I thought I had to be strong all the time. I thought if I admitted how exhausted I was, I was admitting my failure as a mother.
A couple of years ago, Steve and I traveled to New York for a business meeting. It was a last-minute trip and my twin sister, Chrissie, graciously offered to watch our boys. Matthias was ecstatic—this was basically a mini-vacation for him and time to hang out with his cousins. David, who has special needs, was harder to leave overnight. He needed lots of attention as he was spoon fed and non-verbal. We planned to be away for four nights, so I prepared food David’s favorite foods, made a list of his medications and mapped out his schedule. My sister found a sitter to help her each afternoon. We were all set!
As I boarded the plane for our trip, I exhaled deeply. The plane ride was five hours—I could watch movies or read or sleep or heck, just sit and do nothing at all! I needed a break and even though this was a ‘work trip’ it felt like a vacation. We landed in New York, had a few great meetings, ate delicious food and slept in a hotel bed. As we packed up to come home I could feel a heaviness in my heart. Jumping back into the routine of feeding and caring for David felt overwhelming. I felt tired just thinking about it. But I couldn’t wait to see my sweet boys.
The plane landed, we collected our luggage and drove to my sister’s home. It was wonderful to see the boys. We brought them each a souvenir and listened to Matthias describe their adventures; including lots of ice cream and a bowling alley dance party. Memories were made! The kids ran outside to get a few more minutes of play time while the adults sat around the table to chat. After a quiet moment, Chrissie put her hand on my arm and looked into my eyes.
“Lisa, caring for David was so hard. Wow, it was so hard. He needed help from the moment he got up in the morning to the moment I put him to bed. And even after bedtime I had to check on him a few times and put him back into bed. When the sitter arrived each afternoon, I could take a couple hours to get other things done, but even with her help it seemed like we were both moving nonstop. How do you manage to meet all of David’s needs and still find time for Matthias? How in the world do you do this every single day?”
My eyes began to fill with tears as I tried to swallow the lump in my throat. Over the years I was determined to keep a positive attitude. I loved caring for David and spending time with him. When I felt exhausted or frustrated I reminded myself how precious David is to me. I refused to let myself fall into sadness—there was no time for that, I had told myself. David was wonderful and it was my honor to care for him.
But as we sat there at her kitchen table, my sister’s words made their way deep into my heart. She had walked in my shoes for the last five days. She had seen my life through my eyes. She was speaking honest words right to my heart. I couldn’t hold back my tears.
“I don’t know how I do it. I’m so very tired.” I said with a shaky voice.
I was terrified to admit how exhausted I was, believing if I admitted it I would be a failure. I worried that because David needed so much help, Matthias was only getting leftovers. I thought I needed to keep a positive attitude be a ‘good mom’. I thought I could push the difficult feelings away by being strong. But it wasn’t working. I was exhausted. I was discouraged. I couldn’t hold myself together. I didn’t know it in that moment, but my breakdown was actually a break through.
My heart needed to grieve. Caring for two boys with such different needs was really, hard—and that was okay. I didn’t have to pretend it wasn’t hard. I could be honest. I could say it was hard. I could ask for help. I could take breaks. None of these things affected my love for David or Matthias. None of these made me a ‘bad mom’ or a failure. They simply made me human.
I tried to keep the door of my heart shut tightly so I wouldn’t feel the pain, but the pain seeped in anyway. It came through the tiniest cracks and crevices. No matter how hard I tried to keep it out, it found its way inside. With trembling hands and tears running down my cheeks, I loosened the deadbolt and cracked the door open just the tiniest bit. I admitted being a mom to two boys, one with special needs, was hard. I admitted I was exhausted.
To my surprise, a warm, soothing light flooded inside. I felt lighter. The light gave me strength to open the door a bit more. Hope streamed inside like a breath of fresh air. I didn’t have to suffer through this alone. No one was judging me except myself. As difficult as it was to admit I was exhausted, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as trying to keep the door to my heart shut tightly. I felt like I could finally breathe. I felt seen and loved. I felt like I was allowed to be me, I didn’t have to pretend to be someone else.
Now when I am tired, I take breaks. Sometimes I even take breaks before I am tired! We have a sitter that helps us with David’s care. Matthias and I spend some together each week, just the two of us. We have lunch at Olive Garden and it’s our special time. Steve and I have a regular date night where we can talk, hold hands and have fun without distractions.
I have begun to open my heart in other ways as well. I am learning to say what I want and need inside my marriage. For so long I thought I had to be needless and wantless. I thought it was my job to take care of everyone else and ask for nothing in return. I found it simply did not work. I am a whole person with my own needs and wants–and that is a beautiful thing! I have also begun asking for help inside our business. We have an amazing team of people who help with everything from web design to marketing to customer service. I am thankful I do not have to carry this load alone.
As I open my heart more and more I find bravery and love abound. Keeping the door to my heart closed didn’t keep me safe, it kept me isolated. To live fully and be completely me is to open the door to my heart and allow the beauty and pain inside. With an open heart I am able to love myself and others more deeply. I want to live every moment of this amazing, imperfect journey with a heart wide open.
This is the meaning behind the Heart Wide Open Necklace. Click here for more details.
So that’s what I did wrong in raising my children–trying to do it perfectly. I am aware now all these many years later that I can’t control everything. Lisa your essays are beautiful. I’m sharing with my granddaughters and others.
Thank you for sharing your story. You are a truly inspirational woman!! God bless you and your beautiful family!!
Wonderful, inspiring, a true testament of love & sacrifice for these beautiful children we are so lucky to have! Thank you.
Loved reading the inspiration behind the necklace.
I stumbled across your website on Facebook. I was taking a break from homework in a course I am taking on financial planning for special needs kids. I was thinking to myself “this is alot of reading, why did I sign up for this!” Then I read your blog and I knew in my spirit it was a God appointed break and reassurance that the work will be worth it. Thank you for sharing your beautiful stories about your family. They truly blessed me. NG
Your story “heart wide open” was touching and inspirational. You are an amazing mom to two beautiful boys.
I always appreciate your essays very much. Keep on!
Wow! So true. I thought that was my job as a wife and mom. To do EVERYTHING! Even last night I forgot to bring home milk. Instead of calling my husband and asking him to do it, I went out again and got the milk. I think I was afraid of what he would say. And he would have gotten it no questions asked. In fact he is learning to anticipate what my needs are because I don’t ask for anything. It’ s all me. I can’t let go, guilt? One day at a time…..;)
God bless all the beautiful Caregivers everywhere.
This is a lesson I am s-l-o-w-l-y learning. I am allowed, in fact encouraged, to take care of me!
Yes! So true Ellen. I love you!