When I was about 13, my best friend at the time and I memorized every word of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence.” We wrote down the words by playing, pausing and rewinding a cassette tape, which we had recorded by placing the tape deck beside the radio. Yes, I’m that old.
“Sound of Silence” became “our” song and to this day I remember every word of it. The haunting words appealed to our dramatic teenage angst and supported our growing realization that life could be sad simply from living. We had lots of big questions with no answers but it didn’t matter because delving into the questions made us feel mature and acutely aware that we were no longer kids. The song comforted us as we transitioned from childhood into no man’s land of pre-adulthood. At that time I never thought about the lyricist’s life experience that lay beneath the words of the song. Today I think particularly about the first verse:
“Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again”
I have lived with depression for most of my life and through the crests and valleys I understand how I must face this disease. This past year, I took on too much, got sick with a month long virus and together with the start of fall, I had the perfect storm for depression to pay me a visit. Depression, as reliable as ever, didn’t disappoint. At some point, when I was able, I shared with a new acquaintance the reason I had not responded to her email promptly – I called depression “my old friend.” With the best of intentions, because she is a lovely lady, she told me to never call depression my friend and that it is no part of me.
I have never felt the need to defend my perspective of my disease but here’s what I believe. Depression is a part of me – a big part. It has shaped the way I think about life, my family and my friends. I choose friends who accept me for all that I am, not for the best of me. It has made me a more empathetic person towards anyone suffering with anything, mental or physical. It has broadened my perspective of people, understanding that there is a place for everyone at life’s table. It has helped me be a better wife and parent (I hope) because I have become a good listener and kinder person.
I must make depression my friend or it will be my enemy and the more we hate something, the greater its power.
Depression is my old friend and I accept that it is a big part of me. It is not all of me, in the same way that people with other illnesses, mental or physical, don’t become their disease, so I don’t become mine. Acceptance, however, is key. Acceptance diminishes the impact of this disease immensely. With acceptance I lose shame. As a result, I can open up to new ideas and different ways to help myself. Most importantly, I can love myself.
So, depression, I will tend to you when you need me and when you are quiet I will keep you by my side in my warm, protective embrace, so that you can feel safe. I will not abandon you, my old friend.
Should parenting be about negotiation? The answer is yes and no. Much of our parenting direction comes from knowing who we are and what we want. Some of these things are up for discussion and some aren’t and it’s important to know what belongs where. For example, one of my “non-negotiables” was that my kids could never swear at me (they could swear, just not at me or my husband). Bedtimes were negotiable. I don’t care much for routine and I didn’t expect it from my kids. When parents don’t know what belongs where, it can result in unnecessary conflict. When we identify our non-negotiable expectations we are more likely to stick unwaveringly to them and kids sense that. Children push the boundaries when they think there is the tiniest bit of room for things to shift in their favour. They become surprisingly compliant when we really mean business, and that means consistency over time and between both parents (if applicable). It goes without saying that “non-negotiables” must reflect our behavior. You can’t have zero tolerance for swearing if you swear at others yourself. Walk your walk and talk your talk.
To know what’s non-negotiable for you, check in with your feelings. They are usually your best indicator. It can take some practice because we come into parenting with many pre-existing “non-negotiables,” usually from our parents, and often persist with those even when they don’t really belong to us. I was raised to never leave the house un-groomed and it took years of fighting about un-brushed hair and low-lying jeans to realize that I just didn’t care. I transferred this to the negotiable pile and my kids and I were much happier! I learned to ask the question, “Is this important to me or does it need to be examined?”
Ask your child: “What would make you happier than you are right now?”
Let’s look at some possibilities:
If I had more friends.
If I wasn’t bullied.
If my hair was curly.
If my hair was straight.
If I did better in school.
If I made the basketball team.
If there was no global warming.
If I didn’t worry so much.
If I was taller.
If I was skinnier.
If I got a new computer.
If my teacher was nicer to me.
If my parents didn’t bug me to do things.
If my brother stopped teasing me.
If I had a dog.
If I could go to Disney World.
This list can be endless. Of course, what happens in our lives and our children’s lives affects them. However, when we completely depend on things around us to make us happy, we take the risk that we will never be happy.
Let’s not leave our happiness entirely to chance.
How can we change this?
