As a “recovering perfectionist” my aim in life is to make everything nice for everyone, but also to my liking. As a mom, that desire has multiplied tenfold. As a single mom, it has the propensity to exponentiate to a degree unheard of. As my children acclimate to new living arrangements, I need to keep my desire to fix their problems at arm’s length and away from them. Because, in my desire to fix the problem, I create more issues.
Make sure to check out my other blog post about how the "perfect mother" is an antiquated idea that has been ingrained in us from past generations.
Here's what I mean: By trying to fix their problems, I rob them of so many life skills that they will at some point need to learn. First, I rob them of the chance to take responsibility for their actions and their words. If they express a feeling such as “I miss you, Mami,” and I jump in to offer solutions to their saudade or longing, I inadvertently teach them that they just need to express something and someone else will take care of it. Kind of like the people who say, “It’s hot in here,” instead of, “Can you lower the AC?” It also teaches them that people, (or perhaps more specifically I, their mother), are mind readers and can assume what they meant or what they want with these statements. Talk about the start of communication issues and relationship drama! If you think that the other person can assume what you want from a relationship by making a blanket statement, you set yourself up for disappointment and resentment when they don’t meet your expectations.
Secondly, I send a message that when they make a comment in the realm of sadness, longing, discomfort or anger, it is perceived as a problem that needs to go away. The other day, while in session, I was sharing with my inspiring zen-like psychologist, the need I have to fix the “problem” of them missing me by asking their father for time to see them during the weekends that they are to be with him. She helped me explore my tendency to view this as a problem instead of a learning experience for them, and for me. This is our new reality. Time will be shared with each parent, for the most part, exclusively. I got the lesson intellectually. However, it was not until the next day when I was with my daughter and her grandmother that the lesson hit home.
My daughter had slept over her grandmother’s house. They spent the day together, then later her brother and I joined them. When it was time to say goodbye, my daughter became upset and my thoughts went immediately to “fix this for her, Eva. How many separations must she go through in one week?” I asked her if she wanted to call her grandmother to feel better or if there was anything she or I could do for her to feel better. Her response, “Mami. You can’t fix this. Let me be sad. Let me miss her.”
I was floored. Was she somehow tapping in my conversations with my psychologist? Was she reading my books on compassion, acceptance of as is, and flow? She’s seven- years old! And, as it is for me in many of my areas of personal growth, my kids are my biggest teachers. She was right. The message registered in my heart and in my mind. And before you knew it, she was fine again. I thanked her for that special moment; she smiled, and we moved on.
We can’t fix our kids’ lives. The more we try, the more we fail. Life is meant to be lived by each individual. And as moms, we want to protect our babies from pain, especially if that pain is caused by our decisions that have both nothing and everything to do with them.
No, it’s not fair that they are casualties of divorce. But would they be considered casualties of an unhappy marriage, as well? Our perspective that divorce is bad and being married is good also sets our children to grow up feeling pity for themselves. If we want to teach them well, we must let them sit with the feelings of sadness and anger. We must let them express themselves. We must teach them to be direct and honest so that their relationships can be healthy and mutually satisfying. There is a major caveat to this lesson – and that is boundaries. Our children can be very angry about something but that does not give them the right to become physically aggressive with anyone for the sake of letting out their feelings.
That is how we deal or fix the problem: by letting them live it and go through it. Much in the same way as we as moms, single or in a relationship, have had to go through our uncomfortable moments to get to the other side.
Talking through these issues with professionals and loved ones can help. When you are so in it, and especially when everything is still raw and new, it is so easy to get sidetracked and fall back into unhealthy patterns. If any of this resonates with you, and you need someone to talk to, know that you can reach out to me. Give me a call at (786) 383-4942 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy Father’s Day!
