Blog by Miriam

You Don’t Know Jack…

…Or Hannah or Bobby or Kaitlyn…

All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.

-Albert Camus

It has taken me some time now to work up the courage to blog about parenting. There are a whole host of reasons…not the least of which is my awareness of just how complicated the subject can be. Not to mention my own struggles over the years…constantly wondering if I’m doing it “right.” I don’t know…I honestly felt that I was terrible at it…and to be REALLY honest, I still feel that way sometimes. When my kids were younger, I was severely lacking in a sense of confidence that I knew what the hell I was doing. Now, I guess, I’m certain that I don’t know jack, and that has given me all the confidence I need to be what I need to be with my girls.

The reality I’ve discovered about parenting is, none of us know Jack…or Hannah or Bobby or Kaitlyn. And within that notion is peace—for us and for them! Here’s what I mean.

We don’t know our children, and the more we think we do, the more we project our worries onto our kids who have barely even begun to form an identity. Who will they be in 25 years? How in the heck do we think we can even remotely answer that question with any accuracy based on the crazy, mixed up, stupid stuff they do today? I mean, have you forgotten what a goof you were when you were 12? 15? 17? Have you forgotten how little you knew about pretty much everything when you were that age? And was there someone older and wiser who still believed in you…in what you could be…in what you might become? Someone who gave you the gift of not worrying about you and the gift of not projecting all that worry onto your feeble, yet-to-be-formed little brain? Someone who gave you the gift of a not-so-sticky relationship?

If you’re particularly stuck as a parent you might respond with something like, “Well, I may have done some wacky stuff as a kid, but I was never as bad as my kid is today! I would never have done the stuff he’s doing!” “Pashaaah!” I say to you. Times have changed, old man! What was edgy when you were a kid is not what is edgy or normal for kids these days. But also, I’m guessing you’re forgetting what a goof you were back then!

The bottom line: we will find there is an endless list of why our worries are justified. I promise…if you want to worry about your child you will never run out of reasons. But ask yourself as you reflect on the year that has past and as you turn your attention to the year to come: Is it helping?

I’m convinced it’s our job as parents to find ways to see past our worrying so that we can become open to the possibility of what our children can become. I’m not advocating a live and let live policy. I’m talking about finding ways to calm down as a parent. No easy task to be sure, but worth the effort. I can assure you of that.

How do people truly calm down about their kids? Here are a few things that have worked for others:

  1. Read ScreamFree Parenting by Hal Runkel. And visit screamfree.com for tons of resources like blog posts, webcasts, daily email subscriptions, etc. Calming down doesn’t happen in a week or even in a few months. It takes sustained effort over the long haul.
  2. Keep your eye on the prize…meaning ground yourself during tense moments by keeping yourself focused on the prize, the goal…the thing most every parent dreams of…that of being able to have a relationship with your kids when they leave home. Ask yourself each and every time when you feel the tension rising, is me blowing my cool right now or projecting my worries with my kid going to make it more or less likely that they’ll call me from college…or when they’re deciding to get married…or when the grandkids come along?
  3. Learn about the family you came from. Study it like a research project. Get curious. Develop a relationship with your long lost cousins. The more you know about where you came from, the more you will know about you and how you tick…and how your kid might tick some day. Think you know all there is to know about your family? Think again. If you can get curious about your family, you can make a difference in your child’s life. The ripple effect will amaze you. And you won’t even have to argue with your kids to achieve stable results!
  4. Talk to a parenting coach or therapist.
  5. Get your kid to talk to a therapist, and then listen to what that therapist has to say about your kid…and you. You’ll know he or she is a good therapist if she gently and firmly pushes you to think in new ways.

Happy New Year’s! May 2015 be a calmer year for you and your kids!

4

Acceptance

After recovering from the flu (barely), I spent a couple of weekends ago in Florida with my family. My niece attends a performing arts high school and plays bass in the orchestra. We attended the Christmas concert. It is nothing short of amazing to me what teenagers are capable of artistically. The music was stunningly beautiful, and the evening was peaceful.