How can we feel happy if we have no friends, or fail a test, or a bully picks on us every day? As impossible as this seems, even at times like these, we have the power to be happier. We have the power within us to change the way we feel. And when we learn to do this, we not only change the way we feel, but very often the way others feel around us and the way others behave toward us.
How do you think your child would answer these questions:
Who are you?
How do you feel?
What do you think about?
What do you like about yourself?
What don’t you like?
What makes you, you?
If the answer is “with difficulty” they are not alone. Through addressing questions like these, our children can learn to focus on their perspective of life. These are the seeds for developing a strong sense of self and self esteem. Children need to believe that how they see the world matters.
When I became a parent for the first time thirty years ago, I was focused on sleeping through the night, first colds, milestones and solid foods. I think it’s just as well that parents don’t get to see the whole journey at once. There may be far less children born if we did.
From the moment my children were born, I did everything in my power to ensure their happiness. For every unhappy situation that arose, I was right there to provide a solution. If they felt anxious about doing something, I would tell them they were wonderful and they could do anything. If they felt unloved by friends, I would make sure they knew how lovable they were. At every turn, I tried to take away their pain because I understood happiness to be the absence of emotional pain. This unrealistic perspective and my inevitable failure to control my children’s happiness left me feeling, on a regular basis, that I was falling short as a parent. I now understand that I was attempting to do the impossible. A person’s feelings belong to him or her, as do the experiences that produce those feelings. My children’s feelings were not mine to have, to face, or to deal with.
This new understanding forced me to recognize that my parenting perspective needed revision. Facing adversity, disappointment, envy, sadness, and fear are natural and inescapable emotional experiences in all our lives. A child not doing well on a test, being rejected by a friend, not being chosen for a team, losing a pet or loved one, or fearing monsters under the bed are all situations that most parents can identify with. At times like these it would feel counterintuitive as a loving parent to withhold comfort, and I’m not suggesting we do. Comfort and love are to parenting as air is to life. I would like to suggest, however, that we add another layer to our parenting realm that I believe can dramatically increase our children’s chances for both a happier childhood and a happier adult life.
Emotional pain exists for similar reasons that physical pain exists. If we heed our physical pain, we learn how to live away from danger and harm. Similarly, emotional pain, if addressed properly, can help us live harmoniously with ourselves and with others. To learn from our emotional pain we must face our feelings, understand them, and ultimately deal with them in healthy and productive ways.
Children who learn to deal with all their feelings, not only the happy ones, do themselves a great service. These are the children who will develop a strong sense of self and will be more able to stand up to bullying, develop leadership qualities, and have the determination and perseverance that will make them more successful in school, in relationships, and in their adult lives.
Some children believe in the tooth fairy, some in Santa Claus. My nephew believes whole-heartedly in superheroes.
When Aden was around five and on vacation, a bee stung Nate, his two-year-old brother. Hysteria ensued, resulting in my sister rushing Nate to the hotel medical clinic. On route, she realized that Aden was crying more than his brother. Attempting to console him, she told him that a bee had just stung Nate and while it was painful he would be fine. Aden’s reply was, “But is he going to turn into something? Beeman?!?!”
I have just had my third baby boy and my second child (3) has turned into someone I don’t even recognize. At first he was very upset about the baby and asked us to leave him at the hospital. When we came home, my husband and I had to be super watchful with him because he was rough with the new baby. This was so different to our oldest son (6), who was besotted with his new baby brother.
Now, two months later, he is much better with the baby but his behavior is impossible. He literally doesn’t listen to a thing we say. We may as well not be talking! What are we doing wrong?
It certainly sounds like your little one is struggling with having a new “baby” in the house. Take heart, you are not alone with this problem and there are many things that your husband and you can do to bring harmony back into your home!
You have done nothing wrong. The birth order of our children and its effects has received attention from parenting analysts all over the world. Entire books have been dedicated to this subject. You may want to check out some of these.
Keven Leman’s book “The Birth Order Book” is worth looking at. He has also written a children’s picture book called “My Middle Child, There’s No One Like You.” I find children’s stories a wonderful way to help them understand their feelings and to springboard further discussion about things that may be worrying them. Books can help children put their feelings into words that they may not have been able to do before.
