It’s hard to imagine now, but my sweet Caroline almost drove me to the mental institution.
God bless her, I honestly thought I wasn’t going to make it. I mean, I wrote a book called, Desperate, mainly because of that precious, out-of-the-box girl. I remember calling up my mentor Sally one day and saying, “What am I going to do with her? She won’t listen and she gets out of bed 10,000 times a night?!” Sally responded, “I really think if she could obey you she would.” From there she taught me some ways to love Caroline and nurture her and guide her sweet soul as she was, a “different” child who wasn’t going to conform.
What a delight she is to me!
Sally knows a thing or two about raising a “different” child, so her advice and encouragement is gold to me. Which is why when she sent me her new book, written with her “OCD, ADD, OH-MY-GOODNESS” son Nathan, I knew I was going to devour it. Which I did.
This week Sally and her son Nathan released that wonderful book, and it’s called, Different: The Story of an Out-Side-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him (get a copy here). Sally has protected her family by keeping certain stories hidden from the public sphere, until now. In Different, we are offered a vulnerable look behind the curtain into the story of a son with mental illness and a mother who fought to love well even when it felt impossible. The stories and truths in Different have not been shared before, and they will absolutely bring hope and freedom to those who struggle with their “different” children. If you ever look at your beautiful, different child and think, I can’t do this; it’s just too hard, then this book is a must-read.
I asked Sally’s son Nathan if he would share some advice for us moms so we could get into the heads of our kids, so to speak. Yes, we are all different and our kids aren’t like another person’s kids, but his perspective and insight is so helpful as I navigate raising my own children with empathy and wisdom. Below is the interview. Enjoy!
Nathan, what is your biggest piece of advice for moms who have out-of-the-box or different kids?
For me it was so valuable to have someone who accepted me completely. I know that not everyone will understand how and why I do things sometimes, even my mom. But to have a space where I was allowed to be unapologetically me, without pretense, or pressure to preform, allowed me to love the person God had created me to be. My mom didn’t always get me, but she lived with the knowing that God had desired me the way he had for a purpose— so she decided to love, encourage, train, and accept me the way I was made without trying to force me into a box of societal or social expectations. That didn’t mean she didn’t train me, stretch, or push me to be my best, but it meant when she did, she did it accepting the direction God has created me to move towards.
Sometimes as moms it feels like, “Am I even getting through to my child?!” Can you tell us what worked best in getting through to you?
Sometimes I think people have a conception that they need to be louder or more firm to get someone to listen. But often times what helped me connect, learn, and understand, is when someone took the time to see me, hear me, and approach me with grace. I can remember being so frustrated at the world around me as a kid which could make me lash out and talk-back. But in the midst of those times when my mom would take me off alone on a walk, or scratch my back and ask me what was on my mind, often I would feel the frustration dissipate more and more as I felt little by little more understood.
What was the hardest part about being different?
Well, let me say this: EVERY kid is “different” in their own way. Some may be quiet, some may be loud, but whatever your “differences” are I think very often they can make us, and made me, feel very alone and separated. And the deepest desire of every humans is to feel loved and known. So when we have these unique traits in our lives that make us feel alienated we can start to resent the way God has made us. But as I grew up in a home that facilitated an environment of unconditional love, I began to find value in the way I was made, and learned to believe that my differences weren’t disorders to destroy, but strengths to hone.
How should moms discipline a “different” kid?
I can imagine it would be so hard to know how to handle a “different” kid like me. I can’t even imagine how much of a handful I was! But I think when we look at the example of how Jesus interacted with the ones he loved around him, we find a man who was eternally forgiving and graceful, while continuously loving enough to not let people stay in the destructive patterns they were in. So I think it’s a delicate balance that parents have to walk in figuring out how to hold the tension between giving grace and giving guidance. But when both are present and from a place of love, I believe God can work in even the hardest and most “different” of kids.
What would you want other different kids to know?
I think I would want them to know they’re not alone. That while our differences can make us feel alone sometimes., EVERYONE is different in their own way. And these “different” things about we have are also the things that make us uniquely us. That God will tell an amazing story no one else could, not in spite of our differences but because of them.
Listen to Sally and Nathan talk about how to raise a “different” child
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I was at the salon having my twice a year therapy session.
You do know hair stylists are counselors, right? Of course you do. Anyway.
