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!
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.
“I have to admit that I’m suffering from a severe case of battle fatigue . . . If you work with families, please try to minimize the soul shattering disappointments you hand out . . . At least let me believe you’re trying to figure it out.”
That was the final blog post of Kelli Stapleton, who on September 3 attempted to kill herself and her autistic teenage daughter by filling their van with carbon monoxide.
Kelli Stapleton called her blog “The Status Woe,” and in it she described the despondency, frustration, and sense of hopelessness she and her husband experienced raising their daughter, who was frequently violent.
Most of us, thankfully, will never be in Kelli Stapleton’s situation, no matter how difficult the challenge of raising our kids. However, the relentless day in-day out demands of raising atypical children can be devastating to many parents’ lives.
Until recently, the emotional health of Moms or Dads has rarely been noticed, much less explored as a critical factor that affects the child’s well being. Both inside and outside of families, the attention is typically focused on the needs of the child. That’s understandable, but it is also a big mistake.
THE STRESS OF CARING FOR YOUR ATYPICAL CHILD ADDS UP
Parents tend to forget to take care of themselves; that is a fact of parenthood – but they may not notice that they are not the only ones who suffer when their emotional needs are ignored. Their children suffer too.
When parents first discover that their child is atypical, either receiving a diagnosis or a realization that their kid is ‘beyond quirky’ and will need more interventions, their instinct is to buy books about the disorder and search the Internet for everything they can find on the topic, be it ADHD, a behavior disorder, autism spectrum or a learning difference. It doesn’t immediately occur to parents that they also need to take care of themselves and reflect on how this new information is going to affect their well being, equilibrium, outlook on life or emotional resources. A parent’s sustained focus on the child’s well being is hardwired. We are pre-programmed to nurture and protect our offspring. The sense of self-sacrifice is built into our DNA. It is the normal, anticipated reaction, but this nurture instinct is also taken for granted. Until parents start to burn out. And let’s face it, raising atypical children is often exhausting, discouraging and isolating.
Doctors, pediatricians, teachers, and all types of therapists all depend on parents to be the primary managers of their children’s treatment. Like the parents themselves, these professionals seldom wonder how is the parent doing. Often, the parent is handed a laundry list of therapies, interventions, medications or schools to try. It’s overwhelming.
6 QUESTIONS YOU PROBABLY WON’T HEAR FROM YOUR CHILD’S DOCTORS:
How are you doing?
How is your family holding up?
Do you need more respite care?
What resources do you have when things get too tough?
Who do you call upon for help?
How can I be of more help to you?
THE BIG IDEAS THAT NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE ARE THINKING ABOUT:
“How is this parent coping? What are the emotional ramifications of having this atypical child? Is this parent receiving enough respite care? Can I depend on this parent, or is he or she cracking under the strain? How can I help support this parent?”
Since these are the questions you probably will not hear, parents, you must ask them yourself, and you must find the support for yourselves. It sounds like yet another job but it’s critically important.
IS IT SELFISH TO WORRY ABOUT YOUR OWN WELL BEING?
It isn’t selfish, narcissistic, or a waste of time. Your child needs to see a model of happy, competent, and optimistic parents. If they don’t see this attitude at home, where will they learn it? It takes an enormous amount of mental resiliance to see your children through their day; it’s important to get your own needs taken care of, too!
YOUR CHILD DEPENDS ON HAVING A WELL FUNCTIONING PARENT AT THE HELM
It is entirely possible for your child to succeed in this world with ADHD, or a learning disability, or high-functioning autism, or a myriad of other disabilities!!
It is much less possible for your child to succeed with an outlook that is sad, defeated, and hopeless. We owe it to our children to work on our own mental health not only so we can be stronger people but also so we can be better parents. As they say on airplanes, “If the oxygen masks drop, put on your mask first, then help your child.” That is how you both survive.
YOUR NEW SELF CARE MENU
I believe that all parents of atypical kids need to examine their lives and start creating a self-care menu. This will be your oxygen mask, guaranteeing that you get enough air to breathe and to think clearly. Ask yourself right now, What are a few things that could make me feel more in control or make my life more tolerable? Am I making time for these things?
Is it the comfort of friends?
Is it having a night out with your girlfriends?
Is it getting a weekly massage?
Is it Saturday date night with your partner, where neither of you talk about your child?
Is it taking a class that has nothing to do with your child’s condition?
Is it talking to a sympathetic therapist or counselor on a weekly basis?
Is it hiring the housecleaner more often?
Is it a refreshing walk in nature?
Your self-care menu should include appetizers (a ten-minute walk around the block) and main courses (like the list above). These are not treats, they are sustenance!
One thing you will instantly realize is that in order to get your soul nourished on a regular basis, you will need to expand your circle of support. Seek the help of your friends, extended family, a faith-based group, or a group of parents like you. It does take a village to raise a child. In the case of atypical kids, it takes an army.
On Kelli Stapleton’s website, her friends have taken over the blog while Kelli is being held in jail without bond. (Kelli’s daughter is recovering at home with her father.) The “Friends of Kelli Stapleton” write:
“We do believe Kelli deserves a fair chance to share her story—which most of [you] know has been difficult and faced with adversity from so many different angles. We hope that by bringing attention to this difficult issue, we will help those families who are in similar situations.”
Kelli Stapleton’s actions were horrific—but they were not unimaginable. The most loving and devoted parents in the world are only human. And humans need air.
Positively Atypical! is dedicated to helping parents stay positive and loving toward their children, themselves and those around them. Please forward this to any parents who might benefit.