Christian Parenting and Family Resources with Biblical Principles

5 Ways to Parent Well, Even in Survival Mode

  • April Motl Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2021 17 Mar
5 Ways to Parent Well, Even in Survival Mode

Becoming a parent has been one of the most precious answers to prayer I have ever experienced. After waiting nearly a decade for a baby, our bundle of joy was miraculous!

Our son’s birth came with some small complications that left his immune system flared and unhappy for a long time. One side of our family also sustained a tragic death hours after bringing him home from the NICU.

While the other side of our family was in the midst of a devastating breakdown. Our two longest held prayer requests for our families of origin had closed doors right on the heels of a most precious “yes!” from the Lord. It was a whirlwind of emotion!

On top of the intensity of those extended family heartbreaks came a very long season of no-sleep. A very long season.

Our son’s immune system issues meant he was uncomfortable constantly… and constantly letting us know. There would be virtually no sleep for three years. Many weeks, he could only sleep ten minutes at a time.

Until he was three years old, he was unable to sleep more than ninety minutes at a time. We thanked God he didn’t have physical issues that were more severe, but to say I was exhausted and brain dead would be an understatement.

We tried all kinds of doctors, all kinds of diets, all kinds of sleep books. I heard it all and tried it all. The doctors didn’t believe me and just said I was a new mom and overreacting. My “favorite” advice was from one woman who sad, “Well clearly you did this to him! You’ve woken him up so many times to snuggle and play with him, now his body can’t sleep right! You’ve probably been trying on all his new baby clothes.”

My mouth fell open and I think I stood there in shock until she walked away. A relative needed to be relieved of him after just a few short minutes because screaming at him to stop crying. I was totally unprepared for this. And to top it off, I was completely foggy headed with lack of sleep and grief from our family losses.

My visions of family life faded into survival mode.

I had known some families with special needs children who had many more complications than we were experiencing, but also had significant sleep issues, and I remembered the bleary exhaustion that often covered their faces. I understood a taste of that. It was the look of survival mode.

It took three years to finally have enough symptoms surface (so mom’s concerns couldn’t be ignored anymore) and shuffle through enough doctors to find one to help our son. I cannot express the gratitude we all have for that man! For about six months after treating his immune system he got up three times a night (major improvement), then two times a night, then once a night (around five years old we hit that mark).

More sleep for everyone meant better moods, clearer thinking, more thriving and less surviving. I could breathe again--and what a gift simple sleep became for all of us!

But in the meantime, our family learned some things about survival seasons:

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/coscaron

  • busy mom working from home with kids

    1. Remember That Everyone Goes through Seasons of Just Getting Through!

    My husband is a pastor and while we very much wanted to do and be all that everyone would want us to do and be, those young years in our son’s life just weren’t the time for us to do much more than the basics.

    We couldn’t socialize the same (especially me), we couldn’t juggle ministry life the same (we typically had college kids at the house at all hours of the night and a revolving door policy for everyone that we could no longer sustain). I felt SO guilty I couldn’t keep up. Looking back that was a total lie from the enemy that I should have been able to keep up.

    As a pastor’s wife, I‘d listened to enough life stories to know that everyone goes through hold-on-for-your-life seasons. This was simply going to be one of ours.

    I knew full well that everyone has these seasons and they don’t (need to) define who you are even if they redefine how you do life for a time. You aren’t this circumstance, even if it feels like it has swallowed you and you can’t find yourself in the midst of it.

    You are not as alone or a mess as you might feel at the moment. I knew all these truths and had applied them to my own previous seasons of life, but I had to visit this classroom again.

    When my son was first born and life quickly swirled around us in so many different ways, I was SO disappointed that his health issues had come in between our early bonding and I had some significant recovery from delivery complications that made everything the complete opposite of what I’d hoped parenting would be like.

