With the trending tweet by the woman who took a Mental Health Day and how her CEO responded, I feel compelled to stand up on my tiny soap box rallying for a Mental Health Day for the young people in our lives. I haven’t written anything on here in the longest time and perhaps only 2 people will read it. But, if it can impact those 2 well then, heck yes, I am glad I wrote it.
Too many children walk around with pain, anger and hurt inside. I am not professing to have any particular answers on how to heal the hearts of children – but, I do have one suggestion for how we try to tune in to the health of our kids.
Since my oldest was in preschool, I instituted a family rule that still continues nearly 21 years later – everyone, no matter how old or how young, gets at least 1 Mental Health Day per school year.
Some Moms thoughts I was too lenient or crazy for wanting my kids home when they could be out of my hair safely in school. Others called me a Cool Mom, accusing me of trying too hard to ‘get my kids to like me’. But, truly what I was doing in my mind, was teaching my children the value in taking care of themselves.
Taking a day for yourself even as young as 4 or 5, with the caveat that they can select just one day per semester, got rid of the need to stay home from the feigned stomach ache or the crying fit over going to school (although I never totally got rid of this…). Instead, my children would save up until they really felt they needed that day to spend with me, spend doing something they wanted with alone time away from siblings, school pressures, social pressures, etc.
There have been moments in the middle school years or especially in high school, when my children have needed more than 1 mental health day and I’ve provided them with what they’ve needed. Bad days, sad days, days you just can’t face – don’t just happen to adults. If anything, the middle school or teenage years are hard. Damn hard. And, sometimes what you require is a freaking break.
What I did not do on Mental Health Days was allow my kids to wallow. No vegging in front of the tv all day. No sitting in pajamas or eating ice cream out of the container (usually). They could always sleep a little bit late, but then it was outside. Sometimes to a nice lunch. Shopping, a movie day, craft project together or trip downtown. I found that on these special days together they opened up, shared what was in their heart. Remembered to take a moment and enjoy life while knowing their friends were sitting in class. Once Snapchat rolled around, trying to make their friends jealous of Mental Health Day was immediately outlawed as well.
So often when my kids come home from school they plop down and plug in. Or, they go up to their rooms for some down time. These opportunities to talk just don’t present themselves in the daily hustle and bustle of life and sometimes, stress or anxiety can go missed or stay hidden inside.
During one of my daughter’s middle school years, I was driving to her Mental Health Day outing and she just randomly burst into tears. It was so bad we had to pull over to the side of the road. She was holding on to some serious social stuff at school and in that moment it just needed to come out. She literally sobbed her way through some stories. When it was over, she looked so relieved to let that pain go and I was so grateful for the opportunity to present itself.
We’ve had times I am not ashamed to say, my children have required more than just a Mental Health Day to deal. Some problems required professional or educational help, others just time and patience. But, these days have become valuable barometers for me to check in with my kids one-to-one.
Mental Health Days are not a joke. They’re above truancy or cutting school or Ditch Days (although my kids like to lovingly refer to them as that because they know it annoys me). Even healthy, well-adjusted kids need time to rebalance themselves, sleep, breathe, laugh, sometimes cry and most importantly, just be. It’s our jobs to give them the time and space to do so.
There has been a noticeable void of writing in my life for a while now. I have been writing for my clients, completing projects and deadlines but, in terms of fulfilling the need to express my own thoughts – the well has run quite dry.
A few years back, one of my children expressed unhappiness in having their adolescence on display in blog format. I completely understood that perspective and shifted gears in my writing towards my perspective, alone – leaving the children mostly out of the picture. But, when you work full-time as a mom and part-time as a writer, well, the best material is off the table. This entire journey prompted me to reevaluate what it actually means to be me. Sara. Myself. Not mother, wife. Just me.
After 20 years of parenting, 21 years of being someone’s partner – I am not certain I even understand the magnitude of “Finding Myself” on this life journey. I found myself a mother at 21, I found myself a teacher for years. Then, I found myself a full-time stay at home mom to 4. I found myself volunteering, cooking for other new mothers or needy in my neighborhood, I found myself working on menus for holiday after holiday. I found myself filling out college applications with my growing children and preparing to now find myself all over again.
