Packing our car for a last minute trip, I was feeling the stress. We were running behind, there was far more to carry to the car than I'd hoped, and my child was dwadling. As the stress built, I felt that familiar feeling: I wish Greg was here. Not because packing for trips was less stressful when he was alive but because the stress could be shared.
It's not just the responsibilities that a solo parent carries alone, it's the stress. There's no one to share it with aside from our kids, which is a dangerous path to go down. Parentifcation of children can have long-lasting negative effects, but boy is it tempting when the weight of everything is on our shoulders.
Instead of being able to share the stress, wolo parents are left to absorb it.
Bad day at work? Absorb.
Tough decisions weighing on our minds? Absorb.
Bad attitudes from immature children? Absorb.
Exhaustion from interrupted sleep? Absorb.
Absorbing the stress is against my nature. I want to lash out, vent, complain, and make someone else feel my load - even if they can't help carry it. But when the only one there is a child, it's not a viable option. Children can't carry the weight of adult responsibilities or emotions. Their little shoulders and developing minds are not built for such things.
So I'm forced to take a deep breath and let the stress burn in my chest. In the absence of Greg I have to say a quick, desperate prayer that God will help me shut my mouth and not put my negative thoughts on my child.
I don't do it perfectly and I've had to apologize many times. Early on in grief, my capacity was zero and my emotions were volcanic. I leaked my pain all over the place. It was ugly and only by the grace of God (and regular therapy) did we make it through that season.
But over the past three years I've grown in my ability to handle my emotions and absorb the stress in our life.
I recently slipped on a toy (that I'd left on the stairs) and fell down the last few steps. My tailbone and elbow screamed with pain and all I wanted to do was lash out at someone. My son, innocently laying in his bed, heard the crash and called down to check if I was okay while I bit my tongue to keep from screaming at him. Was it his fault? Not at all. But my pain had quickly turned to anger. As I yelled up reassurance that I was fine, I internally thanked God for holding my tongue from mis-directing my pain his way. Having lost a parent to death, he is scared of anything bad happening to me. His little scared heart couldn't handle my pain- he needed my reassurance.
So I sat where I'd landed and absorbed the pain and stress (and broke down in tears and then had to yell up again that I was fine but it just hurt and I was crying because of the pain...) because that's what parents are called to do.
Thankfully, I don't have to do it alone. I don't have my husband, but do I have a God who is "the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." (1 Corinthians 1:3-4). I have a therapist listens and gives me tools to carry stress better. And I have a community that comes around me when it's too much to carry: with encouragement, prayer, and meals.
Friend, I know it's a lot to carry. But as we do the hard work of absorbing the stress, we protect our little ones who lack the resources we have, from having to carry it themselves.