**Heads up, this post was submitted when the pandemic was just ramping up…sorry it took so long to post!**
Hey The Band,
I’ve been confined with my very sweet and very trying children for about 18 days now (but who’s counting) and we have no idea how long all of this will go on. I know many of you are in the same situation.
The first week was HARD. School was cancelled abruptly and my oldest child had a very hard time with the change in routine. Think epic screaming & crying over very benign things for several days, most of the day. They were stressed and everything was too much for them. I felt much the same way, mostly due to the constant screaming, but I refrained from laying on the floor kicking and crying (in front of the kids, anyway). I did resort to screaming (in the garage) and drinking whiskey (in the kitchen) the night the school district cancelled school for 6 weeks.
Then there came one beautiful moment in the afternoon where I was washing dishes and my children were not screaming. It was a lovely 5 minutes and I decided to peek around the kitchen corner to see what they were playing. To my dismay, it was a game called “alarm clock” invented by the 7 year old, where in the 3 year old is instructed (forced?) to say “beep beep” and the 7 year old smacks the 3 year old in the face, to press the snooze then start over again. The 3 year old did not want to say “beep beep” any longer but desperately wanted to play with the 7 year old. Now, I love that my oldest child appreciates the utility of a snooze button, but smacking the 3 year old in the face does not fall under “nice games to play” in my book. We had a talk about consent and making sure that everyone is having fun while playing and NOT SMACKING PEOPLE IN THE FACE! Did I mention that this was when they were getting along?
So anyway, things have been up and down and we are trying to get into some sort of routine with learning at home. Things are still dicey, but we are finding some moments to play and connect. I’m no longer freaking out that everything is shutting down and I’m no longer obsessively checking the news and Facebook (at least not today). I’m settling into the idea that this is going to be going on for a lot longer than I originally anticipated and our state will probably cancel school for the rest of the year. This makes me very, very sad.
We have many things to be grateful for, we are healthy and have toilet paper and bread and a house and a yard and those are not small things right now. This doesn’t change that we are all stressed, I’m worried about my grandparents, and it feels like society is falling apart. I have friends with compromised immune systems and young children, friends with mental health struggles, and my own family’s mental health struggles that we’ve been slogging through for the past year and long awaited therapy and psych appointments- that I fought tooth and nail for- that have been postponed indefinitely. I find myself cocooning into my own space and my own family to escape the stress of everything going on outside of my control. I’m an introvert. I like a lot of time alone (not that I’m getting much of that these days), but too much time in my own head and the hobgoblins come out. I’ve never been good at connecting with people, really, or maintaining friendships. Socializing is freaking stressful for me, if there is more than one other person to talk to. However, for me connecting with the larger world in some way, shape, or form keeps me grounded. It reminds me that people aren’t all bad, that I’m not all bad, that there is hope and that some things will be salvageable.
My dose of happy today came from one very small act. A mom who lives nearby posted in a Facebook group that her son was turning 2 and she was so sad that she had to cancel his birthday party. Someone suggested that we organize a happy birthday parade and all drive by their house honking and singing happy birthday at the top of our lungs. I wrote “Happy Birthday!” on some paper and the kids colored pictures to tape to the car. We tied a couple balloons to the side view mirrors and joined a parade of about 6 cars, honking and singing to one very happy looking little boy and his family smiling from their front lawn. It was small, but it was something, and my kids and I needed a reason to celebrate, no matter how small. It was fun.
I heard a quote the other day “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” I’m not looking at the stars yet, and I don’t intend to forget that I’m in the gutter, but every once in a while I’m going to try to look up.
I hope you can find a way to do that too.
P.S. Google tells me the quote is from Oscar Wilde
Ideas for Handling challenging kid behavior when you are stressed
Being isolated at home with young children isn’t easy. The increased stress from being cooped up, together (all the time!), against the backdrop of scary news and a terrifying economic climate can make emotions run high for all family memb
ers. Though some kids may jump for joy at school being cancelled, others may have a harder time and the changes in their routine may amplify challenging behaviors. Kids feel this stress too, though they may show it in different ways than adults do.
Some kids can talk with us about their feelings, but when they’re overwhelmed or don’t have the vocabulary to have a conversation about feelings, they may communicate their stress in other ways; they may show changes in behavior, changes in sleeping and eating habits, tantrums, trouble with impulse control, and whining or being clingy can be signs that your child is feeling stressed.
Much like the oxygen mask metaphor, if you are trying to help a little person with their big feelings, it helps to keep yourself calm. Use self care tools to take care of your own needs so you can be there for your child.To help your child when they are feeling stressed, be patient with them and try to view their behavior as communication rather than “being bad” or “annoying.” Make time to connect with them, play a game, do an art project, cook something, or let them choose an activity. Doing an activity together can help kids feel secure and valued. Listen to their frustrations, their fear, their anger. If they don’t have the vocabulary for their feelings yet, help them learn the words for what they are feeling.
Some kids thrive on structured routines, other kids prefer things to be more free-flow. Whatever your child prefers, your schedule does not need to be color coded and it doesn’t need to be perfect. Try to find something that works for your family and do your best. When I say do your best, I do not mean your “Type A” style best, I mean do the best you can without sacrificing your peace and while trying to balance the often conflicting needs of family members. This is messy and loud and chaotic in the best of times; In times of crisis, being gentle with yourself is part of doing your best. So be gentle with yourself and be gentle with your children and when you fuck up (because we ALL do) be gentle with yourself again.
Introduce your child to healthy ways to cope with stress. For young children, playing is a great way to counteract stress. Getting outside and doing active play can help everyone to feel more optimistic. If you must remain indoors, try heavy work activities like bear crawls, jumping, or running laps around the house. Play eye spy looking through a window. Art and sensory activities, such as modeling clay or foam soap can be calming for some kids. Distance learning resources can stimulate your child’s mind and avoid boredom, but don’t underestimate your child’s need for down time too. Kids don’t learn well when they are stressed. Some kids may seek quiet time away from parents and siblings to recharge. You are bound to need some quiet time too. Its really hard to be calm and collected with a stressed child when you don’t have any time away. If your child doesn’t nap, try setting up an activity that they might enjoy playing alone, such as play dough near you in the kitchen, reading a book, or listening to a children’s story podcast.
Talk with your child in an age-appropriate way about why their routine is changing and what types of things they can expect for the near future. Let them know they can ask questions and listen to their concerns and feelings about it. When you are parenting during a crisis, there are bound to be some bumps in the road. Reach out to your support network if you need help or a listening ear. Connecting with people facing with similar challenges can make you feel less alone and help you get through it.
Handling big tantrums:
Keep them safe. If they are in a space where they might hurt themselves or others, either move them to a safe place or remove any objects or people that might get hurt.
Let them have their feelings however loud, angry, sad, or scared they may be
While they are having their feelings, check in with your own. Use your coping skills to give yourself some brain space and stay calm during your child’s meltdown. Are you breathing? Check your mind hobgoblins. Use a mantra or repeat a calming phrase if you need to. “This is hard, but it will be ok” and “they are having a hard time, not giving me a hard time” work well for me. Give yourself some mental breathing room, even if you don’t have physical breathing room. Listen to music or a podcast on earbuds, imagine that old “Calgon take me away…” commercial. Make a cup of tea. Don’t go down with the ship.
If you find yourself at a breaking point, remove yourself from the situation. Lock yourself in the bathroom, step outside or call someone to confide in. Don’t beat yourself up for reaching your breaking point- everyone gets there from time to time. Pat yourself on the back for stepping out when you need to.
When you are both calm, come back and work on solving whatever problem arose with your child. Its ok to leave the “lesson” if you aren’t in a good enough headspace to deal with it calmly right away. You can always talk about it later, if you feel you need to. Or not if you feel you don’t.
Adjust your expectations. Survival mode is not the time to be Super Mom. Grazing on goldfish crackers and a bit of extra screen time never killed anyone.
Meet kiddos needs to help prevent problems
Connection (family & social)
when you are in good headspace, take a few moments to do an activity together with your child. You do not have to give your child constant attention. Finding a balance between encouraging independent play and “together time” is key.
It’s been a long time since you’ve asked me to comment on the book you wrote about your mom’s suicide. I think you are amazing to write about it and I’m glad that you did. I don’t enjoy bringing that chapter of life to mind, given the chaos of those years, but I’ve thought about it often. Especially when I think about what it means to be a mother and uncovering fresh layers of fucked up that we both learned from our mothers.
I know it’s not fair of me to judge them now — but it’s hard not to.
Talking about my relationship with your mom is hard for me because I admired her very much — I was flabbergasted by the way that she slipped back into drugs and addiction.
I was shocked that she abandoned you like that. I was just shocked.
I couldn’t believe your mom would die by suicide.
I still can’t.
I remember the first time I met your mom, I was playing in the front yard while she moved in across the street. She introduced herself from over the fence and told me that she had a daughter just my age, with my name: “I have a Sarah too.”
By the time you came to visit for the summer she had already arranged that we would be playmates. She even arranged a phone call between us before your visit.
When you showed up at my front door, I knew we would be lifelong friends.
