Category:

Kids

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I always hated going back to school and leaving summer vacation behind. I would get anxious about the new year, wondering what friends I’d have in my class and which teacher I’d get. And I would worry about hypothetical tests and projects that I just knew I’d get bad grades on. There was such a heaviness when school rolled around, erasing all the chill I had acquired that summer.
I can’t imagine what it’s like as a kid now. They’re dealing with so much more: the pandemic, trauma of frequent school shootings and increased bullying. It’s scary, and it’s something that none of our generations has seen before.
So here’s what I’m going to do with my soon-to-be second grader and Kindergartener to help with the transition. I hope it helps our collective mental health.

  1. We’re going to get back into our school routine, i.e. waking up earlier, getting dressed first thing and eating breakfast right away
  2. Talk about what’s making them nervous. Both of my kids have new teachers this year, so I know that’s a source of anxiety. We can talk about that and anything else that’s bothering them.
  3. Empathize with my kids. Whatever it is that’s causing anxiety, I need to listen and show empathy. I’ll try not to brush off their feelings, instead I’ll validate their worries and concerns.
  4. I’ll encourage my kids to talk about their fears or how their day went. I’ll also give them tips on self-care (healthy self-care and coping skills) and how it can help their stress levels.
  5. I’ll be present. When my kids get home, I’ll push my work aside, put my phone away and concentrate on them. They may want alone time to decompress, but they will know that I’m available and there.

Signs of Anxiety in Kids (www.verywellfamily.com)

  • Appear more clingy than normal
  • Be restless and fidgety
  • Complain of stomachaches
  • Display changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Express negative thoughts or worries
  • Get upset or angry more quickly
  • Have bouts of unexplained crying
  • Struggle to concentrate

To learn more about kids and mental health, please visit the NAMI.org website.

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It happened yesterday. Eli was scheduled to test for his green belt, his older sister tested earlier in the week, but Eli didn’t want to. Before we got to karate, Eli threw a fit about not wanting to go and wanting to quit, but I made him get dressed anyway so he could tell the instructor himself he wanted to quit or work something out if he wanted to continue.

I admit, I don’t want him to quit. Both kids have to do some activity. They can’t just stay on the phones/computers all the time. And when he goes to class he has fun. I don’t get it. But on the way over he said he didn’t want to quit, he just didn’t feel like testing.

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I didn’t listen. We got to karate and the instructor was talking to him, telling him that he could test today or he could wait until the next cycle but he would remain an orange belt until them. Then I butted in saying that his sister would be a green belt and it would only take a few minutes to take the rest.

Why was I rushing him?

I then heard the instructor say to Eli that he could go at his own pace. I heard him say it, but I wasn’t listening.

I butted in again saying it wouldn’t take long and reminding him that Isla would be ahead of him.

I said this because I didn’t want Eli to get down on himself for not being a green belt. I didn’t want him to get discouraged and really want to quit. But I was so pushy!

The instructor told Eli again that it was at his own pace and he didn’t have to test. I truly heard him this time, but Eli had already decided to test.

He passed and earned a green belt, but I walked out there cringing because I had been one of “those moms” — a helicopter parent, a bossy, I-know-everything kind of mom. And I hate that.

I should’ve listened to Eli when he said he didn’t want to do it that day, even though he was obviously ready because he passed. But I shouldn’t have pushed and manipulated.

My kids are totally different, and I shouldn’t expect them to do the same things at the same times. I should listen to their needs and evaluate them separately.

I should remember that Eli gets so overwhelmed sometimes (part of having ADHD) and needs breaks to process things. I’m no different. None of us is.

I expect people to cater to my needs and diagnoses (depression, anxiety, eating disorder, etc) all the time, fair or not. I should do the same with my family. I’m going to start by listening more.

Thanks to the karate instructor (he’s mine, too) for teaching me a valuable lesson. I’m sure they’ll be many more.

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Does It Even Matter?

by Heather Loeb
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We finally got an appointment with a play therapist for Eli last week, and oh my God, he was wonderful. First, he has ADHD, too. During the first part of the appointment, he talked to my husband and I about our histories and what was going on at home. Usually, he said, he gets bored with neurotypical people, but he wasn’t bored with us. Granted, I’m not exactly neurotypical because of my depression and anxiety (and other fun mental health conditions). Then he asked, “Ok, so which one of you has ADHD?” My husband quickly answered, “Neither.” But I bit my lip. I’ve suspected I’ve had it ever since there were rumblings that Eli might have it in Pre-K. Now, my brother has it, which makes at a higher risk to have it, but I also read that having depression and anxiety puts me at a higher risk, too. There are other things as well. You might start thinking that I’m not hyperactive, but ADHD is different in older women.