Dads, on this Father’s Day, I want to commemorate you. I want to thank you for taking the time to learn about being a parent. To trying to be open to this challenge of raising little ones, with someone who may or may not come from a similar parenting background. I want to thank you for trying to raise independent thinkers instead of carbon copy mini-me’s. For taking the time to think- is how I am disciplining my child- building up his spirit or tearing him down? For teaching your daughters what to look for in “good guy” by the way you treat their mother and other women in your life. For looking at your double standards and trying to make amends so you don’t act hypocritical. All of this and more is how you are important. And all of this and more you accomplish every day of your life with your kids. I want to thank you because along with mothers, you are helping raise the next generation.
Society is waking up to the importance of mental health in parents. We are slowly (but surely) but too slowly- beginning to understand that when an infant is born, so too is a parent. We have a skewed and misinformed idea that men- fathers- must keep it together at all costs for the sake of being the breadwinner, support system, “man of the house”. This is the same illogical type of thought process society has for mothers, too. However, since maternal mental health is starting to be taken seriously, many believe that any feelings of anxiety, anger, sadness, questions of being good enough are solely experienced by the woman – mom.
Longer hours at the office, relationship betrayals, increasing alcohol or drug use, under/overeating, becoming hyper vigilant about the safety and health of the child, mother, or family unit are a reaction to the father's role and cannot be pushed aside as a "phase". We wrongfully assume that men just fall into the father role automatically. Men are expected to return to work full force, with the same capacity despite waking up to in the middle of the night, or with the added pressure of care taking (financially, emotionally, physically) for a new member of their family.
I say, let’s stop this nonsense. But, it’s not so easy. Why? The typical advice that is given – “share your emotions,” “talk about what’s bothering you to problem solve for solutions,” is just not very manly. Right? So, throughout childhood, boys are instructed to not cry, to act tough, to figure it out. But once a baby is born, men are suddenly supposed to know how to share their feelings? With the very same people who have lived with them acting all macho and put together? WOW. Talk about an adjustment.
It sounds easy, but it clearly is not. First, there needs to be a vocabulary- what words describe which emotions. For some people, this is easier than others. Some are at a loss for words and find it hard to describe what they are going through. They may think that their negative feelings mean that somehow, they are not cut out for this dad thing, or that they may not love their family as much as they hoped they would. These types of thoughts feed into the dismissing or obsessive types of behaviors that can create family turmoil during stressful times.
Statistics show that 10% of new fathers experience symptoms of depression that get in the way with their life at home and work. These situations do not define you, but if you don't get past them, you can get stuck in them and end up defining yourself within these parameters. The biggest barrier to getting help is shame. When we feel embarrassed and shameful about our thoughts and feelings, we c]am up. And then what happens? That thought or feeling becomes HUGE and takes up more and more space in our mind. We convince ourselves that what we are going through is despicable and unique to us. Don't fall for that trap!
Try, even if you can't find the right words- to talk to someone. Choose wisely, some people are not ready for your level of honesty. Try to find someone who can understand you. Many men have gone through similar situations and if no one in your social circle has gone through similar situations- look for support in other groups, speak to a professional, read books and articles. Just like it is okay for a woman to ask for help, it's okay for men, too.
Dads, you are important. Your well-being is crucial to the stability of your family. As a caretaker for others, take care of yourself.
Children’s books are a great way to explore and learn about so many things, including feelings. Reading, looking and learning about different feelings helps kids identify and name what they are experiencing. Kids also learn that their feelings are commonly felt by others.
Feelings books also facilitate difficult conversations between caregivers and children about tense topics. I find that using literature to explore feelings such as anger, perfectionism, anxiety, longing, sadness, happiness and love are great ways to help a child connect to parts of themselves on their own level. Feelings books also give caregivers a language and means to talk about big feelings using “kid terminology.”
I want to share some my favorite ones so far (I keep collecting as my kids grow and my client base changes). If you have any favorites, please add them to the list in the comments section.
Dr. Eva Benmeleh
I am a licensed clinical child psychologist in Hallandale Beach. I hope you enjoy the site!
221 West Hallandale Beach Blvd., Suite 202
Hallandale, FL 33009