You may have heard the tragic news story this week about the mother who drove her minivan in the Hudson River with her four young children inside. Only one child, her oldest son, escaped. Everyone else drowned.
While I can't begin to presume what drove her to such a drastic action, one news account said that she stated to a child care worker that she felt "so alone." This worker said, "She's a single parent. She takes great care of her kids, goes to school and works. She really needed a helping hand."
We all have bad days. Most of us, however, have support networks (primarily our husbands) to help us through those tough times. But when you're a single parent, or your husband is on active duty in the military or travelling for work, everything falls on you to deal with. It can be very, very stressful. Perhaps it was so stressful for this young mother that it drove her over the deep end.
I've been thinking lately about why family matters so much. Both my husband's parents and mine live hours away. We don't see them all that often. It can feel very isolating. When our parents do visit--even if for just a weekend--it just feels better, lighter in some way, like we're not as alone as we might feel on other days (however subconsciously).
Before she switched to Sirius satellite radio, I listened almost daily to Dr. Laura Schlessinger on the radio. She was a big proponent of living near family, even if it meant a move. The simple fact is you have help. Parenting still falls primarily on you and your spouse, but you have a larger network to share some of the responsibility. If you're having a rough day, you can call your mom (or dad, or in-laws) and see if she can watch the kids for you for an hour while you run out for a quick sanity break. Even if you're not having a bad day, having the grandparents take the kids to lunch or to the park is a welcome refreshment for everyone.
In the absence of family nearby, I think we just have to be more creative with finding support systems. Sure, I could call a friend on a really rough day, but most of my friends have small children of their own, and I don't want to ask if they would mind watching mine for an hour. But there's always the option of meeting friends at the park or another place where the kids can play. Or you can take your children out on your own and just get out of the house for a bit. All good sanity savers.
While not having family in town can make the parenting journey more stressful at times, it also means that, in many ways, your family unit will be tighter knit. That's because you all have to rely on each other. You'll have to find ways to work through stuff, because there's no one else to run to. It's like a yo-yo: you may get grouchy or impatient, and everyone pulls in their own direction for a bit, but at the end of the day, you come together again. Don't let the sun go down on your anger, as the Bible teaches.
The saddest part of the story for me of the mom and her children is that, in her final minutes, she realized she was making a mistake. ABC News reports she tried to put her van in reverse, but it was too late. I wonder how different it all could have been if she could have had some better coping mechanisms, or some family or close friends to turn to for support.