The unfolding story of Lisa Gibson, aged 32, of Winnipeg, MB and the death of her two young children is preoccupying my mind. We cannot assume that this mother drowned her children, as the information is incomplete. But I can hear the judging by others that is likely happening, "What kind of mother would harm her own children?" I'll tell you what kind—a normal kind, with an abnormal moment in time.
Regardless of what happened for those two children, I started thinking about the moments when I was on the verge of snapping. The children in this case, Anna who was eighteen-months, and little Nicholas who was almost three-months-old, were just the ages I found the most difficult. Actually, I'm not sure the word "difficult" really does justice for the intense struggles that can happen with raising young children.
According to unconfirmed reports, Lisa Gibson was diagnosed and being treated for postpartum depression. As a psychotherapist, I know I would have been diagnosed with the same, but felt I could control and help myself. Those who know me were witness to all the help I needed to feel like my feet were under me.
A telling day happened when I wrote an article about how to manage a raging, tantruming three-year-old and entitled it, "How To Not Kill Your Three-Year-Old." I asked my son to pose with a growling face, took his picture like that and posted it in the photo banner at the top of the article. I then sent it along to two psychotherapy colleagues to review who both responded with shock, "Andrea, this title and photo are incredibly inappropriate! You need to seek treatment."
They were right, it was a horrible choice of title and photo, particularly because the week before Elaine Campione, aged 35, had drowned her three-year-old and nineteen-month-old daughters. I didn't see it—I was so blinded by my challenges, I didn't see the inappropriateness. I also didn't hear from those colleagues again. I felt sad wondering if they judged me for this action, rather than reaching out to help me.
I don't think we do a good job of admitting how brutal parenting young children can be—to ourselves, to our partners, to friends. I remember taking a big breath before saying out loud that I really wasn't enjoying life when my kids were very young. That was hard to do. The vulnerability felt when admitting I found motherhood hard was raw. Our society is so quick to judge others for "bad parenting" that I think too many are quietly crying and hiding behind their happy social media photos. The pictures being posted of Lisa from her Facebook page show the typical young child cuteness in combination with comments from Lisa like, "Man I love this kid."
When I conduct workshops for young parents, I often hear that moms feel badly for hating the drudgery and challenges of raising little ones. A common phrase said to me is, "I didn't sign up for this," which seems to have an extra edge from the moms who experienced fertility trouble and either worked really hard or spend a great deal of money to have their children.
Our generation of parents is experiencing new challenges like lack of support, short maternity leaves, and increased pressure for high income. A recent stat from the US states that only four percent of women are pure stay-at-home moms, a similar percentage of moms live close to their parents and siblings (for support), and many families are having babies later in life. More mothers are stretched thinly by going to work or trying to maintain a home business and all the social media required to be visible.
I hear from older mothers, and have experienced this myself, that the shift from the pre-kid years to the parenting ones can be drastic. The change from wearing professional clothes, sleeping well, spending lots of time with your partner, eating out, going to movies, travelling, and visiting with friends to sleeplessly dropping personal ambition and drive to take care of little people who are more often challenging than fun is very stark.
What I would like people to take away from Lisa Gibson's tragic story is to understand that behind the cute Facebook pictures and lovely comments is likely an exhausted person bewildered by the sudden life changes and intensity of feelings. Let's just assume any parent with young children needs support—lots of it. Those of us who have older children can adopt a new mother to make sure that mom has an opportunity to be honest about how she is feeling and also offer solutions to whatever can be made better for her.
To all those reading this who have young children, please know that the ratio of challenging to fun does increasingly move to the fun side as the days pass. It also moves much more quickly to the fun side when parents do what they need to in order to reduce exhaustion. It seems to me that parents who have time to themselves, do not feel pulled in all directions, and are getting enough rest can manage the normal challenges that happen with raising young children. Children aren't the only ones who tantrum more when they are hungry, over-stimulated, or tired!
I am sending healing wishes to Lisa Gibson's husband, family, friends, and also to the practitioner who was treating her—most of us in the mental health profession have seen clients walk out the door and although evidence indicates that person likely won't harm themself or others, you often wonder...and hope. Sending hugs to you, whoever you are.
(I post lots of free parenting support and help on my facebook page.)
