Posted in relationships

Helping Weather the Storm

I’m at a loss. A real loss. Numbness has spread through my emotions and I want to curl into the fetal position. Things could be worse, but they could also be so much better.

This week has been a winter wonderland walk through hell. Maybe not hell. But something like being trapped on the “it’s a small world ride” at Disney. Snow blankets the ground, spreading silence and beauty. However, it has brought trials. First, there was so much snow for our southern town that we couldn’t leave the house on unplowed streets. Then, we had rolling blackouts that disoriented me and my kids. The blackouts effected cell reception and texts barely made it from my phone to

my support system. This contributed to me being able to engage very few coping skills. Anxiety, disconnection and darkness swirled around me.

For a bit of relief, we were able to hitch a ride to family’s house for a little bit of electricity and company. After experiencing some relief in my soul, we came home to water spilling out of our front door. We were dripping water to prevent a pipe from bursting resulting in a flooded house. Betrayal by bathtub. So in the moments I was feeling relief from the stress, my home was becoming logged with water.

It has been a struggle. This is on top of being in a new place with a limited support system. However. We have had a few experiences that provided comfort. Small things given to us be our wonderful support system. Here are some ways of supporting people while they are handling crisis.

Be decisive.

Those of us in the midst of the crisis? We often freeze. We get overwhelmed. Making a this or this request? That helps. My sister-in-law texted me as I watched my carpet being surgically removed with an exacto knife. Her words? We have a room for you set up. Not, do you want to stay here or should I set up a room? Just, it’s done.

It gave me relief. I felt taken care of and the need to make a decision was taken. It wasn’t telling me what to do, it was offering me a life preserver.

Show up.

My husband called a friend when we found the water. He drove through the perilous roads, a few towns away, to help. My brother came. He called someone else.

While we were frozen, steps were being taken to care for our home.

Similar to the previous point, not asking, doing. If you’re anything like me, You hate asking for help. Putting people out. But people showing up? You don’t have to say no.

This can be bringing a meal or even a phone call. I had a friend not only call, but insist on finding us a hotel room. No where was open, but still. It was a way of showing up.

It’s the small things.

My brother and his wife are wonderful humans. My brother brought us coffee and they watched our kids to give us a moment. The biggest thing to me? He put on my favorite, calming music. I almost started crying when I heard the first notes.

Before this flooding happened, I was struggling. A small thing? My sister listening and validating my emotions.

The small things are such big things.

An important small thing is empathy. You may not be able to “do” anything, but empathy is a important. When someone feels heard and feels someone recognizes their hardship, it shares the burden. You don’t need to fix or offer advice. Listen. Affirm the struggle.

In the midst of my relatively small crisis, these things have been so helpful. It is hard to know what to do when those you love are struggling. Know that grand gestures aren’t necessary. Be decisive for them, show up and know that small things make a big impact.

Struggling,

Allyson

Ps Since I wrote this post earlier last week, the snow has thawed, but troubles keep coming. Check on your people that have been effected by Winter Storm Uri. We aren’t okay.

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 emotion regulation, empathy, parenting, relationships, selfcare, selfcompassion, trauma

Making a Case For…Thinking Your Emotions

Our “worst” or most maladaptive traits are often good and healthy coping mechanisms that have been turned up to such a high volume that they are now interfering with other healthy ways of being. For example, people pleasing as a child may have kept you from getting in trouble at home, but as an adult it may make it difficult to set appropriate boundaries in your relationships.  One maladaptive trait that gets me into trouble is thinking my emotions more than feeling them. In fact, I have a friend who will check in with me by saying, “Are you intellectualizing your emotions again?” Talk about getting called out!

To really simplify things, we process our emotions best whenever we use both the thinking and feeling parts of our brain. Developing a healthy integration of our thinking and feeling is what leads us to healing, while getting lost for too long in one or the other usually results in us getting stuck.

Getting stuck is the last place we want to be with our own emotions. As the resident “over-thinker,” here are some ways to help take a step back when you find yourself getting lost in the feeling:

Look for Patterns

Whenever we’re faced with particularly confusing emotions or responses, a common response is to start to judge ourselves. “Why am I feeling this way? Why is this happening? What’s wrong with me?” If this starts to happen to you, try stepping outside of yourself and taking on the role of the scientist. When scientists have a problem they need to find a solution to, one of the essential steps in finding that solution is collecting data.

The easiest way to do this is to ask yourself questions. What happened right before you felt that way? What happened right after? What were you thinking? What were you feeling? Who else was there and what was said? What time of day did it happen? Try to be as non-judgmental as possible when you’re in this headspace, refraining from naming anything as ‘good’ or ‘bad. The goal is to situate yourself as a scientist who is dispassionately observing.

This doesn’t mean to ignore your emotions, it simply gives you the space to try to logically understand your emotions outside of feeling them, and try to understand more about them.

