Posted in emotion regulation, grief, motherhood, parenting, values

Dealing in Disappointment

Trigger Warning: Discussion of pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Pregnancy is difficult. Postpartum is gross. Breastfeeding is, at least for me, brutal. With every kid, it has been a struggle. Breastfeeding is not for everyone. However, it is something I value, that I have been determined to do with every kid. In reality? It has not been so easy. It is so frustrating that something that is touted as “natural” can be so unnatural for some kids.

I was warned with my first that it would be hard. I’m thankful for that or it might have been so much worse on my emotions. As it were, it was still so difficult. My son refused to latch at first and in the hospital they said that his sucking reflex was not developed. It developed and I thought things were going okay. His wet diapers weren’t super consistent, but I was determined to power through. It did not work. He was so underweight at three months that pictures of him at this time make me want to cry. Turns out I didn’t have enough of a supply, thanks PCOS. We turned to formula and he is a vibrant, wonderful five year old now.

My second child latched, but wasn’t transferring much milk during feedings. Turns out she was an ineffective eater. I was still determined to make it work. We did triple feedings for a few weeks. That is nursing, bottle feeding and pumping at every “meal”. Eventually, she nursed. It was something healthy and beneficial for her. We lasted 12 months and I was so grateful. She is a sassy, smart three year old now.

Now my third baby. She is currently five weeks. I am trying EVERYTHING. Lactation consultant appointments every week, evaluated for and participated in revision for a tongue and lip tie, attempting to triple feed and nothing is working. My husband and I decided that this was our last baby. I want this to work so much. I continue to pump and I am, thankfully, producing enough. She still refuses to latch, at all. We are working on developing her sucking reflex. My desire is at odds with this moments reality.

I am struggling with frustration and disappointment. I oscillate between determination with a dash of hope, to resignation laced with sadness. You ever have difficulty with your own emotions? I wanna tell myself, “Get over it already!” Emotions though? They don’t work like that. These are some ways I am attempting to cope in a healthy way.

REACHING OUT FOR HELP

I do not like to need people. Isn’t that ridiculous? Many people have this hang up. We are human. We have needs. I always like to quote 27 Dresses when Katherine Heigel says, “Needs? I don’t have needs. I’m Jesus.” I know I’m not Jesus. I am in no way perfect and cannot meet my own needs. Talking to others is important.

I call my support system. I am transparent about how I feel in the moment. I receive their encouragement like another food source. I ask for what I need and I take to heart their advice. It is important that your support system is healthy and lends places for uncomfortable feelings. If they mirror your worst impulse to “get over it” maybe find another support system.

FEELING THE FEELINGS

I encourage feeling all the feelings a lot. Because it is important. I don’t like doing it either sometimes. It stinks. I feel all weepy and not fit for public consumption. I feel like a mess. You know what? That’s okay. It is a natural response to existing stimuli. There is something I am discouraged about, so I feel discouraged. It’s important to sit in it for awhile. Sitting in emotions and wallowing are two different things.

Wallowing means sitting in “negative” emotions, ruminating on the negative and refusing to be motivated toward change and coping. Coping with those emotions means acknowledging them, naming them, valuing them and moving forward in a way that honors what they say about who you are.

I feel sad about this struggle. I can name the disappointment, the exhaustion, the discouragement. I recognize that they identify part of who I am. I want to do this because I value the attachment it can bring, the ease of not having to wash bottles, not being tied to an electric machine, avoiding the financial burden of formula and having my baby drink breastmilk for the first year. In following along that process, I do not avoid my feelings and I do not wallow. I approach them without (most of the time) judgement. Then, I can move on.

ENGAGING WITH POSITIVE EXPERIENCES

When things are difficult, it is important to do things that bring joy. I can hold my newborn, snuggle with my other kids, eat some cheesecake, watch a comedy or listen to a good audiobook. In the midst of discouragement, we often avoid our happy places. It can seem like too much work.

Last week was my birthday. It seemed like too much work to celebrate. To prioritize doing something fun. Thankfully my sister insisted and I had a wonderful evening with my family. It would not have been helpful to solely focus on my struggle. It is vital to take time away either mentally or physically from the weighty topic. Not to avoid, but to remember that life extends beyond the difficulty.

I’m still not on the other side of this. Part of my motivation to write this was to be able to speak to myself as well as others. Coping with a struggle is never easy. However, there are steps to take to navigate it in a healthy manner. No one does things in a healthy way all the time. As I began to write this, I was tempted to wallow. However, writing is a positive experience for me. We can deal with life and all the obstacles.

Struggling along,

Allyson

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

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Posted in anger, boundaries, counseling, emotion regulation, goals, parenting, relationships, selfcare, trauma, values

I’m Sorry I Hurt Your Feelings by the Boundary I Set, You Psychopath

Okay, so that might not be the best way to respond to someone. Name calling is generally considered unhelpful. However, this can be the heartfelt cry of many people attempting to hold boundaries within unhealthy relationships. It is actually a phrase I heard someone wish to utilize recently. Establishing boundaries when a relationship has a close association or has persisted for a number of years, can be difficult. How do you create the boundary? How do you communicate it? The hardest, how do you hold the boundary when there is the inevitable pushback? All these questions are important to consider. Boundaries are necessary, the are important and they are a way to protect yourself and others.

