Not a week goes by that a therapist doesn’t hear about a client or a client’s friend self-harming. This is particularly true Continue reading “What to do if someone you love self-harms.”
It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining as it has a habit of doing on most days in central Texas. Except for the lice-outbreak that we were dealing with (ugh!), life was pretty great. My girls were excited because we were planning to go see the new kittens at Auntie’s farm. There were five of them altogether, and – once the kittens were just a little older and stronger – we were planning to bring three home. One for each of my girls. The girls had bonded with their kittens, and had chosen names for them already: Katie Belle, Johnny JoJo and Carol.
And after operation lice-comb-out-number-two was complete, we were going to take the hour-long drive to see them again. And swim at Auntie’s pool, of course.
The phone rang. Thinking Auntie was calling to firm up visiting plans for later in the day, I answered with what I thought might be a ‘chirpy’ hello (considering I was covered with tea tree and coconut oil and swishing a lice-comb in a bowl of hot water).
Her voice was different.
I managed to hold it together until I hung up. And with all the best intentions of being super strong for my kids, managed the first two words without starting to cry: “Girls, I have something really sad to tell you”
“Is it about dad?” my youngest asked, eyes wide (their dad travels for work a lot). “No, No, honey, no not dad”. In a strange way, that question made it easier to tell them (because THAT kind of news would have been far, far worse).
In between my own tears, I managed to relay that Johnny JoJo had been killed by a dog sometime during the night. Along with one of Auntie’s other kittens.
It was the first major loss, the first unexpected death of something close to my children, and I could feel the wave of anguish as strongly as if I had just been hit by a wave standing in the ocean. Except this wave didn’t feel good. At all. We all sat on the floor that morning, sobbing at intervals. Rocking. All I could do was hold my little girl as she cried and sobbed. My other two girls were sobbing and crying too – feeling the loss almost equally. We alternated from talking, quiet thought and crying for probably about an hour. I got back to combing while we all talked. And cried.
About two hours later we were packed up and on the road. To see the other kitties and to have a little ‘service’ for Johnny JoJo and the other kitten. The girls were more quiet than usual in the car during hour-long drive there.
The second wave of anguish hit soon after reaching our destination. My eldest daughter quickly realized that there had been a mistake – the second kitty that was killed was, in fact, Katie Bell. This wave of sadness was even more intense than the first – possibly due to the shock of it all.
We worked through it as a family, auntie and uncle and me and dad (by phone) and the kids… We muddled through, as it were.
It took another two days, and some more intense emotional episodes, but we came out the other side. My girls have finished crying. On the third morning, after another emotional night, my eldest daughter simply said “I’m okay today, Mom. I’m okay about it today”. And I knew she was. And she is. My three girls are still sad, but they are okay. And those things can happen together – feeling sad, but okay.
While you don’t have to be a mental health professional to help your kids through a loss, I am very glad that there were a few tips I could summon up to help us through. Because believe me, when faced with kids who are distraught, every mom feels helpless. Especially when it’s a hurt that a Band-Aid and a little kiss and cuddle can’t fix.
So we decided to share some basic facts about grief and a few simple tips in the hope that they may help you and your kiddo(s) get through a loss as well.
Sometimes – often – there just are no words. Especially when the situation is intensely emotional. When it is difficult to talk about. When there is nothing you can say to take away the pain (even though you would chop off your right arm if that is what it took). Feeling the pain of loss is a natural, human reaction. Simply being there, sitting beside or holding your child is comforting, and conveys in a physical way that you are there, that they are not alone, that you support them.
Sometimes when there are no words, it’s because words just get in the way.
Celebrate and Remember
Doing something that helps a child to remember or celebrate their pet can be an important part of the healing process.
We had a little ceremony – the girls wrote on and decorated the “coffin” (cardboard box) that the kittens were laid to rest in. They could even look at the kittens and touch them if they wanted to. My oldest opted out of touching them, and also out of the ceremony. We respected her choice, as everyone grieves in different ways, and on a different schedule.
