Mother’s Day is a sweet time to recognize all the good.
I feel so lucky because I’ll be able to celebrate this year with my own dear mother. She’s a quirky, creative, generous woman and an absolute treasure to me.
At the same time, life is not all happiness and joy right now for me as a mother.
One of my children is suffering. And as you know, when your child isn’t well, it can feel impossible to let that pain go.
So if your heart also aches because of an issue with your child, I want to remind you (and myself): we’re not alone.
My Mother’s Day message this year is simple: Take care of yourself.
Make a mindful choice to do the following:
Expand your tunnel vision*
*Devote time and energy to other relationships in your life. When you’re in a crisis with one child you can understandably suffer from tunnel vision. Consciously decide to continue to focus on your other children, spouse, and friends (who are supportive). This is important for your own health and ability to gain perspective AND for maintaining those important connections with people who love you and in the case of your other children, need your continued connection.
It’s easy to forget these basics and fall into destructive patterns when we’re filled with worry.
When you make self-care a central part of your life, you’ll find that the kindness you show yourself infuses your own life, and the life of your family with positivity. It provides a model for your child and makes the path to reach your goals and those of your family so much smoother. (source: 8 Self-Care Tips for Parents Who Have No Time for Self Care.)
This summer’s been a doozy. What once felt like a series of mini health crises has come to feel like the norm with appendicitis, stress fractures, depression, drug addiction, cancer and even death becoming a more common part of life.
Last summer, I started writing a post about how to parent when you feel distracted or distraught by a loved one’s suffering.
It’s a hard topic. So hard, that I never completed the post. I couldn’t bring myself to put a bow on it and send it to you. My thoughts never felt right or complete or enough.
Now, it’s back around as I’m dealing with my own health struggles. This week I had two areas of infiltrating basal cell carcinoma surgically removed from my face. With the surgery behind me and plenty of ice packs, I feel a sense of deep gratitude. My doctor described the tumors as nasty and aggressive and I’m lucky that they could be removed.
So I ask for myself and maybe you too – how do you parent when you’re struggling with your own or a dear one’s illness?
This is what I’ve gleaned talking with some of you and pondering the question these last 12 months:
Keep it simple. When your child’s needs feel draining of the little resources you have serve macaroni and cheese or Cheerios and let them watch TV. It’s okay.
Prioritize. Allow what’s most important to rise to the top. Family, food, sleep, and exercise (if possible) make up my essential list.
Say no mostly and yes only if that YES will enhance your life. Time and energy are limited. Use yours wisely.
Reach out intentionally. Ask for help — as my friend Liz says, “you may need to get over yourself” to do this. Remember that close friends want to lend a hand, particularly when a bigger situation leaves them feeling helpless.
I “got over myself” this past week when my friend Carolyn came bearing flowers the day before my surgery. Having had a similar experience, Carolyn warned me that the hardest part for her had been after the procedure, when she had to remove and replace the bandages. I immediately asked if she would be willing to come over and help me do that. She said yes, and little did I know just how important it was to have her for moral and physical support. With 22 stitches across my hairline — and as the doctor put it, “too many to count” in my nose — I was weak and close to fainting. It took us an hour and a half to remove and replace all of the dressings that first time. I can’t imagine what it would have felt like to do this alone.
Stick with the facts. Depending on the age of your child, share relevant factual information, but only the surface story. They don’t need to know the details and certainly not your “what if” fears. While your fears may be in the realm of possibility, they’re not the facts.
Be childlike. As much as you can, allow your child’s aliveness and awe of life to touch you and lift you into the present.
Dare greatly by saying no to guilt. Instead, accept that you may be more foggy and distracted than you’d like to be with your kids. It’s okay. Don’t add parent guilt to the list of your full bucket of worries. In Daring Greatly Brené Brown writes, “To set down those lists of what we’re supposed to be is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly” (Page 110).
Lower your expectations. Finally, be realistic about how much your kids, depending on age, will be able to empathize with you or the situation. In my experience that’s NOT MUCH. They don’t get it, nor should they.