Everything Makes Sense in Context

Have you ever had trouble regulating yourself after hearing someone else talk about their emotions or opinions? Maybe when they start talking about their political ideology? (This seems to do the trick for many of us!) Thinking can help in this context because, as I think we’ve at least all seen, matching someone else’s emotional intensity rarely makes a situation better.

One of the ways you can use your thinking to diffuse an emotionally intense interaction is to move from a place of primarily feeling to a place of curiosity. Everything that we do, we do because it makes sense to us for some feeling or reason at the time. The same is true for everyone else. If everything makes sense in context, ask yourself why the opinions and reactivity of the other person make sense for them. Curiosity can move us away from an oppositional standpoint towards one of empathy and compassion.

Name It, Don’t Stuff It

There are times when we are all faced with emotions and experiences that have the potential to overwhelm us. I’m talking about those moments when what we’re feeling seems like it has the power to completely shut us down if we give in. Utter grief and sorrow. Shock and despair. The darkest corners of our depression and the frozen moments of anxiety.

It’s in these moments that our power to think emotions can truly come to the rescue, because without intentionally using our thinking, these emotions can get duct taped shut, closed into a box, and shoved into the forgotten places in our mind. These are the emotions we stuff down because we don’t know how to process them and would feel too unsafe feeling them. They are the emotions we stuff in order to survive.

When faced with these kinds of emotions, the first thing you can do is name it. Maybe you know it’s shock, or grief, or sadness. Or maybe you just know that what you’re feeling is overwhelming. Name it. Maybe even say it out loud: “I’m feeling despair right now. It’s really upsetting and I don’t know what to do with it.” Then you can put it in a box, set it on a shelf, and set a reminder to come back to it when you are in a calmer space. This gives your body time to calm down, and even just naming your emotion externalizes it enough to give you some space from it at that moment. Just remember to come back to it when you are feeling safe and calm. Coming back to the emotion later, when you’re feeling safe, will allow you to integrate your thinking and feeling, instead of just getting lost in the overwhelm.

Our bodies, emotions, and experiences are so intimately and intricately intertwined. And while we are all wonderful, we are also all wounded. I urge you to pay attention to both your thinking and feeling, and talk to a counselor if you need help with this. I found a lot of safety in thinking my emotions until I found I wasn’t able to heal fully without all of the feeling. Listen to your feelings. Listen to your brain. Listen to your body. It’s doing the best it can to heal you, so let’s help it along.

Thinking AND feeling with you,

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

The Joseph Effect

I have been participating in a chronological bible reading plan since the beginning of the year. We are in Genesis and I have to confess, I want to scream at the founding fathers of Judaism. It is similar to, I imagine, viewers of the Bachelor/ette wanting to yell at choices those people make on screen. The patterns that continue being repeated to disastrous effects, baffle me. How could you not know that this will end badly??? 

The greatest problems that arose were due to favoritism. It caused so much harm and fracturing. The struggle to prevent favoritism is like many other difficulties. Avoiding the topic is tempting, but unhelpful. As parents there can be a tendency to align ourselves more with the child that shares our interests, wants to spend time with us or has a similar personality. It is important to fight against this tendency for peace within the family and the confidence of each of our children.

RECOGNIZE THEY ARE DIFFERENT

Typo? Nope. Each child is different. When we try to treat them the same, we can actually cause harm. They have different strengths, different weaknesses and different goals. In trying to treat everyone equally, their uniqueness is overlooked and they can actually feel more invisible. 

Notice how they are different. Make notes, keep tabs. One is an introvert. One loves dinosaurs. One is obsessed with shoes at the age of two. It means being intentional and observing your children for more than just obedience. It means getting to know who they are, more than what they will disclose verbally.

This is vital to loving them well and keeping favoritism at bay. When you recognize uniqueness and enjoy differences, you are more likely to value them for who they are and avoid assumptions. Assumptions can cause them to be placed in a one dimensional box that can result in unconscious favoritism.  

More than seeing their positive differences, notice their negative aspects. Not just negative. The negative aspects that push your buttons. One may trigger your frustration or anger more than the other. Understand that truth. Dissect the reality. Why do they bring out your impatience the most?

Don’t attempt to ignore these things. Be aware and in doing so, create a protective wall around your relationship. When we deny what we know to be true, especially about biases, we will act in hurtful ways.

TREAT THEM DIFFERENTLY 

In seeing their differences, lean into that reality. It can be helpful to identify their “love language”. The way they receive love is between “words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, gifts, or quality time” and it a significant item to know (Smalley, 1992). 

In knowing how they most feel loved, you can incorporate it into your relationship. If your son needs words of affirmation it can effect how you give encouragement, but also how you give consequences. For this child, words matter the most. If you tend to lash out in anger with words, pause. This is a good rule for all parenting, but one errant word can derail a child that thrives on words of affirmation. Know how your child best feels love. 

