In honor of Mother’s Day I’m writing about a psycho thing that ladies do that simultaneously disappoints/infuriates us and terrifies our family members. Sounds charming, right? It happens around holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. It comes from giving too much throughout the year and then racking up a serious emotional deficit that can only be paid off by a grand, perfect gesture.
Ever know exactly what you want from someone—a specific gift, a hug, a declaration of love, an apology—but you don’t tell them because somehow it would seem less genuine if they did it in response to your request? Bull Spit! You my dear, are prideful. And what’re more, you don’t want to lower yourself to the position of being a mere mortal who has to use that thing in their face that makes noise to explain what you want. Because that would require admitting to yourself that your own needs/perspectives/agendas are not the only ones and thus, also not the most obvious One True Right ones in the world.
This behavior sets every single person around you up for failure. It’s like asking someone else to tell you when you are hungry. They. Don’t. Know.
There is a reason the ancient Greeks considered Hubris—making oneself equal to the Gods—a mortal sin. You are awesome, unique and have fabulous taste in self-help blogs (obviously!). But sweetie, you ain’t God. And just because something is dead obvious to you doesn’t make it obvious to anyone else. And especially if it’s not obvious to the people you are closest to, you have two choices: one is to wait for them to figure it out. Civilizations could rise and fall. Homeo-Sapiens could evolve into sleek titanium robots. You could become a bitter and cynical person. Or…you could just go ahead and name your need.
This week for Mother’s Day I bought myself a B.A.W.C. (Big Ass Wind Chime), the kind I have wanted for years. I presented it to my kids to wrap. They will wrap it themselves, which is to say it will look like a hastily buried murder victim when they give it to me on Sunday. In addition I have requested a hand drawn picture from each boy. As evidenced by the photo above, the art gene has skipped an entire generation. But a handmade picture from each of my sons thrills me. So I’m getting exactly what I want for Mother’s Day. Because instead of hinting, I named my need. Put “Dimly Expressed But Strongly Held Expectations” on your do-not-do list. Now it’s your turn mamas: what will you be asking/purchasing for yourself this weekend?
Today I’m writing about my mother. Specifically a recent interaction. First, the back-story: my beautiful mother is a former model who became a fashion journalist and personal shopper so she is exactly five thousand times more fashionable than I.
She also is my mother, which is to say I both want and want to stay independent of her opinions. This push-pull is pretty much the stuff of all intimate relationships: two people negotiating their cravings for connection and independence at varying moments in time and space.
I’m going on vacation next week and asked for my mother’s advice on packing. As I tried on the various outfits she gave me her thumbs up or down and I threw things in or out of the suitcase accordingly.
All was going well…until I put on The Skirt. The Skirt is a gorgeous impulse buy that cost more than my wedding dress. I love the skirt because it is a beautiful, ethereal design in one of my favorite colors but also because it represents something important to me. It represents getting to a place in life and career that I can occasionally throw caution to the wind and get something extravagant. The Skirt means there is no wolf at my door.
She looked it and wrinkled her nose.
“I love this one,” I said.
“You would need just the right hat and just the right bag and just the right shoes.”
“No one wears hats,” I said.
“They do in London,” she said.
“This is two thousand fifteen.”
“If you didn’t want my opinion you shouldn’t have asked for it,” she said.
“I asked for your opinion, not your instructions.” I said.
I put my skirt in the suitcase. I will wear my skirt even though I do not have the exact perfect accessories for it. I feel beautiful and abundant every time I look down and that is more important to me than how I look to others.
In every important relationship we are trying to learn how to share power, how to receive and transmit influence without domination or passivity or blind resistance. This requires learning how to filter suggestions through our own beliefs as opposed to swallowing them whole or chucking them away as alien invaders. It also requires transmitting suggestions in a spacious, generous way.
I’m still learning how to be less bossy (my kids would give me low marks) as well as how to be less passive. But I have at least one awesome skirt to wear on the journey of growing my skills.
The sunny of bloom of daffodils and (occasional) gorgeous blue skies are announcing the arrival of spring. As always, I am behind. My grass is in desperate need of a haircut, I have yet to complete adding up my expenses for taxes, and my car contains a veritable junk yard of objects waiting to be donated or tossed or delivered or otherwise dealt with. If I aliens invade and we all have to take to our vehicles, it’s comforting to know I have shoes, books, snacks, and enough flotsam and jetsam to last my family several days.
But none of that matters, because its spring. In the spring, I lower my productivity (uh, yeah, even more) so I can revel in the hyacinths that bloom in the yard and dream of the days when I’ll send the children out with bowls to pluck raspberries for breakfast. (Conveniently I’ll forget the part when the children balk, insisting that picking their food is akin to child abuse. I treasure my false, bucolic Little House on the Prairie version of reality, where children cheerfully contribute).
