Every child is unique. Every family is different from every other. Yet in this “weird little club” (see kirstenp.com/blog/weird) we share common ground. Here are the things I hear the most from mamas whose kids are struggling with mental illness:
The Painful Top Ten:
10) People don’t understand
9) I am confused
8) I feel lonely
7) I worry about my job performance/security
6) I worry about my marriage
5) I worry about my other kids
4) I am exhausted/burnt out
3) I can’t get my kid the help that is needed
2) I feel defeated
1) I don’t know what to do
Oh man, I have been in each of these quagmires. It hurts. These pains are impossible to ignore. A heaping double handful of self-doubt, anxiety, heart-ache. Life just feels hard. All the time.
How about you? Can you find yourself in the painful top ten? Or maybe you are a grandparent and you recognize it not only in yourself, but in your child who is parenting your precious grand. Are there other painful feelings in your top ten these days?
Over the next weeks we’ll be tackling these topics in turn. My prayer is that we will offer each other some hope, some solidarity. We are unique, we are different, but let’s spend some time meeting on our common ground. I look forward to seeing you there.
#10 PEOPLE DON’T UNDERSTAND
“Boy, those teenage years can be tough, can’t they?”
“Heh, heh, heh, Mark Twain said, ‘When a child turns 12, he should be kept in a barrel and fed through a hole, until he reaches 16…at which time you should plug the hole.’ “
“Kids are so over-medicated these days.”
“Just let them know the consequences and then be consistent.”
“Every teen has mood swings. It’s the hormones.”
“Siblings always fight.”
“Boys will be boys.”
“Girls are like that.”
People. Don’t. Understand.
In a way, how can we blame them? Did we understand before it was our kids? Aren’t we, let’s be real, still bewildered by the whole thing? And don’t we have the sneaking suspicion (or full-blown confirmation) that even the most educated professionals are not totally sure about diagnosis or treatment?
Still, it’s painful to be confronted by the proof, through an ignorant comment or blank look, that other people just don’t get what we’re going through as parents whose kids have mental illness.
So what can we do? How do we treat this wound?
1) For the important people, the ones whose support you crave, those who love you and want to understand- take a deep breath. Take some time with them. Maybe gather some materials so they can get educated. Let them know that it’s not the same as everyone else’s parenting journey and why.
2) Develop your own blank look.
3) If you are up to it, confront the misconception and stigma with a gentle but truthful reply. This is better practiced ahead of time. For example: “Actually, teens with Borderline Personality Disorder experience an inability to regulate their emotions far in excess of the typical teenager. They need to learn special skills, just like someone with dyslexia needs to learn special skills in order to read.”
You don’t always need to take this step. You don’t “owe” anyone an education. But if you are feeling strong at that moment, go ahead and be an advocate. If not, see #2.
4) Talk to the One who understands. God has known every kind of parenting grief. Self-destructive choices? Check out Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Believing lies about themselves instead of the truth? See Moses in Exodus 3 and 4, arguing with God about his inabilities. Violent and paranoid? Saul, I Samuel 20. Deceptive and manipulative? Jacob, Genesis 27 (helped along by mom- codependent?). Impulsive? Go back a couple chapters to Genesis 25 and read about Esau selling his birthright for some lentils. Suicidal? Elijah in I Kings 19. Or Judas, Matthew 27.
No matter what you are going through, He has too. And more, He sees into your heart and your days. He cares about your hurt.
He knows the sorrow. Jesus looked at His children and mourned, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” (Matthew 23:37)
People don’t understand. How you choose to respond to their misunderstanding is up to you and depends on the situation.
God does understand. I pray you find comfort in His deep knowledge of you.
“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27
How about you? What have people said to you that showed lack of understanding? How did you respond?
#9 I AM CONFUSED
Depression with self-harm
Depression with suicidal ideation
Depression with psychotic features
Major Depressive Disorder
Major Depressive Disorder with disordered eating
Major Depressive Disorder with Borderline Personality features
Bipolar Disorder II
These are just some of the “official” diagnoses that have shown up on the paperwork for my son over the years. In psychiatric diagnosis, fluidity is more often the norm than certainty, especially for adolescents. If there is a list of ten diagnostic features, and a child has five of them, instead of seven… well, do they have that or not? And so many symptoms, like hearing voices, or disordered eating, cross categories. Is it schizo-affective disorder or depression? OCD or Borderline Personality?
