Coping Chronicles: When My Emotions and My Children Collide

I remember the day I first really saw my mom cry. I went looking for her and found her in her bathroom still actively crying. I'm not sure, but I think I was probably 12 or so. The first thing I remember thinking and knowing was that she wasn't crying because of me (and she wasn't), and that thought brought the realization that grown-ups are people too. I assumed it probably wasn't the first time that she had cried about something that had nothing to do with me, but I remember feeling pretty special that she had let me see her and that she was willing to say that she was having a hard time. She didn't cover it up, and she didn't try to act like it was none of my business either. Of course, she had, as I have now, every right to cry tears that were none of a child's business, and I'm sure she, as I, did that plenty of times. I remember what it was about, and I remember hugging her and feeling so good that I had the privilege of comforting our family's number one comforter.

I write often about these childhood moments of crystallization of concepts. I wish I knew more about the science behind them; I would find it fascinating, so if you know something or have an article to link to please post it in the comments! That moment in my mom's suntan tiled bathroom with the dusty rose towels and oak cabinetry was the point at which I decided it's good to be honest with others, especially your family, about your bad days. Of course, that doesn't mean that I began doing that or was good at it from then on (or that I always do that or am good at it now). But, a positive association was formed.

I remembered the physical sensation of that moment the other morning as my almost 7-year-old hugged me while I cried. I could tell from the way he held my head to his shoulder like a much, much older person that he felt proud and privileged to comfort the number one comforter in our family. This child has got the consoling pat down... well... pat. It's just the right kind of firm but gentle touch that tells you everything is going to be fine. Like scrawny, tween me in my mom's bathroom, he had nothing spectacular to say, but he said nothing so very well.

These moments of overwhelming emotion happen to me a lot these days. As I keep repeating to my husband, it adds up. Each hat I wear these days belongs to a character prone to fits of strong emotion. The Pregnant Lady. The Sick Lady. The Mother of Three (One of Whom Hit 106 Degrees on the Thermometer This Week). The Sudden Homeschooler. Any one of these people deserves a few moments of exasperated sighing, hysterical laughter, blubbering tears, and even fuming frustration. But... all together... look. out. I'm like a one woman soap opera.

So, what do I do? What can you do when you are surrounded by people who are looking to you for reassurance and stability, need you to do your job, and aren't even twelve, and you just can't keep it together? There are lots of aspects to this one. I'll start with this: doing everything you can to not be forced past the end of your rope is step 1. This is what you do before we get to meltdown. If you know you can't handle it all, you have to start finding ways to not have to. Please remember: I'm preaching to myself. I probably need more mommy breaks. I probably need to actually set up my Neighborly account. I probably need to quit committing to things until after (long after) the baby is born. When there is so much going on inside that you cannot control, being intelligent about controlling what you can is essential.

Next: Take the long view. Then: Pray. Even if it's not feeling magical or focused or even coherent. Finally: Wait together. To illustrate these points, I'd just like to share the story of how I ended up in tears on my son's shoulder this week.

I woke up feeling terrible every which way. My body was aching, heavy, and exhausted. My mind felt muddled and slow. My heart felt sad, uninspired, and I was just totally dreading the rest of the day. I knew I'd be easily upset and quickly irritated -- not a good way to start a day of homeschooling especially after housebound days with a very sick kid. I proceeded to go through the motions. Sometimes, this is the right thing to do. Routine can be a very good thing and can sometimes get me started when I don't feel like it. Of course, it wasn't long before I ran into a bad attitude from a kid, and my own bad attitude was ready to tango. I escalated a situation that I should have had the judgment to step back from. I should have looked at my mood and told my kid that this was important but that we would need to talk about it later. We can't always do that. Young children need immediate feedback to make connections between their actions and the results, but this was a more philosophical discussion with a kid who is old enough to wait and still benefit from a later discussion.

