By Malkie Hirsch
A common question I get asked is (cue the sad eyes, the tilted head): “How are the kids?”
It’s horrible to say, but because I get asked it pretty much every day, sometimes I decide to have fun with it.
How many times am I expected to look back with a tilted head and tears in my eyes and reply, “Oh, they’re barely getting by.”
I can’t. I can’t do it every day.
So, depending on who asks, I’ll retort, “How the hell do you think they’re doing?” Or (feign surprised face), “They’re great. Why do you ask? Did something happen?”
I love the varied horrified and confused reactions I get in return. Am I not allowed to have fun anymore? Is that officially outlawed in my life?
I’ll tell you the truth. I’ve got 5 kids. They’re all doing differently at different times. So, usually it’s way less work to say, “They’re OK. Thanks for asking.”
But for the sake of this article and all of the genuinely caring people who are concerned for the welfare of my children, I’ll tell you that they’re doing better than I would have ever in my wildest dreams predicted they’d do under these circumstances.
I’ve heard about the resilience of children. But now I could wholeheartedly tell you that it’s true. But it’s not just because that’s the nature of kids. I don’t believe that to be true, either.
Three months ago, something tragic, something we never could have imagined, happened to our family. But I’ve got a hunch that we’re gonna be OK. I’m no parenting expert. I don’t hold degrees claiming to know the inner workings of my children’s minds (of various ages).
But I know I’m on to something. I know what helps them every day. I know what keeps them sleeping soundly all night. Here it is:
Love is self-explanatory. But sometimes I’m wrapped up in my own mind and can’t see past my grief. What I love to practice lately, which was my therapist’s idea, was to allot times to cry.
It sounds like a silly thing to do, but trust me when I tell you that it’s a mutually beneficial thing to practice when there’s a trauma and you have young kids to care for, but you still need time to grieve.
You can put aside some time in the morning before getting the kids ready for school or camp, or after, when they’re out of the house. Whatever works for you.
Because how nice would it be for kids to tell you what they need?
But they can’t, sometimes even in the healthiest and most ordinary setting.
So how do you expect them to do that now, as they’re going through the loss of a loved one, the divorce of parents, etc.?
Clear your mind however you need to, but make sure to be completely present for your kids when they’re home. They need you more than ever.
They need love.
They need it now more than the norm.
Security — physically and emotionally.
I get a lot of fist-pump emojis followed by a “You got this.” Ha. Ya think? So glad you’ve got such faith in me. But when I receive a message with the yellow fist (really, such a jaundiced fist) I do feel better. Because someone is telling me that they believe in me, that they think I’m strong enough to get myself and my kids through this.
Whereas in the beginning, I’d laugh and roll my eyes and say, “Yeah, right; I haven’t got this,” now I actually read it and think, “Maybe I have got this. Maybe I can get us through this.”
Kids need that same encouragement. They need the fist-pump, the hugs, the pep talks, the feeling that I’ve got them. They’re safe and they’ll be OK. The security.
The most important one for us is routine.
Kids crave it.
They look forward to it; even when they’ll object to being told what to do, they want to be told. They love routine dinners; they even love to be told time and again that it’s bedtime. They’ll give me the look and they’ll object and try to get more time out of me. But I know that my kids act like monsters when they don’t get enough sleep so eventually I win, and off they march to bed.
But if I were too sad to give my kids their regular routine and they’d be running around till all hours of the night, they’d have a hunch that they’re running the show and our order and their schedule would disappear as we know it.
Kids need routine. They thrive with it. They need regular sleep, meal times, all of that stuff we hated being told to do as kids that makes us better adults. I’m banking on raising the best adults.
Acceptance. Early on, when Moshe first passed, my kids would tell me that other kids wouldn’t know how to act in front of them or what to say to them.
So here’s a PSA for all the kids as well as adults who commonly say, “I don’t know what to say …” (tilted head, sad eyes)
Treat us as you always did. We want to be the same Malkie, the same kids, the same as before because everything now is so drastically different. I assure you, my kids don’t want to walk through the school hallways and hear whispers of, “That’s the kid whose dad died.”
They want to be invited to play a game during recess or trade snacks or whatever kids usually do.
The ones who didn’t skip a beat were our neighbors. They showed up, they saw that the boys needed to resume their lives, and these kids helped them do that. I’m happy to report that my house is Grand Central Station and there are always several kids who aren’t my own coming back between their houses and ours. I think some adults can take pointers on inclusion from these kids.
In general, kids are unfiltered in their thoughts and actions. They don’t get that there are things that shouldn’t be said and other things that can help and strengthen a person. But in a way, the fact that the kids on our block saw early on that my children wanted to be the kids they were before, play the same games, be the same people, helped the neighbors revert back to the way it was. The way my kids want to be. The same as before.
Acceptance that the situation around us has changed and that maybe my kids are more sensitive from it, but they still yearn for the sameness.
I hope some of what I wrote above shed light on what has helped my kids thus far. When I pass their rooms at night and I peek upon their peaceful sleeping faces, I realize that though our situation is greatly changed and imperfect, the love, security, routine, and acceptance is key to our survival during this trying time.
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away in March at the age of 40. She has been sharing her thoughts and emotions with readers on her Instagram page @Kissthekoshercook. May Moshe’s memory be a blessing for Malkie and her family.