I discovered recently that my biggest fear is that I’m a bad mother and that one of my children will die by suicide. It’s hard to write that because I don’t want advice or reassurance. I just want to tell you what’s really happening in my inner life.
I woke up early from an anxious dream. I have anxious dreams a lot. They’re mundane. I’m trying to leave an event but I can’t find my car. There’s a hurt bird and I’m trying to call the Audubon Society but none of the numbers will go through. So I was laying in bed after a dream, calming my body, resting my head on a tension release thing. I decided to go through what I might be worried about, like flipping through a catalog. The tension release thing is like two humps of a camel that I put at the base of my skull. It helps relax tightness in my head. I started thinking of things…
Work? I hadn’t worked all of January recovering from omicron. No, it wasn’t work. Everyone in my business and our clients were incredibly understanding and for the first time I was letting myself rest and receive grace.
Money? Not working meant less money. No. I had a sense that things would work out.
Child care? We hadn’t had reliable child care since mid-December, and things were still very much up in the air. Everything falls apart without child care. Strangely I wasn’t worried about this. Things had worked out before and somehow they would again.
The kids? Boy Woww had been having anxiety attacks; the Fairy Pig and K-Pants were their intense selves. My head started to relax and rest into the tension release thing.
When I hit on the right thing my body tells me. It’s taken me a long time to be able to listen to my body, and still I often ignore it.
I dove down this hole. Is it the kids themselves? No. Is it the intensity of parenting? No. Is it that I’m a bad mother? Yes. There it is. Is it that I won’t be able to help them? Yes. Is it that my badness as a mom will lead to terrible outcomes and one of my kids may die by suicide? Yes.
Now let me be clear: I am not wishing these things into being. I am not writing them into being. I think that a fear of saying things out loud, lest they come true, keeps us silent and suffering in our inner worlds. And yet I tremble as I write the words.
Here’s what’s happening at our house. Three beautiful, imperfect gemstones live here. They sparkle in the sun. They glow under kitchen lights. They have crevices that magnify the light. These three gemstones are my treasures. They’re my gifts from God. I want everything wonderful for them and I want to be whole and happy myself.
And we live in the world. And the world is rough.
Boy Woww has been having anxiety attacks to the point that they interfere with his daily life. He likes things to be calm and quiet. He’s lived through two years of pandemic so far, something I never had to do as a child. Boy Woww has a sister who is about to get a diagnosis of ADHD. Her body doesn’t allow her to be still. Personal boundaries are a roadblock that stop her from showing her love, so she casts them aside. When we want to watch a family show, she climbs the back of the couch and stalks the family as a predator cat, which drives K-Pants nuts. K-Pants is in his first year of middle school. Middle school has wild ups and downs. And when he has a bad day at school, the whole family feels it.
These are the things of life. And we’re living them.
I explained all this and more to my therapist. A good therapist is a critical resource. The Fairy Pig learned to walk in my therapist’s office, which I am quite proud of because it meant I was getting the help I needed when I needed it.
Here’s what my therapist said (I’m paraphrasing, of course):
You can’t control the future. But right now, in these moments, you’re paying attention. Paying attention is important. You’re finding all kinds of ways to help your kids navigate the world in their own ways. For Boy Woww, you’re working to get him the help he needs in big and little ways. For the Fairy Pig, it will be interesting to see if after she gets extra help for ADHD, she becomes more manageable for Boy Woww. They are opposite personalities who need each other and it’s very difficult. You’re doing a really excellent job noticing things and validating your kids.
After getting this wonderful reassurance, I felt comfortable to tell her about how I get overwhelmed and scream at my kids. It probably happens twice a month, where a fire-breathing monster takes over my body.
What happens when you do that? What do the kids do?
They tell me to stop it, to take a break. K-Pants will roll his eyes and possibly swear at me. The Fairy Pig will yell back at me, “Mom, you’re NOT HELPING!!” In those moments, I think to myself, “How do I have such disrespectful kids?”
That’s a really good sign, actually.
What? How are any of these things a good sign?
They’re not afraid of you. When you’re at your worst and you’re screaming, they’re not afraid. Even though it’s awful and no one likes it.
I was hoping the screaming would go away, and it was for a time, but in pandemic, I’ve had plenty of times where I see myself ramping up, the embers getting fueled with air, and yet I can’t walk away. But still, there are many more times that I do walk away now. Does that make sense? I’m screaming like a cornered squirrel with its tail on fire at the same rate or more as before, but I’m also walking away and taking a break more. So I guess that’s a win?
You are parenting three intense children. Whenever you walk away that’s a win. That’s your whole goal at this point: walk away.
Hearing this was a sensation of whole-body relief. I hold myself to impossibly high standards. I don’t consciously do it. But deep in my psyche there is a quarterback playbook filled with sure-fire runs and passes that I imagine other people using. Plays that get you out of tricky situations, that allow you to stay calm and also teach your children about problem solving and gentle parenting. Plays that I don’t know how to call for.
So here I am on Scream Into the Void Tuesday. The void screams are so necessary and freeing. The screaming at my children happens. I do walk away more, and that’s a win. I’m noticing things. I’m talking about it. And that’s good enough for now.