I thought that writing for others while bringing some necessary extra money, would also be fulfilling and fun. I have always been passionate about the written word, the ability to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and tap into the deep-rooted thoughts I didn’t even realize I had. I watch my emotions come forth on the screen and often stop to reread, surprised that those feelings were even in there. It’s a daily exercise I practiced religiously like one does yoga, or drinks coffee (I still insist on this as part of my ritual). But, then it just stopped. The words stopped flowing, the emotions stopped filling. And, much like the body knows the mind, my stomach aches increased, my tension built and the frustration settled. I have not found myself, and at times, like my friends that share the same with me – we haven’t a clue where to begin.
The forties are weird. We begin all fierce and strong. Forty is the new thirty! Fab and Forty! We will grab hold and show the forties who’s boss. But, for my friends and I, the forties are also a fast reality check. One look in that mirror will show the lines creeping, the gray hairs multiplying faster than I can color them. Hips that seem to grow a life of their own, despite exercise and eating a multitude of foods I think way too much about before placing in my mouth. The forties mean half-done. Time to figure shit out. I feel the pressure mounting and I’m not sure where to begin my forties fixing and finding.
I recently read a book about a woman on her life’s search. She began with her bucket list and checking them off. Great idea, I thought! I’ve never made a bucket list. So, I began.
Sara’s Bucket List
- Learn to knit. Wait, do I really want to be that Grandma that learns to knit? Yah, I think so. Maybe. Eh. Keep it on the list but, not sure I really want this one. Anyway. On to…
- Travel Through Europe. But, this one is SO expensive. I hope that one day I can do it. If only we didn’t have those college tuitions…
- Conquer My Fear of Heights Can this one even be done? Not sure. Need to ask my shrink friend. Will come back to this one.
As I sat staring at my short and sad list, I realized I haven’t had the time to even get to know what would be on Sara’s Bucket List. I felt pressure to complete the list but had no idea what else I even wanted to accomplish yet. Maybe thinking about my goals for everyone else in my life for the past 20 years has left me a little bit depleted.
So, new Bucket List :
- Figure out what I want on my Bucket List.
Stay tuned, if you care…and feel free to share yours to spark some ideas!
In the beginning, I worked hard. I mastered the art of Pinterest birthday cakes before there was a Pinterest. I ran Mommy camp complete with programming from sunrise to sunset. I bathed my children daily. I fed them only the occasional ‘special treat’ and ensured that teeth were brushed fairly often (I will admit that we didn’t floss and didn’t always get to twice a day). In a world before Facebook and then after, I shared my Mommy Crown with the world. Many younger mothers told me they looked up to me, many co-moms and I shared fist bumps along the way. But, much like Luvs Moms, I wised up and realized something – I’ve been working too hard, too much and unnecessarily.
No longer will I fret over perfect little children with perfect little lives and perfect little cakes and perfect little projects. I have learned to do my best, give my best and hope for the best.
I dropped my oldest off at college 3 days ago. Of course, he had everything on his list and more. He even thanked me for remembering the little things. I thought I was totally fine with this next phase. “I’m cool. I can handle this.” But, at that moment when they announced it was time to say goodbye to our freshman well, the tears started filling up. I even got a few good hiccup heaves. Okay, I totally lost it. Let’s just leave it at that. But, these tears were not tears of fear, like last year when I said goodbye to him for a year. They weren’t anxious hiccups and sobs, like I had on his first day of high school. Not sad tears, like I had when he went into Kindergarten screaming and crying (or maybe, that was me? who remembers!). These were new tears, excited and full of pride. My baby was no longer a baby. He has become a capable and fully ready young man-boy. No? Okay, I can admit it. He is a full-fledged-legal adult. His own person. And a fantastic one at that.
So today, when I said goodbye to my beautiful Junior in high school, my adorable and fashion-forward 7th grader and my ever-ready-to-take-on-the-world little 1st grader – I was ready. Ready to let them go and be. Be the people they need to be today and every day. Not because I packed them a perfect little lunch (which I did) and not because I got them the best first day outfit (which I did) and not because they had every single thing they needed in their lockers all set up (they did). Because they were ready. Ready to be good, confident, kind and wonderful additions to the world.
