If They Only Knew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you waiting to be found out?

Waiting for the other shoe to drop?

Waiting to be judged for something in your old story?

I’ve mentioned before, I do an awful lot of thinking about thinking. Recently, I have had this “waiting to be found out” feeling.

My practice is when I have a strong feeling, bring it in close and be curious of the root. So I began……

I am a Psychotherapist who knows anxiety on an intimate level.

I struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember, however, she masked herself for years and years.

When I was a child, she began doing what she could to manage the chaos in our house. This included believing that she could change the mood in the house at anytime. She believed this was her responsibility.

When I was a teenager, she looked like a whole lot of self medicating so as not to feel.

When I was in my twenties, she sabotaged any happiness I might grasp onto. She did this by knowing it all, by reacting instead of responding, and by doing her best to protect herself from feeling out of control in any way.

When I was in my thirties, I was married and began to have children. Life felt beautiful. Life felt oddly calm, and life felt good……too good.

She began to show herself, but this time she was wearing a mask. She would creep up on me at my happiest moments.

Instead of kicking me when I was down, she pounced when I least expected it.

During a dance recital for my daughter, she would whisper “what if you got into a crash on the way home”?

While watching my son play on the playground, she would remind me “you aren’t always a great Mom, you should do better”.

When arriving home after a long day, and feeling exhausted, she would compare me to other Mom’s who seem to balance it all with ease.

She grew into a bully. A bully that wouldn’t allow me to feel happiness.

She was always there, to remind me I’m not as great as I think I am.

She was always there to rip my happiness right out from under me if I wasn’t careful.

She was always there to whisper hurtful words into my ear, which lowered my chin a bit and slumped my shoulders.

She reminded me that I am not as good as other women in remembering their birthdays, and I never send Christmas cards.

She never missed a chance to mention that my chest is small and my legs are skinny.

She wouldn’t let me forget the label she had assigned to me as “not a school person”.

She refused to allow me to feel worthy.

Did you forget that you got kicked off the cheerleading squad in high school?

Did you miss that all those other girls graduated from college “on time”?

She was relentless.

Eventually she masked herself as anger and defensiveness.

The more you feed anxiety, the more her power grows.

If I couldn’t feel happiness, I felt anger.

This looked like arguments with my husband over silly stuff.

This looked like lack of patience with my children.

This looked like “on and off” communication with family members, depending on who I might be angry at.

This looked like a whole lot of conflict and not much connection.

One day, someone else visited. I believe it was compassion. She whispered something different into my ear……she said “this is a choice…this is all a choice”.

She said “take my hand, your road hasn’t been easy, allow me to show you the way”.

Compassion began to show kindness to me, even in the face of anxiety.

Compassion was not a bit intimidated by her.

When anxiety yelled, compassion just nodded her head and said….”I understand, this is what you know”.

When anxiety said “but……” compassion said “it’s okay, I’ll stay by your side”.

When anxiety made my heart race and “what if’ed” me, compassion loved me through it.

Compassion was there through my whole journey.  She is just much more quiet than anxiety.

We can’t always hear compassion.

We have to create a space to hear compassion.

I began to hear her in my late thirties when I took a leap and returned to school.

I heard her when I walked into my class of mostly younger students.

She was there as I walked across the stage to accept my Masters in Counseling.

Don’t get me wrong, anxiety showed up to ask “who do you think you are” ……I just smiled at her and decided I know exactly who I am.

I am whoever I say I am.

I am who I decide to be everyday.

Anxiety and I no longer speak the same language.

She still comes around from time to time.

We aren’t so much friends but acquaintances now.

My new group of friends include compassion, kindness, empathy, joy, and mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the leader of our group, she reminds me on a daily basis to meet myself where I am that day.

Today, I wanted to remind you all that this therapist knows anxiety well.

Self disclosure is frowned upon in my work.

I’ve never been good at following the rules.

Why shouldn’t you see my imperfections?

I want to show you my scars so that you too can begin to hear compassion.

I am not good at what I do because I am perfect….I am good at what I do because I can see you.

I see you, and I know your bully well.

I have filled my own cup so that now I have enough to give away.

Allow me to introduce you to my group of my friends…..I know you will like them.

The “Too” Journey.

                                 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     

                               The “Too” Journey

I laid there curled in a ball, sobbing, until calm came through sleep. I woke up to shame, and cried consistently the whole next day too. Something had changed. Something was gone, that I would never get back. I had no understanding of why my body was grieving so deeply.

At age 15, I had just started my period.My body was at the very beginning of becoming, and I had already given it away. This would be the beginning of the “too” journey.

My chest is too small.

My hips are too wide.

My legs are too skinny.

My nose is too crooked.

I talk too much.

I laugh too loud.

I noticed it in every picture.

I felt it at every turn.

Am I enough?

Will I ever be enough?

At this point I was alone. Alone with my “too’s”. Just me……to love my “too’s”, except I didn’t. I believed that those “too’s” meant my worth was less. I believed that my worth lied in my body, and my face. I looked for reassurance, and that lied in relationships. It rooted firmly in attention and approval. Society teaches us that a pretty face will move mountains, a beautiful body will change our lives.

My “too” journey ended in childbirth. For some this is where the “too” journey begins.

At that moment, I wasn’t  “too” anything, I was just enough.

My body nurtured and grew life.

My “too” small chest fed another human.

My “too” wide hips were cut open, sewn back together twice and I kept moving.

My “too” skinny legs carried babies and toddlers for several years

My “too” weak body balanced groceries, dogs kids and car seats every single day.

When I was young, I abused my body in whatever way I could. Alcohol, junk food, lack of exercise and an inner voice that rivaled any critic you’ve ever met. After kids, my coping skills were still young and raw, my habits still unrefined. Although I stopped the bad habits, I did not spend time creating new ones.

Until one day, I caught my 4 year old daughter watching me in the mirror.

She took it all in.

