Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

I miss my mom

February 3, 2014

Change happens when you let possibility in

Change happens when you let possibility in

I could see her crying at her keyboard as she tried to shut out the laughter of Dad and Stepmom outside her closed bedroom door. She hates them for being happy. She hates herself for hating them. She’s so angry and resentful. So frustrated and confused. But mostly she’s a sad little girl missing her mom, dead four years. Through tear-blurred eyes she searches cyberspace, desperate for connection, hoping for help yet convinced it’s hopeless because the only way to ever make things right again is to bring back Mom.

How do you counsel a child who can’t have the only thing she says will make her whole again? Here’s what I told her:

What do you do when you want something that you can not have? You have options, you know. Do you…

a) Keep longing for the impossible?
b) Feel sorry for yourself and build a wall to keep out everyone who tries to help you?
c) Make your peace with the new reality while still holding your mom’s memory in your heart?
d) Open your mind and heart to the next chapter of your life and allow yourself to move forward?
She was too stuck in b to listen. What do you say to a child who won’t allow herself to be happy for her father or friendly to her stepmom because it feels disloyal to Mom? I told her:
When one partner in a loving marriage dies, it can, after a while, be a wonderful tribute to that marriage for the surviving partner to marry again. But if one partner in an unhealthy marriage dies, it is less likely for the other to remarry.
You seem to think it’s your job to stand up for your mother’s memory and to be unwelcoming to your stepmom even though you say she is nice to you. I wonder what your mom would say about it. What if she could whisper to you, “Sweetie, it’s a good thing that your dad has found a wonderful woman to share his life with again. I am truly happy for him. Please try to be happy for him. And please, open your heart to this good woman. She wants to be your friend. Let her in. That will make you happier and stronger as you grow up. And when you are happy, I am happy.”
So the girl she took in everything I said and slowly began to open her mind to the possibility that maybe she could enjoy a relationship with her stepmom, not as a substitute for Mom (of course not!) but as a caring, trusted woman who offers unconditional love and understanding, support and stability. But then her fear of loss brought a frightening thought and the girl wanted to know what might happen if she loved Stepmom and then they divorced or “something happens” and Stepmom wasn’t around any more.  “I can’t lose another mom. No way!” And I replied:
Every time we reach out to someone in friendship or love, we risk that “something might happen” and the relationship will be damaged or be lost. That’s the nature of life. We are human. Our feelings change and circumstances change. And even if feelings and circumstances remain constant, we don’t live forever. Not any of us. It’s a hard thing to accept, but we have to accept it because that’s the way it is… for everyone.

Your relationship with your mom ended in this life. Since her death you have created a new relationship with her.  She is always in your heart, loving you as much as you love her. That’s an everlasting gift and nothing will change that.  Another unopened gift is a dad and stepmom who are so ready and eager to love you. They’re waiting for you. When we hold ourselves back from getting close to others because we are afraid of what “might happen” someday, we shut ourselves off from the most important thing in life… love.

Is it time to open your door?


Suck it up, son. Real men don’t cry.

January 13, 2014

I try not to saddle up with the Bad Parent police, but this time I couldn’t resist though I knew I’d be walking a fine line. It started with an email from a teen whose mom had just passed away. His dad told him  real men don’t cry. And that his mom would be ashamed of him if he did. Dad commanded the kid to “Forget about it and move on.”

Oh dear.


Pretend you don’t see me.

The kid turned to me for advice because he was so devastated. He was also afraid he’d cry at the funeral and would enrage and embarrass his dad. It’s hard to believe we’re actually having this conversation in 21st century America, but social evolution don’t come easy. Anyway, here’s what I wrote to the kid:

With all due respect to your father, he’s wrong about real men not crying. He’s wrong about the way to “move on” after a loved one’s death. He is also wrong when he says your mom would be “ashamed” if you cried. None of it is true. I’m guessing that he’s as heart-broken as you are about losing your mom. He probably didn’t grow up in a family where tears were as acceptable as laughter, so he just doesn’t know how to deal with this terrible grief he’s feeling. And because he doesn’t know what to do at this sad time, it makes him very uncomfortable to see you crying. But let me tell you something, sweetie, you need to cry. And maybe seeing you cry, like the real young man you are, would free something up in your father so he could get real and cry too.

Ever heard of PTSD? (post traumatic stress syndrome) It’s often used to describe what can happen to soldiers who have been in combat. They come home assuming all they need to do is forget about the war and everything that happened. So they bottle up their feelings and don’t talk about their experiences. But these soldiers have nightmares and scary flashbacks until they start talking about the terrible things they saw and felt. When they open up and express the emotions, they begin to heal and to truly move on.

Losing your mom was and still is traumatic. If you can’t freely express the sadness, confusion and yes, maybe even the anger you’re feeling (at the “unfairness” of it all) then you may develop a form of PTSD.

