The Latest Newsletters from Dr. Joe Barber
Difficult days happen for every parent. The key is to have some tools at hand when one of these days happen. Parenting is not always fun and easy. Be ready for these difficult days. Here are some suggestions for the dark days of parenthood.
Discover something new about parenting that you did not recognize or realize prior. Seek out new situations and opportunities for a new relationship with your child. Try a new activity or a new location for an old activity. By sharing new experiences with your child a day filled with negative energy can change. The appeal of a new environment is often enough to bring a smile to you and your child’s face.
Breathe. The act of breathing relaxes you. Step back from the negative emotions you are feeling and take a deep breath in to the count of 4 and then breathe out to a count of 8. Perform several cycles and clear your mind of all thoughts. By quieting your mind positive energy filled with new feelings, thoughts, words and actions will appear.
Throw out your negative attitude. Imaging wrapping it in thick brown paper sealed with box tape and toss it in a dumpster. If your profile and attitude are filled with fear, anxiety and inadequacy only negative feelings will follow. Substitute these negative thoughts with affirmations that make you recall events and situations where you parented your child in wonderful and memorable ways. Suddenly, new opportunities and actions will appear that positively impact your parenting.
Pat yourself on the back. Most parents not only try but do a good job parenting their child. Step back from self-criticism and self-doubt. Through verbal self-talk tell yourself you are a good parent who not only loves your child but has raised her to be a glorious human being whose life is filled with opportunities, love, expectation and acceptance.
Get your sleep. Close your eyes and rest, take a nap or go to bed earlier. Most parents are running on empty with a chronic sleep debt. Maintain your mind and body by getting out into nature, eating healthy, staying fit, experiencing the arts, enjoying your friends and always getting adequate sleep. Getting more sleep will provide you the same dividends that compound interest does for those who know how to save and invest their money wisely. Fall asleep each day knowing you will wake feeling stronger and better.
As a new parent emotions, aspirations and responsibilities surge. Your heart is filled with love and hope. You dream about your child’s future and the limitless opportunities that await him. Yet, at the same time, you are vulnerable to fear fueled by self-doubt. Your insecurity is universal. All parents wonder if they will be a good parent. All parents question whether they have the patience, fortitude and compassion to blend acceptance and love to deal with life’s imperfections. Parents wonder whether procrastination and ignorance will be their lifelong companions. The answers to these question are within your heart. Your child is a limitless gift. He is pure and comes into the world without regret or expectations. His heart carries no fear, anger, hate, disgust or envy. His heart is filled with unconditional love for you just as your heart is filled with this same love for him. There is calm within the peace and simplicity of love. This union allows you to find the balance, rhythm and intuition necessary to become the parent you want to be.
Your first job as a parent is to seek the quiet calm of contemplative thought. Silence will slow down your decision making and release negative emotions tied to your fears. The first step in this process is to clear your mind to wander and dream of the future. There is no rush. Find your center, your balance point and take the time you need to begin to dream. Imagine the endless opportunities your child will have. See the places he will travel to and visit. Listen to the voices and songs he will hear. Feel the sun as it envelops him on a warm summer day or the crisp wind during a winter storm. Give yourself time to dream. Look away from life’s chaos to find peace in the limitless potential of your child’s life. A life he will choose. A life he will live and a life you will protect by providing the safety and security he needs as he begins his life.
So how do you find this inner strength? You find it in the support and love that surrounds you. Look to you friends and family. Seek out non-judgmental supporters who will listen to you in your times of self-doubt and help you seek your own answers. Find people who show their love for you by their willingness to share rather than their willingness to answer. Identify places and things that bring joy to you and hold them close. Look to the arts and nature for the glory that envelops you. Set boundaries to protect your time and your own sense of who you are and who you want to become. Practice when it is right to speak up and when it is right to walk away. With the support of your friends and family take care of your own needs. Eat healthy, get your exercise and find time for the sleep your body needs to start each day fresh and ready to join your child in a glorious regret free adventure called life.