HOW DO YOU CREATE THE BOUNDARY?

I have always known boundaries were important. However, few things increased my insistence on boundaries quite like becoming a mom. I’m in the camp that holds better boundaries for others than for myself. I know, I know, I’m working on it.

You know a boundary needs to be set by internal warning signs. Do you feel hurt and confused? Do you sense a threat? Fight, flight or freeze kick in? That lets you know a boundary was crossed. We hold unconscious boundaries within ourselves that can be difficult to identify. These standards can be solidified when we evaluate the event that occurred and what value was violated. This can range from a tone someone takes with you to physical abuse or aggression. Having this spectrum can make things a little gray. It does not help that the most chronic boundary violators can be very skilled at gaslighting. Gaslighting is the method of convincing someone that how they feel is invalid and wrong.

When you are continually leaving a situation or person feeling out of sorts and “always wrong” it might be a good idea to process the events with someone objective. It needs to be someone that can remain dis-engaged emotionally and does not play devils advocate, nor jump to your defense. Someone that can listen and remain detached. They can help identify the value breached and create a reasonable boundary. This can include not interacting with them until they can take responsibility for their behavior or even leaving the situation when they breach the boundary. This can be leaving the room or even the location where they are.

HOW DO YOU COMMUNICATE IT?

Here is an example of identifying when a boundary needs to be set. Sometimes a loved one can be feeling anxious or frustrated and they turn all their emotion into the way they speak to you. Ouch, right? The value violated is respect. You may let it slide once or twice. However, it can be helpful to calmly say, “Please do not take your frustration out on me,” or “please talk to me in a kinder way.” Responding in a non-combative manner is helpful because it is more difficult for the other person to continue in their behavior. Read difficult, not impossible. If the pattern continues, the script can become more assertive. This can be saying, “If you continue to speak to me this way, I will leave.”

If patterns are repeated in a relationship, having one or two phrases identified that can be used in these situations is crucial. You may sound like a broken record, but the calm repeating of a phrase can defuse a situation. Who will continue arguing with someone that doesn’t change their words or escalate in emotions? It takes away the confrontation, fight or acquiescence the person may be looking for.

HOW DO YOU HOLD A BOUNDARY?

Boundaries are hard. They force change in a relationship. Any time there’s a shift, the relationship acts like a rubber band. You create distance due to the change, the other person either adapts or the relationship snaps. A severed relationship is painful. We, as humans, have an aversion to pain. Maybe that’s just me? The status quo is sometimes comfortable, even if it causes us pain.

However, boundaries are never an unloving or unhelpful addition to a relationship. A healthy relationship is one where boundaries are expressed and accepted. When two people’s values in treatment collide, it might not be the best to continue that friendship. This can range from one person wanting to gain all their emotionally validation from one person (read unhealthy) or refusing to engage in a nonreciprocal relationship.

The best way to hold a boundary is having a predetermined consequence to continual violation of the boundary. It helps to have an outside consultant to come up with this as well. The confidant can be a mental health professional, a mentor or a level headed friend. It needs to be firm, but also proportional. This can be, as stated before, leaving a room or a place when someone violated that boundary. It can be cutting a type of contact, such as texting, phone calls, etc for a predetermined set time. It can even be cutting all contact for a certain amount of time. It helps to have a set time table. It ensures that there is a possibility for reengagement, in non-abuse cases, and allows the option for growth.

Most importantly, then you must, MUST, hold the consequence. If it is a consequence “without teeth” the chronic behavior will not change. It must be enforceable and enforced. Have others that help keep you accountable to the consequence.

Remember, when it is hard, that your values are worth upholding. Insisting that others treat you with respect is important and contributes to how you feel about yourself. It can be a helpful model for your children, your friends and your family. It can serve as a reminder to people in your life that they, also, are worth holding boundaries.

Posted in boundaries, counseling, emotion regulation, empathy, grief, isolation, Jealousy, parenting, relationships, selfcompassion, siblings, therapy, trauma, values

Three Things to Learn From Encanto

As many parents know, the world of Encanto has enveloped reality. The music plays constantly, the kids enact scenes and scold one another from mentioning Bruno. One thing to know, I’m not a huge fan of animated movies. I loved them as a kid, but as an adult I’d rather an action movie. However, this movie surprised me. I was unaware of many themes that presented themselves. The therapist and parent within me was hooked from the first few verses of “Surface Pressure” and as more evolved, I was excited for the progression of the story. There’s much to learn from examining this movie related to mental health. Here are a few lessons to glean from this wonderful movie.

“Give it to your sister, your sister’s older / Give her all the heavy things we can’t shoulder / Who am I if I can’t run with the ball?”

