Posted in Uncategorized

Pizza for Breakfast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing our families together,

Selena

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

Posted in Uncategorized

When Parenting Styles Differ

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

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

KNOW YOU EXPECTATIONS AND THE WHY BEHIND THEM

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

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

BE CONSISTENT

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

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

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

BE VOCAL

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

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

ACKNOWLEDGE THE DIFFERENCE

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

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

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

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

Parenting differently,

Allyson

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

Posted in Uncategorized

Actions Speak Louder than Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything’s Not Okay

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

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

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

PLATITUDES ARE DESIGNED TO SIMPLIFY THE SITUATION

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

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

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“Don’t worry, be happy.”

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

POSITIVITY IS DESIGNED TO DIMINISH THE INTENSITY

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

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

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

ENGAGING IN CERTAIN ACTIONS CAN BE DESIGNED TO SILENCE

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

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

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

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

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

Validating together,

Allyson

Posted in Uncategorized

your truth, my truth, The Truth

Have you ever heard people say that there are always three messages whenever you say something?

First, there are the actual words that are being spoken.
Then, there is what the speaker intended the listener to hear.
And finally, there is the message that the listener hears.

I talk about this concept a lot whenever I work couples and families. A silly example that I use a lot is the phrase, “Can you grab me a glass of water?”

Understanding the actual words is simple: an action is being requested by one person from another. But so often, something like “Can you grab me a glass of water,” really means: “Hey – do you care enough about me to grab me a water?”

And then the listener hears a completely different third message, like: “Why are you always nagging me?!”

Both people heard the same words, but the truth of the message was completely different for each of them.

Confusion happens all of the time because of assumptions we make about what other people mean. We each have a uniquely subjective experience of the world, so it’s not surprising that the ways in which we communicate are as varied as we are. For example, how do we compare different experiences of what is ‘hard’ or ‘easy’? Or how can we measure our own experiences of joy, terror, delight, and devastation against those of another person? If we want to understand and to be understood, we can’t simply transfer our definitions onto what people are trying to express.

So, are you a good communicator?

How well do you listen? How curious are you when you aren’t quite sure what another person is saying?

Do you believe the experience of other people when they share with you, or are you skeptical that things are really “that bad.”

When you start a conversation, are you thinking of what to say, or are you actively listening?

What about with your partner? With your kids?

I want to urge you to believe other people.

Believe your kids.

Believe your partner.

Your co-workers.

Your inlaws.

Your dramatic friend.

That person in your church that you don’t get along with.

The family member on the opposite side of the political spectrum.

Believing someone does not equate to agreeing with them. You don’t even have to like someone to believe them. The truth is, we all just want our experiences to be validated, heard, and believed. I imagine it’s what you want too. But if we get caught up in who is right or who is wrong, we lose the opportunity for connection.

There’s another common saying about interpersonal conflict that really gets to the heart of this: whenever one person wins, you both lose. When we dismiss another person’s truth and invalidate their experience of the world, we create disconnect. It takes bravery to set yourself aside and enter into another person’s experience of the world, but there is nothing that makes another person feel more seen and loved.

So be brave.

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

CAN SOMEONE TELL ME IF I’M DOING THIS RIGHT?

Parenting doesn’t come with a performance evaluation. Often, the feedback we receive is how much our kids dislike us when we give them discipline or our own internal voice of “not enough” that makes itself known when we are NOT asking. It can be taxing to do everything within our power to care for our kids and feel as though it is in vain or that it is without reward. 

We love our children. I know you do, because who else reads parenting blogs? No one reviews these things for entertainment. We explore parenting ideas and options to gain some baseline of  okay. When we care about someone, we want to make sure we love them well. How in the world can we know? Few ideas.

ASK

Terrifying? Yes. Helpful? Often. Talk to a co-parent. Talk to a grandparent. Talk to a close friend that sees your parenting. DO NOT ask, a general question about your parenting. That can go wrong so fast. Instead, give some guidelines. What is one thing you see me doing well? It can be so life-giving to have your work noticed. As a society we don’t often encourage one another out of the blue. Prompting is, unfortunately, necessary. 

If you’re in a positive headspace, maybe dare to ask, what is one thing I can work on with my parenting? I need to stress, only ask for criticism if you are in a place to HEAR it. That means, in a frame of mind to recognize the need for growth and not bite the head off of the messenger. This IS a conversation that needs to happen occasionally, but might not be the most helpful when you are feeling the weight of guiding little people into adulthood. 

CONSULT PROFESSIONALS

I am not saying trust all the Instagram posts from moms that seem to have it all together. I am encouraging researching parenting advice presented from people that have credentials. Do all those that have credentials present helpful tips? No. However, taking parenting help, that works for your family, from various sources, can allow you to feel as though you are not parenting in a vacuum. 

Also, personal counseling can help with parenting. Shocker, I know. Working on yourself can give you space to parent out of positive mental health rather than exhausted mental health. When we are healing and we are functioning in a healthy way? It can pass on to our kids. 

SET ONE GOAL

We talk about goal setting ad nauseam on here. It’s because setting expectations out loud, helps a ton. One goal that you feel will make you a better parent. It can be a behavioral chart that spells out behavior and consequence. It can be an intentional bedtime routine. Mine this summer? Getting the kids outside more, even if it means braving the heat. Ugh!

Be measurable about it. That way, you can feel as though something is being accomplished in a medium that has constantly changing goals. Example? I want to take the kids to the park twice a week. Can I do more? Yes. Why not make it more? Two is so manageable that I do not feel overwhelmed by the expectation. Also, share the goal with someone else. They can help encourage you. 

Parenting is so difficult. We never know if we are doing things well. My husband and I joked when our oldest was born that we better start saving for his therapy bills immediately. We will not be perfect. We will make mistakes. But we will continue to work out our love for our kids, everyday of their lives.

Together in this ambiguity,

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

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 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 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

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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