When you are shown the 100th tik tok video or the one millionth Pokemon card, you might lose your mind. However, in sharing those things with you, your child is trying to bring you into their world. It can be difficult to open up using words, but in a “show and tell” style relationship, they are wanting your presence. It might be boring. You might want to impart your parental discipline on the inventor of “baby shark”, but realize that engaging with them surrounding their interests, shows that who they are matters to you. But remember that one teen wanting to do make up tutorials with you, does not mean that your other teen will want the same things. Pay attention to what they might bring to your attention.

SEE YOUR SAMENESS

Notice how “button pushing” moments with your child might be due to sameness. The same flaw, the same sin pattern. Research has been clear that parents impact their children. What is passed down through nature, can impact behavior. You struggle with anxiety? It might present itself in your children. Depression? Might make an appearance. Eating disorder? Anger? Jealousy? All of the above.

Instead of descending into denial or a shame spiral, be authentic in a developmentally appropriate manner. I struggle with anger somedays. I get frustrated and want to yell and scream and blame. So does my son. He hits a table if he runs into it. Not a proud shining example of inherited traits. How do I handle it? Talk about it. 

When I get angry and have to calm down? I call attention to it. “See how Mommy took a deep breath there to calm down?” or sometimes “Mommy didn’t handle her frustration well right then, sorry I yelled.” It can be helpful to identify those struggles within myself and then remind him of those things when he struggles as well. Then we are a team fighting a struggle that I could be tempted to ostracize him over.

Every kid has something that is the “same” as you. It might be buried and hard to find, but find it. It can be a point of difficulty or a passion you share. When you see yourself in all of your children, it is harder to play favorites.

Favoritism is brutal. It can tear apart families. It can destroy marriages. It leaves destruction in its wake. Don’t pretend you are above the unconscious inequality. When you are intentional in preventing it, you can invest in greater confidence for your children and a stronger relationship between the children as well. It is uncomfortable to consider, but vital to address.   

Intentionally parenting,

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.

5 Love Languages of Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively by Gary Chapman

Posted in Uncategorized

Making A Case for Family Traditions

We took down (what I think) are the last of our Christmas decorations this week. Well, actually, I just looked up and saw that we still have wreaths on our windows. Oh well. Did you notice all of the early Christmas decorations this year? I’m going to be completely honest about the fact that our family decorated for Christmas on Halloween this year. This is normal for our family (I really love Christmas), but we definitely weren’t the only ones this year. In fact, there almost seemed to be a push to decorate early – a sentiment that after such a hard year it was okay to lean into the comfort of Christmas as early and as elaborately as possible.  

One of the things that makes Christmas so special is the shared tradition. Everyone – at least in the states – can expect Christmas trees, Christmas music, gifts, and Santa paraphernalia whenever the holiday is in full swing. No matter the year or place, you know you can find Christmas lights to look at, hot cocoa (or cider/eggnog) to drink, and that someone will be making cookies. There is comfort in the performance and predictability of Christmas: you know what to expect and exactly what to do if you want to participate in a shared experience with the people around you – strangers and family alike.

Almost every family that celebrates Christmas has at least some kind of Christmas tradition, even if its as simple as putting up a tree. And even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, you probably know enough to blend in at any Christmas party. Tradition is comforting, and it’s an anchor to memories from years past. And I think they are so important to family life.

We don’t remember much of our childhood for a simple reason: our brain prunes out old and unused information while it creates space for new information and experiences. Tradition defies this process; smelling Christmas cookies can instantly transport you back to your grandmother’s kitchen and singing a song can remind you of the many times before when you sang that song with you family.

But traditions and rituals don’t just have to be saved for Christmas or other holidays. Creating ordinary traditions with your children can reap huge benefits for years to come as they anchor their memories of their childhood. Ordinary traditions don’t have to be big or elaborate; they can be as simple as creating a new part of your routine.

Start a Weekly Tradition

One of our weekly traditions is to have a pizza movie night in our living room together. Our kids are still both preschoolers and we rarely last the entire movie without devolving into some kind of play, but it has become part of our normal. As our kids get older, we will make our own pizza more often and eventually watch something that isn’t animated, but we wanted this to be well-established by the time our kids started school. We want our family to spend at least one night a week at home spending time together, and this tradition is a way that we are communicating and sharing our value of family time with our kids.

Choose something that fits your family’s values and create an event or action attached to it.  Maybe it’s a certain walk or hike you take every weekend. Or something that you eat together. Make a big deal about doing certain things the same way each week, and let your kids add to the tradition as they grow.

Start a Birthday Tradition

Another way to easily add tradition to your family’s life is to attach it to birthdays. There are families that spend the morning of each person’s birthday telling them what they love and appreciate about the birthday person. Other families make sure to have a special family dinner for each person’s birthday. Choose what is important to your family and do it several times a year by doing it during birthdays.

Seasonal Traditions

Traditions can also be attached to certain seasons. Maybe your family goes camping during the fall, does community service during the winter, goes strawberry picking in the spring, and visits family in the summer. This kind of tradition allows some extra flexibility for when and how to complete the tradition, but still creates the shared sense of family.

