One day I posted a photo on facebook of my husband and daughter happily smiling out in the woods. We had just come back from a walk, and by anyone’s guess, all was right with the world. But, like photos often do, it only allowed a small glimpse into what the morning had been like.
It started off like many mornings do in our house. All 3 of us were up and about, and since it was a nice Spring day, one of us suggested we go for a walk in the woods after breakfast.
While getting ready, my husband mentioned to KJ that if she brought her backpack with her, she would have to carry it. The backpack is something she takes with her everywhere. The contents vary on a daily basis, and the actual backpack varies, too. But she almost never goes anywhere without that darn backpack.
We had done the same walk a few days earlier, so we were excited to head out and enjoy another refreshing morning together.
Except that day, it wasn’t refreshing. As we headed down the path, KJ started to complain that her backpack was too heavy, and it was hindering her from running. Scott had told her ahead of time that we were not carrying her backpack if she brought it. But she asked anyway. And when we told her no, she began to cry.
We offered another solution: we could leave it on the trail and get it on our way back. More tears. Uncontrollable tears. Her anxiety about leaving the backpack, first at home and then on the trail, was ruling the morning.
We continued hiking, and she persisted: “Please, dad, will you carry my backpack for me?”
Since we had made a guideline, we stuck to our guns. NO, we are not changing our minds about this. We gave her 3 choices: continue carrying it herself, leave it on the trail, or go home. None of these were acceptable to her. More tears.
Suddenly my husband thought of another option: hook the backpack to a tree branch, and we’ll get it on the way back. Yes, this was similar to the earlier option, but it didn’t involve setting the backpack on the ground.
She persisted: “What if I need something from my backpack?” Scott reminded her that on our hike earlier in the week, she hadn’t opened her backpack once. Not once.
Finally, she relented. She allowed us to leave the backpack on the tree and continue on. So we did – for about 30 feet. Our dog bumped her knee with a stick as he ran by her, and she began crying uncontrollably.
After this, she insisted that she needed her backpack. For what – who knows?
After spending about 20 minutes in the same 30 foot radius, we were nearing the end of our patience. We were not going to go on if she could not calm down.
Finally my husband made the call – after several chances for her to make a decision – we were heading back home. MORE TEARS. Screaming, “Wait, Dad, no!!! I’ll do it. I’ll leave my backpack here.”
At this point, I was in tears too. Why does it have to be this way? Why can’t we enjoy a simple walk in the woods? Why is she so attached to a backpack that we can’t move forward? Why does she struggle with such little things?
I looked at my husband, and he looked at me, and I just felt defeated. I turned on the trail and started heading back towards our house.
I’m not sure exactly what happened next, but somehow he got her to calm down. Soon, they were both investigating some fungi on a tree. He motioned to me to come back towards them. We sat down on a log together to watch for birds. (Unfortunately, having Moxie, our 75 lb black lab, in the woods with you does not make for great bird-watching.)
We began to explore more, looking for interesting things, as KJ took out her notebook and made notes about what she was seeing. She told us she was a scientist, and was making observations.
Before I knew it, we were all up on a huge rock, laughing as Moxie joined us, and we tried to take a family selfie.
The former anxiety-ridden meltdown over the backpack was forgotten. The nature-loving girl was enjoying making memories with her family.
And the backpack? Well, it made it out of the woods. I honestly don’t remember who carried it.
MY BIGGEST STRUGGLE AS A MOM
I’ve written before about some of the challenges motherhood has presented me. I’ve not been shy about the fact that being a mom is a struggle many days. But by far, the biggest challenge I’ve dealt with as a mom is my daughter’s anxiety.
To stand in the woods while my daughter falls apart over a backpack–well, it’s just not fun. Enduring an entire month of repeated nighttime wake-ups with full-blown anxiety attacks–it just plain sucks. To beg God to relieve my child’s suffering and allow her heart to be at peace, yet not see it happen is heartbreaking.
I question almost every decision I make when dealing with anxiety. I second guess the times that I put my foot down and refuse to give in to her demands, knowing that it’s the anxiety and worry talking. I agonize over the times that I’m too defeated to fight it, and I just give in, wondering if I’ve just created a new habit that will take us months to break.
This anxiety thing – it’s the biggest struggle I’ve faced as a mom thus far. I’m sure there will be more.
But here’s the thing–often we look at someone’s photo that they post on facebook, and we don’t know the whole story. We just see one small sliver of that experience. Is it wrong to post the happy pictures? No, absolutely not.
But what I want to tell you is this: the photos usually don’t tell the whole story. Each and every one of us has our struggles, even if we can’t always see them from the outside. No one is immune to challenges in life.
As women and moms, I often see us comparing our struggles with each other. We say things like, “Man, I can’t imagine going through that.” Or, we say, “Wow, look at them, they seem like such a happy family. They are so lucky that they don’t have to deal with _____________.”
Instead of comparing our difficulties, why don’t we simply support one another through them? Why don’t we just listen and acknowledge someone else’s pain instead of comparing?
Let’s stop downplaying our own challenges or trying to one-up each other with bigger or harder struggles.
We all experience challenges, and we all have our own unique adversities. The best thing we can do is be there for others with loving support and allow others to be there for us.