Not on My Watch!

It was unusual for the time. As a toddler, I had my own special car seat complete with toy steering wheel.

I would watch Dad as he drove, and copy him. It’s just as well he didn’t copy me, or we would have been doing donuts and wheelies!

A few years later, before there was any Australian legislation about compulsory use of rear car seat belts, Dad installed some in our car. This was prompted by the death of a cousin in a tragic car crash – a combination of speed, poor control, lack of safety fencing and no rear seatbelts. I remember it being a huge event the weekend when Dad removed the seat from the back of our car so he could bolt brand new seatbelts in.

Later still as a teenager he taught me to drive. He sat next to me patiently showing me how to control the car smoothly and safely. One of his huge safety concerns involved keeping a good buffer zone between our car and the car in front, to protect us in case of an emergency.

“Better to be safe than sorry!” he would say.

Obviously, my Dad’s commitment to car safety was very important. There were a few reasons for his vigilance. As a teenager, he had been involved in a motor bike crash – the street corner in Hawthorn, Melbourne where it happened was often pointed out to us. Then, as a young adult, he had gone off to the Middle East as a medic joining the RAAF during WWII. Sadly, he came back a broken man. His Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was not properly diagnosed until he was in his 70s.

As a result of these experiences, he had a thing about speed, machines and death, and over-compensated in a lovely kind of way. Death was not something he wanted us to have to face. Ever. His family would not be injured in a vehicle. Not on his watch!

Even though Dad could be mentally unstable because of his WWII trauma, he showed his care and love for us, his daughters, in many ways. Car safety was just one of them.

As I dig deeper though, I realise it was way more than car safety. His protective instinct kicked in. He used his time, effort and energy to prevent a mishap. Although sometimes explosive in his nature, there was no doubt in my mind that he loved me. He treasured us so much. And it means I treasure him in return – even though it was not ever very easy.

It shows me that even if you feel very broken, uninspired, weary or are just plain sick, we can show our children how much we treasure them by the things we do. The priority we place, even on small things, speaks volumes.

It happens on our watch!

Listen to me talk about this to Scottie Haas on Hobart’s ultra106five >>>

 

7 Steps to Leaving Your Children for a Trip

Heading away for a week or so without the children? Sounds delicious! But beware – there is sometimes a high cost, even with your best intentions.

Baby Sara (not her real name) was sad. Not even one year old, she could not be consoled. For several days, it was a tough time, for both her, and her carers. Finally, she gave in. And with all hope lost, she squirmed in her cot to face the wall, and zoned out. Broken-hearted.
A few days later her brother came to visit. He was his usual cheeky self, and on seeing him, Sara emerged from her lethargy. It was like she woke up, and the world was right again. Seeing that familiar face was enough to give Sara a new lease on life. She managed the remainder of the four weeks away from her family – just.
This incident happened years ago, but to Sara the memory still has a life of its own. She is now an adult, married, and with nearly grown children. Her response to being left with friends for a month while her parents went overseas to work has now become the stuff of family legend.
“I thought they had died,” she said. “It would have been better if my brother and I had stayed together.”
Unfortunately, the trauma of that incident scarred Sara for life.
“I couldn’t do sleepovers growing up,” she says with emotion. “Well, I did do them, but I always cried myself to sleep.”
It wasn’t until she was 16 years old that Sara finally connected the dots, and realised her separation anxiety was due to that brief period when she was a baby. Thankfully she was given the opportunity to talk it through with someone who prayed with her to release her from the pain of the memory, and the trauma. She was also encouraged to forgive her parents – a difficult thing to do, but incredibly freeing. After that things changed, and it meant she could live a relatively normal life after all.
She is quite philosophical about it all. “I know they left me there with the best of intentions, thinking they were doing the best thing for me in the circumstances,” Sara explains. “It was a different era then, and my parents made the best decision with the information available to them.”
As parents, we all have to do that. Faced with hard decisions about our children, we all make our choices – for good or for bad.
I admire Sara. She has worked her way through the issue and engaged with the problem. Choosing the difficult, but more gracious path, she has come to a point of reconciliation and understanding.

No one has perfect parents

As you reflect on the job your parents did as you were growing up, you can no doubt see places where they could have done things better. Perhaps you too were traumatised as a result of their actions. The challenge for us all is to let go of those ordeals, like Sara did. If you hold onto the hurt, the bitterness, and the revenge, it only hurts you.
Forgiveness has nothing to do with letting people off the hook, and everything to do with giving you back your freedom.