Whatever you choose to do with your family, make it your own and make it special. It can then grow into the anchor for your children’s memories and the tradition will become a safe, warm, welcoming space for them to return, year after year.

Leaning into the comfort of tradition with you,

Selena

Posted in Uncategorized

What I Learned While Sick With Covid

I write to you from the weakness and discouragement that only sickness can bring. Our household was unfortunate enough to be stricken with this awful virus over the holidays. It is uncomfortable and distressing, provoking anxiety at every turn. Our experience has not resulted in hospitalization, thankfully. However, there are still some things that I have realized through parenting in the midst of “the Rona.”

I NEED MY CO-PARENT

My husband received the dreaded positive test result first. After exposure, we hoped against hope he didn’t contract it. He wore a mask and stayed six feet apart. However, after the test, it hit him like a truck. I felt some pity, some compassion and some dread.

We decided he would quarantine to hopefully spare our Christmas plans. Anyone with a sick spouse can tell you how difficult it can be. I felt like a hotel employee providing room service sometimes. I would leave food at the door and knock to let him know it was there. All this on top of parenting two active kids, plus two dogs (but I digress).

I began to notice as he emerged from his sick bed, how much his presence gave me extra dose of energy. Just knowing he could provide backup, was so helpful. It changed my mood in a noticeable way. I think he appreciates this truth being reiterated from my experience. I try to remember to be grateful for him in the midst of parenting together rather than resent it when he isn’t present.

I WISH I PARENTED WITH MORE GRACE WHILE SICK

While writing this, I needed to apologize to my four year old. I. am. tired. The contagious period is coming to a close, but the exhaustion is real. My patience is nonexistent. I am having many many conversations with my kids about frustration and positive coping, both pointing it out when I do it well and when I do not.

Parenting while sick is the struggle stay at home parents have to handle. It is miserable and often kids feel the brunt of it. Plus, with parental expectations, like limiting screen time, it is so difficult. Sometimes I put a movie on, but it always left me feeling guilty. New flash, an occasional movie day is OK. Do I know this? Yes. Do I believe it is ok for me? Apparently not. The double standard is obnoxious. My sister lovingly pointed out that it was “maybe better to have them watch a movie that having to deal with not yelling.” I hate when she’s right.

PERSPECTIVE MATTERS

I have been so grumpy. From feeling bad, but also from self-pity. I love Christmas. I think it is magical. This year? I wanted to light my tree on fire. I refused to listen to Christmas music and couldn’t get myself to watch the cheesy movies. I didn’t even wrap presents. I love wrapping presents.

Now. It is important to feel emotions. To let yourself be sad and disappointed and angry. But DON’T STAY THERE. I did though. I wanted to sulk and stew and be Scrooge. Who did that hurt? Mostly me. On Christmas night, I finally engaged in what I knew would help. Gratitude. There is so much for me to be thankful for right now! Naming those things, not to mention the reason we celebrate Christmas, enabled me to change course.

I am still not happy that I missed time with family that traveled to my town. That was brutal. BUT, I will be able to see them again. It is so helpful to look at my kid’s faces with gratitude rather than frustration that they need Mom to Mom while she is feeling awful.

Covid brain is a real thing, so maybe this post doesn’t make sense at all. But maybe it does. I wanted you to benefit from my experience. It seems that most of what I learned can be wrapped up in the bow of gratitude. It is a skill that is difficult to learn, harder to practice and cannot be done accidentally. It all comes back to perspective. That is my word for the year 2021. When I adjust my perspective, I find my parenting experience changes.

Begrudgingly (sometimes) grateful,

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 boundaries, counseling, emotion regulation, empathy, motherhood, parenting, relationships, selfcare, selfcompassion, therapy, trauma

How Do I Talk to My Kids About…My Mental Illness

“I love Nonna. Nonna is always calm and kind…not like you mom.”

Nonna is the name my kids use for my mother-in-law and those were the words my child was whispering to me as I was tucking him into bed one night. I knew that on a different day those words would have cut right through me, but that night was different. That night, I agreed with him.

I was at a low point that night. I didn’t recognize myself as a parent: I was yelling, irritable, and struggling to delight in my relationship with them. In short, I wasn’t okay. But I had been diagnosed with PTSD just a few days earlier and was finally able to see my actions through a lens that made my behavior make sense.

If you are coping with a mental illness and have a diagnosis, you have every right to keep that information to yourself. If, however, you find your mental illness affecting your relationship with your children, here are a few ways of talking about it that may help.

View Your Diagnosis As An Explanation, Not An Excuse

That night, as my son told me how much he didn’t like me, I knew the reason for my behavior. I understood enough about PTSD to understand that what had happened during the day made sense, including my behavior. But I also knew that I had really hurt my child’s feelings and that there was no excuse for taking my emotions out on my kids. Having a diagnosis can help contextualize your actions, but it is not a free pass for not addressing the consequences of your actions. Mistakes that you make as a result of mental illness are still mistakes.