But here’s the thing…Does it even matter if I have ADHD? I take Adderall anyway to help with slow days when it’s hard to get out of bed. It doesn’t change anything. I already feel like I relate to Eli because both of our brains are “unique.” But does it matter? Another acronyms on my laundry list of diagnoses? Aren’t I “unique” enough? When I write them down or divulge them when I’m speaking or presenting, it makes me feel so vulnerable.

Major Depression Disorder

People are accepting of one of two mental health condition but 6 or 7? Nah.

Persistant Depression Disorder

It’s really embarrassing when I go to the doctor or ER (which happens quite a bit).

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

It probably scares people, and maybe scares people who don’t know me that well. Surely, it doesn’t scare my friends anymore. They know they deal.

Avoidant Personality Disorder

I bet it was a shock to my parents. I’m sure they didn’t share it with the rest of my family.

Binge Eating Disorder

Especially the ones related to substance abuse.

Opioid Use Disorder – Moderate

I guess by now it shouldn’t bother me. I am recovery, but just like when I share what medications I’m on, there’s always some nurse who comments that “This is too much” like, hello, I just left one of the best psychiatric hospitals in the world.

Sedative, Hypnotic or Anxiolytic Drug Use Disorder – Moderate

I thought to ask my psychiatrist about it, but seriously, what does it matter? I can still relate to Eli, there’s no medicine change (if I do have it), it doesn’t affect my daily life, etc. And really, I don’t want the extra diagnosis. Call me vain, whatever. A girl can only handle the stares and turn red so many times.

So I guess it doesn’t matter. I guess it’s a compliment that the doctor wasn’t bored with us. Definitely not me, because I’m neurodivergent. David’s the “typical” one for a change, lol.

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My Son’s Diagnosis

by Heather Loeb

In the past week my son has hit me twice and bitten me, bringing on a dark purple bruise on my arm. All were done during a meltdown. He screams and cries, indignant and out of control. The slightest thing can set him off.

Combined with his hyperactivity and lack of focus, I knew he had ADHD long before a psychologist recently diagnosed him last week.

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The doctor said Eli’s ADHD isn’t severe, just a “mild case.” It doesn’t feel mild, to me or Eli’s teacher, who has been so supportive through this journey. She told my husband and I that we should consider getting him tested late last year. I had already seen him in somewhat of a classroom setting and he couldn’t sit still. He didn’t look anyone in the eye because he was so distracted by the toys, books and desks.

I haven’t observed him in his classroom, so I don’t experience the worst of his hyperactivity. But I have witnessed his impulse control many, many times. I’ve been hit, slapped, screamed at and more. He blows in my face because he knows it will annoy me, but he apologizes for all of this behavior soon after he calms down.

I realize he can’t control it. He doesn’t mean to do it; he just needs to figure out how to control his emotions, which is hard for a 5-year-old, nevertheless one with ADHD.

It would be easy to take all of this personally. When his teacher first brought ADHD up, I felt terribly guilty. I was so sure Eli was experiencing this because of my diagnoses — two types of depression, anxiety and a personality disorder. I went home and googled it, sure enough ADHD kids often have mothers with mood disorders. Obviously I don’t want him to struggle with this. I’ve struggled almost my whole life, and it’s no picnic.

I know it’s not my fault, but it’s hard to shake the guilt and shame that all moms experience.

The only thing to do is learn everything I can, modify our parenting, consult experts and just accept it.

I have to accept it. I have to accept that both my children may have inherited the illnesses I have. It’s not my fault, it’s not my fault, it’s not my fault. It’s not anybody’s fault.

I’ll do everything in my power to learn more and help him.

But I need to remember: In order to help him I have to work on myself, make sure I’m not pouring from an empty cup. I have to provide structure and routine. I have to set boundaries and actually stick to them.

I’m in recovery when it comes to my mental illnesses. Recovery doesn’t mean I have to be perfect, just that I’m always trying to grow.

I imagine Eli and I will grow together, be stronger because of the paths we’ll walk.

I know in my heart that he’s still the same sweet, loving little boy he was before the diagnosis. He just has his moments.

Lord knows I have mine.

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I’ll admit it: I yell at my kids. I don’t like to and don’t mean to, but holy hell it’s hard not to lose it when they’re fighting, whining and screaming at me. Yes, they yell, too. I don’t like that either.

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I’ll tell them something three or four times, and when they don’t listen, that’s when I raise my voice. But I don’t mean to pin my problem on them. I don’t think I should be yelling as much, and as loud, as I do.

