Warning- This article could be uncomfortable for some people. I will speak frankly about one of the downsides of care-giving- that is, one member of the family getting a huge percentage of the time and attention for an extended period of time. I'm not going to diminish the message with a ton of disclaimers, so if this is not something you are ready to read, please skip it.
One thing that I've been dealing with quite a while is the regret and wondering that comes after a season of care giving. For 7+ years, our family revolved around mom. There is a very real toll that comes from this. Things have to give, things get neglected, things get postponed- and even worse, it is not just things, but people. In our family story, the kids were one of the casualties. I've written, but not yet posted, about things to never tell care-givers; one of those things is to please not gush on and on about how “good” it is for the kids. Please just don't. This will be covered in more depth at some point.
During the time of taking care of mom, I had our 5th child, so we did the whole pregnancy and new baby thing, which takes enough time away from the other kids, on top of typical care giving. We also had a long-term medical/developmental crisis with on of the children that required weekly therapy, which took half a day, for 16 months. Because of all of these things piled up, anything that wasn't blood or broken bones got left to the side. In these times, the important gets neglected for the sake of the urgent.
We recently got information about one of the children that I won't share for privacy reasons, but is a bit shaking. Conditions that needed attention years ago. Conditions that I was very aware of the potential for, but since we were able to compensate, they never seemed critical.
But now, NOW, when time has run out, and I find that the things were real, and that they may effect my child long-term.... oh the doubts, oh the regrets, oh the should have-would have-could have, how they do come flooding in.
The distress is real. And like any other human, I would prefer to deflect blame. There is a lot of guilt feelings and I'd love to spread it around a bit, if only so that my own burden of it is not so heavy.
Spreading the guilt doesn't actually help though. It causes tensions for sure, and nothing constructive ever comes of it. So right now I'm feeling a lot like the buck stops here.
So this is all that is rolling over me the past few days; this is what is welling up. I'm in a bit over my head, and rather overwhelmed.
But you see, about three weeks ago, I had an amazing conversation with a lovely author, Laura Brown. She actually helped me take my tent down and pack it while we chatted, so there's that cherry on top as well. She listened to me talk about my story, and shared that she had walked a very similar road. Something she said to me during that conversation has become my life raft as I navigate this new storm of guilt and regret;
“Every decision we made was the right one at the time.”
In this gig of life, not just care giving, but all of it- marriage, career, parenting... many times we face decisions in which every option available has negative consequences. One of them is still the right one though- because doing nothing is not an option at all. The idea that we can make a right decision by seeing which one is easy, or happy, or has good outcomes across the board, is not at all accurate. Sometimes no matter which choice we make, it is a hard one.
In my experience, these types of decisions often occur in crisis and there simply isn't time to grieve the fact that something is going to be left undone. The pain comes later. We can't use our rear view mirror and think, “if I had made the right choice, these bad things would not have happened.” Well, maybe they wouldn't have, but some other bad thing would have happened. At the time, there was no option in which everything turned out great for everyone.
There is collateral damage when it comes to caring. There is no way to sugarcoat
that- and it would not be fair or helpful to my readers if I tried. I won't even promise that this collateral damage will be removed- although wouldn't that be great? Since I did the right thing, everything eventually HAS to turn out fine? I know better than that. Yet, I do believe in the promise that at some point, this collateral damage will be redeemed. I'm not there yet. This is new and fresh, I'm still scrambling with the emotions. I will take another day to process and then I'll pick myself up and get to work on the practical. What can be salvaged? What can we still do? And I have this nagging feeling that to correct this situation, I'm going to be faced with another decision in which something else will get left behind.
But really, all we can do is make the best decision we can at the time, with the information and options we have. And then later, stand firm in the fact that every decision we made was the right one at the time.
The unhealthy edition. :-)
Ah, Kool-Aid, the delicious sugar (and poisonous food color) laden drink of childhood.
Worst thing about Kool-Aid is the big pitchers taking up room in the fridge.
Second worse thing about Kool-Aid is deciding which flavor to make because every kid wants a
What if I told you there is a way to have it all?
I'm talking, have your cake and eat it too, summer style.
I give you, easy to serve, easy to store, easy to please,
-condiment squeeze bottles, .97 from WalMart , or 2/$1.00 from DollarTree, if you don't mind that they are catsup and mustard colored. We splurged and went for the clear ones. *Squeeze bottles are convenient, not necessary. You can easily make and store this is empty water bottles.
