(Below quote written in June 2020)
When I began putting this piece together back in early May, our world was just suffering from one collective crisis, COVID-19. However, over the last two weeks, parenting through trauma has taken on an entirely different meaning. Most of us have become consumed with our country’s latest pandemic: the ongoing, yet acute, crisis of racial injustice. A crisis that, at times, feels insurmountable. This most recent escalation of police violence against our fellow BIPOC mothers and fathers has – once again – left its traumatic stain on the fabric of our nation. And while some of us can empathize with the victims of this targeted, deliberate aggression, we as white women cannot fully grasp the daily, consistent pain being forced upon the backs of Black women and mothers. It is my sincere hope that we can all find some comfort – however minimal – in these stories and suggestions.~Heather
Of all the traumas that can happen to any of us in life — the loss of a loved one, car accidents, violence, divorce, bullying — the pandemic is one most of us have never experienced before. Now, it’s happening to all of us collectively, at the same time. And since we are all going through simultaneous trauma (#InThisTogether, amirite?), we may find that the mechanisms we usually use to cope with difficult, painful situations are no longer available. Hanging out with a friend or in-person weekly therapy were likely the first to go. Different people are coping in a variety of ways, so you may find that the usual solutions in your metaphoric hard-times-tool-kit are inaccessible right now. For example, you may not be able to vent to and get a hug from a friend. And similarly, that friend is likely struggling herself, and parenting through trauma while quarantined at home.
When hard things happen, it can dramatically affect our own identities, how we relate to the world, and the paths we choose in life. What we’re going through now is no exception. We, of course, wish for an easy, painless and FAST! fix to this pandemic — so we can all just feel better and life can get back to normal. But we’re also feeling like we have nothing left to give, like we have lost our normal lives completely. And yet here we are – mustering up the strength to pick up and keep going, especially for the kids. It feels impossible at times, but if there is one thing I know about us Moms, it is that we put one foot in front of the other and piece together the path, cheering ourselves and others on as we go.
Here are my go-to truths that I try to remember during tough times:
Children are resilient. Almost universally among the families in my life, with the exception of a few, the kids are doing great and thriving right now. It’s the adults who are struggling. So I try to focus on the ways I handle this chapter of life in the presence of my children and how it will also leave a lasting impact on them. Seeing me get through this with self-love and a problem-solving attitude will leave a legacy with them that I think is invaluable.
Don’t fear the tears. If anyone is freshly prepared and able to handle some tears, it is your child. You have been comforting them their entire lives and modeled this for them. Accept their weird shoulder massages, their misguided attempts at microwaving water for tea, and their other odd, sweet ways of comforting you. The “gift” of sorrow, pain and fear is showing them that these things are hard but can also make you stronger… And that you are, in fact, a human being with a full range of emotions. With everything that is going on in our world right now, it is important to be open and honest with children in an age appropriate way. They’re stronger than you think. And arming them with knowledge of the world around them is important.
Friends do want to help. Some of them may not be able to right now – but some of them will. Try to be very specific about what you need. Do you need someone to bring groceries or talk with your kid on the phone? Do you need someone to sit with you while you vent or to brainstorm resources that could be good for your family? A socially-distant beach walk? Or maybe you just need someone to just text you at the end of the day to make sure you are OK and send a funny meme? Help people understand how they can help—sit down and make a list. Your friends will be as grateful for your guidance as you are for their help.
Get help outside of your close circle. Therapists (look into EMDR or cognitive behavioral therapy for effective ways to help with trauma), online apps, hotlines, caseworkers, support groups, and your fellow mom community here at Lucie’s List are great outlets (ask us an anonymous QOTD and get some loving, thoughtful answers and ideas!). Do you need help financially? Places of worship, grants, GoFundMe campaigns… You name it. There are resources in almost any community for when we need more help than usual.
Rest is a priority. Trauma takes a big toll on our brains and immune systems. Rest is key for staying as healthy as possible – both physically and mentally. Of course, we know it can be hard to fall (and stay) asleep during these stressful times. Easy reading, gentle yoga, calming baths, and cup of tea are all restful things to try. The 4-7-8 breathing trick can help, too. White-noise machines, earplugs, and darkening your bedroom may also help. I personally love my new Holly Golightly sleep mask and earplugs — they are bringing me a moment of levity before shutting out the world.
Meditation and mindfulness are your friends. During and after trauma, our minds and bodies are on high alert, so we understand if the thought of sitting calm and still seems impossible. But taking the time to slow down and live in the moment – however you can – really goes a long way. When I can’t sit still, I try to think of walking or even sweeping as meditations – as learned from the book Peace Is Every Step.
I also visualize hard moments like a surfer riding waves or a mom (me!) getting through contractions in birth – one at a time. And my favorite mindfulness exercise – hearing the sound of pouring my morning coffee, feeling the hot mug in my hands and breathing in the best scent on earth. Even when all you can think of is escaping, running away from all of your problems, the best thing we can do in these fleeting moments is do our best to stay present. A few moments of mindfulness can reframe your whole day.
Stay strong. Be weak. Be vulnerable. Stay safe.
We’ll see you on the other side <<Hunger Games salute>>