You’re lying in bed about to fall asleep when you suddenly remember you forgot to make your car payment. Your body tenses as you worry where you will get the money for your mortgage next week. Maybe if you take a cash advance on your credit card, but then the interest will be outrageous. How will you ever send your kids to college? Or retire? Now you’re awake with little hope of getting back to sleep.
I’ve been drinking kale smoothies regularly lately (usually in the afternoon), and I’ve noticed they make me feel really good. Today, I drank my smoothie first think in the morning, and I was flooded with happiness and energy the likes of which I haven’t felt in ages. I know, I know, the goodness of kale is nothing new. Everyone from chefs to nutritionists are singing its praises. But, omg, its amazing!
Like many people, I feel like I’m always starting over. Starting back to the gym, starting to meditate again, starting to blog again, starting to eat healthy again…and the list goes on and on. I know those things are good for me. I’ve read the research, I’ve experienced the results, and yet time after time I let my good habits slide, and it’s not just me.
Becoming a mom can make you feel vulnerable and isolated. This is compounded when you find yourself in a new community without a support system. You eagerly open yourself up to other moms expecting to find people who share and understand your need for camaraderie. When instead you find the kind of judgment, cattiness and cruelty usually relegated to high school cliques the results can be devastating.
Pain, both physical and emotional, is part of life. At some point, everyone experiences it. As Longfellow wrote, “Into each life some rain must fall.” Still, you don’t have to stand out in the rain and get wet. You can use an umbrella or go inside. Similarly, there are things you can do to manage painful situations. The following Crisis Survival Skills help you get through these situations.
I was thrilled earlier this summer when I was asked to put a ponytail in my child’s hair. As the mother of 3 boys, it was something I didn’t count on. My 11 year old has grown his bangs out to look like a Youtuber named Dan TDM. The bangs were getting in his eyes so he asked if I could pull them back with a ponytail holder. My girly self was so excited to be “doing hair” that I immediately complied. Recently, he asked me to bleach his hair and dye it blue. It was so much fun to bond with my son and allow him to find new and interesting ways to express himself. His hair has now faded to an interesting shade of gray blond.
His next foray into self-expression was with nail polish. He liked the iridescent gray color I was using so I painted his fingernails the same color. The next thing I know my 5-year-old son asked me to paint his nails, too. They loved their manicures and wore them with pride. The little guy even said, “I want you to do my nails every time you do yours, Mommy, and I want the same color.”
My boys have asked for make-up when they saw me applying it. They’ve tried on my shoes, they’ve carried my purse, they’ve worn dresses and they’ve even pretended to be pregnant.
In a world of the “You Do You” mentality, I never expected either of them to get much flack for this choice. Maybe a question or two from a peer, but that’s it. So I was very surprised when Harry, my 5 year old told me his camp counselor said “I want to take that stuff off with nail polish remover.”
I was livid when I heard this. How dare this young man make my son feel bad for painting his nails? He’s 5. This is not a gender statement, and even if it was who cares? It’s not his place or his business to pass judgment.
For the record, my boys have asked for make-up when they saw me applying it. They’ve tried on my shoes, they’ve carried my purse, they’ve worn dresses and they’ve even pretended to be pregnant.
That’s what children do. They experiment. They try on roles to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
The nail polish situation probably bothered me more than it bothered my son. Still, it had to be addressed. The camp director was surprised and very apologetic, and she assured me it wouldn’t happen again. I was satisfied with that.
The next day when I took my two-year-old shoe shopping, he chose shoes with a picture of Frozen heroines, Anna and Elsa. When he proudly walked into school the next day wearing his “princess shoes,” he got nothing but compliments.
Like all children, my sons are going to make a lot of choices and they will encounter positive and negative feedback along the way. I know I can’t protect them from everything. I wouldn’t want to. Like all parents, I have to ride the line between when to intervene and when to let them fight their own battles. As they get older that line will become more and more blurry. My goal is to continue to give them enough love and acceptance so they feel safe to express themselves now and in the future.