-Kool-Aid packets, the individual packet kind, in various flavors
-sugar, lotso' sugar
-measuring cup and bowl
For each flavor, label a squeeze bottle.
Put 1 to 1 1/4 cup sugar (how sweet do you like it?) in the heatproof bowl (I use the big glass mixing bowl with a spout from Pampered Chef), add one packet of Kool-Aid.
Whisk in 6-8 ounces of boiling water.
Basically you are making a flavored simple syrup.
** If you go for more sugar, use less water or it won't all fit in the squeeze bottle.
Whisk it good, whisk it real good.
Pour the syrup into the condiment bottle. If there is still sugar in the bottom of the bowl, pour a little syrup back in, re-mix and pour it out again. You should get most of it.
Repeat with the other flavors.
To make Kool-Aid, put water into your cup and add a few squirts of the syrup, stir, taste, add more if needed, then add ice.
Voila, multiple flavors of Kool-Aid to please every kid, and not take up lots of space in your fridge
Will there be another edition of Handy Summer Hints, this time with healthy content? That remains to be seen!
We've gone through this personally in our family several times, and it is also a question that is not uncommon in the various parenting groups I work with. This question is so difficult and of course can be approached many different ways to suit the child you are thinking of, but here are some general guidelines.
Be real. Avoid euphemisms like “gone”, “passed away”, or “lost.” Sometimes the child may have no concept of what death even is, so don't use any comparison to sleep or rest. Explain factually that everything alive, dies. Bugs, plants, animals, people- all living cells/creatures/bodies eventually stop working and this is called death. They no longer grow, eat, or breath. Their heart stops beating, their brain can't work anymore. Long before high school biology, children have a sense of what is alive and what is not. A rock is not alive, but a plant is. A car may move, but is not alive. Work with what they have already figured out, and remember, discussions about death are not a once and done thing, but will occur over and over as they grow and revisit these ideas and memories of their loved one.
When explaining why people die, it can be difficult to use language that will not scare them. Old age is a bit easier, as they can understand the concept of worn out and can't work anymore. Illness and accident can be harder. If possible, try not to use the words “sick” or “hurt” since as children, they are likely to get sick and be hurt quite often. Instead, less frequently used words like “disease” or even “ill”, may be less scary, explaining that their body was simply too diseased and could not work anymore. Death from an accident or trauma can be quite disturbing, especially if the child tries to relate it to something they know about, like a squashed bug. You don't need to go into details, but affirm that yes, their body was too damaged to work anymore, so they died.
The difference between the body and the person (spirit or soul) is another tricky bit. Children want to know what happens to the body. Again, go back to other living things like plants or fallen leaves and that they turn back into the earth. Even large bodies like animals and people turn into earth, because the real person is finished with them. Be very matter of fact that bodies are buried in the ground and turn into earth/dirt. For cremation, you don't have to explain the process, but simply say that it some people choose to be buried and turn to dirt slowly and others choose cremation which turns them to dirt much more quickly. If the child persists, you can explain that intense heat is used.
As with many other questions that children ask, always ask them what they think or already know before answering. This is really helpful to clarify what they are actually asking. The old joke about giving a complete reproduction talk to answer, “where did I come from?” when the child actually meant what city they were born in, is funny, but often very true. The purpose is never to hide things from our children, but rather to answer what they are actually asking, and answer it commensurate to their level of understanding.
For religious families, definitely talk about heaven, but avoid using- or even letting children overhear, inaccurate and unhelpful “comfort” about how God “needed them” or that he “took them.” This can be so disturbing for a child and left to wonder who else God might need or take, and can leave the child quite angry with God as well. We teach our children that God is big and all powerful, and then claim he “needed” someone, when clearly the child needed that person more. Stick with the fact that death is part of life, all life ends, and how wonderful it is that when this life ends, that person gets to go to God and never be ill or old or damaged again. Of course we are very sad, we miss them terribly, and just because they are in heaven doesn't make it all better. Encourage them to talk about heaven and what they think their loved one is doing there. This can be incredibly comforting for both the child, and for the entire family who is grieving. The honest grief of a child, and their special glimpses into heaven can be incredibly helpful for all who are grieving this loss.
For non-religious families, you may find comfort in your loved one returning to the earth, or some talk about their loved one turning back into star dust. Some believe in an after-life presence of sorts with the loved one looking after the child, and others do not. There are some really beautiful writings available on this topic for non-religious families.
