The Skyswing over Rotorua, New Zealand
It’s one of those truths that have become a cliché: having children challenges and changes you. I’ve changed in many ways thanks to the boys pushing emotional buttons and exhausting me to the point of raw survival. I’ve faced many a demon I didn’t know was lurking in my psyche. Those I expected, although the extent of it all still surprises me. This new place is a bit of a shock.
My latest evolutionary leap is to become brave around physical challenges.
I was the girl who would read rather than just about anything. I played with cut-dolls and made up plays and dances, I built indoor huts and had umpteen projects on the go. I did swim, climb a little, build dams and ride horses but I never really pushed my limits, not really. I kept myself safe. I was an expert at that. And then I had three sons who like to do stuff.
Suddenly, I’m in largish surf being a support Mum at a beach camp. I’m swinging on some revolting swing above a hill slope in which you have to be strapped with a harness and you look down directly at the ground from swear-inducing heights. I luge. I hike through bush where there are no other people and try not to think about abductions and falls while we’re out of cell-phone range. I’m jumping off river banks and wharfs from three or four metres up.
And I’m still scared witless. At least in the beginning.
Then I do the thing and repeating it is O.K. Sometimes multiple repeats of challenges are asked of me. Sometimes I allow myself to be convinced. Those boys have a way of parroting me back to me.
“You can do it.”
“We’ll be so proud of you.”
“It’s really fun!”
“Don’t psyche yourself out.”
“Do it when you’re ready.”
“You don’t have to, but I think you’ll regret it if you don’t.”
“Do you need a hug?”
“Let’s do it together.”
“Just go for it.”
And the really annoying one that I say all the time : “You feel brave after doing the scary thing.”
And so I have luged when I would rather have sat and had coffee. I’ve been in the surf when wine in a pretty dress was more my style. I swung on that horrendous swing. I jump off the river bank and the wharf. And you know what, they’re right. I feels good to be brave. And it really does happen after you do the scary thing. I expect they’ll continue to encourage me to do the stuff I don’t want to do and that’s pretty awesome because I’m an old mum and my kids want to do stuff with me. Then they’ll leave me and I suspect those will be some of my favourite memories around parenting.
Have you done anything physically brave thanks to the encouragement of your children? Tell us about it.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Karyn Wills of New Zealand. Photo credit: www.loveoftheroad.wordpress.com (The Skyswing over Rotorua, New Zealand)
As a single mom, Christmas has become bitter-sweet. This year I had to say goodbye to my children at 10.30am on the 25th and I won’t be seeing them again until early January. They are home for a few days and then they leave for another 10 days or so.
I’ve always loved Christmas time. As well as the anticipation of gifts and an extravagance of food, for us in New Zealand, it coincides with the start of our long summer holidays. The whole year seems to build to these weeks of swimming, beach walks, late nights and relaxation, time with friends and time with extended family. The time to make memories.
Now I am separated, my kids make many of their summer memories without me.
It’s hard enough to say goodbye to ones children on Christmas Day but, like many solo-parents, I also had to send them off to a situation which is often emotionally fraught and where the dynamics of the extended family are erratic and often volatile. On the other hand, their Dad loves them and they will have plenty of opportunities for fun and adventure, and they will (mostly) look out for one another.
I swing in my emotions around them parenting one another. I would much rather they didn’t have to do so but siblings have looked out for each other for generations, and were possibly closer and more mature for those experiences. I have seen these changes in my boys after other stretches of time away. Not what I would choose but not all bad.
My eldest is not quite 14 and my middle son is 10.5 years-old, like most siblings, they can be pretty awful to one another at home or the best of friends. These two have high emotional-intelligence and with them I have spent weeks, on and off, discussing strategies for managing different scenarios. They can Skype me whenever they want to and have safe people and safe places they can get themselves to, if the dynamics become overwhelming or feel unsafe for them. So, although I would rather they didn’t have to manage without me, I know that they can.
But my baby is only six. He just wants his Mum with him and, if unpleasant situations arise, he is too young to make sense of what is happening. I was with the older boys over previous summer breaks and could decipher situations for them. There were times when they were simply misinterpreting adult conversations, like all children do sometimes. Other times I needed to protect them from vitriol; explain mean jokes; counteract misogynistic or racist comments; or balance out blatant favoritism. I’m not there to do that for him and that is very hard on my heart.