Recently, when I informed my 11 year old that he had to set aside his afterschool plans for fun with friends to attend his acting class his mouth tightened and tears filled his brown eyes. I was shocked to see this from a boy who loves this class and has never wanted to skip it. When I questioned his unusual reaction he said “I just have too much to think about. I can’t handle one more thing.” His mind was filled with the current happenings in his life, field day and other end of school celebrations, but his thoughts also went to future events. Day camp in a few weeks, his first time at sleep away camp, and the start of middle school were among the topics occupying his brain and increasing his stress. He described endless thoughts swirling in his head making it difficult to concentrate.
It occurred to me that learning about mindfulness might help him to better manage his thoughts and reduce his stress.
It’s funny, in my work as a therapist, I’m constantly teaching clients to use mindfulness skills, but I’ve never taught my own son. I broached to subject and he loved the idea.
First, what is mindfulness? It’s one of those words that’s thrown around, but many people don’t know what it means.
Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment with acceptance of the feelings, thoughts and physical sensations that may arise.
The opposite of mindfulness is MINDLESSNESS. When you go through life mindlessly, intense emotions, powerful sensations and agitating thoughts build up to the point where you can’t ignore them. It may feels as if they come out of nowhere, overwhelming you and leading you to do anything to get a moment of relief…have that cookie, smoke that cigarette, check that text. On the other hand, with mindfulness, you notice experiences in your body and mind bit by bit as they happen so you can better tolerate them.
The question is how do you practice mindfulness? In his Ted Talk, Dr. Judson Brewer, psychiatrist and mindfulness researcher, describes practicing mindfulness in three simple steps notice, get curious, let go and repeat:
- Notice: Become aware of thoughts, feelings and sensations as they happen. When you do this you will realize there is a constant stream of thoughts and sensations going on at all times. Don’t try to stop the flow. Just notice.
- Be Curious: Curiosity allows you to take a step back and observe what is happening in your mind and body just as a scientist would collect data during an experiment. The goal here to neither analyze nor avoid what occurs. Just be open to whatever comes up.
- Let go: Thoughts, feelings and sensations naturally enter our awareness, peak and dissipate. You have never had a thought, feeling or sensation that didn’t eventually go away. The key is to let it go. When you try to avoid, suppress or otherwise ignore it will keep coming back again and again.
When my son practiced being mindful of his thoughts he saw that he was worrying about many things he had no control over. As he continued to practice he was able to let the thoughts go, and he’s starting to feel much better.
I love having parties at our house and it also scares me to death. A few weeks ago, in honor of my undergraduate alma mater’s participation in the Final Four (Let’s not talk about the game because the University of Oklahoma lost miserably to Villanova) we had a little gathering at our house. My husband was thrilled. He loves nothing better than presiding over the kitchen while several friends and family members eagerly await his offerings. He got to use his emersion circulator, his mandolin and his deep fryer. For him, the only thing better would have been to incorporate the smoker into the mix.
Our sons loved hosting their friends. They ran around the house wearing costumes, playing hide and seek and having epic light saber battles. Not one iPhone, electronic or computer game was used the entire night.
It was a great mix of people. We enjoyed introducing friends from different parts of our lives, and everyone got along famously. I, the mother of a 2-year-old, a 5-year- old and a 10-year-old, got to engage in the illusive adult conversation for several uninterrupted minutes. It was fantastic.
As we were saying our good-byes at the end of the evening, my husband and I were patting each other on the back congratulating ourselves on a successful party.
Then (cue the horror movie music), we went upstairs.
It looked like our house was ransacked by intruders who never found the goods. The pillows, sheets and blankets were ripped off the beds and strewn everywhere, closets were open and contents pulled out and dumped on the floor, furniture was moved. Legos, art supplies, puzzle pieces and books littered the floor. It seemed as if someone just pulled things off the shelves and dumped out all the baskets. Empty juice boxes and candy wrappers were mixed in with the toys.
Worst of all, my son’s bunk-bed slats were taken out one by one so if someone got on the top bunk they risked crashing down probably on the head of the someone on the bottom bunk.
When we asked our older boys how this destruction came to be their eyes grew wide as they shook their heads in disbelief and reported absolute ignorance of any wrongdoing.
I must admit this wasn’t a complete shock. After our first party in the house, I found someone had been in our bedroom. Inside our unmade, then clumsily remade bed, I found a pizza crust. Inside my closet, still packed boxes were smashed and there were shoeprints in my soaking tub. After that, I locked my bedroom when we had guests.
