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Dear kids: It's not you, it's me

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Dear Kids,

I feel compelled to address last night’s very public unraveling, during which I ugly cried over a botched takeout order.

By way of explanation, all I can offer is this phrase: It’s not you, it’s me.

Now don’t get me wrong: there have been times in the past when it has most definitely been you. But over these recent weeks and months, you have exceeded my wildest expectations. You have foregone birthdays and holidays and worn masks without complaint. You have stayed away from your friends and learned to play beautifully together and barely mentioned the cancelled trip to the indoor water park. So when you witness me losing my mind about exceedingly minor concerns? I assure you: it is decidedly about me.

I’ll elaborate with a recent example. You’ll recall that I audibly sighed when one of you asked me to cut an apple for you. Please know that I don’t expect a 6 year-old to use a sharp knife to cut an apple, and as a result consider this request to be perfectly reasonable. Yet the idea of having to honor that perfectly reasonable request at this moment in time sent me into paroxysms of rage, as I have spent the past 9 months doing nothing but cutting up apples. And scrambling eggs. And making sandwiches. These days, literally all I do is make food and purchase food and clean up food. Kid food procurement, a regular parenting responsibility that I once endured with, at most, mild irritation, now feels intolerable. This is true of other regular parenting responsibilities as well (see: laundry, winter glove and hat disbursement, occasional toilet plunge).

The truth is, we’re in Month 10 of this, and it’s cold and dark, so I can’t see friends and family outside anymore. Every day I’m bombarded by more horrific national news. I’m a clinical psychologist, so I have to spend every day absorbing the stresses of others. And I can’t do the things I usually do to de-stress and recharge, like go see live theater. This week, your dad, typically my partner in crime, is in the midst of a crisis at work and hasn’t been around. So with all this going on, cutting up one more freaking apple just feels like a bridge too far.

I really feel for you, kids, because none of this is about you, and yet you are forced to bear witness to it, and at times bear the brunt of it. You see me weeping in response to a sitcom finale (thanks, The Good Place). You scratch your head as I rant about how hard it is to open the plastic bag your cereal comes in. You sigh as I subject you to another lecture on the perils of unmatched socks. Witnessing Mom at her lowest: yet another crappy thing you’ve had to endure during this awful time.

It may bring you some comfort to know that most of your friends are going through this, too. My job is to work with stressed parents, and these parents tell me that they’re having lots of “it’s not you, it’s me” moments with their own kids. Every day I hear stories that mirror my own, involving moms and dads losing it over seemingly minor issues. They all bemoan the fact that they aren’t being the parents they want to be. I repeatedly remind them that none of us can be the parents we want to be, thanks to the insane circumstances we’re in.

Given these insane circumstances, I think all we parents can do right now is continue to try our best, even though our best during this time might be our absolute worst during any other time. For my part, I’m hoping that if nothing else, seeing me experience big, bad feelings helps you learn that it is normal for all of us—kids and adults alike—to experience big, bad feelings, especially during a crazy time like this. And I’m hoping, too, that I’ve been able to model good coping behaviors for you (although I fear I’ve leaned too heavily on the eat-whipped-cream-directly-from-a-can strategy).

This new year, I’m resolving to try and stop freaking out over minor things. But it’s still COVID times, so I can’t promise that I’ll be successful. What I can promise is that if I do freak out, it will likely still be about me and not about you. Because honestly, your resilience and positivity in the face of this has been an incredible source of light during this time of darkness. There’s truly no one else I’d rather survive a global pandemic with.

Thank you for your unbelievable good spirits, kids, and Happy 2021. Let’s all hope for a new year full of health, hope, and fewer unwarranted tantrums from me. And sleepovers at Grandma’s. Lots and lots of sleepovers at Grandma’s.

Love always, Mommy

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