parenting

A birthday gift for a beautiful mother

Someone very dear to me is celebrating her birthday today. She is a mother of two beautiful boys and she is tired. Her boys are two years old and six months. She is in the thick of it. The “dark days” as many of us who are on the other side of the baby/toddler season of life refer to it. (Do we? Just me? That’s fine. I fully admit that they were dark, indeed.) She is a working mother (aren’t we all?) who is raising two, very small, young humans during a global pandemic. Calling it “uncertain times” seems to be vastly understating this experience. This brave mother is nurturing her children, giving it all she has, every. damn. day. Today is her birthday and I found myself wondering, what would she want? What could I possibly give her that could help her during this immensely challenging season of her life? I can make a joke and say, “hope the baby gives you an extra hour or two of of sleep for your birthday!” <chuckle, chuckle> But, that definitely feels flat and, honestly, absurd. The one thing I wish I had had when I was in my “dark days” was grace. Grace for myself was definitely not at the top of my whirling mind. It’s so easy to forget yourself amid the constant demands of motherhood and ignore your own basic needs.

Maybe, if we look at life like a three act story, childhood and young adulthood are Act 1, where we learn about the characters and what experiences shaped their identity. Act 2 is the dark night of the soul. The low point of the whole production. You know, that Ted Lasso Season 2 feeling. What makes it so hard is that we forget there is going to be an Act 3. That final season when we can see how the characters come out of the dark days and into the light with their new knowing. Forever changed. That is parenthood. You go into it so excited and giddy to have a sweet cuddly baby you have been longing for. You’re then immediately rocked to your core as you experience sleepless nights, trips to the ER, emotional meltdowns, and food ending up everywhere but in that growing human’s body. You’re bleary eyed and feel confused and alone because we don’t talk enough about how normal this is. Yes, our IG feeds are full of the cute outfits and posed photos with the loveliest filters. There should be a RealGram for parents to join in solidarity. Images of spit up covered shirts, messy rooms with the floor strewn with brightly colored plastic, sinks overflowing with breakfast and lunch dishes, dust bunnies, under eye circles, sticky hands, and tears.

Self-Compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.”

Kristen Neff

Kristen Neff has done research on self-compassion and lists the following as necessary elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. I think my RealGram app might not be as pretty as your regular IG feed, but it would allow us to connect through the shared humanity of the messiness of parenting. And, wow, is it ever messy. If there is one universal experience of motherhood, I’d put money on it being this: “I am so bad at this.” So, maybe it would hit a little different, scrolling through everyone else’s mess, but I do think sharing it out loud more often would help us all feel less alone and maybe more lovable and worthy. Just letting go of the need to always make it look easy and breezy. We all know it is not breezy. There is power in the vulnerability of speaking truth to not feeling like an amazing mother. I don’t think there has ever, in the history of motherhood, been a mother who just flips her hair and says, “Oh, motherhood? Easy, right? I’m totally crushing it. My kids are so well-adjusted, it’s almost boring.”

Motherhood is hard and beautiful. It is both. Always. Maybe that is because life is hard and beautiful. It is a shared human experience.

My birthday wish for you is that you can look into your beautiful heart where you keep all that amazing love for those tiny boys and their father and find some reserved just for you. I promise there is enough. You have an enormous heart with a capacity to give so much. For your birthday, and all the days you tread this earth, give yourself permission to give yourself as much love as you think your boys are worth. You are worth the same. Being a mother doesn’t make your value less, in fact it multiplies. For all those sweet people you love so dearly, they love you just as much, if not more. They might not be able to fully express it yet, but those sweet eyes look at you like you hung the moon and the stars and, as far as they are concerned, you most certainly did. They need you. A full you, all that you are, exactly as you are because you are exactly the mother they were meant to have. So when you feel like you just don’t have any more to give, don’t. Pause and give yourself back the same love you would give to them if they were feeling as you are in that moment. Love you as much as they love you and you love them. Fiercely, unapologetically, and with armfuls of grace.

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection.”

Brené Brown

I love you and I wish for you a beautiful day filled with all that you love. Especially you.

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

With love from this mother’s heart to yours,

Elizabeth

parenting, school psychology

What School Psychologists Know about Difficult Emotions

A trend I have observed in recent years is the increase in the amount of times I make a note in my behavioral observations along the lines of: “demonstrated a low frustration tolerance”. I have also heard more and more from teachers I work with about students who refuse to try new or difficult tasks and will just sit and do nothing unless someone is sitting with them providing constant support. I can’t help but wonder if part of this trend is related to our reluctance, as millennial parents, to let our children experience frustration or other tough emotions.  Perhaps we are too quick to distract a child away from pain or difficulty and swoop in and rescue them from all the yucky feelings we hate to see our children experience.

I’ll be the first one to admit that watching my children cry is The. Worst. It kills a small part of my heart every time. I actually feel the muscle cells expire. Really. It’s bad. But, what I know to be true about feelings, is that we have to feel them all. If we are going to experience joy we also have to be able to sit with our sadness. Dr. Brene Brown says it best with the following quote from The Gifts of Imperfection :

pexels-photo-130111

So in case you were wondering how a School Psychologist takes this message home, here is an illustration for you. When my daughter is melting down about something (usually something pretty minor, but to her it’s huge), I let her get upset. Sure, I could swoop in and figure out a way to move her from the feeling more quickly, but most of the time I don’t. I say something like, “I can see you are feeling really disappointed that you didn’t win this game.” or “I know it’s hard when we are doing fun things and we have to stop to go to bed.” or “I know you get frustrated when you really want to wear the purple dress, but it is in the wash so you have to choose another one.” Like I said, not major problems, easily solvable problems. Could I pull the dress out and get it to her sooner? Sure. Could I have faked my last move and let her win at Candy Land? Of course. But unfortunately for my children, I am a School Psychologist. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I also experience a small amount of happiness in these moments because I really do appreciate being able to walk with her through these experiences in a safe space. Saving her from these feelings would rob her of the opportunity to learn that she has the strength to feel these difficult emotions. She can do it and I can sit with her through it and be there if she needs me.  I believe and trust that she is strong enough to endure sadness and frustration and come out the other side. One of my favorite scenes from the Pixar movie, Inside Out is when Bing Bong sits with Sadness.

sadness

I cried like a baby the first time I saw it looking at my husband saying, “You have to sit with the sadness! We all have to sit with the sadness!” What an amazing illustration of what we all must do sometimes even when it is hard and we long for distractions. It is a gift to our children when we allow them to experience sadness or frustration  in a safe space at home where we can offer support as they move through it.

Here are some simple tips to help you sit with your child through difficult feelings.

  • Always keep an even and neutral tone of voice. Be the strong supportive guide they need without getting too caught up in the feelings you are experiencing.
  • Provide feedback on what you are observing:
    • “This is hard for your right now. It looks like you are feeling very sad about this.”
  • Be available to offer support or space and follow their lead.
    • “Do you need some space?”  If they indicate they do or push away, that’s ok, just remind them, “I’m here when you are ready.” and check up every few minutes.
    • If you are noticing your child might need your presence ask for clarification: “Do you feel like you need a hug?” “Would you like for me to sit with you?” “Should we take some deep breaths to help us feel better?”

Most of the time our children move through the tough feelings much quicker than we expect. When we give them permission to feel difficult emotions, we avoid fighting against them and giving them more power. The more we can equip our kids with the strength and tools to move through it, the more efficient they become at navigating difficult situations. You are setting them up for a lifetime of resilience and strength. When they have moved on and are playing happily and independently you can take your own deep breaths and trust that you did an amazing job.