On the other side of the journey, here are some things I learnt about leaving children for long stays:

  1. It happens: Sometimes you must leave your children in the care of others. And that’s okay. Having children does not mean you stop having a life – instead they add richness and vibrancy. If you can travel with your children, then do it. We had some exciting overseas adventures with little ones. In Sara’s case, her parents were going to a country that was politically unpredictable and culturally unknown. It was clear they couldn’t take the children with them.
  2. Prayer: It is a good idea to pray about how to move forward in these situations. Obviously as parents you are the main care-givers for your children, and it is important to take your job seriously, and consider the long-term outcomes for them. Seek God about your plans, and if you do not have peace, then do not move forward with the idea.
  3. Set-up well: Try and house siblings together if possible. When we went away for a length of time we were blessed to have friends and relatives who could have all of them at once.
  4. Physical preparation: Make sure your children are familiar with the people who will be caring for them. Some visits to the house where they are to stay are a good idea, and maybe have a trial sleep-over.
  5. Verbal preparation – Babies: Talk to your baby about what is going to happen, and do it often. We were away for a week when one of my girls was only six months old. Every so often I would sit down with her, look her in the eye and explain what was going to happen. Especially, I would tell her we would come back and take her home after a week. True, she didn’t have the language to converse with me. But I knew I was speaking into her soul and spirit. We all managed the separation without difficulty.
  6. Verbal preparation – Older children: Give more, or less, information depending on the age of the child. Little ones do not always have an accurate understanding of time, so telling them three months ahead that you will be going away may not be helpful. However, you can talk through ideas, such as suggesting with enthusiasm that one day they might go on a holiday to someone’s house.
  7. Trust: While away, entrust your children into God’s care. This is really hard. But if you are stressing over your children, you will not be able to successfully do whatever it is you are going away to do. Sara told me her mother didn’t cope very well and had some physical stress issues during her time away. Sara wasn’t the only one suffering!

It goes both ways.

Reflecting on your own upbringing you can see where your parents failed you easily enough. It takes more effort to see when, and where, you have failed your own children. If you have let them down at some point it is important to forgive yourself. If you are able, talk things through with your child, and ask them to forgive you. Reconciliation is a lovely thing.

Daylight Eventually Comes

I struggled to take it all in.

My friend John patiently said it again, “There was more information about your mother than you knew.”

I looked at him blankly.

He sighed. “If things had been properly done, she may not have died.”

The awful truth enveloped me like an empty parachute settling over my head and body, making it hard to breathe.

“I can see it is hard to understand. I’ll come back soon and give you the details.” And just like that he was gone.

John is a good friend and I believed him. What’s more, as an ex-nurse, I trusted him medically. But I struggled to hear what he had to say. More information, he’d said. What did that mean? What’s more, my mother had died so long ago now. Even decades.

My rational brain tried to catch up, and I attempted to reason my way through it. Of course, this makes no difference I reminded myself. It happened. There is nothing I can do. It’s over. God walked beside me all these years, and I can lean on him through this too.

I waited for John to return, trying to make polite conversation with the people I knew in the room. But I wasn’t comfortable sharing this devastating news with them. Not yet.

My mind raced. Would Mum have lived if we had known? Would she have died by now anyway? Why do I have to wait to find out about this information John had? Where was he anyway?

I gasped, and woke up with a jolt. It was 5am, and still dark.

It was a relief to realise it was all a dream, but I struggled to breathe normally. Disturbed. Upset. I just lay there, my heart beating fast, my emotions continuing to wash over me. It had felt so real, so exact, so perplexing. It is true – when Mum died of cancer, I didn’t have all the information. As young teens, my sister and I were not told very much and kept in the dark. With all the best intentions, we were kept in a space of not knowing.

The dream seeped into reality. In a half-asleep stupor, nothing made sense and I dozed in and out of a fitful sleep – too upset to rest; too weary to do anything but lie there. I knew that eventually, daylight would come.

This is the worst thing about grief: When it feels like you have finally got it out of your system, then at the most unexpected moments it comes up behind you, and clutches your heart. Again.

Death was never meant to be part of our lives – and intuitively we know it. Before their sin, Adam and Eve had access to the Tree of Life, and death was not for them. So, it is not surprising there is something in each of us screaming, “Death is not fair, it’s not right!” Because it isn’t. It’s all wrong. It grates against us with its ragged teeth gnashing.

