family

Kids, Feelings, and Parents, Oh My!

by Mary Martha Abernathy, LPC

Inspired by How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

Parenting is exhausting.  Taking part in relationships with adults who struggle to communicate their emotions is hard enough, but engaging with kids who don’t know what they are feeling or how to tell you their feelings is even harder!  Being in tune with our children’s emotions and experiences allows us to more naturally engage in our relationship with them.

Just because kids are “young, little, a baby” does not mean their emotional experiences are less real or matter less than our own experiences.

The author of How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk describes her experience of parenting and how she “could be accepting about most of the feelings [her] children had, but let one of them tell me something that made me angry or anxious and I’d instantly revert to my old way [of parenting]” (page 3).  Her old ways were when she would disregard, minimize, invalidate, avoid, or ignore another person’s experience.

How do we feel when someone disregards our feelings?  How do we feel when people pretend they didn’t hear what we said? Or, when people try to “help” or “fix” a situation when all we want is someone to listen.

When we feel listened to and understood it is easier for us to manage our emotional responses.  The same happens with our children.

When they feel listened to and understood, they are able to work through their emotional experiences and problem solve more clearly.   Often, children are just wanting someone to intently listen to them.  Our attunement to the conversation and small responses, like “uh-huh” allow our children to know we are paying attention.  This response only works if you are looking at them, not at a screen!

Children need help naming their emotions and giving words to their experience.

The naming of emotions acknowledges their experience and helps to increase their engagement in the relationship. It also helps to teach children about emotions.  It can be helpful to have an emotions chart on the refrigerator with faces on it, or for older kids a wheel of emotions.

Being in relationship with our kids is hard work. This hard work is laying the framework for better relationships as they age. We hope they have learned about their emotions and how to verbalize them and deal with them safely.   We are teaching something important to our children that they don’t yet know is important!

How a Children’s Book Made Me Think About Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

Smile, Pout-Pout Fish…Or Don’t: How a Children’s Book Made Me Think About Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

by Melinda Seley, PLPC

Do the books we read to our children cultivate emotional intelligence, or communicate subtle messages discouraging awareness and honest expression of feelings?

Smile, Mr. Fish! You look so down. With your glum-glum face and your pout-pout frown. No need to be worried. No need to be sad. No need to be scared. No need to be mad! How about a smooch? And a cheer-up wish? Now you look happy: what a smile, Mr. Fish!

Of all the books my little one loves, this one most often gets relentlessly stuck in my head! With its well-crafted rhyme and adorable pictures, it captivates its little (and big) audience quite well. But the subtle message of the book has always made me a bit uneasy: you shouldn’t be sad, worried, or scared; there, you’re happy, that’s acceptable and good.  I realize there is a strong possibility that I am over-analyzing the book, but at the same time, I think subtle messages like this are important to be mindful of – both that we have been taught and that we are passing along to our kids (or nieces/nephews, friends’ kids, etc.).

If taken too far, a child can internalize that the only acceptable emotion is to be happy…which will have great consequences in his or her ability cultivate emotional intelligence and to healthily navigate life.

Accordingly, I found this article, published by the Gottman Institute, to be very helpful in identifying the following three do’s and don’ts for developing a child’s emotional intelligence:

  • Do recognize negative emotions as an opportunity to connect. Don’t punish, dismiss, or scold your child for being emotional.

    Do help your child label their emotions. — Don’t convey judgment or frustration.

  • Do set limits and problem-solve. — Don’t underestimate your child’s ability to learn and grow.

 

Given these guides, perhaps a helpful re-write of the book might read like this:

Hey, Mr. Fish, you look so down. With your glum, glum face and your pout, pout frown. Come sit beside me, I see your broken toy has made you sad. I would be, too, if it was the favorite toy I had. It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be mad. But we cannot hit and we cannot squeal. How else can you show the sadness you feel?

 

 

 

Why are some relationships just harder?

 

Why are some relationships just harder?

by: Andy Gear, LPC, EMDR trained therapist

I’ve recently seen some articles asserting that ‘if people just communicated and committed to their relationship, then their problems would go away.’ While communication and commitment are very important, I think this overlooks the many people who are committed and communicating but still struggle.

In fact, I find that many people that come in for couples counseling are deeply committed and are communicating very clearly. Then why are these relationships still difficult?

