Mercy and Forgiveness

It’s been a while since I’ve written…not because God hasn’t been moving in my life, and not because I’ve been too busy (because let’s face it, I MAKE time for what I want to make time for…ahem, This is Us). I just really haven’t felt like I had any thoughts worth sharing! Last night a friend told me, “You know, I really loved your blog. You should keep writing.” I shared this with my husband and he, knowing how much I love writing and sharing God’s truth, asked me why I haven’t been. I explained my thoughts and he said, “Well, what are you wanting to accomplish?” I told him I wanted to encourage people. He prompted, “What have you overcome recently?” I sighed. “Evan’s adjustment to Hannah’s birth.”

I didn’t go into this situation naively thinking there wouldn’t be an adjustment period. I was fully prepared for Evan (now 2.5 years old) to jealously hurl tractors at his new baby sister. (He hasn’t. Not even once.) I thought he might demand to be held more. (He has.) But not once did it cross my mind that my son might be so angry at me for dividing my attention that he would physically attack me. (He was.) That he would adamantly refuse to nap, and get up over and over at bedtime in spite of spankings, reasoning, and bribery. (Yep, he did.) That meal times would suddenly feel like a hostage standoff, with demands and negotiations and pleas to just eat the stinkin’ food so I don’t have to prepare a snack in 20 minutes. Nothing could have prepared me for the half hour long meltdowns, initiated by the simplest requests, in which my beloved child was replaced by some tortured creature, howling inconsolably and raging against my restraining arms until he gagged on his own tears and saliva. I knew his little world was turned upside down, and this knowledge fueled my compassion for the first few weeks. But as time went on, the behavior just got worse, and I found myself out of compassion and snapping at my poor son. The space between irritation and rage was growing more and more narrow. I had zero patience with Evan when he would buck my authority. One day, we basically had a fist fight in Cracker Barrel while having lunch with friends after Bible Study Fellowship. I was the lady everyone was staring at as I hauled my screeching child away from the way-too-easily-accessed candy while thrashing him. He was kicking his legs so hard his shoes went rocketing across the country store. It was quite the scene, and that had become the norm for us. (Yes, this is the behavior of the same mom that feels so passionately about Respectful Parenting that I wrote a blog about it. Oh how the mighty have fallen.) It wasn’t long after that when one of my dear friends (who had attended the Cracker Barrel Fiasco) asked me with all the kindness in the world if I had considered discussing medication for PPD with my doctor. My response was something along the lines of, “But I’m not, like, weepy or suicidal. I just want my kid to quit acting like a psychopath.” My friend, God bless her, gently reminded me that for some people depression manifests differently…for example, as rage.

I was stunned to find myself here again, in this place of being completely out of control. I honestly thought that the increased maturity of my faith would shield me this time. I knew I had to get help. I owed it not only to myself, but to my husband and children. I went to the doctor for my postpartum checkup, and was astonished that my usually-perfect blood pressure reflected my stress levels- it was in the 170s over 90s. At the very end of my appointment, as my practitioner was about to leave the room, I finally worked up the courage to blurt out, “I wanted to talk about maybe starting some medication for PPD.” And to my complete humiliation, I burst into tears. I tried to explain that I really haven’t been all that weepy, although the evidence before us didn’t exactly support that. I told her how I just felt constantly irritated and annoyed by everyone and everything, and how my fuse was frighteningly short. I told her how hard it was to make myself get out of bed and face breakfast with the most defiant toddler of all time, after being up several times in the night with the baby. I told her about how I had to force myself to leave the house and be around people, because it took so much exertion to seem like I was holding it together, and who knew what kind of public altercations Evan and I would have. And we talked and talked and I cried and cried and I walked away from the office that day with fresh hope and a prescription for Zoloft.

The next week, we took Evan to our pediatrician. It may sound dumb, but I needed a medical professional to tell me that this behavior wasn’t caused by an ear infection or some other condition. I was terrified that the doctor was going to say that he had some sort of incurable behavioral disorder or mental illness. Instead, he looked me in the eye and said, “He’s not ruined. Your family is not ruined. Y’all are going to be okay.” He did agree that we needed more help than he could offer in regards to tools to managing the more difficult behaviors, since we were already using most of the suggestions he gave, with no success. We were referred to parental counseling. My husband thought it was a bit overkill, but when I asked him if he had any other ideas, he admitted that we were both at our wits’ end.

By the time our counseling appointment arrived, things were improving, for whatever reason. My theory is that Evan had been absorbing my attitude; I was constantly tense and short with him. It had to have affected him. By this time, my medication had started to take the edge off my irritability. We didn’t experience any world-shaking revelations in counseling, but we did gain reassurance that we were on the right track. And it felt good to take action of some sort, instead of just sitting on our heels and hoping our circumstances would magically transform themselves.

We’re still healing today. Things are better, but still hard. Last week in particular was a beast of a week. I didn’t handle situations with grace. When my dear son spat in my face because I asked him to please not draw on the coffee table in permanent ink, I lost it on him, yelling and spanking and bullying and berating him. Not my finest moment. The thing is, after cooling off, I apologized and had a discussion with him about it. I shared how he and I could have handled the situation differently and told him I would do better next time. He agreed to try to do better next time, too, and freely offered me mercy and forgiveness.

And that’s when I realized that as much as I mess up, and as much of a disaster as I am…I’m doing something right. Or rather, God is making things right not only in spite of, but because of, my inadequacy. My son is learning that people aren’t perfect, but that it’s okay. He’s learning how to give others what God gives us: mercy and forgiveness. And that’s pretty cool.

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