November 4, 2020

I Will Get By: Advice From a Mom Who Hasn’t Been Alone Since March. PART 2

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Cindy Lopez: 

Hi, and welcome to Voices of Compassion, CHC’s new Podcast series. I’m Cindy Lopez and I’m happy to host our Voices of Compassion Podcast series. Last week’s episode featured Liza Bennigson, the mother of two elementary school children and the Associate Director of Marketing and Communications here at CHC. Liza dived into talking about her unfiltered experiences being a working mom who feels like most of us, wondering, will there be any end in sight?

Here’s how we ended last week’s conversation:

Liza Bennigson: 

I feel like they’re really missing out on a lot of what school is about, which is peer to peer relationships and fun and spontaneity and just social time. The school is doing an awesome job academically, but I’m more concerned about some of the social, emotional effects of sheltering in place.  So that’s really hard.


Last week we ended our conversation with Liza on what’s been the hardest part for the kids. So now Liza, tell us, what’s been the hardest thing for you?


Not being with our friends. We as adults miss our friends, and seeing people and having people over for dinner and we’ve missed a bunch of trips that we were supposed to go on; that’s been the hardest part is just the things that we’ve lost. And hopefully we’ve lost them temporarily and we can get some semblance of our former lifestyle. I think also hard is being a working mom and finding some sort of work life balance. As soon as I walk outside this door, and I am in a sort of glorified closet right now, that is serving as my office, it’s time to be Mom. And there is no transition time. I don’t even get a five minute quiet car ride to sort of decompress and enter the next phase of the day. So, it’s very hard to shut off and then turn on Mom. I’m constantly distracted, I’m constantly feeling guilty that I’m not working enough or I’m not Momming enough. Every time I walk out the door, there’s dishes piled up and there’s laundry and there’s just so much going on and it’s very hard to create boundaries.

I think it’s also hard to just watch all the really hard things going on in the world right now and talk to my kids about them and try to find some explanation or create some sense around everything that’s happening. And then, just letting us be sad about it and disappointed and that, you know, remembering it’s okay, that this is really hard and we’re not always going to be able to be happy and carefree.


It’s hard being a mom and it’s hard working. And then you add on all these extra layers and it’s really tough. Being in your role and working alongside so many mental health experts, is there any advice you’d like to share with us from your network of colleagues here at CHC?


I reached out to some of our CHC colleagues about ways to sort of find joy, and help our kids find joy and a couple of my favorite ideas: one clinician suggested we create a staycation jar and we each kind of contribute ideas to the jar on things we can do from home or in our backyard, that are fun like camping in the backyard or having a picnic, or going on a scavenger hunt. And then when we’re having a hard time, we can kind of pick something out of that jar and go do it. So, another clinician said what if we start planning for the future, when we can do things that we really miss doing, like, what restaurant are we going to go to first or who should we have over for a party? And then we can do things like start saving up for our party or for our dinner out. And maybe put something on the calendar, a hopeful date or send an invitation to our friends. So things like that give us something to look forward to. And actually the planning is really good for them, for their executive functioning skills and their, you know, organizing and thinking ahead and planning. I think it’s a great way to not just be so stuck in the moment when the moment is not that happy.


So reflecting on last week’s episode, you talked about the social piece and then the emotional piece and the mental health stuff. Do you have any tips for parents about how to start those kinds of more mental health or emotional kinds of conversations with your kids?


Sometimes if you say yourself that you’re having a hard time or a hard day it helps them learn to open up and realize that it’s okay. I find in the car, in the car mine are still in the backseat and maybe the lights are out. And it’s just a little bit less intimidating to talk about our feelings. So finding the right time, not forcing it, and then maybe talking about how you’re having a hard time or something that’s on your mind, is a great way to let them know that it’s a safe space and it’s okay to, to open up. And then it’s also always okay to just ask how are you doing? Are you okay? This is so hard. Like just acknowledging and validating: this is so hard.


That’s great. And I think that lots of parents are trying to figure that all out because as we know this period of time that we’ve been in between sheltering in place and the social justice piece and just everything that’s going on, our kids are impacted by that. We as adults are impacted by that. And so how can we talk to our kids about that. And I think that transparency piece is a big one. So Liza, given all this, everything you’ve talked about, you’re trying to be a mom. You’re a working mom. Your, you know, office is in a closet. How do you manage or how do you get through your day?


A lot of deep breaths, a lot of gratitude. I have a necklace that I wear that has three rings on it and so every day I need to find three things to be grateful for. And I’m not allowed to just do the family and the health. I have to find like actual things in each day. So just finding kind of joy and gratitude in the littlest things. And when I can’t then maybe trying to create some.

So one of the things that we’ve been trying to do is like walk around to the little free libraries. And I know it’s not that COVID friendly, but we bring a lot of hand sanitizer and we bring our own books to contribute. And then, if there’s one that peaks our interest, we’ll take one and clorox it a little bit. But, just finding something to go do–even our bike rides were getting a little old after a while. So my husband created this handle-on-a-bungee-cord kind of thing that the kids can hold on to and skateboard behind our bikes. And it’s kind of like, like wakeboarding a little bit. Or, you know, we’re having tacos one night and I’m like, let’s have a Mexican Fiesta. And now every time we have tacos, we have a Mexican Fiesta and we put on the music and we dance around the kitchen and maybe I’ll have a Corona.  It’s just ways to create joy when it’s not that easily found. I would say that would be one of the biggest ways we’re kind of staying sane and healthy.


