Of his own freewill, an 18-year old boy is living on the streets of Panama City. The weather dips to near freezing and outside is pouring down rain.
It’s been 4 days. His mother has no idea where he is. At warp speed her mind races mercilessly, and relentlessly tortures her as she struggles in vain not to imagine the worst. With no food, less than $80 in his pocket and no high school diploma, she is tries desperately to convince herself that her child is okay.
Against advice, the day he became a legal adult he walked off property from a Program designed to put him back on the right path.
The Program offered every tool necessary to make wise choices instead of the life-altering bad ones he’d made over the past 4 years. (I was going to soften the blow by changing the words “bad choices” to “poor choices” but let’s face it: bad choices are just that – bad. Any attempt to sugarcoat this reality discredits those parents going through the agony of watching their child self destruct before their very eyes).
Can anything more gut wrenching tear at a mother’s heartstrings? She had spent her life savings trying to save her son from the demons in his head. He almost made it to the other side of the chasm just last year. Just last year he had graduated the Program with honors! Just last year he was enrolled in a local school and was attending a well known church youth group. Just last year he had met and was dating a very nice girl. Then the bottom dropped out.
After a few months the girl saw things in his personality that caused her to break up with him. That was it for this then 17-year old. He reverted to his old ways, ran away from home and after coming to the end of his options a few weeks later, reluctantly went back into the Program he had left (with honors) a few months earlier. Last week, the day he became a legal adult, he walked off the property as the evening sun was setting, effectively leaving the Program.
As mothers of young children, we can’t imagine that our kids will turn out “like that.” After all, we do everything we can to provide stable, loving homes for them; teaching them right from wrong; giving them self esteem and support; helping them succeed in school; pouring all we have into launching them into the world with the tools they need to succeed. It can’t happen to us, right? Situations like this only happen to ‘other parents’.
But what if? What if it does happen to your child? We watch them take their first steps, and smile proudly as we capture their first day of kindergarten on camera as they pose proudly in front of the large yellow school bus with their new backpack and lunch box in tow. The mother of this son said and did all these same things. Still, the worse thing she could imagine happened anyway.
You can’t say every parent hasn’t imagined what it would be like to live through such anguish. I’ve had the privilege of walking through the above scenario with one of my dear friends in my inner circle. I wish I could say she is the only Mom I’ve tried to offer comfort and hope to along the way. Sadly, she is not.
As parents, each time we hear about a child getting abducted, a teenager on drugs, an elementary school shooting, the ugly truth of the hostile world we live in crashes in on our carefully crafted firewalls of serenity and peace. It is unimaginable to reconcile the “what if’s in life” with all we do in our own lives and with our own children to create a safety net where things like this will never happen.
Thankfully, the scenario above is the exception to the rule and not the norm. Odds are as parents you and I will never have to walk this sorrowful road. Odds are, however, that you or I will be asked to walk the road alongside a parent who is. I haven’t met one Mother whose child has gone astray who isn’t a strong, independent and faithful person. I haven’t met one Mom who wouldn’t offer to help those in need the moment they asked. One of the hardest things we are asked to do when we are struggling and can’t help ourselves emotionally, is to ask for help from our friends and family. It physically hurts to be “the one” who is suffering, “the one” who needs help. It is easier to be the one who is giving help rather than needing someone’s generous time and support.
Parents work tirelessly as we willingly pour our life’s work into creating a safe world for our children. Children are one the greatest blessings this world has to offer. For those parents struggling with children who aren’t “the norm” know in your heart of hearts that you are not alone. Many walk the path with you. And for those of us who are the support systems for the mothers and dads walking through the minefields of parenting children who make bad decisions affecting not only themselves but a wide circle of others, thank you for supporting those you are a lifeline to. How true it is that parenting is one of the hardest things you will ever do, yet not one of us would give it up for all the world. Here’s to the all the Moms and Dads who pour their lives into their children’s hearts. Be strong and courageous. We are in this battle together.