The thing is these are not bad kids. Individually, they are polite, kind, upstanding citizens, but when they get together something happens. A mob mentality takes over and it they seem to feel like anything goes.
While it’s happening, we grown-ups are just so thrilled to be able to talk to one another without much interruption. We try not to think about the devastation we might find at the end of the night.
Truthfully, it wasn’t terrible. I love that the kids were playing together, getting along and not staring at screens. As summer approaches these gatherings are going to happen more and more often. I need to figure out how to balance my fear of destruction with my desire to let the kids be kids.
Maybe the key is to not take it personally. Last night as we walked among the debris, I was not just angry, but hurt. How dare these children treat our home like this? We welcomed them, fed them, even gave them homemade chocolate chip cookies and they thanked us by wrecking the joint.
This morning I can look at the situation a little more impartially. Of course, the children were not trying to upset me. They were just having fun. My husband and I are not going to stop inviting people over for fear their kids might make a mess…even a big one.
The fact is life is messy. Our goal is not to keep the house perfectly clean (it never is anyway). Our goal is to make connections and memories and to enjoy ourselves. If we make a mess in the process, so be it…I’ll just make the kids clean it up.
Finding a therapist today is a little like online dating. It's not that much of a stretch; therapy is a relationship after all. For it to be effective, the client needs to be at least as emotionally vulnerable with a therapist as with a potential partner. Things get personal in therapy from the very beginning. People often reveal more in the first few sessions with a therapist then they ever do in other relationships. In order for clients to be comfortable, they want to feel a connection with the therapist before they commit.
Being a mother is something you’ve always known you wanted. As you counted down the days until the baby came you fantasized about how wonderful it would be to care for your beautiful baby. You imagined holding your baby in your arms, pushing your baby through the park, kissing the tiny toes as your baby cooed. Now all your dreams have come true. You have a loving husband, a beautiful house and the much longed for children. You also have a secret: you don’t like motherhood.
Of course, you love your kids, but for you, life as a mother is far from enjoyable.
In your mind, motherhood was supposed to be a deeply fulfilling…even magical experience. Instead you’re deeply exhausted. You are never alone, not even in the bathroom. It seems someone is always touching you, sitting on you, grabbing at you, needing you. You are constantly hearing screaming and crying dealing with mess after mess and it never ends. Even when you go to bed you can’t completely relax. You are always on alert for a child to cry out in the middle of the night. You’re worn-out.
When you were in the hospital having your baby they made you watch a video about the dangers of shaken baby syndrome. You just couldn’t imagine how someone could do such a thing to a defenseless baby. Now it's not such a mystery.
When the toddler is throwing her breakfast on the floor and the baby is screaming and your husband is away and you have barely eaten or slept let alone showered in days, and the house is a mess and this is not what you thought being a mother would be and you just want the crying to stop…you suddenly understand the importance of watching the shaken baby video, and you hate yourself for it.
A good mother, a loving mother shouldn’t be able imagine such a thing. And with every dark thought you also feel incredibly guilty. You LOVE your children. You really do, and you would never hurt them.
It’s no wonder you’re at the end of your rope. You’re completely drained physically and emotionally. It is incredibly difficult to offer kindness and empathy when you are empty. In addition, you’re disappointed. Your expectations of motherhood did not match up with the day-to-day reality of caring for small children.
Our society romanticizes motherhood. Mothers are revered, but not supported. Mothers are expected to dive into this new role with little training, little to no experience and often alone. They are doing all of this while recovering from the physical trauma of childbirth and the hormonal shifts that come after. Many moms rarely get breaks let alone days off. It’s no wonder so many moms feel at once at their wits end and incredibly guilty for feeling that way.
Give yourself a break. You are not a bad mom. You are doing an unbelievably hard job, and you’re doing a lot better then you think. It is not unusual to feel this sense of maternal discontent, or even to have dark thoughts. Being able to understand the impulse to lose control when you are at your wits end is far from acting on it. Many people have dark thoughts when they are overtired and stressed, but few people act on them.
What you need is support. Every mother needs support.
