As the summer dwindles down, it’s time for a new season to begin. For many parents, this signifies a new transition in their lives, which has unexpected emotional baggage.
Many parents are now encountering for the first OR tenth time, the pain of letting their child go – be it college, boarding school or even the tentative first steps of nursery school or kindergarten. Surprising that the pain of letting go doesn’t seem to diminish as your child grows. It’s always a surprise.
All of these are yet more ‘firsts’ in the parenting journey – the surprising pain of letting your child go off into unchartered waters for the first time. Some parents have described the pain akin to childbirth pain, ripping them up emotionally as their children depart.
The truth is, parenting is a series of “letting go” experiences, each with an equal tug of pain as childbirth. Indeed, to be a parent is to learn to —
nurture and then let go,
nurture and then let go,
nurture and then let go,
—in a series of waves that continue on for a long long time down the road to growing up until they gradually recede.
Surprise! The pain of the moment is almost too much to bear. Surprise! There is almost no one you can share it with. You feel as if you want to announce to the world with tears, “Leo started ________________ today. “ fill in the blank: nursery, first grade, middle school, high school, first day at college. You will likely receive a high five or congratulations from your peers, seeing it as a transition for you into liberation. Oh but what about your aching heart?
For the majority of parents, these transitions can be both gut wrenching and invisible to the outside world as to just how painful this is.
How to cope?
First, know this:
Your paternal or maternal broken heart is utterly normal; this is yet another wave of child rearing. Indeed, to be a parent is to have your heart broken over and over again – and it’s normal and healthy! Sometimes, people reduce your despair as “empty nest” syndrome, a term that doesn’t even begin to cover what you’re going through!
Let’s look at your parent brain to understand the transition. For many years, your parent brain has looked like this:
As your child grows, your parent brain must slowly fill with other matters, or else each transition leaves literally an empty space in your brain/ heart space.
Here are some tips:
FIRST MORNING: make sure you plan a comfort filler for your morning. Know that your heart space needs some comfort today. TAKE THE TIME TO LET YOURSELF BE SAD AND THEN CELEBRATE. Breathe deeply. Practice letting go. Just like Lamaze but this time the contractions are in your heart. Meditation is a strong medium to acknowledge this journey and gain more equanimity.
BEYOND: know that it’s temporary in a way. For most parents, as soon as they see that their child has cheerfully adjusted, a lot of the pain becomes soothed.
HERE ARE SOME TIPS TO SURVIVE AND THRIVE:
Accept the timing: it’s time to let your little one (or big one) fly. Be sure to let them know you are confident that they can do it! or – share your worries with them, just not the actual morning of the separation. Worries should be discussed well ahead of the actual event. if you are unsure of how to raise these worries, seeking professional help of a supportive therapist, even for one session, can go a long way.
Create social support: Social support can be incredibly helpful during times of stress and loneliness, and self-care should be made a priority during difficult transitions. There are practical things you can do to prepare for or manage the transition of children leaving the home. For example, time and energy that you directed toward your child can now be spent on different areas of your life. This might be an opportune time to explore or return to hobbies, leisure activities, or career pursuits.
Adjust to your new role! This also marks a time to adjust to your new role in your child’s life as well as changes in your identity as a parent. Your relationship with your child may become more peer-like, and while you may have to give your child more privacy, you can have more privacy for yourself as well.
Plan ahead! It’s a good idea to prepare for this transition while your children are still completely dependent on you, or before they leave home (depending on the age of the upcoming separation).
Develop yourself: friendships, hobbies, career, and educational opportunities. Make plans with the family while everyone is still under the same roof, such as family vacations, long talks, and taking time off from work to make special memories.
Special memories: time to make special memories as a parting gift! Be sure to stick something special in their pocket, be it a felt heart with a magic message, or an extra gift card, something that says “I love you”.
5. Long term: This low mood should go away as the activities of your newfound hours increase. If not, please, please get some professional help. Your child wants you to be happy too!!
With a little planning and a little self care, you too will survive this part of the PARENTING JOURNEY process!
