When Mommy Throws a Tantrum

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Categories Behavior, Emotion, Feeling Overwhelmed, Mental Health, ParentingTags , 18 Comments

Last night, I lost it.

After over two years of holding it together, I went off the deep end. I screamed at my kids. I don’t mean that I just raised my voice to get their attention. No. I screamed a throat-tearing hair-raising scream, letting out all the frustration of getting dumped for another woman, parenting alone, managing the house alone, our cats seemingly trying to kill each other, cat feces on my rugs, post-divorce drama, extended family drama, and kids who just don’t listen. I lay down on the floor and invited my daughters to kick me while they sobbed and begged me to stop being a monster. I marched into their room, threw everything on the floor that didn’t belong there into one of two 20-gallon totes until both were filled beyond the brim, and put both totes in the garage.

I lost it.

tantrum

I’m Sorry

I’m ashamed of myself. I would love to pretend that last night never happened, but I believe in parenting transparently and admitting my mistakes. I believe in letting you who come here to HDYDI to know how we really do it know that we mess up too, sometimes in epic fashion.

Both my daughters called me to task. J told me that I was supposed to be a role model to her and her sister. M told me that she didn’t want a monster mommy. M told me that she didn’t want me to sleep in her room… something I’ve been wanting for over a year, but not this way. J told me she wasn’t sure she would ever trust me again.

I apologized. I acknowledged all the things I had done wrong, all the things I should have done. I told the girls that while I wanted their forgiveness, I knew I hadn’t earned it and I certainly didn’t expect it. We cried together.

I told the girls that I think I understood a tiny part of how they felt, because they had gotten a glimpse of what my childhood had been like. I never wanted to them to have experienced that, and I would never let them see it again. I thanked whatever vestiges of self-control had kept me from letting my daughters see the depths of ugliness my own mother unleashed on me regularly when I was their age.

Where Did This Come From?

I’d noticed that I was starting to have depressive symptoms over the last couple of weeks–eating poorly or not at all, sleeping as long as the kids and letting the house slide even more than usual, having horrific nightmares, getting in conflict at work where usually I could swallow perceived incompetence–but I hadn’t done anything about it. I hadn’t forced myself into a routine of healthy sleep and nutrition. I hadn’t pulled out my sunlamp. I could have done things to prevent last night from happening and I didn’t.

Fixing It

So, starting today, I am taking action. I am going to take my antidepressants first thing in the morning, instead of whenever I happen to remember. I am going to use my sunlamp daily. I’m not going to let myself sleep in on weekends, no matter how tempting it is. Who knows, perhaps the science behind light treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is bunk, but if it’s the placebo effect that gets my mind in the right place, so be it. One would think that living in sunny Texas would be enough to combat SAD, but there’s something about the length of the fall and winter days or the quality of the light that puts me in a semi-hibernating state and messes with my mind.

The Kids’ Role

I reminded my daughters of my “brain disease” of depression. J told me that she’d noticed me acting strangely for a couple of weeks but didn’t want to hurt my feelings by bringing it up. I told her I needed her help, that she needed to let me know when I wasn’t myself so that I could take steps to fix it.

The girls also admitted to being able to do more around the house to help me. They’ve actually been enjoying having an open space in the center of their room, even as they rescue some toys from the bins in the garage. I have had to remind both kids to pick clothes up off the floor, but each item has required only one reminder, not dozens, and I haven’t had them whine at me about it.

School

We talked about where their kicking has been coming from, J’s kicking me having been the final straw last night. We’ve never accepted violence in the home, so I wondered out loud where in the world they’d learned to throw out a leg when frustrated. It turns out that boys at school have been kicking them and other kids. When I told the girls I’d like to speak to their principal about that, J asked me to hold off so she could talk to the school counselor about it herself.

What’s Next?

The children seem to have forgiven me. I’m not pretending that last night didn’t happen, but J and M don’t seem to want to talk about it any more. I suppose all I can do know is show them how I recover from seemingly unforgivable offenses, that deeds are the way to redeem oneself, that the non-monster mommy they’re accustomed to is who they can rely on. And I can confess my shortcomings to the world, manage my depression, and hold myself accountable.

Have you ever let your kids see your own ugliness? How do you recover?

When the Dust Settles

 

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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J and M’s NICU Story: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

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Prematurity Awareness Week 2013: How Do You Do It?