As I turned to the side and almost asked my husband “do my legs look too skinny in this”?

But her gaze created a pause.

In those eyes I saw the reflection of a young me, before the “too” journey, and I vowed my daughter wouldn’t take the first step onto that path.

In order to fill my daughters cup, I had to fill mine first. That’s just how it works.

I decided my body deserved to be on a journey of “enough”.

I decided my body deserved to be loved instead of judged.

I set about this journey with purpose and intent.

I created a mantra. I wrote in the steam on my bathroom mirror, every single day.

I stood in front of a full length mirror naked every week, and gave thanks to my body, part by part.

I hiked steep mountains, and climbed large boulders until my body felt strong.

I challenged it at every turn to see what it was capable of.

Turns out, this body is badass.

I made a choice, a choice that I would create a different path for my daughter. She will go on whatever journey she is supposed to, but it won’t be dictated by society or my inequities. Her body journey will be shrouded in a foundation of love and acceptance. Her memories will not be of her mother being “too” anything. Her memories will be of a mother who was just enough. Enough for herself, not anyone else. A mother who was able to see beauty in the mirror and feel beauty in her heart.

A mother who hopped off the “too” journey to find “enough” was much kinder.

My “enough” journey began with a pledge of mindfulness.

I share that with you now, humbly and compassionately.

 

                           Mindfulness of Body Pledge

I PLEDGE to appreciate my body by recognizing her strengths, abilities, capabilities, and her potential.

I PLEDGE to be a friend to my body by not criticizing, showing empathy when I falter, and by paying attention to her needs.

I PLEDGE to laugh as often and as loud as possible. Because it just feels good.

I PLEDGE to listen to my body by recognizing physical symptoms when experiencing overwhelming emotions.

I PLEDGE to meet my body where she is on that particular day, while pushing her to always work hard.

I PLEDGE to embrace my body’s beauty and remind her every day, not apologizing for confidence.

I PLEDGE to not make excuses, because she doesn’t need excuses.

I PLEDGE to wear whatever she feels good in, regardless of what others may think.

I PLEDGE to build in time to be still, so my body can rest, and recover every single day.

I PLEDGE to experience all that life has to offer in the skin I am in now.

I PLEDGE to not judge other people’s bodies, lest mine feel compared.

I PLEDGE to stand up to body shaming in personal conversations, and publicly.

I PLEDGE to treat my body like the badass she is, honoring, respecting and loving her every step of the way.

Get Grounded: www.groundedblog.com

Kerry Foreman MA  Mindfulness Based Psychotherapist

 

 

You Are My Sunshine: Our Darkest Days Provide Our Greatest Light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I ran in the door, letting it slam behind me. My Mom was heating water on the stove for my bath that night. There were no lights on in the house, and I could tell by the draw in my Mom’s face that something was wrong.  I didn’t have to ask what it was. There was a look to her face when a grenade had been thrown into our home. Her eyes tired with worry. Bags beginning to form with lack of sleep. The corners of her mouth pulled downward, as if she would never smile again. This was a pattern in my home.

This was my moment to shine. I would crack a joke, or compliment my mom in some way to help her find her smile again.  Her nickname for me was “sunshine”.  She said I was always there to be positive or make her laugh. I took it on, with everything I had.

I learned what her face looked like if my dad had lost his job. There was a difference you know……more anger was bubbling to the surface, masking fear. This meant my jokes might not work….wiser to go the compliment route.

I learned what her face looked like if a utility had been shut off.  Worry masking fear. Her eyes were softer during these moments. A joke could make it in, but it might not create lasting happiness for the night.  Better to have a litany of jokes ready.

I was a light in my Mama’s darkness. I knew this. I had the touch. I grew in my assuredness that I had the ability to help my mom through these tough times. I was the answer. I knew this at six years old as much as I knew that I loved Snoopy’s girlfriend Belle the very most in the Peanut series.

This was set in stone at eight years old, when my Mom asked me if she should divorce my Dad. I was sitting on the side of her bed. My gaze was set on the quote hanging in her room. I remember the quote that I focused on was “Children Learn What They Live” by Erica Jong. I would later write a speech on this very thing. But not that day…..that day, I channeled my very best inner counselor and discussed what my Mom should do.  “Well, you guys do argue a whole lot”…..and “ how would you support us”? I remember helping her to decide what she might want to do for a living if she had the choice. We both knew she didn’t, but at eight years old, I provided hope. That was my job.

I grew up reading faces. I grew up temperature taking. What was the mood in the house, what would my day look like and what skills did I have to effect that?

I was skill building, and I was completely unaware.

I woke up in the morning with the belief that I could be positive enough to change my world and other’s. That’s pretty impossible as a child. I know this now. I see children everyday that can not create change in their own household. They can only create change in their own head. I teach them that this is their light and THEY have control over it. It’s the only thing we have real control over…..our thoughts. It is our thoughts that create how we experience our world, no matter how out of control it is.

A day came at fourteen years of age, that I was forced to sit in helplessness. I was forced to realize that I had no control over the mood in our household…..I never really did.

Knock knock knock.  I rubbed my sleepy eyes and rushed to the door at 8:00 am on a Saturday morning. I was greeted by two police officers and the landlord of our current home. They simply asked me to get my Mom or Dad. I knew, this wasn’t a utility being shut off. I knew all of those unanswered calls we had been instructed to ignore meant something. I knew…….that our lives were about to change.

The people at the front door informed my Mom that we had twenty four hours to vacate the premises. Translation…..twenty four hours to get the hell out of the home that we had lived in the longest….five years at that point.

She came undone.

I can’t blame her.

I could no longer reach her.

My Dad was conspicuously absent over that weekend. Forcing us to find help wherever we could in relocating to my Grandpa’s house. Our belongings would go into storage, and we would never see most of them again.

My precious Belle was in there, and I convinced myself I would see her when we moved to a new home. I gave myself a light in that belief.

