I saw a request for hopeful stories a while back and thought I could write a post. I’m in a pretty good spot lately. Holidays can be dicey for me emotionally, but I’ve largely reclaimed them and have enjoyed them in my own way the last several years. When I was a teen that was not the case.
My parents & step parents had all had their own issues, and holidays were not a joyful experience for many years. There was fighting, too much drinking, domestic violence, emotional abuse and lots of crap. So I really did not look forward to them at all. My stepfather had narcissistic personality disorder and when I was around, I was often the scapegoat. There was a lot of pressure to do things exactly “right” and that just didn’t go well for me (not that walking on eggshells goes well for anyone).
When things got really bad, my mom and I would go to a double feature at the movie theater & hope that he had calmed down by the time we got back home. My dad was often in manic episodes or hospitalized during the holidays and he spent a few years in prison, so, while he was by nature a very kind person, he just wasn’t there for me during those years.
Holidays got a lot better for me once I moved out on my own. I have tried really hard to make my home a safe, stable, and peaceful place to be. I’ve been through some bouts of depression, some great therapy, and many hard years of figuring out how I feel about stuff and how to set boundaries with my family. For me, things got a lot better when I decided to no longer have a relationship with my stepfather. There was a lot of guilt and hard feelings involved, and years of pressure from my mom, but I knew this was the right decision for me. I had an awesome therapist to help me see the guilt trips and gaslighting. Unfortunately, my decision made it hard to maintain a relationship with my mom. Some family members just thought I was making a big deal out of nothing (for the record, they never lived with him).
There were about five years when my relationship with my mom consisted of very brief meetings at restaurants after several hours’ drive and her trying to bully me into seeing him, saying he had changed and was doing better. I’d say I was happy for him but that I still did not want to see him. Part of me would have loved to reconcile, but a wiser part of me knew that he would never be able to change enough for me to have a healthy relationship with him. After 20 years of second chances, my heart could not take any more manipulation.
We did not talk on holidays, and sometimes she just wouldn’t show up at all and wouldn’t answer her phone. There was a time that I didn’t see her for two years and we don’t live that far apart. I understood that she was in a very challenging relationship, but I still felt rejected and heartbroken. My life was moving forward, but each time a new milestone passed, I felt that rejection come right back in. During this time I stumbled across Band Back Together, and I drew so much support from the posts and resources here.
These days, my relationship with my mom is in much better shape. My stepfather passed away almost three years ago. I am not saying that is a good thing, because I would never wish him or anyone harm, that is just what happened. It has been very hard on my mom, who is aging and now lives alone, but the silver lining for me is that I get to have a relationship with her again.
There are still lots of difficult feelings there, but she acknowledges that the way he treated me was not okay and he didn’t start to get his shit together at all until I was at least 30. I try not to talk about him.
Now she takes time to visit me (and other family members), and she isn’t worried that he is going to blow up on her for spending time with other people. We are still cautious about holidays. We’ve tried two Thanksgivings together and they went well. We may not be picture perfect, but we do enjoy each other’s company. I’m almost 40 and I still feel like I’m constantly working on boundaries. I still have challenges with anxiety/depression. Sometimes life makes me want to crawl into a blanket cave for a week.
I love that being an adult, I can choose how and who I will spend a holiday with. I am genuinely grateful for the opportunity to have a relationship with my mom. This one thing is going well and I am grateful for it.
I’m beside myself… My 11 year-old daughter recently decided she wants to live with her dad, citing that she’s not happy living with me. Unsurprisingly, this has elicited within me feelings of failure as a mother… I’ve loved her and always provided for her as best I could as a single mother (with a hell of a mother wound myself) since the day I found out I was pregnant with her. I’ve sacrificed, fought back tears from her dagger-like words and given SO MUCH of myself that some days I don’t know who I am anymore.
I’ve been in therapy for a year working on my past traumas, as has she. I have offered myself as a safe space to her and have used every parenting tactic known to the human race… I don’t know what to do. I feel helpless, hopeless and want to crawl in a hole and bury myself. She has told me she wants me all to herself, doesn’t want to share me with her sister or anyone else. She’s also been mean, verbally abusive and morbid as long as I can remember. Her dad can’t believe the behaviors I’ve described to him, as she’s never that way around him.