A very valuable resource can be a local hospice agency. Even if your loved one was not a hospice patient, some agencies offer grief services to their community when funding allows. Even if the agency can't help directly, they will be a valuable resource to recommend area counselors or therapists who may be helpful. Some hospices offer camps (day or sleep away) for children who have had a direct loss, these can be very beneficial in many cases.
Taking care of yourself and your own grief while trying to walk through it with your children is hard. I've been there—and still there, to be honest. Make sure that you are getting the support you need, so that you are then emotionally healthy enough to guide your little ones. Hospitals and churches often provide grief support groups for free or very low fees. You do not have to be a member or be affiliated in order to attend the groups. You may attend one for a few sessions and decide it is not the right fit, and that is OK, but at least try one. If you are reading this to find resources for a friend, remember that one of the most important things you can do for your grieving friends is to facilitate them taking care of themselves. That may mean making phone calls to find counseling or groups, or it may mean providing childcare so they can attend.
As always, please reach out via Facebook if I can be of any additional assistance.
When mom passed away, one way Josie (4 at the time, now 5) was effected was that she had a complete regression in terms of sleep. In a nutshell, she went completely back to infant stage in regards to sleep- so back into our bed, frequent waking, asking to be worn in a sling (She was too big but I would tie a blanket around and have her sit on my lap in the "sling"), needing tons of contact even if she wasn't actually napping. Over the course of about 8 months we went back through all the stages from bedsharing in our bed, to me laying with her in the girls room, to sitting with her and patting her, to her finally being able to just go to bed and be back where she had been. And, like the initial natural progression, this was not smoothly linear, there were stops and starts during this time.
At this point she's been pretty much solid back in her own bed since mid-December and very secure, even to the point of Jeff and I being able to go for a night away during Christmas break. Since then, the only time she has slept with me was when we all had the flu a few weeks ago.
Yesterday was my husband's birthday so he and I went out for a fancy dinner and were out late etc. so she didn't see me all evening. She went to her room to bed with no trouble, but about 11 pm she came in to our room and crawled in with me.
I asked what was wrong and she did her usual, "I just can't sleep without you! I need you to sleep." We have been working on trying to be more accurate in describing our needs so I said, "well, we know you CAN sleep without me, so it is not that. What do you think you need right now?" (because she clearly did have a need). She thought for a minute and said, "I didn't see you for a long time today and I need you to hold me." So, she lay with me and snuggled and we chatted for a bit.
Having her sleep with me is very uncomfortable (she's big, I have a bad back) so after a bit of snuggle I gave her some options, she could go back to her room or she could sleep in the recliner in our room. She said, "well, I do feel safe in your chair... but I also feel safe with my Joy (her big sister) and it is more comfortable there." Another five minutes of cuddling and she got up and went back to her own bed and slept the night (Keep in mind this is nearly midnight in the dark house, she confidently brought herself to my bed and when she was ready, confidently took herself back to her own room).
I just want to encourage you that when the naysayers tell you that by engaging in bedsharing and other attachment and responsive parenting practices the child will "never be able to sleep on their own", they are wrong. I can not stress enough that independence is not forced or even "taught", it is developed, naturally, when the child feels secure.
None of this will happen overnight, it is a process. But it is worth it. A step back does not mean you have lost, it means that the child is going though something and needs you. Sometimes that is a BIG step back and it takes months of patient love to get them through, other times it is a very simple need to connect and it takes 15 minutes.
This season of gatherings and events can be very stressful for little ones- and for their mamas! Sometimes going into situations armed with a plan can reduce our anxiety. I don't mean to borrow trouble and worry about what people might say or do, but merely to become settled in your mind before you arrive.
“I do not owe anyone an explanation about why I parent the way I do.”
“I do not need to defend my choices.”
“My child is loved and thriving.”
“My priorities are different from other people's, and that is OK.”
Also remember that your baby is not a toy which must be passed around or shared. They are a person with needs and the right to have those needs respected. If they need to be in your arms to feel safe, you are not “selfish” or “overprotective” to continue holding them for the duration of the event. I highly recommend baby wearing for situations like this. Requests to see baby are easily met with, “Oh he is so happy and safe right now, I don't plan to move him.”, and then turn so that people can interact with baby while still on you.