    I wish I could remember the author and her website, but one of the most practical pieces of wisdom that I got during that time was from a blogger. She said, when there’s difficulties early on in parenting, it feels so monumental because it is all that’s written in our parenting “book,” but there will be more days to come, with fresh chapters and happy memories. And the giant-ness of these early hardships will fade with the addition of the new days we have yet to “write” together.

    So remember, everyone goes through survival seasons, you are not alone, and this moment in time does not define you! Only your Maker can do that! As a mom or dad, you are more than this moment because God has made you so much more!

    Also, seasons are just that--seasons. This is a moment in your life and there will be new horizons. God will bring you through this valley, and there will be new life on the other side.

    There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens… Ecclesiastes 3:1

    Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/FamVeld

  • close up of young boy giving mom a hug

    2. Be Wise and Biblical about How You Define Surviving versus Thriving

    This point has been so valuable to me! When I look through social media for my definition of thriving, I get one definition; when I look to Scripture to define it for me I get a totally different picture. The expectations we develop based on social media are pretty monumental and we need to guard our hearts against turning a certain idea about life into an idol.

    My great-grandma raised eight kids in the midst of the Depression after becoming a widow with teens and little ones yet to finish growing. I remember one time hearing my grandpa tell my mom that his mother did a great job raising all of them, not because the house was ever clean (because apparently it wasn’t) or because anybody ever got what they wanted (with life so bare-bones financially and with only one working parent to give attention everyone had to sacrifice), but because everyone knew she loved them!

    She chose to let go of the things she couldn’t fix in favor of investing her heart into the things she could--expressing her love to her kids with words. And that was thriving!

    Scripture often heaps far less guilt on us than we do! It is very freeing and encouraging to turn our hearts to the Bible to define thriving for us, instead of the world. Living out of Christ’s love is thriving. Obeying God with faith is thriving. Not a perfectly cleaned home, not an amazing career, not the ego-boost of excessive busyness.

    Jesus told us the whole of Scripture was summed up in loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving others as ourselves. As followers of Jesus, this is our picture of thriving--not Instagram or Pinterest’s collage.

    Recently, my son picked up my phone and snapped a crooked, little kid picture of me. We’d been working beastly hard on a project outside and I had come in to feed everyone. The kitchen was messy, I was messy, it was NOT an Instagram shot.

    I would have been mortified if someone just popped over. It wasn’t a “thriving” image on the surface. But if someone could have known all the backstory, there was actually an amazing lot of victory there, suffice it to say, thriving is more than photo deep.

    Don’t let the world steal away the blessings God gives you by feeling pressures and strains beyond their appropriate place in your life. It is very possible you are thriving more than you know! Ask God to show you those moments and to engrave them in your mind!

    It is really hard for me to do this for myself, but I want my son to get this concept down in his soul. So if you practice this in front of your kids, however imperfectly, it will be a blessing to them - just like it was to my grandpa who was raised by a single mom!

    For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21 NIV
    Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. Colossians 3:2 NIV

    Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/John Howard

  • 3. Speak Gently and Truthfully

    3. Speak Gently and Truthfully

    As much as you can, when you go through a survival season, discipline yourself to have gentle, gracious internal dialogue, allow yourself to let go of your expectations for yourself. If we maintain healthy internal dialogue, far more often our conversations with our loved ones will be better.

    Those nasty ways we can so easily talk to ourselves can either leak out on to others or it can color the way we perceive their comments to us--in short, not regulating our internal dialogue can lead to a lot of miscommunication and unnecessary hurt!

    Notice how you speak to yourself on a daily basis. If you are able to give yourself grace and compassion for being on autopilot and messing up sometimes, you’re much more likely to be able to extend this grace to your family members, too.

    You’re going to have days where speaking the truth gently is harder than others. Pay attention to what causes these days. How much sleep did you get? What did you eat? How much time have you had to just have fun recently?

    Although these self-care tasks become much more difficult when you’re in survival mode, they are imperative for you to show up best for your family, especially when it comes to speaking kindly!