World Prematurity Day November 17In the United States, 1 in 9 babies is born prematurely, 1 in 10 in Canada. Worldwide, over 15 million babies are born too soon each year. While not all multiples are born prematurely, a multiple birth increases the probability of an early delivery. Babies born prematurely, before 37 weeks gestation, are at a higher risk for health complications in infancy, some of which can have long-term effects. Full-term infants are not all free from their own health complications, of course.

In honor of November’s Prematurity Awareness Month, led by the March of Dimes, How Do You Do It? is focusing this week’s posts on The Moms’ experiences with premature deliveries, NICU stays, health complications, special needs, and how we’ve dealt with these complex issues.


Once J and M were born at 33 weeks gestational age, they were whisked off to the NICU. I have to admit that my memories are fuzzy and I wasn’t there for the first day and a half, having just undergone a C-section. In this post, I’ll describe my impressions of our 3-week residency of the NICU. I’m not referencing medical records for this post. This is all mommy memory.

On the Outside

I’d run a fever after the C-section, so I wasn’t allowed to visit the NICU. Even after the fever abated, I was told, I’d have to wait 24 hours before I was cleared to visit the NICU. I  had a major meltdown when a nurse had implied that the drops of colostrum I’d finally managed to pump weren’t worth transporting to the NICU. After all, pumping was the only maternal duty I could perform. I was a crying wreck and found myself starting to feel increasingly distant from the whole situation, as if I were watching everything from 3 feet above my body, as if the birth had never happened.

New parents of twins shortly after birth from hdydi.comI’d asked my husband and in-laws to watch me for signs of postpartum depression, and my mother-in-law gently, but firmly, pressed my phone into my hand and told me to call my therapist. We had a session over the phone. I poured my heart out: the feelings of failure and powerlessness surrounding the preterm birth experience; the fear that I would never have truly maternal feelings toward these still theoretical children; the greater fear that M would die; the surreal fear that I would enter the NICU and have no idea which children were mine; the practical concern that I would exhaust my maternity leave before my children ever came home; the jealousy I felt toward my husband and mother-in-law for being allowed to see the babies. My therapist–the same one who had walked me through my past toward peace, even excitement, about being a mother–validated my feelings, helped me feel that they were normal and transient. She grounded me.

My NICU story started well before I ever entered the NICU.

Entry

My husband knew that I needed to see the children, for their well-being and mine. He refused to take no for an answer and finally found someone to permit me to see my children as long as I wore a surgical mask in the NICU. I balked, fearing that my needs would endanger our children. He insisted and I was too broken to press my point.

I transferred from the bed to a wheelchair, which did not feel good a day after I had been cut open, my womb cleaned out, and then sewn back together. My organs were still finding their places around my much reduced womb. I was wheeled into the NICU and had to stand (OUCH) to scrub in. I felt another twinge of jealousy as my husband scrubbed expertly up to his elbows and under his nails while I tried to follow the directions on the wall. I had no idea that the smell of that soap would return me to these memories every time I encountered it again.

I first saw my girls when they were 36ish hours old. I’d seen Polaroid images of each of them, as well as photos on my friend’s phone, but I wasn’t prepared for how truly tiny they were or all the wires and tubes and machinery. The beeps and dings and whirs coming from all around the room were overwhelming. I was deeply thankful for the name tags; I wouldn’t have been able to identify my daughters without them.

Twin B in the NICU, NICU Story, from hdydi.com
This was how I first saw my little M.

My husband explained to me what each sensor did, but nothing stuck. A nurse asked me if I wanted to hold the girls. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d be allowed to, so I just stuttered. I honestly didn’t remember which child I held first until I looked back at my photos just now. My second born M was the first in my arms.

Holding babies in the NICU from hdydi.comI remembered to be surprised that weren’t placed in the same open warmer. I remembered reading that multiples do better in the NICU if they’re allowed contact with each other. The hospital had recently changed their policy, I was told, and no longer co-bedded multiples. I was annoyed.

In the NICU

It took no time at all for us to get into a routine. Apart from a period several times a day when doctors did their rounds, parents could stay in the NICU at their child’s side. My husband and I were each given wrist bands that permitted us entry into the secure facility. We could each bring a maximum of one visitor at a time to visit the girls, since technically we could have two visitors per child.