We have outside stressors

Many of the sources of relationship difficulty have nothing to do with the effort invested in the relationship. In fact, studies show that some of the biggest predictors of relationship difficulty are largely outside of the couple’s control:

  • Poor health
  • Infertility
  • Miscarriage after 20 weeks
  • Low income
  • Multiple children with ADHD
  • Partner with mental health issues
  • Death of a child

If your friend seems to have an easier relationship than you, it may have more to do with your different stressors than it does with different effort. Actually, I find that most couples that come to counseling have been working tirelessly on their relationship. If they weren’t trying, they wouldn’t be coming to counseling. But with major or persistent stressors, communication can become a minefield. And it’s not always as easy as learning a few communication skills.

I am overjoyed when I see people who have easier relationships. But there is something uniquely encouraging about a couple that is still trying after years of difficulty. It takes a special type of courage and commitment to seek the help you need to better love your partner, even when it’s hard.

Our families are different

The families we’re born into also impact the ease or difficulty of our relationships. For better or worse, parents model what relationships are like, and some people have better models than others. We can choose to act differently than our parents, but in stressful times we tend to fall back into the patterns we saw modeled (or against the pattern, in an equally harmful overcorrection).  

Parents teach us what love is, how to show it, and how to receive it. They also teach us how to view ourselves. If our parents were neglectful or abusive, they gave us a distorted picture of our self. Without working through these issues, this lack of self-worth will lead us to look for that worth in our partner—creating challenging and often volatile relationships.

This requires more than a simple resolution to change. It takes awareness of how our families impacted our view of the world, relationship, and our self. Since our families tend to be our normal, we often need an outside perspective to help us heal from this impact. This doesn’t mean that you are too weak to handle it alone; it means that you are strong enough to pursue what is necessary to change it.  

We get stuck in a cycle

Couples often get stuck in patterns of relating that rob them of their joy in connecting. These cycles have nothing to do with their effort, compatibility, or how much they love each other. In fact, the fear of losing the other is often what escalates the conflict.  

The most common negative cycle is the pursue/distance (or attack/withdraw) pattern. People usually aren’t even aware that they are in this cycle. Most often, each partner simply sees the other as being unnecessarily critical or distant. It is hard for people stuck in this pattern to see the bigger picture.

Beneath this cycle, both partners truly value their connection, but they seek to preserve it in different ways: the pursuer by attacking  (to get through to them) and the distancer by withdrawing (to avoid conflict). Their mutual attempts to save the relationship (seen as criticism or lack of care by the other), only escalate the problem as each person doubles down on their ‘go-to’ strategy for preserving the relationship.

In these cases, demands for more communication will only push the withdrawer deeper into his bunker. Instead, we need help gaining awareness of our own role in the harmful cycle, so that we can interrupt it and develop a healthier pattern of relating.

Everybody’s relationship is different

It isn’t useful to compare our relationships to others, because everyone’s history and circumstances are different. Learning a few communication skills may be very helpful for someone whose relationship has had few stressors, had model parents, and hasn’t been stuck in a cycle.

For others, there will be too much anxiety and conflict in the relationship for communication skills to be the answer. This doesn’t mean that your relationship is doomed, that you don’t love each other, or that you aren’t compatible. Relationships are messy, and life often leaves us in places where we need help sorting out the pieces. In my opinion, one of the surest signs that someone loves and is committed to their partner is that they are willing to seek help during the hard times.

Do You Have Mommy Issues?

mum
by:  Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC

Do You Have Mommy Issues?

It is often said of grown women who exploit their bodies for attention from men must have “daddy issues.” A topic less discussed, probably because it is less obvious, is that of with “mommy issues.” From our first moments in the world, we are dependent on our mothers, or our mother-figure, for our well being, our needs, our safety….both physically and emotionally.

An important step in understanding yourself is asking the question “Do I have Mommy issues?”

Our culture, and many others, reveres motherhood with a sacredness that does not leave much room for criticism. And yet, as every human has different gifts and imperfections, so does every mother. The reality that this has an impact on the impressionable children who look to her to define and explain the world as they grow to understand it, cannot be refuted.

Now that I have ruffled our cultural feathers, and perhaps yours, let me clarify. I’m not talking about blame. As adults, we are responsible for our lives and actions. What I’m talking about is understanding. Understanding how you have become who you are, understanding where you may have learned ways of doing life that are hindering you, understanding the impact of this significant woman. All that she is and all that she is not.

