Posted in boundaries, counseling, emotion regulation, home, motherhood, parenting

Protecting Your Mental Energy

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We have been writing about boundaries this holiday season with our time, activities, and people. The closer to Christmas is gets, it is becoming obvious we need to set boundaries on how much we are thinking about the season to dos and holiday itself. Outside of the Christmas season our thoughts may jump from chores to work to raising kids to marriage to calling that friend to figuring out dinner. During this season interject thinking about buying, wrapping, Christmas cards, gingerbread houses, holiday treats, Polar Express train, seeing Santa, school program, and the list goes on and on. No wonder parents are tired!

By the end of this season, I do not want my children thinking I have acted like the Grinch due to the holiday to do list they know nothing about. I want them to remember a joyful and peaceful mother exuding those qualities we talk about this time of year.  I hope they learn more about the true meaning of this season than feeling rushed around doing all of the holiday stuff. So let’s take a few practical steps to protecting our mental energy this season so we can be the parents we want to be.

Write It Down

We cannot control the popcorn thoughts that come into our mind during the day. We can keep a list going of what we would like to do so we do not forget. When something comes to mind like, “ Oh yeah, I need to get a gift for my child’s teacher,” jot it down and shelf it for later. When you have a minute to yourself (which can be few and far between) spend some time planning and wrapping your brain around it.

One Thing at a Time

We are tempted to multitask when we have many things going on at one time. It usually does not make things go faster. Let yourself focus on one task at a time, work on being present with that task rather than letting your mind race over everything you need or want to do. You will enjoy it more if you are in it. Reframe the word “task” and change it to “experience.” Experience the advent calendar or cookie decorating rather than getting through it.

Make it Pleasant

Whatever the task, experience, or event, how can you make it more meaningful or fun? Light candles, listen to music, put a movie on or call a friend to chat while you wrap, address cards, or cook. Which member(s) of your family can you involve to make a memory instead of just completing a task. Practicing gratitude during this season is always a good idea and proven mood booster. Remember to look at Christmas time through the eyes of your children, they notice the things we take for granted.

Experience this season rather than trying to escape it. Write down your to dos and look at your list when you are ready. Take one thing at a time and do your best to enjoy it.

Christmas Blessings,

Andrea

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, parenting

Getting Unstuck

There is something about families that makes it hard to stick to our boundaries. It’s perfectly normal to be better at boundaries with some people in your life than others. You may have no problem not answering the phone when a telemarketer calls or asking a stranger to stop smoking when you and your kids are nearby. It may be a little harder to draw the line with your friend who continues to drop by unannounced or your co-worker who asks you questions that are just a little too personal for your taste. You may find it increasingly easy to advocate for your kids at school or to find time for yourself to get the self-care that you need most. But somehow, no matter how much practice you have with setting and maintaining boundaries, practicing them with your family is an entirely different ballgame.

Our families, just like our bodies, strive to preserve homeostasis. Homeostasis is our body’s ability to maintain its internal condition as external conditions change. One example of this is your body’s core temperature. Your body’s temperature usually stays within a 1-2 degree range; whenever your temperature starts to rise or fall too much you begin to shiver or sweat, depending upon whether you are becoming too hot or too cool. In other words, your body is constantly adapting to your external environment so that your internal environment can stay as stable and constant as possible. In the same way, our family relationships tend to shift and adapt as external circumstances change so that things tend to stay predictable and comfortable.

“Our family is, except in rare circumstances, the most important emotional system to which most of us ever belong; it shapes the course and outcome of our lives. Relationships and functioning (physical, social, emotional, and spiritual) are interdependent, and a change in one part of the system is followed by compensatory change in other parts of the system…When a person changes his or her predictable emotional input in a family, reactions also change, interrupting the previous flow of interactions in the family. Other family members are likely to be jarred out of their patterned responses, and to react by trying to get the disrupter back in to place again.”

