It’s a thing: Fear fantasies with babies

(I just released a New MoxieTopic: Teaching Your Child To Respect Boundaries (Theirs and Yours).)

Yesterday in the Ask Moxie private FB group I asked about common health problems we have in the year after having a baby, and one of the things that came up was those almost unstoppable fear scenarios that we have about our babies. Sharon Silver called them “fear fantasies,” and I think that’s exactly what they are. Women in the group were shocked to know that this was an actual thing, because they thought it had just been them having these bizarre and scary persistent thoughts and no one else had.

A fear fantasy (as I experienced them and as other have described them) is one constant, specific fear of something happening to our child that we can’t will away or stop having just by force of will. (With my older child my fear fantasy was that a car would jump the curb and hit him in the stroller. With my younger child my fear fantasy was that somehow my older child would accidentally step on him and paralyze him. Others have described fear fantasies of accidentally drowning their child, that the child would be kidnapped, or other variations on harm coming to the child.)

They seem hormonally-based to me. Mine came on at a few weeks after birth with both of my kids and lasted for around six weeks. Others have fear fantasies at certain points in their menstrual cycles. Some women experience them for longer periods, and some for shorter periods.

I decided to ride mine out, because they were temporary (and the second time I knew that they would go away once my hormones evened out). If you are having them to the extent that they’re inhibiting your parenting, making you even more scared, or don’t stop, tell someone. There’s nothing wrong with you. They’re just another one of those hormonally-based mood things (like depression, anxiety, etc.) that can be treated by evening out your hormones by any of a number of methods. Having a fear is NOT having the urge to do something, so you have a little time to figure out treatment. (If you do have the urge to cause harm to your baby or yourself, this is a different illness called postpartum psychosis and it can be treated but you need to tell someone NOW so you can get treatment before anyone is hurt.)

Who has had a fear fantasy? How long did it last? Did you do anything about it or just ride it out?  If anyone’s experienced fear fantasies and some other hormone-based mood disorder (like PPD, anxiety, postpartum psychosis), how did they differ?

My new necklace!

I just wanted to show you my new necklace from Kristina at VianneFere on Etsy:

As part of the 2014 Amazing Year workbook we choose a word for the year. I chose one for my personal life (love) and one for my work life (build). So I got a round pendant with “build” on one side and “love” on the other. Then I got two small heart pendants, each with one of my children’s initials, and then the word of the year for all of us here (nourish) on a little tag. So it’s my whole focus for the year all on one necklace.

I love it!

Listening For Your Own Answers

By now you’ve probably read Glennon Melton’s excellent “Save Your Relationships: Ask The Right Questions” post. If you haven’t, she talks about how we ask people how they’re doing, but these questions are so formulaic that they don’t allow us to connect to the real person we’re asking. To really show people that you care about them, you need to ask them questions that are specific to them, that allow them to share their experience with you, and not feel like they don’t fit into the space you’ve allowed for them in your life.

As I was reading the post I kept nodding my head and thinking, “Yes!” because this is what we’ve been doing here at AskMoxie for eight years now: parenting the kids you have. Most of us are here because of our “You are the best parent for your child” philosophy, that reminds us that we need to pay attention and listen and watch and learn about who our specific little human is, from the moment we meet that child, so that we can parent that specific child they way they need to be parented.

Parenting is a really loooooooong conversation with your child. Years and years and years, if we’re lucky. And part of that means that any one episode of screwing up isn’t going to make or break the relationship. But part of that means that we also need to have this conversation–including asking specific questions–with the kid we actually have instead of the ideal child.

No one has the ideal child. But you have someone way better–your own kid. And that’s really really comforting, because it’s hard to dig deep with the ideal, because the ideal is all surface. With a real person with their own quirks and problems, you can ask all those specific questions, give specific care, have the specific arguments, and have friction over specific things. All those specifics weave you together in a way that generalizations do not, and make you stronger and closer as a family.

