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Learn From the Mega-Mistake I Made During Hurricane Harvey

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I rarely watch TV except for football. No news- nothing.  I really wouldn’t care if we didn’t have a TV.  Every once in a few years, an emergency situation occurs.  I am glued to the TV for around 3 days. For example, the fall of the Aggie Bonfire was on my screen until I needed counseling.  I watched the tsunami until I needed counseling. Around 9/11 I watched until I needed counseling.  As Hurricane Katrina unfolded I watched until I needed counseling.  Just recently I watched Hurricane Harvey way too much, and now my child may need counseling!

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Jock never experiences the news unless we are at families, and it appears on their TV.  He usually stops to watch some until I tell him to go play.

After we evacuated from our home due to Hurricane Harvey, we stayed with my parents.  I immediately turned on the hurricane coverage, and I pretty much left it on until we came back home 7 days later.  I’d spend around 2 hours a day playing with the kids, and then I’d go back to Hurricane Harvey. Only one day did I turn it off most of the day and played with them.

I looked at my cell phone 24/7 following my community Facebook page because those who decided to stay in our neighborhood gave us a play by play coverage of the water rising and streets closing around us.  I texted others whom I worried about, and I read what friends posted on Facebook about their water situation. Glued to the screen- OUT OF CON-TROL!

I spend a large portion of my day playing with my kids. My children never experienced me give this much attention to the media.  While I watched the hurricane news, Jock and Luke misbehaved or acted silly to get my attention.  I gave them a little attention, and then Chris or my mom took them to play.

After they repeatedly needed my attention,  I turned off the TV to go join them.  As depressing as it is, I discussed what I just watched or read about the hurricane with whichever adult instead of making sure I was totally present for my kids. I kept the others caught up on the highlights. As I type this, I feel like a total loser mom.  I repented, and I will have you know I got my penance — I paid dearly!

About 5 days into it, Jock’s behavior got really out of character for him.  He was hitting, not listening, and talking to adults in a disrespectful manner.  By the time we got home, it was quite worse.

Monday, Chris had off for Labor Day, and we moved what we could from the upstairs back downstairs for part of the day.  Toward the end of the day, we quit and gave the boys our full attention for about 2 hours. I knew that I was disconnected from them because I had spent all the media time at my parents.  Not good!

Jock’s behavior started to worry me during this time.  I predicted what kind of day I had waiting for me when the sun came up.  Dread. Immediately my mind started racing to try and pinpoint what was causing this.

The next 4 days of the week I would be on my own, and Lord have mercy. I’m not going to go into detail and shame Jock, but let’s just say I did not recognize my child some of the time. The behavior was just unbelievable.  We are talking about a kid who can be mischievous, but overall we constantly say how blessed we are with his behavior.

The part that scared me the most was how mean he could be and how quickly he could demolish a room.  Yes, we’re talking needed to be in a padded room type behavior.

Jock abused Luke and I throughout the day.  I could not leave Luke alone with Jock.  When Chris would arrive home from work Jock would begin demonstrating the bad behaviors again.

By the second day alone with him (which wasn’t as bad as the first, but it sure wasn’t ideal), I started to wonder if this was some type of PTSD, which I turned into my own term, PHSD (Post Harvey Stress Disorder).

There were so many variables. I was not sure if the behavior was caused by everything Jock saw on the news while I had it on.  Could it be that Chris and I were bickering and arguing quite a bit throughout the evacuation which we rarely do in front of our kids?  The stress levels were up, and we took it out on each other at times.  Jock witnessed some of that.  I didn’t know if it was being out of his regular routine and habitat for a week.  Was because we were cooped up in the house so long due to all the rain?  I knew I didn’t give him enough attention while we were away. I knew he was exposed to too much drama on the TV.  Could those things cause such devastating behavior?

I think it was a combination of everything. We experienced the perfect recipe for disastrous behavior.

Misbehavior is always the result of a deeper issue. What was it? How could I fix it? I needed to fix it fast!  I was praying for wisdom and a miracle in my child and me. He was becoming my enemy, and I did not want to feel this way.

I tried so hard to be patient with him.  I knew losing my patience was only going to take us backward.  There were two incidents which I really raised my voice, just boom, the first reaction to a what the heck situation.  I apologized both times, and he said he forgave me.  I asked him if he thought there was anything he needed to apologize for and he told me, “No, I’m not sorry for anything.”  At this point, I was wondering if I was going to have to take him to therapy.  Chris did not act as concerned as I was.