How about medications? Before my son was ill, I had no idea there were so many psych meds, or that hitting on the right one was often a system of trial and error. And then there are combinations and dosages, and the possibilities become endless. Each possibility has its own host of side effects.
Finding therapists, managing to get an appointment with a doctor, researching treatment facilities, plugging into outpatient programs…
And how do we pay for the care our kids need? Even if we have great insurance, it’s still complicated. If the insurance isn’t adequate, the process is opaque and frustrating at best, and heartbreaking at worst. Many resort to the juvenile criminal justice system just to get their kids into any kind of mental health pipeline.
Is it any wonder parents are battling against a paralysis of confusion?
What can help?
1) It can be perversely comforting to look around and realize that everyone else also experiences bafflement when navigating mental illness and its treatment. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and incompetent (I feel so stupid- I don’t understand any of this!), but the truth is even the smartest people have to deal with the steep learning curve. And the curve doesn’t necessarily lead all the way up to expertise.
2) Educate yourself with good, reputable resources. There is a lot of information out there. A lot of it is not helpful or dependable. Get recommendations from mental health professionals for books. Check out the National Institute for Mental Health (government), National Alliance for Mental Health (advocacy), or Mayo Clinic (hospital) websites to start gathering information.
3) Ask God for wisdom and guidance. In our family, we received answers to specific prayer for a Christian therapist (in our own town, no less!), and a pediatric psychiatrist (only a half hour drive). These came from unlikely friend-of-a-friend type connections. Ask your praying friends to join you in these requests. God cares about the particulars of our situations.
Here are some Scriptures to reassure that God wants to give us wisdom and guidance when we ask:
“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5
“For You are my rock and my fortress; For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me.” Psalms 31:3
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” Psalms 32:8
“Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left.” Isaiah 30:21
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” John 14:26
Do you have stories about how God has guided you through the mental healthcare maze?
Would you like us to pray for anything for you and your family?
#8 I FEEL LONELY
Illness can be isolating, whether it is our own or in the family. The world narrows. Mental illness is no different and is sometimes harder to explain.
When my kids were 14 and 12, I decided they were old enough to stay home without a parent for short periods of time. What freedom it was to sometimes go out for coffee with a friend, or browse through a shop for an hour. Because we homeschooled, we had a LOT of together time. I looked forward to transitioning into a stage where my kids were more independent.
But when they were 16 and 14, the situation had completely changed. My younger son was in the throes of deep suicidal depression, with frequent episodes of self-harm. We never left him home alone, nor did we place the burden of supervision on his older brother if we could possibly avoid it. My world narrowed again.
I was so lonely sometimes.
Many parents struggle with the isolation that comes from having a child who needs special care. It’s not unique to the mental illness situation. But there are unique challenges. It’s hard to find a “babysitter” for a teenager. It’s hard to explain why you brought your kid to the coffee shop when you manage to meet a friend, even if he’s at the next table with a book. It’s hard to disappear from your life for weeks at a time because of a crisis.
If invitations are declined often enough, they slow to a trickle and dry up. I’s disheartening to be going through a painful parenting journey and also have to be the one who keeps up communication with friends. It may be natural, but it can also leave you feeling unloved.
For some parents, the illness can be so disruptive that they don’t want to have anyone over to their own home either. They can’t bring their kid to the coffee shop. Even family gatherings are fraught with chaos. Social media, far from being a blessing to connect us, can make us feel even more isolated. Posts and and pictures of other people’s “normal” lives leave us feeling like we’re locked inside, looking out into a world that is passing us by. The loneliness can be stifling.
What can help?
1) Support groups can be a lifesaver. These can be online forums, but groups that meet in person are more effective for combating isolation and helping members with challenges. Some resources to find a group are Hope for Hurting Parents, NAMI, and Al-Anon. Local Offices for Mental Health may also have groups.
2) Even though it takes so much effort, find ways to see your friends. Even a half-hour meet-up (while your kid is at an appointment maybe?) can boost your sense of connectedness.