If your mother struggles with her own security, sense of self, or emotional life, that will have had an impact on your own growth as a person. If she wrestled with empty places inside herself, then she had less to give you than you needed. If her dark places often resulted in ugliness spilling out onto you, then you carried more than you were able to as a child. If what she lacked inside herself created a vacuum that sucked more from you than you had to give, then you wore the burden of striving to meet unmeetable emotional needs.
Do you ever ask yourself these any of these questions:
  • Will I ever be good enough?
  • Why do I feel unlovable?
  • Why do I never feel good enough?
  • Why do I feel so empty?
  • Why do I always doubt myself?
If you do or have in the past, it might be worth looking back over your relationship with your mom. The ways it blessed you and the ways it pained you. The complicated nature of this vitally important relationship makes such a profound impact, it is one of the most important keys to understanding ourselves.

Do you Love Me? From the Perspective of a Foster Kid

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

Do you Love Me?

 

It is a question each of us longs to hear the answer to from those we care about most – Do you love me?

Mustering the courage to ask the question takes great risk, doesn’t it? Because once the question is asked, out loud, to the person we hope will say yes, all we can do is wait for their response. Those few seconds from the time the question is asked to the moment the person answers, feels like an eternity. We are, in that moment, at our most vulnerable place. Naked in our need to be loved. Hoping they will say yes. Hoping that our longing to know we matter in this world will be eased in their “yes.”

Some friends of mine became foster parents this past year. The wife of this couple started sharing some of her experiences on her website. I have valued her honesty and vulnerability. In my opinion, I think anyone who is a caring foster parent deserves many awards. Non-stop praise. They are courageous, vulnerable, giving, and brave. I have two images in my mind when I think of caring foster parents – a punching bag and bean bag. Their role requires them to absorb the “blows,” yet remain as welcoming as a bean bag. Hard stuff, people. Hard stuff.

In one of her recent posts titled Head and Heart, she shares about a time when one of her foster kids asked, in essence, “Do you love me?” She asked my friend if she loved her husband more than her. Whoa, that’s big time. I could imagine myself in that moment. Speechless. Knowing that however I would answer wouldn’t satiate this child’s longing to feel loved, as she lives in a world that causes her to wonder if she matters on a daily basis.

I have learned in my job and my life that sometimes what’s most important isn’t the question itself, but what the question reveals about the asker. When I hear the question being asked by this foster child, “do you love me more than your husband?” I don’t think she is looking for a yes or no answer. Actually, I don’t even think this is the true question of her heart. I hear her asking in that moment, “Do I matter? Am I loved?” Even though you are in the room with her, she feels alone in this world. Foster children live within a world that forces them to continually question their worth. She feels alone, disregarded, and confused. What she has been taught about love and loving another is most likely skewed and distorted.

At this point I think its important to note that ALL kids ask this question – foster, biological, or stepchildren. Kids are curious little creatures. Trying to make sense of what they see, feel, hear, and think. I also think its very important to take into account the child’s developmental level and how they intrinsically process input. All of these things matter in how we respond. A 5 year old asking this question is different than a 10 year old. The trauma in their life story is important. All of their uniqueness is important and needs to be taken into account.

I don’t think there is a perfect way to answer this question, and really, I don’t even think the question necessitates an answer. What I mean is we first must learn from the child a bit more about what is motivating them to ask the question. What longing are they thinking about? Are they trying to make sense of love and loving another? How do we figure out what’s really behind the question? Ask questions!

“Do I love you MORE THAN my husband? Hmmmm, good question! Well let’s talk about it! What made you think to ask that question? Is this something you’ve been thinking about for a while? What do you think love is? What do you think it means to love someone else? Do you think there is different kinds of love? When you think about love, do you love your brother like you do your friends at school?”

These questions will hopefully help reveal what’s truly on their mind. They will help you learn about how they think about love and relationships. Knowing these answers will better equip you to walk with them and talk to them about their wonderings and longings.

Blood is Thicker than Water, Part II

Blood is Thicker than Water, Part II

by: Jonathan Hart, LPC

Back in February, I wrote a blog called “Blood is Thicker than Water”.  You can find it here.  It might be a good idea to check that post out before reading on.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Welcome back! Just in case you didn’t actually go read the previous post, I’ll give you a quick summary:  The main thrust of that post is that we keep “holding out for healthy relationship” with family far longer than we do with anyone else because family relationships are so vitally important. We still maintain our limits, and we don’t settle for less than the real deal, and we keep at it.

I used the image of the vehicle that starts making funny noises.  We don’t “just deal with it” when that starts to happen.  We do what is necessary to get it fixed.  The problem is that some things on cars (and in relationships) are not fixable.  This brings us to the question in family relationships: At what point is persisting in relationship futile or foolish based on the other person’s lack of willingness to move toward healthy?

The short form of the question is, “When do I quit trying?”

