Raising Elves

As wild as nature. Myself, parenting and natural remedies blog.


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Trauma, depression and children.

Thinking back, in conversation with others, about the phases my eldest has gone through, has spurred on a serious whirlwind style re-cap of the last five years since I became a mother.

At first, I was seeing it all in a self-centred way. Phrasing it like I was a victim (although sometimes it did feel that way, I fully admit it was/is a self absorbed, immature kind of way). How I labelled her third year the traumatising threes. Then I’d go on and think about how I did not even have those fantastic fours which was the pep talk to get me through those threes.

You’d swear she was a tyrant. Which she wasn’t. She was normal.

These days, I see snippets of who she is becoming and she is just so wholly beautiful my heart swells. She is nearly 5.5 now. Still whinge-y and wild but I’m so proud of her. She has come a long way, through social anxiety, intense shyness and of course, this tiny little person has lived through her mothers depression. A trauma of its own.

And it is this sudden realisation where I stop in my tracks. A big dead heavy STOP and my breath sucks in deep and I hold it for a long moment; only for it to slowly stutter out of my lungs as if there were clumps of earth in my trachea. The kitchen tears away from my psyche and suddenly I’m standing out on a dirt road in a bland desert. The twisted crunch of dry hard stones under my boots has a grating echo vibrating through my body. The air is hot and dry, suffocating. There is no wind. No sound. No leaves rustling. An empty void giving me the space for this realisation to take hold.

 

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She is here five years and I was severely depressed for the first 2 years of her life and then (milder, thankfully) again after I had her sister.

There I was. So deeply stuck in my own crippling, heavy, world of depression that I never even took stock to measure how this little one was suffering too. I was so focused on my own surviving that I disassociated from hers.

Imagine coming into this world to a mother who fights daily, those thoughts that are trying to take her out of it.

I only heard it there recently, for the first time, a new narrator in my head.

It said ‘I want to be alive’.

What a smack that was. To hear, for the first time in… as long as I can remember, a new inner voice. One that actually wants to be alive.

That is intense, I know. In recent months I’ve been working to find the root of this and it seems to all fall back on the car accident I was in when I was ten. I had what some might call a near death experience. Or, well, a death experience. I just remember being sucked back into my mind and waking up, instantly alert, to give people my home phone number.

A fearful memory that subsequently has led me to teach my eldest my phone number, back when she was just aged three.

It’s since then that I’ve had this overriding feeling. Was it fear? Is that what suffocated my will to live? By live I mean to live, not just be alive. I’ve mastered staying alive through depression. I have never shared this aspect of depression with you before. That way of thinking lives on the shameful side of the depressive spectrum.

Really though, what I really came back with, was premature self consciousness. Self consciousness and an immature mind do not live well together; and I think that is what they mean when they say, ‘let kids be kids’. Leave them in their ignorance, for that is peace. I lost that peace, violently, when I was ten.

There are worse traumas; war, abuse, grief. So in one way I struck it lucky. On the other side of that coin, though, it was left for a long time because it was easy to dismiss once the physical healing took place. I never looked at it as a trauma. It was just something that happened. Once my physical body recovered and I started, as a coping mechanism, living as if a chameleon, it was easy to forget the psychological, emotional and spiritual trauma of the experience. It didn’t help that I never verbalised it. How could I? I came back into my body in survival mode. I didn’t trust life. I didn’t trust myself. I had lost faith. Everyone around me was clueless because my coping method is silence. Pretend everything is under control. Blend in.

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The voice that says “I want to be alive” does not mean that I have been saying that I want to die all this time (although there have been times, during my darkest hours). I’ve just never wanted to live. It was like, staying alive was a battle enough, a burden. To actually LIVE always seemed out of reach and much of my living has revolved around the quest to be healed.

Finding the originating factor of the depression has been a blessing. I’ve been able to see that before that time, the accident, my hazy memories are happy, content and easy going. That who I was before the accident was a settled, secure child; well protected, loved and supported.

It is easy to blend in through childhood and adolescence because you’re busy. You’re busy being directed into adulthood by guiding hands. It is only when you become an adult that the shit hits the fan because, well, you are alone. No matter how much support you have, you are alone when navigating your inner world. Until then, you’ve been told what to think, what to feel or, more aptly, what not to feel; and what to be.