3) It may feel old-fashioned, but email and letters combat loneliness better than social media. Don’t be afraid to write some and ask your friends to write back. They are your friends, they love you, and if you tell them your circumstances make you lonely and getting an email or letter helps, many will respond. Be careful, though, not to take it personally when someone doesn’t respond. They may just be terrible correspondents. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you.
4) Remember that the Lover of your soul is always with you. Here are some verses to assure you of God’s presence:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.”
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
#7 I WORRY ABOUT MY JOB PRFORMANCE/SECURITY
Have you experienced brain fog? It’s that mushy feeling in your mind making it hard to retrieve information, stay on task, form coherent sentences. When we are chronically stressed from taking care of our fragile kids, working through brain fog can be our best effort on the job. Add in distractions like phone calls from the school, memories of last night’s confrontation, or fretting over treatment decisions to be made, and you may be thinking even you would give you a bad performance review.
And that’s on the good days.
The bad days take you away from work altogether. They find you picking the kid up from school. They find you taking the afternoon to go to a doctor’s appointment, because the nearest pediatric psychiatrist taking new patients is two hours away. They find you taking whole days to get your kid settled at the hospital or residential treatment center and going through all the paperwork and family counseling sessions.
If you get paid by the hour, all that time eats into your take-home pay. Even if you have the luxury of a salary and some personal or sick time, your job performance and reputation can suffer. If you run your own business, you are in danger of letting too many balls drop.
No wonder so many parents whose kids have mental illness cite worry about the job as a major stressor.
What can help?
1) If you work in an environment that is supportive, take steps to communicate. Let your boss and co-workers know a little of what is going on with your family. How much you choose to divulge is up to you. If your work atmosphere is more cut-throat, you need to consider and pray for wisdom whether this step is best.
2) Recognize that worry for your kid is going to invade your thoughts. Expect it. When it comes, take a breath and acknowledge the distraction. Then practice techniques to help you minimize it and return to focus. Try a mindfulness exercise. Get up and walk around for a few minutes. Have a dedicated notebook where you write down a sudden urgent thought or to-do to get it out out of your head without the fear of forgetting to call that doctor or renew that prescription.
3) Analyze your work. Are there tasks that could be performed remotely if necessary? How can you delegate if you are called away by an unexpected crisis? Having a plan before the crisis helps immeasurably. It’s the equivalent to having a bag, stashed in the closet, packed and ready to go. Consider creating a document you can quickly email to boss and co-workers and updating it weekly.
4) Make sure you understand your rights and benefits. Develop a good relationship with people in your human relations department. If you are truly worried that your situation might jeopardize your job, find out the laws for termination. Find out what you would need to do for unemployment. Being educated gives you peace of mind.
5) Any steps you take to deal with your stress in a healthy way will also benefit your performance on the job. Enough sleep, some exercise, good nutrition and hydration will help your mind as well as your body.
6) When you pray and when you ask others to pray, don’t leave out your anxiety over your job. It’s important and deserves a place on your prayer list.
#6 I WORRY ABOUT MY MARRIAGE
“I’m ready to give up trying. I don’t want to care anymore. I’m ready to build my happiness next to you but not with you… I don’t know if this can be healed. I’m not even sure I would be up for it. I’m not saying we should end our marriage. I just need to be less desperately unhappy. If that means having no expectations of anything from you then maybe that’s my answer.”
This is an excerpt of a letter I once wrote to Dan. It was after years of constant stress, crisis upon crisis with our son. For most of that time, we had been an effective partnership. But the stress had taken its toll, and I came to the end of my rope. Dan didn’t have the inner resources to hold Nicholas’s rope and mine too.
I was deeply hurt and furiously angry, which pushed my husband away into self-reproach and defensiveness. He withdrew. I chased him with bitter demands. It was a mess.
It’s no secret that marriages can crumble under the pressure of parenting a child who needs special care. But we are not doomed to fail in our most important earthly relationship. We can shore up our defenses.
Further down, the letter read this:
“In my Bible reading the other day, Jesus said that to follow is to deny oneself, take up a cross and follow Him. So I am going to try. I just hope that eventually you will not want to be a cross. If Jesus matters to me then I have to try to keep my vows to you.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but along with the bitterness flowing from my pen came a thread of truth, of hope. The beginning of healing for our marriage came when I stopped looking at all Dan was or was not doing, and focused on following Jesus.