For those of you without greenspace, I recommend hanging out in parks and the gardens of friends. Maybe you can copy a friend of mine (okay, my mom) who went from home owner with acreage to apartment dweller at a certain age: she quenches her gardening itch by putting together container gardens for her friends. They pay for the supplies and she gets to compose, shop, and arrange to her heart’s content. Then when she visits, she sees the beauty that she created and it makes both her and her friends happy.
There’s been quite a bit of writing about Nature Deficit Disorder, which is not a real diagnostic category on the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), but is a great concept to keep in mind in this world of indoor entertainment. These days during free time our children play video games and we watch Netflix. Our grandparents rocked on porches and planted victory gardens. (Okay so they also had to deal with the Great Depression and World War II, so let’s not crank up that nostalgia too much).
Something is lost and something is gained by the widespread availability of technology for both information and entertainment. It’s like listening to a single musical note. It never changes.
But we do. And we need to. I like to think about living seasonally, about the need to lie fallow and recharge in the winter so that we can surge forth with new energy and enthusiasm in the spring.
Spring cleaning is a well respected tradition that I would love to follow (and when I say “love” I mean “loathe”). However, lately I’ve been making art. Well “art” might be overstating it. Lately I’ve been playing with Neocolor sticks and water and glue and seed beads and markers and my children’s old baby teeth. I’m making something ugly and wonderful and I love it because it’s fun to make and fun to look at.
Spring is a time of new life. It’s when sensible mammals (like us) give birth. Absent pregnancy, we can still give birth to an experience that brings us joy. Plus creative play is waaaaay lower impact on the life-Richter scale. Gardening or art making or anything fun don’t need four in the morning feedings or diaper changes or college savings accounts.
So happy spring! And congratulations! What are you giving birth to?
(I know, I know I promised to share a new chapter of my book for social anxiety disorder every two weeks which I haven’t done and am STILL not doing as I have 1) been out of the country and 2) managed to lose the whole darn book somewhere inside my poorly organized computer’s Word Document Files. Unlike the basement I can’t go ripping through the computer with a flashlight and a bad attitude. So, instead I offer you this: article on parenting and divorce….)
Divorce and Parenting: How Do We Tell the Children?
The decision to divorce is not and should not be easy. It is all the more difficult when there are children involved. As a responsible parent you may worry about the emotional impact of the divorce itself as well as the right way to tell the children about it. Questions of how and when and where to tell deserve careful consideration in order to minimize your child’s emotional distress in the aftermath of finding out. This article will serve as a roadmap for navigating the tricky terrain of parenting and divorce.
First things first: Safety. Statistics prove that the most physically dangerous time for an abused woman is when she leaves or attempts to leave her abuser. If you are in a relationship in which you have been physically threatened or injured DO NOT make or discuss any plans until you have consulted with a domestic violence advocate. You can use a search engine to find locate free, confidential safety planning by typing in the name of your city and the words “domestic violence services.” For maximum safety go to the library and use the computer there to run this search.
Second: How to tell. Depending on the age of your child, getting a few developmentally appropriate books on divorce will provide a way to cover some of their questions and concerns as well as to relieve you of the need to come up with intelligent answers in the face of your own and/or your child’s distress. It is fine to get books aimed at a younger population (i.e.—picture books even for kids up to age ten) because in the face of upsetting news we all regress intellectually.
Pick a time when you and your soon-to-be-ex will be home over the weekend to provide information, comfort and solace to your children. Friday after school is often a good choice because they can hear the news, get upset, ask you to reconsider, get comforted, go to sleep, wake up, ask questions, get upset, and repeat this cycle for two days before having to go back to school. This will be a hard weekend for you, but resist the urge to flee the house. Your child needs you both around to process their feelings and fears with.
If you have more than one child, tell them together so that no one feels left out of the loop or less important than anyone else.
Tell teachers, coaches and other providers immediately after telling the children so that any problematic behavior that they may display as a result of being upset will not result in further punishment. Their parents are divorcing and that is difficult enough.
Create a Children’s Bill of Rights for your children. In your own handwriting and in your own words, let them know that:
This is not your fault
This is not your choice either
You have the right to have two happy parents
You have the right to be loved and taken care of by both of us
You have the right to have feelings such as feeling sad, mad, scared about the divorce
You have the right to talk about your feelings with us, your friends, teachers, other adults and anyone you want to talk about them with.
You have the right to tell who you want to about the divorce, whenever you are ready to talk about it.
You have the right to ask questions and if we don’t know the answers we will tell you as soon as we figure it out.
Things are changing but our love for you is permanent: it will never change.
You have the right to be taken care of and it is our job to do that.