Photo from ctvnews.ca
In most of the workshops I conduct with parents of teenagers, I hear begging and pleading for help to "get the kids off those damn phones," and for parents with younger children, I hear "I'm tired of the screen battles."
Ours is an interesting generation because we grew up with maybe one or two screens in our homes. The Internet wasn't invented until I was in school getting my undergraduate degree! Some of us are using social media, smart phones, and tablets kicking and screaming whereas others have jumped with both feet into the personal computer era.
As these devices have been invented recently, there hasn't been much time to fully understand the long-term effects of their use and exactly what is the "best" amount of time to be on, or off screens. Many people are looking at a screen for most of the day! We also haven't had time to learn boundaries with technology—how to use them to our advantage without letting them hurt us.
Unfortunately, we do see that increased screen time is affecting our social skills, our ability to contribute to relationships, our sleep, and even our safety (cyber bullying/crashes). A young woman walked straight into us on the wrong side of the bike path with her earbuds in and face down toward her phone. My six-year-old son was on his bike, and I was on mine, wearing my fluorescent yellow safety jacket, with my three-year-old son behind me in a trailer. All three of us had to swerve hard to get out of her way. She didn't even look up when we passed her!
Here are 5 tips to use tech safely, responsibly and to reduce screen battles:
Write this schedule down and post it somewhere everyone can see it. Systems reduce yelling, confusion, and increase productivity. Have a family meeting to decide what the screen schedule will be so each person feels heard and understood. Establish when screen time is and if a child asks to use a screen outside of the scheduled time, you simply say, "Let's go look at the schedule."
A life insurance company called Foresters has brilliantly set up the "Tech Timeout challenge." Families can take a pledge to turn off their digital devices for an hour each day for one week. The focus of the program is how to connect with each other in a more meaningful way. I like this program because it is well known that people will stick to something if they are supported and make a public pledge.
The "Tech Timeout web site" offers suggestions of activities to do instead of being on screens, and their Facebook page provides helpful support to fulfill the pledge and a place where families taking pledge can share their stories.
Teens view their phones as part of their life-line. One sure way to feel the wrath of a teenager is to take away his or her phone—which is why I suggest not using this as a discipline strategy.
Talk with your teen about how hard it is to put the phone down, and share personal feelings if appropriate.
Get your teen into the habit of turning the phone off and acknowledging that the feeling of missing out happens. Some teens express panic when their phone is off—the feeling that they aren't connected can overpower them. This is a great opportunity to talk to your teen about how to calm down when our irrational mind hijacks our better judgment. Please do not belittle or shame your teens when they have a hard time turning their phones off.
Get family members used to "no phone zones" by modelling and explaining that mobile devices will be off or silenced during the following activities: driving—which is the law in many states and provinces, walking, biking (make sure they also don't have earbuds in), eating, and sleeping. Please note that a woman in Toronto was recently assaulted while walking with earbuds in her ears. When we use phones and/or headphones while on the go, we can miss cues that danger is lurking. Did you hear about the man with earbuds in his ears who was attacked by a cougar? Eek!
Know that your children are watching you—keep the phone away at red lights and while in the bathroom.
It is well established that having phones on during sleep-time is negatively affecting our health. If a cell phone must be on overnight, set it to vibrate and put it far away. If it is on a hard surface, the sound wakes most people up so you won't miss your emergency call.
I also suggest turning off the internet hub overnight to reduce the temptation of firing up a mobile device if sleeplessness happens. Collecting all the family's mobile devices in a basket before bed also helps (or put them all together at a charging station).
I know how hard it is to try and finish an email when a child suddenly runs over to you. Really, I do! When we continually brush our children off to attend to texts, emails, and social media, they can start to feel that they don't matter.
To avoid this, make sure to adhere to the family tech schedule and if you happen to be in the middle of something when a child needs you, use a "when/then" statement... "I hear that you need my help, but I just have to finish this. When I hit send on this message, then I am all yours."
*Also, be rested enough that you don't need screens to get a break from your child.
Watch this hilarious video from Tech Timeout with your kids to start the etiquette/safety conversation.
Still need more inspiration to take the Tech Timeout Pledge?
Lisa Thornbury has 11 Fun Offline Activities To Entertain Your Family.
YMC Gigamom, Eileen Fisher, who is addicted to tech, talks about what happened to her family when they unplugged.
Jennifer Kolari, family therapist, shares four simple strategies to help your family connect during your tech timeout.
