As a mother of four, I am always working to care for my kids in the best way possible. I make sure that they have rides to their activities, I give them hugs and kisses and tell them regularly that they are loved, I ask about their mental and physical health on a regular basis. I put my best into my children the majority of the time, so they should turn out great. They should be the most successful individuals in the world, always striving for the best in their own life. I mean, I know that if they go astray, it cannot be my fault, right?
I find it funny that I am writing this post after teaching the Prodigal Son in Sunday school today. Here we had a hardworking father, a dedicated son and another son who wanted his wealth while his father was a live. There are so many different messages in this story that I am not even sure we could cover them all in this post, besides which, this post is not about this section of scripture. Instead, this is a Point of View post about being a parent to a child who has gone astray and how this can affect your spiritual, mental and physical health.
I chose to talk to Toni about her experience with her eldest son. I won’t add his name here, but I will certainly allow for her point of view to be shared here because this is not only her son’s experience, but a mother’s experience as well.
Sara: In terms of making it through this time in your life, what are some of the biggest things that helped you make it through?
Toni: Mental health care and friendship, reading, research and garnering as much information as possible. Then finally, giving him to God, which allowed for a full release.
Sara: How did this affect other family members?
Toni: It drove a wedge between him and other family members as well as a wedge between me and other members of the family. There were times when I had to explain to other family members why I was helping him or why he was around our home.
Sara: Do you think he understands your need to talk about his situation?
Sara: What is something you can help your other children take away from this situation?
Toni: That everyone has a “sorry language” and even though he has not said those exact words, he has another way of saying that “he’s sorry” and that might be by doing things as opposed to sitting down with his siblings and actually saying the words.
Sara: After we talked about all of this, do you think there is anything different that you could have done?
Toni: From the second that I found my son leading a deceitful life until now which is two years later, I have asked myself what could I have done differently. He is now back with us with his 20-month-old daughter. The parenting of the children has always been a front seat position that I have taken.
Since he was in fifth grade, he would randomly make bad choices, even though he knew better. For instance, he loved school and loved his teacher in fifth grade but refused to turn in his already completed and finished papers. We found them in the bottom of his locker. All he had to do was walk them over to the teacher. Take that minor incident and fast forward it to his 16th year. He was away at our church camp where he was a counselor. Our church did this one week out of the summer. While he was there, I was shown a letter that he had written to a staff where he worked that was extremely inappropriate. Jeff and I decided to drive up to camp and pull him out. There weren’t many instances between those two, but the instances that there were, were major. Things that stopped our family and its track and have to focus on how we get him out of this one.
We have always bailed him out of situations that he has gotten into. We justified it by giving him punishments and consequences at our house but always intervened on having consequences handed out wherever these issues arose. If I could go back in time, I would have had him face whatever consequence somebody else had for him.
Proverbs 22:6 states, “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
We have had all of our children in church from the day they were born. They have gone to Sunday school, during the week programming, youth groups and any other special event at church. On top of that, we try as much as we can to live the faith in our home as well. I just could not understand why he would throw away 22 years of being a Christ follower for the first pretty girl that looked his way. He made his profession of faith when he was 16. In our faith, you stand up in front of the congregation after you have gone before the elders of the church and you publicly claim Jesus as being your one and only Savior. There’s no certain age when you do this. It is when you feel you are ready to. Nobody twisted his arm. Within a blink of an eye, he turned his back on his personal savior.
Should I have “managed” him better? Should I have “micro-managed” him?
What was he thinking every time he lied or stole from us? Did he even think of us when he got married in a courthouse and not only were we not there, we were not told about it. What did he think when he found out he was going to have a baby and he didn’t tell us. After I confronted him about being married, that was the last straw for me. We were at the hospital because my dad was in for more health issues. Our son, his wife and the baby came to the hospital. I finally just confronted him and said "I know you’re married, don’t lie to me". I started to cry and asked him what I had done wrong all these years? He said there was "nothing" that I had done wrong. I asked him what I could have done better? He said he didn’t know.