So there I was, lost in my inner world while this little one went on about her traumatising threes, ferocious fours and so on. Being born onto a depressive is a trauma. It is not war, or abuse or grief. Although, maybe grief lives there at times, especially in more severe lifelong cases.

They have a right to be angry, or insecure. Or both. It’s a good thing. When they stand up and fight. When they moan, scream and whine. It means they’re safe. They know they are loved. Coming from my perspective, it is the silence that is worrisome. Silence comes from fear.

 It is a natural process, those terrible twos, threes, fours, fives and beyond.

There is a whole person evolving inside this tiny being, trauma or not.

It is precious.

I am truly grateful for the honour to bear witness to it,

and to live for it too.

 

 


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On starting school

It’s like all the colours on the page.

Splat.

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You can’t see the wood from the trees.

You know that somewhere in there lives joy and excitement.

As much as there is fear and grief floating -homeless- through the air.

A little bit of terror.

But it’s just all the colours on the page.

Splat.

Not an ounce of coordination or cooperation.

Just splat.

All the feelings.

Splat.

Stomach swollen. Throat swollen. Ribs sore.

Tears falling.

Wet paint.

Mulchy.

Cloudy.

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Colour gone. Grey-brown murky splots of splat.

And that is the state of the page, now.

For now.

And then things will calm down.

And we’ll throw that page out and start again.

One colour at a time.

 

 


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Unsupervision, and a reason to look at your phone while your children are playing.

We arrived at the empty skate park at 9.30am.

The two year old achieves a new ‘first’ by climbing up the mound herself, scaling the fence on the (relatively) steep hill and succeeds in reaching the top of the high ramp and sliding down it with her sister. They get straight into a game of save me while I fall off the ramp complemented with a monster chasing child off of ramp finale.

I don’t cheer her or give her a gold medal and I don’t sit there with my stomach in my throat. Risky play is normal for us these days. Risky play is a decision I made a while ago when I decided to stop being so anxious and worried. I am going to enable my girls to take risks, trust their instincts, their bodies, their boundaries while building their strength and agility.

They do it well and of course we have bruises here and there. I also accept that sometimes serious incidents happen but I don’t believe hovering over them will prevent that.

Sometimes I’ll hover. Like when my squinchy two year old is walking across slim bars that stretches her legs and arms to the max.

I make a conscious effort to butt out unless I otherwise think or feel so.

I discern.

I know what my children are capable of and I expect that most parents and caregivers do too. Although I do recognise that everyone’s gut instinct may not hold the same strength, therefore I understand that some may not easily access the part of themselves that allows them a deeper sense of discernment. So, I don’t judge hovering parents. Whatever their reason, it’s none of my business.

Baring in mind that I have an extremely strong gut instinct, today, when I was comfortable that my two and five year old were body confident in their risky game, I switched on my phone and thoroughly enjoyed indulging in a very interesting article on one of my favourite topics.

When I finished the third article (because one always leads to another) I said to myself, now, that’s enough and I switched my phone off and put it away. To my surprise I found a man hovering around about 10 feet away from the mound that my girls were playing on. I had noticed him arriving a while before and bringing his own children into the playground.

Despite the fact that he had three children of his own, he left them in the playground to go hover around my kids and give me a body language lecture on what seemed some kind of criticism.

We made eye contact. He seemed surprised that I didn’t hang my head in shame, so I speculate. He turned around and shook his head at me while he walked off.

I laughed inside at two things, the fact that he didn’t have the guts to look me in the eye while he was shaking his head at me and the hypocrisy of this caregiver leaving his own children to climb around a playground unsupervised just to come and pointlessly stare at my two climbing from ten feet away. I don’t know, maybe he can jump ten feet in 0.5 seconds so that if one of my children had fallen he could have saved them. You never know.

Or, he left his own children unsupervised to stare at my children on my behalf so that I could read my articles. How kind.

Or, he is so pleased with his own parenting that when he sees another parent not parenting the way he thinks they should parent he likes to leave his own children unsupervised just so he can go over and shake his head at said failure of a parent.

Did I mention that he left his own children unsupervised so that he could come and supervise my children for me?

