Are ghosts from your past haunting you?
BY PAT HANSON, PH.D.
Because it offers an excuse to put on a mask, dress up anyway I’d like, and play pretend, I prefer Halloween to Christmas. In Mexico and South America, Halloween is known as The ‘Day of the Dead’ Dia De Los Muertas, an occasion when families gather to pray for ancestors who have died, to support them on their spiritual journey, which I love. Soon after Halloween, the obligations and expectations of Christmas take over and memories of holidays past, some unpleasant, come back to haunt me.
Invisible grandparents unable to see their grandchildren may feel like ghosts, but we are not ghosts. We are real. All most of us want is to play an important role in our grandkids’ lives.
If you feel like a ghostly presence, or are haunted by ghosts in your past, here are 5 things you can do to banish those often self-imposed goblins and get on with your life.
1. Realize that the rules have changed. Our adult children are inundated with so much new research—from how to parent to feeding infants, and handling the terrible twos to disciplining teenagers—that our suggestions may sound like criticism.
2. Don’t take all the blame. Don’t assume that your adult child’s behavior is all because of you. Our children’s lives are on a different course than ours. Let go of self-blame or shame.
3. Surrender guilt. Psychologist Joshua Coleman, author of When Parents Hurt and creator of webinars for estranged parents, calls guilt our enemy. “The more you make your child feel guilty, the more you’ll shut them down and drive them away.” And it’s also not productive for you to feel guilty. Dr. Coleman suggests that we compartmentalize our feelings of grief or hurt to avoid contaminating our entire life with bad feelings. If you can’t control the pain, feel those feelings for a set amount of time, then do something you love to do.
4. Admit your mistakes and seek reconciliation. In Becoming Grandma, author Lesley Stahl encourages grands to own up to their mistakes. “Grans, you need to sit on your grievances. Look, we all know we made mistakes as parents. Okay—so admit it. Don’t let the verdict of restricted access stand. Take it to the appeals court, and be humble. Grovel. You may have to act like a defeated army that surrenders unconditionally.”
5. Volunteer to help other children. Programs like Foster Grandparents and Big Brothers/Big Sisters have hundreds of kids who need the gracious grandparenting.
Make your Halloween season about trying on new masks, different roles. Imagine your future great grandchildren asking questions about and honoring you, their ancestor. Peel away the layers of the onion that are making you cry, and embrace the unconditional love deep in your soul.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Pat Hanson is a seasoned health educator, public speaker, and workshop facilitator. She is the author of Invisible Grandparenting: Leave A Legacy Of Love Whether You Can Be There or Not. She lectures nationally on Aging Positively and is a columnist for the magazine:Crone: Women Coming of Age