A few years ago, my brother’s best friend and brother in-law, Steve, died unexpectedly during a surgery. Because Steve was beloved by his community as a volunteer firefighter during the Eastern Long Island pine barren wildfires, acting as Chief of the fire department at the time of his death, founder of the junior volunteer firefighter training program and a village civil servant, the community put on a huge uniformed procession for the funeral. Being family and a close friend, my brother delivered the eulogy. In the midst of the long funeral procession through town, his 8 year-old son Aidan turned to him and asked in a tired voice, “when is this going to be over?” My brother was both heart-broken and relieved by the question. How could Aidan, who’d loved Uncle Steve deeply, be ready to move on? Be so oblivious to the gravity of the situation? Be so cold as to be DONE with Steve? At the same time – in Aidan’s question my brother heard hope and the possibility that life could go on – that tomorrow would eventually arrive and maybe it was sooner than my brother thought possible. In his son’s words were the innocence and gravity of the truth that we do go on, even when we lose the unloseable friend, even when we suffer unimaginable pain.
I’ve decided that it’s okay that I don’t have a bow on this one. Its a question that doesn’t have a neat answer.
Please chime in with your thoughts and questions in the comment section. How do you parent when you feel overwhelmed by your own or a loved ones health challenges or a death?
We want our kids to be happy and feel good about themselves — knowing they’re struggling can feel unbearable.
Today’s post is about how to deal with your emotions around your child’s disappointment — a question that Michelle so eloquently asked last time. Here’s my own poignant parenting story….
Years ago when my son, I’ll call him Sunny, was 11 or 12, baseball season had ended and he wanted, with all his heart, to make the all-star team so that he could continue to play. He’d been chosen in years past but knew it was competitive. Being Sunny, he was optimistic and it was clear that playing more baseball was the most important thing in the world to him — hands down. A perfect recipe for parental anxiety.
Each day he’d come home and ask, mom, did the coach call? A look of hopeful anticipation in his eyes.
My heart broke as I had to tell him, 3 or 4 days in a row that no one had called. Silence. Are you sure? Ouch.
Sunny was the kid who went through life, like a duck, letting harsh things that happened to him roll right off. So when he uncharacteristically invested himself in this outcome, it was all the more painful to witness.
At the time I knew that a rescue attempt was ill advised. I felt helpless and didn’t know what to do. While it sounds like a minor letdown now, this disappointment was HUGE in his life, and I was at a loss for how to support him.
Looking back I think his dad or I could have shared our own painful experience if only to join him in that dark space.
I doubt it would have made him feel better but company always helps.
As the parent, I needed to also take a stance that would help me better cope with the urge to jump in and make things better.
As a coach, I often help clients find alternate points of view on an area of their life where they feel stuck.
Below is an example of different perspectives you can step into to shift YOUR experience when your child goes through their inevitable disappointments.
GRITTY VIEW: The research is clear that children who’re able to persevere through trials and tribulations have an essential characteristic for success – grit.
While they’ll remember epic disappointments, if they’re able to weather them with a sense of grounded security, your kids will more likely learn to forge ahead, a quality that will undoubtedly serve them well in life.
Parental fixing (or on the flip-side, shaming) blocks your child from learning this valuable lesson. Fixing and shaming, while they look different, convey the same message to your kid — I don’t believe in you.
[tweetthis hidden_hashtags=”#parenting”]Don’t treat your son like a prince unless his father’s the King, if you do, life will be a rude awakening.[/tweetthis]
I don’t remember where I heard this but I love its clear wisdom.
POETIC VIEW:“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.” ―Henry W. Longfellow
Broadening your perspective through poetry and philosophy can be just the tonic you need to pull you out of the painful, cramped feeling of “not enough” that tends to overwhelm you when your child feels badly.
MINDFUL VIEW: Practicing mindfulness strengthens your ability to have boundaries.