Research shows that yelling and harsh verbal discipline can have similar negative effects as corporal punishment, according to MedicineNet. Children who are constantly yelled at are more likely to have behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, stress, and other emotional issues, similar to children who are hit or spanked frequently.

I don’t want to do that to my kids, but why is it so hard for me to not yell? My husband never yells. It pisses me off, although I do acknowledge that the kids are around me more, and they don’t treat us the same way. Why is that? I have so many questions but not a lot of answers when it comes to parenting. Especially when I consider that I’m parenting with several mental conditions. It’s hard and my depression and anxiety often dictate how I parent. I feel so out of control.

At times it seems I’m more frustrated with myself than them, and that’s not fair. And sometimes they cry after I yell, and that breaks my heart into a thousand pieces. I always apologize, but I fear the damage has been done. I talk to my therapist (who also works with children), and she helps me with parenting issues, but it never feels like enough. I’m not enough, not when it comes to my kids.

All I can do is just try not to yell. Practice my breathing when they throw a tantrum or are fighting. I used to count to 10 before I responded in those situations, but my short fuse can make me snap at anything. I can step away from the problem, start acknowledging my triggers and find solutions to them. I’ll do my best to talk with them about bad behavior instead of responding with fury. All this is easier said than done, but I’m desperate to try.

And I’m desperate that they don’t develop depression or anxiety over something I’m doing. They’re already genetically prone to mental conditions (on both sides of the family), so I refuse to take a part in causing it myself.

I can’t stop thinking about their faces when I’ve yelled. I hope I’m only imagining the fear in their eyes. I pray that the good in me as a mom outweighs the bad.

A lot of parents feel like they’re failing when it comes to their kids. We just have to do our best and remember that we’re not raising kids, we’re raising healthy adults.

There’s nothing I want more than for my kids to be healthy adults because I’m not one. Even at almost 38 years old. Even after a stint at a psychiatric hospital. Bad habits and behavior are hard to change, and if you don’t do it early, it’ll be so much worse as an adult. Trust me.

But I can do this. I can do hard things. And I start now. Day 1.

Short-term effects of yelling at your kids

  • Aggressive behavior
  • Symptoms of anxiety
  • Behavioral problems (for example, boys are more likely to lose self-control, and girls may react with anger or frustration)
  • Withdrawal from the parent

If you want the long term effects, go here.
Source: MedicineNet

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Roll With It

by Heather Loeb

Today my husband and I had a teacher conference about my 5-year-old son. It was no shock when the teacher said he’s fine academically, that she’s not worried about that department, but she did mention some behaviors that need to be corrected. For instance, Eli will walk around and get in the kids’ faces and annoy them. I mean, he does the same to me. He gets up a lot, doesn’t always finish his work and he rushes through everything.

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As soon as the teacher (who is amazing) started detailing these behaviors I knew where it was headed. A couple months ago I took Eli to be evaluated for his stutter. I got to stay in the room during the assessment and was stunned. Here he was in a classroom setting (minus the other kids) and he was squirming, not listening, playing with things he wasn’t supposed to, etc. The speech therapist made a note of it in her paperwork, and I remember thinking, “Wow, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an ADHD diagnosis in his future.”

But I put it out of my mind until this morning.

I’m trying (as always) to not put the horse before the cart. We don’t know if he has ADHD. He’s 5 and lots of 5 year olds are like that. We have to do this one step at a time.

Having said that, it’s really hard for me not to catastrophize and assume he has it. Of course I Googled it and couldn’t help search for a correlation between kids with ADHD and parents with a mood disorder. There’s a link. For a moment tears gathered in my eyes. I felt like it was my fault, that genetics have wronged my kids. That I have wronged my kids with not only bad genes but also my behavior and parenting style which is dictated by my depression and anxiety.

I stopped Googling and then thought, “So the fuck what?”

ADHD — and any other mood/behavioral disorder — is not the end of the world. If my son does have it he might need behavioral therapy or medication. Also not a huge deal. We’ll do what we need to do, and it will be fine.

And aren’t I the queen of adapting? There was a time when I thought my life was over because of depression and anxiety., but here I am highly functional, volunteering my time, writing for the paper, and managing the kids and their activities. I’m a different person. I’m not cured; I’ll be living with depression, anxiety, a personality disorder and an eating disorder likely forever. But I roll with it. Any diagnosis he may receive doesn’t define him or ruin his life, just like mine don’t.

He’ll adapt (if he does have it), and I’ll adapt.