A spiral of helplessness began. Jokes didn’t work. Compliments fell on deaf ears. At this point, I was either a part of the problem or I was a part of the solution. My childish way of fixing things no longer worked and was no longer welcomed. I floundered for years, not recognizing that much of the anxiety I was experiencing was due to lack of control. I had spent so many years being attached to the idea that I had control over other people’s moods and feelings.

This led me to take a closer look at an unhealthy coping skill I had been building for years.

Temperature taking is when we try and read everyone’s mood around us and be a force of change for the better. This doesn’t sound so bad does it?

The ugly side of this is when we realize we can’t control how other people feel and act.

If we do, it is only temporary.

That lack of control can create anxiety.

The real gift lies in the helplessness.

Inside of helplessness lies a beautiful light.

Helplessness renders us paralyzed.

Paralyzed creates a moment of pause.

Pause allows us to feel.

Feeling allows us to pay attention to our thoughts.

Thoughts lead us to the light.

This light shows all of our flaws.

This light shows our intentions and our authentic values.

This light shows our inner ugly when we are faced with a lack of control.

This light forces us to feel our anxiety and be curious of the root.

Being a “fixer” dulls this light.

I would say it downright turns it off.

Fixing allows no space for helplessness.

In helplessness, lie our greatest gifts. The ability to just be. To not be attached to an outcome, but to sit in the feeling of doing our very best and trusting that the outcome will be for us.

Helplessness has allowed me to own my own moods and feelings, not taking things personally and not expect others to create my happiness.

Helplessness has helped me to stop driving my husband nuts with questions like “are you in a bad mood” and refusing to let it go.

Helplessness has helped this mom of a 14 year old and 10 year old to realize that many things I just can’t fix…..and that is perfect.

Helplessness has set this fixer free.

I am free to not fix.

I am free to be silent.

I am free to just listen and reflect.

I am free to be a space where you can find your own answer.

In that, it occurs to me that I am still helping.

Some things never change, always a helper….even in my helplessness.

The Beauty in Conflict: Stop Avoiding and Start Inviting.

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Every year I run a conflict resolution station at the 5th grade retreat for a local school. The first thing I ask is for them to tell me what words come to mind when I say the word conflict.

Every year, all the adjectives are negative.

Not one child, gives me a positive response to this question.

I bring the word conflict up in family therapy sessions and my clients bristle.

It’s unanimous, no one likes conflict.

But what if we looked at conflict like an opportunity? What if we looked at conflict as a way to teach our children negotiation skills or a way to strengthen our relationships.

What if we didn’t avoid conflict, but we invited conflict.

As a woman, I have been taught to avoid conflict at all costs. Don’t speak too loudly, or have too strong of an opinion. Shrink, so that others around you feel more comfortable. I have been taught this by society.  But I have always failed to listen. Which has created many opportunities for conflict.

The way I handle conflict has evolved over the years quite drastically. Conflict now represents an opportunity to learn from my partner involved.

When I was a child, conflict was what I was surrounded by. There was almost always an argument in process in my household.

Conflict was loud.

Conflict was insecure.

Conflict was angry.

Conflict was unreasonable.

Conflict was scary.

Conflict was based in ego.

Conflict came from emotional mind.

From this, I learned maladaptive coping skills on how to handle conflict.

He who screams the loudest, wins.

If you feel out of control, get physical.

Tears always help.

Threatening to leave gives you power and forces your partner to kiss ass.

It’s about being right, not about the relationship.

When in doubt, use sarcasm and belittling to give yourself the upper hand.

These coping skills, created many dramatic relationships for me. Until, at the age of 25, my boyfriend (now husband) told me I was creating a “yes man”. I knew, as well as he knew, that I wouldn’t last long with a “yes man”……I never had. For some reason, this created a break, that I was able to see a beautiful light through and it opened up my mind to what I could have….what was at my fingertips, if I just was able to create change. It offered a different way.

Years later, I interned at a counseling agency whose population was centered around domestic violence victims and offenders. I had a choice, to work with the victims, or the offenders.

I chose the offenders. I felt this was the area I could create the most impact, from my own experience and education.

Some may question this choice, and wonder why I would ever want to work with this population.

In them, I saw myself. I was forced to see that I had been verbally abusive at the very least.

In their stories, I heard my childhood.

Through their admissions, I too, acknowledged where I had failed.

In the “not extreme” cases, I saw us all. Just people who have no idea how to disagree. Sadly many take it too far.

This time with this population, helped me to see the cycle crystal clear. I was able to make the connection as to the “why” I behaved the way I did.

As children, not many take the time to teach us how to do conflict resolution right. Where you walk away, still friends. Still in love, or still intact.

We teach math skills we may never use.

We teach history, that many times is no longer relevant or accurate.

We drill grammar and science.

But we ignore conflict resolution.

The one thing that will help form successful relationships in our lives. We know, that all of us are moving towards relationship, in every form. It’s a piece of our lives that is essential and helps us to create our happiness. But we ignore the skills needed to maintain that relationship. Whether it be an intimate relationship, our relationship with our children, or just friendships in general.

So, as children, we are left to watch our parents. How do they resolve conflict? How they resolve conflict becomes how we resolve conflict. Unless we grab a hold and demand better for ourselves.

It begins with a choice. Do I want power or a partner?

Believe it or not, that was a hard one for me. Power feels really good. Power provides something I missed in my childhood…..control over my own choices.

Even with the pull of power, I decided I wanted a partner.

So I set forth, learning how to change my conflict resolution skills.

I learned how to fight fair.

I learned how to actively listen.

I learned how to take a time out if needed.

I learned how to create a space, where I could hear my thoughts, not participate in them.

I learned I shouldn’t trust all my thoughts.

I rewired my brain, from the bottom up. I created a new pathway for healthy conflict resolution, and I humbly offer that to you. If you know you are in need of change in the way you handle conflict resolution…..grab a hold friend. Awareness and accountability are the first steps.