My mom worked a lot and my dad was physically or mentally absent most of the time, so your home was like a second home to me.
During these years, your house felt like a Norman Rockwell to me, though now I see that it was far from it.
My mom remarried a man who was addicted to heroin, while at your house, your mom packed lunches, set up the tent in the backyard for us to “camp,” and made goody bags filled with candy. She took us to the zoo, the mall, and the flea market. She prescreened movies, took us for mint chocolate chip ice cream cones, and insisted that you wore a bike helmet. I remember going with her to an NA picnic in the park and how proud she was of her sober chips. We’d to admire the shiny metal coins she earned for racking up months and years of sobriety.
I envied the amount of time and attention that your mom spent with you when she was sober As a kid, I saw your mom as kind, fair, the type who would take the time to listen.
It was very late and your mom answered the phone and insisted that I tell her what was happening. My stepfather hadn’t started hitting my mom yet, but the yelling was really over the top. She gave me a speech about how adults sometimes argue and it can be scary for children to hear and explained that my mom and step dad would never want to do anything to scare me. She told me to go downstairs and tell them that they were scaring me and I couldn’t sleep. They told me to go back up to my room.
Many nights of fighting followed with growing intensity and I tried to call you but ended up talking to Beth.
Beth eventually called my mom and told her that she was concerned about me – I was in big trouble. I was forbidden to speak about “private family business.” It worked: I didn’t speak of the violence again until after his death.
The violence escalated and my stepfather began beating my mom and my brother when he was angry. We moved on several occasions to get away from him.
The emotional abuse from my stepfather became our new normal and we began spending school nights on random people’s sofas, hiding our car down the street.
I spent as much time as possible at friend’s houses and took up babysitting to get out of the house on weekends.
Beth was the only person who knew what was happening; I’d assumed that she would be the person to help me out of that situation. I’m no longer sure she understood how bad things had gotten. She provided me a safe place to go whenever I needed one and a reminder that there are kind people in the world. She told me that I should become one of them. She affirmed that there were a lot of fucked-up things in the world and they would probably never make sense.
Honestly, I don’t know how I would have turned out without Beth as a moral reference point during those years.
Beth became addicted to codeine cough syrup and her behavior changed: she didn’t take us on outings she slept all day everyday. One occasion when she woke up, I remember her running down the hallway singing “boo boop be boo.” This is when I learned that there was something wrong. I was pretty sure that people with bronchitis didn’t do that kind of thing normally.
I knew things were coming unhinged for you, but was too young to appreciate the full weight of what was happening.
I lived in Beth’s house twice, once for a short time when I ran away after my stepfather died and for the school term after that.
By the time I officially lived with Beth she was pretty far gone in her addiction. She slept or was gone most of the time.
It seemed that you were on your own, too.
I still cared what Beth thought of me. She seemed one of the few people who didn’t see me as a lost cause and so I didn’t see myself that way when I was around her.
On Fridays, Beth would take us to the grocery store. She taught us how to grocery shop and some very basic cooking skills.
Things went sour when my mom suspected Beth was using the money she gave her for things other than my upkeep. You and Beth were at odds more often than not. I decided it was best to move back home. Home was a sort of hell, but it was my own hell and I knew how to navigate it.
I didn’t see much of Beth after that.
I’d spend weekends at her apartment while she agreed to leave us totally unattended. The last time I saw her, she’d picked me up from my house to bring me back to your house for the weekend. I remember her being warm and chatting with me for the ride, though I can’t remember what about.
I remember her smiling and I remember that she mentioned that you were unhappy with her these days.
The next time I saw her she was in a coma.
Atrophied hands, hair cut short, dead to the world.
No warm smile, no more sun-kissed freckles, no more frizzy bun atop her head.
She was gone to the world and she couldn’t recover. That’s the last I saw her.
I couldn’t talk about her death with you. It didn’t seem like you wanted to and then you were gone I knew that she let you down and ultimately abandoned you with her suicide. You have every right to be angry with her; hell I was angry on your behalf.
I was just shocked and sad. I think I felt abandoned too.
The next few years were hard for us; the one person I saw as a safe adult had succumbed to drugs and took her own life. It didn’t add up.
Suicide was cruel and yet I remembered her as such a kind person.
There was nothing I could say that would lessen the pain for you so I said nothing.
You remind me of her because you look so much like her now. If you want to talk about what happened, I’d let you start.
What is there to say now, after all of these years?
That was fucked up. There is some fucked up bad shit in the world and it will never make sense, but there is some wonderful stuff too. I think that, despite it all, we both turned out to be people who contribute more to the good than to the uglyl.
I hold you close in my heart, my sister and my dear friend.