It’s hard to imagine now, but my sweet Caroline almost drove me to the mental institution.
God bless her, I honestly thought I wasn’t going to make it. I mean, I wrote a book called, Desperate,mainly because of that precious, out-of-the-box girl. I remember calling up my mentor Sally one day and saying, “What am I going to do with her? She won’t listen and she gets out of bed 10,000 times a night?!” Sally responded, “I really think if she could obey you she would.” From there she taught me some ways to love Caroline and nurture her and guide her sweet soul as she was, a “different” child who wasn’t going to conform.
What a delight she is to me!
Sally knows a thing or two about raising a “different” child, so her advice and encouragement is gold to me. Which is why when she sent me her new book, written with her “OCD, ADD, OH-MY-GOODNESS” son Nathan, I knew I was going to devour it. Which I did.
This week Sally and her son Nathan released that wonderful book, and it’s called, Different: The Story of an Out-Side-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him (get a copy here). Sally has protected her family by keeping certain stories hidden from the public sphere, until now. In Different, we are offered a vulnerable look behind the curtain into the story of a son with mental illness and a mother who fought to love well even when it felt impossible. The stories and truths in Different have not been shared before, and they will absolutely bring hope and freedom to those who struggle with their “different” children. If you ever look at your beautiful, different child and think, I can’t do this; it’s just too hard, then this book is a must-read.
I asked Sally’s son Nathan if he would share some advice for us moms so we could get into the heads of our kids, so to speak. Yes, we are all different and our kids aren’t like another person’s kids, but his perspective and insight is so helpful as I navigate raising my own children with empathy and wisdom. Below is the interview. Enjoy!
Nathan, what is your biggest piece of advice for moms who have out-of-the-box or different kids?
For me it was so valuable to have someone who accepted me completely. I know that not everyone will understand how and why I do things sometimes, even my mom. But to have a space where I was allowed to be unapologetically me, without pretense, or pressure to preform, allowed me to love the person God had created me to be. My mom didn’t always get me, but she lived with the knowing that God had desired me the way he had for a purpose— so she decided to love, encourage, train, and accept me the way I was made without trying to force me into a box of societal or social expectations. That didn’t mean she didn’t train me, stretch, or push me to be my best, but it meant when she did, she did it accepting the direction God has created me to move towards.
Sometimes as moms it feels like, “Am I even getting through to my child?!” Can you tell us what worked best in getting through to you?
Sometimes I think people have a conception that they need to be louder or more firm to get someone to listen. But often times what helped me connect, learn, and understand, is when someone took the time to see me, hear me, and approach me with grace. I can remember being so frustrated at the world around me as a kid which could make me lash out and talk-back. But in the midst of those times when my mom would take me off alone on a walk, or scratch my back and ask me what was on my mind, often I would feel the frustration dissipate more and more as I felt little by little more understood.
What was the hardest part about being different?
Well, let me say this: EVERY kid is “different” in their own way. Some may be quiet, some may be loud, but whatever your “differences” are I think very often they can make us, and made me, feel very alone and separated. And the deepest desire of every humans is to feel loved and known. So when we have these unique traits in our lives that make us feel alienated we can start to resent the way God has made us. But as I grew up in a home that facilitated an environment of unconditional love, I began to find value in the way I was made, and learned to believe that my differences weren’t disorders to destroy, but strengths to hone.
How should moms discipline a “different” kid?
I can imagine it would be so hard to know how to handle a “different” kid like me. I can’t even imagine how much of a handful I was! But I think when we look at the example of how Jesus interacted with the ones he loved around him, we find a man who was eternally forgiving and graceful, while continuously loving enough to not let people stay in the destructive patterns they were in. So I think it’s a delicate balance that parents have to walk in figuring out how to hold the tension between giving grace and giving guidance. But when both are present and from a place of love, I believe God can work in even the hardest and most “different” of kids.
What would you want other different kids to know?
I think I would want them to know they’re not alone. That while our differences can make us feel alone sometimes., EVERYONE is different in their own way. And these “different” things about we have are also the things that make us uniquely us. That God will tell an amazing story no one else could, not in spite of our differences but because of them.