Bug & Bear

Confessions of a Child Therapist

Posted by on Jun 13, 2012 in Bug & Bear, Mental Health | 3 comments

Confessions of a Child Therapist

Before I had children of my own, I worked as a therapist with other people’s children. I saw (and still do) children of all ages as well as adults and adolescents, but for many years my primary clientele were children under age 5 who had been severely traumatized by abuse, domestic violence, or homelessness. I went through years of training specifically related to this population… 2 years of supervised work exclusively with very young children, a postgraduate psychotherapy program, and 8 years of work experience under the leadership of experts in the field.

I always assumed that all of this highly specialized knowledge and training would help me tremendously when I had children of my own… instead, I found myself holding a baby and drowning in a pool of too much knowledge that made me paranoid at every turn that I was “messing up” my newborn infant. Prior to having kids I thought I knew the exact methods, theories, and parenting books that I believed in… but with a baby of my own I found myself struggling to reconcile my own personal abilities and the unique temperament of my child with a by-the-book system.

The knowledge tormented me in a way. I just knew too much about all that happens in the first five years of life and all that can go wrong if certain needs go unmet. It left me incapable of taking ups and downs in stride, of forgiving myself for mistakes, of accepting my own shortcomings, and of just enjoying my baby. I neglected to realize that my work had been with children who had endured unimaginable and unspeakable traumas, losses, and abuses in their earliest, most formative years. The truth is, although far, far away from perfect, I was loving, supportive, and responsive enough that my worst moments of failing at motherhood weren’t going to destroy my child’s future. The truth is, I could never be perfect but I trust a perfect God Who can cover my parenting mistakes and compensate for my shortcomings when I entrust my children to His care.

I guess it was around the time that a therapist friend offered to lend me a book whose title I don’t exactly remember, only that it was something to the effect of “Why Therapist’s Kids are Crazy”, a lightbulb went off…

I’m not supposed to be exactly like a therapist with my own children.

The things that qualify me and enable me to successfully provide treatment to hurting children are not the same things required to mother children. While psychotherapy requires caring tempered by objectivity and great care not to insert too much of myself into the client’s process, mothering requires a real person who is emotionally involved and fully inserted in her children’s processes of growth and development. The very things I used to worry about harming my children – making mistakes and having to apologize, being imperfect, disappointing them, showing my feelings instead of remaining constantly calm and neutral – are now opportunities to model real relationship and real humanness to my children in the midst of an overall loving and secure relationship. When I make a mistake and then ask for my children’s forgiveness and God’s help in my life, they learn that I’m not perfect and they don’t have to be either, how to give and receive forgiveness, that feelings come and go but love is a choice, that we rely on God to love us perfectly even when people don’t.

Over time, I’ve abandoned most of my therapy training in the mothering of my own children. I’ve stopped applying theory and started applying prayer… for me, this illuminates so much more about their individual personalities and needs than any book knowledge ever could. I’ve held on to some things that I think are helpful, like…

Learning the ways my children communicate best and then speaking their language

Getting into their worlds and participating in the things that are most important to them

Helping them to understand and express difficult emotions by putting their feelings into words

Recognizing that behavior is communication and trying to discern what it’s telling me when they act out

Reading the above list, I find those to be things that mothers tend to do intuitively and naturally in the process of just being with their children. No special training necessary.

I think every mother today is in many ways burdened with too much knowledge and information. There are parenting books about every little thing, written from seemingly endless different and conflicting perspectives. It’s enough to overwhelm anyone. My mom and Husband’s mom often tell us they feel sorry for us in a way because of all the information we have at our disposal… in their day of raising children, I think the prevailing wisdom was “trust your instincts” and “mother knows best.” Somehow we all survived things that would be considered grievously dangerous for our children today. Maybe all of this knowledge and information actually gets in our way when we start to rely on it too heavily… distracts us from getting to know our children as the unique little people they are, trusting our own innate instincts, and relying on God to lead us in the best way to raise our babies.

“A few years ago, after reading the sixteenth parenting book that contradicted the first fifteen, I quit trying to become a better parent and decided to just become a better person.”

~Glennon Melton, Momastery.com

Mamaraderie

Posted by on May 24, 2012 in Bug & Bear, Marriage & Family | 4 comments

Mamaraderie

“How old is your baby?” a friendly voice behind me chimed.

I turned to answer and was greeted by a bright smiling face as she exclaimed, “Mine too!” Then a 10 minute conversation ensued right there in the sandwich line as my new friend and I exchanged tales of motherhood like we’d known each other for years.

I love the camaraderie that moms share… Mamaraderie, I thought as I carried my sandwich and my baby to my car. I didn’t know such a thing existed until I had kids and presto! an instant connection with every other woman in the world who has a child*.