But part of this, also, is about being who you are, not some generic ideal. YOU are the best parent for your child. YOU. Not some automaton who follows the scripts of the parenting manuals verbatim. Not a Stepford mom who never doubts or questions or worries or digs deeper or follows her instincts. Not a shiny bright robot who does everything correctly all the time. YOU. Even when you don’t think you’re enough.

When my second son was born, I spent the first year and a half of his life thinking I was the wrong mother for him. My first son had been so easy to read, and it was almost effortless for me to give him what he needed. This second child, though, seemed angry all the time, and I couldn’t soothe him. I knew that I was supposed to be keeping him calm and happy, and I’d been able to do that with my first, but this second child just didn’t respond to all my attempts at soothing. And then the therapist I was seeing because I was getting divorced said to me, “Maybe he just wants to be angry. And maybe you might feel better if you let yourself be angry, too.” So I let us both be angry, and it was exactly what he needed. He and I were really really angry–together–until we were done being angry, and then we were really tight.

I’m sure that some of you are getting tired of hearing me say “You had everything you needed in you the whole time.” But you do. You have everything you need for your whole life, including being the best parent ever for your own unique children, inside you right now. Don’t be afraid to tap into your own feelings, negative and positive. Don’t deny yourself your own dreams and desires and preferences. Prioritize yourself and your feelings so you can really bring everything you have to your family.

You are important, bad and good and messy and neat. You are the touchstone for your child, even when you’re cranky or feeling drained. Everything about you has value. You are good and right and true, exactly as you are. Be yourself.

 

This is probably a good time to mention that starting this Friday, the free Ask Moxie email–sign up in the box in the right-hand column if you’re not already getting it–is going to draw you through the process I use when I work with private clients (and weave into most of my workshops) that helps you clarify your priorities as a person to define your core values as a parent. I LOVE this process and I hope you do, too. Sign up if you’re not already getting the email.

 

 

 

 

Gah

I left off on Monday with the call-in (which was fun) and the Boundaries MoxieTopic about to go out. Which I was working on, and then got crunched, and then got on a plane for a jam-packed three-day work trip which I’m now jetlagged from and cranky, and I’m still not done with the MoxieTopic.

The irony of having a piece on boundaries delayed because of a work trip is not lost on me.

I’m here and working, though, so it’s all coming.

What’s happening with you? How’s round two of the polar vortex treating you?

I’ll be on “The Moms with Denise and Melissa” at 11:40 am EST on Monday

I’ll be on “The Moms with Denise and Melissa” on Sirius XM radio Stars 106 this morning at 11:40 EST, talking about whether single parents should go out and do stuff with their kids alone, or if they need another adult with them in case of emergency.

Later today look out for the MoxieTopic on teaching healthy boundaries to your kids. (If you’re an All MoxieTopics Subscriber it’ll automatically come to you.)

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

On Butting In Because You Know Best

A few days ago, a friend of mine was attacked on Twitter just for doing her job. This friend is a former professor who runs programs to help women in academia with organization, navigating the system, university politics, and other academia-related issues. (Full disclosure: She and I have worked together in the past.) Her programs are sometimes geared toward women, but some are open to men, too.

She posted about one of her teleseminars that’s open to the public, and was attacked out of the blue by someone asking if she had a “real job.” It turns out that this anonymous attacker is a male academic at a well-respected private university in the South, and he became enraged enough to compose a tweet to my friend, with whom he’d never had contact, because the office of professional enrichment at his university had had the audacity to invite him to a free teleseminar about controlling facial emotions.

Men reading this may not get what facial emotions have to do with anything, but women reading this have probably had an experience with being told they didn’t have the correct facial expression pasted on at the time. Whether it’s some strange man commanding that you “smile, gorgeous” on the subway, or being told in a performance review at work that you’re either “too happy” or “need to lighten up,” many women have been told they’re not living up to someone else’s standards because they’re not making the correct facial expression. My friend was doing a teleseminar about how to work around that. And then was attacked by someone who’d heard about her seminar and decided it offended him somehow.