When your mental illness affects your relationship with your kids, it’s okay to let them know what’s happening. First, wait for everyone to be in a calm space, then repair with your kids. Talk about the role your mental health played in your behavior, and apologize, empathize, and connect. It can also be helpful to tell you kids what you are doing/will do to change your behavior, such as talk to a doctor/counselor, keep taking your medicine, or make sure you get enough sleep.

Externalize Your Mental Illness

With mental illness, it can be really difficult to separate the person from the symptoms. Before a diagnosis, many people agonize about their symptoms and their difficulty managing them. It can be hard to keep away negative self-talk like, “I’m just not good enough,” “What’s wrong with me,” or “I’m such a bad/sad/angry/crazy/terrible person.” Creating a separation, or externalizing the problem, can help keep people separate from their symptoms.

You can use externalization with your kids by explaining what is going on with your mental health. For example, you may have promised your kids a trip to the park, but your social anxiety has become so severe that day that you can no longer go. It’s natural to feel guilty in that moment, but getting stuck in this kind of thinking is likely to lead to greater anxiety. Instead, you can try explaining to your kids that you are having a hard time with your anxiety and need to stay home.

You don’t have to use the word “anxiety”; you can call it whatever feels right for you and your kids’ maturity level. And your kids may not understand – they will have their own emotions to manage at the disappointment. By using externalization and saying that “the anxiety” is making it hard to go, you can help maintain the connection between you and your children. Instead of “Mom won’t let us go,” you change the narrative to, “Mom’s anxiety won’t let us go.” It’s a subtle shift, but it opens up the opportunity for compassion from your kids and for you to attend to your kids emotions.

Model A Balance Between Self-Control and Self-Compassion

One of the possible benefits of sharing about your mental health – whether you have a diagnosed mental illness or not – is setting an example of balancing self-control and self-compassion. Coping successfully with any mental health struggle requires both self-compassion and self-control, and it is an example that many of our kids will need. Recent studies estimate that up to 25% of adolescents are affected by anxiety disorders, so that means that even if anxiety doesn’t affect your kids, it will likely affect one of their close friends.

As much as you are able to, model and narrate how you cope with your mental health struggles. Explain that you are doing deep breathing to help keep a panic attack at bay. Talk about how you go to therapy because it helps make your depression feel better. After an outburst of PTSD anger, let you kids know that you are going to sit and sip a cup of coffee alone in order to calm down your body. Allow yourself to be disappointed that you can’t get out of bed that day, and show your kids how your treat that struggle with compassion rather than self-criticism. You won’t always get it perfect, but it is powerful to show your kids that while you cannot control your symptoms, you can often work hard to better manage them.

There are definitely times in my work as a therapist where labels and diagnoses appear to do more harm than good. Other times, like that evening with my son, a diagnosis is the best tool you have. I told him that my brain was having trouble staying calm because it had gotten hurt. I empathized that it was hard to have a “mad mom” and told him how sorry I was about using my angry voice so much that day. I sat and listened to what had made him sad or mad, and then asked if he wanted a hug. I then told him that I would keep taking my medicine for my hurt brain and keep talking to my doctor to try to get better. Being open about my mental health turned what could have been a wound in our relationship into a moment of connection.  

We will never be able to hide our imperfections from our kids. Think about ways you can normalize struggling with mental health with your kids and let us know what you come up with!

Talking it out with you,

Selena

An Important Note:

Stigma against mental illness is real. I’ve met people who keep their struggles and diagnoses a secret from as many people as possible out of fear and others who have been ostracized from their families for living openly with their diagnoses. The stressors that result from the stigma can range from minor (being embarrassed that someone saw your medication) to extreme (fear of being cut off or becoming the object of derision in your family or other social group). Only you fully know the costs and benefits of being open about a diagnosis or mental illness, and I encourage you to do what you believe is best for you. And remember, if you need to talk therapy is always confidential.

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 boundaries, emotion regulation, empathy, home, motherhood, parenting, relationships, Uncategorized

What do I say to my kid, when love seems to hurt

My husband stood holding down my son as he screamed, “Mom! You’re hurting me!” We were both sweating and crying. He was squirming and probably thinking I was terrible, because (in his mind) I was the one causing him harm. Was I torturing my son? No. He had a splinter. Attacking a constantly moving hand with tweezers while your victim, I mean patient, struggles is horrible.

I needed to take out the splinter, causing a small amount of pain, to avoid him experiencing more lasting and damaging pain. As parents, we have to endure this phenomenon of being the “bad guy,” who is actually protecting them, very often. Causing your child pain is the worst part of parenting, whether it is for their health, consequences to teach appropriate behavior, or saying “no” when they demand you say “yes.” Remembering that sometimes their immediate discomfort, or sometimes pain, at our hand is an investment in their development as a kind, persevering member of society is important. Here are a few more thoughts.

CREATE EXPECTATIONS BEFORE EVENTS OCCUR

One boundary we will set with our children, as did my parents with me, is limited homes where sleepovers are allowed. It can make kids scream and cry and sometimes feel left out. However, with my husband’s, who is also a therapist, and my experiences with clients we are very intentional about our children being in vulnerable positions with people we do not know well.

