PREFACE: I wrote this post last January and never hit “publish”. I was feeling too tender at the time, and not many people knew what I was walking through. But now that I’m out of the fog and through the depths of the valley of the shadow of death, it seemed appropriate to share. For those of you who are still walking through dark times, I hope it is a comfort to you to know there is a way through and that there is light at the end of it all.
As I scroll through my Pinterest feed I might come across a dozen articles:7 ways to be a happier mom, or how not to be an angry mom, or 12 things every kid should see their mom doing. But do you know what I never see? How to be a mommy when you are sad. I think it is a topic that sorely needs to be addressed; at one time or another, most every mommy will be sad. I’m not talking about “mommy is having a bad day” kind of sad. I’m talking about deep, dark sadness. A miscarriage or the loss of a baby. A serious illness in a close family member. The death of a parent. Experiencing a deep relational wound from a friend. The death of a marriage. Serious financial problems that result in losing a house. A dark depression in yourself or a family member. Or maybe you are walking alongside someone you love who is experiencing one of these things. Sadness is one of the seasons we will all inevitably face, and doing it while mothering little people day and night is a particular kind of challenge.
I wish I was far along enough in my own journey or wise enough to have a short pithy list of “8 ways to be a sad mommy”, but I don’t. I wish there was a formula that said: when life has hit you in the gut, do A, B, and C and you will be fine. But everyone’s grief is their own and so is the process. If you do happen to find yourself in the process, as little eyes look to you and ask about your daily tears, I hope you won’t shy away from these hard moments of mothering.
Vulnerability with your kids
It obviously depends on the age of your children, but I’ve always tried to be honest with my kids. When I am having hard days and am sad, I tell them that. They may not know the reason, but if they see me crying I want them to know it is not because of them but something that mommy is feeling about grown-up things. We talk about trusting God even when we don’t feel happy. They know it’s ok to be sad and not rush straight to being happy. Honestly, the movie Inside Out has been pretty helpful in talking through it all with them. They know each emotion has a place and tears are a necessary part of life.
Plan to be with people
Little souls are fragile. Hey, I get sad if I’m around someone who is sad, so why wouldn’t they? Even though I don’t hide my tears or my sadness, I also don’t want it to permeate their days. This is where planning is essential. I don’t mean planning great outings, but planning ways to break up the darkness. You need people. In your pain, people are your greatest balm. I’ve had dear friends come over, bring me a muffin, we set our kids in front of the TV, and we cry together for an hour. This allows me space to have what I need, my kids love having friends over (and the extra screen time), and then I can be more present with them afterward. Find your people. Ask for help. Plan ways to connect.
Give yourself grace
We’ve had more screen time, more messes, less organized activity, more take-out, more pajama days, and had to say no to non-essentials. Amazingly, cutting out all the extras and focusing on the snuggles and quiet moments doesn’t hurt anyone. Especially if your grief hits during the holiday season or another particularly busy time, it’s important to say “no” to things that are only going to add to your stress. The world won’t fall apart of you don’t go to every planned activity or do every craft in your advent calendar. Find simple, creative outlets for your kids and just say “this is what we are doing today, not the next 5 minutes, ALL DAY.” Legos, drawing, playdough, lincoln logs — all of these things have entertained my kids for an entire morning when I stop letting them jump from one thing to the next. I have seen their creativity exercised and stretched and when I don’t accept “there’s nothing to do! I’m bored!” they somehow move on and entertain themselves just fine. And while they are learning to play on their own, you rest. Talk on the phone when you need a way out of your own thoughts. Read when you can. Drink tea or hot chocolate. Stay in your pajamas. Take a long shower. Nap if they still nap. Be gentle with yourself, when your soul is taking a beating just focus on breathing and taking care of yourself.
Find new priorities
The priorities you have during a season of grief are not the ones you will always have. Recognize that it is indeed a season. It will not last forever, but it is here today and you need to figure out a way to walk through it. Maybe that is like what I already mentioned, stepping away from certain activities and giving yourself grace in new ways. Maybe it means hiring a babysitter once a week so you can get out. Or a cleaning service. Again, ask for help. Join a Bible study. Find people who will pray with you and for you. Go to counseling or try out medication if the depression or anxiety will not lift. Things that used to make you happy or work for stress release might be doing the opposite for awhile, make adjustments and know it is not forever. As much as you should not rush yourself through the process, make sure you are going THROUGH it and not just sitting in it. And then be patient with yourself and with the circumstances. Some pains will never fully resolve, but light will come again in some form or another.