This is such a surreal experience, isn’t it? As a member of JCC Chicago’s Early Childhood Social Services team, one of my primary roles is to support parents with brand new babies, toddlers and preschoolers through the various challenges that arise in family life.
Last week in my JNew to Two (Or More) virtual moms’ group, we discussed coping with the reality of being sequestered at home together, along with the people we love most… who also tend to drive us the craziest. After groups like these, I like to send thoughtful summary emails after our time together and include useful handouts, inspiring quotes, and other resources that I think would be pertinent to our conversations. Yet when I sat down to do so, I found that I was paralyzed. I had flagged different posts and articles, looked through some of my favorite books, and tried to distill down some words of wisdom to share… but truthfully, it was all just a blur, a jumbled mess of threads to untangle.
This particular group had a lot to say about their toddlers and their uncanny knack for pushing our limits, in even the best of circumstances. As I thought about my own psychological state over the past few weeks, I began to appreciate and empathize with the depth and breadth of a toddler’s emotionality – the ongoing tension between unbridled joy and utter despair they feel daily that can lead to total collapse (a.k.a. tantrums.) It’s all just so… PRESENT, right? Like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve found myself losing my patience (and my cool) at the drop of a hat, feeling a dizzying array of emotions that come and go with lightning-quick speed. Yup, I see you, little people! I, too, have had the urge to throw myself on the floor, screaming and crying and thrashing my arms and legs about. Thankfully, it hasn’t quite gotten that far yet…
As I started to share my thoughts with my husband, I realized that although I am physically safe, healthy and well prepared (thankfully), I am definitely NOT okay. Like those toddlers, I am having some very strong feelings of anger and loss – around the blurring of the boundaries between my personal and professional identities, the overall sense of stability that I take for granted each day, and especially the fact that I’m finding it difficult to relate to and have fun with my children at their current ages of 9 ½ and 7. I’m a self-proclaimed “little kid” person that is suddenly now a “big kid” mom, and I’m sad. I’m grieving the fact that they aren’t little anymore, a time that I experienced them as being more playful and easier to please.
I share all of this as an authentic look into my own experience as a working parent trying to navigate this strange new world, and the guilt that I’m feeling throughout each day about not being ENOUGH. Not being patient and loving enough with my kids or my partner. Not being organized and efficient enough to do my job while also providing an enriching educational environment for my children, cooking healthy meals, keeping my home clean, and oh – let’s not forget, savoring these precious moments together. Most of all, not being compassionate enough with myself to sit right where I’m at – in the uncomfortable abyss of disorientation – and honor my own experience as valid, important, and most of all… survivable.
Our beloved Mr. Rogers once proposed that: “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.” So, for now, I’m trying to identify, acknowledge, talk about and just be with my feelings, messy as they may be. I am giving myself some grace and trying to remember that none of us has ever experienced anything like this. As much as I miss my boys as their baby selves, I can’t really begin to fathom how hard this must be for all those parents with newborns out there – be it their first, second, or fifth child – who are trying to adjust to a “new normal” that simply is Just. Not. Normal. I so admire the ways in which my group participants (and so many others of you) are moving through the process, letting themselves show their vulnerability while also sharing their courage, strength, and grit.
Not surprisingly, my work with families frequently brings me face to face with my own strengths and shortcomings as a parent, providing a mirror that – while not always welcome at first – inevitably leads me to deeper self-understanding, insight, and awareness. It’s been challenging to keep myself grounded and remember to take things one step at a time, one day at a time. In many of the things I’ve read recently, the authors noted that giving to and supporting others can be a powerful coping strategy in times of distress, as can building a regular practice of gratitude. So, in this moment, I acknowledge all of the parents out there with whom I have the privilege to work each day, and especially the moms in my virtual group. Thank you, for helping me feel more whole in this time of fragmentation and reminding me that each of us is on our own journey of “becoming” – as parents, as professionals, and moreover, as human beings.
- Jen Streicher, LCSW, JCC Chicago Early Childhood Social Worker