A Mom’s Gratitude Reflection at Summer’s End When Too Much is Going On
Emily Griffin, MSW, LICSW, LCSW-C
I am a mom of five children, a psychotherapist, and as I realized in recent years, a nearly lifelong carrier of the heavy weight that I now know to be anxiety. The toll that chronic stress rooted in my childhood had taken (and my parent’s DNA & adverse childhood experiences) was showing in physical, social, and emotional ways. It got in the way of my ability to be present with my kids. It impacted my functioning at work. It made me uneasy in crowds. I had a rage inside that was hard to understand.
This all came to a head seven years ago when I had my third child. Today I am much better and function at a different frequency- with a way of living that allows for meaningful self-care — after much practice with guided meditation, gratitude, a stronger relationship with my husband (including his understanding of my anxiety), more regular help from my support system, and the right medicine. The anxiety is not all gone, but it’s not in the driver’s seat anymore. I can model gratitude for my children, and recognition of all the feelings (not just “good” ones)- including being overwhelmed. I share all this to normalize that yes, things can feel too difficult — but they can get better. It won’t ever be perfect. But you can learn that you are enough, and who you are is who your kids need- not some idealized version of you. The process and daily commitment matters. Allowing yourself to ask for help matters.
Also, reframing what you’re dealing with in your life matters. I am choosing to focus on the things that I spell out gratitude for below. There’s a lot that I could potentially get stuck on in a negative thought pattern in my life- financial stressors, health issues with two of my kids that require ongoing treatment/time consuming follow up, repairs needed in my house, etc. And these things DID take up more mental space for me before. Reframing, choosing to step back and get perspective, has made a huge difference with how consumed I get with these life stressors. It has become easier, with practice, to find what I feel grateful for in my life and let those things occupy more space and energy.
Here’s my gratitude reflection at the end of Summer 2019, as I send my first born off to his sophomore year of college, my second son to 7th grade, my third son to 2nd grade, and my fourth son to 1st grade. My baby girl is at home. So much going on, so many feelings, but I’m pausing to take in the good stuff.
I am grateful for the lazy mornings, of weeks when there was no camp. The kids didn’t have breakfast until 10 and they had too much screen time. But they had fun and I got a little more sleep. And we cuddled and laughed together a little more.
I am grateful for my kids having camp most weeks this summer- so I didn’t have to feel bad when it was too hot for me to go outside. Love the A/C. Grateful for that!
I am grateful for the vast options of food delivery available to me this summer. I spent too much on these meals, but it was time I didn’t want to use cooking!
I am grateful that my oldest son has a school to go to that is in driving distance from home. It hurts my heart to send him back to college, and I’m simultaneously so immensely proud. I’m grateful that I don’t have to worry about his judgment- he is a relatively level-headed nineteen-year-old, I am pretty confident that this is true. I’m grateful that he talks to me about mistakes he makes, and that getting a tattoo this summer was something he thought about but didn’t do! I’m also grateful that he still understands how much he means to his brothers. He prioritized family time and though they will miss him a lot, they made lots of new important memories. I will forever be grateful for the entrance I got into motherhood with him as my first baby. It is important to him that he contributes to the greater good, and that is clear with how he relates to people. For that, I am grateful.
I am grateful for my thirteen-year-old’s budding sense of humor. He is goofy, so in love with his new baby sister, creative, and still innocent in the best ways. I am grateful for a flexible schedule that allows long talks with him about shows we watch, that facilitate bigger lessons on social justice and other broad themes that impact his moral compass. He is a loving and caring friend, choosing to pick candy for a friend who is returning to school this fall after a long illness, rather than getting the candy for himself. I am grateful and trust that he will continue to be nurturing of those he cares about, as well as look out for those who need some extra help.
I am grateful for my seven and six-year-old sons, who are learning important social skills as they navigate conflict with each other. They give each other the best and the worst of themselves- big emotions from one end of the spectrum to the other. I am grateful to have the awareness to not intervene too much and trust them to navigate their arguments and support each other as they are able. I am grateful that my own nervous system is calm enough now to handle their big feelings, whether directed at each other or not. I have the clarity to know what’s happening and not feel the urge to flee the scene because it’s too much for me. I am grateful that I have the perspective from not having had a strong sibling relationship of my own, that the “small stuff” feels indeed small and I can take in the simple joys of their day to day fun. They entertain each other, challenge each other, take each other for granted, and will be there for each other long after I’m gone. This makes me sad and so happy at the same time! I am grateful that I have a school to send them to, where the teachers know them and get them- and can challenge them while recognizing their respective learning styles.
I am grateful for my surprise 5th child that arrived right before this summer, my first baby girl. I am grateful for this strong, capable body that birthed her, and has held up through five births. My daughter is a pure delight; I am grateful to have the experience with my other babies, to help me prepare for this postpartum period, while also knowing that she is her own person and I had to take this time as it came. Preparing for the unknown, acknowledging what I was scared of, and being able to express those feelings safely made a huge difference. I am grateful for a slow-paced and intentional first few months of my daughter’s life. I am grateful for every morning she wakes up, every snort she makes, every closed-eyed, gummy smile she gives, and every time she squeezes my finger with her buttery soft hand.
We could only go to the beach for two nights this summer, but we made the most of it. I am grateful for my husband’s willingness to drive the whole time so I could comfort the baby as much as I needed to. I am grateful for the sand between my toes, the breeze that hit my daughter’s face, the ocean waves my seven-year-old crashed into with reckless abandon, the other mom who let my six-year-old use her bucket to gather water from the ocean to pour on his brother who buried himself in the sand. I’m grateful for the greasy funnel cake, the sweet corn, the orange and vanilla frozen custard, and the gummy sushi that my thirteen-year-old delighted in. I’m grateful for the fancy phone I take for granted often, that took amazing pictures of these fleeting moments- so much better than the phone I had to take pictures with when my oldest sons were little!
I am grateful for this summer, sad that it is ending. There was plenty that happened that I am not particularly grateful for, but I share with you the things I intend to hold on to. I will help the kids get ready for school as best I can. When I inevitably forget something, I’ll do my best to remember to practice self-compassion and practice accepting my imperfect self. Gratitude is a vital part of this process of self-compassion and self-care. The more you practice gratitude, the more you can keep your inner critic in check and feel overwhelmed less often. Focusing on what you can control, gratitude gets you grounded and ready for the next challenge with an informed foundation that allows for growth, acceptance, and sometimes a sense of humor. These are important things, no matter how many kids you have or how old they are. It rubs off on kids too, allowing for them to see what there is to appreciate in the simple day to day moments. So, what can you pause to feel gratitude for in this moment?