It happened the day after Christmas in the year 2006. Standing in my small bathroom, in a home tucked away by the mountainside, I stood with my hands shaking. My heart was pounding. The tile floor was ice cold beneath my bare feet. My reflection showed hope and anticipation in tired-looking eyes, and never had two minutes lasted longer. My mind was swirling with a dozen thoughts as I watched the hourglass turn over and over again. It stopped.
I picked up the test with my shaky hand. Had I read that right? I had seen so many not pregnants before that I thought perhaps I just wasn't seeing the not in that particular light. I held it up, right in front of my eyes. They had not deceived me. It did, indeed, say pregnant.
Nine months (or so) later, I gave birth to the most perfect and beautiful child ever in the history of ever. A baby boy whose very existence changed the entire world for me in one breath, one cry, one single moment. Oh, how I loved this boy with a fierce and wild love like I'd never felt before in my life. I wanted to hold him in my arms forever and ever, and I never wanted that moment to end.
But all moments do end. New ones begin. And that is how we live out our stories, moment by moment.
I didn’t know then what our story would be. I had no idea of the struggles we would face together, this beautiful boy and I. And even now, as I look up at the 6 foot 1-inch young man in front of me, I have no idea what tomorrow holds.
Parenting a child with mental illness was not something I was prepared for.
He lies next to me, his head on my lap, and I stroke his hair and comfort him one more time through his pain. I tell him that I adore him and that everything will be alright. When a tear slides down his cheek, I catch it and wipe it away. What I wouldn’t give to see him smile again, to hear him laugh and be carefree. I’m confident I will, but today, today is about loving him where he is.
It is this lesson that has taken me 15 years to learn, and these are words that I hope offer you some comfort today: There is no script for this. I used to believe if I checked certain boxes, I could be assured of the outcome. If I provided attachment, a warm and loving home, and fulfilled all his basic needs, I thought things would go according to plan. I thought positive parenting would guarantee a smooth road.
That was a fantasy. Life threw us a few curveballs, as it does to most. There is no way to control all of the variables; no way to shield from all heartache, trauma, and pain, particularly as they grow older. There is also no way to prevent chemical imbalances. Sometimes the light in their eyes just goes out. Sometimes their hearts just ache so deeply, we cannot fix it. And in those moments, all we can do is sit with them in their darkness and pain and love them.
If you have a child who is struggling today, I want you to know that you’re still a good parent. I want to tell you the words that a sweet friend of mine told me - “It’s not your fault. You didn’t fail.” You can parent very well and still have a child who is depressed. Their chemical makeup is not your wrongdoing, and as hard as I know it is on a daily basis to see your child hurting, don’t count it as a failure on your part.
While positive parenting didn’t keep the curve balls from coming, there is one shining testament - my son trusts me. He talks to me about his struggles. He texts me from friends’ houses or school when he needs a shoulder to lean on. He lays his head on my lap and lets me comfort him. That’s important, and it very well may be what saves us both. I cannot cure his illness, but I can love him unconditionally through it. I can sit with him and stroke his hair. I can work with his doctors and fight for him all the ways I know how.
I don’t know if what I’ve done is enough, and ultimately this is the anxiety of all parents, I think. We all wonder if we’re doing enough, if we’re failing them, or if they’ll end up being okay. I cannot foresee the outcome; all I can do is love him right now, in this moment, and that is enough. Love is always enough.
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