BELGIUM: Coucou, One Mom’s Battle with Depression

BELGIUM: Coucou, One Mom’s Battle with Depression

black-flagsToday is my birthday but I don’t feel the need to celebrate.

It’s not about getting older. I don’t mind adding years to my curriculum. The years and some grey hairs might actually help to finally getting profiled as a mature scientist.

It’s about celebrating life. My life. I don’t feel like I should celebrate it while I’m going under in yet another episode of depression.

It has been two years since I was diagnosed with severe depression. I guess my reluctance to celebrate my birthday means I still haven’t come to terms with it. I’ve had therapy. I’m taking my meds. And still depression lurks around the corner. I loathe it. Depression makes me loath depression. At least thàt part makes sense.

But then there’s my children. They are my everything. They are the reason I’m holding on while giving up. I don’t struggle to take care of myself for me. I take care of myself for them. Depression or not, I’m still their mother. And I feel incredibly guilty about that.

I often feel I should never have decided to have children, let alone adopt a child. I worry about not providing a stabile environment for them to grow up in. I worry about transfering my lability to them. I worry about pushing them away from me when I’m over and out. I worry a lot.

In turn, they both worry about me.

My 9-year old son is the most worried and gets really affectionate when he sees I’m going through yet another rough patch. He doesn’t like to talk about it, but he does want to understand. My 7-year old daughter on the other hand, likes to tell everyone about her mom who is a bit coucou. She likes to talk about depression a lot.

So I talked to them about depression. I referred to it as the black balloon, and added some details as they grew older. They know some wires in my head are not connected as they should. That information is not coming in the right way. That I need to rest a lot to heal. That I’m in fact, yes, a bit coucou.

I also told them that it is still OK to laugh at me when I’m so utterly confused that I lose at every board game. That it’s all right and maybe even fun to instruct me on how to cook diner. And most importantly that I still love them with every inch of my coucou head.

Even on my birthday.

How do you feel about ‘combining’ mental illness with motherhood? Do you talk about mental illness with your children?

This is an original post for World Moms Network by K10K in Belgium. The picture is credited to the author.

K10K

If you ask her about her daytime job, K10K will tell you all about the challenge of studying microbes in extreme environments, going from the deep underground to outer space. Her most demanding and rewarding job however is raising the Penguin and the Panther, her seven and five year old little rascals. The Penguin grew in her belly, turned out very, very white and wants to become a meteorite examiner, fireman and artist. The Panther grew in her heart, had quite, quite dark skin and wants to become a teacher, mother of thirteen babies and famous musician. Together they provide most of the feed for her blog, The Penguin and The Panther, but they are also the primary cause of why she struggles to find the energy for writing anything lately...

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BELGIUM: Keeping A Secret

BELGIUM: Keeping A Secret

Secret_K10KSecrets. I believe they’re important. Especially for children.

When I think about adults with secrets, I mostly imagine sadness, nasty stuff or crime. Mostly sadness though. Actually, I don’t even know if I have big or little secrets myself. Probably not. I’ll have to think about it.

But a child with a secret, I absolutely love that. It’s touching and a little bit nostalgic. It makes me think about the candy I once hid under our beech tree, savouring one every once in a while, including the black sand it was buried in. My secret treasure…

My two children, they share a secret. The youngest however, age 7, is absolutely terrible at keeping secrets. At Mother’s Day, she has never made anything, especially not for me, and I shouldn’t go looking behind the couch at all. Oh, and it doesn’t have hearts all over it. That kind of terrible. She just adores sharing inside knowledge. And now she has to keep a secret.

Yesterday, she almost told me, while we were driving home from school. It was a school secret, completely fresh and just begging to be shared with the world. Or at least with me. Her big brother was just in time to keep her from giving it away.

When we got home, she whispered she would tell me later, when her brother was not there. Now that was quite a difficult parenting moment for me.

You need to know that I am a terribly curious person. It makes me who I am. I could never be a mail woman. All those closed letters, never knowing what is inside, what the story is behind that stamp, whether it is good news or not: my fingers would itch all the time. At least as a scientist, I can give in to that natural curiosity and the urge to reveal secrets.