At first it was an angry throwing up of hands, giving up. But under God’s ministration it morphed into surrender, enabling an eternal perspective, and eventually, a compassion for my husband.
I never gave Dan that letter, although later I showed it to him, after a lot of counseling and working on reconnection. Writing it didn’t save our marriage. It helped me see what was going on in my own heart. It opened the door to God’s work in me.
Every marriage is different, but there are some actions that can help in nearly every messy relationship:
1) Get help from a godly counselor. Sooner than later.
2) Acknowledge the stress of caring for your kid with mental illness and recognize the toll it can take on your marriage.
3) Place your confidence in the only One who can bear the weight of your expectations. That is not your spouse.
4) Pray with honesty abut your pain, write it out in a letter (unsent), cry and grieve over the fractures in your most important earthly relationship. Don’t deny the hurt; process it.
5) Practice kindness and compassion for your spouse, especially when you don’t feel like it. Believe it or not, he is going through this too.
6) Be careful and wise about venting. Confide in those who are the cheerleaders and supporters of your marriage. I’m not advocating putting on a happy face and pretending all is great. Just choose your close confidants with caution.
Dear friends- this is such a hard one. If I can pray for you in a struggle with your marriage, please leave a comment or contact me through my website kirstenp.com. I would count it a privilege.
#5 I WORRY ABOUT MY OTHER KIDS
“She sleeps over at a friend’s house every weekend so she doesn’t have to be home with her brother.”
“I had to install locks on their bedroom doors so they could protect their own stuff.”
“I heard him crying after his sister said hateful things to him.”
“She was gong through a really hard time at school, but didn’t tell me, because she didn’t want to give me more to deal with.”
“He’s lost his sparkle and hardly talks to the rest of the family.”
When one of our kids has a mental illness, a large portion of heartache is reserved for the way the struggle affects our other kids. Depending on their personalities, they might act out or withdraw, become the “good kid” or rebel.
Mental illness in one family member affects the whole. Our other kids are dealing with so many mixed emotions. They love their sibling who is ill, but also resent the attention and chaos the illness brings. They want to support their obviously distressed parents, but also want to hide from the situation. Their own real needs for love and care may be neglected or put on hold during a crisis, and they understand, but…
And even though caring for the ill child seems all-consuming, we parents agonize over the effects on the others. We miss the cuddle time, the one-on-one outings, the cheerful family dinners that aren’t happening to make their lives full of parental love. We wonder how being raised in less-than-ideal circumstances will affect them in the long-term.
What can we do?
1) Consider seeking counseling for your other kids, so they can process, vent, and learn how to be healthy themselves.
2) Try to spend one-on-one time with each of them when you can, even if it’s only a walk. When our younger son was in the worst crisis years, our older son Alex was finishing high school and starting college, commuting from home. It took him a long time to get his driver’s license. While it would have been a lot more convenient for him to be able to drive himself to and from campus the first year, I now think of it differently. Maybe God knew he needed 20 minutes of uninterrupted time with a parent twice a day, just to chat and for us to listen.
3) Pray. Ask them what you can pray for them. Tell them you are praying for them. And pour out your heart to God on behalf of all your kids.
4) Remember that God redeems loss. Alex lost some of the personal attention I would have loved to give him. But God gave him unexpected blessings in return: the “gift” of a mom who needed support. He learned an empathy which didn’t necessarily come naturally to him. God can do something like that in your kids’ lives too.
5) Trust that God loves your kids and can work all things together for their good as they choose to love Him and He calls them to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) The same God who sustains, strengthen, teaches, and molds you is for them too.
Can I pray for you or your family in any way? Please leave a comment or reach me through the contact page on kirstep.com.
#4 I AM EXHAUSTED AND BURNT OUT
It may not be the worst pain, but it is the most persistent. Exhaustion. Burn-out. Sometimes it’s physical, sometimes emotional, and often both. We pay out energy in every direction. The extra appointments squeezing our schedules. The toll of agonizing decisions. The energy spent trying to respond well to crisis and conflict and chaos. The loss of sleep to grief or worry.The neglect of healthy habits in favor of comfort food and escapist TV (maybe that’s just me). And it all just seems to go on and on.
