Anxiety, Stress, and Gratefulness

What sums up 2020 for you and your family?

For us, it’s been anxiety, stress, and gratefulness.

Anxiety – the virus turning into a global pandemic reminded me of when I first became a parent. What is happening? How do I get myself through this? How do I help my sons get through this? Time shifted. It slowed much like it did when my sons were newborns, not knowing what each new day would bring, and bracing myself as I learned and adjusted.

Stress – much like giving birth trying to figure out how to survive — what we were seeing on the news, schools shutting down, work going remote, isolation, boredom, not knowing, toxic politics, people suffering, inequality and injustice, and longevity of the situation setting in — could be overwhelming and feel like you were surviving a trauma over and over. Putting one foot in front of the other to make it through the day could be challenging, but you put on your survivor face cause you had kids that needed to know everything would be okay, even when you didn’t.

Gratefulness – nature and our cat have been lifelines for us this year. Simple things — a sunny day, a rainbow, petting our cat (or simply watching him play, run, or hunt), brought us great joy. Virtual dinner parties, friends reaching out to check in, our boys finding ways to physically distance but still be with their friends, are things we are grateful for. Our health. Masks. People taking the virus seriously. All things we are thankful for. A vaccine, maybe two, coming, hallelujah! Time picking back up, adjusting to our new normal, being healthy. Grateful. Grateful. Grateful.

What sums up 2020 for you and your family? What are you grateful for this year?

Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll be off next week, but back in December.

Anticipation

The last week has been an emotional roller coaster, right?

The waiting has been hard. I’ve gone from worried to hopeful to worried to hopeful.

As election results started coming in my husband and I tried to suppress our concerns at what we were seeing — we didn’t want the kids to be worried. What I didn’t expect was that our sons were glued to the election and on their phones talking to friends about what was happening. They were as stressed/concerned/anxious as my husband and I were.

I hated that they were worried, but in awe that they realized the importance of voting and having every vote counts. They understand the importance of leadership and how it can impact them and their peers, our country (and those suffering from illness or poverty), and around the world (climate change).

We had a discussion over dinner about what we would do if we were charge. My oldest really pressed my husband and I for policy changes we would implement or change. I suggested we use tax incentives to bring renewable energy jobs to rural parts of the country where people need jobs. My husband had suggestions around better use of our taxes. I shared that many of us adults have a lot of hope based on young people’s engagement, enthusiasm, and energy to make positive change in our country, and are inspired to engage in our political process like never before.

We all agreed, as Americans we can only be better if we help each other be our best. We take care and lookout for each other (such as giving everyone access to healthcare and education regardless of your background or means). It might sound optimist, but feels like it’s possible with the right leadership and drive to unite us.

We now know who our next President will be. I’m breathing again. My kids are more relaxed, but know there is still a divide in our country and many unhappy with the results. I’m hopeful we’ll heal and come together, and stop the decisiveness. If nothing more than for our kids.

How are you being the change we need in our country? How are you helping your child to be part of the change?

Exhausted

Does your child ever struggle with sleep?

My youngest became a good sleeper after we put him in the same bedroom with his older brother at the age of one. He has been our power sleeper for many years. We’ve often joke at how he can sleep through anything — high winds (he slept through it), rain coming into our tent (he slept thorough it), and the list goes on.

Lately our son has been having trouble sleeping — either having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. We’ve talked about ways to help – no food or water near bedtime, no screen time leading up to bed, and nothing seems to help. He’s not overly worried about it, but you can tell it’s bothering him. He rather liked thinking of himself as a power sleeper.

He was asked to watch the Presidential Debate for school so his class could discuss our political process the following day. Thank goodness he was only required to watch 30 minutes. He and I agreed, every minute of it was painful. It was only a few nights after that he shared he’d woken in the middle of the night and for whatever reason he was feeling anxious and scared. When I asked him if he knew what caused him to feel this way he couldn’t point to anything in particular. The way he described it it sounded like generalized anxiety. Like many these days there is much to worry about — COVID-19, equal justice, climate change, the economy, and politics. It’s enough to make anyone lose sleep.

As a family, we agreed that since the kids can remote school from anywhere we might as well take advantage of it. Because we’re all exhausted we need to take the opportunity for change in scenery. We need to find joy in the new, and gratitude for all the things we have. We’re hoping we’ll even get some good sleep. That would be amazing.

