What happens after rehab, and talking to kids about addiction

Anonymous writes:

“I’m hoping you or your readers can help me with a big life thing, hopefully a big change. My dad is very close to my family, and an alcoholic. On Monday morning he asked me to drive him to detox, which was amazing and a day I thought would never come. But I was home with my three-year-old daughter, so she came with us. It wasn’t traumatic but it was different and strange and she knows something is going on. Plus there are all these FEELINGS happening all over the place that she’s picking up on. Monday, we told her that Grandpa was sick, and was going to stay in the hospital until he gets better. Today, she asked why he was sick and we told her she couldn’t catch what he had, he was born with it (why did that come out of my mouth?!) and that he is getting better. 

So… what’s next? I don’t know what will happen in terms of detox, if he goes to rehab, when we will hear from him, what he will even be like. How do I help my kid understand what is happening at an age-appropriate level? If anyone else has gone through this with a parent, spouse, or other loved one, it would be so, so helpful to me to hear how they communicated with their children. 

And yeah, I have a therapist, a good one. “

The baby questions are always easier than the adult questions, aren’t they?

First, congratulations. I have no idea what’s going to happen with your dad, but the fact that he asked you to drive him is big and wonderful and made me tear up.

Now, I’ve recommended it a couple of times this week already under different circumstances, so here’s another recommendation for Al-Anon. The entire group is there to support you in your relationship (and parenting your kids through their relationship) with someone with a problem with alcohol. They know the patterns, they know the language, they know what you’re feeling. They’re there and they will help, and they’re free. You can go and they’ll be able to tell you what a typical pattern is for someone going into detox/rehab and what to do when he gets out, and also how to help your daughter through this.

You can find them here. Local in person meetings, and it looks like they have electronic meetings, too: http://www.al-anon.alateen.org/

This is all complicated right now, but I think the simple answer you gave is good, and tells her what she needs to know without scaring her. Obviously when she’s older she’ll need to know specifics, but for now this is good. And what she’s also going to take out of this is that if she has a problem, you’re the person to go to, and also that she and you are the kind of people who help. Good lessons, both of those.

Has anyone else been in this situation from any side? Any good words for Anonymous?

Kindergarten, Facebook, Sixth grade (not all together)

I’m officially opening registration for the Kindergarten support group for parents of kids entering Kindergarten (SK in Canada) this coming fall or winter. The group starts April 24 but registration is open until September 6. It starts in April because we want to have time to talk about all the stuff that’s going to happen (and our reactions to it) before people disappear for summer vacation, and then prep for the first few weeks at the end of the summer.

If you’re considering it but don’t know where your kid is going to K yet, please join and don’t feel like you have to wait until you know. There are few people in the group in the same situation right now, and the group is the perfect place to stress about that without tiring out all your other friends who aren’t in the same situation. The group is half full already and we have a diverse, interesting group.

In other news: Facebook is making some changes in a few weeks that mean that anyone who’s Liked my AskMoxie page is probably not going to see the things I post. If you want to be connected on Facebook, join the AskMoxie group instead. It’s a Closed group, so anything you comment or post can only be seen by people who are also in the group and won’t appear in anyone’s feed or the spy ticker unless that person is also in the group. (After  you join, go up to “Notifications” on the homepage of the group and turn them off, or else you’ll get a zillion notifications, because the group moves pretty quickly.)

Middle School: Did anyone else who has a sixth grader feel like the switch to multiple teachers instead of just one teacher was emotionally good but logistically horrible? Mine took awhile to get on top of the idea of multiple teachers and multiple assignments that sometimes overlapped, but he seems to be thriving with having multiple adults teaching him instead of one in charge of everything.

It feels like we’re through the adjustment period of the multiple teachers and concurrent/conflicting assignments now, so this semester is easier (by that criterion) than last semester.

Anyone else?

Gatekeeping your child’s relationships

I’ve been thinking about the topic of gatekeeping parent-child relationships and how it feels like a loving thing to do but actually creates a cascade of problems that last for decades, so I thought I’d break down how it happens and what the stakes are and how to stop.

Warning: This whole post is going to be really heteronormative, assuming that we’re talking about a male-female partnership. That’s because this most often happens in male-female relationships precisely because of our cultural dynamics. So single parents and parents in same-sex partnerships, you can go get a glass of water for this one if you want, but if you read through it might help you understand your friends and how culture can screw things up for people.

Gatekeeping, as I’m using it today, is when the mother protects the father and the child from each other. The mother takes on the Parent-in-Charge role and the father and child only interact in ways approved by and dictated by the mother.

This happens all the time, and it happens because women think that’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re the baby’s mother, and often we’re the one feeding the baby. The father has to go back to work right away, so we’re the ones spending the most time with the baby. So we develop our systems and our coping techniques, and then in our minds (and in the fathers’ minds) we’re the ones who know what to do, and the fathers don’t. We know how to soothe the baby, and the father doesn’t do it the same way. If the baby keeps crying, we know the father doesn’t know how to soothe the baby “the right way.” It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But this ignores the fact that our expertise is merely circumstantial. At the second we meet our children, mothers and fathers have the same potential for caring for the child. (One or the other may have read more about baby care already, but the other could easily catch up.) It’s only the way our society is structured to channel men into paid work and women into child care that causes this unequal distribution of time that causes unequal distribution of expertise. We do not have to go along with this, and indeed, we shouldn’t.

Gatekeeping also assumes the men inherently don’t know how to care for children. Yes, it can be scary to be with a baby when you don’t feel like you know what to do. Dealing with toddlers is excruciating. Preschoolers can be super-frustrating. But when a mother takes over most of those duties to “protect” her partner from having to deal with them, she implies that he’s too weak/stupid/incompetent to go through a normal learning curve. And she implies that there’s something wrong with the child, that the child is something the father shouldn’t be forced to deal with.

We know what happens then: The mother takes over child care and the emotional relationship with the child. The father becomes the breadwinner (even when the mother is fully employed, too) and feels like he doesn’t have much to contribute to the child’s emotional life. The father and the child never establish a true, honest emotional relationship. The parents resent each other for unequal distribution of work and emotional connection. Everyone’s siloed.

(It looks like the relationships in Mad Men.)

Men are smart. They are strong and resilient and resourceful. They have clear voices to sing lullabies and speak discipline, strong hands to change diaper blow-outs and braid hair, fast feet to run to latch a baby gate and play chase with a toddler. They have broad shoulders that children ride on. They are tough and tender and smart enough to know when to listen and when to help. They are the best fathers for their children, from birth through adulthood.

Fathers do things differently than mothers do, and that’s ok.

If you are a mother who wants to give your child a gift and give your child’s father a gift, the best gift you can give them is to leave them alone together, for extended periods of time, so they can work out their own relationship. And work on the assumption that your child’s father is an equal parent who can and should be able to care for your child seamlessly (even if it’s not the same way you’d do things). This is also the best gift you can give yourself, because then you don’t have to be the only expert on everyone.

You’re worth it. Your child is worth it. Your child’s father is worth it. And you’re worth it as a family.

Q&A: The slog

Anonymous writes:

“Is it normal to be a little depressed by the never-ending cycle/gauntlet of tasks that are involved in having a full-time job and being a spouse and parent? Every day feels like a slog. Sometimes it’s a happy slog. But more often than not, the thought of the sheer number of things that have to get done — laundry, grocery shopping, bills, commuting, work, bedtime routines, the whole lot — feels like a real grind, and it often leaves me weary and just bummed out by it all. I’m not someone who procrastinates or shirks responsibility, so that’s not it. But people don’t talk about it all that much, so I don’t know if that weary and bummed feeling is normal, or if it’s a sign of depression. I’m not asking anyone to diagnose me with anything, I’d just like to hear from other people on how they feel about the constant treadmill of tasks, and perhaps even how they gain some relief from those gunky feelings.”