Children blame themselves, even when they are told the divorce is not their fault. Therefore, they need to be told this repeatedly. Putting your child to bed with the words, “I love you. I will take care of you. The divorce is not your fault.” Is a great way to counteract their top three fears which are:
Love is revocable (after all, mom and dad stopped loving each other)
I will be left alone (after all, mom and dad are leaving each other)
The divorce is somehow my fault (after all, children believe themselves to be the center of the world).
What to say: a simple explanation such as “we have both been trying hard but we just can’t get along and have decided to get a divorce.”
Also say: “We are still committed to loving and taking care of you. That will never change.”
Then show the children their bill of rights and read them together. This is also a good time to read a children’s book about divorce together.
Ask, “Do you have any questions?” and answer whatever they ask as honestly as possible.
What not to say: Your children need to love and respect both of you. Betrayal/infidelity is an adult topic which needs to be kept private among adults. Divorce brings up big feelings of anger, disappointment and grief. By the time you have decided to get a divorce, you could probably write a full dissertation on the character defects and problematic behaviors of your soon-to-be ex. Nevertheless, resist the urge to put him or her down within earshot of your kids because the wellbeing of your children requires their feeling supported by both parents to love and be loved by both parents. Save your ex-bashing for times with friends, family and therapists in which your children are absent.
Get mental health help for the kids if your child shows any one of the following symptoms: trouble with eating (too much or too little), sleeping (too much or too little), nightmares or night terrors, loss of concentration/grade slippage in school beyond the first two months after finding out, isolating from friends or physical aggression. These are all signs of an adjustment disorder and can be corrected with supportive therapy.
Get mental health help for yourself if you find yourself experiencing the same symptoms listed above (substitute work performance for school) beyond two months.
Remember that half of all kids go through divorce, so while the experience is uncomfortable, it is also normal—as common as braces! Rest assured that, unless you live inside of a religious cult (in which case: divorce them too!), your children will not be branded as misfits or snubbed. In fact, they may find themselves making new friends with children who are going through a similar situation.
To help them get through this difficult time the best things you can possibly do is to provide a stable, consistent home environment and to focus on expressing your love for them.
I had the most wonderful Mother’s Day yesterday. The day shall live on my mind as a rare and sweet pinnacle of days. I woke up to my children fighting. That part is not the pinnacle. But they were fighting over who was going to be the first to give me the mother’s day card they created for me. Benjamin made me a picture covered in “x’s” (ironic because he finds kissing to be “yucky”) with a Dum-Dum candy sucker taped to the bottom and written across the top in his sweet scrawl was,
“I love you infinity times infinity.” He also made a drawing of the two of us hugging, surrounded by flowers and a card with a miniature version of the same drawing. Both boys raided my beading supplies and made me a pair of surprisingly tasteful earrings. I got to do my favorite thing all day long: boss everyone around go around Greenlake, play in the garden, read the paper, eat stinky cheese and smoked trout on French bread on the living room floor, soak in our hot tub, and take the kids to the beach where they harassed baby crabs and I watched an ethereal Blue Heron fishing. My sweet and indulgent husband failed to get me the blue topaz earrings I had subtly circled in a catalog and plunked in front of his dinner plate with the words “great mother’s day present” written in black Sharpie. But he did get me a smaller pair of topaz earrings that were just as blue. Even better, he organized the boys to make a big deal out of mother’s day and he asked me the most romantic question a man can ask a woman,
“What part of the house would you like me to clean first?”
I contrast this experience to the Mothers Day I had seven years ago. After giving birth to medically fragile premature twins, my sole hope was that my boys become big and strong and healthy enough that one day I could take their lives for granted. Those first six months were a blur of sleep deprivation and holding my breath in abject fear of every germ, of every developmental milestone not met, of every vivid and terminal “what if” that played out in my new mother’s mind.
Now blessedly I know that my boys, two strapping, whirling dervishes of energy and opinion, will live. I tell my children the story of their early months, of the incubator that Jonah kicked open with his sturdy legs, of the way Benji used to pull the mask off his eyes and peek out while being treated for jaundice. I tell them about the gavage tube that delivered milk into their bellies when they were too weak to suck. About the neonatologist whom I nearly attacked for failing to wash his hands upon entering my children’s pediatric care room.
Like any mental health specialist worth her weight in salt I have been programming my children for years, saying “No consideration, object or deferral is too great for me on Mother’s Day. Diamond tennis bracelets, trips to Tahiti, all of these things are entirely appropriate.”
The truth is that a day without whining or a day without dishes to wash are just as unlikely but equally apropos in my book.
The reality is all I wanted was to feel deeply valued, and that I got in spades. I hope that all of you mothers out there were able to feel as celebrated and cherished as I was. To be loved and to know it: this is the essence of mental health.