It was a Sunday morning. As soon as I awoke, still lying in bed, I experienced an intense emotion. I was off kilter but couldn’t quite put my finger on what I was experiencing. As I got out of bed thoughts began flooding my mind. They weren’t good thoughts. I began to feel extremely angry, anger like I hadn’t known before. I feverishly looked around for my phone and typed a hurried text to Nancy, my therapist. We hadn’t spoken in almost two years, but I knew something was wrong and I needed her help. She replied immediately and we agreed to meet Tuesday night. Tuesday rolled around. As soon as we met at her door, we hugged. I walked past her, headed for the living room, and before she could close the door I started spilling, “So, I woke up Sunday and …..” I was already seated on the couch and still going on and on when she sat down in a chair across from me. When there was a momentary break, she prodded me to “keep talking”. Finally she asked, “So, Sonja, what do you think is going on?” And I told her. I had mulled it over for two days and concluded that it was fear. I was afraid that I wasn’t prepared to handle my grandmother’s death (although she wasn’t sick or anything), and angry that we might not have much time left together. My grandmother was 89. Nancy looked at me and said, “That’s not it. Keep talking.” So, I went on. Shortly after, I noticed Nancy’s quiet, blank stare. I stopped talking and said, “What?” I knew that look. It meant she had figured it out. “Sonja, you’re not afraid of your grandmother’s death. You’re afraid of your death.” I looked at her. With a furled upper lip and eyebrows furrowed I retorted, “I’m not dying!” She disagreed. “You are, and you’re not dealing with it.” The thoughts in my head were demanding, “Do you know something I don’t?!” She calmly stated, “Your motherhood is dying and you’re not acknowledging it, or dealing with it.”
And just like that, problem solved. The anger dissipated and the tears began to flow. And they flowed, and they continued to flow – for almost two months. I cried in the car. I cried myself to sleep. I cried in the morning as I prepared to go to work. I cried periodically throughout the day.
Our son was preparing to graduate from college and already had a great job lined up and our daughter was preparing to graduate high school and attend a great college. And I was extremely happy for them. William and I were seeing the fruits of our parenting. But, as Nancy explained, the transition is not so easy. Though I would always be their mother, the dynamic – our dynamic – was about to shift. I would no longer be a mother to children, but to adults. And that’s very different.
“That part of your motherhood is dying. You need to mourn it. Then, move on with life.” And we talked about how I was going to move forward.
I thank God for Nancy. If it hadn’t been for her help, I doubt I would have enjoyed our son’s and daughter’s graduations as much as I did (pure elation, zero sadness), or relished the beginning of their new lives. That’s because I dealt with what was going on with me. Someone shared a saying about change – “All change is loss, something akin to a mini death.” No matter how happy I was for our son and daughter, their graduations represented a loss. I would no longer be part of their school communities, which I really enjoyed, and they would no longer need me in the way they had before. And I had to mourn the loss.
Therapists and counselors help us resolve problems that we cannot solve for ourselves. A lot of people think they don’t need therapy. But that’s not so, as evidenced by: less than optimal family relationships; inability to engage in constructive communication (instead they don’t address the issues and pretend that “everything’s alright”); and a host of other things.
Here’s the thing, therapy isn’t easy. Having to look at ourselves, truly look at our self (having to admit that the way we think, communicate (or don’t), and/or behave aren’t conducive or effective and we need to change; looking at our childhood, our parents and how they impact us, etc.) can be extremely difficult, especially if we’ve been telling our selves that we have it all together. But know this, it’s worth the hard work. When we begin to peel back that thick skin which is actually layers of hurt, disappointment, fear etc. and begin to experience the soft, subtle new skin that’s hidden underneath, ahhhh, it’s a beautiful thing. And guess what, the difference is noticeable.
Unresolved problems DO NOT go away. Instead, they show up in our lives and relationships in different ways. Some of us are in our 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and yes, 80s and still have the same problems and personality hiccups as when we were in our teens and 20s. The problem(s) didn’t go away because we never got help; they continue to plague us. One example that most are familiar with – even if we don’t have this problem – is the phenomena of carrying past hurts into new relationships.
It’s also very important to note that conditions that we have no control over: poverty (not being able to meet basic needs for decent shelter, food, employment); loss of income and other forms of loss such as death, etc.; sexual assault and abuse (particularly during childhood and/or by a family member) can result in severe mental health challenges, if not properly addressed.
One of my dear friends, who happens to be a counselor, is quick to authoritatively say, “Do the work!” meaning seek out a therapist or counselor to help you work out your stuff (i.e., problems).
Here’s what we, as parents, need to understand – our problems affect our children’s social and emotional well-being, which can impact their social and academic performance.
We’ll end with a quote from another dear friend, “Therapy is for people who want to be their best self.”
If you want your child to be his/her best, be the example.
Next month we’ll discuss the importance of Partnership Parenting.