• Jody Kussin

#54 Family Matters - Parents, You are OKAY

In These Times by Dr. Jody Kussin, May 7, 2020

I’ve been doing a little exercise with some of my patients (kids and teens.) Having them draw a heart and then identify the top five feelings they are currently experiencing. They then match a color to the emotion and color in the heart proportionally. How much of the heart is now ‘black’ for ‘mad?’ How much of the heart is ‘green’ for nervous?” This is an old-time exercise, but in these times, the results are disturbing (‘ruby red’ for ‘disturbing.’)

I throw in another exercise or two depending on the needs of the specific child or adolescent.

In this one, I have them visualize the red balloon from the French story The Red Balloon or Winnie the Pooh’s balloon from his blustery day. I let them know that the balloon comes to their house and offers to take them for a guaranteed safe trip, to wherever they want to go.

So – there’s a balloon awaiting you. Where do you want to go? Where does the balloon take you? How do you feel up there? What do you observe below? Is it a blustery day? Cool? Chilly? Hot? Is the sky blue? Are there pretty clouds? Can you see forever? Or to the beach? Or to the desert? Or to your grandma’s house, who you have not been able to hug or see in forever? This is your balloon ride so you can magically request it to take you whereever you’d like. Family in another country? No problem. Your school? Your summer camp you still are desperately hoping will open – even though you know it’s a long shot….? The college you are supposed to start next year. Where will you go?

Again, this is not a new exercise but the results…the stories ‘my kids’ are telling are, well, disturbing.

We are in week #7 or #8 (or #6 or #9, depending on what you and your family chose to do) and while there are many reports of us ‘returning to normal’ there is no internalized, collective sense, that we can safely return to anything. There is a huge DESIRE to turn back time, for sure, but, many of us seem to be moving from anxious to depressed.

Family members who are acting out and angry, in fact, may be ‘healthier’ than those who are internalizing the anger and becoming increasingly sad, listless, fatigued. The new rules that are starting tomorrow are mostly plans not revolved around meeting our kids’ needs. Beaches will open but you cannot sit and schmooze or visit. Can you build sandcastles? Can you bury your little sister in the sand? Can you find a nice person walking up and down selling snow cones?

And what about the parents, who themselves are overwhelmed and undercooked – not enough of anything of late – not enough financial security, not enough privacy, not enough fun, not enough distraction….

Everyone needs to master something or work toward mastering something, every day, across our lifespan. That means that in these times, many parents, in particular, are not experiencing a sense of mastery. They feel they are ‘not good enough.’ Not good enough teachers, not good enough workers, not good enough parents. Even with the focus on ‘lowering the bar’, they experience their children’s angst as proof they are not doing their jobs well. Every child who acts out, who melts down, who can’t sleep, who is failing geometry – their moms and dads internalize that as a sign they are failing as moms and dads.

As plans are made and summer is upon us, this is a good time to find some new crayons for coloring in our hearts. Let’s mix it up. Let’s cut all parents some slack, whatever that really is. Lots and lots of slack to anyone at home with kids, of any age.

Everyone gets to have their meltdowns, which will continue, as the heat and temperatures rise and the sheltering in place continues. There will be no one miraculous moment, like when the bell rings the last period the last day of school and everyone rushes out to freedom. This is not that.

This is a time to push the positive voices in our head forward, and to force them to drown out the negative ones, when possible. And when impossible, it’s a fine time to find a little corner nook and have your own time out and your own weepy moments.

That is not a failure moment.

That is a parenting moment.

And lots of those moments together will weave the tapestry going forward. This will pass at some point. We will weather other crises. Your children will recall being cared for and will internalized that sense of being loved and valued.

You may not feel you are mastering every aspect of this, but I can tell you – you are.

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