PMDD: What to Tell Your Kids
Some ideas for talking to your children and helping them cope.
Let me start off with a disclaimer. I am not a parent. I've said it before and I will say it again: I don't know how all you ladies with PMDD cope with motherhood. You are superwomen to be sure...and women of a class I will never comprehend. But I see every so often on message boards that some of you are having a hard time handling the responsibilities of motherhood when your symptoms are hot. And I often read that you just don't know how to explain your "craziness" to your kids and how worried you are that you are scarring them for life.
That's why I wanted to write this post. I wanted to offer you some assurance of your parenting abilities and some suggestions for talking about PMDD with your kids.
You're doing the best you can!
Assuming you're not physically or emotionally abusing your kids, cut yourself some slack when your behaviors aren't "June Cleaver" approved. If you had it in you to do better, you would. If you don't have it in you, stop beating yourself up. Filling your head with thoughts of guilt over what a horrible parent you are and feelings of shame over how your kids must be feeling isn't going to do anyone any good.
Don't make assumptions about how your kids feel, for one thing, and open lines of communication with them instead. While it may be true that kids who grow up in unstable environments are at risk of developing their own stress-related disorders, your PMDD diagnosis is not necessarily a life sentence for them, especially if you:
- Manage yourself as best you can
- Allow free and open communication and expression
- Model for your kids effective ways of coping
You can all learn to do this together overtime. You don't have to be a perfect package now. It's something to strive toward.
If you think your parenting skills fall short or could bear some improvement, then learn some new things or get the help you need. But don't expect overnight results. Our parenting abilities come from our parents and the models we grew up with. If gentle and loving nurturing wasn't your model, don't expect yourself to be able to demonstrate that when you are in the height of your symptoms, not without a great deal of inner work and relearning.
Now then, what can you tell your kids?
First of all, you'll want to have conversations with them when you are feeling yourself. You're going to have to explain to the extent they can understand, depending on age, that you have a health challenge. If you are taking medicine, tell them. If you aren't, explain that too and what you are doing instead. You can go into more or less detail. If you have kids of a wide age variation, talk to them separately, so that you can give the older ones more information and let them ask questions that may be too sensitive or complicated for younger ears.
Once that's taken care of, the next step to implement every month is a warning as soon as you feel the downward spiral. It's so easy to forget once things are going along swimmingly how bad they can once again become with the flick of a switch. Saying things like, "Mommy is starting to feel funny again. Do you remember that I love you?" is planting a seed not to take your behavior changes personally, helping everyone prepare. Remind your kids that you might need more alone time, might not be able to live up to promises and planned events, and might lose your temper or yell.
The key messages that you'll want to deliver are ones that assure your kids that they aren't at fault or bad, aren't in danger of losing your love, and don't have to pretend or hide their own feelings. Here are some examples of messages to reinforce often:
If I yell at you, it isn't because you deserve it. It's because I can't help myself. I still love you. And while I hope you can forgive me, I know you might also be angry with me, and that's okay. If you get mad at me because I don't feel well, that's okay. I get mad at me too sometimes when I can't control things.
And here, it is your work to truly be okay with your kids being pissed at you for awhile! Kids need to know they are allowed to feel whatever they feel...even if it makes you uncomfortable.
If I let you down because I am too tired, it isn't because you don't matter to me. You are the most important thing in the world to me. I will try to make it up in other ways when I feel better.
That's not to say you have to bend over backward to spoil your kids out of guilt. But do try to repair major disappointments. A good way to make sure you're helping your child to feel loved is by acting according to the love language he or she relates to most. To learn more about love languages, check out the book by Gary Chapman: The 5 Love Languages.
Sometimes, I won't be able to hear you or see you well. If I really hurt your feelings, I want to know about it. Please don't be afraid to tell me. Just ask me if I have ears to hear first.
You know that if you are not perceiving reality that you won't be able to truly empathize with your kids, so help them to know when you are present enough to do so, and don't try to fake what isn't in you, because they'll pick up on that immediately.
If you feel scared because of my behavior, I'm very sorry. I don't mean to scare you. Sometimes, my behavior scares me too. If I'm acting really scary, it's because I'm not well. It's best to leave me alone for awhile. I'll feel better soon.
The key here is for them to know over and over and over again that no matter how bad it gets, the you they know and love is still there somewhere and will soon make her reappearance. It's also a good idea for them to have someone they can talk to...father, aunt, grandparent, family friend...so they don't feel alone when they feel scared.
I hope this helps or gives you some ideas of your own. Would you like more tips from actual experts on how to talk about PMDD with your kids? Check out this article about Talking to Kids about Personality Disorders.