You know what I’m talking about. The village where everyone gets together on Main street in the evening. Where you can leave your baby next door with Grandma while you pop over to get your hair done. Where your neighbor down the block, who just happens to be your dear friend since elementary school, knows to send over a fresh baked quiche for dinner when you’ve just come home with your newborn. What? You don’t live in that village? That’s because it’s not 1954. And that village has evolved into a major metropolis where neighbors don’t speak to one another, your relatives live across the country, and even if they lived near you, you aren’t on speaking terms anyway. Moms, in case you were wondering why you often feel so alone and unsupported, it’s because (sorry, Hillary) the village that has been promised to help you raise your child does not exist. Instead, let’s update the concept. I prefer: “it takes an army.” Parents are the commanders-in-chief and they just might need to hire foot soldiers and other staff to help support everything that goes into raising a child these days. If it sounds terrible, it’s not. It’s reality. Because if you are one of these ‘do it yourselfers’, you will find yourself stuck with an avalanche of drudgery that won’t let you be the cool, loving mom that you’d like to be: school meetings, cleaning soccer uniforms, trips to doctors, chauffeuring kids to all types of therapies with names that sound like something out of a science fiction movie, and the never-ending need for entertainment – otherwise they will be watching TV or playing video games all day long, or worse, whining that they are bored. If you are overwhelmed by all of these challenges, you are not alone. But if you try to do it alone, not only will you not be able to take care of all of the details that kids today need, you won’t be able to maintain your own personal life, either as a working adult, or as just a human being with your own needs. Remember to still be you. Build your army. It may not sound as warmly fuzzy as a ‘village’ but it’s the truth. Include your circle of friends and family if you can, but if you have to hire them, go for it!
2. IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE CHILD:
When a baby is born, all the attention turns to the adorable cupid-like infant. And who can resist? Nature in the form of neurotransmitters and hormones, such as oxytocin, prolactin, vasopressin, wires us, both mothers and fathers, to fall in love and be obsessed with the child. This is completely normal and ensures survival of the species in evolutionary terms. Although the hormones do taper off, the habit has been set: it’s “all eyes on baby” and then ‘all eyes on toddler’ and then……. It’s a habit. What happens to parents who ignore their needs, feelings and desires after a while? They aren’t at their best! Good parents take care of their own needs as well as those of their children. Nurture your own interests, take good care of yourself, continue to build your community of friends and people who nourish you. Don’t get too over-involved with your own child, they need to know that they are not the only focal point of your life. See point #1.
3. MOMS ARE NOT LIKE OTHER PEOPLE:
You already know that you aren’t like other people, at least like the women who are single or haven’t had children. But did you know that it’s not only your body that has changed? Through research, we know that the brains of mothers change as well. You are more empathic, courageous and have stronger memories for what your children need than non-moms. You also have more energy. These changes will stay with you and will become gifts to use in other ways once the immediate challenges of raising your kids become less demanding. All of those years of sleepless nights, chronic anxiety and massive hormonal changes, transforms you into a super-human being. Stringy hair and puffy eyes notwithstanding. Hang in there; these changes will be long lasting and will come in handy down the road. You can truly move mountains when you need to!
4. GENES ARE NOT DESTINY: CHANGE EM IF YOU DON’T LIKE EM:
Freud once said: “Biology is destiny”. Today, we know that not only isn’t that true, but you can actually alter your own genetic patterns by your thoughts and behaviors. It’s called neuroplasticity and it’s powerful. We can always work on ourselves. While some things are hard wired into our brains, other things such as our tendency to be pessimistic or our loathing of exercise, is soft wired. We can change our brains. Anxious? Try mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR), a form of therapy that has been shown to be highly effective. Depressed? The world of positive psychology has developed numerous ways to actually change your natural mood setpoint. Practice gratitude as a beginning trial and see what happens. Exercise, too, is a habit that can be built, just start with one step. It takes about 12 weeks for the exercise habit to get set. Go for it!