But listening to the traditional lyrics to all the traditional Christmas music made me think about the traditional, generally recognized side of the Christmas story—ya know…Jesus…born of a virgin…savior…light of the world…complete with the requisite down playing or outright ignoring of a more realistic, historic, or factual version of the story…one that more and more people seem to need these days in order to relate…one that considers Jesus as a man born of a real live woman…a woman in trouble…because she actually HAD sex out of wedlock (whether raped or otherwise) and got pregnant…a story that considers Jesus as a Jew, not a Christian, but a Jew… a trouble maker, a husband and father (most likely), a friend, not a man acting as a missionary, but a real friend to the truly outcast, and perhaps a dude who could laugh as hard and loud and passionately as he could preach.

And I wondered as I sat there soaking in the sonorous tradition, how might Christmas be different and how might our world—and your family life—be different if we celebrated, really celebrated (or at a minimum accepted peacefully) the not-so-traditional version of the Jesus story, and thereby the version of all of our stories that’s not so traditional…so cleaned up…so packaged. There is a whole lot to the historical Jesus that isn’t accepted in mainstream religion. There is a whole lot to our own personal stories that isn’t accepted either.

Have you picked a girl's name, just in case?

What if, this Christmas, you worked on acceptance? Acceptance of all that you wish weren’t so or you wish you could hide or you wish others would stop being? How might Christmas dinner be different? How might your conversations around the breakfast table with your teenaged children be different? How might that holiday phone call home to Mom and Dad be different…if you could accept them for who and what they are? Not the cleaned up version or the version you WISH for, but the real one…the full story…the whole shooting match.

The dictionary definition of acceptance…one of them anyway…is “willingly taking a gift.” What is the gift in accepting the not so cleaned up versions of our families or of individual family members? What is the gift in accepting those we love as they are—“weird,” “neurotic,” “immature,” “irresponsible,” “crazy,” “ornery,” or “selfish” as they may be? If you can’t see the gift right away, rest assured. They will. They’ll sense your acceptance immediately.

Maybe you’re the “weird” one in your family. Or perhaps you feel like you are. I wonder what it might take for a little self-acceptance for you this Christmas…or whatever holiday you are celebrating. I can tell you from experience, you are not going to achieve a whole lot of it by staying away from your family. That’s what most of us do, right? Remove ourselves? Shrink? Stay away and hide the not-so-cleaned-up versions?

But consider, that it is the “weird” ones throughout history that have brought change and hope—Jesus, Gandhi, Tutu, Mandela, King…my cousin Greg. Maybe you could be that “Crazy Aunt Mildred”…just the person your niece needs…just what she needs to have a sense there is life out there…that there are perspectives and ways of living that don’t fit a nice, neat package…there is a place for her.

This holiday, may you be the acceptance you hope to find in the world.

Blessings!

Holy Conversations

From a recent sermon by Rev. Greg Ward:

“Does it feel, sometimes, like the whole world is in the midst of a conversation that isn’t finished?  The conversation between who we’ve been and who we are called to be?  The conversation between the certainty of what we know and the humility of all we don’t?  And, of course, within these conversations are the conversations that have needed to happen, but haven’t.  The conversation between the rich and the poor…  Between light skinned people and people of color…  Between Democrats and Republicans?

I could go on…  but our countenance drops when reminded of the many wedges or walls or glass ceilings preventing all the needed conversations.  And a sense of despair for the times we’ve tried to begin them and the first thing we hear is, “As I was saying…”

This world is filled with division… and hungry for communion (by which I mean, communication… community…)… which calls us into holy conversations…”

Holy Conversations

Holy conversations. What do you think of when you hear that phrase? I think of people learning what they didn’t know they didn’t know. I think of people opening to some new way of seeing things. I think of conflict dissolving into a real head scratcher of what-were-we-so-upset-about?