How does your child sleep? How do you help them when they struggle to get a good night’s rest?

I’ll be away for the next few weeks spending time with family and will be back in November.

Dinner Table

How has meal time been affected by Covid?

In our family, we’ve always had dinner together, but as my husband and I have had to travel for work more often, or get to meetings in the evening, and the kids have grown and become more independent, getting us all together at the dinner table became more inconsistent. Until the pandemic kept us home.

Sitting at the table in the early days allowed us to talk about what was going on, and how we were feeling. Obviously a delicate balance since none of us had been through a pandemic before, and as parents we wanted our children to feel safe (we’d take the needed precautions and would get through this together). Each family member learned about the virus, the history of other pandemics, medical findings, and shared what we learned at the table. We dealt with boredom and frustration at being home and confined to our neighborhood. We talked about looking for the good in a difficult situation.

My appreciation for us gathering at dinner time grew when school started back up. Our oldest has a modified schedule where he has anywhere from 3-4 subjects a day (vs. the normal 7). They alternate days and subjects so he receives all the instruction he needs over any given week. In previous school years if I asked him how things were going or how his day was I’d most often get a “fine.” But with Covid and him doing remote learning I could dig deeper and get him to open up. Asking him questions — “what classes did you have today?” “How is that going?” “Do you feel like you’re understanding what they’re teaching you?” “What would help you better understand the material?” — was eye opening. My husband and I felt we got a much better picture than we’ve had before. The question we left our son with was, “What can we do to help?” He wants to try things on his own for now, and we want to encourage his growing independence. We appreciate the chance to check-in and share with our kids, and better understand what they’re dealing with and going through. It will be one of the few things I hope we maintain with the same consistency once we are past the pandemic.

How are you connecting with your child? What type of conversations are you having at the dinner table?

One New Day at a Time

How are you getting through each day with your family at home?

My husband and I went for a long walk in our neighborhood early in the morning over the weekend. Few people were up so it was easy to social distance from the handful of other neighbors we encountered. As we walked we talked about how different things were since the Coronavirus changed how we live. As we talked I reflected how I’d been experiencing a similar feeling I hadn’t felt in a while. It was a fear of the unknown tempered with a need to push through the fear — it was a feeling I experienced when I first became a parent.

I remember after my first son was born how I felt almost disconnected from my body — seeing my baby, adjusting to the baby’s needs, learning this ‘new’ normal, and trying to shake the discomfort I felt — adjusting to being a new parent. How was I going to do this? How was I going to be a good parent when I didn’t have any experience? I was learning as I went, and it felt scary. But I had to adjust, getting paralyzed with fear wouldn’t serve my son, or me well. I had to walk through the fear knowing eventually I’d get comfortable with how my life was changing.

We are adjusting. Each day seems a little easier than the last. Much like it did in those early days of parenting. I move forward with the knowledge that I did it before and I can do it again — one new day at a time.

How are you adjusting to how the virus is impacting your family’s life?

Going Viral

How is the Coronavirus impacting you?

It’s scary to think of this new disease that has emerged. Taking lives with no vaccine available. Having kids the fear is compounded. You’re worried about everyone wondering how you keep your family members safe. You hear about the virus everywhere you go. The virus has literally gone viral.

Traveling is now a challenge. Do I still fly for a business meeting? Does my son take the bus to school? What about grocery shopping and being in public spaces? And well, living your life like you normally would.

My youngest son came down with a cold this week. Of course, the first thought is ‘could this be the virus’ but he only has a runny nose, no fever or any of the other symptoms. We decided to be on the safe side and keep him home from school to ensure he didn’t pass along his germs to others.

We are also trying to keep our kids from stressing out. Nothing is worse, in my opinion, than when a child sees their parent is genuinely scared. While my husband and I may worry about the virus, I can’t say we’re scared. We are calmed by knowing that if any of us come down with it our chances of getting a deadly form of the virus are low, we live in a city with good medical care, and we’re taking the recommended precautions (washing our hands frequently, not touching our face, etc.). Still, the unknown can be unnerving. I suppose I’m trying to live by the British war time motto, Keep Calm and Carry On. Not easy, but necessary — particularly for the sake of my kids and helping them navigate this.

How are you helping your child stay safe? How are helping them during this scary time?

Up, Up, and Away

Does your child like to travel?