In all of my writing, I wish to offer raw, real, stories. I wish to offer help to those who want it and I wish to offer the tools needed to make that change for yourself and those you love….breaking cycles always.

Begin with mindfulness. Get to the bottom of what is going on with your thoughts and get to the root of the feeling behind those thoughts. Then, learn new skills, and change your behavior. In a nutshell, don’t buy into all of your own crap.

A great skill to begin with is knowing what your triggers are. This means, what sets you off? What really gets under your skin? What sets in motion a series of negative thinking patterns? Take note of when those negative, destructive thoughts ruminate over and over through your brain, getting you more and more angry. What behavior comes from these thoughts?

Once you know your triggers, take note of your built in warning system of when a trigger has occurred. How does your body react when you are triggered? Where do you feel it? What is the pattern?

My heart races, my jaw tightens, and my head feels pressure.

What does your do?

Where do you feel it?

Are you listening to your warning system, so that you can better regulate your thoughts that come from the trigger?

We all want lasting love. We all want good coping skills for our children. We all want friendships.

Begin today…..conflict is an opportunity to express how you feel, and to create growth in a relationship. Stop avoiding conflict, and become comfortable enough to invite it in and learn from it.

Start with the Heart: Responding to Our Children’s Overwhelming Emotions with Love.

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I remember, at age 9, I declared I would never forget what it felt like to be 9. Each year after, I reminded myself…..I will never be one of those adults who can’t remember how it feels to be a kid.

I often felt, misunderstood.

I often felt out of control.

I felt voiceless.

I felt angry.

I didn’t feel I had a right to…..FEEL.

My misguided attempts at showing how I felt at any given time, were met with anger, discipline, and usually a blow up big enough that I learned my lesson……feeling was not okay. I needed to get it together.

This was not the lesson my parents wanted me to learn. Of this, I am sure. They wanted me to show respect. They wanted me to know my place. They wanted me to deal with my feelings, in a healthy, productive way. The problem was….they didn’t deal with their feelings in a healthy, productive way. They weren’t taught healthy coping skills, so we weren’t taught healthy coping skills. I mean, let’s be honest, “healthy coping skills” weren’t a top priority in a lot of families when we were growing up. But when you know better you do better right?

Now we know…. it’s a cycle. If we fail to recognize the cycle, we fail to connect with our children.

The reality is….many parents aren’t comfortable with feelings.

“Calm down”.

“Stop crying”.

“Don’t get so worked up”.

“Go to your room until you can get a hold of yourself”.

“Relax”

These are all ways we discard the uncomfortableness of feelings. These are all statements to give us the perception that we have control. We don’t.

Feelings are feelings. They aren’t bad, or good….right or wrong.

They just are.

We get taken off guard by feelings, when they come from our kids. Considering we have been having feelings since we were born, one would think that we would go straight to empathy…..one would be wrong. Our reaction can be largely dictated by how we were received when we had intense feelings. Were we taught that our feelings were expected….even welcomed?

Yes, of course….good feelings are always welcome aren’t they?

We welcome happy.

We welcome proud.

We welcome loving.

We welcome excited.

But it’s how we deal with the not so positive feelings that define us as a parent. What are the messages our children are receiving about their negative feelings? Are they allowed to have negative feelings?

How do we deal when our kids are sad? “Stop crying”.

How do we deal when our kids are mad? “Do you need to go to your room to calm down”?

How do we deal when our kids are frustrated? “You need to relax”!

When my kids were little, dealing with their feelings, seemed much easier. Smaller children don’t have as much expectation on them to “handle their feelings” in an appropriate manner, that we deem acceptable. We tend to expect the tantrums, and the meltdowns. They even give us a chance to shine our parenting light! Let’s use that knowledge we just brushed up on in the parenting book we were reading. Looky there…..it works! That isn’t to say it is easy, by any stretch of the imagination….just different.

Then, our little sweet buttercups become tweens and teens. Their feelings become a bit more convoluted. Their feelings aren’t so easy to figure out. Their feelings show themselves in behavior a bit more. That behavior can look disrespectful and just like that, our sweet little buttercups have turned into sassholes.

Those sassholes can elicit bad behavior from us as parents….depending on how comfortable with feelings we are. Time to ask ourselves some hard questions.

What are the cycles in your family of origin around feelings?

How did your parents deal with their own feelings?

Are you proud of how you deal with your own feelings?

Do you mistake mad, sad, or overwhelmed for “disrespectful” before it ever gets to that point?

Do you make room for negative feelings in your house?

Have you taught your children coping skills for negative feelings?

Do you get in a battle for control?

You guys….negative feelings take up a lot of space. If we don’t handle our own negative feelings appropriately, then how can we expect our children to know how to handle theirs?

I work with many kids in my practice as a psychotherapist, and a phrase I use a lot is “start with the heart” when helping them identify what they are feeling.

In my home, I am raising a 14 year old boy and a 10 year old girl. On a regular basis, I get attitude from my teen and tween. This is the norm. I wish I could say, it doesn’t happen in my house because I am all buttoned up.

Nope. It happens.

We love each other through it.

First I take a deep breath. I get to the root of what I am feeling. Because until I am under control, I can not be expected to have a mindful lens to look through.

Then….I start with the heart……

What might my child be feeling underneath all that sass?

What might have gone wrong in their day to elicit this meltdown?

How might they feel out of control right now?

I kneel down to where they are (or up in the case of my 5’6 teenage son).

I put my hand on their back, their leg or wherever they will allow.

I create a connection….remind them they are loved, no matter how they feel right now.

Then, I take all of my good advice. All of my “fixing” behavior….and all of my umpteen years of psychology education and I stuff it.

I choose instead to just name their feeling for them. Just reflect with them on how hard it is to feel this way. I talk about the emotion instead of shining a light on the behavior and how wrong they were for talking to me that way. For a moment, I am in their feeling with them.

Slowly, they soften. We begin to change our alliances. We are working together on figuring out these things called feelings.