The answer is, “It Depends.”  It depends on the actual nature of the relationship.  We have varying levels of intimacy with different people.  Some are genuinely close and emotionally connected.  Some are truly intimate.  For some relationships, deep intimacy is not expected or required.  A friend of the family might stop by for a visit, but we might feel odd if they were to begin sharing their closest struggles and marriage woes.  It would feel “too close”.

Levels of Intimacy

Some Immediate Family relationships feel “too close” like this: “She may be Mom, but I don’t tell her things like this because she couldn’t handle it/I’d never hear the end of it/she’d tell all her friends/she’d use it against me…”

The categories in the diagram do not describe the blood relationship, but the nature of the relationship.  Dad may be a nice guy, but we have to keep the conversation about sports or things go south in a hurry, then the actual relationship may be more in the “Acquaintance” circle than “Immediate Family”.  I can have friends that are so deep and close that they actually belong in the “Immediate Family” Circle.  The functional question is “who are they to you, really?”

This can be a challenging question to answer, especially if the family culture says that “Siblings Equals Close, period”.  It’s especially hard because deep down we *want* real and close relationships with close family and friends, no matter what the actual relationship is.   Pretending the relationship is closer than it really is becomes wearying and is always silly. We have to start by acknowledging the actual nature of the relationship, before we can proceed.  Once you’ve done that, then you can begin the process.

    1. Relax.  Start letting yourself be OK with relating according to the nature of the relationship.  You can release any guilt you may experience because the relationship isn’t closer.  You can’t make it happen alone.  The guilt only makes you go back to pretending something is true that isn’t.
    2. Reach.  Imagine what the next tier closer might be, and begin reaching for it.  This is important: don’t try to go from “Acquaintance” to “Close Personal Friend” all at once.  You’ll scare them.  Only reach for one tier at a time.   
    3. Give it time.  Deepening intimacy and connectedness is a process and generally does not happen overnight.  You may be hungry for a better sense of connection, but they might not realize what’s missing.
    4. Pay attention.  If they flat-out reject any overtures or offers of legitimate closeness, if they accept and then take advantage of your vulnerability, or if they continue to identify you as the problem (the “Take it or Leave it” stance), this may be as close as is possible for the foreseeable future.
    5. Repeat steps 1-4.  Ideally, the other person will eventually be able to recognize what you are doing and reciprocate.  IF they do, everybody wins better relationships.  If they do not…
    6. Repeat steps 1-4 in increasing time increments.  Maybe you make the offer of “closer” once a month for a while, and get the same answer every time.  Maintain your current position for several months and then offer again.  Continue this process and lengthen the time between offers a little at a time, and you will eventually discover the equilibrium point at which they are willing to operate with you.

This is effectively the “process answer” to the question of “When do I quit trying?”  This may mean that you will never have a “Daddy” relationship with your father, but you can operate kindly and respectfully as acquaintances.  You’ll have to grieve the loss of your father (Yes, grieve.  As though he died), but you won’t be expecting an acquaintance to be a “Daddy” to you, either.

Ultimately, unless the relationship has been vicious, brutal, fully abandoned, or otherwise horrible, you are never completely out of relationship with someone who is related by blood.  Even in the case of the horrible relationships above, even in the absence of any contact whatsoever, there is always a biological connection.  Even at its best, navigating these relationships is complicated and messy.  Trying to keep up the appearance of a “Normal Family” can be exhausting when “normal” isn’t true … and let’s be honest…  What does “normal” even mean, anyway!?

Concept image of a lost and confused signpost against a blue cloudy sky.

So, step back, find your footing, acknowledge what is true of the relationship, and then carefully, slowly, reach for more.  You will either gain a closer relationship, or be able to relax into the best relationship that is legitimately possible with the person in question.

Look out for Blood is Thicker than Water, Part 3: What Does Holding Out for Healthy Look Like, Anyway?

 

Blood Is Thicker Than Water

by Jonathan E. Hart, LPC

“Blood is thicker than water.”  

It’s an old saying. I don’t know where it came from. The meaning is that family relationships are more important than any other. You’re supposed to be loyal to your family first and foremost, because “They’re blood”. The genetic familial bond is deep and powerful.

Use your imagination for a moment.

Imagine you have an acquaintance who routinely cuts you down, employs guilt trips or unreasonable expectations to get you to do what they want, yells when you let them down, or tells you that you don’t measure up to their expectations. Perhaps they aren’t as directly difficult to handle, but many of the conversations you have with them feel “off”, like they’re doing something inappropriate, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.

