The room was pitch black, minus the dull glow from the star stickers on the ceiling above Garrett’s bed. The sound of pouring rain coming from the white noise app on the ipad was at max volume, but it still couldn’t drown out the tapping and clicking noises that each child was creating as they waited for sleep to wash over them. Every “tap” and “click” felt like nails on a chalkboard as my stomach tensed at their sound, over and over again. At this point, my mind and body were convinced that one more request, excuse or interruption to the bedtime efforts meant this day would never end.
This wasn’t a new experience. In fact, it was typical. So in all reality my brain knew that the boys would inevitably fall asleep and the day too would come to its end. But fatigue- be it emotional, physical or mental, did not care what my brain “should” know to be true. Fatigue doesn’t care how much I actually love these kiddos and cherish the cuddles. Fatigue pays no mind to the fact that once they fall asleep, my heart will leap a little as I peek at their peaceful faces. No. Fatigue only wants to hijack the brain with feelings of desperation.
So as I stare at the stars on the ceiling, and try to remain perfectly still in hopes that Jackson will forget I am there and fall asleep, my fatigue-hijacked mind keeps anticipating the glass of wine and TV show that lies ahead. Or alternatively (depending on the type of day I had) my body aches for the incredible feeling of a shower and crawling under the covers of my own bed that feels like the finish line I have been racing to cross for decades.
Then, it happens. Stillness and slow breathing. They are asleep! I made it! After what felt like an eternity, I am finally alone and can rest. No more requests, whining, begging, arguing, serving, running, redirecting, cleaning, mediating and just pain loudness. I have a couple solid hours to myself, if I can keep my eyes open. But then, upon finally making it to the shower, instead of basking in my solitude, my brain immediately reflects and condemns. I begin to ask myself questions like, “Did bedtime really take over an hour? Why does it take them so long to fall asleep? Why do I have to be there? Will they ever grow out of this? Was I even nice to be around? Why am I so angry? Why can’t I just be patient, and enduring?” And I pray, “Lord, help them not remember me like this, exhausted, irritable and quick-tempered.”
I remember the first couple years of motherhood, a veteran mom told me, “You are going to make mistakes as a parent, it is impossible not to. But thank God we can ask for HIS mercy to wash our mistakes away and HIS grace to fill in the gap.” She encouraged me not to sit in self-condemnation, but instead bring it all to the Lord. So every night, sometimes every day, every hour, every moment, I bring it all to the Lord. Because I am frustrated. I am exhausted. I am weary. I am tired of making the same mistakes, I am tired of how hard it is. I want to be stronger, more patient, more disciplined now. Because every moment that I am not, is another opportunity to blame myself for the misbehaviors of my children. Because that’s what I am tempted to do, all day long. Blame myself.
In the early years, it was less of my own and more of others playing the blaming and shaming game. The all too often, ever present answer to a mama’s cry for help was, “Oh, you JUST need to sleep train….you JUST need to breastfeed… you need to bottle feed so someone else can feed them…you need to expect immediate obedience with a happy heart on the first try… you need to spank… you need to stop letting them control you…you need to get rid of gluten and dairy… you need to get rid of TV and devices…YOU need to… you NEED to… you need TO…. and the list goes on and on.
I’m not sure if the “mom wars” are still as active now, if mama’s have become more supportive of each other’s varying styles, or if I have gotten better at tuning them out, but my battle these days are more of my own condemnation than the condemnation of others. For so many years, I tried to avoid making mistakes. I wouldn’t make decisions, or actions without doing my research to ensure that the success rate was high. I couldn’t offer myself the grace necessary to make a mistake and learn from it. It was too costly, so I had to make sure to get it right the first time.
That is, until a series of life-altering events happened that showed me just how little control I have. In Fall 2012, our firstborn ate her first peanut butter and jelly sandwich the day after her first birthday only to discover she had a life threatening peanut allergy. In Fall 2016 at age 33, I found out that all these years I had an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. And again in 2018 when our youngest son was 3, we learned that he had bilateral sensorineural hearing loss caused by a genetic syndrome called Usher’s Syndrome. And again, in 2019 at the age of 6 when we learned that our middle son had significant ADHD and Anxiety that required medication. Those are a lot of things to find out down the road. A lot of information received later than I would have liked. When you do not have all the information necessary to make all the right choices, you are given a lot of opportunity to make mistakes and get it wrong.
