When 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
When you become a parent you soon realize that there are a million things you CAN and WILL do, only you never suspected you were capable of doing them.
You might gag the first time, but trust me, after a few rounds of ‘fish the poop out of the bath’ or a couple of midnight sessions of ‘guess what the baby threw up’ you will be surprised at how big that ‘I can handle this’ list becomes.
But what about the things you cannot do anymore? Here is my Top Five. Feel free to add your own.
1. Splurge a big amount of money on a whim. I’m not a Kardashian, a Hilton or the owner of a money tree. Life is expensive and kids cost a Gazillion dollars/Euros a day. Just feeding them might cost you a small fortune. So I budget and think each purchase through. Carefully.
2. Seeing a movie/ reading a book where something bad happens to a child. Along with the muffin top and the dark line on my lower abdomen came a strange new sensibility. Or rather an inability. Books, movies and documentaries featuring children getting hurt or dying are a NO GO these days. I cannot sit back and watch a drama about how a sick child tears apart his/her parent’s marriage and how they deal with the loss of said child through music/pottery/becoming crazy cat people. Tears will drop at an alarming rate and there will be sobbing. Because that could be my child. That could be me, grieving the most terrible loss a mother can experience. Just the thought of one of my children getting hurt or sick is enough to cut my heart in two and fill my chest with the blackest despair.
3. Get any satisfaction from cleaning /tidying any room or space in your house. Even though I’m a notoriously messy person I too experience those rare moments when I can no longer stand the filth or mess of my entire house or just certain rooms. It is at times like this when you might stumble upon a ‘Cleaning the basement: found the whatnots again! Thought it was lost forever!’ tweet if you follow me on Twitter. These little episodes used to leave me with a deep feeling of accomplishment and the satisfaction that I was – after all – a responsible adult.
Having kids sucked the joy right out of that feeling. As soon as they could walk, their tiny grubby feet left muddy footprints everywhere, and every room they entered immediately looked like a tornado had gone straight through it.
At first I tried to keep up, but honestly, what is the point in cleaning/tidying up when you know it will only be spotless for about a millisecond?
4. Be a dirty, disgusting schlob. Picking your nose? Scratching certain body parts? Drinking straight from the carton? With children in the house these actions will either be ancient history or something you do in deepest, darkest secret. One of the delights of parenthood is that society expects you to educate your children about the many Dos and Don’ts of polite behaviour. To put it bluntly : you are expected to lead by example. Little Freddy/ George/ William will not see why he cannot adjust his boy-parts right in the middle of the store when daddy did so the last time he took the little angel grocery shopping. Nor will little Betty/ Grace/Jennifer refrain from digging that booger out of her wee nose and inspecting the find before putting it in her mouth when mommy did just THAT a few minutes ago.
5. Sleep in on a Saturday. No explanation required.
What are the things you can no longer do as a parent?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Tinne at “Tantrums and Tomatoes” from Belgium. Photo credit: olnetchannel. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.
In 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
“Are you sad, mommy ? ”
It was my eldest asking. She has a way of noticing these things.
Although the question took me by surprise, I had no alternative but to answer it. Truthfully.
Yes dear, yes. Mommy is sad.
“Why are you sad, Mommy?”
Mommy is sad because bad things are happening to good people. Mommy is sad because she will have to say goodbye to somebody very dear to her much too soon. She is sad because she kept hoping for a miracle of sorts, but it never came.
I know it is OK to feel sad, but I try not to show it in front of my children, for fear that the sadness in my heart will to spill over into theirs. And I don’t want that. My first instinct is – and has always been – to protect my children. Protect them from harm, from illness, from heartbreak. To prolong their innocent happiness.
So instead of crying I try to be cheerful, hiding my worries behind a smile. I try not to upset their secure world more than necessary. But they noticed anyway. Apparently my eyes weren’t smiling anymore.
Serious illness and death which sometimes follows in its wake are new to them. When my father was diagnosed with colon cancer two years ago they were too young to really grasp what was happening. Granddad was sick and in the hospital, the doctor could make him better. He was in the hospital for a long time and visiting was no fun, because the hospital smelled weird.