Monica McGoldrick, Exploring the Genogram

Our families are wired to reject changes. Just as our bodies start to sweat to cool off and maintain its temperature, so will our families seem to unconsciously rally to protect family norms. These responses and changes are almost always unconscious, but they serve the very important function of maintaining relational predictability in your family. Uncle Ebb will always pick a fight and talk about politics, you cousin Alice will always choose to stay neutral in whatever family conflict is occurring and your brother can always be relied upon to break the tension by breaking out the board games or doing dad joke improv. If the roles in your family feel fixed and unchangeable, then your family is probably really great at maintaining homeostasis.

Homeostatis in a family is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a great thing when it allows a healthy family to readjust after a period of crisis. However, it does make creating change within your family especially hard work. Whenever you work to change a boundary in your family, you are not only working against patterns of behavior that have been established, but possibly against generations of relationships and patters that reinforce that same behavior.

What’s the best way to make a change?

Practice

By this point, you can predict some interactions that are likely to occur whenever you are with your family. If you are looking to create some change or reinforce a boundary, practice the words, tone, and even the body language you want to use. When we are stressed or caught off guard, we tend to resort back to old patterns. By practicing how you want to respond differently beforehand, you are giving yourself a better chance in the moment.

Expect some Chaos

When you respond differently than normal, be prepared for something unexpected to happen. A relative who normally keeps quiet may start to voice opinions or your actions may seem to cause frustration or confusion. Try to have compassion for your family members and their response to you; your actions are forcing them to respond differently and it’s rarely comfortable to be forced into change. Patience and compassion can help diffuse conflict while also sticking to your boundaries.

Get Help

Sometimes you just need some outside help to create change in your family. Oftentimes we are too close and too involved in the dance our families are engaged in to see what needs to be done to change the dance. Talk to a therapist or trusted friend to help gain some new insights into what might be the next best step with your family.

Wishing you luck with your holiday boundaries,

Selena

Posted in Uncategorized

Navigating the Holidays

Navigating holiday schedules seems to be a unique skill reserved for the strong. Where to go and who to spend time with. The tug of responsibilities and expectations. Somehow fulfilling obligations, but also holding our boundaries in a healthy stance.

  • Responsibility // something required to do
  • Obligation // a commitment 
  • Expectation // belief that someone will or should do something
  • Boundary // a line that marks limits

It would be easiest to navigate life if we all had boundary lines that were visible to other people. No unrealistic expectations, just neon orange flagging staked out around our life to make things easily noticed. But that itself is an unrealistic thought, so we must learn how to communicate our boundaries.

Before we can communicate our boundaries to others, we must figure them out for ourselves and our family. Boundaries for holidays can include space for time, physical space, mental space, financially, and emotionally. So how do we create boundaries for all these categories in a practical manner? 

  • Time // Don’t overschedule. Look at your calendar often. Plan activities out. Instead of attempting to keep up with all the activities we see through social media, figure out what your family prioritizes and stick to those.
  • Physical // How many people are currently sick around us? It’s important to listen to our bodies and to be wise as our families are out and about. It’s also important to rest. It’s ok to nap! It’s ok to take a break.
  • Mentally // The holiday hustle is exhausting. But more than just physically exhausting, it can be mentally exhausting. It’s important to know our limits and take the time to take care of ourselves.
  • Financially // Consumerism constantly preaches more and bigger. Without financial boundaries, we can quickly be overwhelmed and stressed. Setting realistic expectations and even a little budgeting are healthy ways to set boundaries.
  • Emotionally // The holidays are bound to hold disappointments. Empty chairs at the table, less cards received, or maybe not being able to be with the ones we love. These emotions need room to process. Setting some time to handle the emotions we experience give us the opportunity to process in the right time while experiencing other emotions in the moment. It’s ok to grieve. It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok the be joyous and we don’t have to feel guilty.

On a personal note, I know that this year will be a hard Christmas. We lost my grandmother this year and the holiday season includes her birthday and what would generally be a giant gathering of family. Generally, it would be my nature to shove my feelings down, not be a burden, and feel guilty for any sadness that arrives during the most wonderful time of the year. But that’s not healthy or fair to anyone. So, I’ll be honest with my feelings and my family while giving myself the freedom to miss her.