We will not wait until the sleepover fever of elementary school days begin to share our boundary with our children. Whenever sleepovers are mentioned in books, life or movies, it is going to be a constant conversation. This way, it is seen as a known expectation and not as a punishment or “trying to ruin their life” as some teens dramatically insist of their parents.

As children get older, it can also be helpful to share the reasons behind the boundary. It needs to be age appropriate, but this can help avoid the recipe for defiance and dishonesty resulting from an authoritarian response of, “because I said so!” When children know there are boundaries and that those boundaries are intentional, it can be easier for them to accept them.

FIND YOUR VALUE OUTSIDE OF YOUR CHILDREN’S OPINION OF YOU

The more you parent, the more you will receive all types of resistance from your children. They will not like you at times throughout their childhood and teenage years. We love our kids and want everyday to be one where they know their needs are met and greet us every moment with hugs. However, more often we will be on the receiving end of an “I don’t like you” or “go away.” With toddlers, their dislike is sometimes communicated through the silent treatment or their preference for the other caregiver. Our emotional needs will NEVER be met by our children. I repeat, our emotional needs will NEVER be met by our children. If we look to them to be our comfort or validation, it will cause major problems.

Children know when someone’s expectations of them is too much. They cannot be our supports and it does harm them. They may sense our distress at times, and that is ok. We need to have other ways to receive comfort. Our children need to know that whether they are a jerk to us, or not, our relationship with them is unchanging.

When our kids do not meet our emotional or physical expectations, such as being unkind, disobedient, or uncooperative, it is important to treat them with continued care. There is no need for silent treatment or no passive aggressive comments. Do not withhold loving actions, be sure to speak to them with kindness, and give them consequences when they misbehave. These actions will be the greatest lesson they will learn. They are not responsible for anyone else’s emotions.

ALLOW YOUR CHILDREN TO EXPERIENCE CONSEQUENCES

The biggest indicator I have seen of a child’s future, is how their parents handle their failures. This can be failure to comply with parental rules, school expectations, or even laws. Parents want their children to have a happy life, free of pain and difficulty. If we intervene to rescue our kids, they will never take responsibility for themselves.

In these situations, the dialogue will become strenuous. It will become more difficult to persevere when they beg for “help.” However, if we begin the cycle of keeping them out of “trouble” when their actions are deserving of the “trouble,” they will begin to experience entitlement.

Did they forget to turn in an assignment? Allow them to receive the low mark. Did their tardiness become excessive and they miss out on a field trip? Do not talk the teacher into “letting it go.” When they have earned the punishment, it is our job to help them cope, not help them avoid.

Remind them of their actions and their knowledge of the consequence. Allow them to be frustrated, disappointed, devastated, or angry. They may insist you betrayed them, or they hate you, but their immediate discomfort will protect them from a pattern of dishonesty. Speak to them in a loving manner, do not withdraw your love due to their actions. Persevere.

Perseverance is the mantra of parenthood. There is nothing easy about loving and guiding children into adulthood. Frequently, our love will be their “enemy” and we will experience the backlash. However, it is re-breaking the bone so that it might heal well.

Persevering alongside,

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

What do I Say About…Grief?

Do you remember your first encounter with death?

What do you remember? Were there hushed tones and tears? Was it sudden and traumatic? Were the adults in your life carefully honest with you, carelessly brash, or so cautious that you were unsure what was really going on?

There’s a myth that’s especially salient in our western culture, particularly in the United States, that your life is what you create. This myth propagates the lie that you can cheat death and sickness if only you work hard enough, have enough money, eat well enough, exercise the right way, etc. etc… That death is a failure.

But in reality, death – and the grief that accompanies it – is never far away.

“The physical needs of humanity are quite obvious and yet easily forgotten until they are threatened. Our limits are realized in weakness: when hunger claws an empty belly; when physical ailment or surgery impede our movement; when we cannot force our bodies to stay awake a moment longer.

We have many needs beyond our ability. Continuing on after grief is a need beyond our ability. It requires capability and perseverance of body and heart, a strength beyond our reach.”

Erin Cushman, “Bright Hope”

For those of you who have a relationship with God, our own limitations and resultant dependence on God is a cornerstone of the Christian walk. Our limitations, up until death, can be met with the provision and caretaking of God.  

But in a culture that sees death as a ‘failure’ to be avoided and spoken about in hushed tones, continuing after grief is made all the more impossible when so many find themselves confronting it alone.

The quote from earlier comes from a daily devotional written by the founder of a non-profit called Hope Mommies that seeks to stand in the gap and provide connection to the grieving.

