I am a horse trainer’s daughter so the majority of my life has been lived in the country. When I was little, we lived on a ranch with a horse pasture just outside our front door. I had tons of adventures, and several injuries, in that pasture. My brothers and I built an obstacle course for our bicycles there and I broke my wrist on one of the ramps. We set off several smoke bombs there during one 4th of July and collided into each other in the fog, giving one of my brothers a concussion. There was even when I got myself stuck in the mud.
The mixture of dirt and manure gets messy after a big Texas thunderstorm. I think my mom may have warned me against going in the pasture but I was determined to cross it to visit a friend at the cattle auction next door. The mud was deep and sticky but I trudged through until I was about half way across when suddenly my feet refused to move. I was stuck. I struggled to get out but the more I wiggled the deeper I sank. Finally, I started yelling for help. My family came out to see my predicament but no one could get to me without risking getting themselves stuck in the mud too. My 8-year-old self had just begun to wonder if I would be stranded there forever when my dad came to my rescue with the tractor. He drove out to me and pulled me up out of the muck, leaving my shoes where they were.
I planned on spending the morning at the office catching up on paperwork while the kids wasted another day at daycare but I just couldn’t make myself wake them up when the alarm went off. Instead, I let them sleep another two hours (which means they really did need the rest) and I spent some quiet time alone. While I was reading, I thought about that time when I was stuck in the mud and realized it felt a lot like parenting does some days.
Parenting in the mud
Raising kids with special needs and trauma histories can be hard and tedious. Of course, there are good days and eventually all the hard work pays off but the in between is exhausting. You try a new behavioral plan and it doesn’t work. You add another medication that solves one problem but makes another worse. Someone has a meltdown and strangers stop to stare judgmentally as you try your hardest to stop the madness. You sit in the psychiatrist’s office listening to her say there’s really not much else to be done as you sink deeper and deeper into the muck. Sometimes I wish someone would show up with a tractor and come pull me out of this mess.
At this point, you either think I’m crazy or you completely understand parenting in the mud. Maybe you have kids with special needs or trauma histories. Maybe you are parenting typical kids and you’re feeling stuck and exhausted. Whatever road you are on, you feel like you aren’t going anywhere. I get it. You keep waiting for that hero with a tractor to show up and save you but they never do. We have figure our how to get unstuck and how to take care of ourselves in the process. Here’s a few of the things I do.
No really. Find a place where your kids can’t get to you. I like to sneak into our camper, lock the door and read in the silence for a little while. We all need a break sometimes. Whether you sit in the car listening to the radio or climb on the roof and laugh silently while they search for you below, find some space to breathe and relax before heading back into the mess.
Give up on your shoes.
The only way for 8-year-old me to get out of the mud that day was to leave my shoes behind. I’ve realized that the only way for me to be content is to give up on some of the parenting ideals I used to have. There are real limits in what my kids and I are capable of and the sooner I accept that, the sooner I can move on. I’m never going to be a Pinterest perfect mom but I can do the best I can with what I have. Leaving behind the unrealistic standards for parenting helps set you free.
Find others who in the mud too.
You aren’t alone in this. Sometimes it is hard to find people facing the same diagnosis or challenge but they’re out there. Facebook groups exist for parents of children with almost every diagnosis, from each type of adoption, and for every stage or style of parenting. They can be lifesavers on dark nights when you feel overwhelmed. If possible, search out in person support groups or parenting groups. Even if the other moms don’t understand your exact struggle, coffee and a listening ear can give you the strength to keep going.
The ironic thing about being stuck in the mud is that the more the more you struggle, the deeper you end up. Sometimes, we need to be still, breathe and allow ourselves to grieve the situation. We had a really rough time recently and I was spitting mad about one particular incident. I was completely disconnected from one child and not particularly interested in changing that. After a few days, I talked to some family members about what had happened. They watched my kids that afternoon while I went to an event where I raged to a friend about what happened. I owned my anger and frustration because she’s a safe person and as I did I felt my breath come back in my body. When I got the car, I was surprised to feel a wave of sadness wash over me. The anger had been covering that up. When I gave myself permission to stop struggling against it and feel everything I needed to feel, I was able to move forward.
Separate the special needs from the child.
When behavior or medical issues feel overwhelming, it is easy to identify them as a part of our children. The problem with this is that it’s disconnecting. When I mentally separate the symptoms of special needs or trauma from who my child is as a person, it’s easier to build our relationship.
Parenting, especially when kids have special needs or come from hard places, is hard.
There are no easy answers when we struggle with parenting. These are a few of the things that have helped me when I feel like I’m stuck in the mud. What do you do to get unstuck? Please tell me your tips in the comments and share this blog for others who are in the mud too.