What Parenting on Empty Taught Me about Resilience
by Ranger Gold Star Mother Scoti Domeij
Sizzling burnout, sleep deprivation, and physical illness triggered troublesome thoughts that hijacked my optimism, “I hate my life. I can’t do this anymore. I’m tired of being responsible for everything. I just want someone to take care of me.” Pushed beyond my emotional margin, I sobbed. I screamed. I banged my fists on the floor. I felt so-o-o-o-o guilty knowing Kristoffer and Kyle overheard my frustration. All the never-ending demands of single parenting accentuated the out-of-control limbo land dominating my life. How could I possibly take care of myself much less parent on empty?
Cry. When was the last time you wept? Muzzled tears accelerate your stress level, increasing your chances for high blood pressure, heart problems and peptic ulcers. Don’t allow stress to live rent-free. Liquified stress evicted from your body expels built-up emotions and energy and improves your mood. Too deep to bear, the tears dammed up in the secret places of my heart forced their way into the ache in my throat. A Niagara of salty nectar purged my body of chemical thunder — cortisol, the stress hormone. Crying produces leucine-enkephalin, the body’s natural morphine-like pain killer. Ahhh…better than Prosac.
Heartache’s silent language unleashed through the power of tears distills unspeakable sorrow and regret. Tearless mourning with no vent strains other organs to weep. Salty holy water, God’s gift of tears, extinguishes the simmering coals of suffering, cleansing the ashes of sorrow and frustration from the heart. Our tears water the seeds of hope and emotional and physical health. Cry. Allow yourself to surrender to health and wholeness and a brief relief.
Laugh. The baptism of tears and laughter, both natural antidotes, washes away stress. How we perceive parenting alone and life’s undeserved challenges attaches powerful emotional meaning to our circumstances. A lost sense of humor, one of the first signs of burnout, does us or our children no favors. Over time, stress creates biochemical changes, compromising physical and emotional health.
A hearty laugh decreases stress hormones, releases beta-endorphins to alleviate depression, lowers blood pressure, stimulates vascular flow, and relaxes muscles. Laughter stimulates the immune system, offsetting the negative physical effects of stress. When I began viewing the craziness of my life from a comedic angle, humor provided an instant vacation from adversity. The gush of a deep laugh from my belly dissolved my anger toward the aspects of my life that I could not bring under control.
Our children develop a sense of humor and learn how to deal with stress from our example. I introduced my children to people who loved to laugh and knew how to de-stress difficult situations through humor. My sons listened as I regaled people (who laughed) at my crazy stories exaggerating the ridiculousness of my mad, mad, mad circumstances holding my volatile feelings hostage.
To refill our washed-out emotional wells, my sons and I rolled around on the floor bellylaughing as we watched America’s Funniest Home Videos and comedies. One of my funniest memories of Kristoffer? The evening I decided to rent an adult-rated comedy to de-stress after the boys went to bed. As I laughed at the movie, Kristoffer hollered from his bedroom, “Mom, are you watching a dirty movie?”
I eliminated stress-inducing individuals and any media draining me of emotional margin. Single parenting and mourning for my ‘former life’ was tough enough, without hanging out with energy vampires. I’m drawn to people and British movies that crackle with dry, intelligent humor. When it comes to choosing people and activities I allow in my life during times of extreme stress? The wisdom and humor of the ‘senility’ prayer makes me laugh: “Grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones that I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.”
My son’s buddies tell me that Kristoffer, on and off the battlefield, exhibited ‘irreverent’ humor, which makes me laugh and puff up inside with pride. My firstborn’s irreverence under stress did not fall far from my ‘scar’castic sense of humor.
As I muddle my way through mourning the death of my son, Sgt. First Class Kristoffer Domeij, KIA: October 22, 2011, I reach back to remember and to apply the hard lessons of resilience I’ve learned along the way. A paper-thin line often separated survival or defeat. The most effective weapons against overwhelming stress and devastating pain of a journey I never expected? Tears and laughter. The safety valves for a spirit trapped in a pressure cooker and ready to blow.
My battle-torn heart still bleeds tears and I wear those teardrops as my pearls of great price. Tears shed for a fallen buddy aren’t a sign of weakness. They’re the “Purple Heart” deserved from the unbroken bonds sealed in battle. Wear your tears — strong and proud — as hard-won bronze stars honorably earned. Golda Meir, Israel’s first female Prime Minister, said it best: “Those who do not know how to weep with their whole heart don’t know how to laugh either.”
This article first appeared in The Havok Journal on 13 November, 2015.