Now imagine that when you mention or resist any of these ways of communicating, they shrug and say, “I’m doing the best I can. Don’t judge”, or “This is who I am, you need to figure out how to deal with it,” or, “You’re too sensitive,” or “You know, it’s for your own good.”

How much time would you want to spend with this person? How often would you want have them over, or pay them a visit, “just to catch up”? Would you want to take your kids over to their house and leave them in this person’s care for a few hours while you went on a date with your spouse?

I’m guessing that the answer is somewhere between “Not so much,” and “Are you kidding me!?”

And yet as a relationship therapist, I routinely see people who place themselves and their children in the path of people who relate in these hurtful ways. These are not reckless or foolish people. They are common, everyday folks who care about their families and friends, who are careful parents and thoughtful about their choices.

And yet, when I ask them why they would want to make themselves or their children vulnerable to someone who treats others so harshly, they reply, “It’s important to maintain a connection with this person! The kids need to have this relationship.” All the while they acknowledge that they feel the pain of being treated this way, and though they feel like withdrawing, they refuse to do so. Parents acknowledge that the way the people in question treat their children to is inappropriate as well. They feel a protective instinct, but routinely squash that instinct in favor of maintaining the connection.

The reasons these wounded people (whether they are parents or not) offer for why they persist in this pattern of maintaining connection with relationally reckless others are many, but generally have one theme. See if you can pick it out:

“But they’re Family!”

“The kids need their grandparents. They need to know where they came from.”

What am I supposed to do? He’s my father/ She’s my mother.”

“I have to stay connected. I can’t just NOT have relationship with them.”

“I have to put up with it and do damage control after.

“What am I supposed to tell them? They have to change who they’ve always been just to please me?“

One of the hardest questions I have to ask anyone is, “If it was anyone else, would you be so willing to put up with it?”

The answer is pretty universal. “No. But… they’re not just anyone else. They’re family.”

“Blood is thicker than water.”

Except it’s not. And it is. Let me explain.

Because a person is related to you by blood does not give them carte blanche to treat you as they will. It does not mean you have to take whatever they say or do no matter what. It does not mean you MUST maintain connection with them in spite of the history and/or ongoing damage they do in their recklessness. If you wouldn’t put up with it from a friend, acquaintance, or stranger, you don’t have to put up with it from family. Period.

“Blood is not thicker than water.”

Except it is.

The difference between “blood” and “not blood” is not what we have to put up with, it’s that we keep on reaching for healing. It’s not that we accept whatever they have to offer, but that we hold out for healthy relationship. We don’t give up on the relationship quickly, but we also don’t settle for less than what it is supposed to be: healthy, mutually affirming, encouraging, strengthening. We resist recklessness in family relationships more than in any other precisely because they are so important.

If our vehicles start making funny noises, or dripping fluids from strange places, we don’t generally say, “But it’s my car. I just have to put up with it.” If our physical bodies start making funny noises, or dripping fluids from strange places, we don’t usually say, “But it’s my body. I just have to learn how to deal with it.” In either case we take steps to seek the cause, seek a remedy, deal with the issue, and keep confronting the problem until it’s fixed. (OK, you might end up having to sell your car, I get it. I’ll deal with that in Part II.)

The difference between family relationships and other relationships is the persistence we use in seeking healing. “Any other a-hole can take a hike, but this a-hole is family.”

Maybe blood actually is thicker than water. And maybe we’ve gotten confused about what that idea actually looks like in real life.   –JEH

Click here to be taken to “Blood is Thicker Than Water, Part II: I Tried, But They Won’t Change! Now What?” And click here for Part III

8 Things I Learned about Parenting as a Stay-At-Home Dad

8 Things I Learned about Parenting as a Stay-At-Home Dad

One great thing about writing this blog is that I get to write about my family!  My wife, Hannah, is awesome and a full-time marketing force-of-nature. My daughter, Naomi, is also amazing and a full-time coloring expert. Because my wife has a terrific job that takes her on the road a lot, I get to split time working at Avenues Counseling and caring for our wonderful 2-year-old. It has been the best and most challenging experience of my life. I had no idea how hard it would be. So I wanted to pass on 8 of the things I’ve learned about parenting from this school of hard-knocks.

