You (& your child) get to decide how and when to share your child’s diagnosis and details related to their functioning with people even when they ask. Being curious doesn’t entitle someone to an answer. It can be helpful to have a planned response for such times, such as: “ Thanks for being concerned/interested in (child’s name). We choose not to discuss that with you right now.”
1. Have an “elevator pitch answer” ready to go.
Sometimes people will ask about your child’s difference and you may want a quick way to explain it. Think of this like the elevator pitch that salespeople learn. They have a speech where they can pitch their product in the time it takes the elevator to get them to their floor. I have Cerebral Palsy and my elevator speech to a curious adult is, “Thanks for asking. My diagnosis is Cerebral Palsy. It is a neurological problem caused by premature birth and it affects my balance and the tightness of the muscles in my legs.” I also explain this to kids a lot, in the playroom at work and in public places like the grocery store. I usually say something like this, “ You’re really paying attention! You noticed that I walk differently from other people. I have Cerebral Palsy, that means that my brain which is like a big computer has a little difference. Instead of telling my muscles to work like most people’s do, my brain tells my muscles to be tight all the time and my body is always a little off balance.”
2. Look to your child to see how much is appropriate to share.
If your child is able, discuss with them how and when they want to discuss their difference with friends, classmates, etc. If they are unable to communicate verbally, pay attention to the ways they do communicate with you to gauge their awareness and level of comfort with these conversations and adjust accordingly.
3. Sometimes it’s helpful to officially share about your child’s differences
For some families, it feels most helpful to have the child address their class at the beginning of the school year and explain their difference so that they can have some more control over how their difference is understood.
4. This isn’t the end all be all, you can adjust the way you communicate at each developmental stage.
These conversations will need to be tweaked over time as your child grows both developmentally and socially. Sometimes different people or situations will require different conversations. Be willing to shape and change your explanations, as it feels right to you, your child and your family. Trust yourself and your child when navigating these situations. Also, be patient with yourself and your child. These conversations may bring up difficult feelings or painful interactions.
5. Remember to prioritize self-care!
Having conversations where you or your kid explain their difference can be difficult but even when they are good conversations they can still leave you feeling depleted. Self-care is important. This could be journaling, going for a run or making time to talk to trusted friends. Your child also needs self-care during this time. It can be time alone doing a favorite activity or engaging with family or friends to play or talk through their feelings.
One of my favorite and most recommended “homework” assignments for clients who recently had a baby is self-care. This is simply taking time to do something that is restorative for yourself. It’s a time for you to listen to that inner voice that makes you, you. This helps you remember yourself in a season of life where you and your needs seem to be pushed to the bottom of the list. Note: to learn more about the particulars of postpartum depression read this post about it.
Sacrificial Love Does Not Equal Sacrificing Self
The line between sacrificial love and losing ourselves is a narrow divide. New mothers fall in love with their little bundles of joy! Their mothering instincts kick in and they snuggle, protect, and attach to their babies. It’s a roller coaster ride. When I was a new mom I found that just about every part of my body was taken over by the needs of my little one. Every minute of my day was altered, crunched, and squeezed for every last drop of energy and nurturing I could muster. Our babies get their physical and emotional needs met from us almost exclusively- depending on how much support we get from our significant others.
Can we all be honest and say, motherhood is not what we see on instagram or in magazines?
With their nowhere-in-sight baby gear and gorgeous white sofas? And there is a faulty assumption in our culture that as soon as we have children we will no longer have needs and we’re totally fine with it! And when we are faced with the choice of ours or our child’s needs, we will probably choose our child’s needs.
The biggest hurdle on the journey toward self care is quieting that voice inside that says “selfish.” When we fly on an airplane we are all told to put our oxygen masks on first before our children! We have to fill ourselves up so we have something to give. As we care for ourselves we cultivate our inner identity, energy, confidence, and passion. When we listen to our needs we refill what has been drained from us in caring for others. In doing this we model for our families what a fulfilling life looks like, and we also show them that they are separate, but securely attached individuals. Maybe as we refill ourselves it gives us some energy back give to our significant others. This also models for our children healthy relationships and creates a safe and secure environment for our families.
4 tips for self care:
Stop ignoring your needs and start ignoring the “selfish” voice. Advocate for your needs.
Make a plan and schedule it
Don’t apologize for it and ignore the guilt!
Incorporate your support system.
