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The Power of Screaming — and Feeling Heard
What I learned this week about parents supporting each other.
This is the free edition of Is My Kid the Asshole?, a newsletter from science journalist, professional speaker and author Melinda Wenner Moyer, which you can read more about here. If you like it, please subscribe and/or share this post with someone else who would too.
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Last night, as I sat down to write this newsletter, I discovered that my brain was empty. Well, not entirely empty: I could easily conjure up thoughts of Jane’s Peanut Butter Munch ice cream (which I ended up eating instead of writing this), but that was about all my brain could muster. I haven’t even had a particularly difficult week — especially not compared with many of you — but still, I’m exhausted. I’m tired from all the decision fatigue and the confusion and the stress.
Among other things, last week, I was pretty sure Omicron had come for us. My daughter looked a little peaked last Tuesday evening and I took her temperature and it was 101.8. Oh, here we go, I thought. A few days later, I started feeling unwell too — tired, headache-y and woozy. We went through a lot of Covid tests, but every time, they came back negative. I kept thinking, Oh, but it still could be Covid! It can take a while to test positive! My daughter’s symptoms, as well as mine, were gone by Friday but we continued testing — most recently, yesterday — and they came back negative every time. It feels like we dodged a bullet: One of my close friends and her entire family all got hit with Covid last week, and although they’re on the mend, it’s clear that it has been a terrible, terrible week for them. Somehow, it seems we dodged Omicron and got another, much nicer, bug instead.
Still, my brain is broken. So I’m going to spend this newsletter reflecting upon a few really nice things that happened last week (in addition to not getting Covid) — things that might be helpful for you, too. In a piece I wrote last week for The Atlantic (which, by the way, came about because of this newsletter — an editor read this post of mine from a few weeks ago and said it resonated with him), I wrote about a group of moms who recently met up one evening to stand in a circle and scream. As the organizer, therapist Sarah Harmon, explained to me, the screaming was really cathartic for these moms, many of whom didn’t know each other before the gathering. She and I ended up talking about the scream on CNN last weekend, and I want to share what Sarah said:
I was hearing for two years and personally experiencing these overwhelming emotions. Resentment, grief — all this loss around the childhoods our kids couldn't have, and especially with my clients who were first time parents. They were raising kids for the first time in the middle of quarantines, which is just so challenging. So I was hearing all of my clients and my friends talk about how hard it was. And we had nowhere to put it. And so I was casually saying to them that we should all just get in the field and scream. And the feedback was like, “Please, let's do that.”
Then, later, here’s Sarah talking about why the screaming was so helpful:
It's such a natural way for the body to release rage and anger. And anger is so much more than just anger. There's all those emotions underneath it that we talked about. So when we scream, I've been hearing the aftermath — people say they feel lighter. They felt like it was amazing to feel out of control for a second. They feel connection to others in their pain. They felt like they had a place to express what they've been holding on to for two years that was safe — because we can't really scream in front of our kids. So it's this body's natural way of letting it out and it feels very good.
So screaming can be helpful in and of itself — it’s a release. We often suppress our feelings, try to hide them or ignore them, when it can be more therapeutic to acknowledge them and let them out (in ways that won’t totally terrify our kids, of course). In thinking more about Sarah’s #momscream, I also realized that it accomplished another important feat: It brought together parents who feel very, very alone. It helped parents recognize that they are not the only ones struggling.
This is, quite honestly, why I’ve written so much about how hard this moment is for parents — not because I want to fear-monger, or complain, but because I want other parents to feel seen and validated. (In addition to my piece in The Atlantic, don’t miss this story I wrote last week for Scientific American about struggling parents, too.) Research shows that when people feel heard and understood, they feel happier and healthier. I can’t provide a lot of solutions right now, but the one thing I can do with my platform is to make sure parents don’t feel they’re the only ones who are having a really hard time.
This is why I hosted a free Parent Scream on my Substack on Saturday evening, too. I wanted to bring together parents who perhaps couldn’t leave their houses but who wanted a chance to commiserate, meet other parents, and feel heard. We had a few technical glitches — most free subscribers were able to participate in the thread, but a few said they couldn’t, and I’m trying to figure out why and fix it — but it still felt like a pretty magical hour. We vented; we shared our deepest fears with each other — and we felt heard and supported. We didn’t necessarily have solutions to offer, but we had plenty of empathy, and empathy can go a long way.
Because of this, I’m hosting another free online Parent Scream this Saturday at 8pm ET. If you’re a free or paid subscriber, an email will arrive in your inbox at 8pm with the link to the thread. (Also, keep in mind that I host threads every week for my paid subscribers!)
If you’re losing your mind this week, consider, then, reaching out to friends or family members. Check in with them and ask them how they’re doing. If you don’t have much time, send a text. If you do, call them or organize a 10-minute-long ranting/crying/screaming session over Zoom or in someone’s backyard. In doing so, you’ll remind them that you care, and that we’re all in this together, even though this wave feels very, very isolating. And keep in mind the good news: This wave has crested in many parts of the country, and things are starting to settle down. I know many of you are still in the thick of it, but the Omicron clouds are clearing and the sun is fighting to come back out.
I’m doing an online event on Wednesday, February 16 at 7:30pm ET with the Hudson River Park Mothers Group. I’ll be talking about my book and answering audience questions. Register here! And remember that you can hire me to speak to your school, parents’ group, company or community organization. Contact me to brainstorm ideas!
I have a feature in the February issue of Scientific American about what we know — and don’t know — about teaching kids critical thinking skills. I’ll talk more about it in an upcoming newsletter, but here’s a link to the story.