Lifelong Habits

parenting

The behaviors that we see our children and teens doing now are often the habits, hang-ups and routines that they will be doing many years down the road. As a counselor, I chat with adults all the time who tell me that they remember starting a certain pattern or patterns in their life way back when they were much younger. If we are honest with ourselves, I am sure we can look back to the past to see many of our personality quirks (some cute, some not) did emerge when we were running around the elementary playground or strolling through the halls in high school.

There are a few habits or ways of living life that I would like to highlight because I see the long term issues and honestly, much of the damage could have been avoided. I believe that good parenting involves recognizing the ways in which our children go through life that might hinder them later and working towards solutions while they are still young enough to be pointed in a new direction.

A few of the most negatively impacting habits include:

1) The creation of phobias:

There has been an increase of children who won’t wear this sort of clothing or must not have buttons on any items they come in contact with or will only eat from a list of 5 foods and on and on. As parents, we must be mindful to watch that our children’s world doesn’t become so confined to only the items they will tolerate or we are aiding in their development of phobias. Young children must not be allowed to dictate what they will wear or not wear. When a fuss is made about buttons, we as the parents calmly and lovingly explain that buttons are a part of life and there’s no getting away from them. We do not shift our wardrobe choices for our kids to not include any form of buttons. We push through and insist that our children be emotionally flexible. Now I do have to say that certain diagnosed mental health conditions make it very hard to simply push through but that is a very small percentage of the large group of children nowadays who have begun living very confined lives of only a few acceptable items in their world.

2) Good hygiene can’t not be ignored:

While our kids are young, we must instill in them the routine of caring for themselves on a regular basis. I know this sounds absurd, but you’d be shocked at how often I have come across young adults and middle aged folks that do not respect themselves enough to maintain good hygiene. Almost 100% of the time, the low self-esteem started in childhood when parents or a parent did not teach the youth to present their hair, teeth and body to the world in a way that reflected a healthy self worth.

3) Good manners can’t be ignored either:

Ever work with someone who didn’t know how to regulate themselves during a business meeting or heated discussion? I would take a wild guess that for the vast majority of these folks, speaking to others in a disrespectful manner was common place in the homes they grew up in. Ever come in contact with someone who almost always has a snappy tone, even when talking about something non-confrontational? That was probably how their family of origin spoke to one another and so it comes flying out of their mouth even before they know it.

4) Learning to hear NO when needed:

Ever wonder how narcissists are created? They either didn’t hear no enough growing up or they heard is so much that they learned to meet their own needs. There is a healthy balance somewhere in between never hearing it and hearing it too much. As parents, we will be doing our children a service if we allow them to experience disappointment and frustrations while they are young and the topics are about ice cream or bed times and not bigger adult issues down the road. Emotional flexibility is vitally important to all human beings and children who didn’t hear no enough growing up, become adults who expect everyone to cater to them.

The bottom line is that the environment we grew up in and then raise our own kids does have lasting implications. Let’s reflect on where there are areas we need to re-do from our own childhood and areas that as parents, we need to start addressing today so our kids have a better chance of having good habits that will last a lifetime.

SAHMs vs Working Moms

moms

Ah, yes. The debate of all debates among women. Stay-at-home moms versus working moms. The topic that hurt feelings, strained friendships and some tears have hovered around. Just this week at the office, it was the center point of several sessions so I have decided to throw my two cents into the blogging world on this issue.

I began working with families in 2000 so that gives me many years of having counseled with hundreds if not a few thousand different couples and kids. Women with children all fall into one of the two categories so these last thirteen years have been a wonderful research opportunity to gain insight into how either option for women can be done well or a train-wreck and everything in between.

There are several ways to be really good at either a SAHM or a Working Mom. I won’t be able to share everything that I have observed as a counselor on both sides of this debate but I do hope to at least hit the highlights and lowligths; if you will.

Moms With Young Kids:

This is definitely the hardest season for a mom because the decision to work or stay home with the kid(s) pulls women in so many different directions.  A couple has to decide together what is right for their particular financial situation, young children’s needs and the needs of the couple. I say the needs of the couple because marital satisfaction is closely tied to this decision and how it is implemented by the mom.  Sorry ladies but a SAHM who doesn’t do it well will cause major cracks in the marriage that need to be addressed quickly.