Your talent or “gift” does not need to be your identifier. Each character is presented based on their gift. It appeared that they have settled into their role within the community and family system. However, it begins to become clear that they are exhausted by the constant expectations. The pressure is intense and robs them of exploring other aspects of their personality.

It can be comforting to put ourselves in a box. A clearly outlined identity. We know where we fit within ourselves and the world. It can be uncomfortable to be okay with unclear boundaries and expectations. It is comforting to be known for one particular characteristic. The reason stereotypes are common, is it is easier to stick someone with a label than take the time to get to know the whole person.

Unfortunately this can be true of ourselves, or even the person we projected to others. We worry that we will be judged or rejected. However, being a complete person with quirks and weaknesses, is reality. You are known for baking? It is okay to bring a store bought cake when you’re tired. Usually the friend that listens? It is acceptable to need someone to listen to YOU too. Learning to break out of the norm can be difficult and scary. However, you are worth it and the world needs all that you are, not just a portion.

“We don’t talk about Bruno”

Having family secrets are harmful. You know that family “thing” that no one talks about? It is unhelpful and actually harmful to your family. It can be anything from someone’s past, a mental health struggle, addiction or a whole estranged member of the family. Just because the family didn’t talk about Bruno did not mean his absence left the family unmarked. The unspoken aspects of a family will actually be the most harmful.

When words are unsaid, they hold too much power. Power to divide, power to grow into lies that cause damage. Families internalize what is unspoken. It can create a whole range of trauma and veiled problems. This is explored in detail by Mark Wolynn in It Didn’t Start with You. It is called “transgenerational trauma” in the field of counseling. This leads to the next point.

“And I’m sorry I held on too tight / Just so afraid I’d lose you too”

Grief and all kinds of trauma can be harmful down generations if unresolved. Abuela silenced her emotions. She silenced her fear. She walled herself off as a matriarch with noble goals for her family and did not have attachment to the next generations. The members of her family became lauded only for their outward actions. She was a victim of trauma and wounded deeply. It not only effected her interactions with the world, it effected how those that loved her felt about themselves.

Experiencing a traumatic event is not your fault. However, how you cope with it IS your responsibility. Numbing and refusing to acknowledge what you view as weakness, is not helping anyone. It harms the future. Relationships cannot coexist in a healthy way with unresolved trauma. It can spread like a disease and weaken all bonds. Please seek help. For you, and generations to come.

Media can be so helpful to explain difficult lessons in a nonthreatening manner. The elements of stories in general allow us to learn from character’s failures and how to overcome obstacles. We watch movies for entertainment and that is okay. However, sometimes the themes are so universal and important we need to examine them to understand the world in a healthy way.

Always learning,

Allyson

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in relationships, selfcare, selfcompassion, values

But it’s Always Been This Way

As humans, we enjoy the familiar. It can reduce anxiety to know what to expect. The predictable can become monotonous, but ultimately change is difficult.

Change often forces introspection and evaluation. We don’t usually like that. It means having to analyze and examine what works versus what is comfortable. Another word for unchanging can be tradition. As the holidays approach, tradition is a word that is thrown around often. Now, I am a person that love tradition. I thrive on having something that has meaning because it has history. However, it is good to explore whether certain things are accepted because they have value, or changing is too hard. Here are a few ways to evaluate that idea. It can be applied to the job that you know you hate, but it’s too hard to find something else. It can be a relationship that is unhealthy, but having to force confrontation is too uncomfortable. Whatever the situation, it needs to be said that just because it has “always been this way,” does not mean it has to continue.

HOW DOES IT EFFECT OTHERS?

Observation. Most people have to tell themselves to observe. Consider how others behave. Attempt to gauge their emotions. I know we are not mind readers, but body language can tell you a lot.

Not only examining others in the situation is important, but also examining your own reaction. We (and I may just mean me) can be so aware of other’s feelings and experiences that we forget to check in with ourselves. Something occurs routinely, because we don’t want to rock the boat. How do you feel about it? How do you feel when the situation or interaction is over? Fatigued? On edge? That may be a sign that something needs to change. An example could be who hosts Thanksgiving. Do you host every year and find yourself experiencing resentment? Maybe it’s time to ask for help or to let someone else take over for a season.

WHAT IS YOUR REACTION TO CHANGE?

The idea of changing the hosting of Thanksgiving? Did that cause anxiety? Where did that come from? Sometimes people are so entrenched in their roles in families or friend groups that stepping outside of that role can feel stressful. We are not what we do, but that concept isn’t really communicated in the world in which we live. Our value is not from what we provide for others. Are you always the friend that is the sounding board and struggle to find your own board? Might be time for something different. 

Identifying our emotions is difficult. We usually oscillate between happy, mad or sad. However, there are so many other feelings that can explain what is going on internally so much more clearly! Do you feel devalued or excited or content? We don’t use descriptive, feeling words, because they aren’t in our usual vocabulary. It’s okay to print out a list of emotions and go from there. Once the feelings are identified, it can help with the evaluation. 

WHAT IS NEEDED?