5. IT’S NOT ABOUT WHAT THE NEIGHBORS THINK
Much harm has been done to the psyches of moms by worrying about what others are thinking of you. Its as if moms imagine that other mothers keep imaginary scorecards analyzing your best and worst performance. The real scorecard is in your own brain. Keeping up with the Joneses is a very real phenomenon, we are wired to be competitive, it’s part of the survival gene. Their child is crawling before yours? It’s enough to send some new moms into a real panic! Everyone is better at Red Rover than your skinny little girl? Get a grip, and get her a set of boxing gloves! Or better yet, since she doesn’t likely care, get yourself a pair of pink boxing gloves and work it off! It doesn’t matter who does what first or better!! The road to success is paved from the inside out: for a child to feel happy, nurtured and secure comes from having a confident parent behind them, not a frazzled pushy mom whose kid needs to be the star of the show. Give it up, people! Look in your interior mirror, no not the one that shows your new gray hairs, but the inner mirror; ask yourself: what will make you today a more content and calm and confident mom? Close your eyes. Breath deeply and quietly for a few minutes. Put your hands on your heart and wish yourself well. You know what it takes. Go for it. And have a happy and peaceful mothers day
Reprinted from NY Metro Magazine November 21, 2013
As parents, we all have meltdowns now and then. Dr. Rita Eichenstein suggests key ways to deal with stress and frustration that will help you avoid the “end of the rope” and help you and your family feel happier.
Parents of kids with special needs don’t often think about how to take care of themselves. Instead, they’re constantly planning: If I can just get my kid bathed, fed, and in bed, I’ll be okay…. If I can just get through the parent-teacher meeting…. If I can just get my kid to the tutor…This single-minded focus on their child’s needs is understandable, but they don’t take into account how the stress wears on them. Then suddenly they’re shouting at their spouse, yanking their howling child by the arm, or sitting on the bathroom floor weeping. They are at the end of their rope, and it is a sad and scary place to be.
The best way to deal with being at the end of your rope is not to get there in the first place—more on that later. For now, here are two strategies that will help you calm down and refocuswhen you feel yourself nearing the edge.
1. Call for backup. They say it takes a village to raise a child. With a child who has special needs, it takes an army. Have a code word you can use with your partner that automatically buys you 15 minutes of alone time to cool down. If you’re a single parent, have a close neighbor or two agree to take your child for 15 minutes. Everyone needs a backup buddy—if you don’t have one, now is the time to compile your designated buddy list.
2. Use the S.T.O.P. technique.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., author of The Now Effect, popularized this technique of mindful awareness. I’ve found that it helps overwrought parents pause their spiraling behavior and reset it.
Stop what you are doing or about to do,and just take a moment to breathe and reflect.
Take a deep breath. Breathe in and out; use your breath as an anchor and become mindful of trying to slow it all down.
Observe your body, emotions, and thoughts. Scan your body and notice any sensations. Don’t judge them. Just notice them. Next, how are you feeling emotionally? Frustrated? Irritated? Let it be okay.
Proceed.Ask yourself what is the most important thing to pay attention to right now. Mindfully proceed with a prioritized and calm action.
How to Avoid the End of the Rope
All parents occasionally lose control of their emotions—that’s normal. The goal, then, is to limit the number of times it happens. That’s tricky, because the very things that make a person resistant to meltdowns are scarce in the lives of parents: nutritious meals, exercise, and enough sleep. Parents tend to see these as luxuries from a bygone era, like those lovely Sunday mornings with the newspaper. Not so—healthy food, exercise, and sleep are absolute necessities. They are the fuel that enables you to be a tolerant and loving parent. Reaching the end of your rope is a psychological reaction to physiological stress. To avoid it, you must give your body what it needs to function better.
Even if your days of working out at the gym are on hold and fine restaurant meals are a distant memory, there are changes you can make that will instantly improve your mood and resilience.
Eat a high-protein breakfast. No sugar-packed smoothies or coffee and a granola bar. The old standard still works best: eggs, whole-wheat toast, fruit such as apple or banana, and bacon or sausage if you’re so inclined.See 4 other quick and balanced breakfast ideas
Notice how caffeine affects you.I’m not telling you to give up coffee, but do notice how it makes you feel. If you’re too caffeinated, it can jettison all your good intentions and push you to a massive emotional overreaction.
Love the body you’re in, but keep it moving.You probably do a good deal of walking every day. You can walk in a tense, hunched-up way, thinking about what you need to do next, or you can be in the moment—swing your arms and breathe in the air, and use it to get in a few moments of exhilarating movement.