Here are suggestions for easing the stress of motherhood and getting the support you need:
- Take a break: No one can continue to work effectively without ever getting a break. It’s important to have regularly scheduled time off. Whether it’s an afternoon to yourself or a weekend away. Take some time off.
- Connect with other supportive moms: Join a mom’s group, take a mommy and me class, go to the park or story time at the library, go to a mom’s night out. Talk to other parents who have been there and have gotten through it.
- Take care of yourself: Exercise (join a gym with childcare), eat right, meditate, leave the dishes and nap when your kids nap…do something for yourself.
- Acknowledge your feelings: There are parts of motherhood that suck…and it’s okay to admit it. Recognizing the unpleasant parts, allows to you to see that it’s not all bad.
- Be mindful of what you love about motherhood: Close your eyes and focus on your happiest parenting moment. See it in your mind’s eye, feel the joy it evokes, allow that joy to envelop your body. Sit with it for a few minutes. Now open your eyes and notice how you feel. Doing this exercise on a regular basis can begin to offset the negative thoughts that you’ve been having.
- Find help: Call your friends, call your family, call your neighbor. Find support wherever you can get it. Parenting is much easier when you don’t have to do it alone.
- Focus on the relationship: Shift from seeing motherhood as a burden to seeing it a opportunity to cultivate a relationship with your children. Take a step back and look at them as interesting individuals rather than the source of more work. Be mindful of what makes them special and what you love about them. Notice their smell, the sound of their voice, the feel of their skin, the way their eyes light up when they see you. Engage with them in something they enjoy, and introduce them to something you loved at their age.
- Call a therapist: Life doesn’t have to be so hard. If you find you are excessively unhappy or anxious or if the suggestions above feel overwhelming or impossible to do don’t suffer in silence. This week new recommendations came out encouraging healthcare providers to screen all pre-partum and postpartum women for depression. An experienced therapist can help ease your pain. If you need a referral call your doctor or your insurance company.
I drove through McDonald’s today and I got a cheeseburger and fries. As I bit into a French fry, I had a flashback to childhood…a powerful sense memory of sitting in a McDonald’s in Norman, Oklahoma with my father. It was a scene repeated again and again and again throughout my youth. I’m sure many of you share a similar experience. However, few of you have parents as connected to McDonald’s as my father. He went there on a regular basis. Every day he wasn’t working. When he retired, he went everyday. He knew the staff and they knew his order (a large water and a large ice-tea). No food. He brought his own…homemade bread my mom made in a bread machine and a banana. It got to the point where he could walk in and sit at a table and they would bring his drinks to him. I’m not joking. He got table service at McDonald’s.
My dad was eccentric and he had an amazing ability to get his needs met. For him this was a necessity. He had cerebral palsy, which caused him to walk with a limp, and gave him the use of only one arm. His disability made carrying a tray of liquids particularly precarious. When he got older and had to walk with a cane it became impossible.
His limitations didn’t stop him. He still managed to run over 30 marathons including the New York City and the Boston. In fact, it was during a road trip to a marathon in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada that his passion for McDonald's was sparked.
It was the summer of 1981, I was 8 and my brother, JJ, had just turned 7. The three of us (mom was in nursing school so she couldn’t come) drove from Oklahoma to Canada in Dad’s green Chevy Impala. That was the summer of Juice Newton singing Queen of Hearts, Blonde singing the Tide is High, The Pointer Sisters singing Slow Hand and McDonald’s.
We’d eaten at McDonald’s before, but now we did almost every day. We spent the day on the road playing the license plate game, pretending to be astronauts in the backseat and listening to music. We’d stop for Happy Meals at lunchtime and at the end of the day we’d swim in a motel pool. My brother and I were in heaven.
Never in our lives had JJ and I spent so much uninterrupted time with our dad. We were a team, we were road trippers, and we had a goal. As I write this, I remember that Dad was running this marathon in honor of Terry Fox, a Canadian runner who lost his leg to cancer.
In 1980, Terry Fox set out to run across Canada to raise funds and awareness for cancer. He died before he could finish his run. I think Dad felt a kinship with Terry Fox, as both were disabled runners. We even had t-shirts made that said “Oklahoma Remembers Terry Fox” to wear on the day of the Sudbury Marathon.