As people, we stink at asking for what we need. That’s why we are so good at manipulation. The idea stings because it’s true.  Look at toddlers. They learn how to fake cry for attention at early ages. They learn how to behave to get what they need. However, once we develop language capability, we don’t translate the idea. How often have you been feeling sad and asked specifically for a hug? Or needed to have a difficult conversation about someone hurting your feelings, so you gave them some passive aggressive clues that you were upset? Guilty. 

When we need things to change for someone else, for a place or for ourselves, we need to communicate. Communication that will probably lead to confrontation is my least favorite. I’d rather stuff my emotions (great job, therapist!) or flat out ignore my feelings to avoid effecting someone else’s feelings negatively. You know what? I need to “adult up,” and you do too. 

Change is hard. Evaluation is necessary. Just because something has “always been this way,” whether it is relationship dynamics, work environment or expectations, does not mean it has to or should continue forever. Look outside yourself, look into yourself and find what is necessary for things to move toward a healthy place. It’s not fun. It is not easy. However, your life is worth it.

Facing confrontation with hesitation,

Allyson 

Posted in adolescents, relationships

Secrets, Secrets

Navigating your child’s transition from adolescence to adulthood is complicated. One of the most complicated questions we face involves trying to navigate what is your responsibility, and what is theirs. Gone are the clearer-cut days of knowing when it is time for you to let your kid brush their own teeth, make their own bed, or even help make dinner. Older adolescence is fraught with much more complicated variations of this question. How much independence do they need to grow, and how much can you handle giving them while also remaining sane? To what degree should we let our child fail? Then, there’s the question I want to talk about today: how do we empower our adolescent children to be safe in their relationships and friendships when the other person is in crisis?

If you’re anything like me, you love hearing when kids overshare. I get really tickled when I hear little kids share really private and personal stories about their family members, and they have no idea the lines they just crossed. Although we may hear less of it directly, this is still happening in your child’s adolescent friendships. Kids tell their friends about the domestic violence at their home. Your child overhears someone talking about their dad’s excessive drinking. Someone texts your child that they are considering killing themselves.

The kind of connection and comradery that is built in the landscape of adolescence is almost unparalleled, so it is unsurprising that some of the most difficult, disturbing, and deviant experiences kids have get shared with their friends. Sharing stories and keeping secrets does, in fact, build trust like few other things can. As our kids start learning how to have more emotionally mature relationships with other people, we want them to learn how to be trustworthy friends. This means that we don’t want them to have to share everything they hear with us. But where is the line between secrets your child should keep, and secrets that they need to share, even when it could risk their friendship?

Distinguish between different kinds of danger

Our kids are going to keep secrets from us. When our kids our little, we teach them to tell us anything someone asks them to keep secret. We do this to protect them, and to keep them from falling prey to a dangerous situation. But as our kids mature, they start to understand some of the nuances between “good” secrets and “bad” secrets. It’s easier for our children to understand that it’s okay to keep the name of their friend’s crush a secret or to promise never to tell anyone else that they saw their friend shoot snot out of their nose when they sneezed. These are generally harmless secrets.

It may even be easy for your child to know when they have to tell someone about what they have heard, such as if their friend has been abused or assaulted, or if they know that someone is planning to harm themselves or others. But what about the more complicated secrets? The “in-between” secrets?

“You have to promise not to tell my mom and dad that I’m smoking pot. It would get so much worse for me at home if they knew.”

“I don’t know how to not feel depressed. Sometimes when I cut, I feel a little better. But you have to promise not to tell so that no one makes me stop.”

“I gave our other friend my anti-depressants. I don’t need them anymore, and her parents refuse to let her go to therapy. If they ever found out, they would ground her forever and she’d never get help.”

These are complicated situations even for adults to navigate, and we have to equip our kids to not have to navigate them alone. One way to do this is to keep an open conversation about okay and not okay secrets. Whenever I see adolescents in therapy, their parents and I talk about secret-keeping. They agree that my sessions with their kids can be secret, but first I promise them that I will let them know if I ever find out that their child is engaging in a dangerous behavior. I tell the parents that I will immediately inform them of immediately dangerous behavior, such as plans and intent to commit suicide, using hard drugs, or having unprotected sex. I then draw a line and say that if their child tells me they are engaging in risky, but not immediately threatening behavior, like superficial self-harm or vaping, I will give their child a two week grace period to tell their parents on their own and then I will check in to make sure they were informed. I distinguish between safe and unsafe secrets, and even outline when immediate action is required.

You don’t need to have this formal of a conversation with your child and their friends, but I do think that this kind of distinction between different kinds of secrets and different levels of danger are important to make. One way to help encourage your kids to share dangerous secrets is to help them understand that sometimes getting an adult involved is the most loving thing they can do for their friend. Yes, there are always possible nuances and exceptions. There are, in fact, some situations where children are put at more risk by sharing their secrets, such as in the case of children living in abusive homes. But no child should hold the weight of that kind of secret squarely on their shoulders. It is not our child’s responsibility to have to protect their friend from that kind of danger; an adult needs to take the responsibility for them.