Every three hours, our children were tended by the nurses, first M then J. Their diapers were changed and weighed. We were allowed to help with that. The babies were weighed twice a day. They were fed a mixture of high calorie formula and whatever milk I could produce, by a tube threaded through their noses into their stomachs. My husband gavage fed them, but I never learned how. Neither of us was keen on pricking their feet to gather a blood sample; we left that task to the nurses. We took their temperatures, though. The NICU nurses sent us home with their individual thermometers. I used those things until they were over 4 years old.

We considered taking advantage of the nearby Ronald MacDonald House, which allowed parents of sick children to stay near the hospital. We only lived 30 miles away, though, it seemed wrong for us to take a spot that could be better used by parents who lived farther. The maternity ward was kind enough to let me stay in my room, left to my own devices for food, of course, for several days after I was officially medically released.

I ripped out my staples a couple of times walking down the hall to the NICU, but no one and no pain was going to keep me from my kids.

On the second or third day after birth, our nurse encouraged us to provide kangaroo care to our girls. My husband unbuttoned his shirt, leaned back in his chair, unwrapped J from her swaddle and buttoned her snugly against him, chest-to-chest. I pulled open my tank top and did the same with M. She wiggled herself into a comfortable position and fell asleep. J had other ideas. She squirmed and wriggled and twisted until she’d pulled herself up Daddy’s chest and was nestled under his chin. We sat like that for hours until it was time for their heelpricks and feedings. I knew that I was serving the same purpose as the open warmer, one of the purposes I’d served during my pregnancy, keeping little M warm. I felt like her mom for the first time, and it was great to share that feeling of growing a human with my husband. He kept poking me to ask whether I’d seen his rock star of a precocious preemie climb up him. Had I really seen it? That was his girl. My husband was as proud of J in that moment as he was at the only one of her ballet recitals he was able to attend, 5 years later.

When our girls were a few days old, I was telling my nurse Michelle how surprised I’d been by their cobedding policy. She asked if I had any photos of the two of them together and was shocked when I said no. She looked around furtively and then grabbed the camera while my husband held one baby and I held the other, surreptitiously and briefly reunited. M had just pulled her feeding tube out again.

first photo togetherA few days later, both our girls were moved from open warmers to closed isolettes. I could no longer sit between them and place a hand on each of my daughters. A few days further along, we were given a private room within the NICU, just for our pair, away from the sounds of the machines monitoring the much sicker babies.

We were told that our babies were feeder-growers. There wasn’t anything functionally wrong with them that couldn’t be attributed to their small size. They simply needed to feed and grow. There were four criteria to be met so we could take them home. They needed to be able to take at least 31 mL (1 oz) of nutrition by mouth 8 meals in a row. They needed to weigh 5 lbs. They needed to be able to maintain their body temperature without a warmer or kangaroo care. They needed to pass the car seat test.

We had a constant reminder of how fortunate we were. There was a little boy across the NICU aisle from our girls, a 4-month-old. He would never leave the NICU alive. The alarms that indicated dangerously low vitals went off several times a day. His parents couldn’t even visit daily any more. They’d had to return to work. I thought about the little boy on hospice care often, even after the girls were home.

Once bottles were introduced to my daughters, somewhere before the one-week mark, M was a drinking pro. J was tougher to feed. She’d get distracted, toying with the nipple in her mouth instead of suckling. I was only allowed to breastfeed M, and that, only once. My milk had already come in; I was a slave to the breastpump. A lactation consultant came to the NICU and helped me work on my latch. I couldn’t believe she expected my entire areola to fit in her mouth; my breast was twice the size of her head! (It didn’t fit, in case you were wondering. Not completely.) Let down was so beautiful, not the mechanical and slightly painful mechanical action of the pump. Just as I felt like M and I had it down, it was time for me to learn how to break the latch with my comparatively enormous pinkie. Nursing was using too many of the calories that needed to go to growth.

At one point, after several days of oral feedings, J had to have her feeding tube reinserted. She just wasn’t getting enough calories orally. It was the first time during the entire ordeal that I saw my husband cry. The NICU was all two steps forward, one step back. They’d gain weight and then stall. They’d stay warm, then begin to run cold again. J would feed orally, then forget. And we had it easy: no apnea, no bradycardia, no jaundice. The other babies in the NICU were always there to remind us how much worse it could be.

We’d been told not to expect the girls home before their due date. That would leave me only 4 weeks of maternity leave to establish our routine before I had to go back to work. I began to talk about going back to work as soon as my doctor released me so I could maximize my time at home. A nurse took me aside and told me not to go down that road. The girls were doing so well that they’d be home long before they reached 40 weeks gestational age.

