May 23rd, 2015
The following article was written by my brother about his daughter. Both have given permission for this to be re-posted on my blog. Stu said it was okay “as long as Stella gets all the credit” — that’s like my brother.
I have previously posted about Stella’s depression and struggle with mental illness (please see below).
Like most parents, we thought our first-born child was extraordinary, and we hovered over her as much as any helicopter parent.
She seemed to need more attention than most. When she nearly died of anaphylactic shock at age 4, we sought help from specialists ranging from a pediatric immunologist to Reiki practitioners. When eczema kept her from sleeping, we covered her with creams and dosed her with prescription meds. When she was hospitalized for asthma, we gave away our four cats.
When she had trouble in Grade 1, we enrolled her in a private school where students were expected to learn to read via the ‘whole language’ process which spurned phonics and spelling. When she still couldn’t read, we took her to an after-school program that drilled her in the very same phonics and spelling that we were paying the other school to avoid. Stella was reading above grade level in a few months.
But we couldn’t come up with a solution for the all-day crying jags, cutting and constant dieting that began at about the age of 16. We turned to the provincial mental health system for help. We had a lot to learn. While mental health professionals are nearly always kind and well-meaning, the system they work for seems designed to serve administrators more than the patients.
For example, Stella was confined to her unit during one short stay because staff was thinking of moving her to another unit and they wanted her available at short notice. This meant that our daily one-hour drive around Halifax, the high point of her day, was forbidden. Fortunately a good-hearted nurse bent the rules when I promised to deliver her within ten minutes of a call to my cell phone.
Over the next ten years we got used to waiting up to 16 hours in emergency wards when Stella felt suicidal or overcome with anxiety or depression. In contrast, she was seen immediately for a fractured ankle, though broken bones aren’t nearly as harmful as suicidal thoughts.
She was admitted at least ten times for short stays of about a week. Though she saw many psychiatrists, they confined themselves to adjusting her meds. Requests for some form of psychotherapy were met with blank stares. She was given a regular outpatient worker who she met with for about a year but that person was hostile to us as parents and dismissive of Stella’s chances of recovery once she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Read the rest of this entry »
October 9th, 2014
We are driven by needs. Many think that we are motivated by values and many of us are some of the time. But all of us are motivated by pressing needs or “drivers.” Consider these drivers in your marriage or family, or in your business or church.
Acceptance (to be counted in). Who gets to be “in?” This is the issue here. Some attend a church for years without essentially being counted in. They feel like “strangers in a strange land.” And acceptance is pretty easy; just treat people like people you don’t know and would like to, and say “hello and welcome.”
Acknowledgement (to be known). Once you are accepted (or at least feel accepted) you will want someone to know your name and remember it when you return. The simple saying of your name and perhaps attaching some affection to it is the motivator called “acknowledgement.”
Affirmation (to succeed). We all want to feel that we have succeeded in who we are and what we do. When we are affirmed we feel that we “fit” – like a key for a lock. We know our strengths and gifts and work out of them. Success is easy then; it is who we are.
These triple-A drivers are motivators for all of us. Of the three, what motivates you the most?
September 12th, 2014
Size matters in emotions. Some spouses bark, bully, blame and belittle with the noisier suppressing the other by volume and spite. Others may coerce their partners and kids to “submit” thinking they have some theological “right to respect” (which they clearly don’t!). Kids up-turn power into tantrums and tyranny. And then lots of families “tiptoe” their lives, waiting for the next tsunami. Yes, size matters especially the size of noise and especially again the noise of coercion. It is as if we “super-size” our emotions, pumping up insanity to defeat an enemy that used to be friends and family.
“I don’t know why you’ve got to be angry all the time,” she said to her husband of 7 years, clients of mine for several months. As I write this, I am listening to Tim McGraw singing “Angry All the Time” and that comment is the refrain: “I don’t know why you’ve got to be angry all the time.” (You can hear / watch this on You Tube. This is a tiptoe marriage, like my client friends, with super-sized emotions.
I have come from a week of super-sized emotions; watching super-sized partners push and prod while their tiptoe spouses lose voice, hiding and hoping for anything else. You know of course, that it is not either men or women who coerce – in some families it is both.
I want to tell you about a conflict questionnaire that I have used over the years in my teaching and consulting. I would love it if you became an expert in understanding conflict (not necessarily doing it!). The “Thomas Kilmann Conflict Inventory” is resourceful for people who want to understand conflict and why it perpetuates.
I can provide this assessment for you. Please contact me.
August 31st, 2014
I think a big part of parenting teenagers is self-control as in controlling oneself, not trying to control one’s near adult. If I can be more resilient as a parent then maybe I can parent more effectively. Psychologists call this “differentiation” and it is the ability to separate emotions from thoughts. When thinking becomes clouded by emotional responses, we become undifferentiated. Families with lots of emotionally reactive reasoning used to be called “undifferentiated ego mass.” Lovely description of a family isn’t it?
Back to some comments about parenting teens with an understanding that no one does this perfectly. So first,
— Give up on being a perfect parent or having a perfect kid. Reality is more helpful than perfectionism.
— Don’t push your power, your age or your wisdom. Just because you own the mortgage on the home does not mean that you have the right to coerce or pummel your teens into compliance.
— Believe in your teen’s hyperbole. Exaggeration and overstatement is a favourite in adolescent communication. You don’t need to correct her. Anyway, she might just be the best Math student on the planet.
— You don’t have to be your kids’ friend. Accept yourself as a parent and learn to be good at it.
— Value what he or she has to say even when you disagree or have a different opinion.
— Speak quietly especially when the tension is rising. Tension goes up, voices go quieter and everybody listens more intently.
— Be careful of quick decisions. Quick conclusions are soon problems.
— Admit when you don’t know something. This is easier to do than you think. And your kid will appreciate your incompetence and see it as common ground.
So you might ask, “Did you do all these things?” Uh, no. I just did my best like you. But I wish that someone told me some of this while I was an undifferentiated ego mass.