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Love, Grief, and the Many Shades Of Parenting

Love, Grief, and the Many Shades Of Parenting 0

This week a dear family friend passed away. He was a husband, father, grandpa, friend, as well as a loved university professor, His wife, a mom and a grandma, and a devoted reader of my blog asked me to write about grief. It’s about the many kinds of grief we experience as parents, and just as human beings. So in their family’s honour, here it is.

Years ago when I was a facilitator of a mom’s post-partum depression group, one of the articles I gave all the mom’s to read was titled “Madonnas in Mourning”. It was a powerful article about the conflicts new mothers feel about the arrival of their baby. While there are great feelings of joy and elation, there are other darker, more uncomfortable feelings – fear, anxiety, self-doubt, overwhelm etc.

These feelings are common and given the opportunity, most moms will acknowledge them. They expect to experience some of “The Baby Blues”.

But the author talked about other feelings which aren’t acknowledged that often.

The feelings of grief and loss.

At first, when moms in the postpartum depression group read that, they wondered, “Grief and loss over the arrival of this new little life? Isn’t this just a ‘big gain’ and not a big loss?”

Yes, until you look at it more deeply.

When a baby arrives in your life for the first time, your life changes forever. You “lose” many things:

  • Your identity – you are now a parent. You may have a work identity, a play identity, a skill identity, but all those identities are now overlaid with your new parent identity. And that identity is forever.
  • Your freedom – you can’t just run out the door whenever you want to travel, or go hang out with friends or go dancing or backcountry skiing. There’s a whole new layer of commitment attached to every decision you make.
  • Your friends without children – They may find you absolutely boring with your talk of sleep and how many poops, and guess who smiled today. You well may lose them as core friends.
  • Your central interests – the freedom you had to pursue what you love will take a back seat to caring for your child.
  • Your free and easy romantic relationship with your partner  – now there’s the constant awareness that there’s “someone else” in the relationship, plus you’re tired, “touched-out”, with ears always open for the cry or call.
  • Your financial status – now there’s another mouth to feed. You have to watch your spending that much more carefully.
  • Your confidence – parenting is a constantly changing, constantly challenging experience. You are continually caught off guard by babies and children and often very unsure about how to respond. This can really undermine confidence in yourself.
  • Your time to yourself – especially when your babies are little. Time to and by yourself is a rare luxury.

The list goes on – and you can probably add a few “before I  became a parent I…” statements for yourself.

These losses don’t negate all the positives that having a baby offers – for many having children is the greatest joy of their lives.

But, like all big changes and shifts in our lives, becoming a parent brings with it the loss of what was. We can’t go back.

Much as we sometimes want things to stay the same, life happens and things change.

Sometimes those changes are “happy” ones but even happy changes entail the loss of what was there before.

Sometimes those changes are excruciatingly painful and the losses are obvious and easier to acknowledge.

As we go through life, we have many “necessary losses” (a wonderful term coined by psychologist Judith Viorst) that result from life changes.

Take a look at some common life events and see if you can identify where loss plays a role.

  • Moving to a new town or city
  • Moving to a new house
  • Getting into a relationship
  • Getting married
  • Losing a job
  • Getting a new job
  • Getting a puppy
  • Having a second child
  • Your car getting too old to fix
  • Learning your child has special needs
  • Friends moving away
  • New neighbours next door
  • Losing a pregnancy
  • Your child graduating high school
  • Your parent or partner developing Alzheimers or dementia
  • Divorce or relationship breakup
  • Reaching your weight loss goal
  • Having a difficult birth
  • Being turned down for a job
  • Getting a big promotion
  • Completing your education
  • Having difficulty breastfeeding
  • Your child starting school or daycare
  • Losing your pet
  • You or someone you love developing a serious or chronic illness
  • Your best friend getting married
  • The death of anyone you love

All of these are common life events that you, your children or others that you know and care about are bound to experience in life. All involve a need to shift, change and hopefully grow. All involve some type of loss.

And with loss comes grief – one of the most painful emotions that humans experience.

What is grief? There are many definitions but this is the one I find most useful:

“Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind.”