Your three year old has had to, very abruptly, give up his previous status of “baby.” This is very difficult for him and he is doing everything he can to hold onto you your undivided attention. This often exhibits in “bad” behavior. The reality is that he is no longer the baby and your attention has become more divided. So what do you do? Make the times when he is not acting out really count. Even if you can’t reinforce something he is actively doing, compliment him generally. Say things like, “Mommy and Daddy are so lucky to have a boy like you. We love you this much.”
Try and avoid reinforcing him as a big brother unless he is doing something like passing you a diaper. Even in this situation, let him know that you love him for himself. So say something like, “Thank you for being such a great helper. Are you an amazing helper like this at school too?” When you are able, spend intensive “love” time with him. Extra hugs, kisses and “I love you’s” go a long way with a child who feels displaced. Also let him know that he may not be your youngest baby but he is still your baby. Bring out his baby books as a bedtime read.
Bad behavior should never be tolerated but you can use these times to connect positively with your child too. Parents generally know why a child is acting out. In this case, your little boy is feeling left out so before you discipline him for his “bad” behavior, let him know that you understand his perspective. This is more than reflecting his feelings; it is saying something to him that really lets him know that you get him. For example, if he throws a toy at his older brother while you are feeding the baby, you might say something like, “You’re mad because you want me to play with you and it makes you sad that I’m always feeding the baby. I can see that but you still can’t throw things at your brother because that could hurt him.”
This alone will often calm your child because children (and adults) like to be heard and understood. This doesn’t remove the need to discipline his bad behavior. If hysteria ensues with the discipline, reflect his perspective in the same way. For example, “I know this is really not what you want but when you thrown a toy at your brother you always get a time out.” Showing empathy to a child who is misbehaving does not eliminate discipline, it simply introduces another element that will impact is behavior more long-term. I hope this helps!
Children don’t start out avoiding feelings of sadness, frustration or anxiety. They want to talk about them as much as they do the more comfortable feelings. But they quickly learn that these feelings are often taboo. Parents can make an enormous difference to this.
Children will often be your best guides and help you to help them talk about their feelings. Children ask questions, lots of them. Answer all your children’s questions with honesty, particularly when they are about negative feelings. Often, our initial reaction is to console, explain or eliminate negative feelings. This does not provide your child with the tools to deal with similar situations in the future.
For example, if your child expresses fear, avoid reactions like, “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” or, “Don’t be scared.” This can make your child feel unheard and shuts down communication. Accepting all of your child’s feelings, allows your child to accept their own feelings and work with them.
When I was a little girl I used to have giggling fits with my sister. These are wonderful memories despite the fact that my father quickly became annoyed with us because we couldn’t stop giggling. And it seemed the more he wanted us to, the less we could.
When I was about 15 I belonged to a youth movement. My reasons for being there were totally social, but the leaders attempted to create a somewhat academic environment. The organization took pride in its focus on deep contemplation of the world. So we were subjected to discussions and debates, which I suffered through to get to the fun stuff.
On one such night, we were all seated in a room waiting for a debate to begin on something. The first speaker stood up. She clearly had taken her task very seriously and hauled out a wad of preparatory notes. She spoke intensely about her “side” and then sat down. We looked expectantly at the young man who was to retaliate. He stood up with a slight smile on his face and had no notes whatsoever. He started to speak but instead began to laugh.
His opponent glared at him and the leaders looked stern but all this response managed to do was to fuel his already fast escalating giggling fit. He doubled over holding his stomach and laughed until the tears poured down his cheeks. I joined him because I couldn’t help myself. When the fit finally died down I think we were both surprised to see that he and I were the only two who found the situation hilariously funny. That was my first real connection with this young man. I have now been married to him for thirty-one years.
There are many reasons I love my husband, but the humour and giggling fits that we have shared over the years form a special glue of connectedness. Our mutual value of laughter has passed to our children. We laugh often and many times uncontrollably. There is no better feeling. It tells me that regardless of what else is going on in my life, the essence of connectedness with those I love most, is there.
Hi, I'm Marsha, mother of four, grandmother of one (soon to be three). If anyone could be called an expert on my children it would be me, but I am certainly not an expert on your's. Parenting is a relationship, one that requires us to connect our unique personality with our child’s so that we can create the best possible environment for healthy development. This website offers ways to help parents make the most of this special relationship so that they can raise happy, emotionally intelligent and successful children.