Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

Why our children need validation

Kids need to feel understood

Recently, I wrote an article for a publication about Social Security disability benefits for people who have the same bladder condition I do, interstitial cystitis. IC has no diagnostic test for it and is instead a diagnosis of elimination. While we have made much progress through the years, some patients are still told their symptoms are all in their heads.

Each patient I interviewed who had received disability benefits — whether it took one year or eight years — said their approval for disability brought them great relief and great validation. In fact, feeling validated was almost as thrilling for them as finding out their financial concerns were going to be improving.

Why validation matters

Validation is so incredibly important. I think it’s something that we often overlook both for ourselves and for our kids. Sometimes we don’t need someone to come along and fix our problems. We just need someone to listen, understand and say, “I see you are suffering, and I’m sorry.”

I have felt that way so many times. I even tell my husband sometimes when I don’t need him to fix a problem and just need him to listen.

I’ve not thought about validation as much when it comes to my children. I suppose that’s because validation doesn’t matter so much when they are babies and toddlers. It’s a bit complex. As they get older, though, it comes up.

Validating kids’ emotions

Over the weekend, my daughter had something she wanted to do that didn’t work out through no fault of hers or anyone else. She felt frustrated, disappointed and tearful. What she was upset about seemed a bit trivial to me, because I have three decades of life on her that give me more perspective.

But, it was a big deal to her. And I realized how thankful I am that at 9 years old, my daughter hasn’t had experiences to give her a different perspective. She hasn’t dealt with great adversity or struggle. I am thankful for that blessing.

As I heard her crying, I debated about how to react. Should I comfort her? Should I leave her be? What did my mom do? What would help her most? I decided to trust my mama instinct, which said to go to her and comfort her. So that’s what I did.

It didn’t take much. I gave her a hug and commiserated with her about how disappointing the situation was. I validated her struggle and feelings. That’s what she most needed. Then I gently guided her through looking for a solution to the problem.

Moving from validation to proactivity

I don’t want her to get so caught up in her emotions that she can’t move forward to fix problems. Obviously that wouldn’t serve her well in life. But, I knew without validation for her feelings that she wouldn’t be able to move forward and find a solution.

She was able to continue with her day. My daughter shed a few more tears and then moved on. She felt understood, which mattered most to her. It matters to all of us. When we are going through a difficult time, we just want to be seen and acknowledged for our struggle.

Adults need validation, too

A couple of years ago, I dealt with an ongoing situation that greatly affected me, yet I wasn’t able to tell anyone about. I remember a good friend whose response in finding out about it later was, “You must have felt so alone.” Her response still touches my heart, because I was validated. I felt seen and heard in the midst of my struggle.

That’s all our kiddos need sometimes, too. It’s human nature. And it’s something I’m going to strive to remind myself the next time one of my kiddos has a breakdown over something that seems small to me.

My children don’t need my irritation, frustration or list of solutions. They just need me to come alongside them, hug them, remind them they aren’t alone and then we can work through it together. I pray also that doing this with small issues in their childhood will lead them to coming to me with bigger, more serious issues as they grow.

Anxiety, depression and spring break

A recent spring break trip sent me home with a souvenir of lessons about my anxiety and depression

A few months ago, I made my first video for my Facebook page about my struggle with anxiety and depression. I recorded it multiple times because making a video gave me anxiety (it still does!). The irony wasn’t lost on me. But that video got a decent response from folks who were glad I shared. That was my first indication that I’m not alone and sharing about my anxiety and depression may make me anxious and vulnerable, but it can help other people.

Since then, I’ve shared a few posts about anxiety and fear here on the blog like what a dog taught me about anxiety. I have a guest post about anxiety coming soon on The Mindful Mom Blographer. The proverbial cat is clearly out of the bag about my struggles with anxiety and depression.

Honestly, for years I just thought this is how I’m wired. I figured it was normal to have these thoughts and concerns or, at the very least, normal for me. I didn’t realize until more recently that the stuff going on in my head has a name: anxiety disorder. Knowing it’s an actual issue doesn’t really change anything, but does give me perspective. I can stop beating myself up so much for struggling with these thoughts. I can stop feeling like a huge failure when they win.

