Sunday, May 8, 2016

To the Women in the Trenches-- I honor you on Mother's Day

A few weeks ago my son was admitted to the Day Treatment program again, if you are unfamiliar with such a program, it is the step down intensive out-patient program for children who would other wise be admitted on the psychiatric unit, who have both mental health issues, as well as special needs.

It was there that I sat in a room full of parents I had never met before and yet was instantly welcomed into a club I never intended to be a part of.   The first day I sat in a room full of strangers and pored my heart out, overwhelmed by the difficulties I face daily, parenting a child whose behavior is erratic, unpredictable, and sometimes violent.  No one sees what happens behind closed doors, but these mother's understood exactly what I was talking about.

There was no judgement in this place, only grace and acceptance.  As I shared my story through controlled sobs the other mother's nodded, their tears of understanding streamed down their wearied faces.  They didn't offer solutions or strategies, they just sat with me in my pain and weariness from the toil, and sighed with a sense of "yes, we've walked where you have walked."   Strangers, gave me hugs, exchanged phone numbers and instantly became friends.  In the most unlikely of places, the psychiatric unit of the hospital, I found solace in the comrades, of those I'd never imagined would be so.

I saw a strength in this place that I have never witnessed before.  The strength of women who are raising children with special needs.  Some of these special needs are autism, some are children like my son, who are "autistic like," but don't fit into any exact box, they have sensory issues, they have emotional dis-regulation, they have difficulty communicating their needs and emotions, they are explosively angry and destructive at times because they are overwhelmed by so many things that we can't understand.   Some have multiple diagnosis's like ADHD, OCD, and bipolar. 

These are mother's whose pride was ripped to shreds long ago.    We couldn't brag about our children's milestones, accolades, or academic achievements.  Rather, in the early days, the preschool teachers phone calls shocked us with concerns about speech delay, the inability to concentrate or sit still; and for some, already being kicked out of preschool.   Yes, some of these mom's children had been kicked out of daycare's and multiple preschools due to their behaviors.  

These are mother's who get calls from the school--"your son hit a student again today, your son can't sit still, you need to leave work and come pick up your child again."    These are the mother's who work multiple jobs to make ends meet,or are afraid they will lose their jobs because they have to pick up their child again.  These mother's are doing the best they can, yet sometimes, to the outside world, their children appear to lack discipline, or just need "a more firm hand."   

Yet as I observed the women in this circle, I saw a resounding familiar theme.  Each woman had gone over and above to access help for their child at an early age, sought early intervention, worked tirelessly with the school and with Dr's, and therapists and teachers to help their child.  Many had spent countless dollars and resources to get testing for their child, to do alternative therapies, to do everything in her power to help her child, take parenting classes, trying every method of discipline, read every parenting book, tried every diet.  Yet we all ended up in this place, in this circle on the hospital floor having our child admitted yet again, for things our unconditional love could not control or heal.

None of us mother's asked to be here, nor did we ever dream that the babies we carried in our womb would be suffering from the things that they suffer from daily.   I never knew this side of mothering, until I was cast into it, trying to make sense of my child's pain and special needs which I'm still struggling to understand.

This isn't the typical Mother's Day post, sweet and happy with a bunch of beautiful children surrounding a smiling mother.  This is the real deal, that commercialized holidays can't change--even for a day.  It's the sweat and tears that those of us mother's give daily to meet the needs of our typical children, while balancing the needs of our very special children--whatever they have, be it autism, medical needs, or mental health issues.

I honor these mother's today, the women in the trenches with me.  They are some of the most beautiful people I have ever met.  They feel isolated, because they can't always leave their homes on the days their child is not well.  They may not be able to take a break today because they have no one to watch their child with special needs.  They are the women in the grocery store, crouching down to help their child who is having a melt down because of the sensory over load of being out in public, they are the mother's who are apologizing to you because their autistic child just pushed your child on the playground.  They are the mother's who love their children more then anything, but their own child may not hug them, may hit them, may tell them "I hate you," every day.   They didn't get breakfast in bed or a card today.  They may have woken up to screaming, kicking and two hours of tantrums as I did this morning.  

They don't need sympathy, that is not why I am sharing this difficult post.  I'm sharing this because I think sometimes we forget what happened in that circle, is what is needed most.  We need each other's support and love, and we need each others understanding.  We also need more people to realize the shear number of children that are actually fighting mental health illness in this country as well as Autism.  I know that Autism is not a mental health disorder, and because of that, awareness has been increased and support has been granted.  On the flip side, there are just as many or more children with sensory processing issues, bipolar, ADHD and other impairing special needs that are not given the same recognition or help.   There are certainly not enough resources or help for these children or their families.

My son has been hitting me every day since we were discharged from the hospital early this week, some might think he's in worse shape right now then when he was admitted, but guess what--the insurance company told us our allowed time on the unit was up--so he was discharged before we could finish getting him the help that he needed.   So, we are left to try to figure it out on our own yet again.  

I can't express to you the countless other mother's who went home in worse situations then me, with children who have been kicked out of schools, have multiple court appearances, only for the parents to try to figure out on their own how to help their aggressive and struggling child at home.  Something has to change as there is no respite, and often no adequate help for these struggling families.  My eyes were opened to a side of mental illness in children that most of us have never been exposed to and would wish to ignore, but it is very real.

How can you respond?   This is a call to action not sympathy.  The Bible says, "To him whom much has been given, much is required."   Count your own blessings, and then ask yourself if there is something you could proactively do to help a mom that you might know who is the parent of a child with special needs.  You could talk to your church leaders about starting a once a month respite night for parents of children with special needs.  You could volunteer to help support one of these special children so his parents can go to a church service.  You might just offer an encouraging word to a mother whose child is having a melt down in the grocery store.   You could start a support group for other parents in your school or your community.  Perhaps you could do something even more practical.  You know what you are capable of--but maybe you could stretch yourself for an hour or two and give this mother a break she hasn't had in months or years.  Maybe you could invite that difficult child in your school to your child's birthday party and try to incorporate games that everyone could participate in.   There's a lot you can do, if you just look around you will see the needs.

To the Mother's in the trenches, I honor you.  I honor your courage and bravery.  Many of you do not have the support that I have from family and friends.  I am in awe of you.  I would challenge you to commit to take care of yourself.  So many of us are giving up our own identities in the fight to help our children.   Only recently did I realize that I was entering this sort of pit, and I knew I needed to get help.  Sometimes we have to humble ourselves and ask others for help, to tell our family exactly what we need.  You will find that many are willing to help--they just didn't realize how hard things were for you.  People can't help us if we don't tell them what we are going through.  I challenge you to be open with your story and your struggles, so that we can change the face of mental illness in this country and we can get help and support for our families and struggling children.  I also challenge you to get up early and walk, to eat healthy and get sleep and just physically take care of yourself so you can be the best mother that you can be for your other children.

Lastly, you are not alone.  Please comment below so we can all support each other.   You are deeply loved and cherished by the very God who created you.  I know that it's hard to understand why He has allowed these struggles in your life.  I don't pretend to be able to make sense of it, but I know that without the knowledge of His love I would be truly lost.  I hope that if you do not know Him you will seek Him out and find the grace that only He can give to meet your deepest needs.