At one point, the hospital staff asked if they could transfer J and M to a lower level NICU at a different hospital closer to our home, freeing up beds for sicker kids. We were all for it until it was time to sign a waiver excusing everyone of responsibility for our kids during transport. We refused to sign; we saw another family signing the paperwork a few hours later.

At one point, my husband noticed that all the neonates had Spanish last names “except the twins;” there was another set there. I pointed out that our last name was Rodriguez. Even though he didn’t consider himself Hispanic and I was South Asian, our family still fell in the Hispanic camp. We asked the nurses about it, and they said that they thought the demographics of the NICU were connected to the availability of prenatal care in the poorer Hispanic population of South Austin.

When the girls were almost 2 weeks old, we got the news. They were out of the woods. We were just waiting for them to achieve the magical 5 lb weight so they could go home. My husband told his commander in the army. He was immediately ordered to California for pre-deployment desert training. They could spare him for the 14 days of his paternity leave, but if our kids were out danger, that was all he got. His mom drove him to the airport. I stayed at the hospital with our babies.

One Baby Home

When M was 16 days old, my father-in-law drove us home from the NICU. I didn’t expect her to be released with such little fanfare. I had no idea she was doing so well. I was still recovering from my C-section and wasn’t cleared to drive. We left J all alone. I didn’t know whether to celebrate or grieve. I felt horrible leaving J, regardless of how much I trusted the nurses. I thought that the birth experience had ripped my heart out, but I now felt true agony.

Preemie comes from from the hospital from hdydi.comOn arriving home, I immediately began to breastfeed M, supplementing her feedings twice daily with high calorie formula from a bottle. Every drop I pumped, I delivered to the NICU for J once a day. I couldn’t spend more than 10 minutes with her; little M was waiting in the parking garage with Grampy, since non-patient children weren’t allowed in the NICU.

I tried to be positive. I figured M was missing J more than I possibly could.

Together

After the 5 longest days of my life, J took 8 31-mL feedings in a row. She was allowed to come home. Both kids were doing so well that the hospital waived the 5-lb requirement to free up beds in the NICU. Daddy came home from California about 3 weeks later. Until his deployment another 3 months from then, our family was complete.

213247As soon as I placed the babies side by side, before Daddy got to come home, they stretched and rooted and wriggled and wiggled until they were pressed up against each other. Each raised one hand above her head, firmly grasped her sister’s hair, and fell asleep. At age 7, they still sleep snuggled up like that, minus the hair pulling, unless they’ve been arguing. J prefers to sleep on her belly, M on her side, but I insisted they stay on their back as newborns for fear of SIDS.

NICU twins reunited from hdydi.com

Our NICU story was over, but I was painfully aware that all but one or two of the babies who were in the NICU the day my girls were born were still there. They had a much rockier road ahead than my tiny pair.

Big twins from hdydi.com
For comparison, here’s a photo of J and M at age 7, with the same blanket that they were on at 21 days old.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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In Which I Find My Limits

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Categories Attitude, Balance, Community, Divorce, Feeling Overwhelmed, How Do The Moms Do It, Mommy Issues, Perspective, Single Parenting, WorkingTags , , 8 Comments

Army Wife to Single Mom

When my now ex-husband left me last March, there were plenty of things I worried about, but my capacity to be a single mom wasn’t one of them.

I’d been an Army wife during wartime during my entire career as a mother. Our soldier had deployed to Iraq when our daughters were 5 months old for a total of 15 months. He left for Korea for 12 months a year after he’d returned from Iraq. His subsequent tour to Afghanistan was a nice short 9 months. That didn’t even account for his stateside training-related absences, which could stretch to three months. We divorced when the girls were 6; Daddy had been living at home for under 3 years of their lives. While I would have loved to have had a meaningful co-parenting relationship despite the distances involved, we frequently went weeks or months without being able to communicate, so parenting decisions fell to me alone.

I was fully capable of managing our home and children without another parent around to help. I worried how our daughters would cope with the trauma of their parents divorcing, not living with Daddy even when we was stateside, Daddy’s remarriage and associated step-mom and step-sisters. I worried about how I would manage on a single income. I didn’t worry about whether I could parent my daughters “without help.”

I Have Help

“Do you have help?” people ask me, all the time. What they mean, of course, is do I have family members in the area who will watch my children or perform house maintenance or pick them up from school in a pinch. I don’t have family help, but I don’t consider myself to be lacking in help in raising my children and managing our lives. I usually answer, “We don’t have family nearby, but we have a great community network.”

