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

Dealing in Disappointment

Trigger Warning: Discussion of pregnancy and breastfeeding.

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

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

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

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

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

REACHING OUT FOR HELP

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

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

FEELING THE FEELINGS

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

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

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

ENGAGING WITH POSITIVE EXPERIENCES

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

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

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

Struggling along,

Allyson

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

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

Parenting While Pregnant

WARNING: THIS POST TALKS ABOUT PREGNANCY

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

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

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

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

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

BE VOCAL ABOUT WHAT’S GOING ON INSIDE

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

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

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

APOLOGIZE, REPAIR, AND MOVE ON

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

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

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

TAKE A MOMENT

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

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

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

Making it, maybe?

Allyson

Posted in 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 anger, boundaries, emotion regulation, grief, home, isolation, Jealousy, loneliness, motherhood, parenting, relationships

What Do I Say to My Kid When…..I Have Emotions

We have moved recently. My husband preceded the family to our new home and I was left to manage two kids, a dog, a PUPPY (see the grimace), pack a house, transfer my clients, and say goodbye to my closest family and friends. Cue the overwhelmed, head in the pillow, scream. Handling life, especially when it is complicated (like always), can be difficult. There were moments of crying from the sheer immensity of the task ahead.

Trying to navigate the world of emotions while parenting, can cause us to either stuff feelings or lean on our children for support. Neither are healthy for them or us. It is important for children to see emotions and notice positive coping skills. They do not need to live in a “safe” world where Mom and Dad are never frustrated, sad, anxious or angry. They also do not have shoulders big enough to help carry our burdens. How can we find a balance?

COMMUNICATE IN AN AGE APPROPRIATE MANNER

It is important to be honest with our children. They see more than we would like to admit and experience the atmosphere of our homes. Our faces tell them when we are having difficulty with our day or our situation. If they ask about our tears and we insist that nothing is wrong, we not only lie to them, we invalidate emotions in general. 

It is important to give age appropriate responses. This could be saying, “I am really sad and I miss my friends back home” rather than “I am lonely because I do not have friends.” The simple version does not overwhelm little ones with the big emotions and does not give them a problem they need to “fix”, i.e. no friends.  As kids get older, the words can be more complex, but it is vital to keep them from feeling as though they have to change your circumstances or make your feel better. This bleeds into the next point.

MODEL APPROPRIATE COPING SKILLS

As I spilled the millionth item in my kitchen, I grunted in frustration and then took some deep breaths to avoid screaming or hitting my counter. You know who that impacted the most? My son. He was able to witness Mom using deep breathing to calm down just like she encourages him to do all the time. 

It helps to call attention to the use of positive or negative coping. I admit, I yell at my kids sometimes. I hate that I do it. I do not want to do it. But it slips out. The fact that I yell is less impactful, than the fact that I apologize. I tell my kids I am sorry and I reflect on the negative coping that I utilized. This helps to normalize the mistakes of negative coping and recognize that there are better methods to dealing with emotions.

SEEK APPROPRIATE SUPPORT

It can be tempting to utilize children as emotional gas stations. We are sad and need a hug? Ask a child. We need some affirmations? Ask a child. However, that is a manipulation of the parent/child relationship. They do not exist for our emotional fulfillment. When we begin to rely on them, we fail them as parents and we cease to be a healthy place for them.

We need to have others that we can rely on. A spouse is an important confidant. However, there needs to be at least one more. When you are fighting with your spouse? You need to have some you call. Ideally, it is someone that can remain objective, someone that has no ulterior motives and someone that can help be both encourager and devil’s advocate. Someone that is trustworthy. Complaining about your spouse to the co-worker you secretly find attractive? Maybe not the best idea. Processing disagreements with a person that can provide sound counsel and keep things confidential? Much better.

It can be hard to find reciprocal relationships where support is provided. If you are in a more isolated stage and no one can be reached by phone? It is ok to use a professional. It is why mental health professionals are so helpful. Utilize someone that is trained to explore your difficult emotions, rather than using your child as that sounding board while they are still children. 

Emotions are natural. Emotions are necessary. Recognizing emotions and navigating them well, is a skill that we must impart as parents. When we are struggling, it can be so difficult to parent with healthy boundaries through that process. However, being able to see a parent struggle, cope and emerge on the other side of hard things, can set a child up for not only a stronger internal identity, but ensure they experience an atmosphere of stability. 