I feel like giving up, folding my cards and letting them fall as they may. My health, both physically and mentally, has deteriorated tremendously over the last several years and I simply don’t have the energy to keep fighting.
For a boy of only three, you have quite a story. Any attempt to write it all down will be like a Polaroid picture of an HD film – nothing will capture the life in your eyes. I am okay with that, I just need to put this all down.
My son, you are loved more than anyone could ever tell you. I know EVERYONE says that about their children, but you truly are. When we made the decision to place you with another family, I made sure that your bio-dad and I were on the same page – longing for your perfect future.
I am sorry – deeply, painfully sorry – that I could not see through your adoptive Mom’s lies. I kick myself for that. We’d hand-picked that family, a big family, for you. You have no shortage of siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. Even before the whole of you would fill the face of a quarter, I knew you deserved that.
I just found out that your parents are divorcing. I am sorry. I never wanted you to grow up in a single-parent family. I missed out on having a dad growing up, so I know the value of having two adults around to love and cherish you. I know two incomes are easier than one. We placed you because we were weak in our relationship and we wanted you raised in a mature, loving, rock-solid marriage. Now, I find out the marriage we trusted was a sham.
I know that your family still loves you dearly.
My son, my child, I am wrestling with the idea of fighting for custody. Your Mom has recently displayed violent tendencies. I cannot, in good conscience, leave you in that situation. Please forgive me. Your Dad adores you, as do your sisters and brother. I hate that I’m thinking of fighting for custody, but I don’t know how anyone can raise 5 children as a single parent.
I wish there was a crystal ball for me to shake, to see what the right answer is. I wish trusted the woman I picked to raise you, the woman that was there for all of your ultrasounds, your birth, your firsts.
I am having problems trusting myself at all. The decision to place you was one thing I’d been solid in.
I knew I had done what was right. Except now? Even that is shaky.
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.
Our apartment is not Hoarders level bad, but it could get there easily if I allowed it to. I don’t allow it to because clutter triggers my anxiety.
This pandemic has been hell on my hoarding-related anxiety and on my depression.
I know, on an academic level, why people hoard things. I even have a very good guess as to the reasons behind my husband’s hoarding. But knowing the why doesn’t help; it doesn’t ease my anxiety, it doesn’t make me more empathetic… I think it actually makes me even more frustrated and depressed.
This is one way that having a psychology degree can be a double-edged sword. The knowledge is helpful when you’re looking at the behavior of someone you don’t know. But when it’s someone you live with and you have emotional ties to, it feels like it makes things worse.
The hoarding is a major anxiety trigger for me. It’s limited to his “office”, but sometimes, it seeps out into the rest of the apartment. My husband has this nasty habit of setting things down “for now”, but never picking them back up. I refuse to pick it up. In my mind, my justification is that I didn’t put it there, he did. I shouldn’t have to be picking up after a grown man. So then it sits.
As I type this, I’m looking at a pile of cardboard that needs to go out of the recycling. I look at it and I am seething, both at him and at myself. I’m seething at him for just piling it up and not taking some of it down with him to the dumpster when he took out the trash. I seethe at myself for being so overwhelmed by a pile of cardboard that I freeze when I think about having to haul it out by myself.
I’m resentful. I resent being the one who has to clean. I resent having to tiptoe around his anxiety because if I don’t, then he becomes passive-aggressive and tries to emotionally manipulate me and make me out to be the bad guy because I expect him to help me keep a clean house. Then I start keeping score.
I shouldn’t be keeping score, but I can’t help it. I feel like I carry more of the weight around here and do 90% of the emotional labor in this relationship. This comes from my past; I grew up in an abusive household where I was both scapegoat and maid. I had to clean the whole house while my father sat on his ass and ordered me around. I feel a lot like this now. Except I’m an adult and I don’t live in fear of my husband if I refuse to do it.
I try to clean, but I feel like it’s a losing battle. It’s also becoming very difficult for me to keep pushing on and on. I clean up, but he brings in more crap and sets it down, never to pick it up again.