If a mom is going to stay out of the marketplace and be with her children during the day while they are young, there are some definite pit-falls to avoid. I have seen many fine women really fall apart in areas of organizational skills, personal care and overall quality of life. Now I have also seen some amazing SAHMs of young kids. Perfection is never the goal but these moms keep structure to their day, never forget about their own interests and really maximize the opportunity they have with their kids.  I believe that the SAHMs of young kids who are most successful see it as a season in life and really pour themselves into enriching times with their children but never lose sight that children grow up and moms need their own hopes, goals and dreams beyond parenthood. 

Working moms of young children also have a wide range of success possibilities. Some of the greatest challenges I have seen for working moms of little ones is creating the moments of emotional connecting; even after a long exhausting day and week at work.  It’s the same struggle for working dads but many are successful at it so there is no reason a working mom can’t be also. Kids of working moms get to see that there are a wide range of people who can love them, enrich their lives and I believe this leads to kids developing a strong sense of community and their place in it.

Moms With Older Kids:

As a counselor, here is where I start to see being a SAHM really take a turn for the worse for many of the women I have worked with over the years.  What is a SAHM of young kids to do when those kiddos start school? My answer? Get busy. I believe therapeutically that it is very worrisome when women do not re-enter the marketplace after their kids have started school. I am not saying that all moms need to be working a full time job. Not at all. Being able to pick up kids after school, drive them to their activities and have that time after school of bonding is essential. What I am saying is that the moms of older kids that I have seen navigate well into this new season of life have done so by putting structure to their week by getting a part-time job.

Why is a job important? It allows former SAHMs to realize that their season of full-time parenting is waning, it allows moms to regain skill sets that might have been lost during the years at home and it situates the women to be better prepared for the changes that are ahead as children grow and seek more independence from mom and dad.

There is no reason a mom of older kids can’t work a few days a week and take care of the household chores on the other days. Truth is that it doesn’t take five days to clean a house, do laundry or run errands. Ask any working mom. They do it in the margin left over. Ideally, a mom of older kids would be out of the home, in a work environment, and still have time for the other tasks of raising kids into adulthood. A part-time job is a great solution.

One argument that some SAHMs have about employment is that they have been out of the work place for too long to be hired. I have seen bright, motivated SAHMs who approached a business of interest to them about volunteering 15-20 hours to gain experience. Tell me, what small business would turn down free awesomely-organized-get-it-done- mom labor? No one. The SAHMs of older children who have made the transition well are those that have returned to the marketplace at least on a part time basis and are able to contribute again to the family income. 

Yes, family income. Let’s chat about that for a minute. With many of the SAHMs or Working Moms I have seen, there is a correlating husband to go with it. There are a few common denominators to the husbands of especially SAHMs. The husbands seem pleased with the fact that they are able to provide a lifestyle for their families that includes a mom that stays at home. This is a source of achievement for most of these men and that’s a good thing. What I also hear very frequently in the office is a sense of resentment that the whole burden is on them. What? Wait, isn’t that the opposite of what I just said? Yes it is. It seems, like with all things, there is a double edged sword to having a husband as the breadwinner and a SAHM.

The couples that I have watched do the very traditional family structure of dad works and mom stays home and do it well have really good communication with one another, respect for each other’s roles and most of all, great discussions about money. Ironic I know but when the SAHM takes on the job of managing all the finances, this is where many husbands start to feel like a hamster on a wheel running fast to keep the electricity on at the house.

As you can see, there are so many things to cover on this topic and I can’t do it all right now but the main point is that with every decision, there is a correlating pro and con. Whether you are a SAHM or a Working Mom or married to one of these ladies, finding a healthy balance is essential and if you find yourself out of balance, counseling is an option to help set the course in a better direction for everyone involved. A perfect equilibrium is really tough to achieve but important to strive for it daily.

 

 

 

Five Things I’ve Learned This Week – 07/24/13

counseling

Five Things I’ve Learned This Week or Was Reminded Of:

1) Personal change is really hard for people. We will make all kinds of excuses and rationals for not doing what is in our long-term best interest. We have to be very careful not to extend a poor quality of living by doing mental gymnastics to justify keeping the status quo. If in doubt; ask a trusted close friend if you are making excuses and see what their answer is to you. The truth is that you probably already know without asking. Most of us do.

2) The summer between high school graduation and college is a challenging time for many young adults. As parents and family members, we need to be patient with the struggle of growing up. Not everyone is going to embrace the changes that come with ending high school and judgement is the last thing these young adults need.

3) The silent treatment in relationships is damaging and leads to all sorts of ills. If we have a problem with someone, we need to speak up and share it. Manufacturing silence is passive-aggressive.