Let’s be honest, in life do we ever have all of the necessary information to make all the right choices? No. But we can do our best with what we have and never stop learning. We can be humble and offer ourselves the grace to face our mistakes so that we can grow. And if as an adult- I am still learning to do this, how much more can I offer this to my children who have much less years of mistakes to learn from.
Here I am, 38 and still making some of the same mistakes. Still struggling not to condemn myself.
Our middle son has been facing many struggles as a result of his disorders. The decision of whether or not to add anxiety medicine in addition to his ADHD medicine was a difficult decision to make. We had all of the necessary data to suggest that this was the next best move.
But I couldn’t get past myself.
And all the voices and all of the questions that have raced through my head before, came flooding back.
“Are you really going to put him on another medicine? He’s only 7.” … “Why don’t you strip his diet of all gluten and dairy?”… “Maybe he’s just a boy being a boy and you are not disciplining him enough?” … “Maybe you need to increase your anxiety medicine before you put him on another one.”… “Why can’t you just homeschool him?”… “Maybe all of his behaviors and struggles are because you are too weak.” …
So many voices. My own, and others.
Sometimes it feels as if the voices can consume me. Very similar to the actual noise in our household. It can be so loud, so overwhelming. When you have a 5- year old who is hard-of-hearing and still learning how to moderate his voice, and a 7-year old with ADHD who has one volume level- loud. And also a 9-year old who unfortunately learned that in order to be heard she has to push through and talk over the noise, and 2 parents who sometimes have to do the same in order to communicate who is picking the kids up from school, it feels like I am a thermometer about to burst. You know the cartoon thermometer? I can feel the red liquid rising quickly to the top of me about to burst, and I literally have to take myself to the front porch, shut the door and the noise behind me and breathe….or else.
So much noise, so many voices. I find myself preferring silence whenever I get the chance. When I go for a walk, a run, a bike ride or even in the car, I choose the quiet. I have to seek out the quiet. Not just to give my ears a rest. I desperately need to hear HIS voice. In the quiet, I can pray and ask for HIS voice to speak to me what is true. And I am reminded of what I know to be true about HIM, about myself, and about my circumstances. I am reminded that we waited until the doctor said it was OK to introduce peanut butter. I am reminded that we had Jackson in speech therapy for 2 years before they diagnosed his hearing loss. I am reminded that we sought council and nurtured Garrett’s sensory processing disorder as best as we could and even removed gluten from his diet before we went the medicinal route. I remember how we use essential oils to support our minds and body in a natural way. I remember that we tried many different ADHD medicines, and had him tested for celiac as we discerned his need for anxiety medication. And I remember how we have prayed every step of the way.
And in the silence, after they have fallen asleep, after I have snuggled with each of them and endured their restlessness and repetitive “clicks” and “taps”, I am reminded that I am FOR them. I love them so stinkin’ much.
I am frustrated, exhausted and weary BECAUSE I love them so stinkin’ much. I am frustrated and exhausted and weary BECAUSE I make mistakes, and I am not gonna stop trying to be better. I am frustrated and exhausted and weary BECAUSE they keep making mistakes, and often drive me nuts, but I am not gonna stop trying to help them grow. And I am frustrated, exhausted and weary because I have 3 children under the age of 9, two who are neuro- diverse, and motherhood in general is hard! To quote my mom, “It is the hardest job you’ll ever love.”
I had to remind my son the other day, “I am for you. You are MY son, and I am on YOUR side.” I said it with a bit of intensity because it had been one-too many tattle-tales from the same child. One who is quick to blame Garrett, and never takes responsibility for their part. I had had enough. I respectfully acknowledged the complaint, addressed the behavior and what needs to stop or start. But after, when it was just us, I made sure he knew I was for him.
And I will make sure to offer myself the same reassurance. Because my God is always with me, and He is always for me. He gives me the grace to forgive myself, and the strength to try again. He sees me. He knows my struggle. He sees my children, and He knows all of our weaknesses. And when the voices in my head start chiming, whether it be from others, or my own, I will remember- “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” Romans 8:31. And all of Romans 8 for that matter because this entire passage of scripture reminds us that there is no condemnation for those who belong to Jesus Christ. It reminds us that Jesus frees us from the power of sin, and His Holy Spirit affirms who we are as children of God. That HE helps us in our weakness and helps us to pray and that NOTHING can separate us from HIS love. And when I am feeling hopeless, and do not have the strength to try again, I can remember HIS perfect love for us and how many times he stood back up with that cross on his back- for us. And there is no amount of fatigue that God’s love can’t conquer.