We can’t get it right all the time.
It’s currently 3:30 a.m. I’m sitting in my kitchen, unable to sleep and desperately needing to clear my head.
You see, sometimes we fail our children. I know this, because I have failed mine.
Yes, yes — parents are imperfect, and thus we will never feel like we quite meet our own expectations. We do the best we can, and generally that’s “good enough.” Most of our kids will need therapy for some reason or another, and that’s just reality. While this should make me feel better in my moment of inadequacy, this particular time it does not.
My medically complex, disabled child has been in serious pain for more than a year, and I couldn’t see past his “brave face” to really understand the true extent of it. I’m still not sure I do.
Long story short, I failed him.
There’s no way I can change the past and make it less painful — physically and emotionally — for him. All I can do now is look toward the future and move heaven and earth until things are better. But that doesn’t rid me of the nagging knowledge that I failed.
Unable to get answers from his regular team of doctors, we pursued an appointment with the pain clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital. At the time, I wondered if I was blowing things out of proportion. As it turns out, it was the opposite. The answers I got were not the answers I was emotionally prepared for.
As a parent, the worst feeling in the world is watching our kids go through something hard and painful that we can’t “fix.” I’m his mom. My job is to comfort him and make it better — to make the world a little less scary, a little more accepting, and a lot less painful. With that said, right now I’m nauseated and full of regrets during another sleepless night.
I keep asking myself, “So now what? What should I do next? Where do I even start?”
I’ve already apologized — profusely. What do I do after that? There are so many action steps that should be the “first one,” and my brain is too clogged to think straight.
Is that selfish? Instead of 100% focusing on his problem, I can’t “get over” my guilt and unmuddle my head to take clear and efficient steps forward. That feels selfish. No matter how many times my therapist tells me it’s OK to have emotions, I still lay awake at night feeling guilty and inadequate. How could I not?
Our kids face hard things.
We are imperfect, and sometimes we miss it.
The most telling thing is what happens next.
Maybe it’s a phone call or email. Maybe it’s contacting the school, setting up an appointment, or finding a good children’s therapist. Maybe it’s as “simple” as sitting with them, really hearing them, and then letting them cry on your shoulder.
While it doesn’t seem like it’s enough, sometimes that’s all we have — that “next.” The “in the aftermath.”
In literature and Hollywood, things are often pretty black and white. The aftermath is either “everything is fixed and gets better” or there’s no coming back from it. The truth is, it’s far more complicated. It’s neither a Cinderella story ending nor a dystopian apocalypse.
Which brings me back to the question of what’s next. What can I do today — right now — to do the next right thing? It’s excruciating, but it is what it is.
There’s no more room for failure.
So if you’re looking for me while I disappear and intently focus on “my own stuff” for a while, just know I’m exhausted from pretending I’m strong enough to go do that next right thing. I’m not ignoring you or blowing you off, and I would genuinely like that coffee you offered to bring me.
I’m struggling with my feelings of failure. I’m trying to pick up the scattered shards of glass in the aftermath. Please just come stand quietly behind me so I have somewhere to lean when I need it.
I should have known, but I didn’t.
But I should have.
If you’re struggling with mental health, you can contact the Mental Health Lifeline by dialing 988.