The Quick Calm Technique created by Andy Smithson of truparenting.net is a tool that when practiced can move you from heated to less heated 🙂
Here it is in a nutshell:
Click above to learn more about the entire Quick Calm Toolkit
Use this technique to bring yourself down from anger, anxiety, sadness… these steps enable you to respond more proactively — more mindfully — to any situation you find yourself caught up in. You have power over how you feel.
PASSIONATE VIEW: When you take time to nurture your own passions, you get less tied up in knots about the minutiae of your child’s life. This helps you avoid the unwitting substitution of your child’s experiences for your own.
Here are some examples of activities (outside of work and parenting) that parents have shared with me that bring meaning and passion to their lives:
join an adult sports team
volunteer in an underserved school
write a blog or novel
coach a team (outside of your child’s)
volunteer at a hospital
train for a triathlon
If you don’t want to do it for yourself, then you’ve got to do it for the sake of your kid. Only when you nourish yourself and cultivate your own interests will your child see a way to do this for herself.
MY VIEW: One of the gifts I’ve found through using Positive Discipline is a path to keep things simple.
If I’m bending over backward to make something happen for my kid, I hear that voice inside warning me something’s off or as Michelle put it — “THAT’s INSANITY — DON’T DO IT!”
Still the impulse and overwhelming sadness remains.
Don’t push it away. Rather, let yourself feel sad and have a chance to heal from your own old wound. When you get triggered by your child’s disappointments — take that step back from your kid and look inside — work on your own or with a therapist to experience your not so buried feelings so that you can move on rather than continuing to stuff it down or overreact to events in your child’s life. Be real and feel your feelings.
When you feel stuck in your own or your child’s disappointment, try one of these perspectives or cultivate a view of your own. Standing in a different place could be just the reset you need to reorient yourself and move forward in the direction you want to go.
If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!
Although I read them years ago, her words (how I remember them) continue to cycle through my memory and with them comes more than a pang of inadequacy. She’s clearly an attentive, interested mother who’s produced spellbinding people to boot!
Don’t get me wrong. I couldn’t love my children more than I do – they are kind, cool, quirky, creative… downright good people.
Nonetheless, the image of the hip, engaged Sarandon mama has stuck with me. I don’t measure up. I’m not good enough.
When my second son was six, a friend he affectionately called his “God Brother,” invited him to camp on the beach in Hawaii for 10 days!
Sure we hesitated, it seemed dicey to have our child a stones’ throw from the ocean and so far away from us. But we trusted the parents, he was eager to go and we wanted to encourage his openness.
I was thrilled.
When we spoke with him on the phone he enthusiastically cheered that he was having the time of his life (his exact words).
Am I a good mother? How is it that I enjoy my little one being so far away – for so long?
Susan Sarandon has become a symbol for me – beyond Bull Durham and Thelma and Louise – she’s the uber interested mama who prefers the company of her children over her friends and her cool tribe of actor homies.
My fantasy continues… when Susan goes out to dinner with her kids, there’s no scuffle over devices because each family member is wrapped in titillating conversation or simply basking in each other’s company. Her kids prefer the company of their mom to friends (okay, Lisa now you’re just being silly).
Who’s your version of Susan Sarandon?
Is there someone you measure yourself against? Someone you use to judge yourself?
Maybe it’s your neighbor Jane whose kids always say thank you, their pearly whites shining through their gorgeous smiles.
Maybe it’s your cousin, the preschool teacher whose children abhor television and sugar and spend their days tending animals and making toys from scraps they find in the woods.
If you’re like me, you hold tightly to an idealized version of someone else as evidence to support an underlying angst that you’re not a good enough parent.
That sense of not enough pulls you away from the present moment.
I’ve no doubt that the mere act of becoming aware of your version of Susan Sarandon will go a long way to tame it. But what else can you do?
Remember my New Year’s invitation back in January? Some of you took me up on it and MANY of you wrote to say you thought it was a good idea.
Good ideas need action.
What’s one thing you LOVE about yourself as a parent?
What’s your specialty – reading bedtime stories? Being there for the neighborhood kids? Lightening up a tense moment with a perfectly timed joke?