When I hear the idea of holy conversations I think of the larger social, cultural, political conversations that never quite finish or resolve. But I also think of the more intimate conversations between husbands and wives, mothers and sons, brothers and sisters. I’m thinking of all my mother and I haven’t said yet. Whew. What’s missing could fill stadiums. But I’m working on it. I’m working on it.

Regardless of what comes to mind, the idea of holy conversations is an intriguing one. And so is the consideration of what might be getting in the way of us having them.

When it comes to race relations in the US, perhaps it can come down to the mere idea of distance. We are still a highly segregated society. Something like 91% of whites don’t have people of color in their lives–and I’m told the statistic is largely the same among people of color not having any white friends. Distance is how most of us solve most emotional/anxiety based problems, irrespective of race. We simply remove ourselves.

Would it be possible to un-complicate this very complex issue? What does it take to close the distance between two human beings–be it on a larger social scale or on a much smaller one, like in your marriage or between you and your sister? Mother? Grandfather?

What might it take to have a holy conversation in your significant relationships? What part might you play in those conversations that never quite finish? Consider the following three principles to help you assess how you’re doing and to see if there is some way you can improve your part of the equation.

Curiosity

Curiosity is the desire to know something. When you’re thinking of your relationship with your spouse or your children what do you desire to know about them? Perhaps you feel you know all there is to know about them when it comes to problems and conflict. Perhaps you recognize you know very little. Can you think of 2 or 3 things you really don’t know about their perspective or about where they are coming from? Can you think of 2 or 3 ways you can approach them that aren’t demanding or emotionally laden? Inherent in the principle of curiosity is a lightness of spirit—a nice alternative to the heaviness we often feel in our relationships.

Detachment

Detachment gets a bad wrap in our culture these days. It sounds cold and unfeeling, but it’s actually part of the foundation of warm, open, and caring relationships. Detachment is all about calm—not acting calm or faking it until you make it—but actually being calm. And I’m not talking about being calm when you’re by yourself and not being challenged. I’m talking about walking around in the midst of conflict or chaos in a state of chill. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? How might you assess what your current level of chill is in your most important relationships? Here are a few questions from therapist and writer Lorna Hecht-Zablow to ask yourself to begin to understand where you are on the continuum between chill and kill. Answer each question with a number between one and ten, ten being an extreme ‘yes’ and one being quite low.

  1. How aware are you of each other’s moods?
  2. How easily do you “push each others buttons”?
  3. To what degree do you have the feeling of “walking on eggshells?”
  4. To what degree do you try to avoid controversial topics?
  5. How concerned are you about hurting others’ feelings?
  6. How easily do your own feelings get hurt?

If you’re scoring on the low side, don’t worry. You’re in good company with the rest of us 7 billion or so human types. One of the most powerful and direct ways of getting to a more chill place (and staying there) has something to do with how far we can get practicing the third principle below.

Meaningful Connections with Multiple Family Members

How possible is it, in your extended family, to have a holy conversation? One where you are really curious about another, one where you can learn something you didn’t know you didn’t know. One where old conflicts turn into  what-were-we-so-upset-about? The reality is, the chances of having a holy conversation with your mother or great aunt or whoever won’t be increasing if you don’t even show up. Keeping your distance, for sure, is highly adaptive in keeping the peace for a time. But it tends to escalate things over the long haul because it makes relatively small issues seem bigger and bigger–kind of like how our fear of the little monster in the closet turns it into a fire breathing dragon before we’ve been properly introduced. As the theory goes, the more we are able to succeed with our original families, the easier it is to live with more calm and curiosity in our chosen families and in society.

Check out this article written by leadership consultant John Engels about connecting with difficult family members, especially over the holidays.  He’s got 7 great principles that can really prepare you for those just-around-the-corner holiday visits.

Did you know we are expanding?

We have begun by hiring our resident intern Josh Turton, LAPC, NCC. You can read more about him on our home page. Josh has a sliding scale available for 5 individuals or couples. Don’t miss out on quality yet affordable therapy now before the January rush!