Avenues Counseling

 

  1. You’re not lazy. Parents are the busiest people on the planet; right up there with your friends when you need help moving a piano. So if you want to just read the bolded parts of this article (in between meltdowns and near death experiences), that’s okay. I get it. Give yourself a break. We are finite people, with a limited amount of time. The 24-hour day didn’t expand with your added children. You’re just not going to accomplish as much as you did before. That doesn’t mean you’re lazy.
  1. Comparing is counterproductive. Ignore all the amazing things your Facebook friends appear to be doing for their kids. What your kids need most is your love, reassurance, and calming presence. Competing for parent of the year will only make you both anxious. I’ve never had anyone come to counseling complaining about how their parents ‘messed them up’ by serving non-organic vegetables. Having a community that identifies with our missteps is more life-giving than comparing ‘highlight reels’ on social media.
  1. Take time for your relationships. Whether it’s your spouse or a close friend, spend quality time with people other than your children. Contrary to popular opinion, children do not always need to be the center of our lives. That’s a lot of pressure. They want to know that their behavior does not make or break us. You have a life beyond them, and that is good.
  1. Take time for yourself. Don’t neglect your hobbies and passions. Your children benefit from your happiness. Balance tedious tasks with activities that are enjoyable and meaningful to you. Not every activity has to revolve around your children.
  1. Have one goal for the day. Parenting does not always feel ‘rewarding.’ Though parenting is incredibly meaningful, you rarely see the results of your labor. And not seeing results from a day of backbreaking work can be very draining. That’s why I have one goal each day just for the ‘high’ of crossing it off my list. The goal can be as simple as reading a couple pages, doing a few pushups, or having lunch with a friend. Whatever it is, I’ve done something to improve my life today! I get to make a big red ‘X’ on the calendar. These little things add up and visible rewards are very energizing.
  1. Nurture who your child is. Even at a young age, I can tell that my daughter has her own unique personality. She is not me. Recently I took her outside to play soccer; she showed complete disgust for the ball and went straight to the garden. Now, I could try to shape her into my own idea of who she ‘should’ be to gain my approval, or I could embrace who she is and nurture and support her uniqueness. My job is to make her feel special about who she is, not tell her who to be.
  1. Have fun with it. Parenting is easier when you just embrace the chaos. It’s gonna get messy; just go with it! Clean up time can come later. Kids have endless energy. That’s a strength not something to be subdued; growing up takes lots of work. Turn into the curve, put down the phone, and be active with them. You’re not going to get much done any way. Embrace your inner kid and have fun. They’ll love it!
  1. Don’t put disposable diapers in the washing machine. That one just kind of speaks for itself. It doesn’t end well . . .

by:  Andy Gear, PLPC

 

 

Parenting Our Children

Parenting my children has been one of the hardest things I have ever done.  The role I have taken on as “Mom” is daunting at times when I realize that it’s my job to teach them how to be people – regular ole’ human beings, it can often feel like one of the hardest tasks I have been given.

 

This is why I am extremely thankful for people like Brene’ Brown and Glennon Doyle who often put into speech or writing things my mind and heart very much need when it comes to parenting.  After re-listening to Brene’ Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability, and making my way through Glennon Doyle’s book, Carry On, Warrior, there were some commonalities in what they were saying that I believe is something to keep in mind as we parent our children – We are human beings, they are human beings, and we’re all in the same boat.

Here’s what I mean…if you are reading this blog post then without even knowing who you are I know some things are true of you – you are a human, you make mistakes, you are not perfect even though you may want to be, relationships are hard, life is hard, and if you’re honest with yourself you worry about how your kids will grow up in light of your imperfections.

It seems important that we begin to realize (and live as though it is true) that our children will invariably experience life as we do. After all, you are human and they are human, and being human means we naturally have limitations of which we have no control over.

Avenues Counseling

So as parents/caregivers should we approach this reality by trying our hardest to perfect our children as best as we can?  Do we really think we can keep them from experiencing the realities of what it means to be alive?  The truth is that no matter how much time and energy we put forth for our children, or high expectations we place on them, our desire to make our children perfect will never reach perfection.

When it comes to our children (and really just life in general) we need to stop trying to make the uncertain things about life certain.  We will never be satisfied and we will never be perfect.

Consider what both Brene’ Brown and Glennon Doyle share with us when it comes to parenting:
Here’s an excerpt from Brene’ Brown’s TED talk entitled, The Power Of Vulnerability (to listen to her entire talk click here).  She spends about a minute talking about the topic of parenting:  “We perfect most dangerously our children.  Let me tell you what we think about children – they’re hard wired for struggle when they get here.  When you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say, “Look at her she’s perfect.  My job is just to keep her perfect.  Make sure she makes the tennis team by 5th grade and Yale by 7th grade.  That’s not our job.  Our job is to look and say, “You know what, you are imperfect and wired for struggle but you are worthy of love and belonging.  That’s our job.  Show me a generation of kids raised like that and we’ll end the problems I think that we see today.”