I was having my
stylist counselor HANDLE THE GRAY SITUATION when we started talking about motherhood. I was telling her that I was just tired. I have parented now for 11 years and am half-way done. In 11 more years my children will be grown. WHOA. And there’s this idea that my kids are old enough to raise themselves, that I can kind of coast. And it’s true, and it’s tempting, because THEY ARE ACTUALLY OLD ENOUGH TO RAISE THEMSELVES. I mean, not really, but they can make food and not toddle down stairs. I don’t have to do that much to ensure their survival. But I’m not just wanting them to survive; I want to keep on in nurturing their souls and finishing this parenting race well. And by “well” I mean doing the best I can…giving myself to the work faithfully. I don’t want to regret my long, short parenting years.
But ya’ll, I’m a bit weary…a bit…in need of fresh vision.
When I was a new mom I had TONS of vision. I read all the parenting books. I froze fresh cut vegetables and fruit and put them in ice cream trays. I actually bought a SQUASH, cut it up, blended it up, and froze that too. I sewed Christmas and Easter dresses for my baby girl. I went to all the library functions for moms with little ones, and I did crafts and I sang Scripture and I read books and I did ALL THE THINGS to be the best mother I could. As it is with all moms, I was wildly imperfect, but I was determined and on mission to raise my kids well and invest as best I could into them. As I’m sure you have.
That mission is still in my bones, and yet, I need encouragement to keep going.
I had a conversation recently with my Father-in-Law about how I was feeling (we were doing the dishes and, like the salon, therapy is bound to take place in the kitchen). He reminded me of two things: 1.) I am in a reprieve period with my kids, so I should enjoy it and take the time to rest up. He wasn’t saying to coast or ease up on parenting, but rather to see the season for what it is, a time where my kids will still cuddle and ask my opinion and listen to me read books and Scripture to them and help themselves to some cereal and there is innocence and sweetness all around. I get this. I want to rest in and delight in it. Especially because I’m tired. This is my slow walk (I’m still moving though) before the sprint. 2.) He reminded me that attacks will come down the pike. We’ll have to deal with things in the coming years that we haven’t yet had to contend with. As our children move towards independence and figuring out their worlds and all that the culture wants to throw at them, we’ll be in a new battle. Know it and prepare your heart and your mind for it.
I’m listening. Rest up and enjoy the season; prepare for the rest of the race.
So how do we prepare for the rest of the race, the second leg so to speak?
How do we keep our endurance up and stay focused on the mission?
How do we keep on?
Well, here is one thing I know for sure right now: I can mother.
(That sounds kind of awesome, doesn’t it? It is.)
I can mother (and you can mother) and I will mother and I will pace myself and I will KEEP GOING. That’s the biggest thing, to just KEEP GOING. I won’t give up. I won’t lose heart.
Our mothering, our choosing to nurture and bring up our children, it matters. God has prepared us for this since before the beginning of time; He has planned this good work of mothering for us to do.
Me, you, we are doing Kingdom work, right now, that was planned for us to do before we even had breath in our lungs. WE ARE ON MISSION. And that is pretty motivating. THAT is some vision to keep going.
So in His strength and power, we can, we will keep on. Be thou our vision.
Love and grace and all the cake (with some spinach thrown in later so we don’t regret the cake decision),
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 121:2
This is an old photo, but it seemed fitting. 🙂 Also, LOOK AT MY CARE! So little. So precious. Like my friend Amy says, “Babies don’t keep.”
(There’s a giveaway at the end of this post, so make sure to read to the end!)
I was the boyfriend girl.
Meaning, I was always wrapped up in a guy and never made time for deep friendships with girls. Which is a major bummer because I missed out on the friendships you always hear about, the great high school and college friends who “always will be.”
Sure, I had a couple friends, but we all went separate ways for the most part, and then I got married, and then I had kids, and then…who has time for friendship when you’re exhausted and barely making it. I probably needed friendship the most in my desperate years, but it was those years I just couldn’t seem to find the energy to find or make new friends. First it was the boyfriends, then kids, then just plain exhaustion. So, I decided I was a loner. I wasn’t any good at friendships and maybe I just didn’t really need them. I was fine. Really.
But I wasn’t. I had no idea how important and wonderful and good life-giving friendships were.
Until my mid-30’s. In my mid-30’s I met my dearest friends.
And not only do I now have these beautiful, life-giving friendships, I am learning how to be a good friend. The fact is, I’ve not always been one. I’m not a natural at friendship, which is weird, I know, but true.