While no grief is comparable and every story is different, the loss of a child during or shortly after pregnancy is perhaps the most jarring as it so closely and intimately places the miracle of life next to the inevitability of death. A mama in our community recently experienced this grief and wrote about the power of community during that time:

“Hope Mommies is a non-profit organization that supports grieving mamas who have lost a child through pregnancy loss or infant death. The main way they support moms is through their Hope Boxes. This box is given to a grieving mama by either shipping directly to the mom, or as a gift in the hospital… With each box, a Mom is given comfort, but also an invitation to an entire community. Being included in the Hope Mommies community means you have someone who understands how you feel.

I received my Hope box about a month after my daughter went to heaven. My sister sent it to me via the Hope Mommies website and it was hand packed by a fellow Hope Mom. I didn’t realize the impact of a hand packed box from another mother with empty arms, until I was able to pack one myself. I cried and prayed over the box and was terrified to add it to the growing stack of newly packed boxes. It felt like I was sealing the fate of a mom who was going to lose her child. I felt a strange mix of being prepared to welcome a new Hope mom, and a desire for there to be no more Hope moms in this world.”

Holly Credo

So what do we say you should say about grief? About death?

In short, please just say anything. To bring its existence into the open. Talk about your own grief. Encourage your kids to talk about what they see, feel, and have questions about. Reach out to someone else. Accept and give help. Normalize the hard parts and the healing.

Because as unbearable as the weight of grief is, it is made lighter by sharing it with others.

With you,

Selena

*If you would like to donate to Hope Mommies, visit hopemommies.org/box-gatherings/give-to-a-gathering. If you are local to the Baton Rouge area, please select Holly Credo-Baton Rouge,LA as the “gathering host.” She is working to continuously supply Women’s Hospital with Hope Boxes.

*The Mommy Therapist is a part of a book launch team for Erin Cushman’s book, Bright Hope. I (Selena) am reading through this devotional and have been so encouraged by its messages of truth, life, hope, and light.

If you are interested in purchasing Bright Hope, it will be available December 1.
Everyone who donates to Hope Mommies on December 1 will receive a copy of Bright Hope and swag (merchandise).
Bright Hope will be available to purchase online via Amazon on January 1.

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 anger, coparenting, empathy, grief, parenting, relationships, trauma, Uncategorized, values

Confronting Communication in this controversial world

“Do you even have a brain?” may be an overarching sentiment throughout today’s dialogue. The tone of the home is often found within the culture of the outside world. In these times, the overwhelming atmosphere of polarization is seeping into our families. Politics, COVID precautions, parenting, and so many other issues have become divisive rather than topics for discussion. 

Navigating these subjects with our spouses can be very difficult. The tendency is to become reactive, condescending and dismissive. This can cause small fights to become point-making episodes that will erode the relationship.

Here are a few options to consider when disagreements arise:

LISTENING VS. LITIGATING 

When we believe something strongly, we often have a list of relevant arguments on file in our brains. (Or is that just me?) We know the common attempts to refute our thoughts and the best rebuttal. A conversation becomes more like a trial for certain ideas. 

That is not how communication with our spouse needs to function. We need to listen, not only for the words they are speaking, but for what is below the surface. We know this person. We have dedicated our lives to being “one flesh” and molding our wills into a compatible force. When something triggers deep emotion, it is normally about something much more. What is that underlying fear or hurt they are attempting to outrun, out-reason or out-act? Listen deeper than the argument that you deem idiotic or shortsighted. 

Some insistences that wearing masks are ridiculous might stem from the panic response the body creates when feeling trapped. What trauma are they experiencing? Is it about more than just their decision that wearing masks “isn’t for them.” Often, when we are able to listen beyond the words and enter into their world, we can speak to the core issue rather than the surface defense.

RESPONDING VS. REACTING

As previously explored, look beyond what is said. This is easier said than done. How come? We also have underlying reasons for our reactions. It can help to evaluate our own stances and the reasoning behind them. 

This way, we are able to hear what is said without our own filters. These filters may color our partner’s arguments with more meaning than they intend. As an example, have you been frustrated at your spouse’s suggestion that they may not get the COVID vaccine? Are you simultaneously grieving an elderly loved one? Consider the connection between these two seemingly unrelated events.  

The words spoken are not what causes the emotion, it is the history we contend with in our own minds. When we understand our worldview, our own traumas and why we feel how we feel, we can respond with more calm than if we react to our own underlying histories. When we know ourselves, we can also share where our passion comes from. Bringing the cause of emotion into the conversation allows understanding. 

A great method to begin this conversation can be using “I” statements. This is a format often taught in counseling as a means to express difficult ideas. “I feel __________, when you _________, because _______________ . Next time, I would like if you would ____________ .”

This can be “I feel unheard, when you complain about COVID restrictions, because I am still grieving over losing my Grandmother. Next time, I would like if you would acknowledge my emotion as valid.”

ASKING VS. ASSUMING

Part of the “love verses” in scripture that is read at weddings and quoted ad nauseam in 1 Corinthians 13 is that love “always trusts.” (verse 7) It believes the best. When we assume that the other person is intelligent, caring, and wants the world to be a better place, we can ask questions without an ulterior motive. 