I’ve worked hard over the years not to allow my mother’s death to harden me. It has been difficult at times, but I wanted to remain soft and pliable, not just for myself but for those close to me, especially my children. It hurts to lean into the grief and roll with it, and it is easy to want to put up self-protective barriers. But I know that hardness brings bitterness, and that’s not where I want to go.

Here is what I have learned – This suffering, this tragedy, this living of my life after death, is the refining thing that changes me. God walks with me closely through it, and shows me the path. He is no stranger to suffering. He leads my steps, and holds my hand. My suffering smooths over the dark and ugly places. The stress and pressure squeeze out the dross, and refine me into someone with more compassion, more kindness, more love for the broken and hurting. Staying soft to death and its horrors, hands me life in all its richness. Such paradox. To allow mum’s death to harden me would have been its victory.  But God brought Jesus to life again. There is such a thing as life after death, and it’s called resurrection.

All these years later, my mother’s death is still a big thing in my life, as this dream last Monday shows. I know deep down, I still treasure her. But thankfully her death doesn’t hold me. Jesus does.

The road is dark, sometimes. Often it feels like an endless tunnel. But if I keep on pushing through, if I keep on pressing into the dark, I know this to be true: daylight eventually comes.

 

The BIG Coverup

Toys

For some reason this day four-year-old Joseph was cross. And I was cross back at him. I was asking him to do something which I thought quite reasonable. I can’t remember exactly . . .  it may have been to put his toys away. But did he want to do it? No!

At this stage, there were three of five children, with the two youngest yet to arrive. I was pretty happy with how I managed things with the two older girls, but my response to Joseph was another kettle of fish.

To explain my dilemma . . . I grew up in a household with only sisters. This means I had quite big gaps in my knowledge of all things “boy” – and I knew it. All the information I had about boys in family life was gleaned from my girlfriends and the relationships they had with their brothers. I had noticed big brothers could be very loving and protective of their little sisters. But I also knew little brothers could be incredibly annoying.

And I had one such annoying little brother on my hands.

So…back to Joseph this day. I asked him nicely to “tidy up the toys” (or whatever it was). Then, I asked him firmly. Then, I gave him the normal ultimatum, and still nothing. He was already in tears, and I was close. I did my usual thing, and asked him to go to his bedroom so we could both calm down. Generally he was happy to do this, because Joseph loved being in his room.

But still he would not cooperate.

So I picked him up from behind, under his arms, to scoot him along to his room for his five-minute time-out.

Which meant his feet flailed wildly in protest all the way through the loungeroom.

Which meant he accidentally kicked one of the heavy, glass doors on the video cabinet.

Which meant it shattered with a huge CRASH into little pieces all over the carpet!

I am not sure who got the biggest fright, me or him. But he did go to his room and stay there willingly at least. After a little while I went in and we talked about it. I said sorry, and he said sorry as well. Then we went back to tidy away his toys together, and he helped me carefully vacuum up the glass.

I was mortified.

While I did talk it through with Stephen later, I never told any of my friends exactly how that glass door broke – we kept the cabinet for years and it always looked a little lop-sided with one door intact, and the other side open to the world.

It was just too hard to admit I was THAT mother, with THAT boy. And these dramas kept happening. I felt like such a failure!

Why do we do that? Why do we try and keep appearances, and pretend we have it all together? While all along, underneath we constantly question if we can do this motherhood thing.

We wonder if we are making the right decisions as we bring our children up.

And we are even a little ashamed at some things that happen behind closed doors.

But this is what I have learnt: If you sweep the shame under the carpet and ignore it, it does not go away.

In reality, it is only by facing those horrible moments, that we get past them. It is only by admitting our failures that we can take a step back and see objectively. It is only by reflecting on what happened to us as we were growing up that we can understand ourselves better.

So next time you feel like a complete failure, let me encourage you not to ignore what happened. Think about it. Reflect on it. Write it down, or tell someone you can trust. Tell God about it. Pray for wisdom and understanding.

By getting to the bottom of it, you may find that next time you are in that situation you have the freedom to operate differently.

And that has to be better for everyone.

For the record, Joe is now an endearing 20-something, who happens to love working with extremely difficult young people. Who would have thought?

What’s your take on this? Do you like to keep up appearances like me?