My job is hard on my son.
I am a children’s ministry director. That means at least one day a week, my family is “at work” with me. For my husband and my daughter, this isn’t an issue. But my job is hard on my son.
My son is an incredibly intelligent, sweet, compassionate and funny nine-year-old. My son also has an anxiety disorder, a sensory processing disorder, a borderline language disorder, and suffers from a moderate hearing loss. Places and situations with lots of people, noise and smells are challenging for him. Meeting new people is challenging for him. Being in large groups of people is challenging for him. Situations that are unknown or that he can’t control are challenging for him. Church is challenging for him.
On any given Sunday, my family arrives at church long after I do and after the service has already begun. It’s possible my son put on his clothes and then decided they didn’t feel good. Or maybe he was expecting pancakes for breakfast – because my husband usually makes pancakes on Sunday mornings – but we were out of the ingredients and he had to have something else for breakfast. Or maybe it’s raining and he’s insisting he “can’t” wear socks and shoes. Or maybe, he’s upset because he was in the middle of a book and didn’t want to stop reading. Or it could be that his sister was singing the car and for some reason it upsets him when she sings in the car. Or it could be any one of dozens of unknown reasons or triggers, but it is almost always something.
So by the time my family arrives at church, my son is already battling his anxiety and likely struggling with any one of a variety of sensory triggers. He’s been taught a wide range of coping skills he can implement when he begins to feel overwhelmed, but for some reason he often can’t access them in a setting like a church service, and that makes Sunday mornings incredibly difficult for all of us.
There are some weeks I have a hard time focusing on my job because I am so focused on my son. There are other weeks I have a hard time giving my son the attention he may need because other children in the congregation need my attention just as much. There are no weeks where I feel like I made it through successfully giving my son what he needs and giving my job the attention it needs. None. It is exhausting. It is frustrating. It can induce feelings of doubt in both my abilities as a parent and my abilities as a children’s ministry director. It is a constant struggle, and it likely always will be. I do believe that there is some achievable balance in this equation, I just haven’t discovered it yet.
The fact is my job is hard on my son. But that’s not the only fact. It’s also a fact that I love my job, and my son knows that I do. It’s also a fact that even on his most anxious and miserable of days, my son loves church and is sad when he can’t attend. So even though I know most Sundays are going to be hard – I also know that the good far outweighs the bad.
The good outweighs the bad. The good is seeing the admiration on a Sunday School teacher’s face when my son comes out of his shell long enough to share an incredibly intelligent and insightful bit of information he has remembered about a Bible passage. The good is in the middle of the week when he suddenly asks a question about something he heard in the service or in his Sunday School class – even if at the time he heard it he was too crippled by his anxiety to look another person in the eye. The good is when he stands up with the children’s choir to sing in the service, and even if he won’t look out into the congregation I can hear him singing strong and clear. The good is a day when he is calm and happy and able to enjoy being a nine-year-old boy. The good is when I can share my personal experience as a parent to a “difficult” child with another parent facing a similar struggle. The good is a job that I truly love in a community of grace that is helping to shape both of my children into compassionate people.
The good is the blessing that is my son.
Practicing Families writers are consistently honest about their own struggles and shortcomings as parents. It is more difficult, though, for parents to share about the truly difficult behaviors of their children. No child or teenager should have their mental illness, addiction, illegal activity, or other significant problems broadcast to the world. Yet the lack of posts about these types of situations can leave some parents feeling isolated in their struggles. So Practicing Families is inviting parents to share anonymously about their deepest challenges with troubled children. No author names will be published and it is understood that names and details in the post have been changed to protect privacy. Please send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to contribute to this sporadic series.