I’m really sad lately. I went through a break up just before Thanksgiving. It was my first serious relationship after my divorce and I really thought he was my proverbial “second chance.” As weeks and then months passed, I realized that he was not the right fit. Even though I know it was the right decision to break it off, and I was the one to initiate the break up, I’m really, really sad about it. I’m grieving.
And also, let’s face it, the holidays are a hard in general. To face them when you just went through a break up and are feeling lonely and anxious. Ugh. Just more sad. For me, the holidays are a particularly hard time already because my family is half way across the country. When I got divorced, I lost a whole family of in-laws. And now with this break up, I lost a family of potential in-laws. It’s also that time of year when everyone is supposed to be thankful and cheerful and full of joy. And me, well, I just wasn’t feeling it. I managed to make a lot of happiness for my daughter, but if I am really honest with myself, I wasn’t fully participating. And I managed to have my very first anxiety attack at a Girl Scouts holiday craft fair. Big fun.
Now that the holidays have passed (thank goodness), I just can’t seem to find my “happy.” I’m not sleeping well. I’m anxious. I had to have a biopsy. There was a chance that my skin cancer had come back and I would need surgery again. So, more anxiety. Thankfully, the biopsy was all clear, but I couldn’t even celebrate when I found out it wasn’t cancer. I was very, very relieved, but not happy.
I’ve taken steps to feel better. I’m exercising more. Eating better. I found a therapist. I’m trying to take it easy on myself. But I’m still sad. So, I’ve been contemplating how I should “mom” when I’m sad.
I think about a series of scenes in the movie Practical Magic when Sandra Bullock’s character, Sally, is grieving the loss of her husband. She literally spends weeks in bed under a down comforter. She has two little girls but they live with her aunts. During her grief, the kids are fed, clothed, and seem to make it to school every day. We barely see them. When we do, they are clearly concerned about their mom. Then Sally’s sister Jillian (Nicole Kidman) visits, she snaps out of her depression, and crawls out of bed to peppy music. The scene cuts to her opening up her own natural beauty products store in an old house on Main Street. I have to credit the film for showing grief, but where was the parenting? I would love to hide under a comforter, but I don’t have two aunts to take care of my daughter and run the house. I have to get up and go to work. I have to shop and cook and clean. And so far, there is no peppy score signaling the end of grief. There is no natural beauty products store in an old house on Main Street (well maybe there is, I’ll let you guys know).
It’s funny, outside of a few family funerals, when I was growing up, I do not remember my mom ever being sad in front of us kids. I don’t even remember her even appearing unhappy. I definitely remember times when my mom “had a migraine” and was “lying down.” But we never knew when she was going through particularly hard times. Everything was always shiny and happy. I know now that there were very hard times. My biological dad died and my mom moved us across the country to North Dakota. Later my stepdad got laid off and we had to move again so he could go back to school. We struggled financially. It was not always shiny and happy.
I totally get it. I am feeling this pressure to put on a fake smile and pretend like I’m happy in front of Violet. Because she’s really empathic. She always tries to help. She’s always willing to give a hug to make me feel better. And she’s a little kid. I don’t want her to deal with the “grown-up” stuff. I think her five-year-old mind may feel some sort of responsibility when I’m sad. But it’s not her battle to wage.
The alternative is showing her how I’m really feeling, which is not great. There is a bowling ball in my stomach, and my jaw hurts from clenching it, and I’ve been on the verge of tears. A lot. And I have been over scheduling and keeping myself (and her) so, so busy. I end up exhausted and Violet is right there with me.
But I do think it’s important to show your kids grief and sadness. So they know that is ok to have a range of emotions. And to be sad when they are sad. Because as humans we have feelings. And this is a valid response to my relationship ending. Change is hard. It just is. So, I think I have to find a happy medium between being shiny and “cheerful” and blubbering all over the house. I also think I need to model for Violet how to get on the path to feeling better. How to be as graceful and kind to myself as I can be. So I’m incorporating more snuggles, movie nights, and hugs. But also getting outside. Hiking and walking. Yoga. Writing. Drawing. Cooking. Creative and physical outlets that also bring me joy.
And checking in with Violet more. Talking with her about my feelings and about her feelings. Explaining why I’m sad. But also what I’m doing to feel better. Because life is sometimes sad. And it will do her no good if I pretend like life is always happy. She could go through childhood – like I did – thinking that sadness is a “wrong” emotion and she is doing something bad by feeling it.
And I’m scheduling some blessed down time.
And I’m crying when I need to, even in front of Violet, but only for a little while.
Cue the peppy music.