Pouring Into a Broken Cup

My child looked at me and said, “I’m not sure I was made for this world.”

Gut punch.

Eyes welled up.

I did my best to tell my child that there are moments throughout our lives (even as adults) when we wonder about our purpose. We hugged, shared tears and I whispered words of encouragement to my child. This wasn’t the first time my child has said something like this. I thought we had crossed that bridge; met that need, etc. However, that part of my child still leaks.

Parenting kids with extra needs feels like pouring into a broken cup that has a leak in it. No matter how often or how much you keep pouring, the cup never seems to fill up.

Take your favorite coffee cup (or, if you are one of those people who don’t drink coffee, imagine your favorite cup of the beverage of your choice). You love this cup. It has some sort of significant meaning to you. Each day, you greet this cup with joy because you know you can pour your stuff right into it.

Now, imagine if your favorite cup never seems to fill up. You search it and discover a small, ever-so-tiny, crack. You fix that crack and pour into it again. It seems to hold your drink just fine until you notice it leaking again. You search and discover a different crack. You patch that up because you just can’t stand the thought of never using your favorite cup again.

You get up each day with the hope of “This time, my cup will not leak.” Some days, it works! You jump for joy and savor each sip. You go to bed thinking, “Perhaps, I actually fixed it this time.”

The next day, you get up, pour the same amount into the cup, and…yikes. You are pouring into a broken cup. The cup not only leaks your drink all over the place, it literally won’t even hold a single drop. It gets messy. Sometimes, it leaks all over you. You get sad and angry and then sad again. You look at your cup and think, “I’m not giving up on you. I know you will hold liquid again” and then, you patch it up (again) knowing that you may have to repair it in the future.

This is what parenting kids with complex needs feels like; to constantly pour, fix, and pour again knowing that you will never be able to mend all the cracks.

Of course, I’m not comparing children to coffee mugs – at least, not literally. There are days where no leaks seem to appear and your child just goes along the day without any significant issues. You get a glimpse of normalcy.

Most days, though, life is not like this. Before anyone complains that I’m complaining, I truly hope you don’t think that. Although each day as a parent to three children with extra needs is challenging, I know that pouring into them – leaks or not – is worthy of the time and effort. However, parenting kids with extra needs is exhausting. Emotionally. Physically. Spiritually.

Observing other people’s children who always seem to have their cups filled and who are “winning” at friendships, academics and other aspects of life, can be downright depressing. It is NOT that we want other children to fail. Not at all. It is just that the issues that a lot of parents face or worry about pale in comparison to the issues of those of us who are raising extra-needed kids.

When one parent worries about whether her child will make the starting line-up of a sports team, we worry that our children won’t even be allowed to try out due to behavioral issues. When one parent complains about a child staying up too late watching YouTube, we struggle with children who literally can’t sleep without medical intervention. When we look at images of kids at birthday parties or other social events, we grieve that our kids are not invited to any parties.

The saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup” is true, but it is hard to have a full cup when the ones you are pouring into have so many leaks. Our own cups get depleted – almost to the point that we don’t have anything else to pour out. Yet, we keep pouring into a broken cup. We keep hoping. We keep praying.

Considering this, I also look to the Lord. He sees me as a cup that is always needing to be repaired. I can be fragile. I have cracks. I need to be restored on a daily basis.

I can just imagine him saying, “Girl. We’ve fixed that. Don’t you bring that up again.” I can also hear him saying, “Girl. You are worth it. I will restore you each and every day. There is nothing that won’t cause me to repair you and make you whole.” He is pouring into a broken cup on a daily basis.

Those of us who have been chosen (because I believe that) to parent children with extra needs may question if we are meant for this parenting experience. Yet, we are.

Some days, we hold it all together. Other days, we leak like crazy. However, we are repaired and restored each day by the Lord so that we can do the same for His little soul vessels – our children – our beautiful and broken cups.

Tomorrow is a New Day {parenting kids who struggle}

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We walked into the parent-teacher conference today and were greeted with a sweet hello. Soon after, their faces turned grim.

“Has (this child) always been withdrawn?”

“Has (this child) struggled before?”

My husband and I did our best to answer their questions. To be honest, I felt like I was on the defensive. It was awkward. Most of all, it broke my heart. We didn’t have the same challenges that our kids do. We both did well in school, had friends and were active in various sports, etc. I’m sure our parents never had the type of parent-teacher conference that we had.

“It might be best to talk to (child’s) doctor about medication changes.”

“(This child) cannot make eye contact.”

“The issues you are describing can be a much bigger issue than what is known. You really need to talk to the doctor.”

“Has your child always struggled with interacting with others and with grades?”

As a parent to children who struggle, it takes a lot of restraint to NOT scream: “This is NOT all my child is about! My child is kind, wants to help others, and loves (his/her) family!!!”

However, at the end of the day, my husband and I know that our children must fit into this world. The world is not going to fit around them. And, to be honest, that sucks. There, I said it.