He’s still an amazing, loving and sweet boy, and I wouldn’t change anything about him. Not one thing. Through my mom glasses, he’s perfect. Perfectly imperfect.

So we’ll just roll with it and do the best we can do. That’s all anyone can do.

Note: I want to be clear that I don’t have any experience with ADHD and don’t mean to discount anyone’s feelings or experiences. I don’t mean to trivialize the diagnosis. These are merely my musings and do not reflect what it’s really like to live with a child with ADHD.

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I was playing Roblox with my 7-year-old this week when she started to describe someone as F-A-T. I can’t remember what or who it was, and I started to say, “Don’t use that word.” Then I just stopped. Why was she spelling it?

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The truth is I don’t like the f-word, and she knows that. I’ve been called fat too many times, and the memory of being made fun of for my weight still lingers and burns. It has helped create lifelong struggle with disordered eating and body dysmorphia.

But what am I teaching her by not allowing her to say it? She’ll still (like I did) think that it’s not a word that shouldn’t be used, that there are negative associations to it, and that she wouldn’t want to be called fat. I’ve tried so hard not to use it and promote body positivity that I think I’ve swung from one extreme to the other. She should be able to use it but use it the right way.

What I think I should’ve done is not ever given the word any power. I should’ve said fat is something you have, not what you are. And left it at that.

My heart is in the right place, I think. As a mother, I don’t want her to experience any of the pain that I did growing up. I don’t want her to be anxious or depressed, and I definitely don’t want her having an eating disorder or obsession about weight. Like all parents, I want to protect her, and I want better for her. I’m just not sure I’m going about the right way to do it.

I can bend over backwards to try and prevent her from having mental anguish but genetics will play a starring role in how her body looks and weighs and whether she’ll have mental illness. I get that. Maybe she’ll be smarter (and kinder to herself) than I was — that she’ll see only beauty when she looks in the mirror and she’ll have so much confidence that she won’t care if she’s ever called a name. Maybe she’ll be the one to break the cycle, although I’m trying very hard to do that myself these days.

One of the most defining lessons from my childhood was that being fat is the worst thing you can be. That was confirmed through the adults in my life always dieting, unrealistic beauty standards and the terrible treatment of bigger people. So many people still buy into this crap, though. Hell, it’s still hard for me, and I’m almost 40.

We need to do better. And I know it’s difficult challenging ideals that were introduced when you were a child — ideals that are still circulating and doing harm. But we can do it.

We can work out for our health and not to lose weight. We can eat healthy to fuel our bodies. We can stop looking at our “flaws” with nothing but a critical eye. We can say no to toxic dieting culture.

Know better, do better, as I like to say.

It’s very much possible that I’m overthinking my daughter’s innocuous comment from last night. It’s possible I overthink everything when it comes to my kids, but it’s okay to question yourself and intentions. It makes you a good parent. It’s very much okay to challenge your thinking on things like this.

That makes you a great parent.

Now I guess I’ll worry about my daughter using the real f-word, but I’d argue that fat is more dangerous and carries more weight. No pun intended.

Stay in the light.

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Let Them Be Little

by Heather Loeb

I remember when I was a kid – the summertime was so magical. No homework, project deadlines and no alarm going off at 6 a.m. I try to remember that now as the kids slow down (sloth speed) on their chores and get out of routine.

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But it’s hard for me. I love routine and its cousin, structure. I thrive on both because of my depression and anxiety. The summers are always hard because there’s such disruption to my day as well as vacations and road trips to see my family in Dallas. Even though I enjoy those things, it’s still hard, and I try to cling to routine where I can. I think it’s the uncertainty that gets me — I hate not knowing but with routine I always (almost always) know what’s going to happen and when.

I find myself getting mad about missed chores, Isla sleeping in late in the morning and later bedtimes. I snap at the kids and even my husband, who doesn’t run as tight a ship as I (who are we kidding, our ship’s not that tight), but then reality hits me right in the face. This is Isla’s last summer before starting “real school.” She’s about to start Windsor Park where she doesn’t know the teachers or students. She’s been lucky with JCC, it’s been a second home to her. But next week, she’ll need to wake up earlier, stay at school longer, abide by a dress code and more. It’s going to be an adjustment to say the least.

Then I hear the voice in my head say, let them be little.

So I do.

On the weekends, we stay in the pool on Sunday afternoons until our fingers prune. We float on flamingo floats, sunbathe on a giant unicorn or pretend we’re mermaids. We eat brunch at the Yacht Club, eating more of the chocolate muffins in the breadbasket than our order. We have movie nights where we buy sweets and make popcorn and attempt to watch a movie that never really gets watched. We have dance parties and stay in our pajamas all day.

