how to weather a family crisis

how to handle family problemsI’ll never forget the phone call.

My in-laws, who live in Iowa, had rented a condo near us in Florida for a few months. They’d been enjoying the warm weather and the new friends they’d met.

Until that morning.

“I’m worried about Linda,” my father-in-law said. “She’s really weak and she’s not making any sense.”

It sounded like she might be having a stroke. I told him to go immediately to the ER and I would meet them there.

None of us knew the nightmare we were walking into. The hospital was busy and understaffed. Despite all our extreme efforts (I’ll admit it … I went a little crazy), we couldn’t get my mother-in-law the care she really needed at a critical time.

She was practically ignored, then misdiagnosed. Finally, after 48 incredibly stressful and frustrating hours — and only after she went into respiratory failure — we got an answer. She had a rare brain infection.

I can’t quite describe to you what the next couple of months were like. She was in a coma for 30 days. She nearly died several times. My father-in-law was understandably incredibly distraught and, at times, unable to function. We had to arrange her transport back home — across the country.

My husband was great, but he had less flexibility and availability than I had as a work-at-home mom.

 It stretched me in ways that I didn’t think possible.

And, all the while, in the middle of this incredible grief and chaos, I still had to be a mom. To two kids who were confused, upset and just wanted everything to be “normal” again (or at least as normal as it get around my house!)

For a little while, I tried to keep everything afloat and shield my kids from as much as the craziness as possible. It wasn’t possible.

Gradually, I learned a few things that helped us weather this family crisis and grow closer to God and each other during this time:

Ask for and accept help

This is not easy for me to do. I don’t like asking people for things. I’m pretty self-sufficient. Probably too much so. I let — and asked — people cook meals for us, take the kids places and pray for and with me. I turned to medical friends for advice about navigating different aspects of the healthcare system. And I didn’t even feel bad about it. Looking back on it, I should have hired someone to clean my house during this time, too. It would have alleviated my stress and allowed me to better focus on the immediate and changing needs of our chaotic situation.

If it’s not vital, let it go

A crisis really does clarify what’s truly important. Many things can wait. I focused primarily on getting kids to school, making sure everyone was clothed and fed and doing the minimum around the house to keep things relatively clean and functioning. I prayed a lot, too. Everything else went to the back burner.

Talk with your kids about what’s going on

Because here’s the truth: Kids already know what’s going on. They may not know all the details, but they can definitely sense the seriousness of a situation by simply observing us. I think our first inclination is to give them very limited, “happy face” information. I’ve found that my kids don’t want to hear that. They can handle the truth (given in an age-appropriate manner). I think it causes them more anxiety if they think we’re hiding things from them.

At the time, my kids were teen and pre-teen. We explained to them the gravity of the situation and that Nana could die. If she lived, she might never be the same. We told them about the enormous struggles their Papa was having as he coped with this news. I gave them specific ways they could pray for them and show love to Papa. They both rose to the challenge.

I wish there was a happy ending to my story. My mother-in-law did live, however, her mind is gone. She doesn’t know any of us and has a very limited ability to communicate.

We often have no control over the outcome of our family crises, however, we can control how we react and respond in the midst of them.

As much as we’d like to avoid them, they are often what God uses to grow and shape our character — and our children’s.

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  1. says

    I’m so sorry about your MIL! I know how hard it is to have a family member who can’t function mentally and doesn’t know who you are. It is a hard thing to decide in the midst of it how you are going to share the information with your children. As a mother we want to shield them from everything but you’re right…their intuition can sometimes rival a mothers with things like this. I hope and pray your father in law is adjusting and well.

    • Mothering From Scratch says

      {Melinda} Thank you for your kind words, Carla. My FIL is still struggling a lot and his health has taken a real nosedive over the last two years since this happened. So sad.

  2. says

    What a powerful post. Thank you for this.

    Last month my beloved grandmother died. I thought I was going to lose my mind trying to put on a happy face for my children while completely submerged in grief. Life has to go on but in those moments it almost feels like it can’t.

    These are wonderful tips. Thank you for sharing.

    • Mothering From Scratch says

      {Melinda} I am so sorry for your loss, Jennifer. Life is so hard sometimes, isn’t it?

  3. says

    Your line, “And, all the while, in the middle of this incredible grief and chaos, I still had to be a mom.” is so true. There is no stopping the mom role even in the middle of a crisis. I love your points: ask for and accept help, let unimportant things go, and talk with your kids. Great wisdom.
    (And…I’m so sorry about your mother-in-law.)
    Blessings to you.
    Lori Wildenberg recently posted..Let Your Child Read This Highly Controversial Book This Summer!My Profile

    • Mothering From Scratch says

      {Melinda} Thank you , Lori. Wisdom seems to come only in the really crappy stuff of life, doesn’t it? Wish there was an easier way, but I’ve never found one! That’s what God has always used to wise me up.


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