But now, at 4 and 5 years old, my children are at that age when curiosity for EVERYTHING is at its peak. Although they may not fully grasp the situation or understand the permanence of death or the seriousness of illness, they do notice something is off. And they want answers and when they want answers they turn to ‘Mommypedia’.
There is no need to sit them down at the kitchen table and discuss for half an hour. I let them come to me of their own accord. This usually happens when they are colouring or when I’m driving them somewhere. It is impossible for them to NOT be active in any way, so when the body is forced to remain stationary the mind starts to work.
I try to keep things as simple as possible, try using the same words over and over so they won’t be confused. I compare the body to a clock which is broken and no watchmaker can fix. I explain why I’m sad, what will happen. If necessary I explain four or five times in a row.
But I don’t always have the answers. Even though the questions are so simple.
How do you talk to your children about death and grieving?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Tinne of Tantrums & Tomatoes from Belgium. Photo credit to the author.
On Wednesday the 3rd of September, our oven broke down in the middle of a pizza. We only have pizza about once a year, so the kids were looking forward to it like crazy. Italians, be warned, what comes next must be hard to digest. I warmed up the pizza in the microwave and then baked it in a regular frying pan. The idea was to get it warm and have at least the bottom a bit crunchy. The bottom turned out almost black and the entire thing looked inedible. The kids loved their very special pizza topped with extra cheese and ketchup to cover up the burnt taste.
On Thursday the 4th of September, our cooking range died on me in the middle of green beans and rice. I half expected it, since it was attached to the oven. I wanted to give up, but then my daughter came along. She secretly turned the oven on, thinking it a toy after it broke. For some reason, that reactivated the hot plate on top of it! Thanks to my mischievous five year old, we had a decent meal after all.
She told everyone she saved dinner that day, strutting around proud like a peacock.
On Friday the 5th of September, we asked my teen sister to babysit and went to my employer’s corporate party, all the while discussing how to rearrange our kitchen. We felt like we could handle our bad luck for a blissful twelve hours.
On Saturday the 6th of September, our car broke down in the middle of the road to my parent’s home. It stopped, just like that. We had to find another car and take my sister home, which made my husband late for work. His work being to clean up the party we went to the night before. Mere coincidence made me help dismantle my own employer’s party, to get things done in time. The kids had a great time, being allowed to help out dad and being at mommy’s party at the same time. They didn’t mind that they were the only ones singing and dancing in an empty tent.
On Sunday the 7th of September, I decided to bake some fine Belgian waffles. I had made a new school year’s resolution of baking cookies for the kids to take to school every week. Because the green me wants to lessen our piles of plastic waste, because the control freak in me wants to follow up on their sugar consumption, and because our daughter is just very picky when it comes to cookies (I’m not complaining). I wouldn’t let the broken oven break my resolution after just one week, so waffles it was. Broken crumbled pieces of waffles anyway. Not a single one came out in less than 23 pieces. The kids thought it extremely cool to have a little box full of waffle crumbs to take to school all week. They figured the tinier the pieces were, the more waffle could fill their snack box.
On Monday the 8th of September, I found almost all of our chickens gone. One was still there, without her head. I found her inside our completely closed den. No holes, no open door. The predator went in and out anyway. I told the kids a very cute little fox was probably very happy with his mommy’s endeavours. I also promised them I would get us a pig instead of those vulnerable little chickens. A very big one. We’ll call her Foxy.
On Tuesday the 9th of September, we bought ourselves a new car. The kind of family car I’d been wishing for, even before the previous one. Our son approved because the new car is close to his favorite colour, black. Our daughter approved even more because it had sliding doors in the back. No more accidents with neighbouring cars for her.
On Wednesday the 10th of September, I found a new kitchen when I came home from work. My husband had worked like crazy to surprise me. The oven and plates were not connected yet, but I was too overwhelmed to mind. We were getting used to cucumbers and cold salmon wraps for dinner anyway. It was a good exercise for the predicted power blackouts during winter as well.
On Thursday the 11th of September, I felt our luck was turning. We had been able to found benefits in all of our misfortunes. New car, new kitchen, new pet. Fate gave us Ethiopian New Year on that day. It’s liberating to state in the middle of 2014, that you’re heading for the year 2007.
It feels as if you can start all over.