We are on the same team.

They have just been validated.

We can now learn new coping skills around these feelings.

This doesn’t eradicate all bad behavior. This doesn’t turn our sassholes into buttercups forever.

What this does, is help preserve the coveted relationship with our growing children.

What this does, is help our children understand that we all have feelings, it’s what we do with those feelings that determines our path in life.

What this does, is position us….as parents in the role of mentor. Look at me….I too, have overwhelming feelings, and I too have to have healthy coping skills to deal effectively with those feelings.

What this does, is create a partnership on their journey. It opens the door to talk about our feelings instead of wish them away or act like they don’t exist.

What this does, is…..pave a path for empathy. The more empathetic we are to our children’s feelings, the more empathetic they will be towards themselves and others in the future. Thereby making relationships easier for them down the road…..all relationships, even the one with themselves.

That’s the goal isn’t it?

 

 

Are You Rooted in Reactive Parenting?

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Definition

Reactive: Tending to be responsive or to react to a stimulus. Characterized by reaction.

Proactive: Creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen rather than waiting to respond to it after it has happened.

~The Free Dictionary online

 

As a 14 year old girl, I was running wild. I took my first drink at 12, and by 14 had moved onto parties, weed and actively lying to my parents to get out of my chaotic home. I had allowed hands on my body, many a kiss, and was fully invested in how I looked from a boy’s eyes. My opinion of me, was not so important. My opinion of me, was an after thought. If I were an adult, watching me at 14, I would surmise that I was a “wild child”.

What does a “wild child” look like as a parent?

Last night, my 14 year old son hung out at the park with a group of kids (boys and girls) until dark, when they changed the venue to a neighbors back porch, remaining until I couldn’t take it anymore and needed to shut my weary eyes and fall asleep.

I was worried.

I was anxious.

I was mindless.

I was creating stories in my head.

I was reactive.

I suddenly realized, that since my son turned 14 last week, I have felt triggered. I had become more protective…more irrational, and more moody.  Somehow, I had allowed my thoughts to react to who I was at 14. Treating my son as if he was the same.

I tell my clients, when they are feeling anxious….listen to your body. What is your body telling you? My heart was racing, my thoughts were ruminating and my shoulders were raised and tight. My body was screaming out that I needed to be on guard. My amygdala wasn’t letting shit get past to my frontal lobe, where everything would finally make sense. My intuition was speaking, from my frontal lobe, but my amygdala was so invested in freaking out, that I couldn’t hear my intuition.

I was so rooted in my old story, that I was letting it color what my story looks like now. If I were to access my rational mind, it would sound like this. The characters in my old story were dysfunctional. They were angry, confused, exhausted, and not paying attention. They had bigger problems to deal with, than a 14 year old girl trying to figure it out. At 14, my parents had just gotten divorced. My sister had just been sexually assaulted. Our home had just been taken from us. No one was looking. My family was scattered, and I was an after thought. I could do whatever I chose…because no one was looking. I was left to come up with….what do I choose?

I chose to skip school.

I chose to accept any label assigned to me.

I chose to push old friends away, scared of being judged.

I chose to self medicate the pain.

I chose to give my body away, before I was ready, and with it, my confidence.

Turns out, a former wild child, can easily become a reactive parent. We remember what it was like to be 14, but our memories are skewed by emotional mind. We feel the anxiety in our hearts and assume there is a reason for it. We recount late nights and bad choices, and fear our child will follow suit.

Parenting is hard. Isn’t that an understatement of epic proportions? Mindful parenting is even harder. Mindful parenting requires I don’t lean on old stories. It requires I just be present with my emotional mind….do my best to bring in rational mind, and make my decisions from wise mind.

I know this….I don’t want to be a reactive parent.

A reactive parent assumes that our children are doing what we did.

A reactive parent parents in reaction to our own childhood.

A reactive parent imposes guidelines according to our fears, instead of facts.

A reactive parent dismisses all of our hard work.

A reactive parent ignores our child’s specific make up, and groups according to age.

A reactive parent is not mindful….they are operating on auto pilot.

A reactive parent doesn’t trust.

This former wild child wants to parent proactively and mindfully. I want to take the gifts from my old story and let them inform my present story. I study mindful parenting, and teach it as well. I still wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready for the wonder. I wasn’t ready for the fear. I wasn’t ready for the vulnerability. I wasn’t ready for it to be so damn hard.

It’s so easy to teach others, however, when it applies to yourself, it is harder to see.

My reactive parenting colored the characters in my present story.

The main character in my present story is an honor roll student. A good kid, by all accounts. He has two very involved parents, who are watching. We see him. We are curious about him. We notice changes and we are there to guide, not impose punishment for the sake of punishment. The main character in this story….just wanted to hang out with his friends…after dark…..laughing, trading sarcastic remarks and growing. No trouble needed.

He has made mistakes, of course. Mistakes that measure quite small on the yard stick of childhood. Mistakes that should inform our parenting, not guide it. He will make more….of this I am sure.

How does a former “wild child” parent a good kid?

Proactively. Mindfully.

A proactive parent looks at patterns of behavior.

A proactive parent listens.

A mindful parent doesn’t let feelings cloud thoughts.

A mindful parent doesn’t assume motivation.

A mindful parent has empathy for what a teenager goes through.

A proactive parent welcomes mistakes.

A proactive parent uses mistakes to create growth.

A proactive parent cares less about punishment and more about making sure the lesson gets through.

A mindful parent takes inventory of our experience and ensures we are not operating from old story.

When you are in reactive mode, you will know. It doesn’t feel right. It feels uncomfortable and on edge. This isn’t where your parenting should derive from. Mindful and proactive parenting, come from your gut. It comes from knowledge, and being firmly rooted in present story. It comes from recognizing and being in tune with your thoughts and having the wisdom to not believe them all. Let your child’s actions inform your parenting. Nothing else. This puts your child and you in control, instead of your emotions driving the bus.

