Was it full of lots of warm family time, sharing family jokes, looking at old family photos and making new memories?
What, no? That wasn’t what happened?
Let me guess.
Did you decide to skip the cooking and go out to a very noisy restaurant where you plopped iPads in front of your kids to keep them happy between courses?
Or — maybe you slaved over the stove all day and — while everyone watched the football game – you plopped your kids in front of iPads so you could cook and serve?
Or — just maybe your family did manage that iconic game of outside family football – and then— all return to check your iPhones in the bathroom?
No judgment here, just an awareness of how the world is changing. Despite the increased sense of virtual connectivity that we all enjoy from our use of internet, smart phones, iPads, etc (trust me, I couldn’t live without it either) we are increasingly feeling isolated and empty. And physically restless.
In a brilliant piece written by Diane Ackerman, one of my favorite authors, she discusses how the digital world is seriously having an impact on evolving brains as well as our relationships to one another.
In case you don’t have time for article reading ( Article here )the gist of it all is:
To stay emotionally connected, make sure your child isn’t learning about their world through only pixelated images. Sensory impoverishment accompanies the digital world which changes the way we relate to each other, our world and our internal sense of belonging.
Here’s how to re-connect:
GO outside on adventures with your kids.
FEEL the sand, the rocks, the wind.
MAKE time for actual interconnectedness – strong hugs, hand holding, wrestling and stroking those soft little heads.
SNIFF the scent of those babes and let them breathe you in too.
LAY in the grass or the snow and look at the sky together.
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!
Hearing your child’s diagnosis for the first time is an experience that will stay with you forever. Even if you have long suspected that something isn’t right, knowing it for sure can throw you into a state of paralysis.
It’s a neurobiological response: the enormity of the news temporarily overrides your ability to act or make decisions. Your mind is swamped with frightening questions: What does this mean for my child, for our family, for me?
More families are going to have to confront diagnoses such as ADHD, autism spectrum, and learning disorders such as dyslexia. This is partly because the DSM-5 has broadened the definitions of some disorders, as I mentioned in my last post.
But parents should know that any diagnosis is only a reflection of their child’s developmental process at one point in time. With appropriate interventions, a child who displays a certain set of behaviors at age 5 can be very different at age 15. Or age 25. Children can and do grow and develop. Keep that in mind as you are absorbing your child’s diagnosis.
3 Steps to Accepting Your Child’s Diagnosis
1. Be aware of your feelings. Your reactions to your child’s diagnosis are hard-wired, based in the same evolutionary part of the brain that triggers fear when an animal is threatened. If you are initially feeling paralyzed or in denial, it’s a normal response.
Your emotional reactions to your child’s condition will have a big impact on the child’s well-being, so from now on try to be mindful of how you are feeling and how it is affecting your behavior in the presence of your son or daughter.
2. Ask yourself, “Does this diagnosis fit with the child I know?” If what the doctor is saying is not consistent with what you know about your child, something may be off. No one knows your child better than you do.
It’s true that most parents go through a phase of disbelief and denial about a diagnosis, but underneath the denial there is usually a feeling of, Yes, that’s him. He always struggled with language. Or, Yes, his frustration level has always seemed unusual to me . . . He has always seemed like he doesn’t really know how to make friends. . . He isn’t reading and all his friends are. . . .Yes, there is something wrong.
If the diagnosis feels accurate on a gut level, it probably is.
Occasionally, however, the doctors don’t get it right. But most often, they do get it right, but it makes you angry and your instinct is to push back and say “That’s not my kid!” I will discuss anger as a reaction to having an atypical kid in a future post. But, for now, take a mental note of your feelings and keep alert.
Maybe you wonder if you should get a second opinion? If you don’t trust your own instincts, seek the opinion of someone else who is frequently around your child—a spouse, grandparent, sister, aunt, neighbor, or best friend. But also please remember that professionals who are trained in diagnosis and treatment have your child’s best interests in mind and don’t give out diagnoses randomly.
3. Take action: Work with your diagnostician to prioritize an action plan. Many children are diagnosed with more than one condition. The parents will receive a list of recommendations that can be 5 or 10 items long and include things like a psychiatrist for medications, an educational therapist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, soccer coach, and family therapy. And you will get books and articles to read as well as recommendations for several ‘cutting edge’ therapies. It’s a lot to take in!
Obviously, parents cannot do all these things at once, and they end up feeling horribly overwhelmed.
So go back to the person who diagnosed your child and ask for a prioritized action plan and a timeline. What is most important? What needs to happen when? For instance, many people recommend tackling intensive remediation during the summer, but you know that this won’t work for your child. She needs to be outside playing.
Ask the diagnostician to consider the needs of the whole child rather than just writing prescriptions. If the diagnostician cannot do so, you may want to take your results to another therapist or doctor and ask that person to prioritize your plan.
In this blog I’ll continue to give you advice on managing your child’s treatment and —just as important—keeping yourself calm, focused and cared-for during the months ahead.
So, chin up, chest out, right foot forward, you can do this!
Has your son or daughter recently been diagnosed with one of these conditions? How did you react? Tell me your story in the comments — and don’t forget to sign up for blog updates in the sidebar!