Start right now. Take the first step today. Change or enhance your life. Live every moment without thought for the if’s or the when’s. Take time to dream your dreams and manifest them into reality. Close your eyes and see a world without limits. Live a life built on passion and inspiration. Your child will see you and learn more from your actions than any spoken word would ever teach. Provide yourself and your child the greatest gift either of you will ever receive. The gift of unconditional love and opportunity to live every day of every month of every year.
Throughout my life I have often felt the “knowing” of intuition. Although I have not always listened, I was always pointed towards the right path to travel. After becoming a pediatrician this awareness became part of me.
My sister JoAnne died from pancreatic cancer almost four years ago. Her life was filled with smiles, passion and love for her children, husband, family, friends and the children she cared for as a school nurse in Connecticut. She lived an inspired life and her willingness to endure and accomplish were endless.
Four years ago she called me at work and told me she had just returned from the hospital where a CT scan of her abdomen revealed advanced pancreatic cancer. I couldn’t breathe. She told me everything would be all right. We cried. With the support of her entire community she ran a marathon one month after receiving this news and died seven months later. She chased, fought and endured the suffering this cancer cloaked her within every day. She accepted the pain and lived for the love of her family, friends, faith and the children she loved.
As I drove home with my wife on the day of her diagnosis I experienced a sign of hope. My wife was driving and I was in the passenger seat. We both were softly crying. As we neared our home in North East we both saw a man walking on the side of the road. Our gaze met. A voice within said to help this man. We turned around and pulled over in front of him. He was about 50, mud covered and dressed in fishing gear and waders. Although intellectually disabled, he told us how he had become separated from his friends, lost his fishing reel and breathing heavily he pointed to the gorge he had just climbed up to reach the road.
We helped him into our car and planned to drive him into town to the fire station when the same voice told me to go to Middle Road and head for the lake. We drove a half-mile ahead and turned north on Middle Road. Within minutes we came upon a young man on a cell phone next to a truck on the side of the road. I could see the man was very upset. He appeared to be making a phone call for help. I jumped out of our car and pointed to the man in our backseat. He ran over to the car and told us he thought his friend had drowned. He told us they were fishing in the gorge and became separated. He searched without success and raced back to his truck to call for help. It was at that moment we arrived.
As we drove away all I could think of was the height of the 20 Mile Gorge and how he had ever climbed out. Aged, confused, tired and muddied he was given the strength and shown the way. I knew then that this was a sign.
During the pain and loved filled months that followed this day was always with me. Jo Anne and I talked about this fisherman often. The religious and metaphorical meanings touched our souls. I will always remember her smile each time we talked about this man. A smile framed by belief, acceptance, trust and the magical opportunities life and death provides each of us. Although her body is now gone her magic remains and the understanding this fisherman gave me that forgettable day will never be forgotten.
I will always remember these words. When I was a freshman in college my father died from liver failure due to infectious hepatitis. He and two of his brothers had contracted this insidious disease as young boys while swimming in water too close to our local sewage treatment plant. Although the slow progression of his illness provided me many years of opportunity to prepare for his death, I stood transfixed next to my mother when we were told it was time to make arrangements. I never forgot these simple words. I walked down the hospital corridor and found a side stairwell and cried.
Although I have heard these words many times throughout my medical care it took many years to understand them. A mother recently recounted to me how a neonatologist told her the death of her premature infant was near and she should begin to make arrangements. Her eyes filled with tears and then she suddenly began to smile. She proudly told me her son survived and was now grown and healthy. In that moment I again understood the meaning of those words.
A parent’s life is filled with joy bordered by fear and the risk of loss. We listen and watch as our children say their first word or take a first step. Her eyes are sprinkled with a realization she does not know how to get down. We remember driving tests, first dates and the morning after the prom. We live for times of safety and security and avoid the fear.
This mother reminded me about the depth and power of words. As a neurologist and pediatrician I have spoken with many parents whose child was near death. I tried to listen, console, explain and prepare them for the impossible, the death of their child. I believed compassion and understanding would be the gateways to solace for parents. I believed my saying the right words could prepare parents for their child’s death. I was wrong.
I now believe death is best prepared for not by words but rather by choice and understanding. Our beliefs and attitudes provide the necessary and unending power to seek and find healing and understanding from within.