We finally made it. It is Spring Break! My children’s school district had a late Spring Break this year, and we have made it. No, we won’t be traveling. We won’t even be going to stay with my parents in the country, where we normally spend a week fishing, kayaking, and just enjoying family time. We will be home this year. AND we will have a week off from this new experience of online education that my kids are having to adapt.
And let me tell you, it is a struggle.
We have four children. Four different schools. And fifteen teachers that directly work with my babies... including gifted teachers, SPED teachers, switch classes.... I can’t even keep up with the titles. Can I just say how very grateful I am for these teachers?! I have always been incredibly thankful for the love that they show my babies every single day. I am also so grateful for the magical powers that they must possess to get these babies to actually get their work done and even learn. I can barely get two of mine to brush their teeth every day! And we live in a wonderful school district with amazing staff and support.
But y’all. I just can’t anymore.
You see, as a Therapist, I spend all day every day talking to people about their lives and their feelings. And for the last month, the predominant subject has been related to stress around the COVID-19 pandemic. I am probably working more now than my pre-Coronavirus life.
But now, I also have all FOUR children at home.
And the emails. Lord help me with the emails. I get emails from all. The. Teachers. All. The. Time. Like, reminders to login to ReadWorks, Clever, Epic, Zoom, Google Classroom, Google Docs, Dojo, and their own email accounts. My nine year old gets emails from his teacher about his assignments. He doesn’t even know what an email account is when I tell him to “check your email for your assignments.”
And don’t even get me started on the Zoom meetings. While it is a wonderful and amazing gift of technology that my kids can see their classmates and their teachers, it is also a major juggle for this working mom of multiple children to keep up with the assignments, messages, emails, and schedule of Zoom meetings. My three year old even had a Zoom meeting today! (Really this was super sweet and adorable, but was the 6th Zoom meeting this week for my kids aka ME.)
Meanwhile at “the office,” which has been virtual for a month now as well, I am talking to clients who have directly been affected by the virus, are worried about family members, are scared and anxious for their financial futures, scared of losing businesses or homes, stuck at home with unkind spouses, overwhelmed with their children’s behavior, some falling back into depression that they had made so much progress getting out of, and even some with suicidal thoughts. I sit with them and hold the space to remind them that it is ok to not be ok. To let them know that it is ok to feel overwhelmed. That we all feel that way. That this is HARD. And when things are hard and stressful, we often struggle with our emotions. Because they are a lot to carry.
And I hear from clients and friends who are teachers in many different districts and states, and they are under so much pressure. They are being paid, but are getting so much pressure from their districts to document and essentially prove that they are actually doing something to justify their pay. And I am certain that school districts push this based out of their own fears that the government monies might be taken back.
Some schools print packets of work to send home with students and hope for the best, and some kids haven’t even logged in once because they do not have computers or WiFi. And that is OK.
I have come to this realization, and want to be really clear:
We are not Homeschooling. We are at home, sheltering in place during a crisis. We are trying to give our kids reminders of a normal life during an abnormal time.
And you are allowed to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of it all.
Maybe the next time you or I get an email from a teacher or administrator asking for a report or for a child to log in to something, we will just take a breath. And then another. And then let it go.
I will continue to feel grateful for the teachers of this world.
And I will also choose to let go of the pressure that I have been feeling to keep up with the schooling of my children during a world health crisis.
There are huge lessons in life to be learned from this experience that will shape our lives and history forever, but I am pretty sure that my kids won’t be learning about it by logging into their Chrome-books.
You know the ones you see scrolling through your Facebook feed, where we laugh hysterically at someone slipping on ice or tripping over their own two feet.
As a society, we seem to love these snippets where others are shown as flawed human beings. On one hand, we could judge this as “I’m horrible for getting this much joy from some other person’s misfortune.”
However. The other side of this (and the one I like to believe is more accurate) is that we identify and connect with others who err and fall flat on their faces. Literally and metaphorically.
As therapists, we work with people who grapple with the idea that they are supposed to meet some expectation set on them by various people and environments throughout their lifetime. Those with anxiety and depression in particular will beat themselves up for being unable to keep plans with friends or meet basic self-care needs everyday. The thought process for this is usually something along the lines of, “What is wrong me with, why can’t I get myself together? Everyone else around me seems to be just fine.” We compare and contrast our shortcomings to people who may not have the same setbacks or experiences as we do. We hide away physically and emotionally to avoid having our errors used against us by others.
Stop me if this is sounding familiar.