That day, I had to grit my teeth and be a mother, not a scientist. I told her she was not allowed to tell me their secret. I explained to her that it is important for siblings to have little secrets, so they learn to trust each other. I did tell her she could tell me the secret if it was about something dangerous or something which didn’t feel right to her.

I ended my little speech by telling her I didn’t want to know their little secret anyway.

She didn’t believe that last bit. This daughter of mine is less naive than I am.

But she did walk away without spilling the secret. I’m not sure which one of us had the hardest time at that.

It has been five weeks and I still don’t know what it was about.

It’s killing me.

How do you feel about your children keeping secrets? Do you think it is important for them or do you fear they will also keep less innocent secrets when they grow up?

This is an original post to World Moms Network by K10K. Photo credit: Lisa M Photography. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

 

K10K

If you ask her about her daytime job, K10K will tell you all about the challenge of studying microbes in extreme environments, going from the deep underground to outer space. Her most demanding and rewarding job however is raising the Penguin and the Panther, her seven and five year old little rascals. The Penguin grew in her belly, turned out very, very white and wants to become a meteorite examiner, fireman and artist. The Panther grew in her heart, had quite, quite dark skin and wants to become a teacher, mother of thirteen babies and famous musician. Together they provide most of the feed for her blog, The Penguin and The Panther, but they are also the primary cause of why she struggles to find the energy for writing anything lately...

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BELGIUM: Kungfu Adoption

BELGIUM: Kungfu Adoption

Despicable Me. Mr Peabody and Sherman. Meet the Robinsons. Annie. Tangled. Mowgli. Kungfu Panda.

Adoption – or the search for roots and heritage – seems a very recurrent and strong theme in children’s movies and tales. I guess it has to do with the struggle each child goes through, when exploring her identity and finding her place in an increasingly bigger world while she grows up. Who hasn’t fantasized, once, about being adopted and actually being royalty, or an adventurer’s kid? We wanted to have a strong heritage, because it would radiate on us. We would be strong and shiny and extraordinary too. Or we just wished for those other parents who would never ever make us go to bed at  eight pm or force us to eat broccoli soup.

As an adoptive parent, I try to carefully probe for my daughter’s feelings about the adoption-themed movies she loves to watch. We are very open about her adoption, but it’s not like we organize family discussions around the theme. We just make sure she knows she can talk to us about anything, including her feelings about being adopted.

The movies help her to grasp the complex feelings she has about her adoption-status. She loves us, but she misses her birth mother. She feels loved, but also rejected. She belongs in Belgium and in Ethiopia. She’s torn between two loyalties. It’s all way too complex for a seven-year old to deal with. Being adopted is not the gift many people seem to think it is to her.

She watched Tangled (or Rapunzel for some of us) right about the same time she was struggling with being our daughter. She was absolutely thrilled when she found out the ‘mother’ of Rapunzel was actually a witch who had stolen the princess as a baby. Oh yes. I became that witch to her in no time. We must have stolen her, she tended to say. Because no parent who loved her child would ever give it up for adoption. It was her way of dealing with rejection. And it give her leave to rebel against every single ‘no’ we gave her. We were not her parents anyway.

The Tangled-phase passed. Today, she relates to Po, and not just because she likes his Kungfu that much.

This Panda is as clearly adopted as she is. His is both black and white, like she is. And, most importantly, he met with his birth family. Just like she wants to.

So she watches Po’s adventures over and over again. She has this special giggle she keeps just for him. And she talks to me about her wishes and sorrows afterwards, without being probed. Infinitely more agreeable than the Tangled-period, for sure.

I’m already looking forward to the next movie-releases.

Do movies or cartoons help your children to reflect about their emotions? Can your children relate to struggling movie characters?

This is an original post by K10K of Belgium. Photo credit: homard.net. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

K10K

If you ask her about her daytime job, K10K will tell you all about the challenge of studying microbes in extreme environments, going from the deep underground to outer space. Her most demanding and rewarding job however is raising the Penguin and the Panther, her seven and five year old little rascals. The Penguin grew in her belly, turned out very, very white and wants to become a meteorite examiner, fireman and artist. The Panther grew in her heart, had quite, quite dark skin and wants to become a teacher, mother of thirteen babies and famous musician. Together they provide most of the feed for her blog, The Penguin and The Panther, but they are also the primary cause of why she struggles to find the energy for writing anything lately...

