Family therapy

When Your Child is Upset Over Something Stupid

They got an A- instead of an A+.  A video game isn’t working right.  They had to serve detention because they got in trouble at school.  A toy was left out in the rain and now it’s ruined.  It’s pajama day at school and they forgot.  You were 10 minutes late to school pick up because of an accident on the freeway.  And the list goes on and on and on…

First Rule - DO NOT TRY TO CONVINCE YOUR CHILD WHY THEY SHOULDN’T BE UPSET.

When you are upset, as a grown up, if somebody tries to convince you that you shouldn’t be, does it work??  NO.  It’s like telling you why you are wrong, it’s completely invalidating.  Yuck!  

Second Rule - JOIN

In other words, sympathize.  You don’t have to agree, simply connect with the emotional state your child is in at that moment in time.  If they are crying, they will not ever just jump out of it and say “Wow, Mom!  Thanks!  You are so right.  Getting upset about not reaching my goal of getting all A’s was stupid.  I am so glad you straightened that out.”  

Third Rule - LET THEM CALM DOWN IN THEIR OWN TIME

“Get over it” is about the worst thing to say to anybody in a sensitive or upsetting situation.  “Get over it” is your inability to deal with the discomfort you feel. Nobody and I mean nobody “gets over it”, they get THROUGH it.  There is a huge difference there.  “Over it” means I ignore it and drag it behind me until it bubbles up to the surface again. “Through it” means I dealt with all the icky feelings and can cut the cord that binds me.  Some people are over it in 20 minutes, some take hours.  Much of that is skill based, and your child is probably not too skilled at relinquishing anger.  So give them time and space.

Fourth Rule - HAVE WAYS TO EXPRESS ANGER

This does not mean they get to be disrespectful or destructive to you or anybody else.  Wanna scream into a pillow and punch it?  Fine.  Wanna destroy something previously deemed destroyable?  Great!  (keep phone books and egg cartons around that you don’t mind if they take a beating)  Wanna slam the door to your bedroom and punch a hole in the wall? Definitely NOT OK.  Set up boundaries around what is OK and what is not and consequences for when the rules are broken.  

It is so important for you child to know you are a safe place for them to express their emotions.  “Hey honey, I am not sure I totally understand why you are so upset, but I sure know how awful it feels to be sad / angry / hurt / frustrated.”   Be your child’s safe place.

 

Let your children punish themselves – no, really

When it comes to parenting, there is no right or wrong answer. Most people are just taking it one day at a time, and when something comes up that they don’t know how to handle they usually have people they can turn to for advice. Recently, a friend of mine posted on Facebook looking for advice on a parenting issue; here is her post (with her permission and names changed to protect the innocent):

Parenting moment: I've been a broken record over the years about putting the Nerf guns away and not leaving them out in the yard to be rained, snowed or peed on. And, it's gotten a little better, but a pair of guns has been in the yard all week. I'm trying to be patient, let them make mistakes, but hate to see expensive toys neglected. So, I picked them up and told Voldemort and will tell Malfoy this afternoon that they are going to goodwill today. Voldemort is in full on meltdown! Trying really hard not to back down. Should I let him buy them back with his Xmas money? Here's the gut-wrencher: he's not totally upset on his behalf. He's upset because it's the favorite gun of our neighbor who likes to come over and play with the boys. Hmmmmm....

My responses:

If they get ruined, you may take the position of not buying more for them. If they want more they are free to use their money to buy them. Take yourself out of the argument and hand the problem back to them.

(she asked for more on this)

The point is to make it their issue, not yours. You tell them of the consequences ahead of time and can then be a support system when they jack it all up! They will most likely be pissed at themselves. You give them two choices – leave them out to rot or take them inside. The choice is theirs and it is no longer your problem.

Before you hear the rest of my thoughts, I will tell you that there were a plethora of competing viewpoints and parenting styles.  None were wrong, just different than mine.