I stop here because before going through my own therapy, those self-defeating thought patterns ran rampant through my head. I would beat the hell out of myself for not being able to hold things together that weren’t even close to realistic for where I was in my life. The thought pattern specifically was, “If I can just be perfect for everyone and everything, then nothing can go wrong.”
I think about it now and imagine my Higher Power doubled over in laughter at my part of this cognitive fail video. Because I would guess that simultaneously the people around me experienced similar thoughts and wouldn’t share out of that same fear.
My favorite thing I’ve learned to share with my clients is the idea that the idea of “perfection” is a load of crap. Those expectations are not our own to carry any longer, and the goal is to set healthy realistic expectations for where we are in life and recovery.
Over the past two years, I’ve stumbled (haha punny) upon the work of author and researcher Brene Brown. One of my favorite quotes from her happens to be, “The last thing we need in the midst of our struggle is shame for being human.”
I want to offer others what was gifted to me as I became a therapist: the power of the phrase “I’ve been there, and I hear your hurt. I’m here for the healing too.”
Because in a social media run world of “perfect” bodies and lifestyles, what we really need to see to help us have genuine relationships with others are those failures and stresses. What helps get us through the rough patches is not being held to unattainable generalized standards, but rather to share in another’s struggle and know we’re not alone.
Even if it’s as simple as a video showing us we’re not the only ones who trip up now and then.
Ten years ago, I was newly married and celebrating my first Christmas with my husband. I poured over Christmas magazines (before the days of Pinterest) and obsessed about what I wanted my tree and decorations to look like. I was determined that everything would coordinate and look just so, despite our limited means. My gifts were painstakingly wrapped and I spent hours making the perfect bows to go on top.
Fast forward to present day, and I now have a dying real tree decorated (because we apparently didn't water it properly) with whatever decorations we could find in the ornament boxes (because when you have a baby mid-November of the previous year, you just aren't that good at getting them all packed up correctly). Gifts are mostly wrapped and a few even have ribbon on them, but I am one Target trip away from buying those pre-made stick-on bows that my former self would NEVER have used in a million zillion years. Oh, and I can't even find our stockings from last year. (Dollar Tree, here I come!)
In my private practice, I mostly work with adult women who struggle with the things most women struggle with... depression, anxiety, parenting challenges, self esteem, and stress in general. In the last month, it also seems that we have had the same general theme of challenges that they are all facing, which I believe is pretty universal.
"We do not have to compete with anyone, including our past selves."
Who you were 10 years ago, or 1 year ago, is not who you have to be today. We are often our own worst critic. Really, who is that worried about how your tree looks? Or how many decorations you have outside? Likely the only person worried about that stuff is YOU. And if there is someone that judgemental or that actually pays attention to those details, I would say that it probably says a lot more about THEM than it does about you.
Stop comparing yourself to others or what you used to do. Get off of Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook. Let. It. Go.
In this short time left before Christmas, focus on the things that you want out of the holiday. Do you want your kids to remember moments they had with you, or how mom used the fancy china and wouldn't let them touch anything? Now if fancy china is your thing, I am not knocking it... more power to you. I am just saying that it is not required to have a special Christmas with you family. Try to focus more on the moments that make things special. Ask your kids what they would enjoy doing with you or the family. Maybe they want to make cookies (and a mess). Maybe they want to sit in their PJ's and watch Christmas movies all day. The point is that Christmas and the holidays are about what you want them to be, not what Southern Living says is the new trend in garland.
Take a moment and think about what you want to remember about the holidays and let that idea be your goal. Pin that image in your mind and focus on that.
With this in mind, you can let go of a lot of the stress and pressures we place on ourselves to have that perfect Instagram post and just enjoy the moments. Find some time to take care of yourself (think snugly socks, cozy blankets, bubble bath, or just quiet devotional time with coffee). And most importantly, let go of the comparisons. Keep your joy at home with you where it belongs.
"Take a moment and think about what you want to remember about the holidays and let that idea be your goal. Pin that image in your mind and focus on that."
Last night I attended a wake for a 7 year old little girl from my community. She had attended the same school my boys attend, and had been in the same class with my 8 year old. Her parents have been dealing with the unimaginable... having a child diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that is inoperable and incurable and fatal. She lived 8 months after her diagnosis in February of 2017. And while my heart feels that it is literally breaking inside me as I empathize for her parents and family, I also am faced with how to talk to my 8 and 6 year olds about death, dying, and even worse... a CHILD DYING. I realized that while these conversations are so terrible and difficult to have, they are also incredibly profound and impactful to a child's life. They are also substantive of how my children will now understand the cycle of life and how we deal with these things.