My oldest has anxiety when he travels — specifically to new locations. He isn’t worried about mechanical problems or turbulence, but the length of the flight, getting bored or uncomfortable in his seat, and worried about worst case scenarios when he reaches his final destination — it being unsafe, or getting lost, etc. Leading up to his most recent trip, he started showing signs of his anxiety in a number of ways — complaining “I don’t want to go”, getting angry “this is so dumb”, and muttering under his breathe “this is so stupid”. Keep in mind he’s 14, so these reactions are common when he experiences anxiety or discomfort regardless the situation.

My husband and I deployed multiple methods of working to help him work through his feelings in the days leading up to his departure. We had numerous talks, went on multiple walks. We reminded him that while he may be anxious about the unknown (and reassuring him that it’s normal to feel this way) that everything was going to be okay.

He and I talked the night before he left on his trip. I tried to get him to think about his fears in a different context. “How long, and potentially boring, the flight is going to be is a good problem to have,” I said. He looked at me quizzically. “Think about it. There are kids whose family can’t afford to pay the rent, or struggle to put food on the table. To those kids, getting on a plane to go somewhere is a dream. The fact that you have this opportunity to see new places is a gift.” I could see, for a flicker of a moment, he understood what I was saying. He wasn’t done complaining or sharing his concerns with me, but I’m hopeful I got through to him and when his anxiety returns he can think of this is a larger context the problems that he’s experiencing are actually good ones to have, and instead enjoy the gift he’s being given.

How do you help you child when they have anxiety? How do you help them work through their feelings?

Zip Lining through Fear

Does your child seek out adventure or shy away from it?

My oldest loves thrill rides, and is more often than not, open to trying something new. Even if it might be a little bit scary. My youngest is opposed to thrill rides, and generally opposed to trying anything that involves taking a visible risk. I understand. I was scared of the same things when I was young, but through the encouragement of my parents (largely my father who reminded me, time and again, that I could do this, and that everything would be okay) I learned to not only overcome my fears but be willing to take risks.

We decided to go to a zip line operator to do something fun as a family over the holiday weekend. We knew going in we’d all be a little nervous once we got to the top of the zip line, but thought the fun of doing it together was worth it.

I went first, my youngest son after me followed by my husband and his older brother. When my youngest got to the first platform he was scared. I thought well goodness we’re not even half way up. He looked at me and said, “A bee is stinging me.” The platform wound around the tree making it awkward for me to get to him quickly to try to help. I managed to get to him, saw there was a bee on his shirt and tried to shake it off. I thought I had when my son cried, “Mom, it’s stinging me. Make it stop.” I thought the bee was gone, but when I pulled my son’s shirt away from him the bee flew out. I thought oh no, do we go on? Do we stop? We were only on the first platform. After everyone had calmed down I looked at my son. “The bee is gone now. Are you okay? Are you ready to move on?” I don’t know what possessed me to say that, maybe it was the fact that my son is getting older and things like this can happen. I didn’t want the bee to be the end of our experience. He nodded and we kept moving forward. We got to the next platform and while crossing on the bridge (which honestly was pretty scary as there were big openings where you could see the ground directly below your feet) his harness came down around his legs. This can’t be happening I thought. Maybe someone was trying to tell us not to zip line? Thankfully a staff member saw what happened and quickly got to him and got his harness back on and tightened properly. We finally reached the zip line. He was behind me as I got ready to go. “I’m scared,” he said. “I am too,” I said, “I can only get through my fear if I go.” I stepped off the platform and off I went. Almost instantly my fear was gone and I was enjoying zipping down the line. “It’s great!” I told my son as I was soaring through the air, “You’re going to love it.” It took him a while to get his courage up to go after me. My husband was on one end encouraging him and I was on the other. After a few minutes, he stepped off the platform and came hurdling towards me. I could see that he too had moved from fear to that’s what I was so worried about?

When he was off the zip line he was so proud of himself, and so was I. He had many opportunities to turn back, say “I’m done”, but he didn’t. He showed himself he’s tougher and more capable than even he could have believed.

How does your child work through fear? How do help show them what they are capable of?

Kid Pride

What makes you proud?

My youngest son starred as Aslan, the lion, in his school’s production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He has participated in school plays each year, and has had speaking parts, but this year’s role was as one of the lead characters meant more lines to memorize, and more pressure to get things right.