The misconception that “if you get a child as an infant, then the child will be okay“, just needs to stop. We got our children as babies. We tended to their needs. We celebrated their milestones and giggled at their curiosities. We did the best we could; like most parents do.

While all that helps, it does not (always) erase the problems that some children have. Instead, my husband and I must do the best we can…at this time…given the circumstances that present themselves.

To be honest, today was just a sad day for me. I wish I could just snap my fingers and all of these Earthly challenges would evaporate. I so wish I could exchange my children’s struggles for my own successes – to give them a life without diagnoses, social challenges and academic strife. Yet, in all of this…in all the daily junk…I know full well that the Lord has given me the exact children I am meant to parent. I know this, even on the hard days.

Parenting looks a whole lot different that I visualized it to be. My husband and I wonder what it would be like to be able to go out in the evening with our kids and not worry about meltdowns. We think about going to parent-teacher conferences and hearing, “You child is just the best student ever.” We long for our children to be given certificates and acknowledgments for being ‘good’. Yet, we also know that this is not the parenting journey that we are on. For me, my faith in Christ is what keeps me going. I know that Jesus hasn’t brought us this far to drop us on our heads. (My friend used to tell me this all of the time.) I believe it.

Today was rough. It’s not like any day is easy. The one hope that a parent with a child who struggles has is for their child to be understood and to have a life-changing breakthrough. When this doesn’t seem to be happening, it can surely dampen the situation, but it can never distinguish the power of parents whose entire world exists to create a better place for their children.

If you know a parent of a child who struggles, the best thing you can do is understand them, love on them and support them. Be a non-judgmental ear for them to pour their angst into. They know you can’t fix the issue, but they also know that just having someone who listens to them is vital. Let them cry to you. Allow them to tell you their story – even if they have to do it time and again.

If you are a parent of a child who struggles, please know that you are not alone. Seek out people who will listen to you. Don’t give up.

Tomorrow is a new day.

 

 

Let Your Heart Speak

It was a particularly rough day at our home. One of my kids struggled ALL DAY with making poor choices, being rude, etc. After a long night, my child said, “I bet you wish you didn’t even adopt me. I bet you wish I was just dead.” I took a breath, thought for a minute, looked at this precious little soul, and then said, “No. If something happened to you, I would miss you every single day for the rest of my life.”

My child collapsed into my arms, crying, and said, “That is the kindest thing I’ve ever heard.” We spent some time crying together and reassuring each other that we are okay, we love each other, and that I (and daddy) are so thankful to have been given the gift of adoption.

A few things come to mind regarding this experience. If you plan on building your family through adoption, please understand that your child(ren) might say things like this. This particular child of mine has been with us since infancy; still, yet, we find ourselves always having to show reassurance through our actions and words. It can be typical for a child who has been adopted to consider his or her “status” in the family. Don’t fear it. Just understand that it can happen.

It can be really hard to fall into the habit of parenting that is too regimented and scripted. I’ve been to lots of training regarding behavioral issues/special needs and I have taught them as well. However, when in the moment, it is hard to remember what is the right and most appropriate response to take.

It is recommended (at times) to hold your ground and be direct with your expectation, but in the moment I described above, I decided to let my heart speak.  My child’s words seemed to be about something more than being angry for some trivial issue. Instead of giving a consequence for the behaviors that preceded the statement, I chose to reveal a truth to my child, and I could tell that my words were unexpected, yet perfect for the moment.

Looking at my child in that desperate state and hearing my child’s words that tended to originate from a place of not feeling secure and good, I was able to see more clearly the power of grace. When I’ve said to God, “You’ve just forgotten about me. You don’t even care. I wonder if I was even worth being created”, I know that He has responded with, “You are loved. You are special. You are unique. You have worth. You mean something.” If I desire this response from God and all the grace that comes from Him, then how in the world would I not want to dish it out to my children or give them the response they need?

There is something pretty powerful when we choose to parent from the place of grace. It can be so hard, though. When the kids are acting up, embarrassing us, or saying mean things, the natural instinct is to defend oneself or give a directive. I’m learning that being an imperfect parent is okay. Not having the right or more disciplined response is okay. I’m trying to allow my heart to speak more, instead of letting my frustration be the author of my words. At the end of the day, when the years have come and gone, I know there will be a lot of regrets and thoughts of “I should have been better”, but I also know that my children will have no doubt that I deeply love them.

If you are building your family through adoption, my advice for you is this:  You will feel judged by others. You will be asked far too many personal questions about your child and your parenting style. You will not feel capable of handling strong emotions from your child. You might question what the heck you are doing and if you are just messing your kids up. You could face lots of obstacles and deal with issues and needs that you did not face as a child. Yet, despite all of this, if you stick to resilience and stand firm in the belief that YOU are exactly the parent that your child was meant to have and needs (however messy it is), then you will be okay.

Let your heart speak.