On Thursday, I shared some of the behavior with my cousin.  She told me that she watched the coverage of last year’s flood, and her daughter is still haunted when a storm comes.  That’s how she knew not to turn on the coverage of Harvey.

That night when I took to Facebook for the first time since returning home besides brief flip-throughs before going to sleep, there was story after story of people describing their children’s behavior as awful.  It was the beginning of the school year, and school was delayed for 2 weeks for most districts in this area.  Parents were saying that the kids were misbehaving and about to tear down the house, and they couldn’t wait for them to go back to school.  I talked to 2 other people in my neighborhood, and they were experiencing bad behavior, tantrums, and clinginess with their children as well.

My mom told me that some of the people that work with her and live in Houston were taking their kids to the doctor due to behavior and nervousness.  I don’t know why it is, but for some reason, one feels better to know others are in the same boat as you, even if it’s a boat you don’t want to be in. Why is that? I wish I weren’t like this, but sadly I felt better knowing it wasn’t just our family.

On Friday, Jock’s behavior had wound down a lot, and I was grateful.  He attended his first day of Preschool and loved it.  My heart smiled so big.  When I picked him up, he hugged me and said he had a great time.  The rest of the day was OK, but the later it got, there would be flickers of what I experienced during the previous days.  I wasn’t resting easy just yet.

On Saturday morning he and I slept in a little.  When he woke up, he was very cuddly.  I told him my good mornings as usual, and then I said, “It was a really rough couple of weeks with Hurricane Harvey hitting Texas.  Your behavior was out of the ordinary, and I was losing my patience with you.  I’m sorry I did that.  I know you have a lot of feelings you’re dealing with, and I should never have raised my voice. Some of the things you did this week were shocking to me.  I forgive you, and I know you won’t behave like that again. Can you forgive me?”

He said, “I forgive you too, Mommy.”  We hugged and cuddled, and his behavior went back to his normal self.  Jock cried more than usual the next week. He was clingier more than usual.  He said, “I love you so much Mommy”, more than usual.  His emotions were a roller coaster, but behavior-wise he was better.

That weekend I talked to even more people who were having negative experiences with their children that were way out of character.

I tell you these things because I have so much regret.  I understand why I wanted to watch the coverage, but I can’t believe I was so ignorant to leave all of that traumatic hurricane and flooding news coverage on in front of a 3 and 1-year-old.  My phone became an extension of my arm.  I’m pretty sure blood vessels became attached.

I judge people who live in front of the TV and on social media while their kids do whatever they do.  I became one of them.  My kids became those kids. I knew at the time what I was doing was wrong, and I kept doing it.  While I was doing it, I even told myself, “As soon as I get back home I will stop all of this”, and I did thankfully.  Why didn’t I just stop right then?

I’m not able to pinpoint what it was exactly that triggered Jock’s behavior.  Maybe it was everything put together, but I know there are things I should have done better to protect him. I take full responsibility for the effects my lack of attention and media addiction had on him.

Learn From the Mega Mistake I Made During Hurricane Harvey

I have tried to be as transparent and vulnerable sharing our family story without shaming Jock. If there is ever anything harrowing that arises in your future, do not make the same mistakes I did.  Don’t watch the stories in front of them. Do not discuss it in front of them. Kids are always listening.

It was not worth my time or my child’s mental well-being.  It won’t be worth yours either.  There is no reason to expose them to something that they are not capable of responding to emotionally. Children can’t act in a healthy manner due to lack of frontal cortex development.  Remember Shelly’s hurricane watching story, and just say no to the media and adult discussion, at least until your kids are sleeping.

As if the traumatic event were not bad enough, I was glued to the media when my child needed me to help him with all of the big feelings from the event. I should have been discussing the events with him in a healthy manner.  Instead, he was hearing bits and pieces of overwhelming information.

It’s hard, but what’s isn’t always what’s easiest!  We’re going to need a double shot of self-control.  Cheers to putting our kids emotions and stability first.

There are healthy ways to expose your child to the negative event.  Here is a great article that gives tips for the discussion:

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Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours!  Remember to have fun, laugh and give God the glory! I love you! SS

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