Dad came to running by happenstance when his mother suggested he should try to lose a few pounds. He committed to it and it became a passion. He ran every morning. Almost nothing stopped him. When it was raining, he ran. When he had a blister the size of a fist on his foot, he ran. When it was 100 degrees out, he ran. The day I was born, he went running while my mother was in labor.
In high school, I was called to the office to be told that dad was in the hospital with a broken hip. He fell on the ice while running. When he recovered, he was back at it again. Running meant a lot to him. He was so proud to be an athlete. It was something that made him extraordinary…something besides his disability.
He never wanted cerebral palsy to hold him back, and for the most part it didn’t. Though it was understandably frustrating at times.
When a medic saw him limping across the finish line of his first marathon, he ran to dad saying “Let me get you to the medical tent.”
Dad said, “I limp because I have CP.”
The medic said, “Then lets get you there right away!”
Dad said, “Unless you have a cure for CP in that tent, I don’t need it.”
Of course, the guy was only trying to help, and Dad appreciated help. Still, he prized his independence.
As he got older, his body began to fail him. The years of running had taken a toll. Doctors told him he should use a wheel-chair, but doing so would have meant the end of his independence, and he refused. He wanted to continue to live his life without having to completely rely on someone else.
Everyday, he would drive himself to church and then to McDonald’s. That was his routine. It made him happy.
Dad died in August 2013, I learned I was pregnant with my 3rd son a week later. Since then my life has been a whirlwind of new baby, new house, new town, etc.
Grieving his death was shifted to the backburner of my mind. I didn’t have the time or emotional reserve to process it. Plus, the idea of opening up that can of worms was frankly terrifying.
As a therapist, I know that kind of emotional pain doesn’t just go away on its own, but as a person I know it was so much easier to avoid it. It was something I did almost automatically…until today.
When that French Fry triggered the flood of memories and feelings it was actually a relief. I enjoyed remembering Dad as he was in his marathon running heyday. It was nice to learn that grieving isn’t all pain and sadness. I know this was only the beginning of the process. It probably won’t always be pleasant, but I’m finally ready for it.
Three years ago this month I finally learned to meditate. I took classes in Transcendental Meditation (TM), I was given a mantra and twice a day (first thing in the morning and late after) I would sit in meditation for 20 minutes.
For the longest time, I had been suggesting that my therapy clients meditate. I waxed poetically about the benefits…everything from decreased stress to improved sleep to better cardiovascular health to reduced physical pain. I encouraged. I cajoled. I begged. I even conducted group meditations in my office, but in all that time I had a dirty little secret. I didn’t practice meditation myself.
It’s so strange that I would encourage clients to do something that I wasn’t doing, but I have another dirty little secret…I’m not uncommon. Therapists are human…sometimes we skip the gym, yell at our partners and our kids and do the exact opposite of what we know we should be doing...but I digress.
So I started meditating and it worked. Everything I had been telling my clients was true. My stress level was lower and I was much happier. It was not just a superficial feeling of happiness, but a deeper more profound contentment. I hadn’t felt so good maybe ever. In addition, I was more confident and more cognitively agile. Meditation felt like a miracle cure. It became clear to me that if more people meditated regularly the epidemic of depression and anxiety that plagues so many would be greatly reduced.
Everything was going great…then I stopped. Of course, I didn’t stop all at once. My meditation practice fell away gradually. As life got in the way, I unintentionally pushed meditation to the backburner like so many other good habits over the years.
I half-heartedly tried to restart my meditation practice several times. Then, I got pregnant and had my third son and everything went out the window…as it usually does in the early days of motherhood.
Yesterday, I went for a refresher course in TM. I almost didn’t go because my back was killing me, and I knew sitting on a hard chair would be tough. I sat there and shifted and fidgeted throughout the lecture. At the end we meditated. It was the first time in a while.
Last night, I was sitting at home after dinner, and I realized my back didn’t hurt. One meditation relaxed me so much that my back released, and today I feel a pervasive sense of calm. If one meditation session can make such a big change in my mind and body, imagine what regular practice can do.
If you’re still not convinced read some of the common objections I hear when I suggest that people meditate and my response.
