From my front row seat

Monday, October 23, 2017

Loving the Little Bitty Parents

One of our mothers had to be discharged recently from our program.  She had blatantly broken some of our rules, wasn't putting forth the effort she should, and made this decision unavoidable for us.  It is always hard to see a woman leave when we feel she is capable of so much more, but when she takes her precious children with her, it becomes even more painful.  In fact, this may be the toughest part of our job.

Right before they left, the oldest child, a spunky little girl, came into my office to give me a hug.  I hugged her back, once again choking back the tears, knowing I would probably never see her again.  Before she walked out the door, I quickly said, "I'm proud of you!"  And I've not gotten the next moment out of my head since.

This young, brave girl immediately straightened her back, held her head high, looked straight ahead and said, "I am proud of myself!"  Then she walked out the door.

I realized in that moment that she had already begun shifting back into the role of the parent.  She knew her mother had messed up, she realized their lives were returning to chaos, and she was already positioning herself to take care of her siblings as she did before coming to Blue Monarch.

There is a subtle melody that plays every day at Blue Monarch and even though the notes never end, it goes relatively unnoticed. I think of it as our own "Rhapsody in Blue".  Sometimes the music is peaceful or playful.  Other times it's loud and almost a little dark.  But it's the ebb and flow and fluid interaction between treble and bass that remind me so much of what happens with our mothers and children as they fight to find their proper places as parent and child.

Things are often very disjointed and dysfunctional when our families show up at the door.  The mother may have never had a healthy childhood and she's hanging onto the hope she will still get one somehow.  Therefore, she's acting like a child even though she has several children of her own.

Then, the older child shows up as the parent.  He has taken care of his siblings for a long time, has worked to keep his mother in line best he can, and he is accustomed to solving grownup problems way beyond his years.  Our children often arrive overly concerned about things no child should worry about - like shelter and food.  They sometimes hoard food because they have learned this as a way to survive.

We have a young girl right now who gets off the school bus and comes straight to my office with her list of things to discuss.  It's amusing, but also a little sad.  That list usually consists of things she should never worry about - a leak in the tub upstairs...the backpack she wants me to remind her mother about...her concern over her mother's struggles to quit smoking.  

So we have a problem.  The mother is the child and the child is the parent.  However, the mother has chosen to come to Blue Monarch because she desperately wants to become the parent, a healthy mother.  This dramatic switch in roles is extremely difficult for both of them.  

This is where the "Rhapsody in Blue" becomes loud, choppy, and quite angry.  As a piano player I've always been uncomfortable when one hand crosses over into the territory of the other.  It never feels right, like the world is upside down.  That's exactly what I picture when the mother is crossing over into the child's territory, and the child is crossing over into the parent's.  When they suddenly cross back and forth with no warning, it gets even more volatile.

So how do they each get to where they belong?  This takes lots of time and patience.  The child resents the mother for suddenly taking over and deciding to be the parent.  How dare her!  He is afraid to give up that power because he's been disappointed in the past and doesn't trust her.  Maybe he tries to give it a shot - and then it's too scary so he takes it back.  That's when the music gets deafening and the whole orchestra joins in.

We have a wonderful Pen Pal program for our children.  People from all over the country sign up to write to our children.  (We currently have a waiting list, by the way.)  The kids love getting surprise letters in the mail, and no doubt the writers on the other end are greatly blessed in the process.

I was reading a letter one of our young boys wrote recently.  He must have been asked what sports he liked because the first line read, "I really don't like sports.  After all, what do they do to solve problems in the world?"

It hit me that this boy had experienced too many grownup things in his short little life to find any meaning in something like sports.  He had recently been reprimanded in Sunday School for being disruptive, but I could see how sitting around singing Jesus songs probably seemed pointless to him - my word, his father had just gone to prison.

So is there any good news in this behind-the-scenes melody that plays day and night here?  After all, we don't have just one song playing - we have multiple songs playing at the same time.  Well, yes, there is hope.  And there is good news.  

Let's take the little girl who left.  That looks like a pretty hopeless story - but she was able to stop the madness for the months they were here and enjoy just being a kid - perhaps for the very first time in her life!  She danced with other children in a dance contest, she played with the goats and chickens, and she got a glimpse of what her home can look like one day when she's a mother, herself.  Through counseling she had the chance to express her feelings as never before.  She saw the differences in her own mother when she was applying herself, and even told us, "My mother is nicer to me here." She will not forget those memories of safety and security.  She knows, now, what that looks like.

Through the years several people have pulled me aside and confessed that it's hard for them to care about a mother who doesn't treat her child right.  But this is one thing I think they need to consider.  That mother is just that precious child grown up. The difference is, her own mother may not have had a place like Blue Monarch to teach her how to break that cycle.

We see amazing things happen as that "Rhapsody in Blue" becomes more peaceful and the right and left hands learn to stay where they belong.  But let me tell you the most valuable thing the mother and child learn while they are here.

Even though they both may have longed for a parent to care for them, they discover they actually had one all along - their Heavenly Father!  It's when each of them realize this - and I mean, they truly believe and feel it in their hearts - that they begin to heal as a family and settle into their proper places as mother and child.  We get to see the music when that happens...and it's a beautiful, beautiful sight.

Thank you, Lord, for being such a good, good Father, even when we don't realize you're there.  Thank you for your powerful healing that brings such beautiful music.  Amen

I invite you to listen to Leonard Bernstein play "Rhapsody in Blue" by George Gershwin.  It's such a great illustration of the intense and powerful process as our mothers and children find their places in that delicate relationship.  
Click here:  Rhapsody in Blue 

UPDATE: I'm happy to report, since I wrote this post a few weeks ago, the little girl I mentioned above no longer brings a list of things to discuss after school each day.  Instead, I see her riding bikes, climbing trees, and playing with Play-doh, just like a little girl should.  Thank you, Lord!