As the Provost of the University said at my son’s convocation ceremony, “Parents, it’s time to let go.” Those words stung all of us Moms. I saw the looks of sheer horror on their faces. I even heard a Mom behind me mutter, how dare he tell me to let go! But, no truer words can help a parent remember the painful and wonderful truth. We are raising people. People to become their own persons. The sooner we get it the sooner we can develop deep, meaningful relationships with our people that enhance their characters, validate their feelings and allow them to grow confident and capable. I get it now. They will always need me. But, not to button up their pants or tie their shoes or make their lunches. But, to hug them and whisper you got this at just the right moment. To know that I trust them, I’m proud of them and I will always have my ear listening for a phone call, or text to help them through a rough patch. I know my younger ones are getting the ‘experienced mom’ and like I have said before, my older guinea pigs are doing just fine despite the earlier experimentations.
So, today on this first day of my emptier nest – no tears. Just pride. Go out and conquer, my little ones! Mommy has cookies and hugs when you come home…
“We are the most in-debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history…We numb vulnerability.” – Brene Brown
Jen and Ben bit the dust. It made me sad, I had higher hopes for these guys. 10 years! Wow, says the media – they really made it for ten whole years. Well, some psychologists think that the way to ‘divorce proof’ your marriage lays in one word – vulnerability. The Huff even wrote about divorce-proofing your marriage through this ‘super secret method’ years ago.
A bit ago, I had lunch with old friends. They spent the entire meal picking on one another, insulting each other and showing their ugly at my table. It made me uncomfortable and I can only imagine how it made each of them feel. My husband and I are certainly imperfect. I am sure I am guilty of the same behavior at times in our lives – but, I can and want to do better for both our sakes.
Vulnerability begins with educating our children on their emotions. You have to be vulnerable to teach vulnerability. It’s sort of ridiculous to never let your children see you cry, see you afraid, see you fail at anything. Parents are super people, right? So very wrong. If you don’t show your children that you’re human they will try to become super people too and that’s just not setting fair or realistic goals. My children know I have a fear of heights. My children have seen me cry, fight, fail. But, they also know I wipe away my tears, resolve, move on and function. Those are important lessons and ones they cannot learn without being vulnerable to them. They need to be vulnerable in return – letting them cry on your shoulder, say their “I hate yous!” (and hopefully apologize later). It’s part and parcel of growing up healthy. Don’t believe me? Read this and learn more.
Vulnerability is scary. You can dump your stuff out of the drawers and have someone laugh, cry or get angry at the mess you made. So you have to do it with someone you trust, right? Well, yes and no. I have learned that you can be vulnerable in smaller ways and sort of test the waters. Share something and watch how they react. Humans are a beautiful beast – sometimes they exceed our expectations. And, for those that don’t well, screw em. You’re better for trying to connect. I realized that so few of the married people we know share a deep, obvious connection with their spouse. They bicker, they pick on each other, they make fun of one another and say hurtful things in public. They seem so full of resentment and anger. This person you selected out of all the people in the world you’ve met. This person you’ve had babies with – is suddenly public enemy #1. You can either live a life filled with yuk or you can open the dresser drawers and see what falls out.
Vulnerability is not gender specific. There’s some misconception that women can and should be vulnerable and men should sit and learn to be better listeners. ‘It’s weak to show your feelings’ ‘Men can’t do it’ I’m sorry, this is just simply not true. If a man is having issues with being vulnerable it’s simply because he wasn’t taught the skill or shown acceptance. And, yes, it is a skill. Hand him this and have him read those articles – there are primers, facts, psychological studies and real stories of men learning how to open the door to sharing their feelings. And, ladies it’s our turn to be better listeners and not attack him when he does it.
About 20 years ago, an old friend of mine got married to a guy after 3 dates. I freaked on her. How could you marry someone when you haven’t even had your first fight? How do you know he’s the one? I tried to shake sense into her. But, she said “I can see that I could love him.” And, with that they married. No vulnerability, no openness, no obvious mutual respect or love. She just saw potential. Naturally, they divorced a few years later and she called to tell me I was right. Never marry a person you haven’t had a fight with – let them be vulnerable and show you their ugly. If you can take it and show your own ugly in return, you can live a beautiful life. At least that’s what I’m hoping!
