I rolled over in the middle of the night, snuggled more tightly down into my bundle of blankets. I was about to drift off into a peaceful few more hours of sleep when the feeling hit me — the dread of guilt that sinks into my stomach like a heavy black weight.
Soon I was wide awake as I thought about a difficult parenting situation my husband and I had been wrestling with over the last weeks. There would be no more sleep this night. I ached with insecurity and guilt about parenting decisions for our son.
What do you do when you feel guilt about parenting decisions?
Tough Parenting Decisions
Our son recently returned home from a mental health treatment center where he started new medications.
For the first time in his twelve years of life, he was calm. He was not raging, kicking the walls, screaming, or making life intolerable.
He was also a shell of who he once was. He was not singing and humming while playing with legos. Gone were the silly farting jokes and the endless chatter that made him his bubbly, annoying, lovable self.
We met with our son’s outpatient psychiatrist to come up with a plan to slowly wean him off some of the medications, but my husband and I struggled with our options.
With medication, while our son isn’t who he is, at least we have some semblance of a normal life.
Does Normal Look Like This?
A few days after my son came home from the hospital, I took him to Walmart to pick up a few items.
Please understand, this is a child with extreme behavior issues. In the past, a simple trip to the store often resulted in a melt down of whining and crying for hours or a full on rage of violence because he couldn’t get the toy or ice cream treat he wanted.
This is not due to poor parenting. We are skilled, intensely structured parents. This is how early childhood trauma and abuse leave a lasting mark on a child.
I’ve learned how to shop with a child with behavior issues, on the rare occasion that I take him at all. He and I practice in the car before we go inside. Plus, I’m a fast shopper who is prepared to leave the cart abandoned if necessary.
We headed in for a sewing item and made our way through the craft isle. It was a mass of treasures for a kid who feels an intense need to collect things. The isle had buttons, rocks and pins of various colors.
“Can I get these blue rocks?” he asked.
“Nope, not today,” I said. I kept my voice casual, but inside my heart was beating hard.
Here we go, I thought. My body was tense, waiting for the stomp and the grunt that usually accompanied my “no” response. Those were the markers of the rage that’s to come.
“Okay,” he said.
I turned to look at him, astounded.
Rarely before had he accepted a “no” response without a rage.
Who is this child?
What is the Answer?
That night, my husband and I discussed the day’s events.
“How did it go at the store?” my husband asked me. Whether right or wrong we often allowed our child’s behavior to become the barometer for how life in general was going.
“Amazingly well. Almost too well,” I told Mike. “He didn’t beg me for anything or throw any fits. He even said, ‘okay’ when I told him, ‘no’ to buying some rocks.”
“That’s really good,” my husband said.
We were both quiet for a moment.
“So why am I not feeling good about this?” I asked him.
He wrapped his arms around me for a hug. “You are a such a great mom.”
I appreciated his support, but the words filled me with even more guilt. Would a great mom give her child medication because of her own exhaustion from trying to control his behavior?
Should I have made decisions for my child based on what we could live with? This seemed wrong, but the best thing for our son is to be with our family. Without medication, we were facing the reality that he needs to live full-time in a residential treatment facility.
Is what’s best for us ultimately what’s best for him?
Looking for Answers
A few days later, my dear friend Alicia posted a message on her Facebook page that touches my soul. Her son was battling cancer, and from his hospital room this is what she wrote:
Here is something I think many people need to read… it was written in response to a dear friend and her assumption that I may be feeling guilt around Michael for some reason and therefore stay up at night to watch over him…I also have had people write things about “beating myself up over…” That statement is also addressed here… I have love for all of you and needed to share this today.
It’s not guilt – ever. I don’t know why people continue to assume that I carry around any guilt around anything that my child or any of my other children are feeling right now. It truly concerns me. I am staying up to spring into action w a call to nursing or a team that will assist Michael when/if he should have a reaction to the medications. It’s what I would do with any one of my children and, as a pediatric physical therapist who works in homes with very medically fragile children, it’s what I have done for others’ children as well.
You hold the line, you assist where you can and you stay alert and aware. I am fighting right alongside my son and I have the strength and endurance needed because I believe that God stands in the gap with me. Please don’t ever assume that I feel guilty for anything that is happening because the author and finisher of my life is also that of my child’s life as well.
This was written when I was half awake this morning… I tend to do my best writing when I am half asleep because I don’t get in the way of letting those words just flow….
I am here with Michael, walking through this time with him and holding the space for him. I am doing what i believe is right for him and have spent countless hours just talking to My Father about his care. This is who I am and what I’ve been doing. When I am discouraged I know it is me looking inward rather than looking up. I have my own methods of self-care that I will employ but those are reserved for when Michael is stable and has had good days…
I hope this helps someone out there who may struggle with feeling guilt around their child’s illness or anything else they may have going on.
I’m sure people may think this is simplistic in nature or have other feelings around what I’ve written. It comes from a place of love and it also comes from years of working in homes where any medical emergency may arise and knowing that I hold the line for children and their parents while I am there.
Sending love this morning and probably going back to bed in a few…
During those sleepless nights, I prayed Psalm 4:8, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
I prayed for peace. I prayed for wisdom beyond my own reason and understanding.
I prayed to let go of the guilt.
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