I wouldn’t change a thing in my childhood. I love who my authentic self is….and without my inner wild child, who would I be today? Should we discount all of our experiences? Absolutely not. Our experiences are there to inform and to create a place of wisdom. But wisdom knows the difference between decisions based on emotion and decisions based on facts. Tap into your wise mind. Know the difference between emotions and thoughts. Treat yourself tentatively. Just because you are the adult, doesn’t mean you are behaving rationally. Question yourself, and allow yourself to be put on trial by you.

Lastly, hang on friends. Parenting teenagers is a bumpy ride……even for this former wild child. It becomes much easier, if you don’t expect perfection. Listen to your emotions, and don’t trust every thought that comes your way.

 

Mindfulness of Emotion:

Notice the feeling.

  • Identify the feeling- name it.
  • Notice how and where it shows up in your body.

Observe the feeling as:

  • Pleasant, unpleasant, neutral

Accept the feeling- don’t judge it or try to change it.

Investigate the present moment of the feeling.

  • Notice the opponent of the emotion that is present as well as those aspects that are past or future aspects of the feeling.

Stay present with it.

Don’t identify with the feeling.

  • Your emotion does not equal you.

Examine the thoughts and the story behind the feeling.

Identify the trigger for this emotion.

When have you experienced this emotion before?

An Open Letter To My Daughters Fourth Grade Teacher.

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An Open Letter to My Daughters Fourth Grade Teacher,

I watched you today, at the awards ceremony for our dear students. 

I am a noticer. I notice things. I notice hard things, beautiful things, hidden things and quiet things. Really, I notice everything. 

Today, I noticed.

I must be getting old, because I struggled to keep the tears back in my daughters fourth grade awards. I am not a crier. When I am proud I just smile. When I am sad, I get quiet. I am usually too busy cracking jokes with my husband to even be very serious at awards. However, today was different. It was different because when I walked into the room and awards began, there wasn’t just a teacher at the front of the room…..there was a mom… a mentor… a role model… a light. The whole mood was different. You barely noticed we were in the room, as you were too busy noticing our children.

You exuded kindness, compassion and light. You treated each child as if they were your own. You treated each child with respect, looking them in the eyes and embracing them.

I was privileged to sit in your awards ceremony today dear teacher. 

You made a difference today dear teacher. 

You saw every single one of those children today dear teacher.

You looked each one of them in the eye and took extra time to notice their light. 

You talked about their light as if there was no one else in the room but them.

You didn’t miss a beat dear teacher.

Being seen is a gift. Not every teacher is capable of seeing a child. But when it happens, magic follows. When you take the time to see a child for who they are behind what they present to you, then you take the time to make an imprint on their lives forever. 

My eyes brimmed with tears as I watched your students wait to be seen, and then their faces light up as you saw each and every one of them for the gifts they possess. 

I noticed something different in your class today dear teacher, no one was invisible in your class. I have been in many classrooms where every child gets an award. This one was different. They didn’t just receive a piece of paper. They received a moment. They received a moment of light in that room today. You took the time to unearth what sets them apart one by one in front of the whole room.

No one’s light went unnoticed.

No one’s face looked empty…because they are used to being seen by you.

They knew something I didn’t….they knew that you wouldn’t forget them. 

They knew you wouldn’t miss them. 

They knew they mattered to you. 

They knew you saw them.

They sat and waited until it was their time to shine….because they knew their turn was coming.

In life, our turn doesn’t always come. The light doesn’t always get shined upon us and things don’t always turn out the way they are supposed to.

So thank you dear teacher for seeing them today and everyday. Thank you for shining a light on them this year for their own precious gifts they possess.  Thank you for noticing their character.  Thank you for noticing their hard work. Thank you for noticing what’s behind their laughter, their tears and their behavior.  Thank you for seeing them dear teacher. This may be one of the few times in their lives that the light is upon them. Thank you for sharing it equally today and everyday.

Your job is hard dear teacher. We know this as adults. What we don’t always know is how much of your heart you give everyday. Thank you for sharing your heart dear teacher, for without it, we struggle to see our reflection in you. Thank you for sharing your light, for that may be the only light we see. Thank you for making an imprint on their hearts, not just their minds, for that will ripple for years to come.

Thank you for teaching, modeling, mentoring and loving our children.

With love,

A Grateful Mom.

Wings to Fly and the Knowledge to Know Better

While watching a CNN interview with Donald Trump and his children recently, I was struck by something. No, not what you would assume one would be struck by when watching Donald Trump. I was struck by a story he told about his brother who died from alcoholism. Trump’s children were on stage with him and they recounted how from the time they were little, their dad would tell them every single morning “no drugs, no alcohol”. When asked why he did this every morning, Trump responded that he was fearful and just wanted to make sure that he didn’t neglect to let his children know where he stood on the subject.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard Donald Trump say he was fearful of anything. Fear in parenting is universal. Why wouldn’t we have fear?

The world seems like such a scary place to send our most precious humans into.

What if we haven’t taught our children everything they need to know?

What if we haven’t said the magic words that will keep them from experimenting with drugs and alcohol?

What if they do know the difference between right and wrong, but the peer pressure is too much?

What if it’s just one time, but that one time is life ending?

What if…

I could go on and on with the “what if’s”, and believe me, I have done so in my head a million times with my son who is embarking on his first year in high school.

I think back to my own childhood. I began to drink and experiment with marijuana at 12 years old. I ran hard and fast for 15 years, not missing a chance to self-medicate. Many parents who have a past of using drugs or alcohol at an early age worry that their children will follow in their footsteps, however, this doesn’t have to be the case. Even parents who chose the right path worry that their children may veer off the path they have laid for them.

But where does “what if” get us? “What if” contains anxiety, lack of control, mindlessness, and irrational thinking. “What if” keeps us in an emotional mind, and prevents us from operating from a wise mind.