Of all the regrets we may have as parents, this is not one of them.

Don’t Ever Forget That {words for parents of special needs kids}

Oh, boy.  There is nothing like being at a busy and popular outdoors store (aka: the “big” Bass Pro Shop) and dealing with a very defiant, loud, and just plain out-of-control four-year-old.  Wowza.  Directives were given.  Choices were offered.  Still yet, the force was quite strong with this one, today.  Because I am the parent and he is the child, I gave him one last warning, “If you do not hold my hand and stay with me, you and I will have to go to the van.”  And, boom.  He’s off.  Throwing a major, cataclysmic style of meltdown for all of the outdoorsy, fishing fanatics to see.

I swiftly, yet gently picked the floppy body of my child up off the ground, maneuvered him in a way that protected the both of us, grabbed the keys from my husband, and headed off to the seemingly non-ending walk to our van.  The ENTIRE time, my child was screaming.  Now listen.  His screams were not just a “typical” scream.  Oh, no.  It was something animalistic that surely came from the depths of the dwelling place of Hades.

His body stiffened.  I nearly dropped him.  He somehow managed to get himself to the ground, and then magically became limp and without strength to stand up on his own two feet.  I picked him up off of the ground, carried him like a basket, watched for the flailing arms and legs, and we meandered our way through that gigantic maze of dead animals and camouflage.

As we walked, or better yet, I walked while wrestling what seemed like an alligator, people just stopped and stared.  They parted the way (just like Moses parting the Red Sea…sort of) so that I could get through.  Sometimes, a few older people chuckled.  Others made eye-contact with me with the “Girl, we feel your pain” kind of solidarity (AND I LOVE THOSE PEOPLE), but then were many that gave me a look of disdain.  I mean, how in the world would any decent parent have a child that acts like that?!   Right?  Yeah, right.

Alas, we made it to the van.  I opened the door, he threw himself on the ground.  I got his car seat all ready for his delivery, he stiffened his body.  I peered around to see a church van of folks staring and watching our little game of cat and mouse.  I finally got him in the van, shut his door, jumped in on my side, and locked it.

With a bit of snarkiness, I posted on my personal Facebook page a status that included wild animal sounds not being a new sound effect of Bass Pro Shops, having a walk of shame out of the store, and Jesus coming back, but then I sat back in my seat as he started to soften a bit, and I held back tears.

Some might say that this behavior is quite typical of a preschooler.  I suspect it is. However, and I’m going to be extremely candid about this, my husband and I deal with these type of behaviors on a daily basis, and we manage the best we can.  All of our children experienced trauma in the womb.  It is as if they not only absorbed the choices their birth mothers made, they also absorbed the chaos around them.  There is something to be said about that.

People have said to me, “At least you got them as babies.”  ‘Tis true.  We are very blessed to receive our children as infants, but that does not mean, nor ever will mean, that we do not experience daily struggles with our children.  This is the thing that only parents of children with invisible special needs can understand.

When others see my children, they see bright, cute, outgoing, athletic and friendly kids.  What they don’t see is the day-to-day parenting energy that is expelled in order to pull this off.  They don’t see our neurology appointments, clinical assessments, and a medication regimen that we have to attend to.  They don’t hear our discussions with people in the helping profession or attend the various training on managing trauma and behavioral issues that we’ve attended.

They don’t know the late-night, in bed, talks between my husband and I about how we can handle a behavior, or what we should or should not do to maintain.  They don’t know the time spent advocating for our kids.  They don’t hear our prayers for protection, wisdom, and healing.  They don’t understand just how exhausted we are at the end of the day.  And, they do not know our worries for our children’s futures.

But..let me tell you, friend.  There is this mighty thing called faith, and it encompasses us.  It envelops us and surrounds us with the will to get up each day and try to do better.  We know, with every pore in our bodies, that our children are exactly where God needed them to be…with us.

My husband and I realized a few weeks ago that we are parenting special needs kids.  Of course, we’ve known this for years, but we finally spoke it out loud.  We finally gave ourselves permission to call it what it is, and to not be happy and “okay” with life all of the time.

For others who are parenting kids with special needs, I just want to say that you are a special kind of parent.  You deal with issues that a lot of families will never face.  You understand with full attention what it is like to parent a child whose walk on the Earth is laden with challenges.  Your energy and time spent researching, advocating, listening, crying, and praying is time well worth spent.  Don’t ever forget that.

Tomorrow is a new day.  Cover yourself with the belief and hope that we are making a significant difference in the lives of our kids.  We are not perfect.  We have to discipline differently.  We have to choose to ignore the things that would drive other parents crazy.  We have to carry ourselves in a manner that does not show just how much we are struggling.  And, we should be proud of this.

It takes a lot, a tremendous amount, to parent children with special needs.  Don’t be shy to ask for help.  Don’t be embarrassed to admit that you struggle.  After all, we are simply parents whose lives are a mission field for children who desperately need us.

Don’t ever forget that.