My help comes in the form of daycare providers, camp counselors, and babysitters whom I trust as partners in raising my girls. Do I pay them in money (and sometimes theatre tickets)? Sure, but that doesn’t make their help any less meaningful. My help comes in the form of J and M’s friends’ parents, their teachers and counselors, and their Girl Scout leader. They give me the context of what is age appropriate and help my girls build their social skills and academic skills. My help comes in the form of supportive co-workers and managers, who make my kids welcome at work social events, who let me telecommute to give me an extra hour or two with my kids every week, who treat my kids like their own nieces. My help comes in the form of the company I pay to maintain my lawn. My help comes in the form of the neighbours who will trade a few hours with my kids one weekend for me taking theirs another. My help comes in the form of the HDYDI community.

I Have Limits

Photo Credit: elcamino73
Photo Credit: elcamino73

I started feeling overwhelmed over the last few months. My home, always messy, began to feel dirty too, something I usually do not stand for. My shoulders and hands began to ache without reason, an early warning sign I’ve learned to recognize as a bellwether of a resurgence of depression. I suddenly started fighting dandruff, despite having made no change to my shampoo or diet. I started dropping the ball on work assignments. I found myself avoiding picking up my telephone messages, a sure sign that  depression was looming. Last weekend, I was so clumsy in the kitchen that, after breaking two plates, I avoided any food preparation that might involve knives or fire.

On Monday last week, the weight of life felt too much to bear. I asked my boss whether I could take the rest of the day and all of Tuesday off. With the kids at summer camp, I spent those hours cleaning my house, going to the gym, getting my eyebrows waxed, napping and reading. I talked to a couple of close friends about how I was doing. When I returned to work on Wednesday, my shoulder pain was gone. The dandruff had cleared. I found myself humming on way to my office. When I received an email inviting me to perform in a local venue that would have been on my bucket list (if I had one), I was excited, not panicked at the thought of adding the rehearsals to my schedule.

The 15 Month Cycle

It didn’t take much to set things to rights. I just needed some “me” time. At first, I thought my losing my Zen was a result of the post-adrenalin slump following the completion of a multi-year project at work, but it wasn’t work that had been feeling overwhelming. It was Life that was bothering me, the weight of the entirety of M and J’s well-being falling on my shoulders.

I had an epiphany. This was the longest I’d ever gone being a single parent. While I worried about whether my ex would come home from combat alive, I always believed that after at most 15 months, my partner would be home. I wasn’t alone always going to alone in raising M and J.

Don’t get me wrong. The girls’ father has seen them since we got divorced, but it’s hard for him since we don’t live in the same state. He’s seen them 3 times since last August, when the girls and I moved back home to Central Texas, leaving Daddy behind in El Paso. (He’s since moved to North Carolina.) Much as I love my kids, I did enjoy the childless days and the opportunity to pick up around the house and to go out for dinners and game nights with friends. I didn’t quite feel like I was off the clock, though. Daddy brought the girls home ahead of schedule 2 out of the 3 times he had them, so I can’t completely turn off mommy mode when he has them, unlike when we were married and he’d take a few days off after deployments to be with the kids. Then, it was important that I did stop being Mom to avoid the temptation to try to teach him how to be Dad. Daddy and the girls needed space to get to know each other again. That just isn’t our dynamic any more.

I had hoped and worked for an ongoing co-parenting relationship with my ex, but it hasn’t panned out. He’s just not a phone and email guy and has a hard time making “theoretical” parenting decisions. He needs to be present in the moment to make child-rearing calls, and he’s just not around. J broke my heart a while back, observing, “Daddy spoils us. He’s more like a grandpa than a parent.”

The 15-month respites I could rely on as an Army wife are no longer available to me as a single mom. So now, I need to use my help, in this case summer camp and an understanding boss, to find my own respite.

I have my mojo back and a much better understanding of where my limits are.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school in order to better protect their privacy and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Talking to Kids About Depression

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My 6-year-olds love going through the drive through pharmacy. They’re fascinated by the hardware that allows me and the pharmacist to send clipboards, debit cards and medications back and forth without my having to leave the driver’s seat of my car. They never tire of the box magically closing just before it disappears into the cavern above our heads.