This absolutely applies to older children as well. A toddler or preschooler should not be made to hug or kiss or sit on laps of people when they don't want to. Body autonomy is one of the most important things for our children to value at an early age. Their body, their rules. This is not an excuse to be rude, so do teach your child how to execute a proper handshake or high five. Alternatively, a verbal greeting is also completely polite and acceptable.
A great way to deflect criticism about your parenting is to simply not engage. For too many people, engaging equals negotiation, so far better to simply give one stock answer. “Is that baby still nursing?” “Is that baby still sleeping with you?” “Is that baby still waking up 17 times a night?”
All of these can be met with a smile and a, “Baby is developing brilliantly, thank you. Did you see that sale on chicken thighs? I totally stocked my freezer with that price!”
I know that it gets lonely to not be able to truly share the hard bits of the parenting journey (because as much as we love it, there ARE hard bits) with those who are supposed to be loving and supportive. This is a very valid grief to feel. But the wise thing to do is to not arm unsupportive people with information that can be used against you. In some relationships there may be a time when a face to face is needed and hard things discussed (Why can't you support my parenting choices? I feel like I can't be honest with you when you turn the things I share back on me). But rarely are the holidays the right time for this kind of serious interaction. Visit your favorite parenting community (or message me), get a breather, and purpose to stand strong in your convictions and not allow curmudgeons to spoil the season for you and your family.
Josie got to choose a reward for sleeping in her own bed. She chose fairy wings, wand, and tiara set from the $1Tree, one for Joy and one for herself.
I took her to pick the items out and she was so excited. She had told Joy that she was getting her a surprise but not what it was. When we got home, she proudly presented Joy her fairy gear and they played for quite a while.
That evening, Josie wanted to play again, but Joy was doing something else. Josie was angry about this and then when Joy also did some other minor offense (sitting where she had been sitting for the previous 20+ minutes...) Josie yelled and shouted, and finally, hit her. Hard. With the plastic fairy wand. Screams and cries abounded from both parties. I comforted the wounded and confronted the attacker. The immediate consequence of course was that the wand went to time out and Josie went to time in.
In an effort to get away from me, Josie pleaded “potty” and I let her go. I stood outside and listened to her wail and rail against me, life, and the universe in general. When she was finished and came out, I opened my arms, thinking that perhaps she was ready to hug and talk. Instead she had a “look” and rushed past me to hide.
I went into the bathroom and saw that she had unrolled and put into the toilet, an entire roll of TP. I went to her and told her that she was allowed to be angry, but not allowed to hit and not allowed to be destructive. I asked her who she thought was going to clean that out? “Not me” she said. Wrong answer. I told her it would indeed be her. That she was going to put on gloves and get it out.
“I don't have gloves”, she protested...my reply, “Guess what? I do!”
So she followed me as I went to the guest room closet and got the plastic gloves. I pulled out two for her and then pulled out two more. “You are going to help me?” her voice was both surprised and hopeful. “Of course I'm going to help you. I love you. You are my kid.”
We went back into the bathroom, I put the giant glove on her tiny hand and had her pull out a token amount of the toilet paper. I of course finished the job and we got the toilet to where it could safely flush.
As we washed up and went out, she was much quieter, but not completely over it all. You could almost see the anger stir back up in her. “Well, I'm NOT going to say sorry!”
“I don't want you to say 'sorry', why would I want you to lie?”
Then she started to cry- an angry cry. “If I say I'm sorry, then I'll be lying and then I'll be in MORE trouble! My wand is going to be in time out forever!! And anyway (crying in earnest now) I'm HUNGRY!”
Oops, my bad... I realized that with the way the evening had gone, everyone off in different directions, she had not had a good dinner. I stood up and told her that I would help her get some food, found some leftovers and quickly heated them up. When she sat down to eat, I sat with her.
She again protested that she still wasn't sorry, almost trying to convince herself at this point.
I told her she would be sorry later, that when we hurt people we love, we are always sorry later.
She again began to list all the ways that Joy had offended her: she wouldn't play, she sat where Josie wanted to be, and now it was Joy's fault that she had lost her fairy wand.
I listened and simply told her again that we don't hurt people. We use words, we can say, “I'm upset that you don't want to play with me!” She assured me, “ Oh, I did. I yelled at her and told her I was MAD... and she still didn't play!” (hmm... you think?)
Again, she went through her entire list of reasons why she had hit her sister and I simply kept saying, “We don't hit people. We don't hurt people.”
“Well I'm not sorry!!” half-hearted crying between bites.
“You will be later, and then you can tell her you are sorry and you love her.”