Emoting all the time,

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 motherhood, parenting, relationships

Let’s Talk About Faith, Baby

Disclaimer: This post references my personal Christian faith and religious practices. However, it is not intended to be exclusive to those who identify as Christians. It is my hope that the content of this post is relatable and inclusive to folks of various religious and spiritual backgrounds.

Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak, but He is strong

Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so

Most people who have spent any time in a church or around Christian people have probably heard the song, “Jesus Loves Me” at some point in their lives. This song is known for being sweet, simple, and reassuring. It is a reminder that we are loved, we are protected, and we belong. For Christian folks who believe in Jesus, it is a personalized love-song often sung throughout their lifespan, beginning as early as infancy. I recall this song being sung to me when I was a young child, and I recall singing it in years past to my own son as I rocked him to sleep each night. As a child, this song provided me great reassurance of love, protection and belonging. As a parent, I prayed that my son would experience that great reassurance too. And, while I could still cradle him in my arms, I truly believe he experienced just that.

Faith and spirituality have been core-values of mine for many years, and my husband shares them as well. My husband and I met in college, and at the time, we both strongly identified with the Christian faith. We even co-hosted an alternative-Christian radio show on our college radio station. Our shared faith and spirituality became foundational as our friendship blossomed into a dating relationship and, finally, a marriage. It remained critical to us as we navigated the early years of our marriage, a pregnancy and the birth of our first and only child. It brought us through many highs and lows and anchored us in times of uncertainty. For both of us, faith and spirituality have served as a source of strength, peace and purpose; and we wanted to ensure that our son had access to the same. 

Once our son was born, we were diligent about praying and reading the Bible to him daily. Even when he was a newborn, we read a Bible with simple illustrations and text designed especially for infants and toddlers. We brought him to church services, worship events, social gatherings and volunteer activities regularly. We enrolled him in vacation bible schools, observed Advent at Christmastime and held weekly devotionals together as a family. These types of activities have consistently been a significant part of our family for the duration of our son’s decade (and counting) of life. 

Recently, as I was driving my son home from school, he initiated an important conversation with me. He asked if he could talk to me about church. Immediately, my heart sunk. Did something happen to him? I wondered. 

I was relieved to find that he wanted to discuss his thoughts on church and, ultimately, faith and spirituality. I watched as my growing boy navigated through fear to express his thoughts to me honestly. I sensed his anxiety as he disclosed his perspectives, understanding that they did not all totally align with my own. I felt the weight of the moment, knowing that this was a crucial point in our relationship. I knew that his decision to be vulnerable with me was a risk and that my response could impact our relationship moving forward. 

To be honest, I had mixed emotions during our conversation. Was I disappointed? A little. Anxious? Yes. We raise our children in hopes that they accept our values and integrate them into their own lives as they grow up. We teach them about our faith and expose them to our spiritual practices in hopes they might adopt them as their own. However, I was also struck by my son’s courage and grateful for the trust that existed between us, allowing this moment to happen at all. And, this superseded any disappointment or anxiety I was feeling and compelled me to listen, learn and support my child.

I think about other people who have different thoughts or expressions of faith and spirituality from myself, including other Christian believers. These are some of my closest friends and family members. I think about important conversations I have had with these folks, consisting of similar riskiness, vulnerability and shared trust. Each time one of these conversations occurs, particularly about faith and spirituality, I feel so humbled and honored to share such depths of our beings. In these moments, I am not concerned with converting but with connecting

As parents, we can become hyper-focused on the expectations we have for our children. Of course, it is quite reasonable have hopes and dreams for our children as well as certain behavioral expectations intended to guide their development. However, when these expectations obstruct relational connection, parents may want to consider reevaluating their why. 

Upon having this conversation about faith and spirituality with my child, I realized that my why is a muddled mix of love and fear. Lovingly, I want my child to experience the reassurance of love, protection and belonging I mentioned earlier. Fearfully, I want to control the trajectory and outcome of his life. Watching as he slowly outgrows the simplicities of childhood, I am reminded how little control I truly have. 