As with anything in our lives, we must do our best to prepare, while being mindful that the outcome is out of our control – unless we lock our children in their rooms until they are thirty years old, of course. We MUST learn to trust them and the jobs we have done with them.

Communication is key. Hopefully, you have been building and encouraging communication since your children were small. If not, don’t fear…it is never too late to open that door.

  • Ask open ended questions.
  • Show true interest in their lives.
  • Encourage open conversations about drugs and alcohol.
  • Educate yourself on the fads of today concerning self-medicating.
  • Be honest.
  • Be mindful of the signs, and know where to look for them.

Many of the parents I come in contact with believe that “helicopter parenting” is the way to keep their children out of trouble. They believe that if they hold on tight and shelter their precious beings from the outside world that no harm will come to their children. Unfortunately, many times this behavior results in rebellion. That rebellion can take many forms, and self-medicating is just one of them.

Fear gets us nowhere. Parenting through fear gives us a false sense of control. However, if we stay “in the know” and make an effort to communicate consistently and openly with our children, we can operate with an educated mindset.

They say knowledge is power, and parenting without fear is no different.

Educate yourself on pill parties.

Educate yourself on Molly, Spice, Orange Crush and the like.

Know what a “Syrup Head” is.

Know what “Special K”, “Crank”, and “Triple C” are.

These are the drugs of choice in today’s world. No longer do we just have to think about traditional drugs and alcohol. The world has changed, and we must change with it.

When you were a teen, did you listen to people who don’t seem to know what they are talking about? Did you tune your parents out when they sounded behind the times? Our children are no different than we were at their age.

Be ahead of the game, so you know what to look for and you know how to talk about the dangers, without presenting it in a way that cause your children to tune you out.
When you parent through preparation, communication, and trust, you are parenting the whole child. You are giving them the respect they deserve by coming to them with knowledge, not fear.

Educating your child gives them wings to fly. Make it your goal to have the most educated child in the room when it comes to drugs and alcohol. Then, and only then, can they make the best choice for them.

Remember, knowledge is power. Our children are powerful beings, let’s equip them with wings to fly and trust that we have done our very best job in sending them out into the world.

Mindful Parenting: The Knowledge to Recognize the Problem and the Wisdom to Grow.

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When asked for my parenting fails, I immediately read other contributions. They are all so cute. Easy, no big deal, parenting fails. Parenting fails that most likely won’t have lasting effects, and my inner jerk is telling me, that my parenting fails are much bigger than these, so maybe I shouldn’t share. But here I am…..

From ages 0-6 my son was easy. He wanted to please. He wanted my approval. I was his whole world and he was mine. Our relationship had no bumps. It was easy, flawless, and rewarding at almost every turn.

Then, out of the blue….he developed his own personality. Of course I expected this, what I didn’t expect was my inability to handle the rejection.

He didn’t always want to do what I was asking.

He talked back.

He said no.

He was sarcastic.

He was stubborn.

He had discovered his power.

The calm, controlled parent I had been, had a decision to make. How am I going to handle this new developing personality?

So much of how we respond to our children when angry is from our old story. How did our parents respond when they were angry? Regardless of how we WANT to respond….we have coping skills that come from our childhood. We learn by watching our parents, and just when we least expect it……if we haven’t learned new skills, our parent’s resurface in us when we become parents.

I found myself raising my voice.

I found myself belittling.

I found myself letting my anger control my response.

I found myself reacting…..with no thought.

I had always maintained that I would never lay my hands on my child. I stayed true to this, however, I did the same thing with my tongue. When faced with a lack of control, I became angry. I did my best to control the situation with my words, and tone of voice. My son could see the anger in my face, and feel the lack of control in my words.

I could see the fear in his face.

I could see the cycle continuing.

I could see where this would lead us.

The moment I saw fear in my son’s eyes when he looked at me, will forever be the moment our lives changed.

I realized, I had to learn how to be a parent. I had to learn how to respond instead of react. In the absence of positive role models around anger, I had simply watched and learned. I had no idea this was present in me, until my beautiful child’s face was red and streaming with tears as he looked into the eyes of the person he loved most.

I looked back at him and decided he deserved better…..WE deserved better.

I went all in. Went back to school for my passion, which was counseling, and learned more about myself, which led to healing, growth and skill building.

I apologized to my son, and we started over.

I became a parent who responds, and doesn’t react.

I became a safe place, even when he was naughty.

I became a parent who welcomes mistakes, as they provide opportunities for growth.

I became a role model.

I became a cycle breaker.

Every chance I get, I share my message. Just because you aren’t physically abusive, doesn’t mean you aren’t an abuser. It doesn’t mean you aren’t modeling the wrong skills, but expecting better from your children.

Take the time, to be mindful of who you are and who you come from. Are you continuing cycles? Are you reacting when you feel out of control? Be mindful of the words you are using with your children. It’s the words that leave a lasting impression.

Today, my 13 year old son and I enjoy an extremely close relationship. He has never mentioned how I used to respond, and when asked, he doesn’t seem to remember. I am lucky. His memories are full of a mom who is safe and as far as he is concerned, always has been. I am much harder on myself, but as a work in progress, I continue to be mindful of my emotions, and thoughts before words come out of my mouth.

If you see yourself in my story, I encourage you to simply say it out loud to yourself and expect better of YOU. It’s a process, and involves skill building and mindfulness. It is never too late to break cycles.

I am sharing what I’ve learned in my community at www.facebook.com/groundedone/ and www.groundedblog.com

This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we’re all in this together.

Why Happiness is Terrifying to Parents: The Journey to No Fear Parenting.

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There is a video circulating on the internet of Steve Harvey talking about “jumping”. The magic that happens when one jumps from a career they hate and is only serving to further the cycle of paying more bills and buying more stuff, to a career of passion.

What if every human was following their passion? What would that world look like?

This incites the system to chant “life isn’t all about rainbows, unicorns and happiness”!