So, if there is one single (ok, satirical) reason to look at your phone in a playground it is this:

You might give another person the chance to feel so smug and wonderful about themselves. Although the smugness is a false sense of security, do you know what? A false sense of security is a good start. Fake it till you make it, as they say, and I’m a giver, I can’t help it. I bestoweth upon thee smugness. They can stand there looking at you, or glaring at you to the point that they can no longer see their own children. If they can’t see their own children, for just one moment, you are giving their children the opportunity to play unsupervised. To explore. To take risks. See how much you are giving to the world? Future leaders. Children with self confidence, intuition, self reliance, agility, freedom.

And that is not the only smugness going around. Look at me now, writing this. Smug as fuck because I don’t have a stick up my ass and my hardy kids have knees full of bruises. I read my out of date articles while I trust them to be kids and have fun and connect with their bodies and boundaries. And of all the things I get wrong I get this one thing right (and I get a lot wrong), so do you know what? Thank you.

Thank you, hovering man with what I think is a weird set of priorities. At a period in my parenting timeline when I have heard myself say ‘I am a shit mother’ more times than I can count, you have given me this one moment where I am confident enough to be happy with the decision I made that one time I consciously took my phone out to read articles while my young but capable children engaged in risky play involving uneven ground that contributes to their development in the most incredible of ways far beyond what any flat surfaced playground can offer¹. Thank you, over concerned citizen, for giving me the opportunity to support myself in reading something that made my brain feel temporarily alive whilst reminding myself that the dates on these articles are from 2015 and January 2016 and that is how many months I am behind in world news because I don’t spend enough time reading articles because I am busy committing myself to “conscious parenting” and general survival.

Read your articles. Close your eyes for ten seconds and breath in. Daydream. Meditate. Chat. Chill out. Read the magazine or stare at your shoes. Its ok to give your kids a little but of well discerned unsupervision sometimes. Its also ok to give other parents some well deserved unsupervison too.

Trust your instincts. Trust their instincts. Discern what you can entrust in them. Trust their abilities, do not judge them on the size of their bodies, their gender or their age.

They can do this, if you let them.

¹Preschool children who play among trees and rocks and who move over uneven ground develop stronger skills  in motor coordination, balance and agility than those who play on conventional playgrounds. (Fjørtoft.I(2004) Landscape as playscape: The effects of natural environments on children’s play and motor development. Children,Youth and Environments, 14(2),21-44.

 


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Today, my child replaced me.

Today, whilst driving home on yet another wonderful grey rainy day here in Ireland, my darling Elf told me she would like her teacher to be her Mam.

Cue silence whilst Mother staples her eyes to the road so her child cannot see her heart bleeding out of her nostrils.

I have survived. And here is the tale.

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No 1: Hold it together

 

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No 2: Suppress instant defensive anger mode (she is just a child)

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No 3: Give yourself time before you answer

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No 4: Suppress inner clingy insecure person

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No 5: Try to find a way to express your hurt without too much drama

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No 6: Hmmm, maybe I should’ve processed it a little longer

 


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It’s the small things that hold me together

The latest offering by Netflix (coming in March), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, really got me thinking.

The character, Kimmy, arrives in NYC after being locked up in a cult’s post-apocalyptic bunker for fifteen years and my guess is that we will watch her naively breaking through cynical 21st Century contemporary society and (maybe) helping us see life in a simpler way through childish eyes.

I’ve been whingeing for a while now that we haven’t had any daycent comedies in ages and this seems to be exactly what I’ve been hoping for.

There is a line in the trailer (link here) that grabs me:

“You can either curl up in a ball and die or you can stand up and say we’re different and you can’t break us”

It makes me think of my own life right now as a parent and how challenging it is in so many ways. The exhaustion, the lack of space or silence, the dilly-dallying, the food waste, the illnesses, the whingeing, the tantrums, the medical bills, the losing of oneself. Merciful’our, the list could go on!

And on.

And on.

(Insert photo of shattered mother here).

Yet there is so much more to it than that. Moments that I can miss if my mind is not in the right place.

The magic, the beauty, the love. The innocence, creativity and music. Playfulness, drama, mess. Chaos, go-with-the-flow, the hunger.

The hunger for food and love, for life and fresh air. Hunger for learning and company. Hunger for acceptance, approval. Peckish for fun. Starving for comfort in this challenging human condition.

As a parent it feels like all I do is feed feed feed but if I just alter my angle slightly I realise that if I could just learn to receive from my child I would be full to the brim of positivity, drive and excitement for life.

I do not give them the magic, they give it to me.

So today I started anew.

