Monday, April 13, 2015

A Mile in Moccasins

Recently, something came across my Facebook feed that concerned me.  Let’s be honest, things often come across my Facebook feed that concern me.  But this one is one that I feel compelled to respond to and to share my heart concerning the topic.  I have chewed on it for at least a week and it keeps returning to my mind.  So much so, that it is 6:10AM on our first day in a vacation rental and I have been awake for 45 minutes thinking on it.  Honestly, I want to sleep in tomorrow, so I am going to take time to do a bit of mind and soul dump.

What was this Facebook trigger?  It was a video urging folks to stop the psychiatric labeling of children.   I understand their concern and a few years ago, I would likely have nodded my head in affirmation of the message.  That is not true for me anymore.

For a good bit of my life, I have been a bystander to “psychiatric labels.”  I lived with a mom who loved me very much and desperately wanted to be the best mom she could be for me.  Unfortunately, she had suffered horrible abuses in her young years and she had a lot of “baggage.”  By the time my middle school years rolled around, we were living a very rocky existence in our home.  There were many times when I functioned more as a parent than a child during those years.  I am so very thankful that my mom was brave enough to get help.  I am grateful that she laid down her pride, refused to put on her happy face and pretend that everything was fine, and found the care she needed.  I am thankful for the medications that allowed my mother to get out of the bed every day and face the demons that haunted her.  I am thankful for the hours she spent with counselors unpacking her “stuff.”  I don’t pretend to be an expert on depression and anxiety, only a sideline spectator.  But I can tell you that for my mother, getting a “label” and finding the help she needed made an enormous difference in the quality of the relationship that she and I were able to have during the last 20 years of her life.  It made a difference on how she was able to invest each day that the Lord gave her.

I remember one day, on one of several occasions when my mom was in the hospital for a time of counseling and medication adjustments, I was visiting a friend.  This friend’s mom, with the very best intentions, said to me that she wished my mom had enough faith to see that God could heal her from this depression.  She wished my mom could just claim this healing.  Even in my young self, my antennas went up and I made it very clear to that kind woman that my mama was not sick because she didn’t have enough faith.   I explained to her that my mama had been begging the good Lord for years to take this cup from her and to make her whole in her spirit.  The Lord chose to work through my mama’s illness, not take it away from her.  My mama was not a weak woman, she was one of the strongest women I have ever known.  But, she had a broken past and some legitimate physical/chemical needs that needed to be dealt with.

But my mama wasn’t a child, was she?  At least not by the time she was labeled.  Dealing with children is different, it’s apples and oranges.  Right?  To a large extent, I would agree.  Again, I claim no expertise.  I’m just a mom who loves a little boy who has received a psychiatric “label."  I want him to thrive in every way possible.  I also feel burdened to speak out for all of the other non-expert moms, like me, who are tempted to put on the cloak of shame which so many other moms would gladly tie on to us. 

Here is the thing.  Are childhood psychiatric “labels” overdone?   Probably.  Are kids over-medicated?   Yes, some of them.  Do we have a parenting crisis in our days?  I believe so.  Would more effective and present parenting take care of many of the psychiatric “labels” that we’re seeing?  Likely, in some situations. 

But, I’m not here to try and impact the world or change the standard of child psychiatric care.  I’m just here to share with my little circle of friends, most of whom are active in churches and trying to “be” the body of Christ in their communities.  I have something I need to say to you concerning this issue. 

What’s the old saying, “Don’t judge a man ‘til you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins?”  I want to confess that I have been so, so guilty of judging a man in moccasins as I’ve stood gawking from my flip-flops.  I have actually watched diligent mothers wrestling children in the halls at church and thought to myself, “If they would just discipline that child better.  They need to show him who is in charge.”  I look back on my actions and attitudes and I am appalled.  I pray that God will use our experiences to change the way I respond to people in those situations.  Because I am now very experienced at being the mama who has tears in her eyes because she simply cannot “control” her child’s behavior.  I am the mama who has dreaded the pitter patter of little feet in the morning because I know that means that the exhausting day of battle is about to begin.   I have been the mama who has laid awake at night and wondered how I was going to survive until my child’s 18th birthday. 

Thank God, I am also the mama who recognized that something simply was not right with my child.  I could look at the attempts to play with others, the inability to focus, that constant talking, the outright defiance, and realize that it wasn’t because I wasn’t disciplining enough or loving enough or consistent enough…something was wrong.  I am the mama who sent the e-mail, regardless of the fear and the shame that might come by asking for help, and reached out to professionals.  You know, those “evil” professionals that would dare to label a precious child.  I am the mama who has now listened as counselors on two different continents have educated and encouraged and affirmed us in a way that I desperately needed to experience. 

I am also the mama who doesn’t want her child to be defined by a “label.”  I want to use that “label” to give him opportunities to do absolutely anything the Lord leads him to do.  I believe that recognizing the “label” can equip us to deal with the realities we live in.  I am the mama who sees how the “label” has allowed us to get the services and even the medications that are making huge gains possible in our home. I am the mama who sees a child who is moving from “I can’t do anything right” to “Look mom, I am helping!” 

So, why do I feel that I need to share this?  Because I’m also the mama that sees eyebrows raised in quiet judgement when the topic comes up in a church hallway.  I’m the mama who has heard the suggestions about diet change and discipline methods.  I’m the mama who has had other mamas whisper to me that they understand and they know their own child needs help, but they are too afraid of the reactions from __________________________ (insert any variety of relationships here.)

Can I just say something here?  Let’s come alongside these mamas.  Let’s cheer them on.  When you know there is a child in your Sunday School class or your children’s Sunday School class who is “that” child, how about we invite that mama to coffee.  How about we love them instead of judging them?  How about we have them, and their child over for a play date (I can promise you, “those” children don’t get many invitations AND what they’re dealing with isn’t contagious.)  If we can’t do that, how about we simply pray for them and speak a kind word whenever we have the opportunity?

Here’s the thing.  If the child does just need a bit of discipline, you could help to model that and help that mama find the strength to try it.   A hint here, this is usually done through actions and time together far more effectively than through lectures or words.  You could be part of the village that loves that child well.  It could be that mama has no idea what healthy parent/child relationships look like.

If that mama is worried and wonders if she needs to seek some help for that child, you could be the cheerleader who helps her navigate that scary path.  You could help her face her fears as she gathers and sifts through information.  

If that mama is facing the reality of that  “label,” you can be one of those who helps her remember that her child is valuable and precious and made in the image of God.   You can speak words of renewal and encouragement when she’s weary from the battle.  When the path is one step forward and two steps back, you can listen through her tears. 
What about that, my church friends, what about we rally around these mamas and their families?  I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that love and support and encouragement go a long way.   A whole lot farther than standing in our flip flops and critiquing other’s moccasins.