In this excerpt from Glennon Doyle’s book, Carry On, Warrior, she is talking about the two things she tries to keep in mind when parenting.  Here’s what she shares with us, “First, I remember that I am a human being, and human beings make mistakes.  Almost constantly.  We fall short of what we aim for, always.  We get impatient.  We get angry.  We get selfish.  We get extremely sick and tired of playing pet store.  That’s okay.  It’s just the way it is.  We’re human.  Can’t fight it.  Elephants gotta be elephants and people gotta be people.  Then I remember what my most important parenting job is, and that is to teach my children how to deal with being human.”

What if we banded together as parents and caregivers and made a pact to no longer try to perfect our children?  What if, instead, we chose to spend our time and energy teaching our children what it means to be human?  Let’s make them experts on what it means to be human and equip them to thrive within their human limitations.

 

-Lianne Johnson, LPC

 

Gentleness and Patience in the Midst of Pain

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC

While looking through my ever exciting and thrilling Facebook page a few months ago, I saw a blog post a friend of mine shared.  The title caught my eye.  It read, “Let’s be gentle with each other.  Let’s read each other’s signs.”  After reading the title I thought it sounded interesting so I clicked it.  Little did I know how powerful the story I was about to read would be.  Have you ever asked yourself the question, “How different would my friends and family be with me if my pain (this includes all types of pain) didn’t scare them?”  I have often wondered this in my life.  I have wondered how much more care I might receive if the people trying to care for me weren’t so wrapped up in how my pain/problem(s)/fear(s) were impacting them.

This post I am about to share with you is written by Melody Ross.  She shares with us her story.  It’s a story about personal pain, being cared for by others, being judged, and most of all surviving.  If you take the time to read it I would enjoy hearing your thoughts about it and how it impacted you.

Here it is…

By MELODY ROSS

After a dear friend telling me about a hurtful experience she’d had this week. I began thinking again about a story I have told a few times…. a story that my children will tell to their children, and maybe even beyond that… because it was such a learning experience in our family, maybe even a turning point.

It’s a story that I think about often because we were the main characters in it 3 or 4 years ago, and even though it was something that lasted less than 15 minutes it changed all of us and now I see others differently, especially when it seems that they might be main characters in the same story…or one a lot like it. I used to be too embarrassed to tell this story… but I am not anymore. This is a human story that everyone needs to hear, I truly believe this. I hope you will stay with it, it’s kinda long.

As we move along… I want you to think about some of the big signs with big messages that I bet you wish you could wear around your neck sometimes so that people would be more gentle, or even that you could put around the neck of someone you love — so that you didn’t have to go into a big long story to defend yourself or someone else– so that people would just stop judging and and just be kind.

2 three signs Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

I need to start this story by giving you a little bit of background. You see, my husband had an accident in 2004 that injured the frontal lobe of his brain. It has taken 6 years to get him back, but in the middle there, between 2004 and now, lots and lots of stuff happened. He was essentially out of it, but not just that, he changed to someone else, we lost him.

His personality changed completely, he could not work, he was angry and depressed and could not cope with human beings.  He did not feel love or affection, really he only felt anger, rage, and he was suicidal most of the time. He did not remember a lot of things. He could not take care of our family or even himself, really (and I want to mention again that through lots of miracles, he is 100% recovered now…we are so thankful….he is even BETTER than he was before his accident).

But during that time he would have these confusing and amazing glitches of time when he would be totally normal. It was bittersweet. They would last for an hour sometimes, and sometimes for days or even weeks then he would sink back down into that horrible place. When he was sick, I protected him fiercely. I didn’t want anyone to see him like that. I had faith that someday he would recover but man oh man it was lonely. I wished every single day that I could just walk around with a sign like this…

1 signs husband Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

because on the outside I looked like I had EVERYTHING GOING FOR ME I looked like I might just have a perfect life but I was hiding a very painful secret…

Well, a lot of other things happened too. You can imagine what might happen over the years while we have a 7 acre farm, a pretty big international business that we own with lots of employees, a life that  HE managed before his accident, while he just let me do the fun and creative stuff. Now we had lots of medical bills, lots of sorrow and lots of distractions, we also had LOTS of kids — and no one competent managing the business.

Well, after a few years, I couldn’t hold it all together. Our business was suffering for all of the reasons listed above and a few more reasons on top of that and we discovered that we were really SINKING. Well, one day when he was partly lucid…he was THERE…he was coherent — I told him the condition of our life.