Here are my thoughts on the issue:

We need to let our kids mess up and EXPECT it to happen.  When you expect these things to happen it lessens the anger response.  You just think to yourself, “Oh, ok, that’s the screw up I was expecting and I don’t need to get all worked up.”  These are learning / teaching moments that you actually want to happen. Children must learn that shit happens and that there are natural consequences when shit happens, especially when it is their fault. Do not rob your children of the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and to figure it out on their own. Quit inserting yourself in their teaching moments. Get out of their way and be happy that you don’t have to get pissed off at the situation; this is what you expected to happen! As my friend wisely said, “they aren’t trying to be assholes.”  

You have enough on your shoulders already, let them handle their own mistakes.  Please don’t be the punishment that they can bring on themselves.  This isn’t true for all mistakes, obviously, but for these smaller infractions, let them be the cause of their sorrow and you be the love and support.  The end result will likely be the same - no more nerf guns. The difference is that instead of the punisher, you can be the safe place they come to for comfort while they learn their lesson.   

If you need help dealing with parenting issues, I would love to talk to you! Reach out today

Self-harming Adolescents

I recently attended a lecture in a nearby community.  The lecture was titled “Cutting and Self-Harm in Adolescents”, a topic that holds my attention for both its frequency and how misunderstood it is.  When I arrived, the lecturer began by discussing a recent cluster of teen suicides in their community.  That county has the highest rate of suicide in the country and it was having an effect on the community.  Each person who was in attendance has some stake in this matter and was deeply concerned about the teens in their community.  The topic never did shift back to cutting or self harm and I can fully understand why.  Teen suicide is a big problem in America these people were coming together in hopes of finding answers. 

I did come away with a twingy feeling of concern, however.  Why did a conference that was supposed to be about self-harm and cutting turn instead to teen suicide? And why did everyone in the room feel that it was a natural progression of topics? I questioned this because the vast majority of teens who self-harm are NOT suicidal. The behavior is driven from difference motivations completely.  I think it is very important for parents, teachers and law enforcement to understand this difference.  Many adults assume that if a teen is cutting, they are suicidal and react accordingly, but that it just not true.  Cutting is a tool that teens use to ease emotional or psychological pain.  They are not trying to kill themselves.  For many of these teens, their internal feelings are very painful and overwhelming.  They do not have a healthy way to cope with these feelings.  When they inflict physical harm on themselves, the physical pain overrides the emotional pain, and provides relief.

 

The most at-risk population for self harm is White, middle to upper class, suburban, high-achieving females.  They are generally seen as ‘good-girls’ and can be very adept at hiding their self harming behavior.  However, self harm does not happen to just this cohort.  2 million people in the US are self-injurers and they come from every race, religion, culture and age bracket.

A somewhat newer development in the world of self-harming adolescents is that is no longer taboo.  Self-harm, particularly cutting, has become cool.  Girls are now cutting simply because their friends are doing it.  In some circles, cutting is a right of passage and status symbol.

If you are self harming, or suspect your child is, reach out for help. I can certainly help you through this difficult time.

 

 

Gaslighting - A Form of Manipulation

If you were like me, you had parents who did their best but made mistakes. One mistake that can have lasting impact is invalidating or gaslighting.       

Whats gaslighting, Erika? Glad you asked. It’s basically crazy making. Its denying or significantly distorting facts and feelings. In my house it looked like not talking about fights or denying fights, being told I was too sensitive, being told that I was selfish for not helping even though I didn't know help was required, being told "I never said that" or "I already told you that". There was a lot of stress in my family and that sometimes left insufficient room for my needs and emotions.           

