Leaning on Connection through Isolation
Tantrums. Clinginess. Extra tears. Extra breakdowns. A constant need to be held. Yep, that’s me. Oh, and I suppose my kids have been having some challenges too.
These last several weeks have brought abrupt and unexpected change. There wasn’t time to prepare. There wasn’t time to wrap our heads around what was happening. There were no goodbye hugs from teachers and classmates, no farewell dinners with neighbors. I spent the first weeks of this safe-at-home period simply trying to filter through all the mixed messages and confusion. With that came frustration, fear, and exhaustion. There are many days still when it seems like we are being asked to do something impossible. Days when I wonder to myself, how can I feel so tired from staying home all day?
Then there are days when I think I’m equipped. I got this. I have tools in my toolbox. I am an educator with a concentration in early childhood – the life stage my own children happen to occupy at the moment. On those good days, when I step back and reflect, I realize that my biggest tool through all of this is connection. Interpersonal connection is how we rewire, how we regulate. I lean on these deepening connections with my family to teach me that patience is abundant. I’m learning that when I feel totally tapped out and touched out, I can in fact dig a little deeper.
I have learned that finding self-discipline isn’t all about me; it’s about them too. Putting my phone away, avoiding the news, and staying close to home have all been challenging for me over these past several weeks. When I really stop and look at the alternative though, I know if I can keep this magical connection to my loved ones at the center of it all, we will be okay. I am showing them that I am there for them. I can do hard things for myself and for them.
Don’t be fooled by my early childhood background and commitment to connection, I don’t spend all day playing army guys, creating finger paintings, and reading an endless pile of stories. I can’t. I’m still an adult with roles to fulfill other than mother. Bringing the concept of connection into the spotlight of our family life has meant that when I am playing on the floor or getting lost in a pile of books, I am doing it in an intentional and conscious way. And when I am not engaged fully with my boys, I am staying present by finding new hobbies and reengaging with lost hobbies. For example, I am writing in my journal while my boys take a bath rather than being sucked up into my phone. Those two activities may not seem that different to the outside eye, but I know for sure it feels differently to my children and to me. By staying present more often, I am able to slip in and out of listening to them play. I hear that their boats have become iPads and instead of brothers in the bath, they become cousins connecting by FaceTime. In other moments, I am sneaking in micro-sessions of self-care by trying things like playing hide-and-seek so I can hide behind the couch for a moment and breathe deep breaths.
I also lean a lot more on television without allowing guilt to creep up in order to help buy me some time to catch my breath, veg on my phone, or sneak in a little work time. Dropping the guilt and choosing programs wisely have been my keys to success there.
When I have a hard time finding patience or energy, when I’m nasty to everyone around me and I can’t explain why, when my fuse is so short that I snap at something otherwise pedestrian on a normal Wednesday, I pause and remember there are mothers in our country right now who won’t ever get a chance to hug their babies again, let alone kiss them goodbye. I can do hard things.
So when my children can’t fall asleep at night, we talk through the events of the day. I do so without digging for anything specific or attempting to place emotions on events, we simply recall the events of the day. I find it’s like taking Savasana at the end of a yoga session. My children’s rapidly-developing brains need to process and absorb each day, as does mine with the rawness of the reality in the world right now. My children are young, only 3 and 5, and my husband and I don’t expose them to the news or focus on the novel coronavirus and all that it brings, yet they are keenly aware that the world is very, very different right now. They feel the fragility of society as we know it. They know there is some sort of scary sickness that nobody can see but yet is serious enough to keep us isolated from our community, from our friends, neighbors, classmates, and loved ones.
I have had plenty, like a ton, of moments that I’m not proud of. Moments where I snap out of nowhere, where I say things I don’t mean at all, where I act like a monkey toddler with zero ability to self-regulate. I am finding new ways for myself to create a little space, walk away, breathe, or reset. I am counting on my husband and children to hear me out when I come back and apologize. I am counting on them to offer me grace, knowing that I will extend the same grace to them when it’s their turn for a breakdown. I don’t want my loved ones to ever think I’m expecting perfect from them, so I am sure to acknowledge my own imperfections. I don’t have to get it right, but I do have to keep trying.
When words are failing us, we are grateful for the non-verbal ways we can communicate. There are extra hugs and cuddles more than ever before in our house. The snuggles don’t always come at opportune moments. Workflow is interrupted; productivity comes in chopped up segments some days. Sometimes it means offering a hug while simultaneously sending that report that needs to be out at a certain time.
The requests for a hug sometimes come in the form of a defiant or aggressive outburst, another form of non-verbal communication. Rather than smiling fondly as a sweet baby boy with doe eyes toddling up for a hug, sometimes I wonder if I really do have Damian incarnate for a son. Those moments are tough and require a lot. I am aiming to model potential language for my children. I am aiming to be an example of self-regulation via proper self-care. I don’t always hit the mark, but then, who does?
As much as I am striving to offer my children a time of wonder, an age of family fun, and an era of magical childhood, I know that my children are also seeing real life. They are seeing an authentic mother who is willing to be vulnerable and less than perfect. They are learning that they too can be vulnerable and less than perfect.
In these times of distance, I am committing to distance myself from the mom guilt and shame spiral. I know I’m the best mother to my kids. I don’t want to be a perfect mother. I want to be a human being willing to grow and reprogram myself to the ever-changing world. I am learning alongside my family and offering myself as much grace as I need through the process. I am finding the connection in isolation.