I read somewhere online once that children look to parents in times of trouble the same way that passengers on a plane look to flight attendants when a plane hits turbulence. If the flight attendants are freaking out then you know all hope is lost and the plane is going down. But if the flight attendants appear to be calm and collected as they strap into their seats and advise you to do the same then you know that this plane will make it through and the storm is only temporary.
Last week we had a death in the family and it was the first time someone my three year old knew and saw fairly often had passed. My mother-in-law watches my children during the day and my husband had dropped them off maybe thirty minutes before she called me crying hysterically to tell me that her mom had just passed.
After I told her I was on my way to pick up the kids and got off the phone my brain and emotions went into overdrive. In my typical overthinking fashion, I was trying to solve several problems and process the fact that a life had been lost all at the same time.
I had to call off from work. I had to get over there. I had to tell my husband. But wait, was that an appropriate thing to tell him over the phone at work first thing Monday morning? I knew he would be devastated and that made me feel bad. Thinking of him losing his grandmother stirred up all the sad feelings I felt from losing my own grandma.
And then suddenly it all came to a grinding halt, and all I could think about was how would I explain this to my toddler?!
I didn’t know how much my mother-in-law had told my daughter but I knew that my daughter had to have seen and/or heard the hysterical phone call I received. I was ill prepared to explain death to my daughter and I just didn’t know how to tell her she wouldn’t see great grandma again in a way that it make sense to her and not trivialize the situation.
After the panic subsided I called my aunt and told her what happened. I asked her could I bring the kids there because I needed back up. To make a long story short, my aunt did help me handle appropriately explaining to my daughter the situation and my daughter does seem to get that great grandma has gone onto a better place.
I was so grateful that my aunt allowed me to pop up at her house at the crack of dawn with my toddler and newborn in hand and stay there practically all day (just waiting for that inevitable moment when my daughter finally said “grandma was really said about her mom going to sleep, huh?”). I was trying to keep it all together so my daughter would know that everything was going to be okay (as much as it can be after the loss of a loved one). But while I was trying to be the calm and sturdy flight attendant for my child, I was also looking to my aunt to convince me that we would make it through this inaugural storm without me screwing up my child.
Sometimes even as parents we need a parent, or in my case an aunt, to save us. To comfort us. To guide us. To assure us that this storm too shall pass. As the saying goes “it takes a village to raise a child” and those village elders who have more wisdom and experience than us are often life savers in situations like this.
One thing about parenting that you will surely learn if you don’t already know it, is that despite your best efforts to be informed and prepared you will find yourself up against something that you don’t instinctively know how to handle. A lot of these perfect social media moms would have us believe that there’s something wrong with not having it all together, but there’s not.
It’s okay to need help parenting and to accept help when it’s offered. It is okay to reach out to your village elders, your parenting mentors, and say “I have no idea how to handle this and I need your help.”
Whether you’re a brand new, first time mom or you have five children that range in age from toddlers to teens, you will always find yourself having to parent in moments that are new, unexpected, awkward, ugly, or hard. And the right thing to do or say won’t always come to you. Use your villagers! They don’t mind. That’s what they are there for.