We have fun because that’s what the summer is about in our house. Our kids are going to grow up no matter how much routine and structure fills their days. I just think we need to add a little fun to their days, too while we can. And a little magic.

What kid doesn’t need a little magic? What ADULT doesn’t need magic?

I know I do, especially right now as COVID cases climb once again. But I’m not too sad to see summer go. I’m looking forward to the fall months, using new fall decorations for the house, buying Halloween costumes, making Thanksgiving dinner, the High Holy Days and more. I’m getting excited just thinking about it. But I won’t get too carried away. I’l enjoy the days of summer we have left as much as I can.

I hope your summer was good. Here’s to a wonderful (and healthy) fall.

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I used to love getting sick. To me it meant all my troubles melted away while I sat around in my jams and watched TV. When I was in school, it was easy to catch up with what I missed. But when I started working, I met with resentment from coworkers and hostility from bosses because I missed so much work. And I was sick a lot, and sometimes I was faking for the down time or because my depression was so bad.

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I wrongly thought that the world stopped when I had a migraine or virus (or when depression hit). I welcomed being ill because I thought it was a Get Out of Jail Free card, and now I know it wasn’t.

A lot of that was the depression talking. I didn’t always care who was inconvenienced by my illnesses, and now the one who is most inconvenienced is me. Go figure.

Today I woke up feeling dizzy and nauseated, among other things. I asked my husband to take the kids to school, but he couldn’t. I asked my mother-in-law to pick them up after camp, but she had an appointment. Some things can’t be helped, and it’s a reminder that now I HATE being sick because there’s only me to take care of the kids. And that’s fine. It sucks sometimes, but that’s the way it is. (Although usually I do have help with my kiddos).

When you’re an adult there’s not always someone to pick up the slack, and there’s nobody to wait on you hand and foot — believe me, I’ve looked everywhere as I love being waited on and adored.

I don’t mean to complain about adulthood (we can do that another time), but my point is that I don’t like being sick anymore because I’m not as depressed. I don’t have to fake a migraine or other illness to get some “me” time. I generally feel good and every morning I’m ready to get up and get going. It turns out, I like being healthy, and I love being happy. I’m truly miles from where I was just two years ago when I was at the psychiatric hospital.

This is progress! I welcome it because it makes me appreciate all the things I’m able to do now because my depression is managed at the moment. And I celebrate that — or I will when I’m feeling better.

To all you moms out there who don’t have help with the kids, I see you and admire you.

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One of the things you hear as a new mom is that it goes by fast — the days are long, but the years are short. And it’s true. All of a sudden I have an almost 7-year-old and almost 5-year-old. They’re not babies, and they’re not toddlers. How did this happen?

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My oldest doesn’t want to kiss us anymore, and she’s very independent. My youngest is entering Pre-K, but still likes to cuddle and give kisses. But he is starting leave his stuffed seahorse at home more instead of hiding him in his backpack every day for school. He’s sleeping with other stuffies at night, too. This is what bothers me the most. I didn’t expect him to go to college with Weerow (the sea horse), but it’s so bittersweet watching Eli not cling to his buddy so much.

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I remember when Eli first found Weerow, he wasn’t even a year old. I originally got the sea horse at McDonalds in a Happy Meal when I was in high school (1999). Beanie Babies were all the craze then and for some reason, I kept it. It was just small enough for Eli’s hands and soon he carried it everywhere. He wasn’t walking that well yet so sometimes he put the sea horse in his mouth while he crawled.

One day he started referring to it as “Weerow,” and that’s the name that stuck. I found a larger version of the sea horse online so he’d have extra We probably have 10 extras in waiting. Boy, do they get dirty fast. Eli chews on the eyes — well, chews on the whole thing. Honesty, Weerow (still) smells like dirty mop water, but Eli loves it. He still takes whiffs of his pal here and there. Weird, I know, but it somehow calms him. I was hoping we’d have Weerow in our lives for a couple more years, and maybe we will.

I know it’s not the sea horse I’m upset about — it’s the fact that my babies are growing up. They’re changing and entering new phases I know nothing about yet. I blinked, and now they’re big (ish) kids.

Next time I’m counting down until the kids’ bedtime (which is often), I’ll try to remember that I need to appreciate my kids and the fact that their childhoods won’t last forever. Time is so fleeting, and we have to make it count as much as possible. I’ll probably still count the minutes some days, I mean come on, but I’ll do my best. I’ll take mental pictures. I’ll take real pictures. I’ll be present and mindful.

Sigh. On second thought, I wouldn’t mind if Eli took Weerow to college.

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