Two weeks ago my grandmother died. A week before that she was showing signs of getting weaker, so we sat vigil by her bed side. I was gone a lot, my husband took over a lot of the tasks with the children and house.
I cried a lot. I was distracted, forgetful, had no energy. I went to bed early every night, ignoring piles of laundry, not caring about cleaning out the car every time we left it, forgetting items we needed at the grocery store. I cared less about serving grilled cheese for dinner twice in one week. I wasn't present at all with my family. I had so much on my mind, checked my phone constantly, waiting...
And yet I didn't get time off from my No. 1 job of being a mom. I took 3 days off from my full-time job, but there were no grief days to take from my being a mom career. Nobody I could call in as a substitute for me, except for my husband, of course. I couldn't just lay around crying all day or stay in bed like I wanted to do.
No, being a mom isn't like that. We can't just pause time, deal with what we need to deal with, and then cater to our kids' needs. They always need us, no matter what.
We have to keep on trekking. We have to continue making breakfast and changing diapers and remembering that it's Show n' Tell at preschool or that the sleeping bag needs to be washed for school.
Being a mom is a tough job, but it's made even more challenging when you are going through a life change, a tragedy, a death of a loved one, sickness, etc. What's more difficult is that not only can we not just stop, but we also are expected to be the ones who do everything, who know everything and remember what our kids need.
What do you do when you can't be strong?
Here's the thing, it's completely normal to not be able to do it all, to need a break, to need a lot of help. When you have something going on in your life that takes your attention or time or makes you quite emotional, it's so normal to not be that giving it 100% mom that you typically are.
That's the first step to dealing with your difficult situation: Give yourself permission to make like Elsa and "Let it go, let it go..." It's OK! The world will not end, your children will be fine if you aren't up to doing everything you usually do.
The last few weeks I found myself crying on the drive home from work, talking to family on the phone when I usually was playing with my kids, making simple meals for dinner, ignoring the piled up dishes or laundry so I could wander around aimlessly on Facebook or Pinterest, distracting myself, going to bed really early because I was so emotionally drained and exhausted. My house was a disaster for a week at least.
However, I gave in to the grief and the process. I gave in to needing to do nothing, let it go and let it sit for a while longer. Everybody was fine, including myself. We all were fine, we made do with paper plates and less happening around the house.
Advice for getting through a difficult time:
- Let it go. Move on. Accept that this is a temporary hiatus from your typically clean and organized life. You WILL get back to that way of being, with time. It's OK to let yourself sit on the couch more this week.
- Ask for and then accept help. You can't do it all as a happy mom, so of course you can't as a busier, upset mother. So ask your neighbors, your friends, extended family, etc. for help. My babysitter took care of making lunches for my daughter for the entire week, I didn't ask her but when she offered I accepted her help. This one thing was a HUGE help to me when I couldn't focus enough to go grocery shopping or pack lunches for the week. People want to help when you're struggling, so allow them to do it.
- Prioritize. Do only what has to be done today, and let other things wait a while longer. Wash the laundry that is wet or the clothing your children need to wear for a special event, but let the rest pile up. Wash the sippy cups and let the rest of the bowls sit longer. Clean up the kitchen toys so you can walk easier in the morning when rushing around to get out the door, but ignore the play room or the living room mess. Prioritize, do what matters most, you'll get to the rest next week when you're feeling up to it.
- Decrease your expectations. If you had a play date scheduled, cancel it. If you have a big thing at work, let them know you aren't focused enough to work on it and call in sick. Take the kids to daycare and then go home to rest or take care of things that you don't want to talk about in front of them. Don't have such high expectations of yourself as a mom or how you run your household or the type of worker you are usually when you're going through a tough time. It's OK to slack, to back off, to put other things first this week. It's OK not to exercise. It's OK to not get back to people's messages this week. Your children, boss, partner, etc. will understand.
- Take care of yourself. It's easy to forget to take care of yourself when you feel so out of sorts. One easy thing that will help you get through this tough time is eating, drinking enough water, making sure you physically are well. So keep easy things to eat around the house - muffins, yogurt, fruits and veggies, bagels, etc. and snack often to help you with that feeling of being distracted.
- Allow yourself to feel. As moms, we oftentimes don't show that we're afraid because we don't want our kids feeling afraid. We stay positive when we feel negative because we want our kids to feel like the world is OK when we know it's not. This is all great normally, but when you lose a loved one, it's OK to cry. I was nervous how crying in front of my kids would be, but then I did it and they were fine. It's normal to cry, it's nice to show your kids that it's OK. Emotions are a part of life. Your children should learn about them, so talk to your kids and be honest, "Mommy is sad, that's why I'm crying. I'm sad because I miss my grandmother because I can't see her now."
- Figure out your coping skills. I'm a school counselor so I teach about coping skills all the time. Basically, what is it that helps you deal with your feelings and feel better? A few suggestions:
- Take a walk, run, do some exercise.
- Drink tea, wine, coffee, etc. slowly, savoring it.
- Talk to a friend, stranger, post to discussion board, call a family member, etc.
- Write in a journal.
- Draw, doodle, color with the kids, paint.
- Take a hot shower, bubble bath, sit in a hot tub, go for a swim.
- Go shopping. Sometimes just distracting yourself works.
- Sleep, nap, rest on the couch. Just rest. Feeling takes a lot out of a person... it's emotionally draining and exhausting to go through something like this. Let yourself slow down.
- Find ways to laugh. For me, I watched re-runs of Friends the last two weeks. I didn't want anything to do with the law and order type shows my husband and I had been watching, I didn't want to see death or talk about it, I wanted to laugh.
- Eat dessert first. Treat yourself. No, eating your feelings is never good, but treating yourself, making yourself feel better and smile is a great thing!
- Pamper yourself. Do something nice for you that you don't usually do. My mom took me for a pedicure the day I was planning my grandmother's funeral. It was such a great way to relax and just BE and to stop for an hour... It's OK to do something nice for yourself when you're struggling.
The light at the end of the tunnel
After a week, I felt a lot better and was able to focus more at work. I was more present with my kids. I spent a day cleaning our house, replying to emails, taking care of the mail, doing laundry, etc. For me, being organized is synonymous with feeling in control, feeling good and happier. So for me, while I needed to take some time off and ignore the chores, relax on the couch and sleep more for a week, I also needed to move on to getting my life back in order. For me, being organized made me feel so much better.
It's all about what works for you, what you know about yourself. For me, having toys everywhere that I stepped on or having my kids' shoes dirty so they couldn't wear them to school and we were rushing around in the morning to find their jackets that were not put in their place - that's stressful, it's worse for me than ignoring the mess.
So after taking time for yourself, after taking a week or longer off from your duties, slowly do what works for you and get back to your normal.
Start slow. Do one thing at a time. Focus on just the laundry or just the kitchen one afternoon, then ignore the rest and play with the kids or take a walk. The next day tackle the bathroom or all the trash in the house.
Just take it slow, there is no rush to the healing process.
The grieving process is a slow one, it's a weird one really. Moments can hit you as hard that a week ago weren't hard. Or you could be going along just fine and then bam, you're crying. It's all OK. Just know that. Ask for help when you need it, go to bed early, and do whatever it is that makes you feel OK.
Just like pregnancy and labor and those sleepless nights with an infant, you CAN get through this, too.