I think I might be at the end of my rope. Actually, I think I’m hanging on to a thread as far as the hoarding is concerned. I’ve contemplated going into that room and just getting rid of everything that I think is garbage. I’ve even considered ratting out my husband to the landlord as a wake-up call. I’m mortified at the thought of maintenance or the landlord coming in and seeing that room.
Again, not a picture of the author’s actual garage…
I’m not even going to get into how our rented garage looks. That does look like an episode of Hoarders. I’m angry that we pay extra a month to rent a garage to house all the crap he brought home and never used. We need to clean it out, but I’m both overwhelmed at the idea of how much stuff is in there. I’m also mortified at having to open the garage door and having everyone see how bad it is.
I could go to therapy, but the issue here is that I don’t want to tolerate this hoard anymore. I’ve lived with it too long and I feel like I’m enabling him by not saying anything. I’m hanging onto that last frayed strand of rope. I’ve lived with it long enough. I don’t have the time nor the patience to live with all the physical crap. I don’t have the luxury of waiting until he admits that he has a problem and gets help for it. If this makes me sound cold, then so be it. I have to think of myself. This is wreaking havoc on my anxiety and my depression. I don’t want to end up having another nervous breakdown and spending a week in a behavioral health facility because my anxiety and depression have reached the levels of suicidal ideation again.
Don’t laugh. The last time this happened, it was because the idea of going to work triggered panic attacks and I felt like such a failure that I began thinking about suicide.
I have few ways to escape since the pandemic started. I feel trapped, both by a virus and by someone else’s physical crap and emotional issues he refuses to deal with. I’m exhausted, too. I feel like a failure because I can’t keep my house clean. Short of staging an intervention, I don’t know what else to do.
A post about some of the difficult things going on in life…
Why is it that writing about shitty things in your life is so much more difficult than writing about positive things? I can think of a million reasons why I shouldn’t write about them, and 999,999 of them are bullshit anxiety reasons about how my problems aren’t important enough to voice.
Someone you write about will see it and recognize themselves and be upset with you or be hurt.
Someone you wish would see it never will and it won’t help to say it if they don’t.
The worst offender for me is the idea that my problems are insignificant and I’m not important enough for anyone to truly care about how I feel. I am lucky enough to have family that loves me, even if they’re the cause of a lot of strife in my life. And most of them would be surprised if they knew how often I fantasize about suicide and how I could do it. How I’ve thought of driving to a field in the country and swallowing a bottle of pills in my car.
How I thought about how I should bring the lawn and leaf trash bags to sit in so that when my bodily functions cease, I don’t permanently fuck up the car seats when I piss and shit myself.
Even worse would be the fact that I most often think about these things when my kid is going off on me. My own kid. I love him and I would die for him, and he’s had a really rough shake in life.
And right now, I am all that he has. Family is an entire state away, he’s had shitty luck making friends in a new(ish) town, his dad and stepmom have abused him, he was raped by a cousin before he hit double digits, he’s been bullied in school. So I am his rock. I am the bucket into which he dumps his overflow of feelings, and often those feelings are full of sharp, painful words.
All the ways in which he feels I’ve failed him, my own insecurities, all thrown in my bucket. And these days, my bucket is often almost at capacity.
My bucket has always been the reliable one into which others could dump their excess and lighten their own load. I always found ways to lighten my own bucket, and now I realize it was probably a convenient slow leak – things just tended to cool down with time for me, I could sleep on things for a night or two and generally the bothersome feeling ebbed on its own.
As I’ve grown older, it’s like the wood has expanded and the slow leak has resolved itself.
Or perhaps it’s that feelings filled my bucket that were too big to drain through that small leak. Feelings that I had when I found out my boyfriend was sexting four of his exes, telling them he loved them, telling them terrible things about me. Feelings I had when I found out that while I was at my grandmother’s funeral, he was at home saving pictures of one of his exes to his Google Drive. Feelings about how he would gaslight me when I confronted him. Feelings about how shitty he was with my kid.