But, because I felt afraid of being an ineffective mess all day (notice: decision made out of fear), I decided to track it down and kill it. I decided to start a big, subjective, philosophical debate with a kid looking for a fight. Not smart. Here's the first point at which I should have prayed and taken a longer view. The discussion frustrated me, and I got very short and even unkind. The child then proceeded to tell me over and over, "well, you must just hate me." Of course, that was sad for me and frustrated me even further. Doesn't this kid see that the whole reason I'm trying to talk about this with him is because I love him? (Umm. Probably not. He's a young kid.) Doesn't he know that the only reason I am even upright right now while I feel this way is because I'm trying to make sure his world isn't disrupted in spite of my chaotic body and emotions? (Again. Duh. No.) During the back and forth about whether or not I hated my children and the evidence for and against, I was trying to get them all upstairs so we could get started on our reading for school. The other two were not being helpful, though at this point I can't remember exactly what was happening.

We sat down at the dining room table where they all divided my breakfast that I hadn't eaten yet among them. This is back to Step 1. I should have eaten long before this moment. Crabby-hungry was no help in this situation at all. Normally I wouldn't have let them take my food, but I was so desperate for their mouths to be full and their bodies to be still so that we could get on with our day somehow. I couldn't though because now my feelings were incredibly hurt by all the "you're acting like you hate us." My eyes got hot, and the catch in my throat became to much to hold back. The pain in my body and heart and all my fear of not making it through the day as a loving, able human being led to tears as I said, "You know, you can't just say these things to me. I'm a person too. I'm not a mommy-bot with no feelings. That stuff goes into my heart. I'm sorry that I got short with you and that the way I was acting made you feel like I might hate you. That is a terrible feeling, but I can tell by the way you are saying it that you don't really think it. Right? You don't actually believe that I hate you, so you shouldn't say that. It doesn't float away into the air; it keeps going straight to my heart." Honesty. Confession. "I'm so sorry," he said. And he got up and hugged me.

Right then I knew. Right then I realized that I had set out all wrong. Part of coping with bad days (and it was going to be a bad day no matter what because of the things on my plate) is sharing honestly with my family. I had tried to move into the day like I was able to have it go "normally." But it just couldn't. I should have started out with that acknowledgment. I should have taken the long view and remembered that if the risk of our hearts getting shredded was high, I shouldn't worry so much about the shredded appearance of my home or the need to address the dangers of hoarding tendencies. We should have started with prayer for the tough day before Brendan even tried to leave the house.

So, I decided to try to turn things around. Was my heart suddenly feeling strong? Absolutely not. It was a quivering mess. Was my mind clear and ready to attack the day's tasks? Absolutely not. It was more fuzzy than before. Was my body calm? Of course not. But, I knew we had to pray. I wish I could say that the clouds parted as I spoke bold, believing words to the Lord and that a ray of peace shone down on us all. I wish. Rather, my children were irreverent and took the opportunity (and probably all their nervous energy from the very stressful morning) to try to quietly (no such thing) make jokes to each other from across the table while I murmured something like this through my tears: "Oh God. I need you to fix this morning. This day is feeling really screwed up, and my heart and body are so tired. I can't see this day going well at all. But, you're the one who can fix broken things." I opened my eyes, did the dutiful scolding of the kids for talking during a prayer time, and asked each one to tell God something they needed help with and something for which they were thankful. I read our Bible story for the day. And we waited together. We waited for our bodies and our hearts to calm down.

Eventually, it did turn around for us. Things calmed down, and we were able to love each other pretty well. Some of my planning ahead (Step 1, people) paid off, and I got to go to acupuncture and counseling- both of which were helpful. It was by no means a great, effective day of schooling, but in the long view, it was probably one of the best mornings of the week. Who knows? Maybe my son had a moment of crystallization. Maybe he will remember how well it works to just hug someone. I think it's a vital skill! A lifelong skill that his friends, spouse, and children will treasure in him as much as I do. Maybe they learned that just telling God what you need is a great way to pray. Maybe they learned that grown-ups are people too.

Maybe not, but they were still the right things for me to teach. I have no doubt of that. And I learned a lot.

The List Project

Reality Check and SLIME FEST 2015

Reality Check and SLIME FEST 2015