4) Feeling lonely is a normal human experience. Not a feeling anyone particularly enjoys but the alone times are great for reflective soul searching and finding strength within ourselves that maybe we didn’t know we had.

5) Many parents have started the internal countdown to school and will do a happy dance after drop-off on the first day. It’s ok to feel overwhelmed by 24/7 of kids during the summer and let’s try to appreciate every day we have with our kiddos. Before we know it, they will be gone to work and living in their own homes (hopefully!). Adult children at home is a topic for a blog maybe.

What’s on your list? 

Becoming A Mommy at 38

infertility

When you become a mom at 38 years old, it automatically implies that you have spent a good number of Mother’s Days not being a mom. Some of those Mother’s Days I was ok with not having joined the Mommy Club but other annual celebrations of moms were intensely painful.

For many years I was too busy to really think about the fact that I wasn’t a mom yet. I also lived along the coast of California and culturally, there are a lot of differences between that region and the South; where in some circles, motherhood is elevated to sainthood status. There were years that Mother’s Day was fine for me and then there were years when Mother’s Day was horrendous from the time I woke up to the time I finally fell asleep exhausted from sadness, jealousy and anger. Yes, therapists are human and experience all the same emotions that everyone else does!

During the rough years, I chose to avoid all social media on Mother’s Day because it was just a slap in the face that I had no children and therefore didn’t warrant being honored THAT day. Going to church was also really embarrassing because often the Pastor would ask all the moms in attendance to stand so they could be honored. So every woman, except me, stood to be applauded for her ability to truly function as the woman she was created to be; that’s how it felt but not what really was happening. Not every woman stood and becoming a mom isn’t the only function to which we were created.  But it felt that way in the moments where I was glued to my chair while watching those around me stand to be honored as moms. It was so awful that some Mother’s Days I didn’t go to church. It was the best choice for me at the time.

Fast forward to 38 years old and poof! I got my official card to join the Mommy Club. Upon arrival to this club I realized something. I was exceedingly grateful to have had the years before to develop as a woman. My child wasn’t my identity and my own person-hood had been firmly established prior to becoming a mom. I saw the value of it in my parenting as well.

So if today is a day of celebration for you, wonderful. If it is a painful reminder that you are not yet a member of the Mommy Club, be gentle with yourself and do what works for you today. Continue to hope for that child you long for and get busy doing life in a way that is pleasing to you; while you wait. I promise you will be a better mom for having had the time to develop your own hopes, goals and dreams that are separate from motherhood alone.

I also want to acknowledge that many women are moms but their children are not with them physically and are in heaven. The grief and intense pain these moms feel is incomprehensible.  Why life is so hard I do not have an answer to. All we can do is continue to walk out each day and hopefully the Lord will be able to give us insight into our sufferings. For the moms who have lost children, please know that grief does have a way of not being as intense and as painful as days, weeks and months pass. Give yourself all the time you need to come to terms with your loss and surround yourself with understanding people.

I say Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who have children at home, in heaven or in their hearts. A mother’s heart is not limited by the physical presence of a little one…

 

Cattle Education

My child attends public school; for now. I say for now because I believe that parents should take each school year one at a time and re-assess what their child(ren) need academically and socially.  We can not just assume that the traditional American model of education will be a good fit for our children throughout their educational experience.

I find most school environments to be what I call “cattle education.” By that I mean many children are herded through each grade, given little opportunity for an individualized learning experience and essentially must stay in their “pen” until the rest of the group moves on. Many children do not flourish in these types of settings.

Our kiddos change and mature so greatly within a traditional school calendar year and it is wisdom to take inventory at the end of each grade to determine what they  need for the upcoming academic year in the Fall.

For example,  I have worked with parents whose child ended a grade having done very well academically but struggled throughout the year socially. The parents and I brainstormed about ways to improve the social environment for the child and making a move to a smaller, private school was the right choice for the family. The child did very well and was able to advance in social skills due to a change in the school setting.

Another child I worked with had experienced an unsettled home life and the parents determined that even though the child’s current school wasn’t ideal in their views, the child wanted and needed consistency in one area of life. Therefore the parents kept the child in the same school and it turned out to be the right choice.

There are a few aspects to education that we must be mindful of and the most important to me is that the school setting we have our children in should not just become a babysitting service. Our children must be able to utilize their school days in highly productive ways that are enriching or it may be time to rethink the environment where your child is being educated.