Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sifting Through Life: Mom, I'm Weird!


Last week was rough as a parent.  I crumbled when Isabella said this to me, "Mom, I'm weird". My heart dropped to the bottom of my stomach and I physically ached for her. I remember. Oh, how I remember feeling this way too at her age. Her comment immediately took me back to my early days in grade school, then the dreaded middle school, and finally high school. I would like to say that it ended there, but you know it didn't. Once you feel weird those feelings don't shake off like raindrops on a slicker. No, they stick and seep into your soul. One drop after another until one day you wring yourself out and wake the fuck up.

As a student studying psychology, I should have all the answers. But, I don't. I should know where to get the answers from. But, I don't. If life were that easy then none of us would have issues and all our problems would simply drift away. This is life. This is real. Her concerns and feelings are genuine to her age. I can't deny them or tell her to dismiss the nagging tentacles of her self-esteem telling her that someone thinks she is different. Nor do I want to. Yes, that is what I said. I don't want her to change to try and fit in. I don't want her to try and succumb to peer pressure so that she can be a part of this "in crowd" that thinks its cool to tell young girls they are weird. I don't and I won't lie to her about her uniqueness. She is too smart for that bullshit and I am not that parent.

Instead, I love her. Wrap my arms around her during this tender discussion and sooth her baring soul. I tell her it's okay to be weird, odd, and unique. I whisper that she is valued. I kiss her forehead and empathize with her pain. I accept this moment and listen. We curl up on her bed and the tears pour out. She is shaking, stumbling to find her words, admits she is depressed and looks to me for comfort and answers. What is happening?

It's complicated. She is almost eleven. I explain about hormones. I explain about our egos. I explain about releasing her hurts so they don't build up and implode or explode. We talk about journaling and talking, and honest emotions.  We discuss words that are descriptive of how she feels, so in the event, I ask her if she is fine, she has the vocabulary to say no and then explain. I give her permission to tell the voice in her head to "shut up". We talk, I listen, she talks, I listen, we hug, and then we talk some more. She tells me the girls think she is weird. She feels that they are whispering about her. She is a bit paranoid that the world is against her. Again, this is a bit normal at this age. They tend to hyper-focus on themselves, thinking they are the only one, everyone is looking at them, and no one likes them. I get it. I know they will outgrow this stage but that does not negate the feeling that what she is feeling is real to her. I listen some more and we talk a lot more.

The most important thing we talk about is acceptance and what that means. I ask her if she wants to be a part of "that" crowd. She says no but the idea of someone not liking her hurts. I get that. The issue is that not everyone is going to like you, approve of your actions, want to be your friend, go to your parties, or be with you and this is all okay. I feel that she needed permission to be herself, to be authentic, to be okay with herself outside of the crowd across the dance floor. She needed me to tell her it was okay to set boundaries, to find peace within her own heart, to stand up for herself.  What I really wanted to say was, "life sucks, people suck, find a hole and stay there forever." We know this is not good advice but we also know that sometimes this is how we honestly feel.

Towards the end of our conversation, after four hours, she feels better. Her tears are drying up and she is smiling. Just talking about these thoughts and ideas are offering her a huge amount of relief because she is releasing the pain and emotion. Allowing the universe to take this negative energy and wash it away. Her desire to quit dance was loud. I listened but I recommend that she wait a week and see if her heart will feel different. She agrees because I know she loves to dance; just not the politics of 5th, 6th, and 7th graders girls. (Sorry, there are no boys in this class...just girls).

The next day she was all smiles but a little reluctant to go to dance practice, but she did it anyway. When she arrived home I ask her how it went. She says, "great, and I made a new friend." My advice to her before she left was to look for a person who needed a friend because she knew first hand what it felt like to be left out. I encouraged her to focus on a small community of real people that she could be herself with.

In the end, I was tired and emotionally spent that night. It was a great talk and one that I know I will have again with Isabella and with Finnley. The thing is, I am wiser. I am able to tell her it will all work out and that if she sticks to being honest with herself and fighting to be authentic she will attract a good group of people into her life. We talked about this too concept too, the one of realizing that when you make it to the other side of a trial, recognize it. I wanted her to stop and feel, in that moment, how happy she was. She made it through the muddy trenches and over to the grassy hillside. This recognition allows her to see hardships as temporary and something she can overcome. Life is challenging and sometimes very hard, but it's usually not forever and many things are overcome with time, a little self-care, love, and perspective.

One final reflection about this whole experience for me is that I need to check in more often with her. I now know that she holds a lot in. Being a Mom I know we have to listen to all of those sweet nudges telling us to follow up with our kids. Even when it sounds or feels funny. One month ago, I had a strong impression that we needed to more Isabella up from the basement to our main floor. I felt that she was too far removed from our family. I felt that she needed to be surrounded by us more and not so isolated in her basement bedroom. I wish that I had listened to this voice and followed my own advice sooner. I'm not sure if all of this could have been prevented. We moved her room up last weekend and again, she is so excited. It was the right thing for us right now. As parents, we have special connections to our kids, learn to listen to that small voice.

Parents, we are mentors to our kids. They learn from us. They watch us like little hawks. They mimic our behaviors, our words, our thoughts, and sometimes our viewpoints. Teach your kids to be kind and inclusive. Kids learn to be exclusive because of the environment they are in. A simple reminder to include others, to say kind things, to not gossip, to be a friend, to reach out, to simply be a decent person goes a long way in the teaching and raising of a child. They are sponges when it comes to concepts and ideas. I am encouraging all parents, myself included, to be a good listener, to be a guidance counselor, to allow your kids to express honest emotions and feelings, to not bully your own kids, to teach them values and beliefs.

Buy a book, listen to a podcast, read blogs, educate yourself on what it means to be a good parent. Retrain your thoughts and behaviors if they are damaging. Often we take on our parenting skills from our own parents. For a few this is a good thing but for many, it is not. Just because your parents did something one way does not mean you have to do it that way either. Research and educate, teach and learn, be your kids best advisor.

I read a lot of studies, research papers, and stories of kids with shitty parents and childhoods. It sucks! My heart breaks. So much of what kids go through they carry into their adult lives. Address key issues now, either with yourself or with your child. It is never too late to make a good change.

I will continue to write about parenting because I believe a part of our current mental health crisis in the US  can be contributed to childhood experiences (Ajp.psychiatryonline.org, 2017). The pain that has been hidden and buried deep within our adult souls is real and has lasting effects on our future selves and families.

References:

Ajp.psychiatryonline.org. (2017). Relationship Between Multiple Forms of Childhood Maltreatment and Adult Mental Health in Community Respondents: Results From the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study | American Journal of Psychiatry. [online] Available at: http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.160.8.1453 [Accessed 16 Oct. 2017].

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