Dear friends, there are many places to find advice and even help in caring for yourselves. One of my favorites is an organization called David’s Refuge, whose mission is to care for parents whose kids have special needs or life-threatening illnesses. Their goal is to assure these parents of three truths: You are not alone. What you do matters. God loves you.
Maybe you need and can get help from a wonderful organization like David’s Refuge, and be renewed, refreshed, and pampered for a bit. But even a welcome respite is just a taste of what is available to you. Yes, an overnight retreat can rest your body and soul, but the real value of any self-care or comfort given by others is that it points to the unlimited love and compassion God has for you and your child.
He knows. He sees you. You- with your eyes red from weeping and sleeplessness, your stress headache, your hair in desperate need of a cut and style, your extra pounds (maybe that’s just me), your shortened temper.
God loves you.
What can we do?
• Look for and seize those opportunities for rest and refreshment. Read the self-care articles and try to put one or two things into practice. Look for people or organizations that can help. Ask friends and family.
• Nurture your soul: read, do crafts, hike. Just a little of something you love.
• Make sleep a priority. I know, everybody says it. But really. Do it.
• Also, Kirsten, try to eat right and move your body. (And anyone else. But maybe it’s just me.)
These are all good and necessary strategies for dealing with our exhaustion and burn-out. But the biggest thing I have learned is that my deep weariness comes most noticeably when I am carrying loads that are not meant for me.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
Sometimes this passage is used to induce guilt: “If you’re tired, you must not have enough faith!” Jesus was not saying that at all. He became tired. He sought rest in lonely places, away from crowds. He collapsed on the way to Calvary. He had perfect faith, and that cross he dropped was certainly the burden He was meant to carry.
Jesus offers, not a saccharine promise of an easy life, but the true sweetness of rest in Him. He knows we will be weary and burdened. But He lifts the heavy end, He leads us to the oasis, He binds our wounds. He walks with us. And He promises that it all matters to Him.
I pray for each of you rest in the long journey.
#3 I CAN’T GET MY KID THE HELP THAT IS NEEDED
I learned in a webinar the other day that there are only about 8500 pediatric psychiatrists in the U.S. Since I was familiar with the statistic that about 8 million adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 suffer from mental health problems, I found the small number of doctors hard to believe. Yet a quick search yields the same alarming fact from such sources as the American Academy of Childhood and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Washington Post, and Psychology Today. Most family doctors are not trained to handle these issues, and can only refer. Some areas of the country have almost no coverage at all.
Almost as hard to find are counselors and therapists. Still harder are those trained in the best evidence-based treatment for certain illnesses, like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy for those with Borderline Personality Disorder. When a kid needs a higher level of care, finding a bed in an appropriate hospital can involve a long wait. Finding a treatment team who takes your insurance can be a huge issue.
IEP meetings and follow-up meetings to ensure the IEP is being implemented can be a nightmare, depending on the school and the training and resources of the staff. It can all add up to the overwhelming conclusion:
I cannot get my kid the help she needs.
That frantic feeling of helplessness can break our hearts and crush our spirits. Society and the medical profession have let us down. Teachers and administrators can seem like enemies. We can even be tempted to believe God has abandoned us in our dire need.
What can we do?
• Network: Call people you know in the medical field and ask for advice. We were eventually able to get an appointment with a pediatric psychiatrist in our area through the personal request of a doctor friend of friends.
• Get in touch with advocacy groups like National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) who can give information and advice about mental health care in your area.
• Find out about resources through your local Office of Mental Health. Between the ages of 14 and 18, our son made use of four different long-term programs through our county.
• Ask other parents. Support groups are great for this, but even just approaching someone can yield a wealth of often hard-won knowledge. Sometimes you can go to a pastor and ask if there is someone in your church who has been through it with their child. The pastor can ask that person if they would be willing to talk to you. This method works with other friends and groups too. Many people “know somebody who.”
• Pray and Trust. This one may seem like the least practical item on the list, but it the most powerful. Trust in God’s goodness. Believe that He loves you and your child and cares what happens. Know that He is able to accomplish what concerns you. Don’t give up, but follow every lead, trusting that He will guide you to the right path.
“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, And Your right hand will save me. The LORD will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O LORD, is everlasting; Do not forsake the works of Your hands.”