See a sleep specialist if your child’s sleep problems are keeping you awake.Specialists can provide personalized plans for infants or even older children.
If your own insomnia is ruining your nights, turn off the screens(computer, cell, TV) an hour before bedtime.Cuddle with your kid or your partner instead. Physical touch (it doesn’t have to be sex) releases the feel-good chemical oxytocin, which will relax you.
Don’t hate yourself for melting down now and then. We’ve all been there! But if you can change the way you deal with your meltdowns and fortify yourself against them, everyone in your family will be happier for it—especially you.
It is the season of the blues. Whether it is caused by lack of sunlight, too little outdoor time or post-holiday season let-down, many people are starting to feel down in the dumps – right about now. It’s not just adults, but kids too. In fact, kids can begin to feel particularly edgy as winter progresses. There may be lots of reasons for that, but I want to look at how a child’s mood can affect your mood as a parent.
Parents are like most other adults: they are subject to bouts of happiness or sadness, euphoria or depression, optimism or despondency. However unlike adults without children, parents are more likely to feel these emotions based on how their children are feeling.
As the expression goes, ‘you are only as happy as your least happy child.’
When your child is struggling, it’s hard to not let it get you down. It’s only natural to be upset by seeing the challenges that your atypical child encounters daily. But if you let it affect your mood, then you can’t help your child regulate his or her moods, right? Grouchy kid, grouchy mom? Not a good combination. You have to be at your best, so that you can help your child learn how to regulate their moods and their mental outlook. We naturally help children self regulate; one way is by modeling encouraging self talk: “you can do it!” or “it’s going to be ok, just relax”, or “it will only hurt for a minute, you can handle it”, these are important prompts to help encourage kids to model appropriate reactions.
But what happens when your mood becomes so submerged with your child’s mood that you can’t distinguish your bad mood from their bad mood? Does this mean that your own mood regulator is broken or simply you have lost the divider between what is your own mood and your child’s mood?
Separating your mood state from that of your child is important. Adults often submerge their individual identities as they raise children, they become “a family 24/7” rather than an individual in a family. This is partially a normal response but it can go too far.
Here is an example: you are on a double date with another couple and you haven’t been out with adult company for months. You want to enjoy yourself but you can’t because you keep remembering your child’s morose face when you left and you keep ruminating on how much homework he has and wondering if he is able to do it without you and if she was able to eat dinner without you monitoring and if they are going to get to bed, it’s a school night and they can’t be tired tomorrow morning…….and on your brain runs, unable to enjoy your adult company and special time away from your kids.
Because what happens next is that when your kid has a bad day, your mood plummets like a stone down the well. When your mood becomes dependent on whether or not Timmy has had a good day or bad day, you lose the ability to be the anchor to the family instead of a reactor. And atypical children often have moods that need to be managed, not reacted to.
Parents, work on your mood tune-up!
It is important that parents find their emotional set-point apart from how their children are doing. That way, you remember that you are still YOU, and not just your kid’s mother or father. This will come in handy both in helping your child self regulate as well as keeping you with one foot firmly planted in your individual life as a grown up person.
5 Quick and Easy Mood Tune-Up Tips
1. Listen to a happy tune: Research has shown that people who listen to cheerful music can improve their mood. Listening to music actually improves people’s moods so turn that radio dial to a happy music station!
2. Smile: the physical act of smiling has also been shown to improve mood. Even fake smiles reduce stress. Studies by Paul Eckman and other researchers has shown that smilers exhibited lower heart rate levels after a stressful activity than non-smilers. So even if you aren’t feelin it, paste that smile on your face!
3. Do good: do something good for someone else. Even a small gesture, such as giving a coin to a homeless person has been shown to lift a person’s mood. Try it for yourself and see.
4. Do good for yourself: when is the last time you took a moment to treat yourself? No, I don’t mean that bag of chocolate chip cookies. Maybe invite a friend out for coffee or excuse yourself after dinner to go for a long walk. Alone.
5. Shake it up: exercise raises your natural endorphin levels. The link between exercise and mood is well researched. Studies show that within five minutes after moderate moving produce a better mood. Too cold to go outside? Turn up the radio and dance! Even for a few minutes will raise the mood barometer.