Depending on the nature of the loss, grief can bring feelings ranging from sadness and discomfort to intense unbearable sorrow and despair. Grief – especially if it is not acknowledged, expressed and accepted by those around us, can be very debilitating. If left unspoken, it can turn to long-term depression and/or anger.

We have a tendency in this culture to be very uncomfortable with negative feelings, especially grief, our own or others, and we want ourselves and the people around us to “get over it”.

The reality is that we can’t. We can try to bury it, deny it, “stiff upper lip” it and pretend it’s gone.

Grief surfaces when we least expect it. Things like someone else’s experience that’s similar to one of our losses, or a movie or song, can bring back memories and the old feelings can come flooding in.

Any life passage, like our child graduating high school, can bring back intense feelings of loss for our deceased parent who isn’t there to share the joy or our child’s parent who left the family and isn’t there to support our child.

If we accept our grief, name it and work through it, it becomes part of who we are and helps us to grow and learn. We can acknowledge it when it surfaces and tenderly recognize it.

Just as I always talk about how important it is to help your children identify and express their feelings (including loss and grief – think new baby, a broken toy, loss of a grandparent) and help them to deal with them, it is just as important to recognize your feelings – including loss and grief – accept them, express them, and learn to work through them as well.

I want to close with a beautiful quote from a woman who lost her mom at 14 and was overwhelmed with grief when her baby was born 18 years later.

“And if there’s one thing I’ve finally learned in the last six years, one of the many immeasurable ways motherhood has changed me, it’s that there is no answer to grief. It is not something we need to indulge or push away. It’s O.K. for our biggest losses to live alongside our happiest moments, to feel them without resisting or stoking, and maybe when we are our best selves, to aspire to let our grief deepen our gratitude. During pregnancy, I spent way too long burying thoughts of my mom. And after Ellie was born, in my post-partum haze, all I could do was marinate in my loss. Now, I realize that I can live in this amazing in-between. I can feel both loss and fulfillment simultaneously.” (full article here)

My heart goes out to you if you are experiencing loss and grief of any kind in your life (which is probably most of us). Remember to acknowledge it, express it, and truly accept it. It is a beautiful, painful, part of being human. If we’ve never loved and grieved, we’ve never really lived.

Here’s a good collection of articles on grief and loss: blog.griefrecoverymethod.com

  • Judy Banfield
  • Tags: grief loss
Dealing with Frustration

Dealing with Frustration 0

 

Dealing with your child’s frustration

This week several parents talked to me about their surprise at how frustrated their little children could become, and how intense their frustration can be. It was interesting for me because this week I had more on my plate than I could handle and became very….frustrated. So I thought I’d write a bit about it.

Frustration is an interesting emotion. By definition:

frustration is a common emotional response to opposition... frustration arises from the perceived resistance to the fulfillment of an individual's will or goal and is likely to increase when a will or goal is denied or blocked.

Well for me that definition totally describes my sources of frustration this past week. I had so many things and small details coming at me that had to be dealt with at the same time. I felt like I was juggling many responsibilities, putting out “fires” in different areas of my life and not doing any of it very well. I felt my personal goals were constantly being blocked...and I was very frustrated.

As parents you surely know what that feels like. You need to get out the door and your child resists getting dressed. You’re trying to make dinner and your child has a meltdown. Your partner who was supposed to watch the kids so you could meet your friends and finally get a break, calls to say they have to work late. The list goes on. Life can just be super frustrating sometimes.

If you know how frustrated and annoyed you can become when your goals are blocked or thwarted, imagine how it feels to be a child who has little to no emotional self control. Not only do they have little control over their emotions and how they express them, they just plain have very little control over anything in their lives.

So of course they get frustrated.

You see it when a baby tries to hold something or reach something but just isn’t developmentally ready. You see it when a toddler wants to put on their own boots but just can’t get them on (if they do and they’re on the wrong feet, let it be. Their feet won’t be ruined by a few walks in the wrong boot!). You see it when a preschooler doesn’t want to leave a friends’ house.

You could probably write a volume on all the things that frustrate children.

The reality is that frustration is a very real part of life. And it follows us wherever we go and whatever we do.

So how do we help our kids (and ourselves) manage it.

