Monday, February 04, 2013

What's a Parent to do When a Child Struggles?

At age 28 I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis following the onset of a fairly serious episode. (I am grateful that it didn't take years to reach this diagnosis, as is often the case with MS.) As difficult as it was for my wife and me to handle the reality of my condition, I felt at the time that it seemed to be even more difficult for my parents, especially my dad.

I am now getting a taste of what my parents experienced back then as I watch my own kids grapple with problems. The past couple of years have brought some serious challenges as one son has experienced a number of behavioral issues. As I explained in this post, our son has now been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and we are working through the process of understanding his condition and how best to help him. Thankfully, there is help available. But this process has taken, is taking, and will take its toll on our family for a long time to come.

In November I wrote about two of my sons leaving to serve as full-time LDS missionaries. One of these young men has grappled with a mystifying chronic pain condition for about five years, but he is serving valiantly.

My other missionary son embarked on his mission after his chronic dizziness problems cleared up enough for doctors, church leaders, and the missionary department to feel that he could handle the rigors of missionary life. Alas, it was not to be. After beginning his service, our son experienced debilitating episodes of dizziness and nausea.

Our son's earlier dizziness problems had been thought to be directly related to a longstanding ear and throat problem. However, a specialist in this field certified that those problems had cleared up. Feeling that the issue appeared to be of a neurological nature, he advised that our son come home to address the matter with neurology specialists.

The succeeding weeks have brought many medical tests and meetings with various doctors, the first of whom basically told us he was uninterested in our son's case. A more competent doctor arrived at a diagnosis of a permanent neurological anomaly that causes many negative physical manifestations.

We have been told that there is no satisfactory medical treatment for our son's condition. Therapists can work to help him 'rewire' his brain, but this takes time. And it's not necessarily a linear process. Until our son achieves some level of stability he finds himself unable to be very productive. He can't work, serve a mission, or go to school. He feels physically and mentally awful most days.

Even before a child is born, parents tend to start taking responsibility for resolving problems related to the child. This continues in various forms throughout childhood, adolescence, and even into adulthood. Sometimes a parent can intervene to solve a problem. Sometimes parents hold back because they feel that a problem will resolve itself in time. But it is particularly difficult for a parent when they feel powerless to do much in the face of a child's challenge.

I suppose that pretty much all parents that remain involved in the lives of their children eventually watch their children face challenges that the parent is incapable of resolving. Some boo-boos will never go away, no matter how many band-aids and kisses are applied. This realization requires an adjustment to the parent's standard operational pattern. That can be hard, especially when the parent yearns to do more.

This needed parental adjustment usually can't happen in rapid fashion. We have no way, for example, to develop much of a long-term plan for either of our sons dealing with disabilities. We simply don't know what tomorrow, or next year, or the next decade will bring. We are constantly trying to figure out what we need to do and how much assistance is appropriate. How do you know for sure when your efforts are going to end up being inadequate or when they go so far as to create detrimental dependency?

The fact is that we signed up for this when we decided to have children. Despite the challenges, I don't regret even the tiniest bit having any of our children in our family. I love each one dearly. I fully anticipate a bright future for our family, regardless of the challenges our children face.

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