Be sensitive to the risks of your child

When you describe the different kinds of secrets that are okay to keep and need to be shared, it’s important to remember the real risks of both sharing and keeping secrets. Sometimes, a friend will appreciate a secret told at the right time in order to ensure their safety. Other times, our kids know that they are making the very real choice between making sure their friend is safe and keeping the friendship. If your child ever finds themselves in a situation in which they have to betray the trust of a friend in order to keep them safe, they will need your support. Be sure to talk about your child’s friend with concern and respect. Yes, they may be doing something stupid, but save the judgment for later. Your first job is to be a trustworthy space for your kids to come to. And even better, enlist another adult in your life and name them as “the other safe adult.” Maybe this is a cool uncle or neighbor. It doesn’t really matter, as long as both you and your teen find this adult to be trustworthy and safe. Talking about secrets early and often will help them know that you are there for them and are willing to help them walk through the muddy waters with them. Risking a friendship is serious business for our kids, so take their concerns seriously. Relational death can feel just as scary as actual physical danger.

It is important for you, the parent, to do some work as well. Do you know what would you do if your child told you that their friend was about to commit suicide, take drugs, or go steal a car?  If not, take some time to consider your options. You can ask your child what their ideas are as well so that they can be involved in the decision making, but it will help if you have an idea of who you would call or how you might address the situation.

It’s scary when our children start to encounter very real adult-sized problems, and evaluating secrets is one of those problems. If we are not a safe place for them to come to, they end up trying to solve these problems alone. Our children should never have to feel fully responsible for keeping another teen safe. It is our responsibility to communicate to our children that we are ready and willing to share in or shoulder that responsibility for them.

Growing alongside,

Selena

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in coparenting, counseling, emotion regulation, empathy, motherhood, parenting, relationships, selfcompassion

Parenting While Pregnant

WARNING: THIS POST TALKS ABOUT PREGNANCY

We are pregnant. We are pregnant! It’s an exciting reality. We have talked about expanding our family often and knew we wanted to grow beyond our two kiddos. After prayer and conversations, we were able to conceive. That sounds so simple. To be honest, despite my PCOS diagnosis, fertility issues is not one of my symptoms. Before I explore my struggles parenting while pregnant, I want to acknowledge those that DO struggle. Struggle with getting pregnant, struggle with carrying a pregnancy to term, struggle with grief over loss, struggle with waiting in an adoption journey. With all the ways science and culture has moved forward in having babies, it doesn’t change the reality of the emotions present when others are able to announce a new life when you’re trying so hard to experience that reality.

In this post I want to chronicle some difficulties I am having during pregnancy. I explore this not to complain, not to minimize this miracle. I disclose to help others that really dislike the glorious reality of being pregnant not feel so alone. Being pregnant is a privilege. Not everyone is able to have this experience. However, it CAN be difficult. It is okay to be discouraged or disgruntled or miserable even while being grateful for what is to come.

That is my life. I love my kids. I love having them. However, I do NOT enjoy pregnancy. It seems that each subsequent pregnancy has different stresses. With Gideon, the nausea was so overwhelming that medicine was necessary to make it through the day. I did not have hyperemesis gravidarum, but it was still miserable. With Keaton, it was fatigue. Parenting a toddler and working part time added to the hormonal exhaustion. Then we come to this baby. There is some nausea, there is some fatigue, but ,oh man, are there mood swings.

You know who this effects the most? My kids. I have lost my mind around their behavior more times than I would like to admit. There have been many talks and many apologies. My kids and my husband endure my irritability, my sadness and my anxiety. I hate it. I do not like to feel out of control. Sometimes, my usual coping skills are unhelpful and it drives me crazy. I preach and preach to people about knowing the coping skills that are helpful to them and here I am, not being able to utilize any! It’s obnoxious.

My oldest has since started school. Let me tell you, homework time is, whew, I don’t have a word. He’s silly. He’s all over the place. Wanna know why? He’s FIVE! Knowing this, I still get so so frustrated. Then, I get more and more frustrated with myself. Ya’ll. Hormones are very irrational things. Here are a few things that I need to tell myself as well as communicate to others in an effort to help.

BE VOCAL ABOUT WHAT’S GOING ON INSIDE

I lash out sometimes. I am not proud of it. Usually my husband gets the brunt. I will be angry…sometimes for no reason (thanks Mrs. Hormone). Then, I will find some small thing he did that could be the reason for my emotions. I will then explain that his actions are the cause of my feelings. Yikes, right? Poor man.

Usually, about 5 or sometimes 20 minutes into this tirade and trading of lovely information, I will realize that my words do not make sense. I think on all the positive things he’s done and all the things I am grateful to him for. I then recognize that what I am feeling has nothing to do with him. At this point, no matter who is the recipient of my frustration, I experience embarrassment. I realize that it has nothing to do with them. It is my own emotion that has overruled sanity.

The conversation usually involves me apologizing. It involves me acknowledging all the positive things he has done and then something unhelpful, it involved me berating myself. That leads to my next point.