We buried the box as Auntie shared some beautiful words, thanking the kitties for being with us, and wishing them a safe journey wherever they were going (we like to think of them crossing a rainbow bridge). Your own family traditions and values will help you decide what is best, and how you create a way of honoring. If you do not have a tradition, you can create one. Write a letter and bury it with the pet. Paint a rock that your child can keep with the pets name on it. Create a little gravesite they can visit (if appropriate). Create a memory box and put photos or mementos into it and decorate it. Write messages on a balloon that your child can release. You can do one or more, one or more times.
Your child will know when they are ready to move on.
Allow all emotions
Grief does not take a straight line path. It is not a process of feeling sad for a while until that feeling vanishes. Don’t be surprised if your child has sudden bouts of sadness, anger or frustration. My oldest daughter, for example, experienced denial (“I don’t think it’s really her, I don’t think she’s really dead”) and bargaining (“If I could do magic, I would turn back time to just before it happened, and I would save her”) within the first 10 minutes of realizing her kitten was gone.
Possibly the most helpful thing to remember about any type of grieving process is that it is not linear – that we can revisit any state/emotion at any time. But as long as each emotion is allowed to express itself, and is accepted, then we can move through it. Each time we move through the emotion it becomes less intense, until the grief and loss is processed.
You’ve got this!
If you expect the unexpected in terms of emotions following the loss of a pet, and remember to be there to listen, allow and accept all emotions (and of course provide ample cuddles) – you are well on your way to supporting your child through a difficult loss.
P.S. : Don’t forget to look after yourself too! Talk to someone close to help you process the loss – what affects your child affects you too. Allow your own emotions. It has taken a few weeks to be able to finish this post because I would get tearful just remembering my childrens’ pain. I still do, but I know I’m okay now.
Sad, but okay.
“I’m going to say something now and you’ll think I’m terrible: I hate being a stay-at-home mom”.
This lovely woman’s words inspired this Mother’s Day post.
It’s not the first time either of us have heard these – or similar – words spoken. They are always said in a cloud of shame, fear, a quiet desperation. It takes courage to say this out loud to another human being. There is risk involved after all. The risk? Judgement. A fear, to use her own words, that she’d be judged “terrible”. A fear that she might be seen as a ‘bad’ parent, an ‘abnormal’ mother. Because this is how mothers often judge themselves, and each other.
These words often remain in a woman’s head for years, festering along with feelings of guilt, shame, loneliness and fear. Fear that not loving parenting must somehow mean not really loving her children.
Does any of this feel familiar?
Where do these feelings come from?
We’re not really ‘allowed’ to hate parenting are we? Most mothers never hear anyone else saying what therapists are privileged to hear in the safe quiet space of therapy. Even women who have close friends who are mothers too. Even moms who have good moms themselves.
Feeling unfulfilled in the job of full-time (or also part-time) mother seems to be one of our society’s last remaining taboos.
We are not saying that every stay-at-home mother hates being a mother. We are saying that most mothers have times where they hate mothering, and some mothers struggle with it most of the time.
Sometimes being a mother sucks. It just does.
It often seems that women are expected to ‘take to motherhood’, to have the maternal instinct ‘kick in’, to hear the biological clock clang, to know instinctively how to rear children. And – here’s the kicker – to enjoy letting go of life as we knew it to rear those children.
Women are socialized from childhood to understand that all of this childbearing and rearing business is at the core of being feminine, being attractive, being worthy. More women than men are depicted as the primary and ‘responsible’ parent in childrens’ books, stories, advertising. As we age we see it continue in magazines, parenting websites, the list goes on. As adults, childless (you may prefer child-free) women are often either pitied or frowned upon. So, it’s understandable then that it can destroy a woman’s self-esteem to discover that she doesn’t enjoy being a full time parent, or even a part time parent. Because suddenly (maybe gradually) she feels pain instead of the promised / assumed fulfillment. It’s quite a let down. A bitter pill to those expecting sugary loved up bundles of cute fluffiness.
And there’s no going back.
The simple truth is that not every woman enjoys full-time mothering. And it can be experienced as quite traumatic when that realisation hits.
Staying at home to care for children full-time is a significant change of lifestyle for more women now than ever before. For some, it is because they have already started or established a career before deciding to have children. Staying at home full-time is a choice influenced by many factors – what your own mother did (or didn’t do), some popular parenting mentors, employment status, and even peer pressure (it’s what your friends have chosen!).