  • Recognize and identify it - frustration is felt in the body. Your adrenalin flows, your breathing changes, your jaw may tighten. You can see this in your children. Their faces may scrunch, their cheeks get red, their fists may pound, they may bang their heads on the floor or wall (or pillow if they are in bed). They are signalling through their movements and expressions that they are frustrated.
  • Give the experience words - give children the language of emotion :
    I can see you want that toy and you are sad (angry, frustrated) that you can’t have it. I know its hard when you can’t get that puzzle piece in. I know you really wanted to stay longer and you are frustrated that we have to leave now….etc.
  • Use those words even with preverbal children. They will grow to have a feelings vocabulary and be able to identify what is going on inside them later on. ‘Oh I can see you are really trying to stand up. You are trying so hard.”
  • Be there for them and offer comfort - this does not mean you are  “giving in”. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in your own frustration with what is happening. You are the grownup and your being calm (and firm if necessary) and compassionate will go a long way to defusing a situation.

How successful you can be with helping your child deal with frustration will depend a lot on your child’s innate temperament. Some children are easygoing and can be helped out of frustration with a few loving words. Some take life very hard and are intense in everything they do. They need more calm from you, more support and more time to deal with their feelings. (And you will probably need more time and support to deal with yours!)

Bottom line, frustration is real from birth on. Learning to recognize it and handle it successfully is one of the best gifts you can give your children and yourselves.

 


Have a wonderful day,

Judy Banfield
Owner of Mountain Baby and Parenting Coach
www.judybanfield.com

Help! I can't put my baby down!

Help! I can't put my baby down! 0


The other day a new mom came into the store desperate for some products that would allow her to put her baby down. She was distraught and exhausted and was sure that her baby should be able to be put into her crib and lie there peacefully on her own. But it just wasn’t working. As we talked about it she began to understand why all the ads on the internet guaranteeing a quiet self-soothing newborn, were deceptive and almost cruel, both to the mom and to the baby.


One of the greatest shocks of new parenthood is discovering how much your baby needs you. No matter how many books you’ve read or mommy blogs you’ve read or friends you’ve talked to, nothing really prepares you for the intensity of a newborn's needs.


To get a sense of it,  just close your eyes for a moment and imagine what it must be like to be in a warm, wet, dark, super snug environment, where you are embraced and held non-stop around the clock. There is nothing you need to do. You don’t have to eat, you don’t have to see, you don’t even have to breathe. You hear the constant, rhythmic, reassuring sound of a heartbeat continuously. You don’t have to communicate that you need anything because everything you need is taken care of.


This is life in the womb. Cozy, comfy, snug, secure. You are held. And held. And held. Then suddenly, either through a dramatic uprooting where you are squeezed and pushed through a very tight space, or another kind of uprooting where you are suddenly grabbed by strange hands, you are thrust from your warm cocoon.


Suddenly you have to breathe, you have to see. You experience hunger, you have to eat, you have to digest, you have to adapt to changing temperatures, you hear a range of strange noises, and breathe in an array of smells.


Your safe place is gone.


Or is it? There are these beings who can hold you, who can provide you with the warmth and security you’ve suddenly lost. They can keep you close enough to hear their familiar heartbeats. They can soothe you when you are in distress. They can feed you when you experience the pain of hunger. They can rock you, walk with you, sing to you to try to recreate that wonderful safety of the womb.


They understand how hard it is to be in the world and that there is absolutely nothing you can do to take care of your needs for food, comfort and security. They know that you are absolutely, completely and totally dependent on them to get your needs met.


You want and need to be close to them. You get terrified and distressed when they put you down. Who wouldn’t?


So when you think about a newborn’s experience, is it any surprise that you can’t put your baby down? There is nothing wrong with your baby if they need your closeness because... they really do need your closeness. It is very “right”. You are absolutely, positively, not spoiling them by holding them. In fact, the more you hold them the easier it is for their little immature nervous systems, digestive systems, sensory systems etc, to settle and calm down.


There is overwhelming evidence that responding to a baby is essential for their long-term emotional security, physical well being, intellectual development and innate drive towards independence as they become more secure. The more responsive, the better the outcomes


In fact, babies who are held more cry less, and become more securely attached. And the more securely they are attached, the more secure they feel about moving into the world and exploring.