It is often said that love and fear cannot coexist. In Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us About the Mysteries of Life and Living, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler write, “It’s true that there are only two primary emotions, love and fear. But it’s more accurate to say that there is only love or fear, for we cannot feel these two emotions together, at exactly the same time. They’re opposites. If we’re in fear, we are not in a place of love. When we’re in a place of love, we cannot be in a place of fear.” They continue by explaining we must continually choose one or the other, especially when our commitment to love is challenged. Kubler-Ross and Kessler remind us, “Everymoment offers the choice to choose one or the other.”

Every moment. 

I hum “Jesus Loves Me” and read through the sweet, simple lyrics again. I am choosing love. I feel the twinge of fear, worrying about my son’s outcome. Little ones to Him belong. I am choosing love. I feel reassured by my faith, comforted that all of humanity is loved. I am choosing love. I feel another twinge of fear, worried about my son’s outcome. Little ones to Him belong. I am choosing love. 

Crystal Loup

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, goals, home, isolation, loneliness, motherhood, parenting, relationships, selfcare, selfcompassion, Uncategorized, values

Mom Guilt

Mom guilt is a very real phenomenon. Often, no matter the influence, no matter the intent, no matter the action, parents second guess their parenting decisions. Mom guilt can motivate us towards change, or it can be a destructive, shaming rabbit hole that leads to paralyzing self-condemnation. 

These two extremes are present in our lives, but often have more subtle nuance. For example, I awoke at 3:00 AM one morning and rode the rabbit hole of destructive mom guilt for about an hour before I was able to succumb to sleep again. The concern behind this spiral? Whether my four year old was getting enough active time.

My evidence? We moved into a smaller house so he cannot run around as much inside, we haven’t been to the park very much and he’s currently not in a pre-k program to encourage activity with his peers. 

The verdict? I was a horrible Mom that was not doing enough. 

Terrible? Yes. 

Unhelpful? Definitely. 

Unreasonable? Completely. 

The direction that mom guilt often projects us into, is one that is not productive for our emotional health, mental health, or parent/child relationship. Here are a few ways to battle against this minefield when it rears its ugly head. Ways to combat the worst ever game of wack-a-mole.

MEASURE AGAINST REALITY

As I wrestled with the trial of my parenting that 3:00 am had brought me, I was slow to come to my own defense. I hammered myself with the failings I supposedly contributed to, but I did not present the case that we are a newly transplanted family. I began to chronicle the various accusations and hold them up to reality. 

A smaller house? Yes, but living somewhere that would provide more bearable weather to endure outside play time. 

Infrequent park trips? The weather had been in the triple digits. That’s not healthy for anyone. 

Not in a pre-k program? We have lived in our new town for about a month. 

Being able to invite reality into our emotionally elevated headspace, can be difficult, but it is vital. We are often our own worst enemy, but doing accurate self-reflection is important. We can see ways we are not meeting our own realistic expectations and make plans to correct our behavior. It can also give us a reprieve when the spiraling mind is being irrational and intensely vindictive. I would also not recommend having those moments in the early moments of the morning. News alert: Your brain is definitely not being rational. 

MEASURE WITH A FRIEND

We all need someone with which we can be vulnerable and accountable. Someone that will offer us some reality with love. This can be correction if we are not living up to the needs of our children or guiding us toward better reality testing if we have gone off the rails. 

I must insist on something, this CANNOT be a social media account. Reality testing cannot be done through the highlight reel of Instagram. All parents look like rockstars if they choose to on this platform. All rooms cleaned, multiple activities for the children and they are rocking this homeschool thing. Can this be done? Maybe. Everyone has their own strengths.

These honest conversations can be held with someone that knows your strengths, can call you to be the best parent you can be and will not prompt you to do more crafts with your kids if that’s not your thing. We talk about a mom tribe, but more important than a mom tribe is that one friend that will be a taste of rational thinking when the tornado begins. 

MEASURE YOUR MIND

One of our greatest weapons when dealing with errant thoughts? A similar tactic we use with toddlers. Redirection. Spiraling about how few clean clothes your family has while you are doing laundry? Put on some music. Put on a TV show. Call a friend. Derail the thought train, because there are no helpful depots along the track. Thought stopping is a great way to combat anxious rumination and depressive spiraling. 