Questions can be healing or very damaging. When done with an agenda, or in an attempt to shame or manipulate someone, it can harm. However, when we seek to really know the answer of the question we ask, we can begin to communicate. 

Attempt to start on a level playing field. Ask what you do not understand. Ask without condescension and without agenda. Ask to know what is going on in your spouses mind. Seek to understand their perspective. 

Another way to find common ground, a way that helps me and is in line with my belief system, is making prayer part of the equation. When I pray to understand my spouse, pray to hear what he says, pray for compassion for him and pray to be able to communicate my own thoughts, I find that things go better. I am able to shed my defensive walls and make my hurts more exposed. It becomes more of a place of trust and I am able to approach with humility. 

All of these ideas make one assumption, however. They assume that you and your spouse are seeking to be a team, partners. These points do not work when one or both of you are attempting to have control or manipulate one another. If that is the case, I would recommend finding a marriage counselor to help balance the dynamic in the relationship to be in a healthier place.

I know this season is difficult. Tensions are high and passions run hot. It is possible to disagree and come to some type of compromise. However, this depends on your ability to approach your spouse with empathy and understanding. When you understand the “why” behind their “what”, the core of the issue can be discussed without hiding behind current issues. This gives birth to a new kind of intimacy – one where mutual respect and knowledge pave the way to better comprehension. 

Listening and evaluating,

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

How to Talk to Your Kids…About the Election

If you have a kid that is even slightly exposed to the news/adult conversations, then chances are that they know at least something about our pals Mike, Kamala, Joe, and Donald. There’s no doubt that there’s a lot going on during this election season. Frankly, there’s been a lot going on this year. It can sometimes be hard even as an adult to grasp the breadth and depth of the issues surrounding this election and the candidates involved, so can you imagine what it’s like to try to wrap your head around all of this as a kid?!

Some of you may be thinking that your kid doesn’t know that much and isn’t affected by the climate during this election season. But if this election season is affecting you, then I can guarantee that your kids have picked up on something. Kids are AMAZING observers (oftentimes not of the things we want them to notice…), so they probably know – or at least feel – more than you think.

So what do we say to our kids about the election? One thing to consider is that the way you talk to your children will vary vastly depending on their maturity and age. This will be specific to you and your family, but for our purposes we will break it down into two categories: concrete and abstract thinkers. Our kids think in more concrete terms until around the age of 12, when abstract thinking starts to develop. This is a gradual process, so feel free to pick and choose for what fits best for your family!

Talking to younger children, or our concrete thinkers:

When I was in graduate school, one of my professors taught us the acronym KISS, or Keep It Simple, Stupid. I honestly cannot remember the context of the lesson, but I use a version of this all of the time when talking to my own kids or teaching parents how to talk to their own kiddos. Until children move into more abstract thinking, giving long, detailed, and nuanced responses to difficult topics is just…well…ineffective. Play to the strengths of your concrete learner and Keep It Simple.

The best way to implement KISS is to remember to only answer the question your child has asked, and to answer it as succinctly as possible.

Example:

What is an election?

KISS Answer: An election is where people all say who they think will do a job best and the person who has the most people choose them wins.

You don’t have to go into details about how casting ballots work, what the electoral college is, etc., unless your child asks. The beauty of KISS is that is helps parents feel more comfortable answering kids’ big questions because you are only taking it one question at a time.

If you child asks about the election and then asks a follow-up question, answer them. And then keep going. If you end up talking about the electoral college and popular vote and swing states because your kid asked about them, then congratulations – you fielded a lot of really complex questions! But try to stay away from all of the details if you child doesn’t ask about them. If you get bogged down in the details, the answer your child was really interested in will get lost as they get confused or tune out.

If you are raising abstract thinkers…

No matter what you say or teach your kids or how you do it, they will grow up to be adults who disagree with you on one to one million different topics. It’s a good idea to start learning to tolerate differences now. When your child asks you about a political issue, instead of telling them your opinion and stopping there, I encourage you to offer them two (or more) different perspectives and ask them their opinion. This is most effective when you offer the perspectives in a fair and factual way.

If you’re anything like me, there are things that you actively hope and pray that your kids grow up to think and believe. But the facts are that we can control what we expose them to, but not what they choose to do, think, or believe. While it can be tempting to try to expose your child to your opinion and way of thinking only, this would be a missed opportunity. Instead of teaching your child what to think, teach them how you made your decisions. Help them to understand why different people believe different things and make a genuine attempt to help them understand why. Doing this not only offers your child a richer understanding of your perspectives, but it also encourages their critical thinking and tolerance for people who think differently than they do.

This election season means a lot to many people. There are feelings of hope, fear, anger, exhaustion, and everything in between. But no matter what happens on November 3rd, teach your child that the people involved – the candidates, the voters, the “other side” – are people. Just like you. Just like your child.

There’s no one magic way to talk to your kids about the election. Meet them where they are at, offer connection and compassion, and encourage their curiosity. It’s hard to go wrong from there.

Having the hard conversations with you,

Selena