That said, meeting your baby’s needs can be exhausting. You can experience a level of fatigue you’ve never experienced before. You can feel a helplessness when your baby won’t stop crying no matter what you do. When they wake you every hour or two during the night, night after night after night, you may feel like you just can’t do it.


So what can you do?

  • Accept that newborns need to be held and to be close to you..
  • Remember what their life was like before they were born.
  • Smile politely when people tell you that you are spoiling your baby
  • Feel good about meeting your newborn's needs
  • Pop your baby in a carrier and let them spend as much time as they need there. This will free you to move around, go outside, get things done in the house and most importantly, to lie down, slightly propped up,  on your back with your baby on your chest so you can both get some sleep.
  • There is nothing wrong with letting your baby sleep in a carrier while you do other things: you don’t “have to” put them down.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed ask for help from partners if you have one,  friends, relatives, public health nurses, La Leche League Leaders, postpartum clinics, or your midwife or doctor.
  • Participate in groups for new moms
  • Remember to eat well, get fresh air and be kind to yourself.
  • Remember that every new mother is exhausted. You are not alone!

Before you know it your baby will smile at you, and once that happens, everything will seem right in the world.



Have a wonderful day,

Judy Banfield
Owner of Mountain Baby and Parenting Coach
www.judybanfield.com



Will your child still love you if you “discipline” them?

Will your child still love you if you “discipline” them? 0

“My daughter and I are so much happier now. I finally learned that it’s ok to say “no” sometimes and to guide and direct her behavior. We actually get along much better. I can’t believe it!”

These were the words of a mom I ran into this week.

I hadn’t seen her for a few years. When I first met her about three years ago when her daughter was 2, she and her daughter were reeling from an unexpected relationship break up, new single parenthood, a suddenly absent father, economic uncertainty, needing to find a new place to live, etc.

All the stuff that comes along with the end of a relationship.

At the time, her little girl was acting out a lot. Two-year-olds act out at the best of times but when faced with so many changes, the intensity is upped dramatically.

At the same time, the mom was dealing with her own emotional and practical life challenges and felt terribly guilty about her little girl’s life suddenly turning upside down – even though it wasn’t her doing.

Because of her own guilt and distress, combined with the terrible feelings of rejection she experienced from her partner leaving, the Mom found herself emotionally unable to direct her little girl’s behaviour and no matter what the little girl did, even if she was hitting her mom, or demanding completely unreasonable things, she always gave in and let the little girl do or have whatever she wanted.

She hoped that this would bond her child to her, and make her love her more. But instead, the relationship became strained and unhappy. Neither of them was at ease or relaxed with each other.

At the time, the Mom wasn’t asking for or wanting any help. She was more concerned about pleasing her daughter than anything else. She couldn’t see what was happening, except that they were both very unhappy.

It was painful to see.

Fast forward three years and I ran into the mom again. She looked happy, relaxed, full of life, and looked actually younger than when I knew her three years ago.

“How are you?” I asked her. “You look great and so much happier than when I last saw you”

“Well”, she said, “Everything was so bad back then, but as I started to pull myself together, finding a place to live, getting a good job, getting into a healthy relationship, I was able to really look at my relationship with my daughter. I saw how unhealthy it was and how bad it was for both of us.

I realized that I was afraid of her and that more than anything she needed me to be the adult. To give her some boundaries and direction. To teach her how to behave in different circumstances. That some behavior was acceptable, and some definitely wasn’t.

I was so scared that if I was clear and strong and didn’t always give her what she wanted or let her do what she wanted to do, that she would stop loving me. It was crazy. And now that I feel empowered as a parent, we love each other so much more and we are so much happier.”

Wow. Good for her for having the courage to really look at herself, see what was happening in her parenting relationship and take the steps necessary to make the change. And it worked!

This mom’s situation is something I’ve seen often. It was not unusual, nor was her fear of losing her child’s love if she placed some boundaries on her child’s behavior and asserted her “adultness”.

Even when parents aren’t experiencing a major life change, I still see many parents who are afraid of claiming their role as the teacher, director, guide, boundary setter.

They think they are being oppressive or they are stifling their children or breaking their spirit. Even if the child is bothering or hurting others, or making a mess in someone’s house, or demanding something unreasonable, they believe they shouldn’t ever intervene or say “no”.