Infusing Vulnerability into your Marriage In response to so many things in each of our lives, both my husband and I committed to living life with more vulnerability. We were going to spend more date nights out – not stressing over what we were going to do (which is now typically just sushi dinner out) but sitting face to face with one another and opening up our proverbial drawers. In the beginning, being completely vulnerable for anyone is sort of scary. Allowing your angry, messed up thinking to come to the forefront can open a huge can of worms that leads to fights, arguments, disagreements, bad places. Or, at least, that’s what I thought. But, if you take a moment to carefully select your vocabulary (using “I feel” and focusing on how I feel, rather than “you do…”) being vulnerable and open is cathartic and brings you closer as long as your listener does his job – acceptance.
After nearly 20 years of marriage, you would assume you know all there is to know about the person you sleep next to every night (except when a little one sneaks in between at 2 am) – but, vulnerability and openness really showed me that there is always more to learn. Fears about work or money, stresses about social changes as we age, obligations that suddenly felt overwhelming. Sometimes, I didn’t even know that by being vulnerable we were both tapping into parts of ourselves we didn’t even realize we had!
Vulnerability leads to Intimacy – the ultimate payoff. If you are able to achieve connections through your vulnerability your payoff will be intimacy. Media often equates intimacy with something sexual. And, that is not always the case. Intimacy, I have learned is a deep connection, warmth and comfort you feel with someone because they know your ugly, can share their ugly and think it’s beautiful. It’s a level beyond the ‘relationship’ – it’s the ultimate happiness to truly feel intimacy with someone.
This title, stolen from a book my children read in school, really sums up this next stage of parenting for me.
I am once again, on the cusp of some major changes in our family and trying to reconcile what this means for me as a mother, a wife and a person who will be left with a totally different dynamic than the past 20 years of my life.
My oldest returns for a much anticipated Hello in just a few short weeks. This is the longest I have ever gone without seeing one of my children. It has been nearly six excruciating months waiting to hug that boy. I have watched him leave a 17-year old boy and will see him come home a legal adult who has grown, matured and experienced more than I ever did at his age. Once he returns, it will be quickly prepping to say Goodbye again shortly after as he leaves for college.
My next-in-line will say Goodbye for a summer trip abroad right after her brother returns. After only 2 short weeks as a family of six, I will once again remove a plate at my table and recalibrate the house with one less female inside. Mother hen of her sisters, confidante of her brother, it will feel very different without her around. And just when she returns to say Hello again we prepare for Junior year’s myriad of decisions about her future Goodbyes.
My dear middle is weeks away from becoming a Bat Mitzvah. Watching my baby (for 5 years before her sister came along) become a young woman has been a series of Goodbyes to her little girl days. Watching her learn with her teacher, express herself and take a genuine interest in the process of being a Jewish person has been transformative for both of us. There is something out of body when you watch your child stand up in front of family and friends and speak. I am a writer, not a speaker. The ability for all 3 of my children to do this still shocks and awes me on the deepest level. I am grateful they are not as publicly speaking shy as their mother.
My baby. My sweet, oppositional-at-times, firm-in-who-she-is and fully confident baby is going to first grade. No more hugs at pickup, snuggles alone on the afternoon couch before the big ones get home. My baby is saying Goodbye to my days and Hello to homework and afternoon snacks. This Goodbye is particularly hard for me as it totally snuck up on me. I have been so busy focusing on the older 3 and their needs and changes, that bam! my baby just went and become a Big Girl.
We spend so much of our lives pouring – love, energy, love, sweat, tears and even cereal – into our children that we don’t take the moment to realize that they are growing up. Right before our eyes. Way too fast. Without any warning.
Any grandmother who’s worth her wrinkles will tell you “Savor every moment, it goes too fast.”
And, here I am. Savoring. It’s the point of it all to let them develop and become. But, when they do it leaves one thinking – How did that happen that they became their own person? Will they still need me? What does this leave for me in our relationship?
Yes, in the end. We’re all just a bit selfish about our mothering. We decided to add these little lives to the world. We prayed for them. We hoped and dreamed for them. We got to smell them, change them, dress them, teach them, love them and oh, grow them up. No one warns you that that part will happen and while it does it will feel like you got kicked in the gut. hard. So, as I catch my breath and learn what is next for me as a mother, I am so grateful I still get my Hellos, Goodbyes and I Love Yous. Those are mainstays at any stage of Mothering. And, that part I am excited for…