Most of this was happening when my mom‘s health was worse and getting to the point of us putting her into hospice. Most of my attention was on both of my parents at that time. I was the primary caregiver for them. As well as the fact that we were transitioning our foster kids to their adoptive homes. Both of these children were labeled severely emotionally disturbed. Basically, that means you have to have eyes on them at all times. I had run myself into the ground. I had nothing left in me.
I firmly believe that I would have caught this if my attention had not been so divided. I knew something was wrong, there were signs, as there have always been signs. I just didn’t have any strength, both emotionally or physically to dig deeper. I completely regret that.
If I had advice to give myself in hindsight, it would have been to confront him straight on. Tell him that we knew what he was doing and he either stopped or leave our house.
The great theologian Cher, has a song that would come to my mind.
If I could turn back time.
In honor of my son’s birthday, I thought I would take to the computer and jot down a few things about mothers and sons. Throughout “On the Wrong Foot”, you will see many different posts about fathers and daughters and how messing with a father’s little girl could prove detrimental for anyone who wrongs his daughters. What you may not know or perhaps you do if you are the mom of a son, is that mothers feel the same way about their sons.
The other day I was cleaning off the ceiling fan in my bedroom while my teenage son was talking and laughing with me. I remember looking at him as we were talking about girls and opposite genders having the ability to be friends without feelings getting into the mix. I casually said, “I will never like anyone that you bring home. I will always be kind because that is how I operate, but I will never believe anyone is good enough for you.” I meant this too. Sure, I will likely find some girls nice and funny and really good wife material, but there will always be a part of me that will believe that they will never be enough for my son.
Think of this, and for me and my situation, I carried my son for nine months. He was my first born, the child who made me a mommy. I held him close to my heart the moment he was born and if I close my eyes, I can still imagine the room he was born in and how it felt introducing myself to him. “Hello,” I remember saying, “I am your mommy.” I am in love with a little boy who has slowly and in front of my eyes been becoming a young man, and this breaks my heart. Sure, he drives me nuts with his teenage angst and the activities that get me driving here or there, but I love him. I am also thankful that my son still talks to me and seems to enjoy laughing and talking with his parents. There is something special about raising a boy that I am so glad I have been able to experience because my son Grey is a piece of me. He is smart, really really funny, handsome (so darn cute), stubborn and loves his mama (my favorite part).
A daughter depends on a mother even after she has moved out and I look forward to this with our three daughters. I told my son the other day that I hope he still comes around when he is older. I remember talking to my dear friend many years ago. At this time, Grey was still in his extremely cute phase where Star Wars was popular and Nerf guns ruled the wild west. We had a good laugh over the girls fawning over her son and the girls who cheered his name while he played sports. To those girls, he was the cute hunk who played basketball. To a mother, he was the one who wore superman underwear and ran to her with flowers from the yard. There is an undeniable truth that raising sons is an experience that words cannot fully express. When he is walking down the aisle to his new wife, I will probably see a little boy in a bear costume, walking with his bucket as he “trick or treats” around Fort Riley Army post. Should he have a broken heart and he will, my heart will also break. As a mother, I will see that same little boy crying as he rushes to my arms with a boo boo that needs a mother’s kiss.
Grey is strong, but there are some hurts that I know that I cannot take away even though I wish I could. I wish all the best for my boy, a little boy that I had no idea how much I would love. No matter what, I will be there to hang the banner to all your success and pick up the pieces to any of your broken hearts. I will challenge you and give you grace when you just feel like taking the day off.
Listen ladies, gal or little girls. My son means the world to me. I will probably look at you sideways and judge everything that you do when it comes to my son. I will try to be a good mother in law or let's not jump the gun, I will try to be a good "mother" when my son brings home a girl he is interested in or "dating". However, let me make myself clear. I will curse your name if you hurt my son even though I am a good Christian woman. I will probably want to turn your hair blue and step on your toes, but I will show you what a mother's love is all about by instead smiling warmly. I will try my best to be a good girl when we bring you up, but know that this mother is fierce and fiercely LOVES her son. As long as we have an understanding that I don't have to like you one bit, we'll be good.