Feelings about how I shouldn’t have let it happen, how I should have ended things the first time I found evidence of his infidelity and read the saved texts to one ex saying he had a dream that he asked her to marry him and she said yes.
On top of those feelings are all the feelings that settled in that bucket surrounding the deaths of my grandparents. They raised me from birth and were parents to me, more so than my birth parents were while I was growing up. I was the only person with my grandpa when he went to the ER with severe abdominal pain. I asked the doctor if it was an ulcer, and I’ll never forget the feelings that crashed in the bucket when he said, “Oh no, we’re pretty sure it’s cancer.”
The feelings started feeling like rocks when I got a call from my aunt in the middle of the night telling me that my grandpa had died, just one week before my birthday. I always joke, even though it’s not a joke, that I must be the Angel of Death because so many people in my life have died the same month I was born. I will never forget walking into that room and seeing his waxy pallor, his eyes closed, and his mouth open, slack-jawed. He was bony and thin, because the cancer had eaten him away – literally. It ate a hole in his colon, and it was inoperable because his type of cancer could be transmitted through the air if they had tried to operate.
When we told my grandma, she closed her eyes and moaned, “noooo” over and over again. One week later, the night of my grandpa’s funeral, she was brought to the ER and it was discovered that one of her diabetic ulcers developed gangrene. If they amputated the leg, she likely never would have recovered. She opted for hospice instead. My bucket could barely hold the feelings I had when I had to work instead of being with my family at her bedside because just a few months prior, my old job had to lay me off due to miscalculations by the CFO. So I got a day of bereavement leave for each of their deaths, and any other time off was unpaid. As a mother who barely made enough, I couldn’t afford not to work. So my anxiety swam through that full bucket every day, waiting for a call that I had missed it. Missed saying goodbye. Thankfully it happened while almost all her family was by her side, myself included. And I had the good fortune to sing to her to try and help her relax so she could let go. And I held her hand while I watched her face, wide-eyed and mouth gasping, take her last breath and finally release into peace and stillness, three weeks to the day after my grandpa.
My grief was handled alone as I became the rock to everyone else. Handled isn’t even the right word for it. It went ignored as I let everyone else pour their excess into my bucket. And then all the terrible things began to happen. As it often does, death brought out the worst in some family members. Money became a motivator, and they acted as though each red cent of their painstakingly maintained insurance policies was a gasp of oxygen and they needed it to live. I wanted to strangle the breath from them and give it back to my grandparents. I wanted to punch them and scream that I’d give every dollar to have them back. More big feelings as I watched the ugly sides of my parents, the people I was supposed to lean on, show themselves. I cannot forget it, and I cannot let myself fully trust them ever again.
Then the blow that no parent is prepared for – finding out their child was abused. I can’t describe the feelings I had when my son told me, but I remember it like it was yesterday. And he asked me not to tell anyone who didn’t need to know. He was already afraid to tell me, because his abuser threatened to kill him if he ever told anyone else. And so beyond people who were necessary, no one knew what had happened. I respected his wish for silence, and I wouldn’t take it back for anything. But the weight of what happened to my bright, lovely, sunshine child was heavy. And fighting for justice within the legal system, alone, was hard as fuck. The justice system doesn’t do much when the perpetrator is a juvenile, and my son ended up having to jump through more hoops than anyone which led him to develop the feeling that he was being punished for what happened to him. He’s never truly recovered from that, and it infuriates me whenever I think about it.
He was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and talk therapy wasn’t working. I decided to try medication to help him cope better with daily life while we continued talk therapy. Eight months later, he was on Prozac and his doctor doubled the dosage because he thought he was metabolizing it too quickly. He was wrong.
One night it was like a switch flipped in my son, he went off and was threatening to stab us, laughing in my face as I cried, and more. I told him I was going to have to have him committed to a treatment facility, and the switch flipped back. He broke down in tears, and begged me to get him help because he couldn’t control what was happening. I brought him to the ER to be admitted to inpatient treatment and the doctor said it was from too many video games and treated me like an idiot when I explained it was from an increased dosage of medication.
We spent three days and two nights in the ER waiting for a bed, and were finally discharged with a referral for outpatient treatment.