By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Burnout. It’s not just for middle-aged workaholics anymore. Sometimes even teenagers get it.
As the mother of two teens and one tween, I’ve seen it happen with all my kids at one point or another. It moves in like an unexpected storm cloud, and it’s more likely to strike late in the evening. The happy-go-lucky kid who chatted cheerfully at the breakfast table ends the day by morphing into a lanky, sullen version of Eeyore the donkey, consumed with gloom.
The first few times I saw it, I was mystified. How can someone so young have the same feelings that people in a mid-life crisis struggle with? I tried talking him out of it. I tried pointing out the bright side. I tried the Taylor Swift “shake it off” mantra. It didn’t work.
From where he was sitting, life felt monotonous, tedious, loaded down with responsibilities he wasn’t even sure he wanted. He was struggling with that nagging thought so many of us battle at various points in our lives: Is this really all there is?
When these moments come, Tom and I are often torn about what to say and do. Like most parents, we want happiness for our kids even more than we want it for ourselves. Their joy and ours are inextricably linked. But we also realize that part of growing up is learning how to handle the low moments that inevitably come.
When we’re little kids, life seems like one big carnival ride that will get even better when we turn into official grown-ups who get to call the shots. But at some point during the teen years, we figure it out. We never truly get to call all the shots. And we discover that, although life has its share of thrills, sometimes it feels more like standing around in line – shuffling forward without feeling like you’re making progress.
During the last episode of nighttime teenage malaise, I stopped trying to be the cheerleader. After all, Eeyore gets annoyed when Tigger is overly bouncy. Instead, I told him he was right. Sometimes life really does feel tedious and monotonous. Sometimes things do feel pointless. Sometimes the intensity of those feelings is overwhelming.
But I also told him that feelings are mostly temporary. Just like real clouds, feelings can rumble, rain, flash with frustration and then dissipate to make way for the sun. I asked him to remember that feelings often trick us into thinking there are only two realities – awesome or ruined – but that’s not actually true. Feelings are just too short-sighted to see all the variations in the middle. And bad feelings are too wrapped up in themselves to see the glimmer of sun that’s on the way.
By the next morning, the Eeyore mood had lifted and was replaced with a more Pooh-Bear outlook on the day. He felt better, and so did I. The storm had passed.
There’s a sign I bought a few years ago that hangs at the top of our stairs. It’s a plain white background with a simple, black typewriter font that says “Wake up. Work hard. Have fun. Be kind. Repeat.”
I was drawn to that sign because it’s such a simple summary of what we’re all here to do – live, work, enjoy and love. Then we do it all over again the next day. As for the meaning of it all? I’m as unsure about that as most people are. I’m hoping God will explain it to me eventually. In the meantime, I follow the advice on that sign and hope my kids will, too.
Something in my bones tells me that love – the kind we put into our work and into the connections, big and small, that we make with other people – will always leave a lasting mark. And that’s enough sunshine to get me through the next cloud.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. You can read more of Gwen’s work by clicking here to visit The Rockwood Files.