-ifs, of the uknown future, of what others think, of all the possible consequences to them and to us.  If we have other children, will this happen to them, too?  How do we cope with these fears?  How do we not let them overcome us?  Our lives are changed forever.  We will never be the same.  We just hope and pray our child will survive.  But there are no guarantees.  And our pain is shared collectively by all the other hurting parents out there.  It unites us and pulls us together.  We can draw strength from each other.  And somehow, knowing we are not in this alone brings us comfort.

The many survivors of 9/11 had to reach out for help to overcome these feelings.  So do we.  I hope you will reach out to others for help and support.  Find a  support group in your area and go to it this week!  We are survivors, too, and we need each other.  With God’s help we will be ok.   We will grow stronger from what we’ve been through.

Two great books that helped me in the early years were Hit by a Ton of Bricks by John Vawter and Parents with Broken Hearts by Robert Coleman.

I find much comfort and strength in the Bible for shock and denial, grief and loss, and fear.  In Psalms (a wonderful book of the Bible) it says, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him and I am helped . . . The Lord is the strength of his people . . . be their shepherd and carry them forever.”  (Psalm 28: 7, 9)

Hurricane Irene and Losses in Parenting

Hurricane Irene wreaked great damage, loss of property and lives last week.  Since I live in central Florida and having grown up in Miami, I am only too familiar with what hurricanes can do.  My husband and I were glued to the TV, empathizing with and praying for those in the path of this storm.  It is so sad to hear of the ongoing suffering the aftermath of flooding is still causing.  It seems to me this is much like what parents in pain go through.  There can be much damage, loss of all kinds and prolonged suffering. How do we go through this “storm” without faith in a loving God?  In an article I read the other day a mom said:

“I just can’t face the depth of my pain and losses without knowing Christ. In Christ there’s always hope. And the deeper the pain, the clearer the hope can become. Without Christ, I can’t face it. I can only face what a pill can solve. I can only face what eating too much or spending too much or watching TV too much or crying a lot or reading too much or watching soap operas can solve, which isn’t the real me.”

Do you ever feel like that?  I have.  And I can tell you from my personal experience that if you keep trusting God, He will see you through.  Notice I didn’t say he will fix your child.  We have to learn to be ok, even if they are not.  We have to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, to be at peace when there is still no resolution.  I thought it wasn’t possible, but it is.  Lean on God and He will be your Life-Preserver.  Your Rescuer.  Your light in the dark night of your soul.  Your Helper, your Comforter and your Healer.  I could never have survived without His loving care and strength.

You may feel as though you are being violently ravaged by an emotional “hurricane”, but you can survive the storm and not become another victim.  Here are 6 Parental Hurricane Survival Tips:

1)  Find several people to give you regular, emotional support.  Find a support group (Al-Anon is one great option) or start one!

2)  Educate and inform yourself as much as you can about your child’s issues.  The more you know, the more it will help you.

3)  Get a complete physical and consider anti-depressants or natural supplements if you have been under a lot of stress, feeling depressed for an extended  period of time.

4)  Pray for strength to endure – this may be a long road.

5)  Get regular exercise – it will help you release stress and feel better.

6)  Find strength from reading the Bible and prayer.  They have been my lifeline to find hope and truth.

More pain and loss may be coming into our lives but remember, in God, there is always hope.