Post Partum depression (PPD) happens either during pregnancy (called peripartum) or in the months after having a baby. PPD can look like a general dark or down feeling. It can feel like you are under water and can’t come out of it. Some common symptoms:
- You might have trouble sleeping or sleep too much, or
- might not eat or eat more than usual.
- You might not feel like doing anything and yet feel trapped at home.
- It’s a hopeless feeling.
- Sometimes mothers have anger or rage rise up unexpectedly- where they want to scream or run away from their situation.
It’s a roller coaster ride. Some mothers are nervous to share what thoughts they have had. I am here to tell you, I won’t judge you. I have personal experience with postpartum depression and I have had those dark moments. Seeking help when you have postpartum depression is a process of stepping out of the shame and guilt and choosing to trust someone else- which can be scary, I know.
Each person has a unique set of symptoms. As a therapist, I have seen mothers come out of these symptoms and find tools that they can carry with them in their lives. The next time they experience depression they have new tools and ways of thinking that bring them hope. I like to approach postpartum depression from all sides. I use therapy to talk through those thought patterns and emotions but we also talk about advocating for your needs, changing your lifestyle, helping you communicate with your partner and support system, and we try to add in new activities that can get you out of that rut. If needed, we can talk about getting evaluated for medication as well.
When a person is depressed it is like their brain is stuck in a chemical rut. The longer their brain is in that state the more difficult it is to recover. There are internal and external causes for post partum depression. According to an article from Harvard Medical School*, these can include, “faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems.”
In the months following having a baby there are so many overlapping factors that create a perfect storm. If you identify with these symptoms please reach out to me at email@example.com or 469-203-1533.
Morgan Myers, LPC-intern
Supervised by Jessica Taylor, LPC-S
Morgan is a therapist at East Dallas Psychotherapy specializing in mothers with young kids overwhelmed by life, figuring out relationships, and dealing with depression and anxiety. For more about her click here.
As a counselor working with kids one of the most important parts of my job is being present with my clients. My mind is swirling with to do lists, my expectations of myself and the client, my hunger, my body language, even my language! I continually push it aside over and over so that I can show my clients: I’m here, I see you, I’m with you.
This was never more apparent than when I had to film a play session with my first born. She is 4 years old. She commands a lot of attention. She is constantly saying, mommy? Proclaiming: Mommy! Yelling: MOMMY! SCREAMING: MOMMY! And I snap back to attention. I am constantly fixated on the future- anticipating dinner, cleaning house, planning, worrying, dreaming, self-helping myself mentally. Meanwhile, my 4 year old is eternally in the present, as is my 5 month old whose immediate physical needs are basically all she knows.
After that play session with my daughter, I have started to think about how we all actually live only in the present moment, we create, feel and experience everything in this moment. Our relationships are built in the present- the current second, minute, hour, and day we spend with our children. In the present is where we all relate to each other. Each moment we spend fixated with the past or future is a moment we are not “with” others.
So, as a quick and simple parenting strategy- try to be aware of where you are mentally. Are you in the room? Are you wishing or hoping or worrying about something else? Turn your attention to the little one (or medium or big one) in front of you and engage. You’ll find the present is full of surprises. There are moments to connect and deepen your relationship with that child that you might miss otherwise. Sometimes you are wrestling with your child’s flaws, they might be throwing a tantrum or complaining. Sometimes your attention sparks a conversation, a hug, or allows them to process an idea. It’s not always heavenly, but your kids will notice even if they don’t let on that they notice.
5 tips for Being Present
- Get on eye level with the child.
- Put phone on silent- Phones are time machines that take you everywhere BUT the present
- Be with the emotion they are feeling. Let them express how they feel without questions or a lesson. (Read How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk for more on this!)
- Practice mindfulness- Bring your awareness to your body and your breathing. Take a deep breath in 5 seconds. Hold 5 seconds, Out 10 seconds. Click here for free audio guides or open spotify
- Take care of yourself first. Just like the flight attendant says, put your oxygen mask first, we have to take care of ourselves so that we have something to draw from. That means meeting your present needs so that you can meet their present needs.
Morgan Myers is an LPC-intern at Hope Child & Family Center of Texas. Morgan Myers got her Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health from Texas A&M-Commerce. She has received training in adolescent counseling, play therapy, sandtray and group therapy. She has worked with a wide range of people including the homeless, young adults in a community college, and adolescents. She has worked with moms dealing with postpartum depression and she is passionate about helping people find hope through self discovery and healing. She provides a safe and accepting environment for all her clients.