Give Yourself a Pat on the Back
[Reposting this. I got insecure and honestly a bit sad in the past week. I need to just speak up and be unapologetic and live my truth]
I can imagine that parenting is hard. Being a single parent must be even harder, and being a single parent of a child whose other parent has EO Alzheimer’s is like baking a pie without a recipe..and sometimes not even a pie tin!
My father is one of these parents. Not only were my parents divorced way before the diagnosis, but like most divorced families, the relationship was cordial. Co-parenting is difficult, but switching from being able to co-parent to having no one to bounce off of is a lot to take in. My sister moved in for a brief time, so the weight of having an angst-ridden middle schooler in the house to try and manage was lessened a bit. Let’s be honest, middle schoolers can be a lot. And they are going through so much in their minds that it’s hard to communicate and connect. You’re lucky if your wisdom gets into their thick skulls!
I don’t know what it was exactly like for him to slowly come to terms that he was (at least for the foreseeable future) a single parent. My mother’s diagnosis happened before my father met his now wife. Facing the uncertainty of this uncharted territory had to be simply horrifying.
There are so many self-help books on being a single parent by choice, by force, by divorce, by death, or by the other wishing not to be involved. But there really isn’t many books on “How to Raise a Child When Their Other Parent Can’t Remember Them, Or You”. It’s quite a weird situation, because you used to be able to bounce ideas off of the other parent, but slowly their involvement came to a stop. You have half of your kid’s life missing pretty much, since a child of divorce tends to have somewhat of a different lifestyle with each parent, and now the forced single parent has to navigate how to support all of the needs of their child with no handbook to go off of.
A handbook meaning like what do you do if your kid blows up at you because they just don’t understand why this happened to them. Or what if your kid was closer to the other parent (in my case, I am much closer to my dad, has always been like that). What do you do if you yourself can’t even rationalize this situation, and now have to figure it out for your child to understand, when this is simply a case that is just..well..confusing and harmful for all involved.
My father took a bit to figure out how to navigate this new lifestyle. New techniques, new hanging out activities, or just giving me space to sort myself out. I can say confidently that he did the best job anyone could have asked of him. I think I’ve turned out pretty darn good (if I may say so myself)!
He gave me space, and knew when to disrupt it when I was getting too reclusive. Not necessarily pushing me, but knowing what words will kick me into gear and snap out of my headspace. My dad had to face the storm in my head that kept shouting that I was alone, that the God I once believed in had abandoned me, cursed me. My mind would shout at me that it wasn’t worth it as issue after issue pummeled me during my teenage years.
But did he give up? No. He did what he could to coax me out of the worst parts. I was stubborn and believed myself to be independent at that time, so it was hard to crack me and get me to open up. But there he was, patiently waiting for me to swallow my pride and finally speak up. He taught me that I will only get what I need if I speak up and take action. People aren’t mind readers! So it taught me that I needed to cut some people slack and understand that I needed to reach out. As that dynamic grew, the dialogue increased and we began to understand one another more.
I think it’s common for troubled children to just shut down. A lot of self-blaming goes on, and they begin to think that all of the misfortunes are their fault. So let me offer some useful tips for parents who may be going through this journey with kids.
Give them space. I know it’s hard to let them go off and you may think that they are brooding in their rooms. But some space is healthy, just as long as you don’t let them stay like that for too long. It gives them time to reflect and just breathe.
Patience. Patience is a virtue. They may not come to you with all of their problems. After years of not feeling like my problems mattered to my mother, I self-taught myself that no one cared to hear them out. So what you can do is create an environment where they know you are open, honest, and ready for whatever they throw at you. Maybe tell them a few stories of your own. They’ll open up, give it some time!
Allow them to be upset. One of the most crucial things to express as humans is extreme emotions. Anger, Sadness, Fear, Joy. Let them express them fully. If your child wants to just scream and cry and almost want to punch a wall. Let them. Just don’t let them punch a wall, punch a pillow. Emotional constipation is so harmful, and I spent years bottling up my emotions and then letting them explode like a volcano. Air out that laundry! Hell, cry and scream with them. Unity in pain is powerful. Allow yourselves to feel together.
Encourage socializing. I don’t mean force, but a good way of getting your kid out their own head is gently getting them involved with extra curriculars. I was involved with theatre at my high school and it changed me for the better. Sure, I could definitely fake a smile and confidence. But I also learned how to channel the emotions and get them out. Community service also works wonders. Hearing stories of different families from other walks of life is not only humbling, but it helps you gain perspective. Make it a group activity. Sometimes taking these huge steps is scary.
It’s okay to be scared yourself. You don’t need to put on a brave face for them. If anything, it feels better when they can see your emotions. It validates them and brings you closer to one another. Allowing yourselves as parents to display raw emotions to your children helps them see that they aren’t alone in this, and that you are feeling exactly what they are feeling. Also, a good hug from your child always feels great. Get that emotional healing on.
Try and create a new normal. Sometimes when situations like these happens, you may get stuck and not know how to recreate normalcy. So the best advice is to create your new normal! If you had specific traditions, tweak them a bit to lessen the discomfort. I think one of the hardest things to come to terms with was the absence of Sunday dinner with my mother’s side of the family. After she was sort of taken off the pedestal of leadership, the communication between the two sides faded. If we could go back, I would have liked to maybe tweak the tradition. Maybe have it so we found a common place. I think being over there without her felt foreign and lonesome, so I shied away. But a cool thing that is beginning to happen is that the two sides are gently weaving back. So maybe some sort of gathering will become tradition. Maybe not every week, we’re all adults now haha
Embrace the situation. Embrace it for it’s ugliness, for its odd beauty, and for the change it forces in your family. A lot of people want to keep their chin up, but I say screw that. Let it hit you like an anvil. Let the emotions wreck you a bit. Just don’t let it distract you from the very bizarre beauty of the disease. A woman once told my family that the most comforting thing was that patients may forget who you are, but they will never forget the love they have for you. They feel your energy. So relish in the fact that they do see you, just in a different way. Embracing this situation for all that it’s worth will allow you and your family to grow with it. Hell, if we’re suffering, might as well let it educate us, eh?
Maybe these little tokens of wisdom will help you guys, I dunno. I may have babbled a bit. This subject is pretty hard to talk about in general but I’m trying to help you guys.
Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads doing the most! You guys deserve all of the rewards. Give yourselves a pat on the back.
Love you dad, you’re my #1 Man