The older boys will do what they can to help him but they are still not fully grown themselves and, quite frankly, there will be times that they don’t want to. On their return, I can talk him through things, be firm around any learned behaviors I am not happy with, and I can hug most of his broken pieces back into place. I can be his safe-place. It’s not ideal but it’s okay.
Big picture – we work better as a family with two homes. My heart hurts but the bigger part of me knows it’s the best situation overall. The reality is, I need this time to rest and be alone; I am a much better parent and person for these breaks. The boys are loved, and they will be having fun and lots of wonderful experiences. But the Mommy – guilt is big all the same and – I miss my kids.
Have you had times of Mommy-guilt? How did you manage it?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our writer and mother of three boys in New Zealand, Karyn Van Der Zwet.
Photo credit to the author.
Last week, my six year-old threw a very loud, very intense and very public tantrum. He threw it because I said, No, to a treat that I wasn’t prepared to buy for him. And yes, I did explain why I said, No.
My saying, No, is not a new experience for him. He is familiar with the word and knows what it means. He is intelligent and articulate and understood my reasons for saying, No. I wasn’t too bothered by his outburst. I knew he would get through it and we would be on good terms again by the time we reached home. What was fascinating, to me, was other people’s reactions.
I really, really wish more people understood than these willful tantrums, what I’ve always called Processing Tantrums operate the same as the mourning process. It’s a process to be supported through, not stopped in some way to make me or others feel better.
My son, while in public, was initially in the Denial and then Anger and Bargaining stages. Like the mourning process, he oscillated between them but, because I held the, No, position but was emotionally as supportive as he would allow – mostly through calm words as he wouldn’t let me touch him – by the time we were five minutes away from the store, he hit the Sad stage and a minute later was in Acceptance.
But of course, the people in the store never saw those bits. They just saw the screaming and defiant child and drew their own conclusions. Most kept their opinions to themselves. Some were verbally supportive toward me or used body-language to show they understood. One woman meant very well but managed to irritate me more than the six year-old tantrum.
She told me not to be embarrassed. And seemed quite shocked when I said I wasn’t in the slightest bit embarrassed. Not one ounce of embarrassment was felt by me.
My children are not me. I am not my children and I am certainly not my children’s behaviors. My children are well nurtured, well fed, get loads of sleep, explore and take risks often, have great rituals and firm boundaries. I do my job of parenting them to the best of my ability and they’re turning out just fine.
Their job is to use me as their home base. Their job is to seek comfort from me when they choose to do so. Their job is to move away from me as they desire, at their own pace, in varying amounts as they are so driven. Their job is to learn that things don’t always go their way but they can survive that process and be, not only okay but also have a better understanding of their world and how to reasonably accommodate others, when it’s all over. Their job is to complete the mourning process when they hear that word, No.
I hate to think what would happen if my boys did not learn to properly process, now as children, with my support and understanding. Would they end up being abusive partners because they couldn’t respect the personal boundaries of others? Would they think they were above the law? Would they end up depressed because they got low grades, for what is a low grade but A. Would they stop taking chances and blame everything and everyone else in the world for their inadequacies? I suspect they would. I know plenty of adults who have these characteristics in their personalities.
So, if you see my boys throwing tantrums be assured I am comfortable with the short-term stress of supporting them through those times. They are processing.
I believe it’s worth the short-term pain for the long-term gain of raising kids with character. Their anti-social moments are not their permanent states.
And, really, truly, any tantrums they throw do not embarrass me. I am not my children’s behavior. I am their mother and their lighthouse.
Have you ever had a child tantrum in public? How was that for you? How did other people react?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Karyn Wills of Napier, New Zealand.
Photo Credit to Mindaugas Danys
With no definitive family religion, it’s been one of my conscious parenting decisions to create and maintain family rituals on which my kids can hang their memories.
One that began five years ago, when my youngest was just over a year old, was sleeping in the lounge (family room) for a night. It’s one of those times the kids love, and I enjoy because they get so much pleasure from it. It’s a little event, in the picture of raising them, but it’s become really important for our sense of togetherness.
Last night, we had our first sleep in the lounge in our new home. To tell the truth, I’d been avoiding it. I’ve been working three part-time jobs for the past few months and our clocks have just changed to Daylight Savings Time, here, in New Zealand. Being a solo parent has been fine, but it requires a lot of concentration, no zoning-out hoping that someone else will share the load: there is no-one else around.
I was exhausted and in need of the best night’s sleep I could get. But it’s also school holidays and if it hadn’t happened now, it was unlikely we’d have it before Christmas.