Gaslighting is often described as a form of emotional abuse and manipulation. But it’s not always so conscious and sinister. Sometimes a parent or caretaker simply doesn't have capacity or skill or emotional space to see our emotion or take our perspective. But regardless, the result of chronic invalidation is that we are left separated for our self, our feelings, and our intuition. The initial anger we may have felt as a kid gets turned inward and manifests in poor self worth, shame, and depression. Most of the people I work with (and in my case as well) deal with that by numbing and soothing those invalidated emotions with food, sex, alcohol, drugs, codependency, etc. I would happily be out of a job if parents would be able to validate their kids emotions. I think through therapy and work on ourselves we learn to validate ourselves and be comfortable with our own reality and then can we be able to tolerate the feelings and perceptions of others. By doing that we can make an impact on future generations.

Adoption Isn't for Everyone, and That's OK!

One of best friends had a baby this week.  She’s beautiful and healthy and the whole family is overjoyed!  For the sake of anonymity, we’ll call them Jason and Julie.  I introduced Jason and Julie about ten years ago. To this day, they are my only successful set up, but, hey, I’ll take it!  They fell in love and got married on a beautiful beach.  They suit each other so well, they are a wonderful couple.  Jason was a little older and so they decided to try to have kids right away, but it didn’t work. Julie didn’t get pregnant, so they started the doctors visits to figure out what was going on.  I won’t get into the all the details, but if you know anyone who has dealt with infertility then you know the story.  So many visits to the doctor, so many procedures, and so much money.  They did eventually go down the IVF route.  After one miscarriage about a year ago, they were on to their last viable embryo.  And has the gods would have it, this one worked! She got pregnant, carried to term and just delivered an amazing little girl.

 

This whole process took place over the course of about six years.  And while they have a happy ending, their journey was not an easy one.  Over the course of those six years, I’ve had countless conversations with one or both of them about the process, journey etc.  I’ve been thinking back to a conversation we had about a year or two into this process.  Someone in the group asked Julie, “what about adopting?”, and her response threw me for a huge loop.  She instantly said “no way, I could never adopt.  I know that I would never love that child as much as I would love my own kid.”  I was, to be completely forthright, horrified.  I couldn’t believe that she said it and more so, I couldn’t believe that she felt that way.  My husband and I hadn’t started our own adoption process yet, so I didn’t feel personally attacked or insulted, I was just so completely floored at her response.  It bothered me for a really long time.  

 

A few weeks later, I was with another friend who had been present for that conversation.  I told her how upset it made me and how I just couldn’t believe that she could say something like that.  My friend said to me “Thank God she knows how she feels about it.”  “What do you mean?” I asked her back.  She told me that she was thankful that Julie knew how she felt about the situation.  She told me that many people may feel that way but don’t have the courage to say so out loud.  She helped me see that knowing how you feel about your own journey into parenthood is so important.  She asked me to imagine what it would be like if Jason and Julie had adopted a child, only then to figure out that she couldn’t love that child as much as she could her own.  What if that child only represented what Julie perceived as a failure to create her biological children?  I was immediately struck by how selfish and closed minded I had been to Julie and Jason.  I saw adoption as an amazing opportunity, they saw it as a sign of failure.  Neither of us is right or wrong.  Furthermore, Julie’s ability to be honest with herself about her feelings was so important to be sure that they did not take on a life that they could not commit to loving 110%.


This story has stayed with me and reminded me to honor everyone’s journey, whether they choose to have children or not! The best thing we can do is be honest about what we really want and have the courage to make that choice. If you are struggling with adoption, infertility or anything else having to do with being a parent and want to talk to someone who is going through it, please reach out to me. I would love to help you get through the emotions that come with parenthood. 

Book Review - Secrets to your Successful Domestic Adoption

Recently, I was introduced to a book called Secrets to your Successful Domestic Adoption by Jennifer Joyce Pedley, which was recommended by a colleague who has been in the domestic adoption world for almost 30 years. This book turned out to be an amazing resource for people who are just starting to look into the domestic adoption process.