    Speak truth and truthfully to yourself and your family. The enemy always seem to hover so diligently over difficult life seasons. If he can get a foothold of anger, hurt, or bitterness in our family dynamic, he will be there trying. Gentle, truthful speech is a powerful diffuser.

    A gentle answer turns away wrath,
     But a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1 NIV 

    Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/digitalskillet

  • 4. Get God’s Word in You Somehow, Some Way

    4. Get God’s Word in You Somehow, Some Way

    While I was really worn, I remember a virtual ladies’ bible study I managed to attend and the teacher asked what music we listened to (along with other activities) that rejuvenated our soul. My foggy wheels turned… was anything pouring into my soul?

    I was listening to a really old throwback album, Hide ‘em in Your Heart by Steve Green with my son all the time… and you know what? God was even faithful to meet me in those little kid worship songs!

    He meets us in His Word, so if we aren’t making space for His word, we are less likely to connect with Him. Those little kid songs carried the truth of Scripture and so God was there with us! I used Ruth Graham’s habit of leaving the Bible open on the counter and reading a passage every time I passed by.

    I taped pieces of paper with Scripture everywhere. My regular love of deep scripture study was not sustainable in this season, so I desperately soaked in the Word every other place and way I could.

    Especially if you are in a survival season, spend less time soaking in any other material than you do soaking in Scripture (I know when you are worn out it is so easy to take the handful of moments you get to yourself to just space out on a screen for a bit, but it isn’t the best rest and refilling for your soul!).

    Don’t underestimate the power of God’s word to feed and fill you even when it feels like you can’t retain or apply it because you are so weary. The Holy Spirit will take care of the rest.

    My soul clings to the dust; Revive me according to Your word. Psalm 119:25 NASB

    Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Nathan Dumlao

  • 5. Cultivate Gratitude

    5. Cultivate Gratitude

    A thankful, praise-filled heart is hard to maintain when we are so worn we can hardly remember our own name. (We moved during this period of time and we had moved so many times before that my brain simply would not remember our new address… so I get being so worn out you pull your driver’s license out stealthily when asked your address!)

    When the basics of life slip through your fingers, hanging onto gratitude is very difficult. But it became such a valuable safeguard for me during our survival season.

    Every resource was strained. We didn’t have babysitters to get a breath of fresh air in our marriage or for me to go gather myself. It was just pushing through. Our finances were stretched to a point that it was miraculous at each month’s end that we had gotten through. And in times like that, it is really easy for our marriages and relationships to suffer.

    There’s no money to buy gifts or be spontaneously fun and treat someone you love. There’s no time or energy to lavish a labor of love on them. But there were words. Words of gratitude to those around me but also the private words of worship in my heart.

    During a different season of difficulty, I remember a friend looking (with some horror) at all that had tornado-ed onto our life and asking what in the world God was doing with us. I didn’t know. But what I did know, was that I was supposed to worship Him.

    I didn’t know what He was doing, but I knew what I was going to do. And it set my feet on the Rock.

    In those seasons when life is unbearably hard, it is so easy to snap at our children and spouses. But if we can choose everyday to thank God of them and thank them for something specific that we appreciate about them, it safeguards our relationships. It sets us on the Rock.

    I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;
    I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. Psalm 9:1
     

    Hear my cry, O God;
    listen to my prayer.
    From the ends of the earth I call to you,
    I call as my heart grows faint;
    lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:1-2

    If you are going through a survival season, my heart goes out to you! I’m praying the Lord would comfort you and quickly bring you through to the other side of this valley!

    Photo Credit: ©Getty/Igor_Alexander

    April Motl is a pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, and women’s ministry director. When she’s not waist-deep in the joys and jobs of motherhood, she writes and teaches for women. Her love of words led her through a BA in linguistics and her love of God’s Word through a Master’s in Religious Studies. You can find more encouraging resources from April here and here. For Scriptural encouragement while you wait on the Lord, read the one-month devotional Waiting for God to Fill the Cradle.