- I don’t have time. My answer: Everyone can afford 20mins twice a day to gain the benefits meditation offers. In the beginning, it’s not unusual to have an intense feeling that the laundry, that email, those dishes, that phone call must be attended to NOW. Know that’s just your mind trying to fight against change. You have to sit through that feeling. Your life can wait 20 mins.
- My brain races too much to meditate. My answer: Racing thoughts happen and that’s okay. When you notice your thoughts have started to race you just bring yourself back without judgment.
- I’m too fidgety to sit still for 20minutes. My answer: Ease into meditation practice. Sit for as long as you can at first and gradually extend the time.
- I don’t want to do anything that conflicts with my religious beliefs. My answer: Meditation is not a religious practice. People of all religious faiths meditate. It does not involve adopting a belief system of any kind, and there is no reason you can’t meditate and maintain your religious integrity. Speak to your religious leader if you have further concerns.
- It sounds so boring. My Answer: Yes, you have to fight the fear of boredom that keeps you from starting to meditate. Once you take the first step the boredom often fades. Meditation is deeply relaxing and pleasurable.
The bottom line is that it can be scary to try something new. We humans are creatures of habit not creatures of change. Our minds and bodies fight against trying something new even when we know logically it’s good for us. That being said, meditation works.
The holidays can be an emotionally stressful time as we reconnect with family, examine our relationships and deal with past loss. Minnesota therapist, Sarah Leitschuh, has compiled several posts by therapists addressing these topics.
Are you looking for holiday stress relief? Look not further. Minnesota therapist and self-care guru Sarah Leitschuh has compiled a holiday survival guide with tips from therapists across the country. This part 1 in Sarah's 3 part series of holiday posts by therapists.
I have a confession to make. Though I love the holiday season, I’ve become increasingly anxious about gift giving and receiving. It’s true. You might say that makes me a Grinch, but the whole idea of buying gifts that people neither want nor need frustrates me. The idea of receiving gifts I neither want nor need frustrates me more.
I think this anxiety harkens back to my childhood when Christmas morning was ruined by a gift that went horribly wrong. I won’t go into details but suffice it to say don’t give your partner a donation to their school for their primary gift unless you know that is what they really want. To be fair, the receiver of this gift could have helped her cause by telling the giver what she might like for Christmas in the first place.
So now when people don’t tell me what they want, I get annoyed. I’m terrible at just choosing something. I do not need the pressure of trying to guess what someone else wants for the holidays.
But what am I going to do? I’ve tried suggesting that we only give gifts to the kids. That backfired when everyone else showed up with “just a little something” for everyone when I didn’t get them anything. I felt horrible.
Don’t even get me started on the children. It seems every year my kids get very excited about some hot new toy. Every year in my quest to insure they have a happy holiday, I get said toy, and inevitably it is tossed aside almost immediately.
This year, I thought it would be nice if we give the kids experiential gifts (acting classes, show tickets, etc.). But the moment I mentioned this idea, my kids and my husband looked at me like my heart was 3 sizes too small.
I’m not trying to steal Christmas, I’m just trying to be reasonable. I want to lessen the notorious holiday stress that everyone talks about. Plus, I don’t want my kids to think the holidays are all about presents. At the same time, I don’t want to be a Grinch.
The fact is I’m not alone, so many people get stressed out during the holidays for whatever reason. I just want this season to be about spending time together and less about the gifts. Still, I don’t want to be a humbug. I want my kids to have fun.
So this year I will compromise. The kids will get a combination of presents under the tree and experiential gifts. The adults have agreed to do Secret Santa so I only have to worry about guessing for one person…yay! And I will find things to do as a family to celebrate the holidays that don’t involve presents.
Everyday I will remind myself of how excited I got as a child during December. I loved the decorations, the smells and the sounds. I also loved the process of exchanging gifts. If we all are mindful of the holiday wonder we experienced as a children, maybe we can recapture some as an adult. Here are some holiday stress busting tips to that may help, too.
Deep down I know that gift giving is done in the spirit of love and generosity, and without any malice whatsoever. My young sons still believe in the magic of the holidays, and I don’t want my Grinchiness to ruin that for them.