And all of this struck me yet again during our spring break trip last week to Florida for a visit to Disney World and Universal Florida. But it didn’t strike me in the way you might expect. Yes, I had some worries about the trip. That was to be expected. Yes, I thought a few times about how sad the story would be if on my kids’ first flight on the way to Disney World of all places our plane crashed and we all died. I pushed that from my head and didn’t voice those concerns to anyone else. Yes, I worried about losing track of the kids in the crowd just like any other parent. But, I probably focused on it a bit more than I needed to. Yes, I fretted about my son falling down the long staircase we were waiting on to board the Hogwarts Express, even though I was right behind him to catch him — or at least break his fall.

However, those things weren’t what I learned most about my anxiety. Those were normal-for-me things that I expected. And I’ve told you before how I don’t want to live life in fear of getting more hurt while doing something out of my comfort zone. My health issues of fibromyalgia and interstitial cystitis have caused me to be paranoid to do anything out of the ordinary and make my pain worse. But I knew that going into the trip. I did my best to be practical and realistic yet also not miss out on making memories with my kids.

What I learned, though, was how much anxiety’s good friend, depression, was hanging out with me. This past year or so, I would have told you that my struggle with depression was in a good place and I’m doing well. It turns out that may not be completely true. And this is where I’m going to get incredibly honest and vulnerable. I learned on my trip that I’ve been living life like I don’t have hope of the future. I’ve been living like maybe I’ll live another 10 years or so at most.

I don’t consciously think that way. In fact, having children who are 6 and 9, I am terrified I won’t live long enough to see them grown, which I desperately want. But, I haven’t necessarily been living like that is my desire. I’ve been beaten down and focusing more on getting through the present than thinking about what I want for my future.

Maybe it was the timing of the trip combined with a visit the week before to a new fibromyalgia doctor who has given me a sliver of hope that maybe I don’t have to feel like this all the time and can be proactive. (I literally got choked up in her office when she told me she thinks she can get me feeling better with tweaking my medicine and having me start physical therapy.) Maybe it was combined also with her talking to me about my weight. Maybe it was combined with realizing that my current weight is the highest it’s ever been aside from when I was pregnant. And maybe it was seeing myself — ALL of myself — in so many photos and reflections throughout the theme parks.

But for the first time in a few years, I felt like I got a good look at myself. I saw a woman about to turn 40 who stopped caring about herself. You might not know it from looking at me and seeing my face with makeup, my hair styled and my clothes halfway decent. But if you looked on the inside, you’d see a woman who didn’t think it mattered what she ate or whether she exercised, because everything was always going to hurt and there was no hope of it feeling better. On my inside, you’d see someone who had not pushed herself or tried to do better for herself because she really didn’t think she was worth it. You’d see someone who was so mad at her body and the multiple ways it has betrayed her these past few years that she didn’t really care what happened to it.

By the end of the trip, all of these things were churning through my head. When I put on my swimsuit to go swimming with the kids on our final full day in Florida, I knew it was time to live differently. My kids are now old enough that we can go and do things like theme parks and travel. I don’t have a grand desire to travel all the time; I’m a homebody. But this trip gave me hope that we can travel sometimes. It gave me hope and joy to watch my kids as they saw and experienced new things. I want to offer that to them. I want to find a way for us to take a big trip every couple of years.

I can’t guarantee that I will always be physically up to walking around in a theme park all day. I managed it this time, but barely. By the end of each day, I was hobbling out to the car with aching hips. But, I’ve realized I can actually do my best to feel well. I can try. And that is how I know that my good friend depression is being pushed away. Because now I feel more hopeful and purposeful moving forward. I’ve realize that turning 40 in May isn’t all that old. I realize that maybe I don’t have to just accept that I’m old and everything hurts. Maybe there is something I can do.