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BELGIUM : Parenting – Keeping Them Close

BELGIUM : Parenting – Keeping Them Close

Close_K10KTimes are confusing for a parent. Library shelves are filled with parenting guides. Tips and tricks for the perfect reward system are stacked next to the rant on why keeping rewards from a kid is essentially the same as punishing him or her. Online you can find the benefits of co-sleeping a click away from co-sleeping horror stories. Natural parenting blogs are hijacked by those who think kids these days just need more discipline.

I’ve read a lot of those books, blogs and papers. Some in despair, some out of curiosity and some even at the request of my son’s psychologist or as optional literature while preparing for the adoption of our daughter.

Did I get any wiser? Yes I did. But not necessarily in the ways the books and blogs were meant. At first I just concluded that the parenting style you adapt should be customized, to you and to your child. I took some advice from one book and integrated it in a style I found on a blog. It worked, for a while.

But still the situation left me puzzled. Why do we need all this in the first place? Why do I know so many children who regularly see therapists? Why do parents feel like they lack the parenting skills that should come naturally to them?

I for one don’t think that we as parents have all suddenly been deprived of the parenting skills our grandparents had. And I refuse to believe that more children are born with or develop disorders these days.

So if it’s not the parents and not the children, what causes us parents to feel like we are failing and need help?

I hope you don’t expect me to have the answer. I’m only another struggling mother. My six-year-old throws toddler tantrums when I talk to other grown-ups and thinks just about everything is either boooooring or unfair. My eight-year-old gets frustrated and even aggressive over one math mistake while all other 49 exercises are correct. These are the small issues we have on a daily basis. I won’t go into the big ones.

The only answer I have found for myself is that the way my children react to me depends highly on the state of our relationship at that point. Because we’ve been taught in our adoption course about the need for attachment between parent and adopted child, we tend to invest a lot of time in one-on-one time with our daughter. To keep the balance, we do the same with our biological son. To me, this is the only approach which has worked for both of my very different kids, and which keeps on working whenever we invest time in it. Yesterday I had some lovely one-on-one time with my daughter at the lake and today, nothing is boring to her. She doesn’t disobey, she’s helpful and polite. My son, on the other hand, will go to an amusement park with friends today. I know for a fact that he will be unbearable tonight, unless I keep him very close from the moment he’s back.

So is that it? Is keeping your children close the answer? Is it not the parents nor the children that have changed over the last decades, but their relationship?

Honestly, I don’t know. It might. The changing relationship between parents and children nowadays might be what’s causing the boom of parenting books. Children do seem to orient themselves more to their peers, or to pop stars for that matter, instead of to their parents. As a consequence, said parents seem to lose part of the authority that used to be natural to them. And without authority or influence, you’re nowhere as a parent, are you?

It might seem suffocating or overprotective, but for myself, I will continue to try and keep my children close. We will wear crazy matching outfits from time to time, we will cook and cry together, we will cuddle and pillow fight. I will keep investing in that state of our relationship. Because the moments I open myself up to be close to them, either physically or mentally, I don’t need therapists or parenting guides. I don’t even need parenting skills.

With my children close, I can just be a parent.

How do you feel about the booming business of parenting guides? Do you believe keeping your children close is key?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by K10K @ The Penguin and The Panther.

The picture in this post is credited to the author.

K10K

If you ask her about her daytime job, K10K will tell you all about the challenge of studying microbes in extreme environments, going from the deep underground to outer space. Her most demanding and rewarding job however is raising the Penguin and the Panther, her seven and five year old little rascals. The Penguin grew in her belly, turned out very, very white and wants to become a meteorite examiner, fireman and artist. The Panther grew in her heart, had quite, quite dark skin and wants to become a teacher, mother of thirteen babies and famous musician. Together they provide most of the feed for her blog, The Penguin and The Panther, but they are also the primary cause of why she struggles to find the energy for writing anything lately...

