It’s been a while since Seth or I have written since, mentally and emotionally, the last year has taken its toll. Ned’s health is mostly stable at the moment, but the deep fatigue and tedium is well-entrenched and the perpetual battle of juggling Seth’s work and various extra-curricular demands, my work and associated ongoing study, Lucy’s schooling and emotional wellbeing, Eleanor’s infanthood requirements and necessary routines, and Ned’s regular medications, hospital visits, emotional and physical development (which seem to be lagging, with good reason), and the relentless, dreadful side effects of his daily chemo, which involve frequent emotional meltdowns and worsening anxiety.
I keep casting my eyes furtively back to “pre-leukaemia” times (or as my friends hear it “before D-Day”) to when Seth and I were just like any other ordinary parent of average, appropriately-developing children who deal with regular ups and downs of common physical ailments and emotional challenges… A time when we weren’t apologising for a child’s anxious outbursts, or justifying his reliance on a dummy to sleep; explaining his lack of leg strength and coordination, or emphasising that his itchy, spotty skin is not contagious. A time when we felt bulletproof, we felt like "strong" parents, striving for perfection, with healthy children and ambitious plans, few vulnerabilities and weaknesses, raising our children to be "happy" people, or so we thought.
I've struggled a lot getting my head around the concepts of contentment vs happiness over the last few months. To me, the word ‘happiness’ encapsulates ideas of cheeriness, glee and joviality. 'Contentment' however depicts a more settled fulfilment, a satisfied pleasure. In this day and age, I’ve noticed the concept of happiness is being more and more sold as the essence of life, the pinnacle of ambitions worth striving for, a milestone that must be pursued, albeit an unattainable one. And what better audience to peddle this elusive commodity to than the exhausted, patience-depleted, widely-criticised group called parents. Not only must we be happy in our roles, our relationships and our lifestyle, but our children must be raised with a “perfect”, happy childhood, and nothing short of absolute perfection for their education, diet, health, lifestyle, discipline and beliefs is adequate. Apparently, everyone must endeavour to be the Perfect Parent, and they will be judged if they fall short in anyone else’s eyes or estimation of what the Perfect Parent involves, and how happy their children's lives will be. In my observation, there’s a Western societal fear of sadness, fallibility and vulnerability. As parents, we constantly scramble to seek out what the best education involves and how we can access that for our children; what the best treatment for this particular ailment is and how best we can treat our children with minimal challenge to their emotional state and fewest side effects or long-term complications. We go to great lengths to research what the ultimate foods and most wholesome, purest diet is for our children, concerned about any "pollution" we may confront their small bodies with, and then torture ourselves by reading about how various methods of discipline will cause long-term emotional harm. All this whilst we continually compare ourselves with the seemingly Perfect Parents around us - their superiority and virtue now more evident thanks to social media.
Finally, and this is the greatest of enigmas, we not only feel shame and guilt if our child has been “exposed” to anything less than perfection, or if we’ve allowed a blemish on their lives, but we also judge others according to our idea of a Perfect Parent.
How is it that we are in this place whereby sadness is considered a disease and happiness is the default? Regardless of how we choose to raise our children, thereby shielding them from certain uncomfortable experiences and challenges (which, by the way, I don’t think is wrong), every person on this planet will, at some point during their existence, experience fear, frustration, sadness, impatience, disappointment, grief and pain. And what do we hear from those who have experienced hardship in a particularly profound manner? That they’ve developed a strength of character they never thought possible. How are these character traits not something we want for our children? As much as we want to raise children with endless opportunities and worry-free health, shouldn't we want them to also be capable, resilient and empathetic?
I am a parent of 3 young children, and I have been the same - wanting the best outcomes for the best lives they could possibly have. But now I have a child who hasn't complied with that planned agenda, and through his young body have coursed awful, toxic substances which every parent would presumably go to great lengths to shield their children from. So I must re-check myself, my priorities and my values. No-one could claim they've had a blemish-less, disappointment-free “perfect life”, and I've certainly never met a Perfect Parent, yet I've been humbled again and again by the honest, compassionate, loyal friends I've encountered along the way. Indeed the resilience I’ve developed from my life's imperfections have been borne of struggles and pain through the years, and I believe I'm a more wholesome, empathetic and content (not “happy”) person because of it. And so I want to challenge you too, in whatever path you're travelling.
A brilliant sermon yesterday morning reminded me that “God’s power is made perfect in our weakness”. In my vulnerability of being parent to a child with a life-threatening illness, who is on daily chemotherapy, thereby suffering from constant nausea, tiredness and often misery, I confess to being that parent in the past - desiring the perfect life for my children, and consequently giving those parenting goals undue importance, almost as idols. And my grief over these last few years of losing these lifestyle ideals has been profound, and still challenges me more often than not.
But “God’s power is made perfect in our weakness”, and His power will be made perfect in my and my children’s weaknesses, not by virtue of me seeking a perfect life for us all. Our children and I will continue to develop joy, resilience, delight, contentment and pleasure in learning to utterly depend on Him when we are not strong, bearing testament to God’s love and steadfastness. Although I wouldn’t wish ill health on any person, I know God weeps with those who suffer, like Ned, and His power, faithfulness and love is superbly revealed in those who come to Him in their weakness.