Boundaries aren’t meant to be of harm to the people outside of the boundaries. We shut our doors to protect the people inside. So setting boundaries for ourselves and our families should be looked at as protection. As mothers, it’s our job to set boundaries for our families. We know the limits of our children. Setting boundaries allows them to be in the best emotional, physical, and mental health and that is more important than keeping up with the unrealistic expectations this world throws our way.

Guest blog by: Lacey Rabalais

https://laceyrabalais.com/

Posted in boundaries, coparenting, counseling, home, motherhood, parenting, values

Building Boundaries

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” can often mean nervousness, irritability and sadness. The holidays often illuminate the dysfunction in relationships that exists throughout the year, but can be easily ignored. It can be difficult to navigate this season with any sort of intentionality or serenity when family of all sorts begin to descend upon the calm you have built around yourself. Here are a few ways you can create boundaries that are healthy and helpful.

UTILIZE AN OBJECTIVE SOUNDING BOARD

We often color our memories with rationalized rose colored glasses. We can excuse our behavior or another person’s behavior when we remember only in our own minds. Therefore, having an outsider help us evaluate our desires and expectations can be helpful. For example, if our holidays are often stressful and we cannot identify the source, whether another’s behavior or our own unrealistic expectations, someone listening to our struggles can be what makes a difference. This can be a professional, or a friend. It is important that this friend be someone that is honest always and will not avoid difficult conversations. This can allow us to have realistic, healthy boundaries.

HAVE A CONVERSATION BEFORE THE HOLIDAYS

It can be tempting to avoid setting boundaries until another “incident” that reinforces the need for boundaries, occurs. However, those times are emotion-fueled and can result in more hurtful conversation. Sitting down with that person or people face to face, when possible, is the best option. It is uncomfortable, but has the best chance of success. 

Sometimes people are unaware that a boundary has been cross and cannot read your mind. In those cases, it is more of a relief to have the desire exposed rather than seething in silence. In the instances that the other person does not understand the expectation, it can be a moment to express yourself calmly and be understood. The most difficult conversation is with someone that will be offended by the discussion. However, due to your intentional broaching of the subject, they have to hear what you say rather than respond in defensiveness and blame how you approached the subject. They are able to make the choice whether to honor your boundaries and have a pleasant time, or violate them and experience the consequences you have decided will be your response. 

STATE THE EXPECTATION IN POSITIVE LANGUAGE

It is best to share the desired behavior rather than state what you would like them to “not do”. For example, “we need you to follow the physical desires of our children by offering a hug or high five.” This is different than insisting that the family member will “not hug my child”. By phrasing your desire positively it is an easier, less blaming way to present the boundary.

RECORD/ REMEMBER SPECIFIC INCIDENTS

This is not to rattle off how awful someone has been, or “throw it in their face”. However, when stating a boundary that you feel is important, the person hearing the boundary may react with indignation and insist they would never cross that boundary. For example, if using cursing language is something you are not comfortable with around your children and a family member has a history of that behavior, remembering and providing an example when it occurred could be helpful. 

HOLD TO YOUR BOUNDARIES

It can be tempting to give allowances when an incident occurs. It can be difficult to “make a scene” or “rock the boat”. However, you created the boundary for a reason. Allowing it to be violated without a comment, redirection or consequence may cause your directives to carry less weight. 

Another reason to hold onto your boundaries, is how it may effect you. You did not decide to go against someone’s stated expectations. Yet, if you do not speak it effects your emotions and time with others during the holiday festivities. Passive aggressiveness, hurt and stewing resentment become your companions rather than joy at the spirit of the season.

Setting boundaries can be an anxiety producing task. However, it protects you, your family and your sanity around the holiday season. You have the power to create an atmosphere of safety and be an advocate for those closest to you.

Constructing 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 boundaries, coparenting, counseling, home, motherhood, parenting, values

Protecting Yourself Instead of Pleasing Everyone Else

Growing up, I loved the holiday season! The breaks from school, family traditions, fun, gratitude, togetherness, magical feelings, and the reason for Christmas are a few. When I go to my parents’ home on Christmas as an adult, it feels like I’m stepping into a Southern Living magazine. They really know how to do Christmas, and I treasure this. As a parent of two young children, alarm bells go off in my brain when I think of planning all of the details of the holiday season.

