Parents, I Salute You
Happy Mother’s Day! I have spent the weekend intermittently crying over my mother, lost so many years ago, feeling like a crap mother myself, and thinking of a friend keeping vigil over her own mother who is gravely ill.
Today, I was awoken by a screaming small person who did NOT wish to sit down and eat his oatmeal. Did NOT wish to change his diaper. Did NOT wish to put on clothing. Preferred to chuck items around the room while bellowing. Entire Mother’s Day plan of mummy sleeping in while everyone went to soccer: foiled.
I can’t even.
My friend Elsie texted, angst-y about leaving her son with a babysitter a couple of times a week. She has very little help at home (husband an MD in residency) and is pregnant with her second. She is from out-of-state, so no family or old friends are around to pick up the slack. It’s a lot. I was like: “Do it!” and she wrote: “Is there a way to get over this major mom guilt I’m feeling?” I let out one demented honk/snort and replied: “WELCOME TO THE REST OF YOUR LIFE,” and then I put laughing emojis to soften the blow.
Every stage of parenting is a turbulent ride, be it the baby overwhelm, the physically busy elementary years (almighty soccer or similar), or the teen years when you are wide-eyed at midnight because Miss isn’t home yet from her night out with friends.
Eleven years ago, I had a Terrible Two (yes, I said it – it is not Terrific and it lasts well into Three). Pregnant with number two, I DREADED the Terribles, and I thought I remembered. I did not. Remember it.
None of my lifelong friends are going through toddler-hood; their kids are older, and they nod sagely at me when I am crying about it, but I KNOW they do not recall. I made plans for Ray and I to go over to my friend Mike’s house, and 15 minutes later he texted me: “Are you coming?” (we only live a few streets away). I was like: yeah, he doesn’t remember.
After a particularly forlorn Facebook comment I posted re: a poem, my friend Adeel messaged me that toddlers grow up eventually. I restrained myself with my response (Would you like to come to my home for 24 hours?) because guess what:
He. Doesn’t. Remember.
Thank goodness for my younger buddies who ARE in the Throes: take heart you guys, you will forget.
Teens are rough, too.
Teens, I hear, are no easier (but hey, at least you get to go the bathroom solo). They can suddenly be embarrassed or disdainful of us and we wonder what happened to the sweet child who always sat so so close to us on the couch. They start to pull away in subtle and not-so-subtle ways and we worry about what is happening in their lives. They stop confiding and that hurts. We have to start to let go (while staying connected, a tightrope walk that is not for the faint-of-heart).
Pandemic Parenting Ups the Ante on Stress, Worry
I mean, parenting during the pandemic? Stop it. The social isolation and the disruption of routines – just, no. The pandemic has certainly contributed to the rise in depression and anxiety in kids. Many more children are being seen in Emergency Rooms for mental health issues, suicide attempts and suicidal ideation (thoughts about committing suicide). I have seen this first hand at the hospital. I’m floored, every time.
There is no precedent for this; we have no road map for how to, like, soldier on.
They Always Know
The pandemic has caused us all an undo amount of stress. Kids pick up on, and feel, our stress. I’m not saying this to give us yet ANOTHER reason to feel guilty and stressed, but rather to point out the importance of attempting to mitigate our stress through self-care.
Being A Parent Means Getting Serious About Self-Care
So how do we practice self-care through tantrum-ing toddlers and surly teens? Well, first we have to internalize that we DO, in fact, require self-care, even more so during the turbulent, precious child-rearing years. We have to take care of ourselves. The whole throwing ourselves on the sword thing will actually hurt our Littles (and Bigs). It will backfire and we will get surly ourselves.
We can model this self-care, this good adult-ing to our kids, who, like the “Great Eye” of Sauron, are always watching. We can show them how we are growing.
Choices in Self-Care
Small Change = Sustainable Change
- Drugs (just kidding, unless prescription).
- Celebrate your strengths, don’t dwell on weaknesses (we all have some of each, and strengths is where we put our attention).
- Forgive yourself. This is tough stuff.
- Think of yourself as your own beloved baby/child – ask: how would you talk to her? Would you expect her to do it all? Do you berate Suzie for not knowing how to tie her shoes?
- Go outside; barefoot when able.
- Mindfulness, grr, mindfulness, but it especially works with the small ones – they will be so much more likely to comply with our agenda if we are present with them. Tough one for me. My husband and mother-in-law rock at this practice. We are physically at where we are at, so why not enjoy it? It can really lead to connection. Memories made.
- Eating regularly. Do the 12 hours of fasting thing or the not eating between meals but please, EAT FOOD. Good ‘ol fashioned 3 meals, how we feed the kids (REGULARLY).
- Practice a passion or hobby. Even for 10 minutes a day.
- Relax. Relax physically daily and relax with the ‘ol parenting. Let them be dirty. Ray ate dirt TODAY. Let them just do what they want for a bit. They can smell tense mum from a mile away anyway and that there is a quick trip to NOWHERE. Teens also enjoy a bit of relaxed silence; of simply hanging out.
- Manage Expectations; mine and yours. Don’t put out a tantalizing craft and then expect a 3 year-old to wait to DO the craft. Know that a teen might be grumpers on an outing or be on their phone. It still means something to them; it’s family safety/structure. The day might turn out differently than planned; the amount of time anything takes is ALWAYS relative to surrounding circumstances. Is the baby tired? Is the teen hungry?
- Go to bed! Meditate, breathing exercises, bathe in rose petals, get a pedi, go for coffee, eat bacon.
- Move your body if you feel sluggish; sit in stillness if you have been running around.
You Got This
If you are in the thick of it, keep going. I see my younger pals doing real stand-up jobs of parenting and it’s a massive source of inspiration for me. Small victories and remember the intangibles. We can’t SEE the finished product of the happy, self-sustaining adult that we are cooking up, but he’s there.
We scooted by my friend Kate’s today; she has a toddler and a baby. Food on her shirt, her son scampering around outside in just diaper and boots and she is completely zen and relaxed – happy in the mess. I was like: “What are you doing and how do I get some?”
Last night, Ray, whilst lying in bed awake (for far too long, OMG), was randomly counting things that popped into his head (I was in the middle of a “what if Mary Poppins were real and she could come over” fantasy). He started to say “One Mommy, two mommies….” then stopped and said “Wait, there is only One Mommy” and my heart went thunk thunk and that was just it.
As Bridget Jones (the books, not the movies) would say: “Keep Buggering On”.