Parenting is hard all by itself. Just the physical aspects of being accountable to another human all the time are daunting. Even if my children are not with me physically and even if I am taking respite and self-care time, I am responsible for knowing that the kids are in a safe, reliable situation. I need to plan ahead for the financial, nutritional, social, emotional, physical, and educational needs of my children.
When I stop to consider the extensive responsibilities that I have taken on to bring up these children, it can be quite overwhelming. What have I done? Can I really do this? What if something goes wrong? What if I screw up part of it (or all of it?) Why did I ever think I could do this? What if I harm these kids because I said ‘yes’ too many times?
When I look beyond just the routine aspects of providing for a child, I begin to see that it’s not a rote or static proposition. Each child is different and usually has a variety of needs. Parenting is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Personalities vary. Life brings up illness or accidents. The increasing independence of these young humans begins to blossom into self-determination (otherwise known as wanting to do things on their own and/or approach situations their way (and not mine)). And other people in my children’s lives begin to have an impact on their choices and activities and attitudes.
I often find myself wondering how many more things will change. Why can’t things stay the same? How do I know I can handle the next stage? I shouldn’t be the one to raise them… the world is SO different from when I grew up.
Beyond all of that, I am raising kids who are living with the effects of trauma in their early lives. The experiences my children had before they came to me complicate almost everything. They learned and survived things that have made significant changes in their bodies, in their emotional and mental health, in their learning, and in their social interactions. I am tasked with helping them unlearn some coping strategies and learn more effective means of going through their days. I am sometimes focused on eating habits, or learning disabilities, or intense anxiety, or nightmares, or self-confidence. I am always on the lookout for trauma responses to almost any situation in my children’s lives and I try to help them to name, rename and focus on healing.
Sometimes their stories about their past, the pain that arises without notice, the tears and the lashing out, the fear (oh, the fear!) and the grief overwhelm me. I start to wonder what I am doing on this journey. How do I know how to respond to each one? How can I empathize when I have not had that level of pain? What if I say the wrong thing? What if I’m not enough? What if their pain is bigger than my love and my skills? What will happen to the child? What if I’m not the right person to parent these special kids? What if they are missing out on something that another parent would do better, or what if I make things worse for them?
Then there is me. Just one of me. I’ve had my own experiences in life that bring up my own responses. Plus, I have things to pay attention to in my own life…. Health appointments, friends, family, aging parent, church events, exercise. Some things are obligations. Some are personal preferences, hobbies, relationships and all those things that make our personal lives rich and healthy. The time management it takes to keep my things in line, as well as all that my kids need is very challenging. Because my children have needs above and beyond (and in addition to) normal kid stuff, we are always setting and resetting priorities. School and homework, sports and friends, counseling and doctors and dentists and orthodontists, dance and swim lessons and swim team, and meetups with mentors and Big Brothers and Big Sisters, meals and laundry and chores… all of these are normal, routine, everyday life for many families. But I then have to add extra school meetings, extra doctor appointments, a lot of phone calls and advocacy in many different areas because of the special needs and trauma for some of the kids. I am constantly running through our daily, weekly and monthly schedules. I have to negotiate and re-negotiate meeting times, extracurricular transportation needs, appointments, and playdates.
At some point, almost every day, I find myself full of doubt. How do I know I’m not missing something? Will I offend someone just because I lost track of the schedule? I’m only one person! How can I keep going with little sleep and constant stress? What if I crack? How long do I have to keep this up? These kids deserve someone abler than me!!!
I have slowly, over the past couple of years, come to realize that much of my self-talk when I get stressed is doubt. I doubt that I am enough. I doubt that I have the skills to help with all the trauma. I doubt that I have what it takes to keep up with the journey I have been given.
And doubt is a bully! It distracts me from the real work that needs to be done. It takes up space in my head and my heart that should be filled with determination and confidence. It makes me scared, though I KNOW that I am surrounded by community, love, and encouragement. It can freeze me in my tracks sometimes and can even skew my take on the resources and support that surround me.
Worst of all, doubt makes it all about me. I can’t…. I fear… I am bad at it… I won’t. This journey is not about me. It’s not about ‘saving’ these kids. It’s not about being ‘perfect’ for them. It’s not about providing the best of everything.
What this journey IS about is providing safety. And I have a whole community who helps me surround these kids with safe places, safe relationships, safe activities. This journey is about providing hope. We can work through so many hard things together as a parent/child, as a family, and yes, again, with my community and my faith. And most of all, we can live in love. This means none of us (including me) has to be perfect, or has to do it all, or even really has to do anything. Each of us is enough, just as we are. We can love, support, laugh and cry together no matter what. My faith tells me that it is not up to me to fix anything and I am not in charge of how any of this turns out. I am only called to honor and use the gifts I have and to bring light and love into my little corner. I can do that.
No doubt about it!