My mother always tells me, when I go back to the year my brother passed away, We acted like we were fine so we could have a life, so we could still have friends. We didn't want to lose them, too, our friends, being sad all the time, and we didn't want it to affect you. We still had other children.
And of course we, my younger brother and I didn't want to upset them, our parents, so confused and aggrieved, so we didn't talk about it, either. As a result there was very little family grieving or overt depression.
The silver lining, if there can be such a thing, is that we did make some family resolutions about how we needed to interact with one another in the future. We upgraded the family intimacy with these rules, and held by them, honor them to this day. They're mostly about showing affection.
I think a lot of families handle loss the way we did, don't talk about it. I would venture to say, most.
Whenever I share personal things on the blog, there's a reason, and it's not so you should think you should do things my way. Any ersatz personal solutions you read about here (usually involving dinner) might have been right for me, the right way at the time, but maybe could have been the wrong way, let's talk. A family coping strategy is only as good as what follows the enactment.
We suggest coping strategies in therapy all the time, knowing that sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. Sometimes a therapist knows something will work (we just know), and sometimes we know that it's a long-shot and we'll tell you It's a long-shot. Or sometimes it's a sure thing, but something gets in the way, like life.
Let's move on, get away from grieving, move over to feeling sad, tired, teary, and withdrawn, typical symptoms of depression. What's a mother or a father to do, what's a a parent to do, when depression is crushing? Disabling? What do you do when active parenting becomes very, very hard?
Are you supposed to be honest with your kids about your feelings? Maybe. How honest? Answers are based upon the circumstances, and certainly upon the ages of the children. A five year old who sees his mother napping is likely to be good with
She's tired.Spare the kid the details if you can get away with it.
But should we hide our tears indefinitely? Depression can go on and on and on and on. Even if we want to hide them, the problem, of course, is that hiding tears is rarely possible with children. Most of these creatures are empathic, can sniff the sadness of a turtle. This is why, frankly, the nap concept is a good one, and often does refresh, removes the tears, if soaks the pillow. If you can sleep, it's a gift, try to rest a little, if only to refresh the program if the refresh button still works. Even if it doesn't.
I'm not trying to minimize the pain, as if to say a nap cures depression. I know how debilitating it is. Sometimes there are no tears at all, you know what I'm talking about. Sometimes the cloud is hanging overhead all day long, all week-long, and the burst never happens. There are coping strategies, like CBT, where you try to stay rational, try not to sink into despair and self-pity, and surely the support of a significant other, if one of these is around, is invaluable, as is a good friend. Therapy. Crying on an available shoulder.
But not the child's. The child will think about this, worry about this, find homework meaningless, and carry a parent's depression to school the next day. Or maybe not. But why take the risk?
Spare the kids your tears. Nothing makes one sadder than Mommy or Daddy's tears. And when the tears can't be helped, a quick recovery is best, for sure, a performance is in order, if a performance is possible. If this is a major affective disorder with depression, a 296.23, or .33, recurrent, severe, or a bi-polar disorder, a 296.89, acting may not be possible, minimizing the negativity may be impossible until medication begins to lift the brick off your head.
But if it is possible, when caught by your kid in the act of depression, a nod to Sometimes people just feel like crying, nothing's really wrong is a good nod. You will not always be able to get away with this, but if you can, by all means.
Isn't such emotional dishonesty wrong, you want to know? Shouldn't we be honest with our kids?
Not in my book, not if it's going to make them sad. What do they need this for, our sadness? They'll have their fair share, don't worry, in life.
That said, adult children can handle a lot of sadness from their parents. They feel esteemed, even, depending upon what we tell them, that we trust them with our honesty, our raw emotion. It is a compliment when I share with you. You are trustworthy.
And yet there's such a thing as emotional incest, mostly when it comes to the little ones. When the child is anxious because a parent has disclosed things prematurely, things that are difficult to forget, this can be considered emotional incest, invasive and traumatizing.
It is our job as parents, some of us believe, to sanitize life, to make life feel okay for our children so that they can do their job, which is to play, without distraction, to learn how to make friends, to practice being a friend. (There is surely too much emphasis on academics these days, you know, it should be outlawed, this intensity to achieve, makes children want to kill themselves.) No childhood is worry-free, there will be upsets, but you control what you can.
I saw a movie last night on a DVD AWAY WE GO, starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph.
WARNING: SPOILERS COMING RIGHT UP.
Although it's a little too sad for someone like me, I loved the people in this film, the young couples, friends and siblings of the protagonists, especially one couple who adopted a bunch of children and wouldn't let them watch the Sound of Music beyond the Good Night Song. They can learn about the Nazis when they're a little older, is the thinking.
John and Maya look for friends and relatives in different cities. They want to move somewhere, to settle down where they have connections, support. It is lonely, even in a loving, good relationship, without people.
The story (thanks to Sam Mendes, director, and writers Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida) lends an answer to that question,
What do you do when parenting, active parenting, is very, very hard?It really is about social support. Maybe Mommy ran away, or maybe she's just tired, but if she has this, social support, or if Daddy has it, if someone has it, then there could be an aunt or an uncle, someone who doesn't mind filling in that parenting role. Or a close friend, or a grandmother-- someone the family trusts, emphasis on trusts.
A very social work-y solution, indeed. I'm open to others.