Do you know what a family in crisis looks like? Would you be able to tell? I am not talking about the crises that are apparent to an outsider, such as a death or an accident or a family being displaced from their home. I am talking about the subtler kinds of crises, the ones that are less evident, impacting the family by eroding the structure from within. Perhaps caused by sickness or mental illness or even financial troubles.
I am not sure that people could really see how much we were struggling. From the outside, we seemed like such a typical family. A working dad and a stay at home mom. Enough money to be comfortable. Two little ones and a well-behaved teenager.
The people we’d see regularly would dote on our family. That we were so kind and so happy and always put together. “Your kids are so good; they are so smart!” “You guys are really amazing.” “Such great parents.”
But no amount of weariness on our faces or even our light-hearted complaints could key people in to our struggles, our burdens. Sure, they noticed when we declined invitations to come out. Maybe they did hear us when we explained that we were tired and stressed and overwhelmed. Perhaps everyone just wrote it off to the stage of parenting two little ones. Or, people saw it but didn’t know how to help.
But I don’t think they really knew.
It’s been a three-year long struggle. And I think I can really only see it now that we are beginning to emerge from the worst of it now.
Going back three years, I was having a miserable pregnancy with my son. Working full time, I battled with exhaustion and vomiting throughout most of the pregnancy. My daughter, just 2 at the time, was really struggling socially. Screaming if other children came anywhere near her and having a complete breakdown every day on the way to daycare. She wouldn’t allow anyone else other than my husband or I to pick her up or do anything for her. Her over-stimulation led to daily tantrums.
When my son was born, it only compounded our troubles. He was the loudest, most unhappy baby. He screamed every day for his first year. We tried everything, but our only true fix was time, and we would have to wait it out.
The final straw was my stepdaughter coming to live with us when the little man was 6 months old. While it had always been a possibility, and it was absolutely necessary at the time, it was still very difficult to incorporate her into our already strained household.
I was falling apart. I most likely had postpartum depression. I was struggling to keep up with even basic tasks, feeling overwhelmed and helpless most days. I couldn’t understand why I was struggling so much with the kids.
My husband responded by withdrawing emotionally. The kids were too loud: a combination of rowdiness, screaming, and tantrums. And he felt torn between my needs and his daughter’s needs. Our marriage suffered.
Our Healing Process
What saved us is that we are fighters. We got up every day and did what needed to be done. We were careful with our words and tried our best to understand where each other was coming from. When we married, we decided that divorce was not an option after what we’d both been through. So, we picked ourselves up and sought help.
We got family counseling with my stepdaughter to open the lines of communication. We saw a marriage counselor to remind us how to get back on the same page. We discovered our youngest daughter’s Sensory Processing Disorder.
We set a course for healing and integrating our unique family closer together. And slowly, we’ve been emerging. Like a groundhog poking it’s head up above the cold earth in the early spring light. We’ve come up to the surface to see that the ground is beginning to thaw and the fog is lifting.
I look around with new eyes now. I know we were not particularly ashamed or trying to hide our struggles. The crisis actually turns you incredibly inward facing. I barely remember being aware of what was going on outside of our little nucleus. We were so focused, desperately searching for solutions and trying everything we could.
Would you have seen our struggles? The distant look in our eyes? Would you have known that we were a family trying every day just to survive? Muscling through the roughest patches, waiting for time to make things better.
It’s a gift I have now, though. Now I can see. As I take this hard time, pack it in a box and put it away on a shelf, I can look around me now and see a little deeper into people’s lives. I am more aware to read between the lines, to look past what people say and look at their faces. I might reach down in there and offer a hand. And I’ll tell them that I know it’s hard, we’ve been there too.