I go to the panic zone that was introduced in last week’s blog. One alarm sets off another and another and goes something like this. How am I going to get everything done? What traditions should we start or continue? How many side dishes do I have to make? How many people do I need to buy for? What house(s) are we going to when? How in the heck is my house going to look like a magazine with two young kids? Last year my husband told me not to even talk about the holidays when I brought it up in October. Balancing the holidays between families was something we learned to dread because we put too much pressure on ourselves.

I promise this is not a Debbie Downer post! I am learning to get out of the panic zone and into the learning zone with the holidays. We have had to setup some appropriate boundaries when planning the holiday season including letting perfection go and doing the best we can. We brainstorm. We make decisions that work best for our family. We communicate with our extended families, both sides living in the same town as us. We do the best we can.

I often find that there is pressure to please both sides of family with the holiday season so no one feels left out. Seeing family is important. Considering others and their feelings is the right thing to do, but being governed by pleasing others sets us up for resentment and burnout. In contrast, maybe some of us avoid one side of the family and have such intense boundaries setup that we miss out on spending time with them.

We have learned that we cannot do two houses in one day for Thanksgiving and Christmas, or we turn into crazy people. We started switching years for Thanksgiving and doing two different Christmas celebrations. We plan fun, meaningful holiday events during the season for our family of four but do not focus on keeping up with what everyone else is doing. When my children look back on their childhood holidays, I want them to have wonderful memories like I do. I do not want them to remember stressed out parents who were rushing them around.

As we are planning for the holidays, let’s do what is best for our immediate family still while considering (but not aiming to please) others. When others’ expectations are not met because of decisions we make that is okay. Best case scenario, they can give us grace. Not good scenario, they can make a scene. It’s okay. As you may be disappointed by the choices some of your extended family members make during the holiday season, remember grace upon grace, and sometimes people have boundaries for reasons that are not known to us.

Learning and thankful,

Andrea

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, comfortzone, counseling, motherhood, parenting

Pushing Your Comfort Zone

There are officially 51 days until Christmas.

Our family is 100% team Buddy the Elf. We’re that family that had our Christmas tree up a week before Halloween and left our blinds open for everyone to see. Sorry we’re not sorry.

Whether you like to slow down and savor each holiday, if you’ve been singing carols since Christmas in July, or if you’re somewhere in between, the holiday season tends to look different than the rest of the year for everyone. There are more programs and parties at school, the workplace, church, etc. There are decisions to make about traditions to create, continue, or change. There are decisions to be made about budgets and who you are buying presents for and what to buy for each person. There are family members to see, not see, remember, and wonder about during a season in which it seems like everyone is spending time with their families. Some of these decisions are easy, some change each year, and some are always agonizing to make. That’s why we are going to take these next two months to write on the topic of boundaries.

Boundaries are guidelines, rules, or limits that a person sets that determines reasonable ways for people to behave around us. We all tend to have our own internal gauge for boundaries; even if you cannot state what they are, chances are you know when they’ve been crossed. There are lots of different kinds of boundaries: time boundaries, emotional boundaries, physical boundaries, etc. The holiday season often brings us many opportunities to examine and adjust our boundaries, and hopefully we are able to help you with some of yours this season!

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is the weather. More specifically, I look forward to evenings that are finally cool enough to enjoy a fire outside. So as soon as a weekend of cool evenings came around in October, we went camping as a family for the first time. My husband and I both used to live and work at a Christian outdoor adventure camp (think: rock climbing, rappelling, zip lines, and backpacking), so our love of the outdoors has always been something that we have wanted to bring into our family life. In fact, we bought our first family tent whenever our first child was just a few months old. Turns out, we were a little too ambitious. It took us three years to actually pitch that tent outside for the first time. And over those three years, almost every time I would think about camping with our kids for the first time, I would almost visibly cringe.

Why did it take us so long?

Do I love the outdoors? Absolutely. Do I enjoy camping? Sure! Do I want to clean up a blow-out in an area without running water? …have two kids in diapers in a tent? …bring baby food on a camping trip? …and do all of that while sweating in the Louisiana heat the entire time?…nah, that really doesn’t sound like my idea of a good time. So it took having one kid potty trained, cool weather, and having two clean(ish) eaters before I was finally ready to have our first camping adventure.