Maybe you struggle with finding friends or being a friend, or maybe you think you don’t need friends. Maybe you’re just worn out and can’t even muster the strength to work at friendship. I hear you. But let me offer this: If you don’t make the effort for friendship, here are some things you might miss out on:
You might miss the encouragement your soul needs to keep on. My friends know me so well, they know when to call or text or vox and send Scripture or encouraging words or drop off a coffee or take my kids. My friends fill a place in my soul that I never even knew I needed. I would be missing a great gift if I stayed in my “loner” thinking.
You might miss really fun girl nights out. One of my favorite things to do with my friends is head out once every couple of months to a restaurant and eat lots of bread and salad and drink wine and laugh and cry and have wonderful conversations with my friends. These nights refresh my heart and help me to keep on in the dailyness of life.
You might miss knowing you’re not alone. Knowing that my friends go through similar struggles as I do is comforting; we can comfort each other and share how God has helped and what He’s doing and what works and “here’s some chocolate, it’s been that kind of week.” I also know when I’m feeling in the depths, I can call on my friends and they will rally and lift me up, as I will do for them. My husband is my best friend and my greatest supporter, but my girlfriends are a lifeline that is so sacred and special to me.
You might miss knowing you’re loved even at your worst. Real friends love you anyway…they love you, tell you the truth, walk with your through the dark times, and never condemn you. They listen. They are honest but kind. Their arms are wide open. This is the grace of kindred friendship: that you are loved even at your worst.
You might miss out on growing in faith and loving God more. My dearest friends teach me so much. Their love for God is inspiring, and I come away from them wanting to know and love God more. They sharpen me, teach me, and through their struggles and faithful obedience to God, I am encouraged to keep on.
Now maybe you know this, maybe you are desperate for friendship and want to make friends but aren’t sure how or where or what to do. Here are some thoughts for you:
First of all, friendship is like dating…you don’t give up just because the first (or second or third) doesn’t work out (tweet that). You’re not going to have chemistry with everyone, and that’s okay. Stay open.
Second, ask God. Ask God for good, true friendships. Back to the dating analogy for a moment, in the book Little Women, Amy says to her sister, “You don’t need scores of suitors. You need only one… if he’s the right one.” I feel like this about friendship. You don’t need scores of friends, one good friend is worth gold (think of Anne and Diana). If you get to have two or three dear friends, well that’s just extra grace. Ask God for a kindred friend.
Make the effort. Yes, friendship takes effort to develop, but soon it becomes natural and sweet. My dearest friends are those I can let down with, be myself, and not have to worry about pretense. My friend Amy always says, “No eggshells!” You don’t have to feel like you’re walking on egg shells with good friends, and I love that. But even after the work and you’ve settled into a friendship, you’ve still got to work to love well, because it’s easy to let friendship just be. It’s important to keep caring, to do the work of writing down birthdays and dropping off a coffee now and then, writing a note telling your friends what they mean to you, or saying, “Let me take your kiddos so you can get a break.” Friendship, like marriage, like life, takes work and care. But it’s so worth the effort. So make the effort to invite that woman from church over for coffee. Make the effort to get together with that other mom from your child’s dance class. Make the effort to go to the dinner you were invited to even though you’re born weary. Every time I feel too tired to go see a friend, I’m always refreshed after; I never regret it. Make the effort.
I didn’t always have these beautiful friendships. Maybe you’re in that place right now, praying and hoping for kindred friendship. Don’t give up.
Today, to encourage you, I want to tell you about Craving Connection, a book that is not only a lovely offering about friendship, but has challenges to help you make and become a better friend.
Craving Connection is a book that will take you on a journey and offer you real-life stories, practical Scripture application, and connection challenges that will encourage you to:
- Embrace the desire God has given each of us for connection
- Invest in meaningful relationships, right where God has you
- Become the friend you wish you had
The book is by the (in)courage community writers, and they invite you to grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair to the table, and commit to creatively and prayerfully fulfilling your cravings for connection.
Giveaway and FUN
Now for some fun. First of all, if you want to learn more and/or buy the book, check out cravingconnectionsbook.com.
Second, head to your local bookstore where you might find a Starbucks gift card tucked into the book so you and a friend can have coffee together, thanks to (in)courage.