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BELGIUM : The Balloon

BELGIUM : The Balloon

600px-Black_toy_balloon.svgWhen it comes to introducing serious business to my 8 year old and my 6 year old, I have noticed that I often use metaphors. Not the euphemism kind, like ‘Grandma went to sleep for a very long time‘, but the raw truth in a friendly package.

As it is, I’m healing from a depression I have long been ignoring. Today, I don’t intend to talk about depression though. Those stories sadly are plenty, including here and there on World Moms Blog. As always, I prefer to talk about my kids.

They both know something is wrong with their mommy. They know I have an illness that is mostly settled in my head, but that makes my body overly tired and trembling as well. They also know there are a lot of people helping me to cure from this illness called depression. I believe it is important to be honest. They will sense something is out of the hook anyway.

In fact, it wasn’t difficult to explain to them at all. They were even ecstatic about it, because it meant their mommy would be at home from work for a very long time. They experience my sick leave as an extended holiday with lots of mommy-time.

But I did owe them some further explanation. You see, at the deepest moments of my depression, I was easily irritated. Way too easily. That’s where the metaphor comes in. I talked to them about my Balloon. I believe you can use the Balloon when you’re not suffering from depression, but just irritated or angry because of stress at work, in your relationship, or just because of, well, life.

You see, we all have a Balloon somewhere inside us. Mine is inside my tummy.  My Balloon is filled with old anger and sorrow that has been nagging at me for years. When I’m stressed about work, traffic or household issues, the new sorrows will pile up inside the Balloon. Most people have Balloons that grew larger while they were growing up, but mine didn’t. I still have a very small one. And it’s almost constantly full.

The kids, they know what happens with a regular balloon that is just too full. It will explode with a scary bang. They really dread that sound.

Now, sometimes, when they are acting up, those little annoyances can be the final blow that make my little Balloon pop. I want them to understand that such explosions are not their fault at all. Almost nothing of which was already filling the Balloon is their doing. It’s mostly old stuff, from the time before they were even born.

The sick leave, the medication and all the doctors are now helping me to empty my Balloon. If I really try hard, I will even get a bigger one. That way, it won’t pop as easily any more.

I didn’t know whether they really understood, until my 6 year old girl came to me after another Balloon collapse. I wanted to apologize, but she shushed me.

You don’t need to say sorry, mommy. We understand. Your Balloon was just too full.

I apologized anyway, while cleaning up the invisible remains of my Balloon.

They deserve that much.

 

Do you use metaphors to talk about difficult subjects with your kids? Which ones?

 

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by K10K @ The Penguin and The Panther.

Black toy balloon” by AJ – Open clip Art Library image’s page. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons

K10K

If you ask her about her daytime job, K10K will tell you all about the challenge of studying microbes in extreme environments, going from the deep underground to outer space. Her most demanding and rewarding job however is raising the Penguin and the Panther, her seven and five year old little rascals. The Penguin grew in her belly, turned out very, very white and wants to become a meteorite examiner, fireman and artist. The Panther grew in her heart, had quite, quite dark skin and wants to become a teacher, mother of thirteen babies and famous musician. Together they provide most of the feed for her blog, The Penguin and The Panther, but they are also the primary cause of why she struggles to find the energy for writing anything lately...

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BELGIUM: The Adopted Little Sailor

BELGIUM: The Adopted Little Sailor

3777834366_869456969b_zIn preparation for our adoption, we had to take an intensive course, dealing with the many dynamics involved. A while later, our gained knowledge, but also our personal history, relationship, parenting skills and social network were scrutinized by a social worker and a psychologist.

During those months and months of preparation, there are two statements that came up several times and which I will always remember:

1)      Having children is NOT a universal human right. Having a parent – or a dedicated caregiver – IS.

In other words: We were not entitled to a child. It’s the child’s benefit that comes first at all times. A hard lesson to learn for some, and next to impossible to swallow when the judge doesn’t give you the much hoped for green light. But true nonetheless.

2)      We were NOT judged for our parenting skills. We were judged for our ADOPTIVE-parenting skills.