I’ve been thinking about that, about why there are some men who feel such a strong urge to assert their own opinion that they’ll demand a woman’s attention to tell her that she’s wrong. I have no doubt that the anonymous academic from the south had no idea that facial expressions are a thing that women deal with. But he didn’t think, “Hey, I have no interest in this. Let me continue tweeting about food and go on with my life.” He thought, “I don’t get this. Let me insult a strange woman because I don’t understand what this is about and she needs to know that I don’t like it.”

It feels to me simply like another form of mansplaining, in which a (usually white straight cis) man explains to a woman in great pedantic detail something she already knows, or attempts to deflect the conversation from a real issue women face to make it about him instead. In this case, though, the Twitter user didn’t bother to explain to my friend why she is wrong for doing her job. Maybe we should be grateful for brevity.

It’s peculiar to me, because this harassment isn’t the violent, cursing, threatening harassment Amanda Hess and Amanda Marcotte have written about recently. My friend’s anonymous troll and the mansplainers aren’t threatening women, they’re simply asserting that women are wrong and they’re right. Which makes it much more slippery and much more difficult to call out. If someone threatens to kill or rape you, no one can deny that that’s wrong. But not everyone sees how damaging it is being told you’re wrong constantly.

Then Grantland published that gut-wrenching piece in which Caleb Hannan stalked a subject of a story he was writing and kept harassing her because she had a secret that she didn’t want to disclose to him. A secret that had nothing to do with the story he was writing. But he pursued her and pursued her, apparently because he was insulted that she wasn’t telling him all the information he wanted to know. He continued to stalk her (presumably his editors at Grantland knew about this) and she committed suicide because of it. (I’m not linking to the story. It deserves no clicks.)

Caleb Hannan decided that his desire to know something private about another person trumped her right not to share every detail of her life with him (and his readers). And he wrote and published a story in which he is the hero, because he doggedly pursued this person that he paints as being difficult, hostile, and immoral simply because she wouldn’t open up every detail to him. It’s a vivid tale of bully culture, but written by the bully himself, who celebrates his victory at the end.

My immediate reaction to these stories is to wonder why these men do this. Why do bullies, street harassers, “keyboard warriors,” frustrated academics, “good Christian men,” tea partiers, run-of-the-mill misogynists, and the other men who insert their opinions where they have no right to be, do this? The majority of men do not. The majority of white straight cis men do not. So why do some of them have this disorder?

I’m not sure there’s an answer. I’d like to think it has something to do with the NSA. That as a culture we’ve just become so inured to the idea that someone else is watching and judging us, that people with nothing better to do and some life frustration think they should strap on the virtual guns and go after low-hanging victims.

But maybe it’s simple entitlement. Men who have never not been asked their opinions cannot help but think that their opinions trump everything else, including other human beings’ rights to privacy, to earn a living, to live.

I really wish I knew the answer. As a mother of two white straight cis boys, I really wish I knew the answer. So that I can raise my boys to be more like the majority of men who are happy to learn from other people and let them live, instead of the ones who file lawsuits because something a professor said in class hurt their feelings or the ones who harass strangers or the ones who write stories celebrating bullying someone.

 

(My Twitter handle is @AskMoxie. You can find it by clicking the Twitter icon at the top of this page. Come at me, bro.)

3.5 is a lousy age

Shannon writes:

“I know my 3.5 year-old is totally just doing what 3.5 year-olds do but I need some parenting strategies to work though this stage. 

There is a lot of him saying “No!” back to us any time he doesn’t like what we are saying which eventually amps up into full-on tantrum and uncontrollable crying.  My husband is very much of the mind to withhold attention and affection when our son is behaving in an uncooperative manner and has a “lay down the law/do what I say” attitude about back talk.  But I think it just makes things worse and he is a sensitive kid, so I feel like it will undermine his feeling secure in our love. 