Sometimes it helps treating your mind like a tantruming child. Check for hunger, exhaustion, need for a moment alone and then find something different to focus on. It needs to be something that can consume your mind, so not necessarily only an action but also something that you enjoy. Find a way to make yourself laugh, yell at the dishes and then sing your favorite Hamilton song (“Work, work! Angelica! Work, work! Eliza! And Peggy! The Schuyler sisters!” is my go to). 

The self-flagellation that often is the result of mom guilt is very unproductive. It cripples the joy that comes from parenthood and wraps every event in the “not good enough” cast-off clothes. We deserve better treatment from our minds and our children deserve better parenting motivation. You do not struggle with this beast alone. Speak up, share concerns and allow others to speak into that rabbit hole. When spoken out loud, lies often scatter like bugs exposed to sunlight. Unproductive mom guilt lingers long after the problem area has been resolved and growth has begun. 

Letting in the light,

 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 back to school, comfortzone, coparenting, goals, home, motherhood, parenting, relationships, selfcompassion, social distancing, Uncategorized, unprepared

When School Comes Home

Is everyone tired of the word unprecedented?  2020, I’m looking at you! 

So, let’s try something different.  How about remarkable?  Is that annoying?  

Remarkable means worthy of attention, striking.  Unprecedented, in contrast, means never done or known before.  

What if we did an exercise in reframing?  Maybe 2020 with all its unprecedented remarkableness could be an invitation?  Instead of putting so much focus on the unknown, we could remember what we do know and pay attention to it.  Please don’t hear me downplaying the difficulty and grief of all that we are encountering – some to degrees beyond my comprehension.  What I am simply saying is that we have the ability to choose our focus.  We can remember what we know instead of all the things we don’t.  Everything doesn’t have to be unprecedented.

Most of us know how to love our kids and meet their needs in ways that no one else can. Many of us are looking at a year that could include the word homeschool.   Just saying it may cause you anxiety.  I’d like to offer some reassurance and hope.  It might not be easy, especially for those who are trying to juggle a full-time job, but it doesn’t have to be terrible.  This could be an occasion to understand parts of your child’s education experience that you hadn’t previously and an avenue for deeper connection with them.  This is true whether you are actually doing the homeschooling yourself – as in choosing their curriculum and teaching it, or whether you are helping facilitate their online learning.  This year doesn’t have to be a drudge.  

We are on our eighth year of homeschool.  It has been wonderful and winsome in so many ways, but I wouldn’t use effortless as a descriptor. There are humans involved.  It’s the push and pull every day.  Our wills rub up against each other.  Homeschooling has allowed me ample opportunity to instill larger lessons in my children that I’m still learning too.  Oh, don’t worry, I know how to add and subtract and I can tell you a fair bit about the Enlightenment.  What we are working on together is patience, grace, self-discipline, and so many other things that we fail and try again at every day.   

Our culture by in large has reduced education down to the insertion of knowledge, but without wisdom knowledge is anemic.  Wisdom is cultivated through love, compassion and humility. Wisdom is the framework of values that knowledge rests upon.  It is taught most effectively as it is modeled.  As parents, we are uniquely capable of giving these things.  

So, don’t fret about creating the perfect school setting at home.  Don’t stress over choosing the perfect curriculum.  Do the best with what you have in front of you, and trust the one who created education to guide you as you seek to teach or help teach.  Be diligent, but rest in His faithfulness and delight in the present. Julie Bogart says in her book The Brave Learner, “Connect to your children. The academics matter, but they follow. Your children’s happiness and safe, supportive relationship with you come first. Believe it or not, your children are happiest when they believe you are delighted by them.”  And I would add that when they are happiest, their mind will be most open to learning.  So, just stick with what you know.  Love them well and nourish their imaginations.  Block out the voices that are tempting you to make it more complicated or feel less than capable.  

A reminder to all of us – education is a lifelong adventure.  In its truest form it begins in wonder and ends in wisdom.  Take a deep breath and notice the wonder around you.     And in the words of St. Jerome, “It is our part to offer what we can, His to finish what we cannot”  

Grace and Peace to you this school year, I hope it’s remarkable!  

Amy

PS – I highly recommend the podcast Read Aloud Revival.  Enjoying books together is one of the easiest ways to learn.  

Amy Spencer has been married to Ryan for 21 years.  They have five boys ages 13-3.  She dabbles in interior design and enjoys studying history.  As you can probably understand, she never uses the restroom without checking the seat first.  