While we were waiting for my refills and debit card yesterday, M wanted to know what the medicine was for. I told her I’d explain on the way home. I needed a few minutes to gather my thoughts.

I have clinical depression.

I didn’t say I was depressed. I’m not depressed. My emotional and mood responses to the challenges in my life are proportional and appropriate. I see the little joys in my day. My temper is completely under control. I don’t find myself needing to examine my every thought to determine whether it’s a real one or the product of a brain that isn’t working right. It doesn’t take an all-consuming act of will to get out of bed, eat, or breathe. Not any more.

I explained to my daughter that, many years ago, I started having horrible feelings of sadness. There wasn’t a reason to be sad, at least not as sad as I felt. Some mornings, my brain would tell my body to sit up, but my body wouldn’t listen. The sadness was controlling my body. I went to a doctor and a counselor—my daughter knows about counselors because her school has two amazing ones—and tried to fix things by thinking about my feelings, talking about my feelings, understanding my feelings. It wasn’t enough. I tried all the things we practice at home to manage our feelings: deep breaths, time out, reading a book, writing about our feelings, asking for help. It just wasn’t enough.

Finally, my doctor told me that I have an illness called “depression.” Everyone’s brain has chemicals in it, just like all other parts of the body, to make sure it works right. For some reason we don’t understand, some of my brain’s chemicals were missing. (I figured that 6 was a little young to go into serotonin reuptake. “Missing chemicals” would have to do.) The doctor recommended that I take medicine to help. I didn’t want to take medicine to put new chemicals in my brain. That sounded scary to me.

“This is a scary story!” my daughter interjected.

I asked if she wanted me to stop. She wanted to hear the ending, so I continued.

I started taking the medicine. After a few months, I felt better. My body started listening to my brain, and I felt happy. When I did feel sad, there was a reason, and fixing the reason fixed the sadness. My brain was all better.

When I decided to have babies, I didn’t want those medicines in their bodies. Their brains probably would never need them, and it’s not a good idea to have medicine in your body that you don’t need. With a doctor’s help, I stopped taking my medicines, and I still felt fine.

I had my beautiful little girls. (M smiled at that.) For four years, I felt just fine. Then, one day, the bad sadness came back. I recognized it right away this time. I went back to the doctor, and told them that I had depression and that it was making me feel sick again. He asked me to try the medicines that had worked before, and they worked again.

“So if you don’t take your medicine, you’ll be sick?” M asked.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “I’ll probably just be the same that I always am, but this sickness, depression, might come back and make my brain sick again. Since the medicine helps make sure that I stay healthy in my brain, I keep taking it. There may be a good reason to stop taking it some day and be careful about watching my brain health, but for now, I think I should keep taking it.”

“Okay,” she said. And that was that.

J looked up from the book she was reading. “Did you say something about being sick?”

I told her we’d talk about it another time.

Twinkly TuesdayWhen the Dust Settles

Sadia is a divorced mother of precocious 6-year-old identical twin girls. She works in higher education information technology and has her depression well managed. She hopes that some day, the stigma of mental illness will go that way of cancer stigma. She believes that knowledge is power. So is compassion.
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Ask the Moms – Stay at home strategies

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Categories Activities, Ask the Moms, Infants, Mommy Issues, ToddlersTags , , 7 Comments

This week’s Ask the Moms question/inspiration comes from a somewhat unlikely source: a dad of two singletons!  Still, though, some things are near-universal when it comes to parenting, and we couldn’t not address his concerns.  Dear readers, please feel free to chime in with your suggestions in the comments.  Here’s Chris’s comment on an earlier post:

I think I’m the only guy to post here and I’m sure glad I found a site where other parents feel the same pain. I resigned from work due to stress; unable to put in all the hours and give adequate time to my 2 1/2 year old and 9-month old.

I’ve been home for 3 months now and am just going absolutely crazy. I don’t know what to do to make myself feel better. I feel guilty turning on the TV so I don’t do that often — I basically just try to stick it out until my wife gets home to provide a hand.

Since I never leave the home I feel like I work a double-home shift until the kids sleep with at that point I’m fully exhausted with no energy to read a book or go to the gym. I don’t know if there’s a solution; perhaps it must be this way until they’re older.

My family is my top priority and I love my wife and kids but I’m slowly going crazy and am probably a bit depressed. I sure am glad though that I was able to read other folks’ comments and stories.

So very many things we want to address, I’ll just jump right in.  Being a stay-at-home parent can be great, fun, and rewarding. But it can also be incredibly frustrating, stressful, and isolating.