The parents think they are making their children happier and more empowered that way.

But, in reality, they aren’t.

Why do parents feel this way? I think there are many reasons.
For one, many of us have had unhappy childhoods where we were harshly disciplined, shamed, and made to feel bad about ourselves.

We don’t want to impose that on our children so we go to the other extreme… anything goes. Whatever they do is fine.

I also sense that some parents are afraid of their children’s negative feelings. They are afraid of their children being unhappy with them.

Maybe deep down they, like the mom I ran into, are afraid that their children won’t love them if they are ever firm with them.

Indeed, many times when we redirect our children, even when it is done with compassion and understanding, our children do get angry with us. For some of us, that’s very emotionally difficult, even scary. It feels like a withdrawal of love. It could be that we were “disciplined” by a withdrawal of love and it triggers unhappy memories.

But whatever the cause, I think it’s helpful and important to recognize the results of this kind of “hands-off” parenting.

There are many conflicting studies on parenting, but there has been a consistency in the research over many many decades about the effects of different parenting techniques on the outcomes for children.

We know that some parents see themselves as “the boss” or ”the supreme leader”.They exercise tight control over their children’s behavior and use severe discipline (often physical) with no recognition of their children’s emotional needs or their point of view. They often use shaming and “put-downs” as a way to keep their children in line.

Children of parents who parent this way often end up with low self-esteem, low self-worth, poor inner controls (they are always looking out for the punisher), low trust of others, out of touch with their own feelings and intuition, have difficulties in relationships, lack compassion and sensitivity to others, often rebel and have trouble at school or work, and can easily be manipulated by others.

Not a pretty picture.

On the other hand, the kind of permissive “hand off” parenting has its own problems.

As we talked about before these parents may show lots of love and affection to their children but they don’t give them direction. They routinely ignore misconduct (e.g., letting kids get away with deliberate rudeness) and give in to a children’s demands when they cause a commotion or throw a tantrum.

Most parents will do this from time to time but truly permissive parents regularly don’t have any standards of behavior or give their children any sense of how to solve problems, recognize other people’s needs or rights, and how to get along in the world.

Children of parents who parent this way can also end up with low self-esteem because it seems that no one really cares what they do, plus they are often behaving in ways that really bother other people. Then other kids don’t want to play with them and other adults don’t want them in their homes playing with their kids.

Their relationships both with their parents, other adults and other children get more and more negative.

As the mom whom I ran into said, once she claimed her parental role and felt comfortable being the adult and giving her daughter some guidance and direction – always with love and compassion, their relationship improved enormously and they were both way happier.

Which is, I would say, the goal. A close loving relationship, a sense of purpose, and more happiness all around.

Finding your own parenting voice is a challenge. Finding a balance between freedom and direction is a challenge. Dealing with the minute by minute nature of parenting is a challenge.

But remember that your children need you to love them and to teach and guide them. You will all be happier that way.

Have a wonderful day,

Judy Banfield
Owner of Mountain Baby and Parenting Coach.

http://judybanfield.com

Judy Banfield

Is your smartphone more important than your kids?

Is your smartphone more important than your kids? 0

It’s strongly recommended that all families have stretches of no-phone time – over dinner, when everyone gets home from daycare or school or work, at bedtime, after dinner game time, bath time – whatever works for your family. But do it seriously.
How To Raise A Great Father

How To Raise A Great Father 0

 

 Click HERE to listen to the Podcast

Have you ever wondered about how your father became the way that he is?

Last week, I had an experience that confirmed with me what I’ve observed to be true for many years in my work as a parenting coach – parents with young children can’t imagine their kids as adults.

The experience I had involved me taking part in an event that brought high school students together with seniors, to talk openly with one another about their respective lives.

The most amazing thing that I heard was that the teenage boys all shared a similar anxiety… “how do I be a man in the world today?” “how do I act around girls in this #MeToo world?”… and much more.

This got me thinking of what it takes for parents of young children to raise healthy boys before they become teens and eventually men.

This week, I decided to record a podcast to share my advice about raising boys to become healthy men and fathers.

~ Judy

 Click HERE to listen to the Podcast