Caring for a loved one who has a serious medical issue can be difficult, caring for a loved one who has a mental impairment such as dementia is devastating. Unless you have been in a caregiver’s shoes, you have no idea what goes on in their heart, mind and life of a full-time caregiver. I am speaking on this point of view series in a different spot now, being the daughter who had to make the difficult decision to move her mother into a long-term care facility. This opens up a whole new can of worms for me, a different form of sadness and grief. When I brought my mom into our home, I had already had four children and one of them was not even a year old yet. I had no idea the ride that I was about to embark upon, and I am blessed to have been the one that my mother trusted enough to care for her. Believe me, it was not always easy, and I was not always the best at it, but I have learned to give myself some.
This is from the daughter who was the full-time caregiver to her mother who has Frontal Temporal Degenerative dementia. This is in present tense form because it was a recycle from mid-internship last summer when my mother was still living with us.
Truth One: I hate doing this taking care of my mother while struggling through finding my own identity, being a mother of four young kids is difficult. I constantly wonder if I'm doing the right thing by everyone.
Truth Two: I have learned that honoring your parents does not mean that you should feel guilty if they have to go to a facility. In fact, I have learned that to honor my mother, I have to learn to make the best decisions as to what would be best for her, for myself, for my children. I'm still honoring her even if she's not in my direct care and I know a lot of people struggle with that notion, as I have heard first hand many times over.
Truth Three: Even with the best knowledge and the best tools on self-care, you can still find yourself struggling with depression and anxiety. I have even experienced a nervous breakdown, which resulted in me going to the emergency room. Now, this is not all based on just taking care of my mother, but this is based on a combination of trying to be the best mother or trying to be the best professional counseling intern that I could be. Biggest thing that I have learned is that I need to be honest.
Truth Four: Over and over again and in all the information that I read, I kept hearing that “your parent’s still in there somewhere”, your “mother's still in there somewhere”. Well, truth be told, they're not the same person. They're becoming the exact opposite and it's okay to acknowledge this. It's okay to be frustrated and angry for the things that you're losing or for things that you may ever have. This illness is taking over your parent and, in this case, it's my mother. Let's be serious about this dementia thing, it is no joke. I'm not talking about just Alzheimer's, I'm talking about what my mother has and that's Frontal Temporal Degenerative Dementia and it's no joke. They're definitely different animals, they're going to revert back to being a child to needing depends and having their food cut up. It's not fun, it's not great, I'm not being happy-go-lucky. I get angry with the thought of “oh my mother is still in there. She’s not the same person, no I can't have conversations with my mother, and it hurts terribly, awfully bad.
Truth Five: I have learned to finally say out loud that I am stressed, I'm angry, I'm confused, and I don't enjoy any of this. This is not what I want to be doing. I'm glad that our family is blessed to be able to take her in but finding the blessing through the pain is difficult. Honesty has truly become my best friend.
A dear friend of mine asked, “are you worried about your mother going into a nursing home because you're afraid that you're not going to visit her”? Choosing honesty, I said “yes”, and I say yes because as a wife, a student, as somebody who wants to work and as a busy mom of four, I am busy with various things for kids’ activities and I can't guarantee that I can get up to see my mother on a regular basis. To be honest, I don't really want to see her as she continues to decline. Now of course, I would go see her and of course, I would be the manager of her care. My MAIN point is being honest with yourself is going to help release the anger, the anxiety, the stress, and a little bit of the depression. It may not be a cure-all, but at least you will be honest with yourself.
To the child who cannot or is not able to visit their parent on a regular basis, I see and hear you. I do not judge you because I understand where you are coming from. It is not an easy task to go do especially when you are busy with a young family. My children do take my first priority, and I can also say that my health has been a cruel enemy and I am trying to find a way to get better and to be able to give more of myself to the life I already have. Just try to give people some grace when it comes to visiting a loved one in a nursing home or long-term care facility. DO NOT judge them and ask first, how are you doing? You have no idea what life is like for someone who has to see their parent pacing the halls of a nursing home, unable to talk, cannot acknowledge you and what you know is “my mommy is gone”.