We all know that there are no breaks from parenting.
Certainly if you have found your way here – to the Westchester County Mom’s Blog – this does not come as news to you. However, despite the fact that there are no vacation days, no time-outs, no calling out sick from Mommy duty…that doesn’t mean that the stuff that would warrant a break stops happening. And I mean THE stuff, capital “S” Stuff – the tough stuff.
I’ve parented sick before. Ask me about the time I slapped on a mask and rocked my son to sleep while battling pneumonia. I’ve had fevers and the flu aplenty in my roughly seven year tenure. Be it cold or cough – I’ve made it through with aplomb. When it comes to my body – I heal. And I heal fast, moving right along to the next task. When it comes to my heart – well…
I am the ultimate emotional creature.
Here’s the big reveal – my husband and I separated two months ago. For the moment, the details of that are insignificant to the story at hand. For now, suffice to say it was semi-sudden, and I have stayed in the house full time with the kiddos. We are still doing a lot of figuring stuff out. Currently – our collective future plans exist in spurts of days, sometimes even hours or moments. It’s a huge transition. And just to emphasize the brutality of this particular season of life, know that my husband and I are college sweethearts whose relationship spans 14 years. From the time of this writing, our 8 year wedding anniversary was mere days ago.
Deep breaths. Moving on.
So yea! That sucked! And while the details of these shenanigans as it pertains to us – the royal us, the two of us – is at best murky, and at worst opaque. However the details of our kids’ lives cannot be. Time – class trips, girl scouting, the schedule by which we all live – marches on.
Continuing on with the spirit of openness and full disclosure, I also have some depression and anxiety issues. Thankfully I personally had been addressing those ongoing issues in my own life but I feel the need to express the importance of serious self care in this arena. I cannot stress enough how difficult this would be without some version of treatment. Whichever direction you go, treatment is a personal choice, but please from one Mama to another – don’t suffer with it if you’re going through something similar. Taking care of Mama makes you a better Mama.
And I guess that’s a bit where my purpose here starts. I don’t have all the answers of how to handle Stuff like this. I don’t even necessarily have a clue what I am doing. But using that as my mini mantra – “taking care of Mama makes you a better Mama” – I did establish a few unbreakable rules for myself that have been key to my survival.
I am certain of a few things – keep changes as minimal as possible for the kiddos. They will be dealing with major change – spending time with one parent at a time as opposed to both, potentially adjusting to new surroundings – so keeping a predictable schedule is key.
Be as honest as possible. Being a mere 2 ½, my son is a little preoccupied with forming sentences to ask too many questions. However my six year old daughter is full of them. Kids are not dumb and most will be able to gauge the emotional temperature of the household. Mine sure did, she knew things had been a bit amiss. I’m certainly not having long girl talk sessions with her, but I have said things to her like, “Daddy isn’t living here right now because he and I need some time to learn how not to fight.” This makes sense to her and hopefully helps to ease her anxiety about the changes.
Their emotional needs always have to come before yours, but therefore it’s important to take care of your needs so you are available to those wonderful kids. With the caveat that this is the cobbled together “action plan” of a woman just doing her best, squinting through bloodshot eyes only able to see as far as tomorrow – MAYBE – this is the summary of the ground rules I’ve set for myself while parenting through pain.
Now – I am not suggesting we all run up to every sympathetic face in the supermarket and lay out the whole damn story. There is a line between emotionally available and the unhinged Chatty Cathy on the train who you do your best to not make eye contact with. I know I have made myself available to my loved ones, they have always been comfortable coming to me and venting, screaming, crying and seeking advice. This part of my bond with them was well established.
What was hard for me was going to them and being willing to be raw. Don’t do this. I know it is easier said than done but believe me when I say your network is worried, y’all. The more you let them in the more they can help. What’s more is sometimes you might find your best supports in unexpected places. I had been friendly with a neighbor, our kids play together. We had spent some summer nights together, corralling our brood in to my yard. She is a wonderfully forthcoming person which helps counteract my naturally, painfully shy persona.
When I bumped into her shortly after my separation began, she asked me how I was and I decided to be blunt. Turns out – she was going through some similar stuff. We have thrown our kids together in many rooms and eaten many french fries since. Our proximity to each other has allowed us to have a few late night “talk down” sessions. Her support, advice, and company have become priceless. Let your friends in. Set your boundaries, of course, but please try and throw the feeling of being a burden or whatever other weird justification for bottling up what you’re feeling out the window.
Last week, I needed a change of scenery STAT. I also luxuriated in the thought of getting some extra hands on deck. With that I set off for a weekend at my Dad’s house. My Dad lives in Lavalette, NJ. A bustling Jersey shore town that is next door neighbors to the much more infamous Seaside Heights, home to the carnival of chaos that is MTV’s “Jersey Shore.” However, with the scent of sausage and peppers, hair gel and regret, wafted away for the winter, the area is exactly the ghost town I was looking for.
Not only did I indulge in the weekend long assist with baths, bedtime, and the battle that is mealtime, I also got the space I needed to be sad. I cannot tell you the peaceful solitude a summer town supermarket can offer to you in the off season. It’s pretty freeing to spend a bit of time crying to the music blaring through the speakers while you debate over which Neopolitan ice cream container is the RIGHT Neopolitan ice cream container for you. Or at least it was for me.
Whatever it is that will let you feel the things you need to feel – do it. There are moments – plenty of moments – where there is no solution to get you out of the funk, you just have to feel funky. “The only way out is through,” I told myself at the top of all this. Through the confusion, through the managing of it, through the feelings you would really rather not face. There’s no shame in taking some time and indulging in those feelings. I’ve definitely found some time spent letting myself be actively sad makes it much easier to be present when there isn’t a helpful grandparent around to do the heavy lifting.
So – yes I am currently the primary parent. The big big decisions – doctor trips, and school functions, and dinners, and bedtime – all me. But listen, if you’re like me you’re not suddenly completely alone in this freakin’ nuts land of child rearing. Hello, you did the work, you found the babysitters, you chose the right schools, you set up the activities. You did this largely because your kid needs parenting but they also need a network of support.
It’s time to use that network. It’s time to round up the villagers in that whole, “It takes a village,” scenario. I am only two years deep in my experience with the Tarrytown School District but boy if I start to get in to how wonderful and supportive it has been I would need to find an empty supermarket to weep in immediately. More and more schools are using apps – like School Dojo – to be in touch with parents. I can reach my daughter’s first grade teacher as easily as a text to a friend. So I began to treat it like that – her teacher is my “phone a friend” lifeline. When she noticed my daughter being a little irritable, she reached out to me. I chose again to be open and again I gained support. We work together on when my kiddo needs a little more encouragement or time, her teacher can reinforce when she is going to see Daddy as long as I keep her tuned in to the schedule.
The best gift right now is knowing my daughter has adults she can trust. Maybe she doesn’t always want to come to me (my emotional creature gene absolutely made its way to her) knowing she has someone she can speak to is a debt I could never repay. Some nights I worry I can’t do the routine on my own – so I call Grandma. I call my sisters, I call my best friend. Even if I am still running around cleaning and directing and maybe even barking orders, (sometimes even AT Grandma to stop with the cookies already) the safety net of the “village” has made it doable.