I am counting my blessings. Those ‘unbreakable moments’ that help me get through the crazy fabulous experience that is parenting.

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I started by putting out an intention. I lit a candle with Elf and put it out there that today I will be patient and positive. This small gesture is one of my biggest coping mechanisms and I approach it from a whole mind-body-spirit connection. By lighting a candle I am taken my visions, wishes and thoughts out of my being and making them tangible through the symbolism of a candle flame.

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I’m fed up wasting my children’s early years on tiredness, grumpiness and desires to run away go off on my own for a couple of days. OK that fantasy still exists but I’ll at least quieten it until the kiddos go to bed, ok?

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If you would like to follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter you will see all these moments that hold me together which I will be continuing to share.

Tell me, what holds you together?

BTW: I am part of the Netflix Streamteam and today’s post has been inspired by Netflix correspondence and I am hoping to win a trip to the London premiere of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. All my thoughts and inspirations are genuine and the words are all mine, though.


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Children learn what they live by Dorothy Law Nolte

I love this piece. I keep it on my windowsill to remind me.

It reminds me of many things but mostly it reminds me that I am the adult in the relationship and have a responsibility. It’s hard. It’s hard controlling my own emotions and behaviour. It’s hard biting my tongue and forcing myself to be energetic and awake when I am actually just shattered. It’s hard to let go of the guilt for everytime I fail at the above. Despite all this, I believe trying is good enough. We are not perfect but can certainly try to improve ourselves and I will teach my children this.

A view from my kitchen sink

            A view from my kitchen sink

Children Learn What They Live
By Dorothy Law Nolte


If children live with criticism,
They learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility,
They learn to fight.
If children live with ridicule,
They learn to be shy.
If children live with shame,
They learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement,
They learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance,
They learn to be patient.
If children live with praise,
They learn to appreciate.
If children live with acceptance,
They learn to love.
If children live with approval,
They learn to like themselves.
If children live with honesty,
They learn truthfulness.
If children live with security,
They learn to have faith in themselves and others.
If children live with friendliness,
They learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Copyright © 1972/1975 by Dorothy Law Nolte

Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.
This is the author-approved short version.


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Extreme parenting: Evidence based practises

I’m a research fiend and I’m all for evidence being taken into consideration when making decisions.

To a degree.

I must admit, the title to this post is a little provocative but I’ve had some thoughts lately based on some responses about parenting and breastfeeding queries on online forums that I am on.

Of course it’s in the minority where sometimes the loudest voices are found. Zealous about informing you, as if you haven’t read it all yourself.

You get this in every walk of life but in regards to parenting the theme I find most common is ‘evidence says this’.

The thing about evidence in this topic is that the complexity of human physiology and psychology is not an exact science.

So although some evidence based results would recommend following a certain approach, it is not the be all and end all. It is not the only way. It is OK to try something else if your baby does not respond to an evidence based approach. (It goes without saying that I am obviously excluding abuse here but I’ll say it anyway.)

I think if we get all wrapped up in expert opinion we lose our intuition and in my opinion, intuition, or instinct if you prefer, is incredibly important in parenting.

Don’t get me wrong, research is important too. To an extent it’s good to have a few parenting experts out there, although maybe the industry needs to be regulated. Our civilisation has come a long way with expert opinion (think corporal punishment as one example).

One thing I find hardest is to watch parents ask questions about a decision they have come to and have people throw links at them telling them about how wrong their decision is.

It is all from a good intention, of course but not always appropriate or empathic.

Do you know how hard it is to put yourself out there as a parent? To come out and say that despite evidence you are doing something differently?

It’s hard.

In my limited experience, it seems most other folks are doing something similar- just trying to do a good job of it. Some of the best parents I know never even read one book.

It is the extreme voices that seem to quote ‘evidence’ as scripture and although they are actually quite rare, I find that online their tone of voice can be quite severe when getting a point across. This can be very isolating to a parent who is looking for help.

I think a more balanced approach would be helpful and if a person asks a question, try answer the question. If you can’t answer the question or disagree with the topic then don’t respond unless the person is asking for opinions.

Respect the intelligence of other parents. Most likely they know what the evidence says but are trying something different because evidence doesn’t work for them.

Parents already hassle themselves enough, they don’t need anybody else to do it for them. They need support.

Let’s respect the diversity of parenting.