Lancaster, PA people, I’VE GOT YOU COVERED. Head to your local B & N or Lifeway and you’ll find a little somethin’. 😉
To win 1 of 3 copies I’m giving away, just fill out the form below! Contest open to U.S. residents. I will pick the winner TOMORROW at 9pm EST! GOOD “LUCK”!
THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER! The winners are…
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” Ecclesiastics 4:9-10
Here’s to the gift of friendship!
Love, Sarah Mae
Thank you so much B & H for sponsoring this post. Such a gift to be able to offer this book to those who are hungry for kindred friendship.
I blew up at her.
I was already on my last nerve with her not listening to me. Oh, she obeyed, kind of.
“Did you do what I asked?” “Yes.” You did this, this, and this?” “Yes.”
And then I check and she didn’t actually do the thing. She meant well, but she wasn’t tuning her ear to my instruction. She was distracted by what she wanted to do.
I was mad.
I yelled at her and I was harsh and I was just so mad.
I hadn’t been feeling well, plus I was irritated in general, and her not listening tipped me over. But really, my anger had been building. She just happened to be the one to get my wrath.
I went and sat and calmed down and felt kinda awful for losing it on her. “Lord, help me.”
I thought the situation over in my mind and it occurred to me that I showed her zero grace. Yes, she did something wrong, and that needed to be addressed, but I was too harsh. I could have handled it better. Do I ask forgiveness so quickly after being the yelling mom?
Yes, because it is grace that always changes me and gentleness that encourages me to be better and to keep on.
I called her to me after she was finished doing a job I had set her to do as a consequence for her not listening. I asked her if she would sit with me. She did. I wrapped my arms around her and I said, “What you did, not listening to me, was wrong, but I shouldn’t have yelled at you; I was too harsh. I hated being yelled at as a girl and it never helped me or made me want to change. You know what helps me? Grace and gentleness. In fact King David said to God in a psalm, “It’s your gentleness that makes me great.” Will you forgive me for yelling and over-reacting?”
“Yes, and I was wrong and I’m sorry too. Will you forgive me?” Her big grew wide and sweet, and then she squeezed me. “I’ll be right back!” She hopped off me and a minute later I got this:
It was the most perfect thing, and when I say perfect, I mean the most complete. We forgave each other and all was well.
I love these moments and I don’t know why I ever doubt them. When I obey God, when I tune my ear to His ways and His instruction, good comes. He’s right!
Sometimes I think, “I can’t possibly ask forgiveness again. Especially when they did do something wrong, and yea, I did too but again? Really? Won’t they get sick of it, mom asking again?”
No. No they don’t. Because I mean it when I say it and we all work together to be better…to treat each other with love and respect. We don’t ask for forgiveness just to move along and say the right thing. Our spirits compel us to love and forgive and be gracious and gentle because God is that way with us, and His Spirit is in us. We change, we mature and get better at loving because He is doing that good work inside us.
Thank you Jesus.
So if you’re wondering if you can ask forgiveness, again, yea, you can. Reconciliation is so sweet.
Love, Sarah Mae
Recently I was asked if I would watch a friends kiddos for a half a day plus an over night – an 11 year old, 9 year old, 7 year old, 3 year old, and a one year old. Plus my kids.
I thought back to my desperate days and told them I would do it. I knew they needed a break. But after saying yes I began feeling extreme anxiety. It crept up my shoulders and latched into my heart and all I could think about is how much I was dreading watching all their kids plus mine plus an overnight.
Why was I so fearful and anxious about helping my friend? What was wrong with me? I kept thinking, I’m so stupid, this is silly, people watch kids all the time and don’t panic about it! I’m just being ridiculous.
As I went to bed with all this on my mind, I asked the Lord to untangle my anxiety and help me understand my physical reaction to the upcoming situation. And as I thought and prayed, the Lord spoke to my spirit and I remembered.
I immediately was back to the days when I had two toddlers and a baby and felt so alone. I was desperate for a break, for some help, for something and I didn’t think I could face my days. I was jealous of others who had a mom to help them. I was envious of people who had help period. I felt like I was drowning and I didn’t know how to catch my breath.
Perhaps I had some postpartum stuff going on, I don’t know, maybe I’m just prone to depression and anxiety, but there were days I didn’t think I was going to make it.