He kind of panicked and he went straight to work figuring out what he could do. It was insanely heartbreaking when he would “wake up” after weeks or months and I had to tell him how much things were deteriorating financially, etc. It was very hard. But when he could, he did what he could before his mental illness sucked him back into the prison it kept him in most of the time.

He called a sign place and had a huge sign brought out to our house…the kind that you can put letters on, and it was electric and lit up. He put it by the road in one of our horse fields. Then he drove our Suburban, both of our trucks, my classic Thunderbird that he got me for my birthday a few years earlier, our tractor, all of our tractor implements, the boat that I worked 10 years to get for him (and that caused his brain injury, incidentally), and he lined everything up along the fence and he put a price tag on every single thing. Then, he put the letters on that big huge sign and plugged it in.

You have to understand that we had worked for MANY years for those things. We started a business in our twenties and we sacrificed everything we had for all of those years to make it work. We owned almost all of it outright, but, when I told him that the business was struggling, this is what he did.

Sooooo…there it was. All in a row. All of our stuff –out in our field.

All of the neighbors driving by, our friends, the community, people who knew us most of our lives and people who knew nothing about us…we were just the young family who lived in that beautiful little farm house on Beacon Light road with the perfect lawn….or what USED to be.

You see, in addition, for months, our once beautifully manicured yard started to be filled with weeds that were now several feet high. I just couldn’t keep it up. The lawn was a nightmare. Everything was just falling apart all around me and my heart was broken over my husband, too. It was humiliating and exhausting and horrible, really.

2 please be gentle Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

Well, the sign was not up in the field for more than a few hours, when my husband’s phone rang. It was someone who saw all the stuff and my husband’s phone number on the big huge sign. We were sitting out in the yard while he was still coherent and he was feeling devastated about the condition of our lawn. I was apologizing that I just couldn’t do all of it. He was so heartbroken at his limitations and that he had left me to try to handle our life alone. We were trying to make a plan.

He answered his phone. I saw that he was just listening. I could hear that the person’s voice was getting louder and louder and louder. My husband just listened. He turned his back to me a little so I wouldn’t hear. But I could hear it. It seemed to go on and on and on.

These were the things I could hear on the other end of the phonecall:

“You are bringing down the value of my property with that ugly sign!”

“What are you doing?”

“That is the most obnoxious sign, do you have a permit to have that out there?”

“Are you starting a used car lot?”

“You have got to get all of that moved and out of here or I am calling the authorities”

I sat there, mortified, embarrassed, humiliated, mad, sad, devastated. I was certain that this would snap my husband back into his dark hellish place.

But, when the man was done ranting, my husband waited a second and then very calmly said something that I will never, ever forget.

“Sir,” he said, “There was a time in this country, in this community…when if you drove past your neighbor’s house and saw every single thing they own was for sale in front of their house…and that their lawn had not been mowed for weeks….that you would stop and say….WHAT IS GOING ON, SOMETHING MUST BE TERRIBLY WRONG, WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP YOU?”

The man was silent, and then my husband went on to tell him a few details about what was going on with our family.

The man waited a moment and then his tone changed. He apologized. I mean, really apologized and then said:

“I am going to call all of my friends and see if any of them need any of this stuff….”

***************************************

I wish with everything in me that we could have put a sign up on that big stupid lit up billboard in our field that said OUR LIFE IS FALLING APART, but all that we really could put up is a sign with the price of everything that we owned that was worth any money.

WHAT IF we could all wear a sign that said what WE REALLY MEANT? What if we could go straight past the small talk or the masks, and we could actually go straight to the heart of the matter. What if our friends and family wore signs like this?

1 four signs Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

…we would treat each other differently.

I think we should just try to imagine it. That when a friend is quiet…or not showing up to stuff she usually shows up to, or acting a little “off”, or a family member is wearing pajamas to the grocery store for weeks on end, or not answering the phone, or the lawn is not mowed…

2 signs in a row Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

whatever it is…

IT IS A SIGN. It is not a sign that can be read in words and letters, but it is a sign that someone needs to be treated gently. That they need help. Most of all, that they need love, understanding, and that they DEFINITELY DO NOT need to be judged.

Every time I think of this story I want to be better. I want to do better, I don’t want any silent signs to go unread before my eyes or my heart. I don’t want to make up my own answers to what must be going on. I don’t want to assume…

2 together Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

—– The original post can be found at:  http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/her-husband-had-an-accident/