You asked not to be diagnosed and I can’t diagnose anyone with anything anyway, but as a person who lives with depression, I know that when my depression is in remission the daily routine feels busy and annoying and stressful but fine, and like there’s something to look forward to every day. When I’m in a phase of depression, the daily routine feels like a slog and like every day is the same, and like it’s all demoralizing and futile.

Which is to say that yes, I know what you mean. Right now it doesn’t feel that way for me, but it has during many times in the past. And it wasn’t about shirking responsibility at all. Depression isn’t laziness, and it isn’t a choice to be “in a bad mood.” It’s an illness that makes daily life dull and painful, and makes normal tasks require more effort than they do when you’re not depressed and for people who aren’t depressed.

Also: sometimes depression is a totally normal reaction to crappy circumstances. If you’re doing way too much, or your work is disappointing, or your relationship is having problems, or your kids are going through tough ages, then yes, it’s a normal reaction. But it’s still depression, and it still hurts.

When I feel myself sliding into mild depression I do the things that I know from experience work for me to get myself out of it–I start doing core exercises (Pilates or barre or T-Tapp or yoga) every day; I make sure I’m supplementing B vitamins, C vitamins, magnesium, and Omega 3s; I try to get eight hours of sleep (and I take Calms Forte to stop the racing thoughts); I got outside into the sunshine every day that there’s sunshine; I talk to other people; I ask other people to hug me long tight hugs (not the short perfunctory kind, but the long tight therapeutic kind. If someone will give me a massage or backrub that’s even better, even if it’s just 15 minutes); I drink enough water.

For me, doing those things for two weeks gets me out of the mild depression. For you they might not get you fully out of depression, but they should give you enough emotional space to talk to the people who love you about getting treatment.

I know other people are reading this and thinking Anonymous is telling their story. Thoughts?

Daylight Savings Time cometh

(Earlybird pricing and registration for the Kindergarten support group starting April 24 for kids starting K or SK this fall is open. Info here. Regular registration and pricing starts March 24.)

(My friend Roosevelt Credit is on the soundtrack for “12 Years A Slave,” and it won an Oscar for Best Soundtrack last night. Here’s Roo’s song.)

(Today is my older son’s 12th birthday! I’ve been a mother for 12 years, and he’s almost a teenager.)

Daylight Savings Time is here this Sunday, March 9, for the US and Canada and Mexico at 2 am. We are springing forward so we lose an hour of sleep, and what’s 6 pm today will be 7 pm after the time change. Benefit: lighter later in the evening, for the illusion of summer despite the piles of snow everywhere.

(We’re switching FROM Standard Time TO Daylight Savings Time, and we won’t switch back to Standard Time until November 2.)

There are three ways you can handle it. (There are more, of course, but I’m only describing three):

1. Starting tonight (Monday), put your kid to bed 10 minutes EARLIER each night. So if your kid normally goes to bed at 8, tonight put them to bed at 7:50, then Tuesday at 7:40, then Wednesday at 7:30, etc. On Saturday night they’ll go to bed at 7 pm, but through the magic of the time change, that will be 8 pm on Sunday night.

2. Starting Wednesday night, put your kid to bed 15 minutes earlier each night. So Wednesday at 7:45, Thursday at 7:30, Friday at 7:15, and Saturday at 7, and then 7 will be 8 again on Sunday.

3. Do nothing different and then just let it sort itself out next week.

No matter what you do, Sunday probably won’t be bad, but Monday and Tuesday will suck, and then it’ll be better by Wednesday and by Thursday or Friday you should be mostly ok with it. Try to get everyone (including you) a nap on Sunday and Monday, if possible.

IME, babies and kids over the age of 7 seem to do just fine with the time change, while toddlers through Kindergarten or 1st grade and adults over the age of 35 seem to be hit pretty hard and can be really cranky for days and days.