Research and experience tells us that children adapt to major life changes (moving, divorce, loss) in direct correlation to how the parent(s) adapt to the same changes. So as a parent, if I am hysterically crying day in and day out about a major adjustment in my life, odds are that my child or children will also begin to show some type of emotional reaction (whether that be acting out or even withdrawal). With this in mind, you would ideally be able to appropriately express your own concern and emotion about the issue while talking to your child.
I realized as I sat down with my boys to talk about Sophia's illness and then later her passing, that there are a lot of other moms and dads having this very same talk in my community this week. After talking to a few other mom friends, I also realized that some of them had not had that talk with their child because they were scared and really didn't know what or how to say it. I am including here a few tips on how to talk to your child about death and dying, or really about any difficult topic.
1. TIMING: Find a time that is calm and is normally a "safe" time for open conversation with your child. Maybe this is at bedtime after reading a book. Maybe it is in the car while carpooling. The important thing is to pick a time when you know that you have your child's attention and can talk about important things.
2. WORDING: Use words that are age and developmentally appropriate. An 8 year old and a 4 year old are going to have very different levels of understanding in the world, so you want to present information to them that they can understand. Younger children usually do best with more concrete information.
3. EXPLANATION: Explain things in the most simplistic terms that you can. For example, for my 6 year old I was able to say, "Sophia got very sick in her brain. This sickness doesn't happen very often and not many children ever get sick like Sophia. Her mind and her heart are ok but her brain is sick so it is telling her body not to work anymore."
4. COMFORT: As I mentioned earlier, children grasp things best when given information in concrete terms. Often, the comforting words that we give them does more to comfort us as adults than it does for the kids. I do recommend that you give some kind of comforting statement based on your own understanding and belief system.
With both of my boys, I was able to explain that Sophia's brain was sick and telling her body not to work anymore, but now her heart and mind can go be with Jesus, and He can heal her body in Heaven. They were obviously sad about this, but also were comforted to know that she is in Heaven and feels no more pain.
5. EMOTION: Remember that there are no wrong feelings or emotions. Your child might become sad when you explain this, or also might appear ambivalent or flippant about it. That does not mean they are heartless and do not care, it just means that sometimes kids process information in different ways and different time frames. You might spend 15 minutes presenting your well prepared speech, and your child might say, "Wow, that is really sad." But then your child might move on and not talk about it again immediately. No matter what their response, it is ok. Just be prepared that your child might come back to you later once they have processed it and have more questions later.
6. BE PRESENT: Most importantly, be present for your child. Be the one that talks to them about this, and don't let them hear upsetting news at school or at a friend's house. Be the one they know they can come to when they are sad or upset about something difficult. If you are present, listen to their thoughts and feelings, and share openly with them about your own feelings, you will create authentic and loving moments of communication that will foster attachment and closeness to you, which is what your child needs most when dealing with life changes.
If you have any questions or thoughts or concerns and you would like to share them wth me, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo By: Frank McKenna
Often I see couples and individuals who struggle to communicate in their relationships. Usually, the issue is that they do not feel like their partner hears them, and when they communicate it usually leads to arguments and each of them becoming defensive. But most people communicate by trying to make a point with the other person... "You said blah blah, so I got mad." Or, "if you would just stop blah blah, then I wouldn't feel hurt." The problem is not so much the content of what they are talking about, but rather the delivery.
Sometimes just changing the approach to the way you communicate can change the outcome of the conversation.
I usually encourage people to use "I Statements" when they communicate with others. Often the content of what they are saying is the same, but by simply changing how they say it, their partner can suddenly hear them more effectively. (This doesn't necessarily mean they will agree with them, but simply promotes being heard.)
Instead of starting a sentence with "You did...", simply change that to "I hear you say, I feel..." or "When I see you do this, I think..."
The most important element is to communicate what YOU think and how YOU feel.
This is how you share your emotions without your partner becoming instantly defensive. It also helps you be more open and vulnerable in your relationship, which is what leads to improved intimacy.
1. Acknowledge what you have observed. "When I hear you say..."
2. Identify what your thoughts are on the observation.
3. Identify what your feelings are on the observation or event.
4. Ask for what you want in the future or desired change.
I am including on the site a free printable to walk you through exactly how to use "I Statements" in your relationships! Please let me know how it works for you!