Our son also has horrible separation anxiety right now.  Separation anxiety has been an on and off issue for him but it is rough right now with him screaming “Mommy!  No!  Mommy don’t leave me!  Help me Mommy!” this morning.  He has been at the same daycare/preschool since he was 3 months old and does fine 10 minutes after I’m gone but it is terrible leaving him in that state.  I am sure some of his struggle is that we had our second son 9 months ago and it is still a tough transition for him to have to share his parents.  Also, my husband and I have had a rough marriage year and there’s been a lot of tension and depression around our house.  We’ve tried our best to keep it light and normal around the kids and never discuss our problems with them around but we aren’t perfect and kids are intuitive, so I have no doubt that my older son has felt the stress. 

Any help you can provide on how to communicate in a way that will get through to him and how to establish respectful communication from both sides would be helpful.  Also, ways to help him feel secure and loved.  So often I’ve been able to get through the tough developmental things with “this too shall pass/this is just a phase” but this feels like an important point where we need to have a real strategy for setting expectations from both sides and setting a tone for our future parenting. “

 

This is an interesting twist on the “my 3.5-year-old is making me feel like a failure” questions I usually get. (And asked, with both my kids.) Nothing makes you feel as out of your depths as a behavioral stage that seems to come out of nowhere.

If you’re interested in reading what I’ve said about 3 ½-year-olds in the past and all the validating comments, check out these posts:

http://askmoxie.org/blog/2008/09/3-12-year-olds-and-the-pain-they-cause.html

http://askmoxie.org/blog/2008/09/more-thoughts-on-those-rough-times-3-12-year-olds.html

http://askmoxie.org/blog/2007/10/book-review-you.html

But now on to Shannon’s questions about communicating in a way that will get through to him and how to set the tone for future parenting. I think you can only really do half of that. Meaning, you as the parent need to work out a plan that you feel good about, but not base your evaluation of the success of that plan on how your child responds. Which I know sounds weird and is the opposite of everything else you do in parenting, which (especially up until this point) has largely been about trying things until you find one that works.

But here’s the thing about 3.5 (and 7, as we talked about on Monday)–the developmental changes going on in their heads make them truly unable to deal with normal structures and rules and consequences. They can’t really see cause and effect like they could before (and will again once they’re out of the phase) and their emotions overwhelm them. Remember that this is the stage in which a kid will throw and tantrum because you don’t let them have something, and then you give in and let them have that thing so they throw a tantrum that you let them have it. Their bodies are just so hyped up and it’s all emotion and hormones and discomfort running through their veins.

So they simply can’t process rules like they used to. Which means that the idea of being able to communicate effectively with your child at this stage doesn’t mean that you say something and they understand and comply. Or even just understand. You can be communicating as clearly as possible and they can physically hear it, but their scrambled brains won’t let them attach to it or comply with it. And then they’ll have a tantrum about it. So it’s not really “getting through to him” that’s possible at this age.

Yes, you can go 100% punitive and put the hammer down and squash them into such a small space that they “comply.” But that just means that they’re afraid of you, and that’s going to last long past this developmental phase. (And it’s not even what Shannon’s looking for. I just thought I’d mention it for the people who think they need compliance at all costs, although I doubt any of them are reading me anyway.)

The best thing to do at this stage is to put up safeguards (both physical and emotional) so that your child can’t hurt himself or you, and then stop trying to enforce the rules your child can’t process. Stay focused on keeping your home a safe place for everyone, so your child can’t hurt anyone and everyone stays as emotionally close as possible. Greet the outburst with as much kindness and sympathy as you can, while also being kind and sympathetic to yourself about having to deal with this stage.

I’d also caution against taking too much blame for the way your son is acting. You’ve had a lot going on, but many many many kids who don’t have siblings and whose parents’ marriage is in fantastic shape go through this exact same horrible stage in spades. I know that it’s really tempting to blame yourself for anything that happens with your child, because then it feels like you have control over it, but 3.5-year-olds can be awful, and even if everything had been delightful up until now you’d still be in this stage.

The way you interact with your child during this stage is not the same way you’ll interact with him once he’s out of this brain scrambling phase and is able to process rules and structures again. So don’t think of forming a strategy for parenting forever and ever. Instead, think about this as the crisis strategy that you use for 3.5, 4.75, 6.5, age 7, age 14, etc. (And then think of your normal parenting strategy as how you’ll parent again when he’s out of this phase.)

The crisis parenting strategy (mine, at least) essentially boils down to: Keep everyone together. Let the rules slide. Give a lot of hugs, even when you don’t feel like it. Keep your eye on the light at the end of the tunnel.

Remember that the lashing out and tantrums and weepiness aren’t in any way, shape, or form about you or about your parenting or relationship. It’s all about his body and his brain and what it can’t do right now. So think of this as any other period of recovery, not the future of everything. And don’t feel bad that you feel at odds with him right now–feeling at odds with the whole world is the hallmark of this age. This feels really big and really scary, but it’s also really normal.

And really awful.

Be kind to yourself.

Readers? Stories of horrible 3.5 behavior that then went back to normal loving behavior?

 

Oh, seven.

It feels like half the people in the Ask Moxie Facebook group are dealing with 7-year-olds right now, and it’s not fun.

To recap, let’s remember the theory from Ames and Ilg that most kids go through equilibrium phases right around the year mark (when they’re pleasant, fluid, fluent, and learning new skills) and then disequilibrium phases right around the half-year (when they’re unpleasant, lacking emotional resilience, clumsy, and may regress in skills and behaviors). Which explains why kids are particularly hard to deal with at 2.5 (ugh), 3.5 (OMGWTFSOS), 4.5 (although I think 4.75-5+2weeks is worse), and sometimes 5.5 (although people usually just assume that’s part of the trickiness of Kindergarten).

Then 6.5 hits some kids like a ton of bricks and they become very resistant and difficult to live with.

Then: 7. Seven is 3.5 times two. Meaning, all the lack of resilience, all the drama, all the heartrending sobs over little easily-reversed things, all the contrarianism of 3.5 is doubled for 7-year-olds. Being a seven-year-old basically feels like having bad PMS for an entire year. They can be fine, but then something sets them off and they’re filled with rage and despair at the same time. It feels like no one likes them. Getting one fewer pea on their plate at dinner is evidence of how awful their lives are.

It’s rough being 7.

Although not as rough as it is being the parent of a 7-year-old, which is like being a subject in a year-long experiment on learned helplessness that you don’t remember consenting to.

If you recall 3.5 (and if your brain loves you you might not because your brain has conveniently dumped that time period for you), it was all about trying to figure out a) what would set your kid off, b) if you were actually raising a psychopath, c) how many more days until this weird being-set-off-by-anything phase would end. 7 is a lot like that, only they have a lot more competence in daily life, so the outbursts and lack of emotional resources are a bigger contrast with regular behavior. If your child had a big 6.5 disequilibrium phase you may be back in practice with just gritting your teeth and trying to remember what’s age-appropriate, but not all kids hit 6.5 that hard, so this may be new and feel totally out of the blue.

The chief characteristic of the 3.5 brain scramble is chaos. 7 isn’t quite as much chaos as it is excess, uncontrollable emotion. But, like 3.5, your 7-year-old is experiencing real, deep problems with structure and perspective. Whatever it is that’s going on with them developmentally makes it very difficult for them to see things for what they are. Everything that happens to them has only ever happened to them. A problem they’re having has never happened to anyone else, ever. No perspective. And they’re either obsessed with rules and structure or completely flummoxed by rules and structure, because emotion is obscuring everything for them.

So focus on kindness. Both giving kindness to your child, and requiring kindness of your child. No matter how out of control your child gets, they can resist hurting you physically or emotionally. No matter how uncontrolled your child gets, you can offer a hug (even if they don’t accept it, and even if you don’t really mean it). Your child’s emotional phase belongs to them. It’s not about you. And you can offer help in managing it, but you can’t solve it, you didn’t cause it, and if they don’t accept your help that doesn’t mean either of you is doing anything wrong.

This is, for the parent, an exercise in holding on loosely. And knowing that you can give support but you can’t solve your child’s (developmentally normal) problems.

It’s not just you. It’s not just your kid. It will end. Be kind to yourself, and as kind as you can be to your child.

If you want to read more about this age, check out the Ames book Your Seven-Year-Old: Life in a Minor Key.

 

Evergreen

Hi.

I don’t know what to say. This has been a really difficult week for a lot of us.

This was supposed to be the beginning of a new year, of new things, of detoxes and new plans, of bullet journals and new projects and coming around the bend into the second half of the school year. Of peace and calm and a fresh page.

But instead we were snowed inside, alone and lonely, or with kids who were bouncing off the walls, or with someone we wish we still loved. Our normal coping skills were taxed past reasonable limits. Missed days of work, missed pay. Fights with people we need to work together with. Treacherous trips out of the house. -40 F (-40 C) in some places and 120 F (50 C) in others. Goals already off-track because we lost a whole week.  The seams of tenuous relationships coming apart, stitch by stitch.

Wishing things were different.

White-knuckling it.

Bad news.

(Cancer.)

 

For those of us who watch our steps carefully as we walk because we know the edge is always there, waiting for us to slip over, this has been a challenging week. “Challenging” is a euphemism.

 

We are still here.

We have each other. Even when we don’t feel like anyone else can hear us. We are here together.

 

We are still here.

The Day After Tomorrow, or the first day of the rest of your life?

I was going to make you all a list of “100 Things To Do While Snowed In With The Same Kids You’ve Been Inside With For Two Weeks,” but look, I’m the mother who taught her kids how to play “I Never”* a couple weeks ago, so I’m not the one to put in charge of activities.

HOWEVER, I can do what I do whenever there’s a crisis of any sort: Make a playlist. Here’s the Polar Vortex Playlist For Endless Dance Party With Your Children.

What’s special about this playlist? It’s all YOUR music instead of your kids’ music. Or, rather, MY music and I think you’re probably sort of close to my age** so you’ll remember these songs. Remember, we’re nourishing ourselves this year, so no forcing ourselves to listen to kids’ music today and no Caillou.

Here it is in a Spotify playlist.

Here it is in a YouTube playlist.

Notes:

1. These songs are for dancing. Don’t pay attention to the lyrics unless you want to have a lot of teachable moments with your kids.

2. I included two songs specifically about butts because kids like butts.

3. If you’ve forgotten how to dance to the hip-hop songs, watch the E.U. video. If you’ve forgotten how to dance to the new wave songs, watch the Dead Or Alive video.

4. Remember when I saw Digital Underground live in Vegas two years ago? That was great.

Polar Vortex Playlist:

  1. “Let Me Clear My Throat” — DJ Kool
  2. “Push It” — Salt n Pepa
  3. “Blister In the Sun” — Violent Femmes
  4. “Bizarre Love Triangle” — New Order
  5. “The Glamorous Life” — Sheila E
  6. “Insane In The Membrane” — Cypress Hill
  7. “Rumpshaker” — Wreckx-N-Effect
  8. “Da Butt” — E.U.
  9. “Just Can’t Get Enough” — Depeche Mode
  10. “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” — Dead Or Alive
  11. “The Humpty Dance” — Digital Underground
  12. “Jump Around” — House of Pain
  13. “Burning Down The House” — Talking Heads
  14. “Chains of Love” — Erasure
  15. “O.P.P.” — Naughty By Nature
  16. “It Takes Two” — Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock

 

While you’re listening, check out this piece in which I was quoted about my New Year’s resolutions as a single mom, and this piece I just posted on Huffington Post: “6 Things About The Men You’ll Date After Your Divorce.”

 

* With seltzer, not alcohol. I’m not THAT debauched. Also, you haven’t lived ’til you’ve played “I Never” with an 8-year-old. “I never….went to school in my pajamas! Hahahahahahaha!”

** FORTY.