Someone once told me that you are only as happy as your least happy child! Quite some statement, and at that time, while my children were still relatively young, I dismissed it. Now, with all my children in their twenties, I completely agree. And it’s taking it’s toll!
I think I have always been eager to help resolve any upsets they might be dealing with, whatever that might be. I have my own mum to thank for that. She was amazing at always having hugs or sound advice to offer, if I wanted it! So to me, it seemed part of my role, to always have time and patience to help smooth the troubled waters whenever needed. Bumps and scrapes were pretty straightforward as a rule, though friends can be cruel, others can make you feel less of yourself, maybe you aren’t picked for the team, but there was nearly always something that I could do to make them feel better. Of course, some things take time to mend, but to me, offering advice and helping them look to their own strengths to see themselves through, is what bringing up children is all about. You hope that by the time they become young adults and look ahead to leaving home, they have some tools of their own to deal with difficult issues.
I have a daughter, for example, who I could liken to a tea cake (though she won’t thank me for it) – a firm biscuit base, crisp chocolate coating giving the impression of a tough exterior but softest marshmallow in the middle! She can be full of bluster and self confidence but when things go a little pear shaped, she’s not unknown to off load her troubles, relating all the things she wants me to know and holding back on bits she’s rather I didn’t. So when I try to calm her, perhaps suggesting a different way of looking at it or an “if it was me” scenario, she’s very quick to tell me to STOP IT! That I don’t have to try to solve everything. She just needed someone to talk to. And actually, by talk to, she means tell! It clearly makes her feel a little better to vent at me and she can then go off and carry on with her day and I am left with all this “stuff”, weighing me down a little and without any ability to do anything with it.
The pandemic has now heaped a whole host of additional woes on top of the pile and the inability to take part in many of the things we enjoy means that we spend perhaps a little more time being introspective. While there will nearly always be someone in a worse position than ourselves I also have to concede that all stress is relative. The issues that give rise to our own stress levels are very real and present to us. Small mole hills become huge mountains, sometimes over the course of one sleepless night, though personally, sleep rarely evades me so I can wake feeling rested but then still have to work through all my concerns in the cold light of day while also dealing with day to day life! I’m not sure which works best, but it’s the only method I know so it can sometimes take a very long time! Though my husband and I are quite used to each others foibles after a few decades together, he worries more at night while I worry in the day, but we both share the burden of our three children taking it in turns to be the least happy. We had expected by now that they would be less emotionally dependent though perhaps I’m being unfair. They are after all, a product of their upbringing!
We have always encouraged them to talk to us, to be open, ask questions, share experiences, so should I be surprised that they want to keep doing that? Maybe I shouldn’t but, having lost both my parents within the last 5 years, I feel I have lost a big chunk of ballast that used to give me a sense of stability and stop me drifting off course. That’s not to lesson the role my husband plays in any of this at all, just that it was someone who was close to me but slightly removed and so wasn’t in the midst of the crisis. In fact, having just vocalised that, I realise that what I have lost is the person on the other end of the phone that I used to share my worries with about the children, my sounding board. I was off-loading on to her exactly as my children do to me. She was sharing my burden, bless her! Her parental instincts never dimmed.
Now, with the cost of property being relatively so much higher than it was when I was young, our children are staying closer to home, or sometimes at home, for a lot longer. We are sharing their daily lives more so that means that as parents, we have less time to ourselves, less time to work through our own stress, all the while also living their trials and tribulations over relationships, jobs, university courses, pets, car breakdowns or sporting injuries. In essence, they know we are here to help. But where does that leave us? I am beginning to realise that looking after our own mental health is more important than ever. If we don’t, we will be unable to support our children when they really need us most. Taking time to rebalance ourselves, a quiet moment or a walk in the fresh air. I have started walking my son’s dog at lunchtimes in the week. It gives me a reason to get outside, whatever the weather, time to be just me, to enjoy the simple things. It has also given a bit of structure to my day, albeit small, as after working from home for 8 months last year, I was then made redundant. I have found this last month since Christmas particularly difficult as we entered Lockdown 3, and I am struggling to feel upbeat about very much at all. I’m missing my work routine, the wonderful team I worked with and not having any kind of social life seems to be the icing on the cake. It’s not the best frame of mind to be in for searching for a new job in these uncertain times either! There are, of course, video calls and messaging but there just isn’t the same intimacy of sharing thoughts face to face and really engaging with a lovely friend or family member. A great friend of mine likened it to a form of grief! I have to agree as, while not wanting to trivialise real loss which has been suffered by so many more people in recent times, we are all grieving the loss of our own normal lives. Together with the uncertainties over how the furture will look, jobs, anxiety about financial loss and the ongoing confinement we are all enduring, and you have one enormous melting pot of stress.
My only advice is to make sure you don’t bottle it up. It is so vital to talk to someone and to know you are not alone. We all have this need to paint a picture of a perfect family unit, and it’s rarely true! I can guarantee that they are likely to have just as many worries as you, possibly not the same ones, but that’s not important. What is important is that you share your thoughts, you say it out loud! I talk to the dog on my walks which sounds mad and luckily we are in a very rural location so I don’t often see anyone, but he doesn’t judge me, I’m not asking him for solutions and it really helps me get things in perspective so I come home feeling a little brighter. Friends won’t judge you either. More than likely they will be comforted knowing you are going through the same sort of things. We are currently working through problems with all of our children so on the basis of my opening statement, we have a long way to go before we can claim to be happy again. But I jest a little, of course, while recognising that we are certainly struggling a bit ourselves.
Your children will also learn as they mature, that you are not a fathomless pot of resilience and that they need to look after you too. So, be kind to yourself, to others and, have hope that if we all pull together we will be through this pandemic soon, stronger, more resilient, more generous and more kind than we were before.
Bye for now and take care……….
If you are really concerned about a friend or if you need professional help yourself, you can contact the NHS helpline: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines