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Archive for February, 2011

Allowing Our Kids To Feel

As parents we naturally want to protect our children.  We want to take away their hurts and make them feel better.  It’s our parental instincts to want to make it all better.  When it comes to feelings, we can’t always do that, nor is it best to; to try to whisk away their bad feelings and make them good again.

We must teach our children the language of emotions and help them express their feelings.  But first we must give them permission to feel; and here I mean to feel the negative emotions –the anger, the jealousy, the irritation- the ones we would prefer to hide in the closet.  We are often uncomfortable with these feelings and so we try to take them away, minimize them, placate them, or even yell at them to stop it, to quit feeling scared or mad. 

In reality, we cannot stop our kids from feeling any way.  We cannot prevent them from feeling bad.  What we can do is help them learn to cope and deal with their feelings and express them appropriately.   

Managing our feelings is a life-long ordeal.  This is the underpinning of our entire life.

We all know adults, and too many in our society today, who cannot tolerate their own painful emotions and take to numbing them with addictive substances.

We need to be able to withstand our children’s painful emotions and not run in to squelch them right away.  They need to know it’s OK to feel the bad as well as the good, and to be able to tolerate the negative emotions within themselves.  

So how do we begin to do this with our children?

  • By acknowledging their feelings.  “Wow, that’s really scary.”   “I see that made you mad.”  “I know that’s so upsetting.” This helps them feel understood.  It gives them ownership of the feeling and allows them to feel it before we rush in to try to problem-solve it away.
  • By being a good listener when they talk (how to get some of them to talk is another story).  That means not jumping in with our “brilliant” advice-giving right away or our judgment calls.
  • By holding them or sitting with them and saying, “it’s OK that you’re mad, sad, ….” We have to show that we’re not “scared” of those big, bad feelings and that they are normal and can be managed. 
  • By using our own personal examples of difficult emotional situations.  “I felt so sad when I left the hospital that I sat in my car and put my head down on the steering wheel and cried.  Then when I felt cried out, I wiped my tears and started up the car to drive home.  I put some music on to help soothe me.”
  • By helping them come up with ways to handle the bad feelings.  “What can you do next time you feel angry at your friend?”    Guide them toward problem-solving.  There’s nothing more satisfying for a child (or for any of us for that matter) than knowing he/she did it or figured it out on his/her own.  That speaks wonders for a child’s sense of competency. 

 

One of my children felt extremely stigmatized and embarrassed by our divorce.  She cried that she was the only one in her class with divorced parents.  (which I found to be unusual because even 18 years ago divorce was at a high)  That ripped at my heart.  Many nights I sat with her in bed when she expressed this and I just held her and said, “I know, it’s lousy; I’m so sorry.”  It was very hard for me to hear her express her pain about this.  But it was of utmost importance that she be able to express it, feel that it’s OK and normal to have such feelings, and feel understood so she’s not further alienated.  Brainstorming ideas, such as groups for kids of divorce, came up later.

There is no magic solution for many life situations that evoke strong and painful emotions.  But having your feelings understood and acknowledged is extremely soothing to the soul.  It goes a long way in healing and in helping someone move on.

Recommended reading:  “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Faber and Mazlish

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My husband and I have each been through a divorce.  Our children are from our first marriages.  I had what could be called a “good” divorce, while my husband ended up with a textbook case of horrific parental alienation syndrome, where he “lost” his daughter.

We, as parents, can help or hinder our child’s adjustment to divorce.  We are called upon to deal appropriately with our kids’ difficult emotions and situations, at a time when we ourselves are at a low and very vulnerable point.  This is certainly no easy task as we are going through our own negative, often hostile, and very painful feelings.  But as the grown-ups, we must be aware of not infusing our own Stuff onto them. Children don’t need a double dose of toxicity.

There are some very basic rules or guidelines which we need to follow regardless of our feelings, for the well-being of our children.

I am putting forth a (partial) list of “Don’ts” stated in a positive, to-do manner.

 Warning:  Doing these can be harmful to your child.     

  1. Bad-mouth the other parent.
  2. Bad mouth the other parent’s new significant other.
  3. Use your child as your confidante.
  4. Have your child in the room while discussing/fighting over money, legal, furnishing issues.
  5. Tie in money with your child’s relationship with the other parent.
  6. Tell your child how unhappy and lonely you will be when he/she goes with the other parent.
  7. Espouse the attitude that the other parent left “us”.
  8. Make the child feel responsible for the break-up.
  9. Create excuses so your child does not see the other parent.
  10. Disallow your child from expressing or having anything positive with the other parent.

Doing these things will surely hinder a child’s positive adjustment to divorce and will create tremendous ambivalence, inner turmoil and loyalty conflicts.

 We must always be conscious of separating out our spousal from our parenting issues.  Our children are the product of two people and are entitled to having both parents in their lives.  (Obviously this precludes abuse where one parent must protect the child by keeping him/her away from the abusive parent.) 

 Goal:  Rebuild our lives and our children’s lives in as healthy and well-adjusted manner as possible.  Divorce requires a new road map.  It’s new terrain.  We must tread carefully and consciously, being aware of each step we take and the impact it will have on our children. 

Recommended reading – Vicky Lansky’s “Divorce Book for Parents”

What additional “harmful” tips do you have?

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I am pleased to reprint the first few paragraphs from my piece that was published on Lori Deschene’s fabulous website/blog, called Tiny Buddha.  

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”  Neale Walsh

Have you ever thought about doing something  way out there-and then done it?

I became intrigued with Patch Adams and his philosophy of medicine  and healing after seeing the movie about him starring Robin Williams.

This came on the heels of my daughter Nava’s miraculous survival and full recovery from a medical crisis that involved a year-long hospitalization.  As her mother, I felt a renewed sense of life, or as I like to refer to it: I truly felt I had received a second lease on life.

I was clearly looking to do something meaningful in gratitude for my family’s miracle.

Click Here To Continue Reading Article

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Been there, done that, as they say (whoever the “they” are).  I had a fairly good divorce.

But good or not, divorce, in-and-of itself, is a tremendous stressor.  It’s one of the big ones.  As with most life-altering events, powerful emotions arise, painful feelings can be overwhelming and adjustments to new situations need to occur.  

Healing, at least to some degree, has to take place after the dream of a marriage has been shattered.   I like to say, you have to lick your wounds before you can move on. 

So how do you do that?

1Get reacquainted with yourself, by yourself.  Give yourself time alone.  This might be hard and uncomfortable to be alone.  But it is so important to know yourself once again, (for some it might be for the first time) and learn who you are and what matters to you.

I loved my time alone every other weekend when my kids went with their dad.  People invited me out but I chose to stay home.  I really was licking my wounds.  For me being alone was very soothing.  I understand for some it might be very difficult and lonely.  I was very lonely in my marriage but not when I was alone. 

2. Give yourself permission to feel bad.  It’s in the Going through the tough feelings that you can eventually Get through them and come out in a better place.   You can even allow for Some self-pity.  But beware, people have been known to drown in it.

I must admit, I did not go through much of the bad feelings after my marriage dissolved.  I went through the agony of ambivalent and negative feelings the last couple of years that we were still together.  My main emotion afterwards was relief.   I felt like a heavy load had been lifted.   

3. Look at your part in the relationship.  What do you need to work on? Learn from it.  Grow from it.  There’s always room for self-improvement.  Take responsibility.   It’s all too easy to blame your partner for everything bad. 

I’m a red-headed screamer.   I can certainly justify yelling at my ex, but that part of my personality is me.  And it’s a flaw of mine to work on.  I own that, no matter what he did to provoke me.   We have choices in how we react.  I unfortunately react with yelling- something I continue to work on. 

4. Get help.  If your feelings are spilling over, becoming toxic, interfering with your functioning or certainly interfering with your parenting, it behooves you to seek out some form of counseling.  Sometimes you just need a safe dumping ground; someone to help sort things out and help you manage better.  There’s no shame in needing it.  There’s only harm and regret in continuing to carry on in a problematic way.        

I’ve been on both sides of the couch/chair.  As a recipient it feels really good having someone there completely and totally for You.  There is an objective person receiving you in a non-judgmental, reflective way.  As a provider, it is very meaningful work to be a partner in a client’s grief process and a guide along their journey as they pave their new way forward.  

What has helped you heal, at least initially, from a divorce or any other major event?

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For someone who loves colors and funky things, buying a zebra-like suitcase was certainly in character.  It also happens to make good traveling sense as it is easy to spot amid the sea of black appearing in the baggage claim area.

But alas, even our “zebra” didn’t make it to join us on our Italian adventure.   We were promised its arrival the next day…. And then the next day….and then the next…..until the end of our 10 day vacation was upon us and we flew home carrying a few colorful, shiny shopping bags filled with our necessary purchases.

A few days after arriving home, we had a sighting on our deck: our suitcase sitting by the flower pots.  It too apparently had an eventful trip, with luggage tags displaying its cities of travel – Venice, Rome and Milan. 

How did we manage to have a great trip despite this inconvenience?

After aggravating and waiting on line at the airport for hours to try to deal with this, we made the conscious decision not to let this problem put the “kabash” on our vacation.

Self- talk message #1  –  This was not going to ruin our brief first-time stay in the beautiful city of Venice.   We would wash out and deal with the same clothing for the night and day.  And hope it arrives the next day, as we were told.

 Self- talk message #2  –  This was not going to ruin our hiking trip.  After our weekend in Venice, we left, “baggage-less”,  up north to the Dolomites.  Our one week hiking adventure was about to begin.  At least we had taken the good advice from our hiking leader and wore our hiking shoes/boots on the plane.  But our hiking sticks were another story. 

In the quaint, Heidi-looking town of St. Ulrich (Ortisi), we did our minimal but extravagant shopping:  five hygienic necessities at a local pharmacy for a whopping $100 and some basic clothing for $1000.  We bought just enough to be able to wear one set of clothing while the other was air-drying.

Self -talk message #3 –   They are only things.   We truly experienced the saying, “the most important things in life are not things.”  We acclimated to the reality of not having all our stuff.  I admit I missed not having my traveling staple – cans of tuna fish.  (Keeping Kosher and being a picky eater are traveling challenges to begin with; but it doesn’t stop us from anything. We make do.)  We played around in conversation with the what-ifs: what if we didn’t have our cameras, our medicine, the prayer shawl.  At least we had these.   And we reiterated again and again the old, “it could’ve been worse” mantra.

Our health and attitude were our daily cherished possessions.     

Self-talk message #4 “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”   Hiking through the Dolomite mountains, with their handsome ruggedness, provided us with the utmost joy and satisfaction.  We were in magnificent country doing what we loved.  This was the Big stuff. 

After our seven hour days of adventure, we dealt with the mundane, but necessary phone calls to the airlines and travel insurance company.  More often than not we hung up after listening to a half-hour of music.  Where was the human being?  Perhaps looking for our lost luggage!!!

Self-talk message #5 –  Find the humor in it all.  And we did.  We minimized our agitation levels and maximized our laughter levels. 

Finally opening up our suitcase at home and seeing those 2 sets of hiking sticks, all I could think of at that point was, “if only those sticks could talk.”

“The happiest people don’t have the best of everything.  They make the best of everything they have.” (Anonymous)

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The Habit of Gratitude

“Any emotion, any behavior can turn into a habit,” said psychologist Dr. Dan Gottlieb in speaking to me about his positive attitude.  So basically we can increase the frequency of our positive feelings by practicing them.  Studies have shown that acting the way we’d like to feel will actually help bring on the feeling. 

I was very struck by Dr. Dan’s feelings of gratitude despite his circumstances.  That is a huge take-away and lesson for us all – that no matter what, one can always find things to be thankful for.  How do we develop this attitude of gratitude so that it can become a habit; so that it can become an integral part of our personality and outlook?  For it is all too easy to fall into a pattern of negativity and complaints. 

There are exercises in gratitude where we can actually do things to increase and pump up our muscle of appreciation. 

Three Blessings–   created by Dr. Martin Seligman, father of positive psychology.  Every night before bed, write down three things you’re grateful for.  It can be as simple as “I relaxed with a mug of soothing tea.” It’s not just about the big things like “I landed a job today”.  It’s more often about the small things or the things we take for granted like, “I felt good today.”

It’s a great way to end the day and go to sleep, with the pleasing items in the forefront of our brain.    

Meditation –  sit quietly for a few minutes every day and reflect upon what’s going right in your life.  It’s not the formal meditation of “emptying” the mind, but rather focusing on the good.  It’s an even bigger plus doing it in the morning before starting the day.  Gets the juices going in that positive frame of mind. 

Gratitude Journal  – similar to 3 Blessings, but it encompasses more writing.  But again, we’re only writing the positives.  (Regular journals/diaries are for the venting and unloading of all feelings.)

Thank you letters  – write to people who have been a positive force in your life and express your sincere appreciation.  Words have tremendous impact, both to the recipient as well as the writer.  Words sink into the” kishkes” (guts) and can be very therapeutic.  Expressing gratitude brings it to the surface.

The more we practice being grateful, the more it will take root in ourselves and be easier to access when we really need to call upon it during the rough times.  And in easier times, all the more reason to look out through the lens of gratitude.

How do you incorporate gratitude and appreciation?  What will you do to increase your habit of gratitude?

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Being There

                                                           

“Just sit with me-” Dr. Daniel Gottlieb’s words from my interview with him in my previous post.   This really resonated with me.  These are four simple words; and yet they are so hard to carry out.

I can vouch for that.  When my daughter was in the intensive care unit on a respirator and I was sitting there day in and day out, I wanted people to just sit with me.  There was no need for talk.  There was nothing anyone could say that would “fix” her.  Words were empty and meaningless then.

But people are uncomfortable with really awful and painful situations and naturally want to say things to make it better.  But often there can be no ’better’ at the time.  It’s simply the bad that it is.  Nothing can be more comforting  than just sitting with the person who is hurting and in pain.

Being there for another:

Be there.   If you’re not sure if your presence is wanted at the time, ask.  Open yourself up to them.  “I’m here for you.  Please let me know what you want or need.  I am so very sorry.  I don’t know what to say.”   And you know what – in many difficult situations, there are no words to say.  And even if there are, at the time of intense emotional pain, words don’t really penetrate.  It’s the human contact of being there that matters. 

Take your cues from them.   If they talk, be a good listener.  If they are silent, be silent along with them. 

Recognize and feel your own discomfort and helplessness.   Acknowledge it and then call upon your courage to stay with their pain without trying to take it away.  Even saying, “I wish I could take it away and make it all better” is acknowledging.   

When I cry, my husband gets very uncomfortable ; and it sometimes manifests as bordering on annoyance.  And when I call him on it later, he says, “I didn’t know what to do to make it better.”  Translation – he felt helpless.  No matter how many times I tell him, “you don’t have to make it better; just hear me and understand,”  it’s always the same.  I guess that’s part of the Men are from Mars syndrome.  Men like to fix and women like to be understood.  But I believe in times of deep pain and sorrow, all humans, and for that matter, other living creatures, need to be held, both literally and figuratively.  There’s plenty of time for words of advice and fortitude later on. 

It’s about them.   It’s not about you so don’t take things personally, especially at a time of hardship.  Try to step into their world by simply being with them on their terms.

Silence can truly be golden     Practice being comfortable with it.  It can be a tremendous source of comfort.

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