Pedley, a social worker who has been helping create families since 1995, walks the reader through a detailed view of domestic adoption and the many facets of this intricate process. Pedley became part of the adoption world after placing her own son up for adoption in 1990.  Her wealth of experience in both sides of the adoption process provides the reader with both the expert insider detailed view along with the big picture heartfelt side.

Secrets to your Successful Domestic Adoption walks through the entire process of domestic adoption.  Pedley discusses why someone could and should consider domestic adoption, infertility issues that many face, if you should use an adoption agency, how to pick a good adoption agency, how to discuss adoption with your family and the rest of the world, and the list goes on. The one place that I differed in opinion with Pedley is on the topic of agencies. Pedley gives a fair view of the benefits and challenges of working with agencies, but ultimately she has a somewhat anti-agency view. I have had a very positive experience with my agency and don’t know how I would navigate this process without them. Granted, I have personal experience with only one agency, but I wouldn’t change my decision.  

If you are thinking about domestic adoption and want a good insider's view on how to navigate this potentially tricky process, Secrets to your Successful Domestic Adoption is a great place to start and then refer back to along the way.  

If that isn’t enough, I am going through the process with my husband and would love to talk with you about how you are handling this tough, but rewarding process. Book a session with me today and we can go over all of the emotions that come along with adoption.

The Book: Part Two

The book is complete…. I think.  For those who missed it, I spoke in a previous blog about creating ‘the book’.  For many in the adoption process, creating a scrapbook snapshot of your lives is how birth parents choose which potential adoptive parents they want to meet.  This book can be the key to getting a baby, so it’s a big deal.

Creating the book, for me, was a bit agonizing. Normally, my husband is the perfectionist in our relationship, but in this case, I was the one obsessing over the details.  I love to travel. Its an absolute passion in my life and I have so so lucky to have been to many amazing places.  Therefore, any book about me is going to have to include talking about travelling.  Normally, I’m more than happy to talk about anywhere I’ve been and all the places I still want to go.  However, when trying to show this in the book, I was suddenly questioning everything.  Here’s what happened in my brain: “What if the birth mother also loves to travel? I need to be sure to show that connection and put up fabulous pictures in from the pyramids in Egypt and Machu Picchu in Peru! She’ll love that!” But then: “wait, what if she hasn’t had the opportunity to travel? Maybe financially it’s not an option in her life and putting these pictures up will make me look disconnected from the hard reality of life and she’ll think I’m totally pretentious and don’t understand where she’s coming from.  Ok, take those pictures off”.   But then “But maybe she’ll wish her child will have the chance to travel that she never had.  Put the pictures up”  But then…..  You get the picture.

So, with some advice from the owner of the adoption agency, I decided to just be as authentically myself as possible.  All I can do is put it out there in the way that is the most true to who I am and who we are as a family and trust that the right person is out there.  Turns out that this process feels a lot like dating.  I recall some dates in my younger years when I would spend most of the night trying to figure out if I was acting right and saying the right things etc.  Then I learned that if I wanted to meet the right person to be in my life, I needed that person to like me for exactly who I am, not someone I’m trying to.  Turns out that’s true when adopting a baby also….

If you are looking to adopt, or have adopted in the past, and need someone to talk to about all of the emotions that come along with adopting, please come see me and we can work through it together.

The Book: Part 1

For many people who are looking to adopt a baby, creating your personal book is part of that process.  For those who haven’t had to do so, the book is like a scrapbook snapshot of your life.  Nowadays, most people use internet photo services to upload photos, add descriptions and print out hard copies. Then, these books are shared with birth mothers who use them to help match up birthparents and adoptive parents.

My husband and I are in the process of creating our book right now.  When I first heard about these books, I was  excited.  I thought it would be fun to look through old photos and share the story of our lives with others.  However, now that I’m in the middle of it, it’s really quite daunting.  With the agency that I am working with, these books are shown to the birth mothers who have most of the control when it comes to the matching process.  I like this model and I agree with the reasoning behind it; however, it is also the reason that I have about 20 pages to try to convince a total stranger that she should give me her child… her CHILD!  I’ve found this process to also make me feel very vulnerable.