Yeah. And speaking of that, you’ve given so much great advice, so many great hints and tips for parents as we’ve been talking–so what’s the best advice? What do you think, if you wanted parents to take away something from listening to this podcast, what would that be?


I think it would be that if you have a kid who’s struggling right now, or you’re struggling right now, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent or a bad person. It’s so normal and it’s so okay to not feel okay and to ask for help. And if you don’t ask for help, you’re not going to get help. So just to be open with your friends and your family, and maybe a professional about what you need to get through this ‘cause this is really hard. And being open with your kids as I talked about–just honesty, validation, explaining things, and creating this really open line of communication. You don’t want to avoid the hard topics, but you definitely want to make sure they feel safe and that they’re going to be okay because that’s another important role of ours.

Self-care is so hard to find right now and I’m such a huge advocate for it. I would say massage is number one on the list of things I’m ready to go do as soon as this is over. But it’s so hard. We can’t go do those kinds of things right now, or get our toes done. With the smoke in the air, we haven’t been able to even go for a walk. So, figuring out ways to take care of ourselves. And it’s not just good for us, but it’s good for our kids to see us prioritizing ourselves. So if we need to go into our room and shut the door and read or go take a bath or a long shower, that’s not selfish, that’s really good for them to see that we’re taking care of ourselves and that’s a priority. Because for kids who you know, and this is getting pretty dark right now, but for kids who are considering suicide, which the rate is skyrocketing right now during COVID. They need to see that there’s a reason to hold on. And so we have a job to make adulthood look good and that’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned at CHC was sort of making adulthood look good is helping the next generation realize that there’s a reason to hold on when they’re wondering and questioning whether or not that’s worth it.

Depression and anxiety are so real. And for kids that aren’t sure whether it’s worth it, we need to show them that there’s a reason to, to keep going. And for me it’s having dessert every night, even when my kids don’t get it. And that might sound totally evil, but I’m like, maybe they didn’t have their best behavior or didn’t do their chores. Then they’re not going to get dessert, but guess what? Mom still gets it cause I’m an adult and I get to make the rules. And when you’re an adult, you get to make the rules and just little ways to show that adulthood is awesome. Having a Zoom call with my girlfriends and closing the door and “please don’t disturb.” I’m having fun with my friends and maybe your kids might give you a guilt trip or make you feel badly for taking that time, but it is so good for you, and so good for them to know that you care about yourself and you’re taking care of yourself.


Wow, that’s great. There’s lots of good kernels of advice that you gave parents in all of your comments today.


I actually have one more thing: when my kids come into my quote on quote office and I’m in the middle of something, I’m trying to get something done, I’m on a deadline, I might lose my temper and it’s been known to happen and then I just have to remember, like this isn’t their fault. They did not ask for this. They, with barely any notice, everything in the world changed and they’re not allowed to go to school anymore and see their friends. And so I have to take a deep breath and remember that, but also, when I don’t and I might lose my temper, it’s okay to ask for forgiveness and to maybe ask for a do-over and explain exactly what happened. Like, “Oh my gosh, I am so sorry about that reaction. This is not your fault. You shouldn’t, in second grade, have to manage your own Zoom links and schedule and I’m really sorry that I lost my temper. I’m just having a really hard day or I have this deadline or whatever.” And then say, “Can I try that again?”

That has been really effective and just a way for us to kind of let them know that it’s okay for them to ask for a do-over when they have an emotional outburst and then really just not just feel guilty for the fact that we may have lost our temper or lashed out when it wasn’t appropriate.


Yeah, love that concept of the do-over. I think that’s something that we all need to remember and sometimes it’s harder to remember in that moment. And so you’re going to have to pause and say, “Okay, you know, let’s hit rewind and try it again.”

So, Liza thanks so much for sharing your story from the trenches. I know you’ve inspired me and I’m sure you’ve done the same for others, for our listeners. Some key takeaways from this episode that I’ve heard from you, have been:

1) ask for help, like, this is hard, everyone’s in the middle of it, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

2) Be open with your kids. Don’t avoid the hard topics and help them to feel safe at the same time.

And next, self care, such a biggie. And that’s a hard one to do right now during this period of time when your kids need so much from you and their home with you all day long, but making an effort to really take care of yourself and however you do that.

And then finally, what you just shared: the do-over and making adulthood look good. So making it something that kids really want to be around for and know that there’s so much in life that’s good. And, that is really important when we’re thinking about all the anxiety and fear and isolation and depression that’s going on in our world right now.

So, Liza, do you have any parting thoughts for us?


I think you summed it up pretty nicely. Did I really say all that?


Yeah, you did! [laughs]


Good. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and this is something so important to me and I just want to help people get through this and get through everything that life’s gonna throw at us. So, I spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff and I’m just thrilled to be able to share some little kernels with the world.


Well thank you so much Liza for being actually our first guest on our podcast, that’s really exciting. And in fact Liza wrote a blog – well a series of blogs really – showcasing the best of what she’s learned from CHC clinicians about this school-from-home life. Be sure to check out our show notes for the link!


Thanks Cindy!


We’ll have our next episode in our Voices of Compassion series coming up next week. So stay tuned and thanks for joining us today. Hope you all have a great day and find a way to practice some self-care today.

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