The thing that jumped out at all of us right away was “since I never leave the home.”  We have two words for you: Get. Out.   Get the hell out of your house.  Every single day.  I’ve said it many times, but staying inside with two babies/kids all day is the shortest road to crazy town.  And it’s no good for your kids, either.  All three of you need fresh air and different things to look at and explore.  The easiest way to do that is to take a walk.  Sometimes it can be a go-go-go walk where you need to exercise out some frustration. Give the kids some snacks and hit the pavement. Sometimes it’s pure entertainment, so let the toddler stop and check everything out.  Other free-and-easy options include the library (let the toddler browse the books while the baby is along for the ride, or enjoy the library’s story time together), the park, the mall playground, Barnes & Noble (they often have a train table in the kids’ section).  Sometimes I’ll just put the kids in the car and go for a drive, or hit the Starbucks drive-thru.  Go out for a snack or a meal together, or even go to the grocery store. In my world, that totally counts as an outing.  Heck, go to the gym and make use of the childcare room if they have one!

Whether you’re going out or spending a whole day at home, I find the key for lots of days is to have a plan.  A real one.  Before lunch we’re going to do x, and after the afternoon nap, we’re going to do y.  Even if the activity is just sitting on a blanket in the front yard, I feel much more in control if I have a plan.  Don’t set yourself up for disaster by insisting on doing to many things at precise times, but know what you hope to do that day.  It won’t always go perfectly, but it’s a place to start.

To whatever extent you can, we also wholeheartedly recommend coordinating naps as much as possible.  Very true with same-age kids, equally important with a baby and a toddler.  In all likelihood, the toddler is doing one afternoon nap, and the 9-month-old is doing a morning and afternoon nap.  Try to put them down at the same time in the afternoon so that you at least get some kind of a break.  And you may want to push the 2-to-1 nap transition when the younger child is just over a year, in the hopes of true nap coordination.  Of course, it may be that your toddler wants to drop the nap entirely.  We’re all about still enforcing a quiet “siesta” time, even if he/she doesn’t want to sleep.  2.5 is old enough to understand and to spend an hour quietly in their room.

Social support is also a major component here.  As I said, being a stay-at-home-parent can be really isolating, and I think that’s especially true of the less-common stay-at-home-dads.  Reach out and find a network in your area.  Even a virtual community is a good start (look at all of us bloggers!).  Some links include the At-Home Dad Newsletter, Meetup.com, and one of my favorite full-time-dad blogs, Looky, Daddy! For our main MOT audience, we’re all about Moms of Twins clubs, mom/baby/toddler classes, and the like.  The point being that you’re not the only one doing what you’re doing, and there’s nothing better than getting together with like-minded folks.

Finally, make some time for yourself as a person, not just a parent.  Go for a run or a yoga class when the kids are in bed.  Find a babysitter a few times a week so that you can get out of the house by yourself.  Heck, even get a neighborhood middle-schooler to play with the kids in the yard while you sit quietly with a book and a cup of coffee (or, in my case, with the sewing machine… whatever it is you enjoy).  Moms and dads are not endless wells of giving.  You have to recharge yourself if you’re going to have anything left to give.  Sometimes that means letting the kids hang out in a safe, childproofed space in your house while you take a hot shower.  Sometimes it even means letting them watch a few minutes of Baby Einstein so you can gather your thoughts.  If that’s what you need to regroup, do it.

Being a stay-at-home parent is hard work.  We all have rough days when the world seems to conspire against us.  Illness, crabbiness, never-ending bad weather.  There are days when I practically throw both of my children at my husband the moment he walks in the door.  But it can also be wonderful and fun and rewarding.  It’s all about finding the strategies to make it that way.  The really rough days can and should be the exception, not the rule.

One last thought: depression is a very real thing, and new stay-at-home-parents have any number of risk factors for it (major life changes, lack of social support, lack of sleep, financial strain, etc etc etc…).  If you feel like things are getting overwhelming, get help for yourself.  Call your local hospital for counseling referrals (imagine, an hour a week of one-on-one adult interaction!).  Even if you don’t meet the criteria for a medical diagnosis, you can still get help when it feels like life is a little bit too much to handle.  The better you feel, the better parent you’ll be, and the better your whole family will be for it.  Getting help is not a sign of weakness.  It’s a sign of strength when you get the resources you need.

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