Can I pray for you while you seek the help your kid needs? Leave a comment or contact me through the contact page at kirstenp.com
#2 I FEEL DEFEATED
I had a recurring fantasy. If I happened to be by myself with the car (which was not often), I could picture it. Stopping at the bank and withdrawing the maximum amount. Going to the gas station and filling the tank. Popping into the grocery store and stocking up on unperishables.
And then just taking off.
I had tried and tried, fought and fought, but was still losing the war. My kid’s mental illness beat me at every turn. I felt so defeated.
Years ago my husband and I attended a workshop called Growing Kids God’s Way. We didn’t agree with everything in the program, but we learned some helpful lessons. Mostly, it helped us decide we wanted to do this parenting thing with and for God. And ever so subtly, we swallowed the idea that if we did everything right and tried hard, we would win at the parenting game.
But then came depression, self-harm, hospitalizations, suicidal ideation, then attempts… How were people of faith supposed to parent a kid with mental illness? We didn’t even know what winning looked like anymore, but we sure knew what defeat felt like.
What can help?
• Change the definition. When I knew, deep down, that to God winning at parenting meant faithfulness and not a “successful” outcome, everything changed. My sore heart began to mend. Keep walking, depending, and trusting in God. Faithfulness is victory.
• Take a break from social media, especially around Mothers and Fathers Days or graduation.
• Enjoy small moments of joy or progress.
• But don’t take the blame or let your peace be destroyed by setbacks. Even when you-know-what hits the fan again. Lack of crisis is not victory. Faithfulness is victory. One step in front of the other.
• Let your soul soak in this instruction and assurance: “Therefore if you have been raised with Christ [to a new life, sharing in His resurrection from the dead], keep seeking the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind and keep focused habitually on the things above [the heavenly things], not on things that are on the earth [which have only temporal value]. For you died [to this world], and your [new, real] life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1-3 Amplified Version)
You belong to the One who faithfully walked this earth, who had “success” with very few, and who now lives, making all this stuff work together for our good.
Faithfulness for the win.
#1 I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO
The warrior stands on the crest of a hill. Although already wounded and tired, she is committed to the cause and ready to rush to the defense of her people. On her left, the valley is filled with the sounds of mayhem as her people are slowly pushed toward the raging river. Looking to her right, she sees her people losing the high ground as they are overrun by strength of the enemy.
Which way should she run? Which battle needs her most? Which strategy will win the war? Which decision will prove a disastrous mistake? Choosing is impossible, but not choosing is unthinkable.
I don’t know what to do.
Of all the painful feelings experienced by parents whose kids have mental illness, this is the cry that sounds most often.
Do we go to the emergency department? Which one?
Do we try this medication, with these side effects? Or that one, with those?
Do I call the police?
Should we keep her in school? Which school?
So many choices, and often all of them seem bad.
For us, the hardest choice came when we had to consider sending Nicholas to a residential treatment facility for a year or more. By the time we reached that decision-making process, I was unsure of my own judgement. I knew that I felt it was not the best thing to do, but I didn’t know why I felt that way. Was I thinking rationally? Could my instinct be trusted? In the end, he did not go, because we had finally hit on a combination of med cocktail, therapy, and maturity that enabled him to be stable and move toward wellness. But it was possible that it would not have gone that way- that we would have kept him home and lost him to suicide. Of course, we could have sent him and lost him anyway.
My heart aches for all the moms and dads out there who have to make the hard choices with no guarantees. Feeling so helpless to succeed at the thing that matters most. Bearing the crushing weight of responsibility. Depending on a roll of the dice when the stakes are so high.
What can help?
• Recognize that all the choices may have flaws and there might not be one that is the magic bullet.
• Do the best you can and let the rest go. Forgive yourself for not being able to keep all options open.
• If your choice yields difficult consequences, remind yourself that the others probably had equal dangers. You don’t actually know what God has protected you and your kid from.
• Practice, and practice again, bringing your agonized worry to God.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 NASB
“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 NASB
Go to that throne every day, every hour, every minute if you have to. The way is always open and you will always be welcomed. God is wise and He is able. He loves you and yours. Entrust yourself to His tender care.
Can I pray for choices you are facing right now? Please leave a comment or email me through the contact page at kirstenp.com.