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.
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.
When your child tells you they are feeling sad. Spend time exploring their story and let them know that you have heard it and understood it. You can do this by retelling it using words that they can understand. Use this retell as an opportunity to introduce them to other feeling words that describe their feelings – this can be a word they are unfamiliar with – as this is a great opening to increase their “feeling vocabulary.”
Once you feel your child is satisfied that you have understood their story and their feelings, you can elaborate, using questions like “Have you felt like this at another time?” or “How do you think the other child felt?” or “Why do you think they behaved that way.” These questions put your child in the mindset to learn from their experiences and to problem-solve.
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!
Here’s a fact. Humans are capable of a full spectrum of feelings. So when we avoid the less comfortable ones or minimize their importance, we in essence understand less of ourselves.
Babies exhibit mostly negative feelings, intuitively understanding that these are the ones that will get the attention they need. Not to distract us from attending to their needs, babies hold back on smiling for four or more weeks. And a cry is not a cry. Parents, in particular mothers, can identify the reason their baby is crying by subtle changes in pitch, intensity etc. almost from birth. Crying can be from physical reasons like hunger, pain or a wet diaper or from emotional reasons like loneliness and needing a hug.
When our baby smiles for the first time, we do everything we can, short of standing on our heads, to get them to smile again. This is the moment when many parents, unintentionally, begin to focus on positive displays of emotion in an effort to keep their baby happy. Now when their baby cries they will do things to make them smile, rather than focus directly on the crying. This change is subtle but important as it sets us on a path where we focus less on negative emotions and more on positive ones. Many might ask, “Why is this a problem?”
There is a generally held belief that when we focus on our child’s negative emotions, we encourage negativity and pessimism. This is simply not true. When we teach our child to accept and deal with a negative emotion we help them understand what they are feeling and why. Children (and adults) need this information to resolve problems and to learn how to deal with similar situations in their future. When children (and adults) identify their negative feelings, face them and deal with them, they will be able to put them aside and embrace their happier emotions. Ignoring, avoiding or minimizing negative feelings, gives them a power that they neither need nor deserve.
When we focus on all of our child’s feelings, we see them as whole, and they will learn to see themselves in this way too. Life provides us with challenges and adversity with high predictability. Our child’s ultimate success and happiness depends not on the challenges that she faces, but on how she faces them. When we teach our child to give negative emotions equal status to their positive counterparts, we raise their emotional intelligence and give them the tools to reach their full potential.
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.
I heard a hard truth a few weeks ago. Harder because it was about my second book. The one that has consumed me for more than two years and to which I have given freely my heart and soul. I believe every word I have written in this book but this week I found out that that is not enough. In fact, it is such a small part of enough that the book world smirks.
I thought I had finished my book and that soon it would be read to small minds who would grow to adulthood and feel better about themselves because of it. Better than I had growing up. I knew the book business was hard but did not realize until now how little the words in the book had to do with anything. No, that’s wrong. The words have everything to do with everything, just not in the way I had thought. According to my truth-teller, I have to make my words convey one thing to publishers – this book can make you money!
This realization sent me spiraling down into my awful place. It is not where I want to ever be but it’s my default place. This is not feeling sad about something that has happened in my life. It is far worse than that. It is a place I first visited when I was thirteen. For no reason. “There’s no reason to feel like this,” “You have a family that loves you”, “You have friends… School’s going well…. Snap out of it.” I heard it all.
I grew tough. I grew up. I had to in order to cope. Life with depression can feel very lonely and even at times of great joy, it always lurks in the shadows. Depression tilts the world so that those who have it always walk uphill and it doesn’t take much to slide down. I have tools and today I forced myself to use the simplest one. The mindless one. All I had to do was get dressed and put on a pair of running shoes. For the first kilometer, I was painfully aware of the sidewalk beneath my feet and the plodding. Left, right. Left, right. And then they came.
Thought after thought. Idea after idea. Billowing out from me like dandelion’s seeds exploding into the air with the first winds. Both my thoughts and the dandelion’s seeds had no idea they were ready to release until the moment that they were. I felt a sense of separateness, watching in awe and marveling at the clarity and sheer brilliance of each idea. I could think this way about these thoughts because I had no part in formulating them. This process had clearly happened beyond my consciousness and must have been brewing for days because each idea was so complete and directed with perfect precision at my problem.
I felt anxious that I would forget but now that I had them within my conscious grasp, I repeated them as I ran, trying as hard as I could to commit each one to memory so I could write them down as soon as I got home. In such a short time, my belief that there was only one way to see my problem was thrown on its head and I was able to see it from a completely different perspective. I allowed myself to absorb the lesson. Chaos feels terrible, tumultuous, confusing and depressing but out of chaos and because of chaos a new understanding is born.
As I neared home, I felt the sun warm on my body and the cool breeze flowing through my hair. I heard the birds singing. My sad place was the shadow under a tree. I wished it well but for now, I was happy to be climbing the hill once again.
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.