The boys were great, they organised a queen sized mattress for the youngest and I, and pulled out piles of duvets and pillows. The excitement level was high, and there were no complaints about wifi turning off and devices going away. The fun began with pillow fights and giggles, wrestling, cold feet being placed on the warm backs and stomachs of others and, eventually, somehow, naked boys and intense belly-laughs.
It was fun. Great fun. And I could feel the sense of comradeship increase over that half hour or so. Then I turned out the lights and called a halt to the shenanigans.
We began to chat in the dark. I told them anything said would be held in confidence and was not to leave the room. I asked the first question: “What scares you and what excites you?” My eldest followed up with, “What’s a thorn from this week and a rose from this week?” These were great starters, all three responded openly and age-appropriately. As did I. Then the magic happened.
I asked my boys if there was anything I needed to know.
Their responses to that were phenomenal: open, vulnerable, honest and real. Their authenticity blew me away and long after they were all sleeping, I lay awake considering what they had shared. It truly was one of those big moments in life.
And when three alarms went off at 6.30am I found I had slept the best I had all week. Go figure.
Do you have family rituals? Have you had small events that have turned out to be big moments in your parenting?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Karyn Wills of Napier, New Zealand.
Image credit to World Moms Blog.
I didn’t have a bad marriage.
I wasn’t beaten or mistreated.
My ex never had an affair.
Money stressors were manageable.
We rarely argued.
To the outside world we seemed absolutely fine. But we weren’t.
It was, for me, an intensely sad marriage. And for a long time I couldn’t work out why. Here was a perfectly pleasant man who wished me well and who responded to my affection. He worked hard and was what most of us would call a “good guy”. He still is. But my self-esteem was dropping and my mood was becoming a habitual mix of frustration and melancholy.
It was one of those slow drifts downwards, like water eroding rock.
Then, around 10 years ago, he was diagnosed with something call Alexithymia. It’s not a mental disorder but more of a fixed personality trait. It’s common in those formally on the autism spectrum, in those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorders and in some of us with attachment issues from our early childhood.
Basically, anyone with Alexithymia cannot identify the bodily sensations that go along with their emotions. They still have the same sensations but are unable to distinguish between them and label them. They also have a very limited imaginative life, which sounds fine, until you realise predicting outcomes and taking steps to avoid the less desirable ones, are in fact, a product of our imagination.
These two issues give rise to a deep lack of empathy and ability to relate to another human being. Sympathy –the intellectual understanding of the experience of another–can happen but the actual feeling of an emotion, as another has it, in the sense of true empathy, cannot.
For me, this meant I would have to be sobbing in front of my ex before he understood I was sad, and then have to tell him to give me a hug, as the appropriate response. He did not mean to be uncaring. He just never understood subtle body language or had the instinctive responses that most of us have.
There are always three choices in a situation: To alter it; to put up with it; or to leave.
For many years I did my best to see if things could change. I offered to go back to work, so he could get therapy. I suggested counselling, on more than one occasion. None of these offers were ever taken up.
The more I read about Alexithymia, the more I realised… I would never be taken up on any of these. People with Alexithymia see the rest of us as over-emotional and confusing. They cannot see why they would leave their completely logical realms. Their idea of a perfect partner is a kind body in the house with whom there is as little emotional deviation and routines are maintained – this was exactly what our marriage was.
As time went by, I became increasingly distant and detached. At times, I became unpleasant and down right bitchy. Then, around three years ago, someone asked me what made me happy. And I couldn’t tell them. From being someone who was a perpetual optimist, I was by then emotionally dead – aside from experiencing frustration and melancholy. It was a massive wake up call and I knew something had to change.
It did take three years for me to be ready. There is a comfort in familiarity that is enticing. But in the end, my physical body was beginning to suffer, my older boys were finding the emotional disconnect from their father tough going and the other side of the leap to leave seemed less stressful than staying.
I am sure I was by no means the perfect partner either. But I share this here because these are immensely lonely and soul-destroying relationships to be in – and many who are in them either think they are going crazy or that they are the only ones ever to have this experience or some combination of both. But neither are true.
You’re not crazy. You’re not alone. The shell of the outside relationship that the world sees is not the whole story.
Have you ever known someone with Alexithymia? Tell us your tale.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our long-time contributor and mother to three in New Zealand, Karyn Sparkles Willis.
The image used in this post is attributed to Nathan Jones. It carries a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.