Don’t get me wrong. I am also realistic. I know that I have these chronic pain issues, and they aren’t going to go away. My body will never be pain free. But, maybe it can be better. At the very least, I can make an effort to be in the best health I can be in so that I can have adventures with my kids. I want to be able to do more than just take care of them, which was my goal and desire for a few years when that was a struggle. Now that I’ve attained that goal, it’s time to get to work. It’s time to stop listening to the voice in my head that tells me I’m not worth it and I will never get better no matter what I do. It’s time to try. Just try. Maybe my quality of life can be even better. And maybe it won’t get better, but I’ll at least know I’ve done everything I can.

That hope of maybe feeling better is what gets to me most. It’s why I choked up in my new doctor’s office. The doctor viewed me as a woman who was struggling with pain and being out of shape. I viewed me as a woman who is feeling the best she has in a couple of years. Both pictures are accurate, though. While I am feeling the best I have in a couple of years, I am now seeing there is hope that it could be better.

I wish I could say that having hope and joy always win over anxiety and depression. They don’t. I trust God. I cling to Him. I fall at His feet. And I have to do it over and over again, because the struggle is very real. I take medicine to help me manage. I’ve learned tricks and techniques to help myself with my anxiety and depression. But they are always lurking in the background. They are waiting to get me down. Many times I let them. But after last week, I feel a renewed desire to fight back. I feel a renewed desire to be proactive and not settle.

I want to do it for myself, but I want to do it for my children even more. They deserve a mom who can fearlessly adventure with them. I won’t always be that mom, but for their sake and mine, I need to move forward and really try.

What a dog taught me about anxiety

Last weekend, my husband went out of town with his parents for a funeral. Since the kiddos and I were staying home, we kept my in-laws’ dog while they were away. Their dog was a littermate of our beloved dog who passed away from cancer in 2016. I always love having a furry friend around.

Shadow is incredibly cute. As he’s gotten a bit older (he’s 13), he’s gotten a little more anxious. This was his first time staying with us at our new house. It was definitely out of his comfort zone for multiple reasons, including that we don’t have carpet anywhere in our house except the stairs and that we have two stories. Oh, yeah. And we also have little kids!

While he knows us and does well with us, we aren’t his usual people. As we learned last year when Shadow stayed with us while my father-in-law had open heart surgery, Shadow gets anxious and sometimes will pace and whine. Above all, he wants to be with us and near us at all times.

For that reason, both nights he stayed with us, I carried him upstairs, closed my bedroom door and let him sleep in my bedroom. I knew he was safe. He felt contained but not confined and that helped him. However, both nights he was here, he woke up in the middle of the night and had a bit of a panic. I could hear him pacing around the room and whining. I sat up, shone my flashlight around to find him and talked to him. As soon as he heard me, saw the light and saw me, he was able to calm down and go back to sleep. I would have thought it was a fluke, but it happened a couple of times. He just got anxious and needed reassurance.

Here’s the thing. I can’t make fun of or criticize Shadow one bit even though I knew a few facts. First, he was safe. Second, he wasn’t alone. Third, his people would come back for him. Shadow, however, didn’t know these facts. He just knew he was in a different place with different smells, sights, sounds and people and wasn’t sure he’d ever see his people again. It made him anxious. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have acted that same exact way. Many times I can know facts and still act that way.

Anxiety is tough like that. It can make you want to pace and whine in the dark even when you are safe and sound. It can leave you feeling like all is wrong with the world when it’s not such a big deal. It can leave you in a public bathroom, texting your husband asking how to get out of an event that has sent you into an anxiety spiral.

But, just like Shadow, I can be calmed by the light and a Voice. There have been times when I was struggling and suddenly felt God’s presence as a reminder that He was with me, He was in charge and I had no reason to fear. How silly I must seem to Him as I pace around and whine! Through the years, I have learned to look for His light and listen for His voice sooner than before. It is an ongoing battle. I don’t always get it right. But I am thankful to have Someone shining a light for me always through the darkness. I am thankful to have Someone who is patient with me when I wander around feeling distressed for no good reason.

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