We rehearsed the lines over a few weeks. I was impressed at how much he had learned on his own, and really enjoyed working with him on his lines– it made me feel like I was helping him in some way.

Following the final rehearsal he came out of the dressing room looking down. I could tell he needed some space. I know how tense it can be in the final days of practice and thought maybe some of his fellow actors, or the director had given him some feedback he didn’t want to hear. When we were close to leaving the building we saw the director, who asked my son if he would come early the next night so he and the other leads could work on a couple of scenes. My son broke down. “I’m not having fun anymore. I don’t want to do this.” I was caught off guard by the comment and was thinking how do I get him back onboard? Aslan not being in the play.would be noticed. 😊 Thankfully, the director approached my son in a way that indicated this wasn’t the first time one of her actors had second thoughts about their role. “What’s going on?,” she asked. “People are going to laugh at me. The other actors aren’t taking the play seriously. It’s going to be horrible.” The director gave a knowing look as if she’d had this conversation with many others in the past, and reminded him of plays from previous years “other times we were a lot less prepared than we are now and everything turned out fine.” She spent more time talking my son through the moment, giving other examples about actors who were nervous or stressed or didn’t think others were taking things as seriously. She finished by telling him how important he was to her. “You’ve been acting for me for years, and have grown so much. You don’t realize it now, but you’ve got this. You’re going to do great tomorrow.” She reminded him of the first play he did for her, Elephant and Piggy. He laughed remembering his part from long ago. His demeanor changed. He left the dark cloud he’d been under and seemed to move to a lighter brighter one.

Opening night he was in better spirits. He was relaxed, and seemed more ready. He nailed the performance. I realize I’m his mom, but I’m not sure anyone could have done a better job than he did. All family members who were there couldn’t have been prouder of him, but I don’t think that mattered. What did was that he realized what he was capable of, and that he was proud of himself, and nothing feels as good as that.

What makes your child proud?

Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

What makes your child uncomfortable?

A teacher of my youngest shared that my son was becoming anxious about moving to middle school in the Fall. My son had shared this information with them, and they wanted to make sure my husband and I were aware.

One evening, after we’d had time to get home, eat and decompress for a while, I let my son know that I’d heard he was anxious about the future and wanted to better understand his concern. “What are you most concerned about?” I asked. He put both hands to his forehead. “Well everything!” He paused. “I feel like I’m not going to do well in middle school. 5th grade is harder than 4th.” I could tell by the look on his face he was feeling stress about how he’d navigate the new upcoming unfamiliar territory. He continued, “I do okay in school, but I get bored a lot.” I asked, “Is that because school isn’t challenging enough?” He scoffed, “No, Mom, it’s definitely challenging enough. It’s just I have to learn all this stuff.” I felt like I could almost read his mind, so I offered, “and you’d enjoy it more if they were teaching you about things you were more interested in?” “Yes!” he said. His face relaxed from what I took to be relief at being understood. I asked my son, “Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘a means to an end’?” He shook his head no.”Well, there are some things you have to do in order to get something else. If you want to go to college one day, they’ll expect you to graduate from high school with a degree. You don’t have to like it, but you have to do it and do it well to go. You could think of going to school as a means to an end.” He seemed to ponder this for a minute. “But it makes me really uncomfortable thinking about all the work I’ll have to do. How will I figure it out?” I reminded him that he’s only in 5th grade. “What is the point of teachers, aides, parents, etc.? We are all here to help. The unknown can feel scary, and can make you uncomfortable but there are lots of people ready to help you along the way, okay? Life can make us uncomfortable sometimes it’s getting to a place where you can be comfortable being uncomfortable, does that make sense?,” I asked. “Yea, I think so,” he said, “thanks, Mom.” I could tell at this point he was ready to get back to screen time so we ended our talk.

The future can be scary, and make you anxious or uncomfortable, that’s normal. I’ve experienced it as an adult — when I became a parent, when my job responsibilities changed, when I wrote my book and started doing public speaking for example — but I knew if I wanted to achieve goals in life, I needed to embrace the discomfort and knew the best way to lessen the discomfort was with experience.

I feel discomfort when my child comes to me with problems I don’t know how to solve. I guess that’s just life, but I’m glad my child is willing to open up to me. We’ll work through our respective discomfort together.

How you help your child deal with anxiety, stress or discomfort?