If at this point you think I’m some wild outdoorswoman that lives and breathes for sleeping on the ground, then I have some news for you. I haven’t always love the outdoors. In fact, the first time I went tent camping was the summer after my freshman year of college. While I have developed enough comfort with the outdoors to get excited about planning a backpacking trip, my preferred state of existence (even now) involves me sitting inside on a cozy couch or armchair, curled up in a blanket, and engaging in some kind of quiet activity (which happens to be exactly what I am doing as I write this). But something about camping changes me. It took me some time to figure out why I love camping, but it has a lot to do with Senninger’s Learning Zone Model. This model suggests that all of our experiences occur in one of three different zones: the comfort zone, the learning zone, and the panic zone. Growth happens in the learning zone.

I also really like how this chart places growth on one axis and unfamiliarity on another:

My comfort zone is very clearly inside in a cozy place doing cozy things and taking daily showers. And I learned in the three years that it took us to actually go camping that taking a baby on a camping trip was very solidly in my panic zone. But something that I’ve learned about myself is that camping always brings me to my learning zone. Camping always pushes me towards some kind of growth. Camping requires me to sacrifice comfort in favor of other good things that I want to introduce into my life, like increasing my tolerance for the unknown, becoming more adaptable, and putting the needs of the group above my own individual needs. Camping in new places and in new ways requires me to learn and use new skills. Camping with my family meant releasing control of many of the routines, conveniences, and comforts that I really value as a part of my daily life, but I also slowed down and enjoyed my family in ways that our busy life at home doesn’t always allow.

During this holiday season I want to challenge you to be okay with pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone and to step into the learning zone. Look for a boundary that makes you comfortable and ask yourself if it’s time to step into the learning zone so that you can let more of something good into your life. Take small steps, especially if you haven’t stepped out of that comfort zone in a long time. Your learning zone might be very small if you’ve been comfortable for a long time, and growth doesn’t happen when you feel scared or panicked. But take that step. Come and meet me in the learning zone. Let’s keep pushing ourselves towards growth.

In the joy and in the chaos,

Selena

Posted in coparenting, counseling, motherhood, parenting, values

It Takes a Village

Many of us are on our parenting journey with the assistance of others in addition to our partner. “It takes a village” resonates with those of us who have extended family, dear friends, or nannies/sitters who help care for our kids. This can be a wonderful asset! There is nothing like people who surrounding our kids with love and support. A network of support can help fuel connection and build resilient children.

This extra support can sometimes be a challenge when it comes to determining appropriate roles and boundaries with others helping care for our kids. Sometimes buttons get pushed or frustrations arise. We know it is important for healthy family members to be in children’s lives but may not like that it takes multiple days to get kids back into sync after spending time with grandparents. Friends may parent differently than we do. Sitters may allow more screen time than is preferred by the parent.

If you have people helping care for your kids, it’s reasonable to expect that they will do things differently than you. Grandparents play a huge role nowadays in helping with children. Carpool lines and waiting rooms are filled with grandparents transporting grandkids to school, appointments, practices, and events. In order to live with the “it takes a village” mindset successfully, two principles are needed: trust and respect.

TRUST

Do I trust this person with my child? Am I completely comfortable with them taking care of my children? Do they have my child’s best interest in mind? If we don’t fully trust someone with the care of our children it is going to be difficult to leave them with that person or believe the best. When we do trust the person and know they have our children’s best in mind, we can have peace of mind as we are tending to our own responsibilities.

RESPECT

Does the person keeping my child respect my wishes? Do they listen to my family’s values? Do I respect their autonomy when with my child? It is a rocky road when others do not respect the parents’ wishes (within reason). When we respect the person helping with our children and they respect us, we are setup for a successful relationship. I would encourage you to reflect on the amount of respect you are giving and receiving when it comes to childcare to determine what is right for your family.

Finally, communicate. Communication can provide clarity and resolve a host of potential issues. When we have trust, respect, and communication with those who help care for our children, everyone benefits, most importantly, the kids!

Thankful,

Andrea

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.