Modern motherhood and womanhood is the focus of much research. Some women feel it’s better for the child or children to be reared by their mother in the home. Some women make that choice because they believe their partner’s career is more important than theirs. Maybe their partner simply makes more money and has better health benefits. Some women still believe that men are incapable of being primary care-givers. The reasons are endless, some valid, some not.
Whatever the reason behind the choice, it is vital that mothers learn to place a greater value on themselves and on their work as a full-time parent. Because it is work!
This includes acknowledging and valuing feelings of loss or rage or anger or boredom – all normal feelings after making any type of major lifestyle change.
It is crucial to know that loving one’s children does not necessarily mean that you will love parenting them. So while full-time parenting is rewarding and joyful for some women, it feels like loss for others.
What types of loss are commonly associated with full-time mothering?
* Loss of a feeling of being an individual, of one’s identity
* Loss of status in the workplace.
* Loss of earnings
* Loss of contact with adults and the vital stimulation that that offers
* Loss of energy
* Loss of sex drive, intimacy and time to connect with, or even find a partner.
* Loss of support, laughter, feedback, recognition and acknowledgement.
The feelings of loss can be like a slow-burning fire, one that might be only barely noticeable but gradually, over time, some women start feeling depressed or anxious and are not quite sure why… There may be no conscious awareness of what has been lost, the basic needs that are no longer being met (see our last post for how to deal with that!).
Many mothers who don’t enjoy mothering, be it periodically or most of the time, have niggling thoughts lurking in the back of their minds. They go something like this: “Am I a good enough mother? ( click on that to help you figure that out ;)) What’s wrong with me? I’m so weird! I must have a hormonal imbalance. I’m not a real woman. Some women can’t have children! I should be grateful. My mother managed fine, my friend manages fine, everyone in the whole entire world is coping except me.”
(Newsflash: they’re not.)
What can you do if you – or someone you know – feels this way?
* Firstly, avoid the temptation to rush in with the labels “depression” or “post-natal depression”. Despite how miserable she sounds, a woman who speaks like this is not necessarily clinically depressed. In fact, she is reacting normally to what is, for her, an abnormal situation.
A skilled therapist or psychologist will know the difference between these normal struggle and clinical depression. If you remain concerned after reading this, we suggest you source someone nearby for extra support.
* Share how you feel with someone. This could be a friend or even a stranger online. Discover how other people feel. It’s always a relief to know that you’re not ‘the only one’ isn’t it? So read through or add to comment threads on social media (or here!). Find a way to get it out of your head. Maybe even find some humor in your darker hours. (Click for a song that might make you giggle).
* Figure out what you’ve lost and how best to meet your needs while being a mom. This piece might help. Finding ways to meet your needs is a sign of good mental health, and of good parenting.
* Remember that nothing is permanent. Kids have this habit of growing up.
* Stop judging and telling yourself that you need to pretend. We all need support, we all need to know that we are normal. And we can’t have that if we all continue to trot around pretending everything is always fine because that’s just not being human.
And we are all human!
And finally – on this Mothers Day – if nothing else – celebrate making it through another day with (most of) your mental health intact!
You’ve got this… And we’ve got your back!
If you’re a parent, you’ve been there. Minding your own business, and out of nowhere one of the kids comes up and asks a ‘sticky’ question. You know the kind of question. The one that doesn’t have a simple answer. At all. Like when my four year old first asked “Where do babies come from?” big, innocent eyes peering at me over the top of my teacup.
Ah, Mothers Day – a day to celebrate all that is Mother (or Mom, Mommy, Mama, Mam, Mum, or “Hey You!!” – depending on how your offspring refer to you).
We all know that parenting is one of the most demanding and difficult jobs there are – and there’s no training! (What’s that about?!). Continue reading “Are you a good enough mother?”
I can remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. We’re sitting in a pub – my parents and I. My guess is that I was nine maybe ten years old. But while I’m sitting there drinking my ‘soft drink’ (soda as my fellow US dwellers might call it), the issue of weight comes up. Again. Continue reading “Thinking Out Loud: Teaching Children a Healthy Body Image When You Struggle With Your Own.”
Is it possible to help create a healthy body image in our children?
Yes. And it’s (relatively) simple.
How? By having (or developing) a healthy body image ourselves.