APOLOGIZE, REPAIR, AND MOVE ON

I do not do this well. I feel as though I need to batter myself internally a bit to ensure I don’t treat someone in an unkind way again. Does it help? Nope. I fail again and hurt feelings again. It instead creates distance in the relationship. It puts up walls. In holding onto my anger at myself, it becomes about me rather than that person.

Having a self flagellation session can cause the person whose feelings I’ve hurt work to make ME feel better. That is very unhealthy. It almost steals their space to experience their anger or their hurt. It is so unhelpful and can be so damaging.

Acknowledge the negative behavior, apologize, and seek to repair the relationship. That may be by giving them space or even listening to how your actions hurt them without providing a defense. It is super humbling, but also super healing.

TAKE A MOMENT

Sometimes, I need to take a moment. I need to lay down and get space from people. It seems weird to type, because I LOVE people. If I could run all my errands and do all my everything with someone chatting along with me, that’d be great. However, no one needs to be around a “cranky pants.” Taking time can be more for other’s benefit than for me.

When it’s a moment from my kids, I can give them paper to color, allow them to video chat with my mother-in-law or *gasp* put on a TV show. Taking my moment is way more beneficial than doing any yelling. They’re kids. They are supposed to make mistakes, spill everything, and try my patience. Parenting is so lovingly refining.

Those struggling to parent while pregnant, I see you. I am you. It is okay to have difficulty staying calm with all the changes and all the hormones coursing through your body. It does not mean that you don’t love your kids. It does not mean that you aren’t grateful for your pregnancy. Remember, anything worth doing has it’s battles.

Making it, maybe?

Allyson

Posted in Uncategorized

Pizza for Breakfast

This morning our family ate pepperoni pizza for breakfast. Not in the “we don’t have anything else in the house, so here’s some leftovers” kind of way. No, we are totally wild and did it on purpose.

One of my goals for our family is to make our family a space for each member of the family. I want each person in our family to feel like they have a voice that deserves to be heard, that we each have agency within our home. Yes, we are the parents and will have to make countless decisions that our kids hate, dislike, loathe entirely, etc. (re: going to school, brushing teeth). But my kids are also individual people who have voices that deserve to be heard, valued, and developed.

When my 5 year old asked to have pizza for breakfast, my first instinct was to say no. “We don’t have pizza for breakfast,” right?! Like, that’s crazy talk. But I also knew that my child’s first question after saying no would be to ask, ”why?” As he continued to describe his Grand Plan for Dinner for Breakfast, I started to think more about why I wanted to say no.

First of all, routine is important. When we have the same thing (ish) for breakfast every morning, my kids fall into the morning easier and are more independent. Frankly, it just makes things faster too. Secondly, I really don’t want to have to field more requests for “Dinner for Breakfast” if I say yes this time. I personally don’t want pizza for breakfast, and I kind of think it’s weird. I don’t think I could handle saying yes to a roast or macaroni. Ew. Lastly, we already have pizza once a week for a family pizza movie night and having pizza twice a week (and for breakfast!) was really pushing against all of the Healthy Family Lifestyle thoughts and rules in my head.

But in reality, my son knows how important a balanced diet is. He makes sure that he eats protein and includes fruits or vegetables in the meals he tries to plan (well…technically except for the Pizza Breakfast…). And I also don’t have to say yes to this more than once. What really put me over the edge was that he had really thought the entire plan through. He really enjoys Breakfast for Dinner, so the Grand Plan was to have Breakfast for Dinner and Dinner for Breakfast. How could I say no?

Then I started to think about what he would learn if I said yes. He would hear that his ideas and opinions had value, and that he had agency within our family. He would learn that it’s okay to “break the rules” sometimes to do something fun, because sometimes fun IS the most important thing. He would hear that we valued his creativity, because frankly I think it’s brilliant to want to have Dinner for Breakfast on the same day that you have Breakfast for Dinner.

No, my kids won’t make all of the decisions for our family. But I do want them to be involved in the decision making. I want them invested in what our family does, why we make the choices we do, and why we do things the way that we do. And I want them to see that we are open to how they want to do it differently.

So, we had pizza for breakfast, stuffed crust and all.

And I hope you choose to have your own version of “Pizza for Breakfast” soon too.

Growing our families together,

Selena

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in Uncategorized

When Parenting Styles Differ

We all have friends and family that parent differently than we do. We have different children, who have varied temperaments and we have different home environments. Sometimes it can become difficult to engage with one another with children involved, because of parental variations. With a wide array of values and expectations held by us parents, discussing this topic can bring tension. In our world today with a “right/wrong” mentality, we often try to categorize each other as negligent, irresponsible or too strict and overly involved.

However, it is okay for parenting styles and expectations to be diverse. How we approach the world varies and therefore our approaches to parenting will carry the same variety. It is not necessary to always agree. It is actually okay to have different expectations for your children while being with other kids that have other rules. You will find, the way to adjust to these situations has more to do with you and your family than convincing someone else to change. As we often say in therapy, “The only person you have control over, is you.”

