Posted in Uncategorized

Excuses and Explanations

Excuses have a terrible reputation.

“Don’t make excuses!”

“There’s no excuse for that.”

“I’m tired of hearing your excuses.”

“You had better have a good excuse!”

“C’mon! Keep going! No excuses!”

 

The real problem with excuses, though is that we often confuse excuses and explanations.

It may seem like I’m splitting hairs here, but excuses and explanations are fundamentally different.

Excuses seek to win, while explanations seek to explain.

Excuses usually turn up when we don’t like or understand someone else’s behavior. “There’s no excuse for hurting me like that!” “Ugh, I’m tired of you making excuses not to come.” “Quit making excuses for her behavior.”

We often use excuses to ‘win,’ or override someone’s opposition to our actions. A good example of a ‘good excuse’ is a doctor’s note that excuses a kid from missing school. The doctor’s note makes skipping school, an otherwise unacceptable behavior, acceptable. A child going to the doctor is deemed more important than attending those hours of instruction at school.

And that’s usually the problem we have with excuses: in order to accept someone else’s excuse, we are admitting that their needs were more important than our own. Someone has to win. But this kind of thinking is too black and white for relationships. In any relationship, from friends to co-workers to spouses, when somebody wins…you both lose.

Explanations bridge the gap between two people. Where an excuse seeks to win, an explanation seeks to explain. Most, if not all, of our conflict with others comes from a lack of understanding and/or compassion. We don’t question or need excuses for behavior that seems “normal” or makes sense to us; we already have empathy and understanding. Explanations help give a context for someone’s behavior, opening up the space for new empathy and understanding – even if you still don’t agree with what they did.

Which leads to the next difference:

Excuses close us off from others, while explanations create connection.

Whenever we attempt to excuse our behavior, our greatest concern is avoiding the consequences of our actions. We believe that if we have a ‘good enough’ excuse, then we are justified in both our choices and however those choices affected anyone else.

Explanations, on the other hand, seek explain our intentions and efforts. They open the space for authenticity, vulnerability, and connection. Explanations aren’t about convincing someone else that you were right; they are meant to let the other person in. Explanations are often a response to hearing how we impacted another person, a way to say, “I’m sorry. Can I tell you how that made sense to me? I want you to know I never planned or meant to hurt you.”

Where excuses are motivated by pride, fear, or shame, explanations rely on humility, love, and connection.

Excuses leave us stuck, but explanations help us grow.

When we rely on excuses, we are deciding to accept things as they are and move forward without examining things further. The hurts never get healed, and we don’t take the time to learn from our possible mistakes. When your only option is to accept an excuse or to not, there is very little room for reflection or growth.

When we take the time to really understand what happened and why we did what we did, we create the possibility for change. Context turns the light on and helps us understand what we may have tripped and fallen over, and then move it out of the way. Context helps us to generate compassion both for ourselves and for others.

The most compassionate way for us to live our lives is with the belief that everyone is doing the best that they can at all times, no exceptions. This doesn’t mean excusing or condoning anything that anyone else does. What is does mean, however, is allowing yourself to be curious. To wonder why. To connect. To hold space for the grey area where neither person has to be right and you can both accept the goodness and good intentions of one another.

Holding that space is what empowers me to be a therapist, a wife, a friend, and a mother. It is what keeps bitterness and resentment at bay. It is the space where I choose to set aside my wants and needs long enough to engage another person’s inner world. It’s the space I hold for all of you.

Because everyone is doing the best they can at all times. No exceptions.

Doing my best 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 emotion regulation, empathy, home, relationships, siblings

Learning to Navigate Sibling Conflict

Interpersonal conflict in families is unavoidable, especially when it comes to siblings. Contrary to what some of us were taught to believe, the sign of a healthy relationship isn’t the absence of conflict. Good relationships are actually marked the presence of healthy conflict – conflict that involves assertiveness, empathy, and repair.

It is a rare and special thing when two siblings naturally and effortlessly fall into best friendship. If this is the case for your kids, celebrate! For the rest of us, it’s important to remember just how hard it can be to share your life with someone that you didn’t choose, and who, in many cases, is very different than you are.

Handling conflict well doesn’t come naturally. It’s a skill that we have to actively teach our kids, just like riding a bike or reading. This requires a delicate balance between teaching and giving them opportunities to learn. A great analogy for to remember when teaching your kids about handling conflict is to think of yourself as a coach and your kids as players on a team.

Look for the skills they already have and build upon them. If you have a particularly empathetic child, help them learn words for their emotions and the emotions of others, and help them learn how to name them in conflict. If you have a child with a good memory, teach them a rhyme to help them remember how to handle conflict. A current favorite in our house goes like this:

“You think what you think,
And I think what I think.
Even if I’m right,
There’s no need for a fight.
I can stand up,
And I can walk away.
Then I can come back,
When I feel more okay.