Yet, here I am. I’m through those desperate days and I’m delighting in my children. But it’s interesting to me that just knowing I was going to be back with a toddler and a baby plus other kids, alone, overnight, triggered all my anxiety. I mean I physically felt it. Is there such thing as post traumatic stress disorder for those who had babies and toddlers? I’m thinking yes, because I can’t explain the fear and stress one babysitting job gave me. I’ll tell you what I do know: mothering can be traumatic.
Just recently I received an email from a mom who is carrying the weight of guilt that she is failing her kids because she is so overwhelmed. Here’s a portion:
“I feel like I can barely keep my head above water most of the time. I am angry, short-tempered, anxious, depressed, and completely overwhelmed… I just find that I don’t even have the energy or willpower to love them, at least in ways that seem tangible to them, most days. How’s that for terrible? I just feel like I’m screwing them up for life. I don’t even know what to do…I’m feeling heartbroken and awful, but it seems like I feel this way every evening, and then the morning comes, and all the ugly and awful just starts all over again.”
These are the kinds of letters I get and they bring me to tears. Because I know how hard and lonely motherhood can be. I know how you can feel so boxed in and heavy and you’re scratching for a way out just so you can breathe and then you feel guilty all the while because you think you’re ruining your kids. It’s an awful burden to carry.
And as your sweet kiddos grow up (time will actually move on and they will grow up), you’ll be surprised at the triggers.
So for all the moms out there who are drowning, for all the moms who don’t know why they have anxiety around small children or RUN LIKE CRAZY when they are asked to watch the toddler room at church, I have some words for you.
First of all, you’re not crazy and you’re not a bad mom.
You are (or were) an overworked, legitimately exhausted woman who is caring for little people who are uncivilized. Yes, uncivilized sin-natured sweet-as-pie-but-also-crazy little people who don’t even have their brains formed yet. Cut yourself some slack in the guilt department unless you are abusing your children. If you are, you need to send out an SOS stat. Call someone. Tell your husband. Reach out to your doctor. GET HELP. If you’re not abusive but just feeling so overwhelmed and confused (you want these kids!) and depressed, CALL SOMEONE. Tell your husband. Reach out to your friends. Get out of the house (library, Fast food kids area, etc. – free or cheap). Read encouraging articles and books and blogs. I heard of a woman who kept her bible open on the counter just so she could get snippets in the throes of motherhood. TALK TO GOD. He hears your cry. And also, snuggle and kiss and smell their little heads because I promise you, they will grow up. And those sweet little feet that you kiss now will be so stinky there will be no kissing them.
I barely even remember her at this age! Oh but she’s so cute, my little Caroline!
Here’s another thing: You can face this.
A counselor friend of mine told me that anxiety is believing that you can’t face reality, like it’s just too much. You can’t handle it. You won’t make it. You feel like you might die.
That is pretty much how I’ve felt as the approaching date for my babysitting loomed and that’s how many of you feel right now, like you just can’t do it.
But then she told me that you actually can face reality and you aren’t going to die. And that’s the truth: You can handle it. You will be okay. You’re going to make it. You have what it takes because God made you a mother, and when you don’t have it, He will help you.
One day at a time. Slow and steady. Deep breath.
My friend Amy says that when you get anxious feelings, don’t push them away, but listen to them for they are a window into the deeper parts of your heart. What is going on in there? Say to those feelings and anxious thoughts:
I won’t push you away, I will get curious.
I won’t say my feelings are stupid, I will ask why I have them.
I will listen to the Lord and take into account my life and pay attention to what my body is telling me.
I will bring the truth to the light, honor it, and not stuff it.
I will not let my anxiety rule me. I will go forward in the truth.
How you are feeling as a mom is real and valid. Listen to it. And then wash your face (as a dear older woman once told me), and go forward.
And one more thing, tell your husband how you’re feeling. Tell him all of it. Tell him you’re drowning and need him to throw you a rope instead of you swimming harder. Work something out so you can get out or stay in while he takes his kiddos out for awhile. You’re in this together, so tell him your needs.
By the way, that babysitting job for my friends, it happened, and I was fine. I didn’t die.
We can do hard things, and we can keep on and we can know we aren’t alone.
Much love, Sarah Mae
P.S. I’m giving away THREE copies of my book Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe. And some chocolate, because moms need chocolate. Just leave a comment to enter. Share this post on FB so other moms can see it and let me know if your comment and I’ll enter you three more times. Just want to get the book and get with other women and read it? Get it HERE for under $10.