Thursday, April 14, 2011

Coffee Talk Thursday: Family Matters

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.


  1. Yes, that really was sad. People today feel so alone.

  2. It is hard for young mom's when they don't have anyone to turn to and like you said, you might have to get creative in finding a support system. I love the fact our church has a mom's group for mother's of young children. The day I got to visit, I could feel the love each of you have for one another and know you are there for each other, just to listen, to give encouragement or laugh and have a good time. When I was a young mom, wait let me rephrase that ;) When I was a mom of young children, I went to the parade during fair week and was handed a flyer for MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) I drove 40 miles round trip to attend MOPS twice a month. It was comforting and a relief to know there were others who had the same struggles and trials I did. I was not alone. It was encouraging to hear from the mentors who had already been there. It gave me something to look forward to. These groups offer support, comfort and companionship. I know I was like you, I had people who offered to help me, but I always felt like I was putting them out or being a bother. But, now that I'm older and wiser (wink) I wish I had called them from time to time. They wouldn't have offered if they truly didn't want to help.
    Keep up the good work you're doing with your little ones. Know that you are a blessing to your family and those around you!

  3. Maybe some lucky people have family that is willing to help, but that's not always the case even if family lives nearby.

    My parents are on the other side of the world, but my husbands parents are only 30 minutes away. If we ask them to watch the kids, they have to know why, and will only ever help us out if they agree with what we are going to do. If we are going out to go on a date and they don't agree with that, they'll tell us they don't and that's why they won't watch the kids.

    The other issue is that his parents put ridiculous rules and restrictions on our kids that we don't. She freaks out of my two year old takes his pants off because "that's not modest" and she doesn't want her 11 year old daughter to "accidentally" see that little boys are different to little girls. My two year old is special needs and he does take his clothes off sometimes at random moments.

    They also think they should have the "right" to spank the kids. I don't even spank my kids, and there is NO WAY I'm going to allow her to do it, and if she does she probably won't ever see them again.

    So yeah, just because family is close doesn't mean they will really help...

  4. Let's not forget that church should provide community. My husband is a pastor, and we've never lived closer than four hours from either sets of our parents. We have four children, all five years and younger. Our current church provides us with multiple sets of "grandparents", some who already are actually grandparents and others who are at an in-between season of their lives, children grown but have none of their own children yet.
    Sadly, I read in my local paper, the Savannah Morning News, that this type of incident is far from rare. I understand that a mother kills her child or children once every three days in our country.
    No matter what, you are not actually alone. God is always there!

  5. Cheryl, thanks for coming to our mom's group. We all appreciated your devotion! I am thankful we have that group, too!

    Katy-Anne, I am sorry to hear your in-laws are not more supportive. I am sure that must be tough.

    Lauren, yes, great point. We have a wonderful church family, which I am so thankful for! Sometimes, though, I wish offers to help were put out more like, "I would love to come by this week and help watch the kids (or whatever). What time would work?" That would feel easier to take someone up on, rather than calling and asking (which I know is fine too; it just feels like more of an imposition). One of my friends has an older mom friend who does this. She just announces that she'll come by x-day at x-time and watch the kids so my friend can go out, or they go to lunch. I hope I remember to do this for the younger moms when I am an older mom :)