Especially to couples that were already parents, the course and social exams could be seen as an affront. And yes, it could be quite provoking and private at times. But in our case is was also very respectful at all times, and educating as well. And it was necessary.

Why? Because adopted children come with a backpack filled with their history. Because, as an adoptive parent, you might need to help carry that backpack.

A central topic to both the course and the exam was: attachment, and with that, basic trust. It was explained to us beautifully by ‘The parable of the little sailor’, in which a child is at first safely on a boat. All of a sudden, she finds herself in a storm. The boat sinks and she struggles to survive. When next she is picked up by a new boat, full of small children like her, and a new captain, it takes a while before she believes that the captain will keep them safe. And she proved right to be hesitant, because a new storm comes up and eventually, that boat also sinks. The child is alone again. From that point on, the child decides to not trust any captains any more. So when a new boat arrives, she goes in hesitantly, because she has no other choice. But she will keep her guards up for a long time now. She will test the captain’s sailing skills over and over again, and whenever a storm comes, she will be ready to take over control.

Some adopted children will have experienced more boats, more caregivers, than others. Some will have had worse storms than others. In quite some cases, gaining the trust of that little sailor will be a tremendous task for the final captains of its journey, the adoptive parents.

Attachment disorder can be an overwhelming Damocles’ sword that hangs above an adoptive family.

We were told the best way to avoid attachment disorder, was to make sure we were going to be the only captains during our precious sailor’s first months on our boat. A minimum of six months of semi-isolation, they recommended. Ideally not letting anyone else take care of her, not even hand her gifts. After that, the time she would need to safely attach to us and rely on us to steer the boat, was estimated as her age upon adoption, multiplied by two.

Our daughter was 2.5 years old when she came to live with us, and she’s been with us for three years now. That means we still have at least 2 years to go for her to let go of her anxieties and mistrust.

At least 2 years. Probably longer, if we look at where she is today on her journey towards trust and attachment. I personally believe attachment, at least for our daughter, will be a constantly evolving process for many years to come.

We’ve also had our share of storms. For one, we broke her trust those first, crucial months. You see, in Belgium, maternity leave is fairly short, only 15 weeks. When adopting, it’s even less. We were ‘lucky’ to adopt when our girl hadn’t reached the age of 3 yet, so I got to stay at home with her for 6 weeks. When your child is older, you only get 4 weeks. Or zero weeks, when the child has reached the age of 8, or when you’re a foster parent… So, a maximum of 6 weeks to complete this huge task of gaining trust. It’s extremely frustrating to have been pressed repeatedly on the importance of a strong basis for attachment and then being forced to send that little sailor off to another captain, one in the boat of day care or kindergarten, after a mere 6 weeks or less.

There have been quite some voices and petitions these lasts months, to once and for all equalize maternity leave rules for all sorts of parenthood, including adoption and foster care.  The old statement of ‘You don’t need physical recovery from adoption like you do from giving birth, so you don’t need the same amount of time’ has lost its validity the moment regular maternity leave was extended with an additional (unpaid) month, for the sake of ‘bonding of mother and child’.

No need to say the adoptive community was outraged, or at least strongly disappointed at that time. We still are. The adversaries of our request don’t seem to understand that we don’t ask longer maternity leave for ourselves, although I must admit that some time for emotional recovery would have been very welcome in those first, stormy months.

But essentially, we request it for the benefit of the little sailors to come. They deserve more time to explore, defy and scrutinize their new captains.

How long is maternity leave in your country? Is the same for all kinds of parenthood? And how long do you believe it should be?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by K10K from The Penguin and The Panther.

Photo by Alejandro Groenewold under Creative Common license

K10K

If you ask her about her daytime job, K10K will tell you all about the challenge of studying microbes in extreme environments, going from the deep underground to outer space. Her most demanding and rewarding job however is raising the Penguin and the Panther, her seven and five year old little rascals. The Penguin grew in her belly, turned out very, very white and wants to become a meteorite examiner, fireman and artist. The Panther grew in her heart, had quite, quite dark skin and wants to become a teacher, mother of thirteen babies and famous musician. Together they provide most of the feed for her blog, The Penguin and The Panther, but they are also the primary cause of why she struggles to find the energy for writing anything lately...

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