I just lost it on my sweet little 4-year-old boy, Harry. He was eating his breakfast very slowly. I had reminded him several times that it was almost time to get dressed to which he responded several times “I’M STILL EATING MY BREAKFAST!” After the 3rd or 4th time, I lost it. I yelled. He cried then I cried.
As I got him dressed and hustled him out the door I told him I was sorry for yelling. We got down the hill to the bus stop just as the bus was pulling up. I hugged him. He got on and looked back at me with a very sad face. I waved and blew kissed to him as the bus drove away, but he still looked sad and a little confused. I’m heartbroken and so ashamed of my behavior.
I’m the grown-up, the protector, the helper...but I’m also human.
I’m not excusing my behavior. I wish this morning had gone much differently, but it doesn’t help to revel in guilt. Doing so would just perpetuate the shame, increase the stress and make it more likely that I’ll lose it again. Instead, I want to investigate how my behavior happened.
I was awakened at 5:30am by a toddler in a cranky mood. He spent the morning “airing his grievances.” He didn't want to be put down, but he didn’t want to sit on my lap. He wanted to eat, but he didn’t want to be in the highchair or eat anything I gave him. Needless to say, I was already on edge. So it’s no wonder I got so upset when big brother wouldn’t get dressed.
I don’t think my children are unusually defiant and I don’t think I’m unusually sensitive. I think it’s the situation that’s flawed.
Parenting happens in pairs or alone when what we really need is a community. Not just a community of people who live near us, but a community of people working together to help each other. Sounds like an impossible utopia, doesn’t it?
Humans are communal beings. We are hard wired to live and thrive together and yet so many parents are thrown to the wolves. We do it all, or most of it, on our own.
No wonder so many of us feel so often at our wits end and then so ashamed for not being better.
We need real support, real respect, real camaraderie...not judgment and competition or worse isolation.
Years ago, I worked on an inpatient psychiatric unit. It was a hard job. The only way I was able to do my job effectively was because I had a team to support me. If I was having a hard day I knew there was always someone there for me. How many parents can say the same thing?
It’s not surprising so many of us end up yelling at our kids at times. I don’t pretend to have the all the answers to this problem, but what I do know is that all parents could use more support. All of us need safe place to talk about our parenting mishaps without judgment. All parents need someone to vent to, someone who can remind them that parenting is a hard job. All parents need support.
When young Harry got off the bus at the end of the day, I hugged him tight and apologized again for yelling this morning. He said “That’s okay, mommy. I just thought you lost your mind.” From the mouths of babes...
Three months ago I was nine months pregnant and worried because I needed a c-section as the baby was breech. I had the c-section. It wasn’t all that bad. In fact, it was nice to know exactly when the baby was coming. We were able to plan rather than making frantic 3am calls to friends who agreed to help with our older sons. There is a scar, but its in a place that won’t show even in a bikini…not that I plan on wearing one any time soon. The real difficulty for me is juggling the baby with the other two boys.
The baby is at an age where he wants to be held all the time, and he usually wants to eat while he’s being held. My 3 year old wants the same amount of attention he’s always had. He’s understandably frustrated that his baby brother gets so much of mommy’s time. He’s become defiant…his favorite word is no, he flies off the handle at the slightest provocation. In my sleep deprived emotionally overwhelmed state, I find myself losing patience with him regularly.
My 9 year old has said he wishes he could have me all to himself. He’s also heartbroken that we are moving this summer. He will leave the school and friends he’s known all his life. He’s able to verbalize the frustration that his 3-year-old brother is acting out.
I really try to make time everyday for each of them individually, but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, when I have a minute, my older one can’t be interrupted as he’s in the middle of building a world in Minecraft. Then at bedtime he wants to snuggle, but the baby is screaming to be fed.
It’s maddening because I simply cannot meet all their needs. I’m leaving them feeling shortchanged, and I’m feeling like a lousy mother. This is not the parent I want to be.
Fast forward 17 months:
It is amazing to see how life has changed since June 2014. At the time, I was nursing a 3 month old, potty training a 3 year old, selling a house and soothing a 9 year old who didn’t want to move so I forgot to post it. It’s pretty interesting to look back on a struggle that felt so overwhelming at the time, but is only memory now.