How do you display seven years of a relationship in way that makes you look loving, caring, responsible, etc.  Additionally, how do we make ourselves stand out from other couples who are also just as deserving of this amazing gift?  Are we likeable? Seem pretentious? Not good enough? Generic and exactly like every other couple? I’m suddenly regretting never having gotten into the scrapbooking fad! I love my life.  I think we’re pretty great.  But honestly, in Colorado, everyone loves to hike, ski and has at least one adorable dog so how I can get us to be THE ONES?  So now I have a pile of photos, some other books to use as references, no idea what to do next… An update to follow when the book is completed.

If you are looking to adopt, or have adopted in the past, and need someone to talk to about all of the emotions that come along with adopting, please come see me and we can work through it together.

Adoption Camp, Part 3

There was another camper who has really stayed with me since camp, let’s call this one Caitlyn. She was there with two siblings.  When her mom brought her to our group on the first day she told me that Caitlyn was born via an egg donor and that they tell her she is partly adopted.  Her two siblings are adopted and sometimes Caitlyn feels different because she has a different story.  Caitlyn jumped right in with the group.  She was outgoing and fun and seemed to be having a great time at camp.

In the middle of the second day, we had an opportunity to sit with the kids and talk about what it meant to be adopted and asked the kids to identify any feelings they had around being adopted. All of the kids raised their hands except for Caitlyn.  Most of the kids told their story about what they knew about their birth parents and how they ended up in their adopted families.  Most said that they were sad that they were adopted.  One of the counselors asked the kids to raise their hands if they were adopted.  I was surprised when Caitlyn also raised her hand and told the other kids about coming from an egg donor and that she doesn’t know anything about the woman who donated the egg and that was sad for her.  All of the kids listened and no one had a reaction.  As soon as she was done, the next kid anxiously started to tell their story.  As soon as we moved on to the arts and crafts portion of the activity, Caitlyn asked to speak to me in the hallway.  She started to cry and said she was uncomfortable.  I asked her to tell me more about what she was feeling.  She said she felt different than the other kids and wished she was adopted too.  She said she hated being different from her siblings and that they didn’t understand how she felt.  I wanted to tell her that every kid in that room would someday be envious of the fact that she was birthed by the woman she calls mom and that her situation was closer to typical.  Of course, those were my judgments so I didn’t say anything of the kind to her.  What I told her was that every person has something that makes them different.  Everyone has something in their lives that makes them feel like they don’t really fit in or don’t belong to one group or another.  She looked at me like I was crazy, then got quiet to think about that for a bit.

I’ve continued to think about Caitlyn since camp often.  Caitlyn seemed to have it all at 8 years old.  She had two parents who loved her very much, she lived in a wealthy neighborhood in Denver, and from what I could see at 8, she was bound to closely resemble Barbie as an adult.  Yet, from her perspective, she was different and strange and had a sad story that made her not likeable.  She craved to be accepted and the same as her peers.  In her house and at adoption camp, being the same meant being adopted and that’s what she wished she had.  

If your child is having similar thoughts and feelings as Caitlyn did, please consider family therapy. We will focus on helping you and your child navigate the sea of emotions that come with adoption or surrogacy, depending on your situation. I look forward to hearing from you!

Kate

Adoption Camp, Part 2

As I mentioned in part 1 of this blog, when the kids arrived at camp, they each came with some information regarding behavioral issues and diagnoses.  As a social worker, I have always found diagnostics fascinating.  The list that arrived with the campers included Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (duh.  Put twelve kids together and you’re bound to have one kid with ADHD),  Bi-polar disorder, difficulty interacting with other kids, immaturity, and finally, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).  When I saw those letters, ODD, listed next to a little seven year old girl’s name, let’s call her Susie, my heart jumped a little.  ODD is not a common diagnosis and I had never worked with anyone diagnosed with it, that I knew of anyway.  Considering I was already concerned about getting all these kids through the weekend unscathed, this was like throwing a wrench right into any ideas I had about things going smoothly.

The symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder can make people quick to become angry and lose their temper.  They often have issues with authority figures and will act out in a defiant manner.  They can be spiteful, vindictive, and purposefully try to annoy others.  Upon learning that one of my sweet little campers had ODD, I was terrified thinking about the difficulties that were coming my way.  I envisioned a little child running wild in every direction, screaming mercilessly, and doing everything in their power to disrupt all of the other kids around her.

When Susie arrived, I thought for sure I had read the manifest wrong and it must be some other little terrorist with the diagnosis.  Susie was quiet and just stood near me looking around at the other kids.  Regardless, I kept one eye on her, just waiting for something unruly to happen.  As the day progressed, Susie was just a delight.  She talked to me regularly, politely asking to be able to play this game or have her turn at the juggling.  She wanted to hold my hand and sit next to me in circle.  Sometimes I would look over at her and would just be looking up at me with a sweet smile on her face.  Early in the first afternoon, poor Susie was stung by a bee.  I didn’t even know it had happened until she walked up to me and pulled on my pant leg with tears in her eyes.  For the next hour she just wanted to sit on a bench with me and watch the other kids.  Throughout the whole weekend, she had her ups and downs, just like every kid in the group.  By the end I just adored this little girl and was so thrilled that she was in my group.

Susie was a gift to me.  She was a wonderful reminder to never let a person’s diagnosis define them.  Never see a person for a label.  It might be a part of who they are, but it’s never more than that.  

If you have a an adopted child with or without behavioral issues and are looking for family therapy, please give me a call. I would love to talk to you and your chosen family.

Adoption Camp, Part 1

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of volunteering at a weekend long camp for families with adopted kids.  The camp started on a Thursday evening with opening ceremonies and concluded on a Sunday morning.  The camp was attended by about 50 families, all of whom had chosen to adopt a child domestically within the United States.  While this was my first time attending the camp, most of the families had been attending for many years and look forward to returning for many more.  Some families lived locally and some travelled across the country to attend.  Kids were broken up into groups based on age and assigned to counselors.  I, along with two other volunteers, was assigned to the 7 and 8 year olds.  There were 12 adopted kids in our group.  Some of the kids knew each other from previous years and were comfortable jumping right into the rhythm of things.  Others, like me, were new and nervous about what to expect.  I had an image in my mind of what a camp counselor should be.  Someone who is just a natural with kids.  Someone who the kids would instantly cling too and never want to leave their side.  Someone who could come up with super fun, age appropriate games and activities at the drop of a hat and all the kids would cheer.  I was very aware, that none of those described me.  I was really nervous that the kids wouldn’t like me and I would be a camp counselor dud.  While I attended summer camps as a child, I never made the leap to counselor like my sister did.  So at 33 years old, I was returning to camp.  Along with general nerves, each kid came with a short bio: name, age, where they live, behavioral issues, and diagnoses.  More to come on this in part 2.  While I entered the adventure with no confidence in myself, I should have had confidence that kids would be kids.  While a couple stayed on the outskirts with trepidation, most of the kids joined in excitedly.  Before I had memorized all of their names, they were fighting over who got to hold my hand while walking to the next activity.  

Adoption camp was amazing!  The kids participated in a circus, learning how to tumble, juggle, and do magic tricks.  There were arts and crafts, board games, a scavenger hunt, tag, and even some time to sit together and talk about what it means to be adopted.  By the end of the first day, I was truly exhausted.  I went home with a newfound appreciation for school teachers.  I simply do not know how they do it every single day.  I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through day 2! The experience was rewarding in many ways and I plan to volunteer again at another camp next year.