And to help you reconnect with your family, we're giving away a $50 Family Game Set to ten lucky YMC Members, courtesy of Foresters. Enter today!
This is proudly sponsored by our friends at Foresters.
Foresters™ is the trade name and a trademark of The Independent Order of Foresters, 789 Don Mills Road, Toronto, Canada M3C 1T9; its subsidiaries are licensed to use this mark. Tech Timeout and the Tech Timeout logo are trademarks of The Independent Order of Foresters.
Dr. Gordon went on to talk mostly about communication and that being in a successful, thriving relationship takes skills, which thankfully, are ones that can be easily learned.
My immediate thought was that if only seven percent of marriages are thriving, what are parents teaching children about how to thrive, or how to be happy, or how do deal with conflict effectively? Sadly, the answer to that is likely not very much. We can't teach a skill we don't have ourselves.
I do see evidence of this when I coach exhausted, frustrated parents to manage the normal, wild behaviour children have. I should say here that I would have counted myself as one of those exhausted people until I learned how to get out of that cycle. Many families are tackling more and more which taps people out.
So how can a person, a marriage, and a family thrive?
This is a big topic so rather than try to address it in one short post; I will suggest resources to help the areas you would like to improve.
Increase your enjoyment of being a parent.
If you do not enjoy being a parent, consider why that is. Do you have an energy-filled, tantruming toddler? (If so, I suggest this article "Thriving With A Toddler") A drama queen or a wild child? Or hormonal, angry teens? If you are not enjoying the stage your children are in, learn more about that stage and how to connect with your child no matter how frustrating they might be. I continually post free suggestions on how to do this on my facebook page.
Learn how to be the parent you hope to be.
It is possible to raise lovely, happy, confident, and well behaved children without spanking them, shouting at them, or threatening them. It takes knowledge and skill to do this. Being hard on your children is also hard on you. Again, I will refer you to my facebook page where I post book suggestions, tips, and upcoming workshops by myself and colleagues to learn these skills. A great book on this topic is PEACEFUL PARENT, HAPPY KIDS by Laura Markham, PhD.
Learn how to deal with conflict effectively.
Learning how to be angry and how to communicate that without hurting ourselves, others, or property takes knowledge and practice. It feels so wonderful to be in a relationship where you can feel really, smoking angry and know that you will calm yourself down and be able to articulate that—and be heard! I'd say learning these kinds of communication skills has significantly increased my joy in life. If you are looking for a resource for that, I suggest the book WHAT MAKES LOVE LAST? by John Gottman.
Consider what you need.
Take quiet moments with a piece of paper or talking to yourself in the shower to consider what you need. Journalling is a wonderful way to continually check in with personal needs. At the top of a fresh piece of paper, write "In order to feel great, I need..." and write down what comes to mind. Make sure you don't censor your writing--no one will be reading it! Turn that brainstorming into a to-do list. Which of the needs you identified can you do something about?
Reduce what is making you exhausted.
In my opinion, being rested is the number one thing a person can do to improve parenting and quality of life. Consider if your schedule, to-do list, expectations, busy children, or night-waking children are making you feel exhausted. Also, people can feel exhausted when they are continually frustrated. Thinking about things that aren't getting done, that you wish you could do, or say to someone else, can be draining.
If your schedule, to-do list or expectations are tiring you out, I suggest reading FROM FRAZZLED TO FOCUSED by Rivka Caroline.
For busy young children, realize that raising little ones is a marathon. It does take helpers (babysitters, friends, family) to get through this period intact. If you have older children and are racing around to all their activities, really consider which ones are valuable and which are not. Children can get stressed as well if they have too many activities. Decide which ones your family feel are important and which ones can go. Family meetings are a great way to continually check-in with all family members to see what needs to be improved, and how.
There is no need to be continually kept awake by children after they are done night-time feeding. Your sleep is important, and boundaries to get that sleep are VERY important. If you would like a hand with that, I recommend sleep expert Alanna McGuinn at www.goodnightsleepsite.com.
If thinking is tiring you out, consider learning how to meditate or do yoga. Both are known to calm a busy mind.
Deciding to get out of survival mode takes action, perseverance, and some help.
Having made this shift myself, I encourage you to take the time to consider what you need to feel better—to feel that you are thriving. You can do it! Thriving parents raise thriving kids.