My dad yelled a lot when I was a kid. When I say yell, I mean yell! He had no volume control. I can still remember, vividly, some of his outbursts. Most of the time, they were over petty things- a light was left on in one of the bedrooms; it was summer and a window was accidentally left open, letting air conditioned air out; I used a hammer and left it on the picnic table out back instead of putting it back in the garage.
My sister and I would watch the clock each afternoon because we knew what time he got off work, and, we knew how long it would take him to get home. We worked feverishly to make sure everything was neat and tidy.
Little by little, the pettiness grew into tirades, and those tirades spilled into nearly every area of our lives. Friends wouldn’t stay too long after a sleep over (mostly our own doing), because it was embarrassing to be yelled at (for petty things) in front of them. When they did linger, we made excuses for his behavior, explaining that work stressed him out, or we should’ve known better. We even began to form our own buffers, laughing things off, or quickly moving toward our cars with our friends, so not to subject them to the yelling. One time, after a homecoming dance, I brought my date home to watch movies, and moved her quickly and quietly from room to room, by only turning on lights in each room as we went, so I wouldn’t wake him up. The look on her face was one I’ll never forget. She wasn’t fooled by what I was doing.
Instead of owning up to the fact that our dad was out of control and embarrassing, we tweaked our environment in attempt to bring it closer to what we dreamed it should be. You may think this is ridiculous, but this is actually one of the biggest human defaults to traumatic situations. It’s what I grew up with and what I’ve worked very hard to overcome in my own life as I’ve become an adult.
Recently, we made the decision to move our son several states away to a very structured residential because his behavior was not safe in the home, at school, or in our community. He has been diagnosed with Alcohol-Related-Nuerodevelopmental Disorder (ARND), under the umbrellas of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. The decision was difficult because our son is a very compassionate and loving kid who wants to make the right choices. He suffers from permanent brain damage and requires a structured and focused environment. As we were traveling out to the location, I read something intriguing on the organization’s website. It was an excerpt from a letter written by the mother of a recent resident:
Defiant. Disrespectful. Angry. Irresponsible. Selfish. Arrogant. User. Chaos. This was Sam in the summer of 2013. Our lives were consumed by trying to tweak the world to keep our son on the straight and narrow. Just as we had baby-proofed the house when he started to crawl, our time was spent “Sam proofing” our lives.
Reality Verses Fantasy.
Fact is, we do this as parents when we are parenting children with extreme behaviors…
- Our son is completely out of control and throws embarrassing tantrums in public or in front of close friends……tweak.
- Our marriage is on the rocks, we’re not seeing eye-to-eye with our spouse, and it’s quite obvious things are on shaky ground…..tweak.
- One of our daughters has an addiction, she steals all the time, is in trouble with the police, and lies about everything….tweak.
- We made the choice to be foster or adoptive parents to children from difficult places, who make choices, out of their trauma, that shine an unwanted spotlight on our family….tweak.
You see, we all get caught up in the fantasy of a different life. This is not the marriage I dreamed I would have. This is not the child I thought I would be raising. This is not the job I had hoped I’d be working at 40. This is not the lifestyle I expected to live. Dreams. Thoughts. Hopes. Expectations.
When we’re faced with a set of circumstances that are different than the ones we had originally planned, it’s easier to default to tweaking instead of accepting reality as it is. After all, fantasy can be easier than reality. But is it really the healthiest option?
This Is No Way To Live.
The answer is, no! Tweaking our lives to suit our unexpected life situation is no way to live. It’s exhausting and defeating. And, it’s not fooling anyone. Do you realize this? People are smart and they can see the forest for the trees. Just like that girl I brought home after homecoming wasn’t fooled by my light show, to cover up my dad’s explosive temper, the world around you is not fooled by your constant tweaking in attempts to create the life you fantasize about.
Do you want to know what the healthiest option is? Honesty. Plain and simple honesty.
I say this because we know this first hand. We used to duck and cover when our child threw tantrums in our neighborhood, or got in trouble at school. We kept one of our other child’s legal trouble in the dark, for fear of judgement, even though her choices had led her down that path. We made excuses for the special needs of some of our children. We tweaked, and tweaked, and tweaked until we we couldn’t tweak any longer. In the end, we found a better way- we embraced the truth.
The Truth Shall Set You Free.
It was hard, but the truth was freeing. When we finally faced the truth about our son, we found freedom. He has FASD. We didn’t do this to him and it’s not his fault. We had spent so much time tweaking, in attempts to create the son, and family life, that we dreamed of having, that our whole world was in chaos. It wasn’t working. We were putting bandaids on deep lacerations. The truth changed all of that. No longer would we live in darkness.
The light may sting at first, it may cause you to squint, but it’s healing and life-giving in the long run. We’re experiencing this now. Facing the truth helped us make decisions for our children that were not popular with them, or even the general public, but were the healthiest for their lives. We’re not out of the woods, and we still have a long road to travel with them, but we do so in complete honesty and unconditional love for our children. It’s the only way to live.
Perhaps you’ve been living in the dark? Perhaps you’re stuck in the rut of constantly tweaking your world in attempt to create the world you wish you had. Is it really working for you? Is it really healthy? Maybe it’s time to step into the light.
Have you been tweaking your world? What needs to change?