Stuffing your tears and trying to deny or “forget” what you’ve been through is not the way to move on. It doesn’t work for soldiers and it doesn’t work for people who are grieving. It is absolutely normal and healthy to cry at your mother’s funeral. Feel what you feel and let it out. Otherwise, you may become overwhelmed by emotions you can’t express or unable to feel anything.

Filed under: Parenting — Tags: , , , — Annie @ 7:48 pm

A new book begins

January 6, 2013

Many paths lead outward

I’m beginning my work on a new book (not sure yet if it will be adult fiction or non-fiction). The theme: an exploration of how some people manage to respond to debilitating loss in exemplary ways. Because, throughout life, we are subject to many losses, how can we use the experience in a positive way? We may lose:

  • a parent or other precious family member
  • an opportunity
  • our peace of mind
  • our sense of community
  • something into which we have put tremendous physical/creative effort
  • the love of our life
  • our best friend
  • our job
  • a physical or mental ability (due to illness or injury)
  • our home
  • our reputation
  • our fortune
  • our confidence
  • our way
  • ??

What happens after we suffer a major loss? Some people feel the pain so intensely they carry a permanent wound that limits them in the way widowhood limited my mother. For decades her suffering prevented her from fully reconnecting with the joy and creative force of life. Maybe you know someone like that. It is sad. I do not believe it is necessary.

When we experience a loss it is normal and healthy to grieve. It is also normal and healthy to heal. But how do we begin that process? That’s what this book is going to be about. We each have within us a breakable heart and spirt. We also have within us, the resilience needed to rebound and rebuild. If we can find ways to move beyond our suffering, loss can be fertile ground for positive transformation. We can become stronger in every sense of the word. We can develop greater compassion. We can forge the tools and the will to help others who are suffering from losses of their own.

The journey from loss to a new level of wholeness can be extremely challenging. Subsequent (lesser) losses may set us back. Which is why many of us do not fully recover from a major loss. But there are many people among us who’ve successfully made that transition. Gabby Gifford, Tammy Duckworth, are two women who immediately come to mind. There are many others who’ve achieved national and international recognition for their courage in the face of loss. There are also people in every community who have found their own path that has taken them beyond their losses to a new level of peace of mind and purpose. This book will explore some of the many ways people have transformed their lives after loss and how each of us can use the example of their lives to transform our own.

I would be very honored to hear from anyone who has successfully managed to transition out of a major loss (or from anyone who is currently in the process of doing so). If you know someone whose journey from loss has inspired you, I’d love to hear about it.

Please post your comments and we can learn together. I’m sure my exploration of this topic and the book that grows from it will benefit greatly from your input.

Thank you.

In friendship,

Filed under: Annie's Books — Tags: , , , , — Annie @ 8:28 pm

Guest blogger: Hiking with Daryl

August 14, 2012

by Susan Garrett

Susan Garrett is a Hospice volunteer and a singer with the Threshold Choir

Mt Tamalpais The sleeping princess who does not sleep

I hiked up from my house to the open space high above Red Hill, switchbacking my way through Sorich Park to Tamalpais Cemetery. I was looking for something and I expected I would find it. As I walked, the rhythm of my gait, arms swinging, beat out a poem’s cadence, one I’d learned decades ago, that surfaces in me today:

Do not stand at my grave and weep,

I am not there; I do not sleep.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there; I did not die.

My feet crunch through late-summer eucalyptus leaves and I climb higher and higher until I begin to see the polished granite and onyx headstones of the Jewish Cemetery. Names are readable now: Irwin, Schneider, Haas, Goldberg, Stein, Gluck and hundreds of others. Stars of David and small photographs adorn many of the flat, cool surfaces. Chiseled lettering tells of a “Beloved wife and mother”… “Too quickly taken”… “Son, husband and cherished father,” “Holocost survivor.” Then I see what I came for. Red dirt, newly turned. It is heaped high next to a plank-board covering. (I’d wondered if they’d dig today, this being the Jewish Sabbath.) They did, for here it is, Daryl’s grave, made ready.

I begin singing Oseh Shalom without thinking to do this and now I’m trying to make the tune and the words come out right through my tears. I crumble into a squat but the singing keeps coming, stronger and more sure now. And that’s what is–me here at his grave, weeping. Weeping, even though I know better, know that he is not here–will never be here–will only ever be the fresh scent of bay and eucalyptus that blows through this space, the crunch of the leaves underfoot, the soil and rock and wood that are the materials he was so adept at working and shaping to create his art.

Thank you, Daryl, for coming into our lives when you did. And thank you for letting me stand at your grave and weep. You are mist, and…you are missed.

Do not stand at my grave and weep,

I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow,

I am the sun on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circling flight.

I am the soft star-shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there; I did not die.

~Mary Elisabeth Frye, 1932

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