Sometimes life bites you on the butt.
You’re going along in your normal routine and things are going well. Everyone’s getting fed each day, everyone’s going off to school and work (if not happily, at least without too much drama or trauma) and every once in a while you can get folks together to do something fun. You’re enjoying yourself. You are accomplishing things, moving forward, and so are your family members. Life is great. Then all of a sudden, it isn’t.
In my family’s case it started out with a few health issues. Nothing horrible, just things that needed to be taken care of or things that knocked us off our feet for a week or two. Taken singly, they would have been no big deal, but combined they meant a lot of time spent driving to doctors’ offices, money spent on prescriptions and co-pays, tests and more tests, and a lot of time in bed. They meant several months of playing “are any kids healthy enough to go to school today, and if so, which adult is well enough to drive them?” There was a ton of homework missed and a lot of scrambling to keep up at work and on the home front. Life wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t easy either. And although each of the issues were small, they just kept coming, one after the other for six months straight.
Then the funerals came. Two of them in fact, both surprises. First one, then when I’d stopped crying a few months later, another. Fortunately neither were for my husband or children, but they were for family members I love very much. People who weren’t a part of my daily life but once had been; people who I treasure and will miss.
Life got even harder for a while. Not only were we dealing with the day-to-day and the extra health difficulties, now we were mourning and helping family members through their grief. We were away from home repeatedly, traveling for hospice and funerals. Suddenly, all the balls we were juggling – school, work, social obligations, regular home chores – started slipping. Kids missed enough school that couldn’t be made up that their grades plummeted. Hubby had to work long hours to catch up at work. I was canceling my volunteer activities left and right, while tearfully trying to find enough clean laundry to dress my family to attend my father’s funeral. Quite simply, for a while there life was really hard.
There is a reason I’m telling you all this. It’s not to garner sympathy (though it does explain why I abandoned my blog for a while.) After all, you have difficulties in your life as well. You have your ups and downs, your hard times and good times. Life isn’t always easy for you either. That’s my point.
As parents we expect that we should always be able to take care of our family. That whatever is going on in our lives, we should be at every one of our kids’ soccer games, every music performance, every karate class. That we should be able to heal every bruise and bump, our kids should pass every class they take, and that everyone should have clean socks every day. We should ensure our kids eat their vegetables and brush their teeth. Heaven forbid they grow up in a house with a bathtub ring or go a day without phone service because we forgot to pay the bill or have to take Oreos to the school bake sale. Heaven forbid that we fail as parents.
Most of the time we can do it. We have enough time, enough energy, enough skills to make it work. If things get a little tight somewhere, we can let something else slide for a short time, then we’re back on our feet and going. Like someone who’s hurrying down an icy sidewalk; we take a few steps, slip a bit, tap dance until we get our footing again, catch our breath then start moving forward again. Run, slip, slide, recover and run some more.
Most of the time it works, but not always. Sometimes the ice is just too slippery. We start walking, our legs go out from under us and we fall. Head first, into a snow bank, and snow goes down the back of our jacket all the way to our socks. Oww.
As parents, most of us don’t have a lot of extra resources; meaning time, money and parenting skills. We’re generally working close to the edge. If we’ve got more time, we do more. If we’ve got more money, we spend more. If we’ve got more parenting skills, we expect more from ourselves and our children. We’re constantly trying to do the best we can with what we have. It just comes with the territory.
As parents of special needs kids we’ve got even more demands on us. There’s more homework, more doctor’s visits, and more decisions to be made. Finances are tighter and the future is scarier. All the struggles and heartaches of parenthood are ours, only they’re amplified. Unfortunately, our resources aren’t. Our tank is always running near empty. If we plan our day right and everything works out well, we can get everyone out the door and back again, homework and dishes done, a hug and a snuggle, then get them tucked into bed so we can start again the next day. As long as there are no hiccups or bumps in the road, we can make it. But sometimes we can’t.
This is the part where I’m supposed to say, “But that’s okay. Do the best you can and it will all work out sunshine and roses.” That’s what most parenting advice articles say. But you know what? Sometimes it doesn’t work out. You know that. Sometimes when you hit the snow bank there’s a great big block of ice in the middle and you get smacked good and hard. Someone gets kicked out of school or gets arrested or ends up in the emergency room. Sometimes life hands us some pretty hard knocks that we can’t make all better, as much as we’d like too.
I wish I had something wonderful to write next. Some magic words that would tell you what to do when those things happen, so you could make the bad stuff go away and get back to your wonderful, boring, normal routine. But I can’t. There are no such words. I can’t tell you how to make things better.
What I can tell you though, is how to not make things worse.
One those (hopefully) rare days when you find yourself bleeding in the snow: 1) don’t sit there screaming in panic and, 2) don’t ignore the bleeding and start staggering back down the sidewalk. Put everything else on hold, deal with the bad stuff, then get up and start moving forward again.
Now this is the part where you say, “Um, duh. I already know that. That’s what I do. When bad stuff happens, I prioritize and take care of the vital stuff first, then try to pick up the pieces of everything else the best I can.”
And that’s the real point to this whole story. When we’re already doing all that we can do in the situation we’re in, we can’t beat ourselves up when sometimes it’s not enough. All we can do is do the best we’re able to stop the bleeding, mop up the blood, blot the tears and get back on the road. Our lives are not easy. We’re going to collect bumps and bruises along the way. Success for us is not going to be getting to the end of the road unscathed – it’s getting to the end of the road. Success is us not ending up sitting in the snow somewhere with soggy undies. Success is every time we fall down, we get back up.
My family life is going better now. Children and hubby and myself are healthy enough to enjoy the glorious freedom of warm weather and no homework. We made it through our latest patch of hard times and we’re back to having fun.
We’re back on our feet, but I want you to take a moment to think about the advice you would have given me if my family and I were still smack dab in the middle of it all. If you and I were sitting down for a cup of coffee and I told you I was feeling like a failure because things were falling apart, what would you have told me? Think about it. Then write those words down. Keep them in a safe place. And the next time you find yourself sprawled out in the snow, with your tuckus in the air and a bump on your head, pull them out and read them.
You’re doing the best you can do in a hard situation. You’re not failing. Do what you can do. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Things would be worse off for everyone without your efforts. Hang in there. You can do this.