Imagine if you spent a fraction of the time you do berating yourself for not living up to your Susan Sarandon, in taking stock of your positive qualities.
How would you feel? What might change?
Share right here and now: One thing, big or tiny that you do well as a parent. You deserve to take a moment to celebrate what works.
For kicks, share what it is about your ideal that “gets” you. That should provide some fun reading in the comments!
(If the website is getting in your way – send me an email – it can be one sentence or even one word!)
If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!
Note:I first published this post one year ago and re-reading on the first day of 2015, I find it still speaks to the heart of a parenting dilemma. How can we expect to become better parents when we’re so busy being hard on ourselves? I wanted to share it with you again and encourage you to take time to make the list I prescribe and share it with a friend!
What if this year you did something totally different with the whole New Year’s resolution thing?
Instead of setting the usual intentions for becoming a better version of yourself, you made a list of all the things you already do smashingly WELL, as a parent!
Don’t you feel guilty just thinking about it?
I do. It feels odd and unnatural.
For me it would be much easier to spend the next 500 words describing my shortcomings as a mom and all that I could do better. (Read: more family dinners, more trips to the library, more game nights, more patience, more follow through on kid jobs, more communication with my 18 year old… more, more, more…you get the picture.)
Not going there.
This year I’m doing something RADICAL. I’m going to share with you a challenging exercise that I LOVE, inspired by Kelly Bartletts’s blog Parenting from Scratch. It’s about turning away all of that “I’m not good enough” parenting stuff and welcoming the good that’s already there.
I’m asking you to acknowledge what you do well and linger in the good. I assure you, this is not a silly exercise in self-aggrandizement.
When we do this, our brains literally re-wire for positivity and well-being. It’s what Dr. Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness and Buddha’s Brain, calls taking in the good. Hanson says that putting attention on good experiences helps build new connections in our brains – [tweetthis]neurons that fire together, wire together.[/tweetthis] It’s part of the growing body of research around Neuroplasticity. We have the ability to change our brains!!
So, what does Neuroplasticity have to do with parenting? When we put our minds to it, we can become happier, better parents. And now here’s what I’m asking you to do:
Make your own parenting infomercial (i.e., I’m great and here’s how:)
Stick with your list – share it – savor it
Be on your own side – be aware of that sabotaging voice but don’t feed it
This was a tough exercise for me. I noticed my loud, qualifying gremlin voice saying things like “but you don’t do X enough” and “you’re a parenting educator, your list should be much longer!” etc.
What’s important is that I made the list anyway, noticed that critical voice along the way and kept going. Here’s my list: (and before you read it, promise me you’ll try making your own.)
I pull out my goofy, silly side on a weekly basis, for everyone to see
I exercise and eat well (modeling what I want for my children)
I love reading great books for myself (ditto)
I am a room parent for one of my kids’ classes
I got those weekly family meetings going on
I regularly snuggle with my seven and fourteen year-olds
I take the time to pause and breathe before I react to my child’s fall, F on their report card, the blatant lie, and of course – the periodic tantrum.
I’ve gotten very good at biting my tongue and boy is it an effective parenting tool! (Listen more, too)
There you have it.
Now, I insist that you do this exercise for yourself.
Remember, when we recognize our own strengths, we nurture our minds and our whole being.
[tweetthis]Let yourself acknowledge that you have many strengths as a parent.[/tweetthis] Really let it sink in after you’ve made your list – take it one step further by sharing your list with a friend. Then notice the visible and invisible ways your relationship with yourself and your children unfolds for the better.
Peace and Happy New Year!
Consider your list, the mundane and extraordinary ways you parent. When you share what you’ve come up with below you inspire us and remind us of things we’ve forgotten.
Some of you have told me you feel too shy to share in this forum – in that case email me your list. I’d love to cheer you on!
While I still offer parent coaching, I’m transitioning the focus of my work to holding writing circles. The circle offers the space for us to more deeply know and connect to our inner wisdom.