Our son has a mental illness. His brain was damaged by alcohol before he was born. After his birth he suffered trauma. That exposure to trauma changed the way his brain functions. My son currently is unable to live at home. Not every parent’s experience will be the same as mine. It is my hope that through sharing my story, other parents who are feeling this pain will feel less alone.
The ache begins in my stomach. At first it’s a slight twinge, an anxiety, an uncertainty. The pressure spreads to my chest, pressing down on my shoulders. It’s difficult to move or lift my eyes. Like a tunnel of darkness, my world narrows. The pain is constant. It’s been like this for years. Ever present. Sometimes overwhelming, mostly numb. Unlike the agony of labor that brought this child into the world, this pain is without the hope of joy. It hits in waves but the relief never comes.
Can others see the pain in my happy face. Do they see the joy that’s lacking from this moment? I wear my disguise everywhere I go. Happy mom, good neighbor, helpful friend.
I wake up each morning, hopeful that the day will bring good news. I’m fully aware that it may not. The phone rings and my heart skips a beat. The call is from my son’s boarding school. This is the first time I’ve felt anything today, and the feeling is fear. My husband answers the phone and I listen to his end of the conversation. It’s not good. My son has made another bad choice, lost his pass to visit us, got in a fight. The other boy is hurt. That twinge in my heart has gone silent again, numbness. I long to feel something again, but I’m afraid.
My other kids are playing outside and they are so happy. I’m doing something right with them, but how? How did I fail one child so deeply? I can’t answer the question and so I don’t. I fight to be present with my other children today. Close off the nagging burdensome questions and feel the joy and peace of my other children. Sometimes I succeed. I really do. I read a book to my littlest one. I braid my daughter’s hair. I walk hand-in-hand with my husband and smile at my niece. But the burden is always there. I carry it with me to work. I’m sure the man at the coffee shop sees the pain resting on my shoulders. He gives me a large coffee instead of the medium I ordered, at no extra charge. I smile and thank him but does the smile reach my eyes? I’m not sure.
I curl up next to my husband on the couch. We watch a funny movie, and for the most part, I laugh at all the right places. The window is open a crack and I hear the peaceful chirp of the crickets. The house is calm. Each child is tucked safely into bed. I’ve prayed with all of them. I’ve kissed all of them. All except the one. All except my son. The movie ends and I climb the stairs to my bed, with each step the burden grows heavier. I’m passing my son’s old room when the waves of pain hurl through my body again. My heart feels as if it is being pressed beyond measure.
I can’t say a word. My husband wraps his arms around me and my pillow brings me no comfort. The stillness of this night is the constant reminder that my son is not with me. I resist the urge to cry and then I can resist no longer. I allow myself to remember holding him as a baby. I allow myself to remember his sweet smile. I will my arms to remember our last hug, my fingers to remember the softness of his hair, my ears to remember his voice. It hurts so much I wish I hadn’t allowed the memories to start, but they are here. All these memories, swirling around in my mind and my heart. All the sadness I’ve stuffed down inside of me releases, no longer a brewing storm but a tsunami of emotions. In the midst of my sobbing, my husband prays, for peace, for change, for our family, for our son. Eventually I can cry no more and my sleep is peaceful. Not plagued with thoughts of my own failure, for the first time in a long time, I just sleep.
This pain of parenthood, it is guaranteed. It will come. You will worry. You will fear. You will experience loss and disappointment that you cannot even imagine. Despite your circumstances, you will feel like a failure. It’s ok to feel those feelings and it’s ok to cry. Most of all, it’s ok to hand it to the Lord. The pain of parenthood is a burden you were not meant to carry alone.
Truth is, you’re not alone. There is hope. And there is power in confession. That’s a life-changing truth we’ve discovered in our own journey. When we’re honest and open about our pain and our struggles we find peace because we’re no longer using all of our strength to hold things back and keep up a front. If that’s you, it’s time to stop. It’s time to let it go and find freedom in camaraderie. Are you ready?
Tell us about your pain, your struggle, your hurts on the journey of parenthood. That’s what this blog exists for.