We are FOR each other.
I still remember the first time I heard this, the first time I tangibly felt and received this message of hope and truth. It was during a moment when my husband and I were discussing our kids. One of those tense moments, when both parents are sharing their concerns, and stresses and desperately searching for validation from one another. Sometimes this kind of sharing can come off sort of defensive, as if you are trying to make certain your spouse knows that you have nothing left.
When I reflect on this moment we had, one of countless many, it was not that we were competing against one another to win a battle over who was more burnt out, or who had been working harder. Rather, we were both simply crying out to one another, seeking connection and validation. My husband was wise enough to discern what needed to be said next.
He placed his hands on my shoulders and with a bit of firm pressure he said, “I am for you. We are FOR each other.” I knew in that moment he was offering affirmation. He affirmed that he could see how hard I was going, and he connected that he knew exactly how I felt. I could sense his eyes saying, “We are both weary, but let’s remember and let’s promise that we are FOR EACH OTHER.”
This phrase has been spoken many times since that first time. And every time it speaks life and creates connection. I can imagine like most, our family’s life and all that it entails often looks like a tangled mess of electrical cords that results from two many devices plugging into to the same power source, overlapping, and overwhelming one another. On a daily basis we are juggling the needs of our 3 children and our own. Most of our discussions end up being completed via email and text message because the noise level in our house is close to impossible to overcome. Decisions need to be made daily on who is taking which child to speech therapy, to occupational therapy, to school, to gymnastics, or to the doctor. Then debriefs need to be held, on what strategies need to be implemented at home after said appointments; to help our boys build on what they are learning and generalize it to the home and other contexts.
Most weeks, there is urgent need to discuss a school or social situation that went awry and how we can better support our boys to be more successful the next time. I fully believe that every child regardless of ability is growing and learning how to participate in this world at their own levels and in their own ways. However, in our experience, when there is a disability involved, navigating raising a child can become confusing and complex. Many disabilities are not isolated, impacting only the one “said” area of development. Whatever it is, whatever form it takes, the disability or disorder impacts all of their senses. How they take in and process the environment around them, and how they interact with others socially is greatly challenged. For a parent of a child with special needs, impairments in areas such as executive functioning, self-control and emotional-regulation caused by a Syndrome or Disorder can result in social interactions that make you hold your breath, never knowing how it will turn out.
But like most parents, regardless if the child is neuro-typical or neuro-diverse, your hope is to protect them from heartache, rejection and consequence. Your goal is to provide them the tools they need to recognize their weaknesses and work to overcome them on their own. We don’t want our children to live in a bubble, never experiencing the challenge of working through mistakes and overcoming adversities. But when we know that there are elements of their mental and physical wiring that are limited, we have to be “extra” present and involved. We have to serve like training wheels on a bicycle. We have to be that buffer until they gain the ability and confidence to do what “most” people can without assistance or intervention.
Parenting a child with “extra” needs is often an all-encompassing job. The management and discussion of their needs can be overwhelming. The temptation to beat yourself up for not ALWAYS parenting with “therapy” skills is constant. It is easy to condemn yourself for getting irritated or impatient, momentarily forgetting that their disability is constant. And it takes ongoing awareness to control the amount of time spent sharing these thoughts, battles, schedules and strategies with your spouse.
It takes conscious thought and awareness to recognize when my neuro-diverse childs’ needs have become a monopoly and my neuro-typical childs’ needs are being passed over. Parenting is a juggling act, no matter how many children you have, and regardless of abilities or needs. All any parent hopes for at the end of the day is that they loved their child well and that they themself can have a moment to breathe.
I am so grateful for the ways that my husband and I work together as partners and as teammates to keep our family boat afloat and moving forward. But if we all talk about is logistics, it becomes easy to forget about each other. It becomes easy to stop “seeing” one another. And for the health of our marriage, it is imperative to balance what we say to one another, and to never stop “seeing” each other.
I will never forget something I learned during a therapy session with my counselor years back. I had just been officially diagnosed with anxiety and started taking medicine. We were discussing how anxiety can look different in each person. He offered me a visual that has always stuck with me. For me, anxiety is like an “object” hovering over my face. The stress from whatever the trigger was has become so all encompassing that I can barely see what’s in front of me. I can hear all the voices, and sounds but cannot differentiate enough to attend to who or what is talking. I may have a little peripheral vision, but I have become clouded and unable to “see” the person in front of me. I can only feel that something is not OK and my flesh wants to “fight or flight.”
I have learned to identify and sense the tension in my body and the tightness in my chest. I have learned to recognize my feelings and to validate them, yet also my ability to “take control.” I can imagine as if I am grabbing the “mass” (aka-anxiety) from over my face, removing it and placing it down on the seat next to me. I am then free to truly see the person in front of me with clarity. I can see others for who they are and not see them through anxiety’s threatening filter. Once anxiety has been safely placed to the side, I am more abIe to see and hear my husband, or my child, or whoever it may be, sharing their weary heart. I can better identify that the anxiety is a side effect of pain, hidden somewhere, trying to be eased. Practicing this exercise has helped to avoid the all too common tendency for people to unconsciously “bleed” on one another. We are all susceptible to pain. We are all hurting from something. We all want the pain to subside and have our own ideas of how to absolve it. When we stop seeing the humanity in one another, others, especially those with differing opinions, challenging behaviors and attitudes simply become an unconscious threat to our own ability to keep the peace, and avoid pain.
Imagine if we all could promise to never stop seeing the humanity in one another. To never let fear rob us of clarity. Imagine if we as people could truly believe that we are all “FOR each other.”
My prayer and hope is that deep down this is true. That all people, at the base of their soul have a heart for others. That regardless of ethnicity, gender, political party, vaccination status or anything else that divides, we all want to be loved and offer love. But because of pain and fear, we just forget how.
So in my own small way, I am trying to pass on a love that is unconditional within my family. Modeled after the love of Jesus, who while crucified on a cross, sentenced there by an angry mob said, “Father, forgive them, For they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
I still can’t imagine what it was like to offer that kind of grace and mercy. But I believe that He was able to do so because HE trusted in the Father. He trusted his life into the hands of God and trusted in His plan, even though He had to face such great suffering and death. Hebrews 12:2 reminds us that, “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The following verse says, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
When I meditate on the life and death of Christ, I am compelled to cling to Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” And I store in my heart the truth of Romans 8:31, that “If God is for us, who can be against us?” I am in awe that we have a God whose love is unconditional and who is FOR us. I am so grateful that my husband started this phrase for our family. And I am blessed to be able to extend the same love and grace to my children.
On one particular day, I was able to offer this love to my son. I was waiting for him as he was getting off the school bus. As he descended the steps, another student immediately followed after him, racing to get to me first. This child wanted to make sure I knew that my son had teased him. On this particular day, I had a sense that the other child was not completely innocent. And if I’m honest, I was getting fatigued by this after school routine repeating itself day after day. I briefly acknowledged the other child’s complaint and began walking my son home.
I remember looking at my son while we were walking, and I could tell he was getting himself ready for another “talk.” This time, I looked at him and I said, “I need you to know, I am on your side buddy.”
He looked surprised and even a little confused. And then he said, “No, you’re not,” and he hung his head.
At that point, I stopped walking and placed my hands on his shoulders and told him, “Whether you made a mistake or not, I am for you. I am on your side. Whether I need to teach you what you did wrong, whether there is a consequence, or whether the other kid started it, YOU are MY son. I am here for YOU. I am FOR you.”
And that was all we said that day.