When coaching kids in conflict, remember that practices are just as, if not more, important than the game. Practice your conflict resolution skills outside of conflict. For example, you can practice deep breathing before bed or talk about where you feel your anger in your body. Or you could practice compromise by letting your kids plan a meal that has to follow certain guidelines (ex: the meal needs a fruit or vegetable, a protein, and a grain). Or you can even roleplay with your child, asking them what they could say or do whenever they feel their anger to help calm down, or if someone hurt their feelings.

As you coach your kids in conflict, remember that you’re practicing for “game time,” so don’t be discouraged when conflict arises. Go into coaching mode when the conflict arises and watch from the sidelines to see how your kids’ skills are progressing. You can limit your intervention more and more as they get better at solving their own problems. Don’t be afraid to let your kids get frustrated and fail as they continue to refine their skills, but try not to let them get to the point of someone getting hurt. Intervene if your kids start to get physical in their confrontation with one another or if one of them appears too upset to be able to calm themselves back down.

For your kids to learn how to do conflict well, they also need good role models. Have you ever seen a kid game mimic a victory dance or move that they learned from watching someone else play a sport? Our kids are always watching, and that includes watching you handle your own conflict. There are certainly discussions that are better to have privately, but it’s good for your kids to see you engage in and repair from conflict. This helps our kids learn that conflict is normal. If you end up displaying messy conflict in front of your kids, it is especially important for you to debrief with them afterwards. Let them see you apologize to the other person, and then talk to them about the things you did and didn’t do well. This step requires a lot of self-awareness and humility, so don’t worry if you don’t do it perfectly. You will all keep learning and growing as time goes on.

Learning to coach well 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 back to school, coronavirus, counseling, emotion regulation, empathy, parenting, social distancing

Reintegrating Children After Covid

There is light at the end of the tunnel. As more people become vaccinated and things are able to open safely, we will reemerge in the world. Parents scheduling more playdates, more time at the playground, kids going back to school in person and (hopefully) the reopening of the Chick-fil-a indoor play-place. However, as these events become the norm after over a year away from constant socialization, we will notice a difference in our children.

They have been isolated from their peers and some small children, like my toddlers, haven’t been around other children on a constant basis since that fated March 2020 lockdown. How can we deal with this fall out, with these unsocialized children that no longer know how to manage peers invading their space? Any progress in sharing that my oldest made in Mother’s Day Out last year seems to have evaporated. Today, there was an epic meltdown because someone else was playing with a toy he wanted at church. Did he ask to share? No. Was the kid antagonizing? No. Were those the only toys? No. However, big emotions come with change. As parents, what do we do?

SET EXPECTATION

It helps to set expectations before going somewhere. “We are going to Lina’s house and we are going to share” or “Malachi is coming here and he is going to play with your toys and you will share with him.” It is important to clearly state the expected behavior. State it in a positive manner, more what you want them to do than what you don’t want them to do.

This can be other expectations, such as, “remember when you share, they take a turn and then you get it back” or “when you want to play with something, ask; and if they aren’t done playing with it, be patient.” It explains what may happen and then sets the expectations of how they can respond. Once the language has been stated, you can remind them throughout the event. “Remember how we talk about how you might need to be patient? Lets find something else to play with.” Once you leave, you can use that same language to praise them for their behavior. “You did a wonderful job sharing and being patient. I am proud of you.” It is important to recognize when they achieve the expectation.

VALIDATE EMOTION

Kids have big emotions. Just like adults. However, as adults we have the ability to understand and rationally explore our feelings. Kids don’t. They actually cannot. Their frontal lobe isn’t fully developed. The frontal lobe helps regulate impulses and consider long term consequences. This part of the brain isn’t fully developed until we are twenty-five years old on average. YALL. That’s around the age some of us started having kids! I digress.

Kids take their cue about the world from you. Their world is changing and in chaos right now. Validate their emotions. I repeat, validate their emotions. Their behavior may be wrong, but their feelings are not. “I know you are frustrated right now, and that’s okay.””I know that hurt your feelings.” One way for children to deal with their emotions is to know that it is okay to feel them. Help them not only know that they are okay, but help them identify their feelings.

When we name how they are expressing themselves as “jealous” or “hurt” or “disappointed,” it begins to build their vocabulary. They are learning from us, their parents. We need to allow them to feel how they feel. Sometimes their intensity may not seem to match the situation. That’s okay. It can mean that they are becoming overwhelmed by their feelings. That leads to the next point:

REPEAT COPING SKILLS TOGETHER

We have written about this idea often. It is so important to teach our kids coping skills and practice them frequently. Kids forget. Heck, I forget why I walked into the kitchen. Why expect kids to remember how to calm themselves down when their feelings are running out of control? When they are in the middle of a tantrum, model taking deep breaths, and sometimes coach them to do it along with you.