KNOW YOU EXPECTATIONS AND THE WHY BEHIND THEM

This may seem silly. However, most parents are not aware of the expectations they have for their children until the situation arises. By knowing your individual values and allowing that to direct your expectations, you can navigate an unexpected circumstance with more clarity. The awareness of where you stand, and the reason you hold to that rule, can drive your action.

Your child may need a certain schedule to manage their behavior, or you may be able to have a more flexible schedule due to your child’s personality. Neither are wrong. However, you need to know what your child needs and understand why your child has those needs. As a result, you do not need to get defensive when someone else has different plans. You know what you need to do and you know why you need to do it. You will be less likely to be swayed by outside influences.

BE CONSISTENT

It can be tempting to alter our expectations depending on the environment. However, this can be very confusing for our children. They can jump on the couch at Mimi’s house, but not your house. That’s not going to translate for them. It can cause them some anxiety due to not understanding the rules or cause them to become defiant because they get confused.

To maintain exceptions everywhere sets us up for more challenges. It takes more management, more interventions, more attention. However, being consistent will eventually make it easier for you to enforce rules and for your children to follow them. They cannot read your mind. If we change our approaches based on our environment, they may attempt to read our mind (anxiety) or treat our expectations as suggestions. They may draw the conclusion that Mom obviously does not know what she wants (not that they’ll consciously think that).

If you are a parent/caregiver watching someone else’s child, it is important to know their rules. It is important to try and adhere to their rules whether you agree with them or not. This might be enforcing a no screen time rule that you feel is ridiculous or you allow your children to jump on the couch – even if you think he should be allowed to. However, it can be more confusing for the kid to have different rules. Allow the consistency to prevail. Once again, this is if the rules are not harming anyone.

BE VOCAL

Your children need reinforcement. They need reminders. This is especially true, the younger they are. Have a phrase you use for each expectation and repeat it. This could be “please keep your voice down when we are inside” or “remember, we only sit on furniture.” Stating the behavior you wish for them to model, is more helpful for them.

It is also helpful for those around you to know what you expect from your children. It does not mean that they need to comply. It is okay for parents to have contrasting rules. It does not mean one is right and one is wrong. You are each parenting individuals. Each child comes with their own needs. There is no reason to feel insecure about your expectations. There is no need to feel insecure over someone else’s expectations as long as everyone is being respectful to one another and the property of other.

ACKNOWLEDGE THE DIFFERENCE

It is okay to recognize the varied expectations–not only with the other parent, but with your child. You can tell your child that “other people have different rules, but you need to follow Mommy/ Daddy/Caregiver’s rules.” This acknowledges to the child that you are aware, and that your expectations have not shifted with varying circumstances.

In the end, ignoring the inconsistencies can be more confusing. It will not cause more tension or suddenly cause your child to notice the differences. Children are way more observant than we give them credit for, and more observant than we’d like them to be sometimes.

Parenting can be a struggle. When you add other people and their kids, it can create a bit of chaos. Chaos isn’t bad. Chaos can add a little bit of diversity in your life. However, you can set up skills that allow you to parent how you parent, regardless of your environment.

As we identify our own values in conjunction with our child’s unique personality, we can communicate our expectations to our children with confidence and clarity. And if you think about it, this may actually teach them to hold strong to their own values later in life when others go a different way.

Parenting differently,

Allyson

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in Uncategorized

Actions Speak Louder than Words

One of the fun perks of having teen clients is getting to hear their unfiltered perspective. Teens and pre-teens can be some of the most scathingly honest individuals, and one of the things that they unfailingly bring up in session is any apparent hypocrisy in the behavior of their caregivers. By the teenage years, our kids have spent over a decade studying us. They know our habits, our values, and our moods. They know what sets us off and can even sometimes tell what our mood is from the sound of our footsteps down the hallway. And they are quick to call their parents out whenever they tell teens to do something that they themselves don’t do.

And every once in a while, I hear a really cringy phrase that they tell me their parents said: Do what I say, not what I do.

But, does that ever work? Does it work to try to teach our kids to the ‘right’ thing rather than to do what we do? I think most of us have known for a long time – since we ourselves were pre-teens – that this kind of parenting isn’t sustainable, and yet we still try to do it in subtle ways all of the time.

@diaryofanhonestmom has a fantastic Instagram reel for “ex-crunchy moms” that highlights the way we sometimes try to do this as parents. Here’s what she says:

“I just want to start this by saying that I have nothing against crunchy moms. In fact, I really respect you and think that it’s great that you put energy into your lifestyle in that way.

But this is for all of the non-crunchy moms who, when you had your first-born, for some reason you thought that was going to happen for you.

Like, you started out with the organic food and the organic diapers and the organic everything and you wore your baby and then you did all the things and were like, “Yeah, we’re doing this, we’re healthy,” even though you still ate big macs all the time and you didn’t live that lifestyle but thought that your baby would live that lifestyle.

