I can’t keep all my sadness, frustration, unhappiness, and stress a secret from my children. Maybe there are parents who are good at this, but I am an open book. When I’m happy I’m larger than life with enthusiasm, laughter, and excitement; I talk too fast, jump around, and my teenager often tells me to calm down because I’m “too much”. On the flip side, when life is heavy my energy is lower, I’m more quiet, and often lost in thought. My children have all seen me cry, and each in their own way have inquired about my sadness and offered comfort or encouragement.
I want to be strong and positive for my children, ensure that they always feel safe, and I don’t want them to have the burden of emotionally supporting their mother. I also don’t want to pretend and be fake around them, setting an example that life is always easy. I’m their guide for how to live, navigate difficulty, adapt, grow and change, and sometimes that comes with loneliness, tears, and uncertainty. For my teenager, who’s more aware of the cause-and-effects in my life, she’s expressed sadness for my sadness, said it’s hard on her to see me upset, and also shared that I demonstrate how to rebuild and make life great after it falls apart. I have faith that she’ll be equipped to go through her own trials with more faith and hope for healing and rebuilding because of my example, and when I’m having a hard time that knowledge is a light in the darkness. For my little boys, it’s beautiful to see them care, and also nice to see how much they miss simply because they’re naturally in their own world, busy playing and not paying attention.
It’s so easy as parents to over-think, doubt, and feel guilty. I’m exceptionally hard on myself sometimes. But I had a realization the other day that having children is one of my motivations to step-up and fight against the desire to give-in or give-up. While my kids are aware when I’m struggling, I still choose to show-up for them and I’m more motivated to heal because of them. There have been times recently when all I wanted to do was feel sorry for myself, lay in bed and cry, and pretend I didn’t have any responsibilities. But my small humans still need my time, attention, food, and clean clothes. They also have expectations for how we’ll spend our time together because of the lifestyle I’ve created, which includes loud music, dance parties, eating dinner together, adventures to the park, singing and meditation at bedtime… all things my happy self loves and my unhappy self doesn’t want to do, yet when I participate despite my mood and feelings, I am uplifted. Having to show-up day after day for my family is part of my recovery story, and without the need to continue caring for my children I can’t imagine what my life would look like when shit goes sideways.
My 6 year old’s favorite song right now is Believer by Imagine Dragons. He asks to listen to it every morning on our way to school, loud, with the windows down. When my spirit is happy and I’m well rested, this is a seriously fun experience for us to share, and I dance and sing along. Recently I’ve been struggling, and have secretly hoped multiple times that he’ll forget to ask me to play the song, and when asked I’ve even contemplated saying “no” because my sadness wants silence and tears, but in those moments when I didn’t want to face the morning sunshine, let alone dance and sing, the sweet enthusiasm of my son and the continuation of a happy routine were things I needed and wouldn’t have given myself without his motivation. It’s easy in difficult times to look outside of the home and outside of everyday routines for comfort, or to suck everyone around you down into your misery. Healing and change don’t come with a roadmap, when we’re struggling we’re more easily triggered, and it’s okay to not have the energy to live life exactly same when you’re happy verses sad, but I encourage you to pay attention to how you’re showing-up, appreciate the little things that are encouraging you to get out of bed when you don’t want to, and stop over-thinking. We often need the opposite of what we want when heavy emotions are calling the shots – so eat healthy food when you want to eat junk, take a slow walk around the block when you want to get back into bed, be still with your thoughts and emotions and avoid over explaining yourself to others, love yourself, and maybe listen to some dance music when you don’t feel like smiling and see what happens.