Over the past decade my sleeping patterns have gradually changed. In my 20's and 30's I was a night owl, especially during my college years when 1:30 AM seemed to by my average bedtime. During my seminary years, with the accumulated stresses of working nearly full-time and attending to my graduate work full-time, I discovered the need to work diligently in my academic pursuits from 10 PM to midnight, before rising early the following morning to head off to work. Since marriage and fatherhood over the past ten years, I have become an early riser, which has surprised me more than anything else in my life, I think. As a child and teenager I loathed my mother's early rising habits and made an unspoken vow that I would never get up early enough to disturb my family with vacuuming or putting away dishes at 4:30 or 5:00 AM. But, my ways of being have changed and now that I'm in my 40's I find early morning to be my most productive part of the day.
This morning I woke up early, even for me. At 5:00 AM I was wide awake in the frigid darkness of a frosty, subzero Minnesota morning. Much as tried I could not convince myself to fall back asleep, so at 5:15 I was readying myself for the day, arriving at my church office before 6:30 to attack the day's projects. While I may feel weary a little earlier than usual tonight, I have reflected upon why the early morning spurt of energy, and I think I have some of the answer.
It is not simply that I am in a different stage of life. And it's not only that early mornings are the best times for me to focus without the interruptions of family life or telephone calls. This morning I have felt energy because of yesterday's court date. Typically court dates leave me feeling dissipated, discouraged and seeking a womb-like atmosphere in which to retreat. As I explained in yesterday's blog, however, I sense a great deal of relief in knowing that our sixteen-year-old son is in a safe, productive environment for the next eighteen or so months of his life. While I understood cognitively the relief this might provide, today I am experiencing the emotionality of this resolution.
For years now we have lived with the uncertainty of never really knowing what might happen with or to John. Our family life has been impaired by his mental health issues, our sense of stability never in place for more than a few days or weeks at a time, our anxiety levels ebbing and flowing, but mostly increasing as time has passed. During these years we have advocated, moderated, mediated, cooperated, alterated, and mitigated on his behalf. But our role has changed, and I am more relieved than I realized. It is only now that I am beginning to recognize just how much stress I and our family system has endured in order to maintain a connection with our son.
Don't misunderstand what I'm saying. We will continue to maintain a connection with John. He will always have a mom and dad and siblings who love him and care about him. We will always be "home" for him. But now we have a reprieve from the threats (implicit or explicit), the deception (naive or intentional), the behind-the-scenes terrorism (planned or unplanned), and the nagging sense of failure in spite of our hardest fought battles to reclaim his life.
There are only so many ways a family and parents can attempt to reclaim a child's life, and parents and families should always diligently, faithfully, arduously work in that direction. But then there come the moments when a child begins to slip into a new stage of life toward adulthood where he or she must make the decisions that most significantly impact him- or herself. While children (no matter what their chronological age) always needs parents in their life, as they grow up they begin to need parents in a different way. This is a relief for both the child and for the parent and is not, I am discovering, something for which either need feel much guilt.
I am at that stage with John, and today I am filled with praise for the gift of resolution.