Was I the only one who tried to have the organic lifestyle for my baby, but didn’t live it? And how long did it take you to realize…no…this isn’t us?”

If you aren’t doing something for yourself, it’s not realistic to expect that your kids will be different. If you really want to see change in your kids, you have to be willing to invest in that change yourself.  This is true for boundaries, lifestyle, values, and the kinds of relationships you have. You cannot make your kids do what you do or believe what you believe. But you cannot expect them to behave much differently than you behave.

Here are few things to remember when you are trying to create change in your family:

Take the time to do the work. Change takes time and a lot of hard, consistent effort. You may need help, even professional help. Take all of the help you can get.

Be willing to be humble with your kids. Admit when you didn’t live up to the standards you set and demonstrate both the self-compassion to be gentle with yourself and the grit to get up and try again.

Be prepared to fail. Neither change nor growth are linear processes; there will always be setbacks, mistakes, and old patterns that sneak up and sidetrack you. Keep going – you will see the change over time.

Posted in emotion regulation, empathy, parenting, relationships, Uncategorized

Everything’s Not Okay

I was comforting my daughter yesterday. The kids are obsessed with “Beauty and the Beast” and the beast was being exceptionally rude. She was scared and squealed to be picked up and held. I continually soothed her by saying, “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

Seems innocuous, right? Well my therapist brain began yelling “BUT SHE’S NOT OKAY! IT WAS SCARY!” True. What I said wasn’t “wrong”, but it also wasn’t completely validating of her experience. I could have told her a few other things. Phrases such as, “I know it’s scary, but I am here to help,” or “It is okay to be scared, you don’t have to look,” or even “It is going to be okay.” 

It seems silly and maybe overkill, however, the more emotions are validated for kids and adults, the more we are able to trust our own feelings. This extreme example can be applied to more impactful instances of emotion validation. Here are few ways people unintentionally invalidate other’s emotions.

PLATITUDES ARE DESIGNED TO SIMPLIFY THE SITUATION

Emotions are complex. As a culture, we don’t do well with complex. We want to understand and conquer. When we don’t understand and cannot control, we get uncomfortable. In the south, everywhere I expect, but especially the south, people want to be polite. Being polite often means saying the right thing at the right time. A “yes ma’am” here, a “may I help you” there, or a “no thank you I don’t want any coffee when secretly I’ve been craving it since I walked in.” 

When someone feels sadness or anger or fear, we are frozen with uncertainty. What needs to be said? Sometimes our words escape our mouths before our brain gives it clearance. Sometimes we don’t recognize our words for what they are, simplification. “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” Sweet words. There’s some truth. Platitudes always have some truth. However, it fills the silence in a manner that prompts the person to “get over it already” in a “nice” way. That may not be what was intended, but it is often what is communicated. There are way more like:

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“Don’t worry, be happy.”

One of the worst that is beginning to be rejected, “boys will be boys.” There are many situations where these phrases will stop someone from expressing their emotions and leave them feeling almost chastised. Silence is better than a platitude. 

POSITIVITY IS DESIGNED TO DIMINISH THE INTENSITY

“It could have been so much worse,” or “look on the bright side” or “at least…” can be an attempt to comfort. So many of these phrases are an attempt to comfort. However, good intentions can still cause harm. 

Processing emotions cannot be rushed. We can encourage someone to skip steps in the healing stages, but it is not helpful. People need to feel their disappointment, grief or even jealousy. Attempting to focus on the positive rather than experience the “negative,” can result in stuffing feelings. 

People can feel shamed by the intensity of their emotions when encouraged to see the “silver lining” in a situation. Once their crisis has passed, they might enjoy discussing the positives that occurred due to the disappointment, but not in the moment. We need to let people feel sadness. 

ENGAGING IN CERTAIN ACTIONS CAN BE DESIGNED TO SILENCE

Have you ever been crying and someone hands you a single tissue? Feels like a “wrap this up” a bit, huh? We can unconsciously send messages that are invalidating. It can be difficult. Feelings matter whether you agree with them or not. Your kid is losing their ever loving mind because their action figure fell apart? It’s trivial to us, but it is something important to them.

We can sigh and quote the reasons they need to pick up their toys (guilty), or we can empathize with how frustrated, disappointed and sad they are. Eventually, we can explore with them how to reduce the risk of their toys breaking, but when they are in the midst of their emotions, is not the time.

Pay attention to body language. It shows if you are waiting to flee the scene or you think their feelings are unimportant. It may be a struggle to understand. However, you have experienced that same emotion, remember the feeling and not the circumstances.

It is difficult to validate emotion that is not your own. Being unsure how to comfort can make us revert to unhelpful responses. However, we need to be aware of our verbal and non verbal cues that are communicated to the person struggling. It is important be present and let the person know that what they feel matters.

If you have been on the receiving end of these invalidations, I’m so sorry. I have been guilty of doing all of these at different times. Other people’s reaction to your feelings does not mean they don’t matter. It doesn’t mean they are unimportant.

Validating together,

Allyson