It can help to talk about coping skills while setting expectations. “When you don’t want to share when we are at Emma’s house, what can you do?” List different ways of coping, then let them list some too. It is teaching them that coping is part of the social conversation.

A common phrase at our house is, “It’s okay to cry, it is not okay to whine.” It validates the crying, that it is okay to express emotion, and it calls attention to the negative behavior. Then, I remind my child of a coping skill, sometimes in a directive after providing comfort when a tantrum continues. “Go to your room and read one book and then come back.” “Run from here to that tree and then come back.” These ideas teach different ways of coping and give them space to feel how they feel.

HAVE PATIENCE

Kids will always struggle with social skills. They are learning. Reemerging into the world after this massive pandemic is going to be hardest for our children. They have some catching up to do. Do not expect them to do things perfectly. Tantrums are expected. They are kids.

We also need to have patience with ourselves. Sometimes, our kids’ behaviors do not reflect our awesome parenting. Ha! But seriously, just because our kid doesn’t want to share or throws a toy, doesn’t mean we are failing at this parenting thing. But it can feel like it (speaking from experience). Getting back to how things were won’t feel like normal anymore, and that’s okay.

It can also help to encourage each other as parents when the meltdowns occur. The next time you see a Mom or Dad or Grandparent with a kid that has lost their ever loving mind in the grocery store? Give them a smile. Maybe tell them they’re doing a great job as they try to speak to their kid in a calm voice. Encouragement helps.

We can do this. Our kids can do this too.

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

Why Does My Therapist Want to Talk About My Childhood?

If you go to counseling, you can almost guarantee that your therapist is going to ask about your childhood at some point. If you’re confused about how talking about your childhood can help you manage your stress burnout or help with marriage counseling, you’re not the only one. So let’s talk about why your therapist wants to know!

One of the most important reasons a therapist asks about your childhood is find out more about your story. When you see a new counselor or therapist for the first time, they know almost nothing about you. While our experiences shape us all differently, it is undeniable that we ARE shaped by our experiences and our responses to them. By giving your therapist a glimpse into your childhood, you are helping them create a more contextualized and nuanced understanding of your experience and how you view it.

Another reason your therapist may ask about your childhood is because your childhood is where many of the narratives that impact your life today began. You have undoubtedly grown and changed many of your beliefs and responses since childhood. But your childhood is still where you formed your first opinions about yourself, the world, and the meaning of everything in between.

One of the most self-empowering things we can do as an adult is to examine those narratives and decide whether or not we want to keep them. Identifying those early narratives isn’t always easy, but one way that they tend to pop up is in automatic thoughts. An automatic thought is a thought that pops up before we even have time to process what we’ve been asked or what is happening. For example, some of the things you say to yourself – positive or negative – may be internalized narratives that you heard continuously as a child.

We have all internalized countless narratives from our childhood, and the more your therapist knows about your childhood, the more they can help you have more autonomy over the narratives that are constantly influencing our thoughts and choices.

No matter what your childhood story is, I would encourage you to talk to your therapist about your childhood. Some of you may have trauma that you want to work through and others may want to repair relationships with parents or siblings. But even if your memories of your childhood are mostly positive and you have healthy relationships with your family members now, it can still be helpful to talk about your childhood in therapy.

Here’s why:

You experienced life as a child without a fully developed prefrontal cortex. Your prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that helps you learn, process new information, and make good choices. So even though you don’t have a temper tantrum when you parents are busy now and you can successfully navigate a fight with your adult friends without crying and whining, the things that caused you emotional distress as a child were still emotionally distressing, even if they seem silly and insignificant as an adult now. And our brains are great at remembering distress, not matter the cause.

When our brains remember distress, they tend to keep reacting to whatever caused the distress until we can use our mature brains to teach our emotional brain that we are safe. For example, a child whose parent always cleaned when they were upset may now get stressed out whenever they clean house as an adult. Their child brain learned that the house getting cleaned meant that they might be shouted at or that their parents just fought, so now as an adult, their adult brain is wired to be prepared for distress whenever it’s time to clean the house.

Examining relationships between our current stressors and the stressors of our childhood can give us a chance to intentionally teach our brains that our distress as a child was real, but that we are now an adult who can keep ourselves safe.  

No matter who you are or who your family is, being a child is hard. So if you have the time and space in counseling, give yourself the gift of talking about your childhood. And if you’ve never been to counseling before and your therapist asks about your childhood in the first session, chances are there’s an excellent reason and you’re on the brink of some good work.

Growing with you,

Selena

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

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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

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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.