That morning, our Ethiopian daughter went to school in her traditional white dress to show off. Our son wore his Ethiopian scarf for mere coolness. In the middle of my last science policy meeting of that day, I was already musing about our cozy evening to come, picking yellow flowers and having popcorn, as tradition prescribes in our daughter’s birth country.
That very moment, my husband called. I was to head for the hospital.
My little princess’s pristine white dress was covered in blood. She had had a nasty fall and an even nastier hole right between her eyes. They had waited for me to arrive before doing the stitching, because she desperately needed her mommy. I will never be able to wash away the image of that incredibly deep hole in her forehead. Nor of the terror in her eyes when the syringe for the local anaesthetics came by.
When it was all over, we promised her pizza. One from the local Italian, because the oven still didn’t work. Also because we were too exhausted to think of anything creative at 8 pm.
In the car back home, my daughter told me she couldn’t believe how lucky she was.
I thought I’d misunderstood.
I was having a very hard time staying composed. After this unbelievable week, my stress buffer was in shambles.
And my daughter, covered in deep stitches and steristrips, told me she felt so lucky?
“Of course,” she said. “We’ll have pizza night two weeks in a row!”
Do your kids also help you get past the most dreadful passages in your life? Can we learn from their ability to find innocent fun on every occasion, no matter how bad?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by K10K from The Penguin and The Panther.
Photo credit: Live Italian. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.
When you become a parent things change.
Saying that children turn your life turns upside down, inside out and back again is most definitely not an understatement.
Bodily changes, sleep deprivation and related mental breakdowns aside, one of the major changes is the relationship with your own parents. Because in a weird way you are suddenly equals. You are both parents.
Granted, your parents might have a bit more experience on the job, but you might consider yourselves employees of the same company now.
You are the newbie and they are the old stalwarts who will insist on explaining how the coffee machine works. Even though it has only one button. And just like in the office, you each have your own way of going about the daily job that is parenting.
It was my father who pointed this out to me when he remarked that I was a very different mother to my children than my mother was to me.
Of course this is true, mainly due to the fact that I’m NOT my mother (no, really, I’m not my mother, I might have started to look a lot more like her, use the same phrases, and have taken up some of her habits, but I AM NOT MY MOTHER).
Characterwise my mom and I are poles apart. She is one of those patient, focused, well-organized, grownup creatures we all secretly wish to be. And I am an impatient firecracker, who is working on a million things at once and who can never be bothered about matching socks.
But I have to admit that my parenting style is different too. Some of it is deliberate and some not.
For instance, I never deny my children a food or beverage using the words ‘it will make you fat’, opting instead for ‘it is not healthy’ or ‘it is bad for your teeth’. I know this is no guarantee for avoiding any body-image/food–related trouble but I like to think it gives them a better chance for avoiding the damage some of us (myself included) went through.
Neither do I use spanking as a means of punishment. My parents spanked, but I quite frankly don’t see the point. Within a few years withholding privileges and time outs will probably looked upon as barbaric and the toddler shock collar might be all the rage but for now the “Go to your room and no movie” or “Pull out all the weeds from the garden” work for us.
My girls enjoy a greater amount of freedom then I did at their age. For instance there are A LOT of unscheduled play dates. Especially during summer, it is not uncommon for me to walk into the kitchen and find myself confronted by five children. My friends were welcome to come and play, but there had to be a call and confirmation from both sets of parents in advance. Permission still has to be asked and we need to know approximately in which house they’ll be. But planning… nope.
I won’t even begin to describe the difference regarding electronics and their use. Remember I was born in a time when a phone with push–buttons instead of dial ones was considered cutting edge. The mobile phone was something straight out of a science fiction movie. Plus I lived in Africa, where there was no such thing as TV. Although we did in fact own a television the only thing it played where VHS cassettes (remember those!?) which were sent to us by friendly relatives left behind in Belgium.
The one thing we do have in common though is that we both do our best.
We do our best to ensure our children grow up happy. We try to avoid ‘mistakes’ of the past. We try our best to make sure the little humans in our care grow up to be level-headed adults and can only hope our pottering along will turn out all right in the end.
Do you ‘parent’ differently compared to your own parents? If Yes, how so?
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes. Photo credit:Eric Danley. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.