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, comfortzone, coronavirus, counseling, emotion regulation, empathy, goals, grief, home, loneliness, motherhood, parenting, relationships, summer, Uncategorized, unprepared, values

Ch-ch-changes

Change is always inevitable. As the saying goes, “the only thing constant is change.” That is more true in these tumultuous times than ever. As I type this post, I sit in a home with unpacked boxes and blank walls. During the craziness of a pandemic, my family has moved across state lines. More unsettled emotions and more disruption to routine await my children. 

It is important to focus on ways to support our children and give them stability amidst uncertain times. As we have previously discussed, their emotions are weaving through anxiety, grief, and confusion. The presentation of these feelings may come out sideways, but there is no question that they are struggling. School is uncertain and friendships are suffering from lack of time together. Here are a few ways to ensure our kids have what they need.

SET EXPECTATIONS EACH DAY

A way to reduce anxiety is to give the most information possible. As they wake up or join you for breakfast, remind them of everything on the agenda that day. It can include having a FaceTime date with a friend or relative, going to pick up groceries, spending time doing online school or even going on a walk. A few activities that you plan for the day or need them to accomplish, stated in a few bullet points. 

This can allow them to have a method for marking the days. As days run together it can become distressing for a child that is used to lots of activity. If it is possible, plan the day with your child and allow them to insert a few items they would like to do or need to do. This can provide some feelings of control. 

CREATE A SAFE SPACE 

My son is a fan of enclosed spaces. Give him a tent or box and he enjoys himself. Having somewhere a child feels safe can go a long way to aiding their adjustment to change. This can be a corner of the house where they can listen to music, read or draw. Having their own space, again gives them feelings of control and a place to turn when life seems out of control. 

Understanding their need for familiar things, and providing them time to seek out the comfort, you are validating their emotions and coping. It sets a healthy precedent for enduring upheaval later in life. It is also helpful to have a place of your own. Modeling healthy behavior aids in kids engaging that behavior. 

SPEND INTENTIONAL TIME TOGETHER

How often this is possible, depends on your life stage. Working from home with school age children having to do distance learning? Maybe once a week. However, setting up some activity to do with your son or daughter can give them the extra attention they need. This does not need to be finishing a thousand piece puzzle and hours of work. It can be reading together, coloring together or building a blanket fort. 

Kids love experiencing fun with their parents. They love finding ways to do things they know their parents are enjoying alongside them. It builds a foundation of security that lasts during times of uncertainty. Knowing that they have a way to connect with the most important people in their lives.

USE FEELING WORDS OFTEN

We spent the last two months focused on feeling words. On why they are important, how to cope and how to identify them. Revisit those if needed, its never a bad idea. Using feeling words when you are experiencing an emotion as well as identifying their emotions can give your relationships a common language. 

Some examples are: “Oh, I see you are so frustrated.” “I am really angry that, that car cut me off. Please give me a minute to listen to music to calm down.” “I am a little confused about what is going on right now, it can be scary”. “It is ok to be overwhelmed with all the change.” One of the phrases I use to most is, “It is ok to cry, but not whine. It is ok to be disappointed.” All of these comments allow for emotional intelligence, modeling and beginning conversations. The more emotions are discussed, the less scary they are for little ones. 

Change makes parenting difficult. It pulls and tangles our emotions and then we have to help our emotionally developing little ones navigate it as well. This season, that seems to last forever, is a tricky one. It begs for relief and we beg for stability. Let us find ways to be that stability for our children so they are able to cope effectively. 

Growing through change,

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 anger, coronavirus, counseling, emotion regulation, empathy, grief, motherhood, parenting, relationships, selfcompassion, social distancing, summer, Uncategorized

I’m Sorry, but We Can’t: Navigating Disappointment

“I know you wanted to do ________, but we can’t right now.” Sound familiar? I’m sure you’ve said it to your kids many, many times since March. If you’re anything like me, you’ve said it to yourself many times as well. My latest submersion in the pool of disappointment was Saturday. After coming in contact with someone that tested positive for COVID-19, my family went from limiting people interaction, to eliminating the interactions. 

Celebrating a holiday in a more subdued manner is so sad. I love to celebrate and have a reason to do fun things that make a day special and different than an ordinary day. I decided, even if the day couldn’t be the hanging out at the pool and jumping into a large crowd to watch fireworks, at least I would treat myself to a milkshake. Of course, the shake machine was down at Sonic! I mean, come on! Disappointment radiated through my fourth of July. 

