The past three weeks have been utter upheaval for our entire family. While Olivia has some physical, speech, and cognitive setbacks due to her illness, her most obvious needs are emotional. This is, in part, due to the illness as well. One of the symptoms of encephalitis is anxiety and emotional instability.
The other side of the coin is that she is dealing with her own post-traumatic stress (something friends have warned me to be aware of in my own body). Her little body went through a lot, and being in a hospital for 7 days is nothing short of trauma for a 3 year old.
While we are obviously working with her on all her needs, one of my main areas of concern is her emotional stability. I want her to know that Mommy will be there to comfort, love, and protect no matter what. She needs this several times a night. Throughout the day, seemingly not-so-obvious things will trigger an emotional, anxious response. She pretty much wants me by her side 24/7. She literally cries when I walk out of the room.
In the night she pushes her body right up close to mine. If she briefly wakes up, she always reaches out and squeezes me just to make sure I’m there. If she doesn’t feel me instantly, she panics and starts screaming. But I’m there. And I will continue to be there. If this insecurity and anxiousness lasts a month or six months, I will be right there walking (or sleeping as the case might be) her through it.
But she isn’t the only child dealing with emotions right now. Her two brothers have their own emotional needs. The main one? They want Mommy. Silas is young enough that once Mommy was back home again, all was right in his world and he is happily carrying on as usual.
But Stefan is older and therefore felt things much more deeply. He saw a seizure. He was worried about his sister. And he missed his parents incredibly. By nature, he is a child that internalizes things. He doesn’t always talk about it, but he feels things deeply.
As is typical for any 5 year old that has gone through any type of change (traumatic or not), his need for reassurance comes out in whining and acting out. It isn’t defiance. It’s screaming for reassurance that all is well in his world, and for time with his Mommy and Daddy.
Besides the obvious, one of the main reasons I have been so thankful for help from family and friends is that it has relieved me to meet the emotional needs of my children. Someone else can make a meal, clean a house, or even put a load of laundry in the washer. But Brian and I are the only ones that can meet their emotional needs.
Just today, I was incredibly thankful someone was bringing me dinner. Brian had a long day at work and my goal for the day was just to be with my kids and try to bring things as much back to normal as possible. My kids were my sidekicks all day long. We played, we read, we ate, and we did everything together. It was the best thing possible for them and me. And I was exhausted.
At the end of the day, Brian came home, someone else stopped by with a pot of white chicken chili, and I thanked God for the freedom of not having to think about something as simple as making dinner.
This is what living in true community is. It’s allowing others to help you with the needs that they can meet, so that you are freed up to focus on the needs that only you can meet.
For right now, parenting my children through uncertainty means mainly one word. Time. They simply need me. I have every confidence that they will all bounce back, and we’ll be back to our normal happy family life and routines in no time at all. But the best and only gift I can give my children right now is my time and attention to love and nurture them.
They don’t need anything fancy, they simply need me to care about what they care about. If that is a brief cuddle as my 21 month old toddles around the house, that’s where my time is spent. If that is a tight embrace as I reassure my 3 year old that I will not leave her when she panics for some unknown reason, I’ll do it. If that’s counting how many times my 5 year old can dribble a basketball (he’s up to 172), I’ll count. And if that means playing 15 games of Candy Land (like I did today), I’ll do that too.
Someday I’ll look back on this and realize that this illness has brought about the best parenting lesson I have ever learned. Time spent with my children is never wasted.