Parenting, for me, has been a lot of diligence.
I’m always watching closely trying to anticipate the different challenges this kid or that kid is gonna face. What are they gonna need to thrive with their specific personalities? What kind of support do they need from me? When do I step in and when do I let them figure it out entirely on their own?
It’s a guessing game and I’ve gotten it wrong, a lot. They struggle when I thought they’d succeed. They falter at the moments I thought it would be easy for them. Just when I think one of them has all their shit together, the wheels come off.
Right now, one of my sons is handling some big mental health issues.
So obviously, I am, too. How do you not blame yourself when your child has this kind of crisis? I’ve been the biggest, most constant influence in his landscape. I can’t help but wonder what I did wrong. Every day, I’m batting away thoughts of how I’ve failed him. He can’t identify what went wrong, so I’m just trying to forgive myself for every possible error I can think of.
The guilt and grief of it meet me as soon I am conscious in the morning. It mingles in with all the usual judgments I wake up with, waiting to be processed and managed. Do other people hop out of bed already suited up in optimism? Mine is hard-earned every damn day. First task each morning is shaking off the shame.
Once I’ve sorted myself out, it’s time to act normal. I think, Don’t let him see how much it hurts. It will only make him feel worse. Hiding that away is lonely work but I also fear that if I let the feelings out, they’ll engulf me. So I push them down for now. I know they need to be felt and processed but I also know it has to happen away from him. He doesn’t need to carry that.
I’m just so sad and disappointed.
It was never supposed to be like this. I wanted so much more for him. I tried so hard, but it wasn’t enough or wasn’t what he needed. Maybe parenting always feels that way a little bit, but it feels worse right now. That’s why I keep coming back to self-forgiveness. It feels like the only antidote that works.
I’m learning to live side by side with helplessness because, beyond the obvious, there’s really nothing I can do. Watching someone you love suffer on the inside is horrible already. When you can’t do anything about it, it’s almost unbearable. I will bear it though, because he has to. I’m not gonna drop my side of the heavy load as long as he keeps straining to hold up his end.
I think mothers always fear their children will be lonely and afraid but now, I also worry about how much pain he’s in. My darkest moments usually arrive as I’m trying to fall asleep. That’s when I worry about the unthinkable, that he will come to a point when he can no longer carry the burden. I wrestle myself away from those thoughts quickly, because nothing good will happen if I keep spinning on that. I just hope he’s asleep and not suffering.
Every day, I watch carefully for outward signs of inner peace. I try not to get caught looking though. My guess is that nobody who’s struggling mentally wants people analyzing them. When it’s a good day, it’s a great day and I feel twenty pounds lighter without the weight. I catch myself hoping this is all temporary. Maybe it’s just a moment in time and things will go back to how they were before. But I have no way of knowing yet. Some mental conditions are life-long challenges. In that case, I can only pray this will be embraced as an opportunity and that we can each find the gift in it.
I’m afraid I don’t have much comfort to offer if you’re dealing with this, too, but I want to share what’s working for me.
- Feel your feelings in your body. That will help them pass through. Stay out of your mind where your brain will spin a story of worst case scenarios and past failures. You’ll just get stuck there. Breathe and focus on where you feel the emotion in your body. When your brain tries to elbow its way in, push it away and return to your breath.
- Practice self-forgiveness. It’s saving me, both mentally and emotionally (and probably physically). When I focus on the emotions, all I’m really feeling is the sad side of love. That’s okay. When I get trapped in my mind, severe self-criticism always shows up. That’s just judgement and as far as I can tell, utterly destructive. I can’t always talk myself out of it, because I truly think I could have supported him better. Forgiveness feels like the only way out of the darkness sometimes.
- Talk to someone. I know these matters are delicate. Families like to keep these things contained within the walls of their homes but that doesn’t mean you should suffer alone. It just means that your children’s secrets require you to have discernment when seeking support. Talk to your partner about how you’re doing or if you don’t have someone to talk to, get a therapist or coach. It’s not selfish or you “making it all about you” to take care of yourself so you can take better care of someone else.
With love, Stacy