“But I HATE saying sorry!”
Ahh... now to the heart of the matter.
Oh yes my dear, don't we all? So much easier to convince ourselves that the other person deserved it and we were not wrong.
Then the negotiations. “I won't say sorry...I will just see if she wants to be friends again.”
I reminded her that when she feels hurt, she is pretty insistent on an apology...We have all been recipients of her own demands to, ”Say you're sorry!!”
“What if she doesn't forgive me?”
“Joy loves you SO much, she does everything for you, she will forgive you.”
“But what if she doesn't?”
“She will. Remember when you forgave me?” I reminded her of a recent time when I had apologized to her for something. “She really, really, loves you. We want to forgive people we love. I bet she is waiting right now to forgive you. Why don't you go say, 'I'm sorry, I should not have hit you. Will you be friends? Do you want to share some cake?”
Tears again... but different tears. “Oh, I can't think about eating cake with her after what I did!”
One more assurance that she would be forgiven and the cake gladly shared.
“Will you come with me?”
“I didn't help you hit her, I'm not going to apologize for you.”
“Just walk up there with me. You will stay outside the door.”
So of course I did.
I walked upstairs with her and in she went. She did shut the door so I do not know what she said.
A moment later the door burst open, “She forgives me!”
Door shut again.
Open again with an excited, “She wants to be friends again!!”
Open again, “and she want to have cake with me, and she let me hug her!”
Eyes still wet with tears but shining brightly with the joy of being forgiven and accepted by her loved one.
I headed back downstairs and she came with me to get the cake ready. “Joy will be here in a minute”, she told me.
Joy joined a minute later and they sat close together, shared their cake, and then began to play.
Joy spied her fairy gear on the couch and said, “let's play fairies!”
“Ok!” exclaimed Josie... and then her face and voice fell. “but I can't, ...I don't have a wand.”
And then, grace upon grace. ”That's ok, you can use mine. You will be queen fairy and I'm a baby fairy that hasn't earned her wand yet.”
This whole exchange took well over 30 minutes. Some would say that Josie should have been spanked or punished harshly and be done with it. Some would say that she should have been hit with the same stick she hit with. I disagree of course, but am not going to argue that point right now.
I did hit her... hit her with grace, with mercy. The changes that occurred in her spirit when she realized that I was going to help her fix the mess she made in her rebellion...these were the beginning of repentance. She absolutely knows that wasting toilet paper is not ok. She absolutely knows that clogging the toilet is Bad. She did this on purpose.
But well beyond my grace of a parent seeing a teachable moment and grabbing it, was the grace of the sister she had struck: open arms with love, with forgiveness, with, “here, take my wand.”
There will be future offenses, many of them. Josie has all the self-control of a typical four year old, which is to say, very little. But the lessons learned tonight are invaluable, foundational. Grace has a way of softening hearts that mere punishment can never even approach. She had it reinforced that mommy is here to help her when she makes poor decisions, and more than that, she experienced the utter peace and relief of being forgiven, being loved, and of being welcomed back into relationship.
-Comfort the child who was hurt first.
-Put the object in time out as a consequence and to get it out of the situation. This is not about an object, it is about attitude.
-Validate/ help her name and recognize her feelings; “you were angry because Joy didn't want to play.” Josie had chosen as part of her own reward to give a gift to Joy, and then Joy didn't want to play. Doesn't matter that she had played with her for a long time earlier in the day and it was 10 hours later, Josie felt rejected.
-Don't force an apology, no use making a kid lie about it.
-When she was ready, I helped her by modeling an apology she could use.
-This did not come into play on this occasion, but I also don't force forgiveness or words of forgiveness.
-She had to “own” her mess in the toilet and correct it, but was not punished separately for it. Of course we talked about it, “You were angry with me, so you chose to do something that you know upsets me.”
She did apologize for that later. Even more importantly, several days after the incident, she came up t me and said, “You love me even when I do bad things. You get mad, but you are still happy that I'm your little girl.” She had obviously been chewing on that for a while.
-I realized that part of this was my fault, she was legitimately hangry and it was late at night. She was kind of set up for failure/over-reaction.
- I did not give her wand back just because she had reached true repentance. Consequence is consequence, the wand remained in time out until the next day, just as I had originally said.
- I did not prevent Joy from sharing her own wand and require that Josie remain wand-less The wand was Joy's to give and the lesson there... oh I would never want to stifle that lesson!