As this pandemic continues, everyone is a little too acquainted with disappointment. How do we cope with this disappointment, and how do we help our kids navigate this emotion? It is especially difficult when you are disappointed for them. Your child was supposed to graduate, visit a theme park for the first time, have a birthday party, see the beach, or merely finish out the school year with their friends. Our hearts hurt when our children do not get to have the childhood we dream for them. Our hearts hurt even more when they express disappointment and we cannot change the circumstances. Here are a few points to consider:

RECOGNIZE DISAPPOINTMENT AS A PRIMARY EMOTION

When people, especially kids, experience disappointment, they often express it through anger. After all, it is more socially acceptable, and seen less as weakness, to explode in anger rather than dissolve into tears. When a child isn’t able to do something they prefer and they throw a tantrum, recognize the primary emotion. 

Call attention to their feeling of disappointment, validate their sadness and their original desire. Recognize their anger as a protective reaction to a hope that went unfulfilled. We can all relate. Even small disappointments seem monumental to a child, even a teenager. 

Those without their frontal lobe fully developed (anyone under 25) have some trouble regulating their impulses. They forget to utilize coping skills, and often do not want to regulate their emotions. When a feeling is validated and empathized with, the intensity often dissipates. Sometimes it is tempting to belittle the experience, or tell a child that they are over reacting. This moves us to the next point:

VALIDATE, VALIDATE, VALIDATE

Just because you cannot understand the intensity does not mean it is an overreaction. They may not respond in a respectful manner, and that can be given consequences. However, the intensity they feel is partially due to age. Disappointment is new to them. In some ways, that is a positive reality. Some young people become desensitized to disappointment because it is their constant reality. 

Being able to experience disappointment, means you allowed yourself to dream. Recognize the hopes, expectations and dreams that must have been held before the disappointment. Validate the emotion, discuss what was expected or hoped for and give them room to feel.  This is a great way to model empathy. The same needs to be done for you as well. Acknowledge and feel your disappointment. Validate your own emotions and seek out those empathetic friends that will validate them as well. 

Crying over disappointment can seem immature or being “overly sensitive.” But experiencing that depth of emotion can merely mean that you give yourself freedom to hope and plan and dream – something that adults often do not allow themselves to do. Teach your kids that having that freedom to experience disappointment is okay and actually a mark of healthy emotional expression.

MODEL AND TEACH HEALTHY COPING

When you give yourself permission to experience disappointment, you give your children an example of healthy emotional regulation. But you also give them a front row seat to witness healthy coping.  If you had great hopes for a birthday and it does not happen, it is okay to express the disappointment. This may include a few tears, or just a glum expression. When they ask for an explanation, tell them how you feel. However, it is key not to stay there. 

Feeling emotions are crucial for a healthy emotional life, but so is coping. We would not allow a teenager to mope for an entire weekend over a cancelled date, so neither can we. Express the emotion, process the emotion and cope with the emotion. This can be putting on some music, choosing a different task or merely engaging in some physical activity. 

Some people cope best by processing the emotion with a safe person and as a result they are able to continue on with their day. Others people struggle to move past the emotion. That is where the distraction technique we utilize with toddlers can come into play. Distract yourself with something this is possible and will make your heart a little lighter. You favorite song, facetiming with a friend, listening to a comedian, watching a good movie, going on a walk, creating something or taking a bubble bath. Find something that helps you cope, allow your child to recognize that you are engaging in these coping activities. Work with them to find a few methods that help them as well. Having a list of helpful coping skills on the refrigerator might be very helpful during this time that is filled with more than normal disappointments. 

This feeling of loss, of sadness, of missing something, is uncomfortable. However, if we suppress it and ignore it, it will come out in a maladaptive manner. More importantly is that we can teach our children to handle it the same way. Refusing to acknowledge disappointment may result in no more dreaming, only expressing anger or a temptation to belittle others that express disappointment themselves. 

Remember, feelings aren’t wrong, they are valid. Feel them, express them, but also be intentional about coping with them as well. You can do this!

Moving through disappointment to the other side,

Allyson

Someone please find me a milkshake!

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.