If we truly get to the heart of what we were born to do, what we dreamed of doing….many of us aren’t doing it. Fear is the reason. Yes, we all have bills to pay, and we are living in a world of doing what you gotta do to get to where you want to be. A world that the system created. We have anxiety passed down from generations around not following the system. We teach what our parent’s taught us when it comes to the system.

A seeker is always looking for the reason. They are always questioning and asking for more. I have been a seeker from the time I could walk. I asked so many questions, and processed out loud from the beginning. Many times, my seeking was met with fear. This is completely understandable coming from the generation that my parents were born into. Seeking was not encouraged by most. Seeking was not nurtured. Seeking was feared, but for a few brave souls.

Seeking does not serve the system and you must be brave enough to withstand the curiosity. The curiosity looks like rejection. The curiosity looks like silence. The curiosity looks like difference. Difference is scary.

This is by design. Seekers do not serve the system. Seeking is all about how can we change the system.

It’s not about responsibility, it’s about fear. It is absolutely possible to be both a seeker and a responsible human being. I would argue a seeker is more responsible, because it takes the victim out of the equation. You are in control of your own journey. The information is available, but how trained are you in seeking the answer? Does your brain go to the easiest solution, the one served up by a society that may or may not have your best interest at heart or does it look for more?

This is a different world, if we let it be. There are many more options that we didn’t have. If we raise our children to be seekers, then we instill in them a belief in more. That is not something to fear, it is something to admire.

Anxiety is the silent poison we pass on to our children when we parent out of fear.  But we press on. We do this out of protection and habit. We do this out of our participation in a cycle that we may not even be aware of. Parental fear has good intentions, but it is no less poisonous than many things we would never dream of feeding our children.

We feed our children the hype.

We feed our children the fear.

We feed our children the rhetoric.

We feed our children the noise.

We feed our children the internal struggle of bucking the system we hate.

If our children are seekers, they may be met with resistance. If they are seekers, they may be singled out as trouble makers. Seekers are critical thinkers, and in the system, critical thinking is not always encouraged. We operate on a need to know basis in schools. We teach what  to think, not necessarily how to think.

I believe there is a fear around teaching our children “how” to think. If our children know “how” to think, then they may not subscribe to the system. This is a very real possiblity. What would that mean for our precious system?

We want the best for our children.

We want our children to be accepted.

We want our children to be successful.

We want our children to not struggle.

We want our children to be safe from judgement.

We want our children to fit.

What are willing to do to ensure this protection? Turns out we are willing to funnel them into a system that we may not agree with, but we have no idea how to get out of.

This same system is the one that has funneled us into 9-5 jobs that may pay well, but offer no satisfaction at the end of the day.

This same system has convinced us that we must work longer hours, to make more money, to buy more stuff.

This same system tells us college is the answer, and then promptly sends us the bill sending us in to deep, deep debt the day we walk out.

The same system that claims there is a formula to success, but is nowhere to be found when the formula fails.

This same system plays on our fears by offering up daily news stories scaring us into submission.

This same system hand feeds us photo shopped bodies adorning the covers of magazines, for our children to aspire to.

Submit. Conform. Blend in.

Yet we, as parents, continue to focus on letter grades, we continue to sign our kids up for sports whether they are interested or not. We continue to believe that the road the system has laid out for us is the road we should train our children to take. We continue to groom our children for a system we despise. Because if we don’t……what does that mean for our kids?

If they take the road less traveled, it might mean heartache.

It might mean struggle.

It might mean disapproval.

It might mean rejection.

But you see, that’s where the journey is! When we parent our children according to fear, we rob them of the journey. We funnel them into a system, that may not be the path they are created to take. The growth is in the pain. The rejection, the disapproval, the heartache….it is all there for a reason. It is there as a sign, that we are supposed to go within. Our happy lies within us, but as parents sometimes we neglect to teach this lesson. Because we are scared. Because no one taught us. When we teach our children that their happy is always with them, and does not lie in outside opinions of their specific journey, we teach them freedom. We teach them to be seekers.

If we are truly honest with ourselves, we can see how the system infiltrates how we parent on an everyday basis. Breaking this cycle, requires self awareness, accountability, and empathy. Breaking this cycle requires facing our fears about happiness. If we teach our children to aspire to happiness…

Happiness could equate to laziness.

Happiness could equate to less.

Happiness could equate to struggle.

Happiness could equate to not caring about the system.

Would that be so bad? If our generation of parents hates the system, then shouldn’t we be a part of changing the system?  That doesn’t include creating a different system, it includes creating a different road for every child to follow. It includes open minds and open hearts. It includes acceptance and compassion for differences. We need every type of human and every type of passion in this world.

I dare to dream. If that dream is to come true, as parents, we must turn this ship around for our children. We must at least take the helm and try and steer it towards happy. Fearful or not.

Creating the window for us to observe our own thoughts around the system and our children’s place in it requires mindfulness. It requires us to be mindful of our fears. It requires a quiet place in our minds to simply observe our thoughts around the system and be curious of the root. It requires us to not believe all of our thoughts, just because we are having them.

Let’s not be fearful of the “more” for our children.

Let’s model “jumping” whenever we can.

Let’s not be fearful of stepping a foot out of the system.

Let’s not be fearful of our power or our children’s.

Let’s model fearlessness in the face of judgment.

Let’s model authenticity.

I’m scared too, let’s hold each others hands and jump! Let’s do it for our kids. Let’s do it for the happy. Let’s make “jumping” the word for how we parent.

Let’s jump from fear to happy.

Let’s jump from fear to acceptance.

Let’s jump from fear to seeking.

Let’s jump blindly without a guarantee that everything will be okay. Let’s admit that everything is not okay in the system. Let’s take the helm and turn the ship because if we don’t who is going to? Let’s show our kids that seeking isn’t something to be afraid of, but something to aspire to.

We are talking about this and more on Get Grounded. Come connect with me and let’s further the conversation. www.facebook.com/groundedone/ and www.groundedblog.com