My tiny infant is now a walking talking toddler, my middle son is a confident pre-k student taking the bus to school and my grieving nine year old is now a thriving 5th grader who loves his new house, new school and new friends. The kid has a much more active social life than I do.
This flashback serves as a reminder that for better or worse nothing is permanent. There were many changes going on in our lives back in the summer of 2014. Not to mention the big unknown of where we were going to live in a few short months. It’s no wonder we were all so overwhelmed and afraid. But, life moves forward and we humans, it turns out, have an uncanny ability to adapt.
New motherhood is not for the faint of heart. From the overwhelming exhaustion to the unexpected mood swings to endless diaper changes, it takes a lot to be a mom. Here are a few tips to help you survive new motherhood.
- Make sleep a priority. I know it seems like an impossible dream, but it’s so important to try to get your 8 hours. Leave the laundry. Leave the dishes. Enlist the help of family and friends. Let baby sleep on your chest if necessary (I did). Do whatever it takes to get as much sleep as you can! If you’re having a difficult time getting baby to sleep take a look at Dr. Harvey Karp's book, Happiest Baby on the Block. It’s a lifesaver!
- Eat well. Don’t let good nutrition go by the way side. You need to keep up your strength to care for yourself and your baby. When people ask how they can help let them shop and cook for you. If that’s not possible use Fresh Direct or another delivery service, but make sure you keep plenty of nutritious food at the ready.
- Get outside. Sunlight is a great mood lifter. Go for a walk. Go to park (a great way to meet other moms). Just get out in the sun!
- Do some social networking. Going online to connect is a great option for new moms with very limited and irregular downtime. With everything from mommy blogs to support groups, there are so many sources of support and information for moms online. Take a look at cafemom.com, postpartumprogress.com or blogher.com. I also highly recommend the podcast, longestshortesttime.com.
- Get exercise. It’s been said again and again, exercise is so important to maintain good health. Exercise for a new mom is particularly helpful. It improves your mood, allows you to do something for yourself and helps reacquaint you with your body. There are many stroller walking/jogging mom groups to join. Check out fit4mom.com. In addition, many gyms offer childcare services starting as early as 3 months. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
- Get support. Whether it’s family, friends, a mom’s group or a counselor every mom needs support. Here are a few resources to find Westchester mom’s groups: rivertownmamas.com, westchestermommies.com and westchester-moms.meetup.com.
If you would like to get more tips contact me for an individual support session.
Having a bad day sucks. Nobody likes it, but for people who struggle with depression a bad day can be really scary. The intense emotions generated can make you feel like you’re falling back down the rabbit hole of depression. The truth is when you have a history of depression sometimes all it take is a bad day to spiral you into another episode. Below are some tips to help you stop a bad day in its tracks before things get out of control.
- Breathe: When you get upset or agitated your sympathetic nervous system gets triggered and you go into fight or flight mode as if you were in real danger. Your adrenaline starts pumping, your muscles tense up and your breath gets shallow. Taking long slow deep breaths can start to turn that around. Deep breathing tells your mind and body to relax…there is nothing to fear.
- Do a body scan: Just sit or lay in a comfortable position. Focus your attention on each part of your body for a few moments. Notice where you are holding your emotional tension. Is it in your chest, your stomach, your shoulders? Allow yourself to feel the sensation in the body without judgment. Next imagine yourself letting it go with each exhalation. This exercise is not only deeply relaxing; it also helps you become more aware of the connection between mind and body.
- Practice benign interpretation: You are constantly making interpretations about everything. After a bad day, your mind might start turning in a negative direction. “This kind of thing always happens to me, my life sucks, I might as well give up.” Benign interpretation is simply not assuming the worst, but rather making a neutral or even a positive interpretation. With benign interpretation the above thoughts become: “This situation will end, I can get through this, tomorrow will be better.”
- Do something kind for yourself: After a bad day everyone needs a special treat. Get a massage, get your nails done, have your favorite treat, take a bubble bath, go out to dinner. Do something that makes you feel good. You deserve it after the day you’ve had!
- Call your therapist: Your therapist is there to support you. Maybe you just need a brief kind word or maybe you need an extra session. Remember you don’t have to get through this alone.