Camaraderie is defined as goodwill and lighthearted rapport among friends… synonyms are cheer, companionship, conviviality, fellowship, intimacy, sociability, togetherness. Mamaraderie is all of these things… goodwill and rapport among friends who share an intensely uniting common bond… fun, fellowship, closeness, and community shared between women who mother. I first became acquainted with Mamaraderie when I had my first child and women converged upon my home with meals and help and love, later when other mothers intuitively knew I needed help and jumped in (think Costco parking lot, wearing a crying newborn on my chest in a Bjorn while holding a tantruming toddler and juggling bulk groceries, thank you to the angel who loaded my car and returned my cart while wrangling her own children), daily as I effortlessly make mama friends who are warm and kind and encouraging and supportive virtually everywhere I go with my children.

Unfortunately, Mamaraderie also has a dark underbelly. It can surface in the form of competition, or comparison, or judgement, or division. It might show up looking like a dispute between working moms vs stay at home moms, or baby training parents vs attachment parents, or spanking parents vs positive guidance parents. Being on the receiving end of it hurts, breeds anger, insecurity, isolation. Being on the giving end feels powerful and self righteous… therein lies the appeal, I think. It’s just that being a mother is really hard. You do the best you can but it always feels like not enough. In motherhood, there is virtually no positive feedback, no performance based compensation system to gauge your success, no annual reviews and bonuses to reward all your hard work. The only barometer a mama knows to look at sometimes to measure how well she is or is not doing is her children’s behavior… and that whole process can feel like being knocked to the ground and kicked repeatedly while her attacker tantrums. So in the face of this kind of constant giving with nary a pat on the back or “atta girl!” in return, who wouldn’t start to grasp for some way to make herself feel better?

Then there’s the passion. Mothers are passionate. It is wired into us to be intensely protective of our little brood, the family in our care. We read, research, pray, experiment, fail, correct, all in the interest of doing the very best we can for the little people who depend on us. Eventually, we find our answers… from the big things to the little things, we get a sense of what our family is about, who our children are designed to be, what the right choices and decisions for this family are. And then, because we’re moms and it’s what we do, we want to share the wealth of our wisdom… this can be helpful, but it can also be so hurtful, because what’s right for this family isn’t necessarily right for that family.

Maybe we could take each others decisions and methods in parenting a little more in stride, with a little more grace and humility**. I think we’re all doing the best we can. I think we all do it differently because we’re raising different people with different destinies that require different methods. Part of our job as mothers is to get to know our children at the heart of who they are, to discern their gifts, strengths, and shortcomings as individuals so that we can respond in a way that best encourages their growth. How could there ever be only one right way to do that?

While Mamaraderie requires us to extend grace to mamas with whom we may disagree on certain points, it offers some benefits that I think we mothers can’t afford to do without. Being a mother is hard work… it is physically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically demanding over the long term. It is a daily battle to protect our children from the dangers lurking in the world, to safeguard their hearts and identities as they stumble through difficulties, to extend grace and forgiveness to ourselves as we are confronted with our own mistakes and shortcomings, and to preserve some sense of who we are as individuals in the process of giving ourselves so completely to the service of others. Any difficult fight is better fought and more easily won in the presence of other soldiers.

“I have always found comforting in battle the companionship of a friend, one in whom you had confidence, one you felt assured would stand by you until the last.”

Frank Hollinger, Civil War Captain

Studies show that the camaraderie and social bonds found within a supportive group mitigate the harmful effects of stress hormones. Camaraderie in difficult situations has been found to have a long term protective effect against physical and mental illness. We need each other, mamas! The help we can offer each other through cheer, companionship, conviviality, fellowship, intimacy, sociability, togetherness is so much more significant than what we can accomplish by proving the rightness of our positions and philosophies.

~

*I didn’t have a child until I was 32 years old, and prior to that time I often felt on the outside of the mom club, and it didn’t feel good. Having children has humbled and changed me, but I also know that I had mothering, nurturing, and caretaking instincts and sensibilities long before I had children. I think that if you are a woman, you have the capacity to mother, even if you never have children of your own… so while this blog is addressed to mothers, in my mind that includes all women.

**I have not always done this well. In fact, at times I have been downright judgmental and rude. If I have ever made you feel judged, then I’m so sorry. If you were gracious to me as I made you feel judged, then I’m so thankful!

Because You Are Mine

Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Bug & Bear, Faith | 6 comments

Because You Are Mine

I’m watching Bug and Bear run through the sprinkler on our back patio. The whole thing sums up rather nicely the polar opposites that they seem to me to be most of the time. Bug is charging through the most intense surge of water at full speed, screaming at top volume. I mean, charging. It’s full of energy, joy, passion, abandon, boldness. Bear stands by watching, smiling. She sits at the very edge of the spray, out of its reach but gingerly reaching just the tips of her fingers into a bit of mist. She’s having a blast, but it’s reserved, full of observing, sensitivity, care, caution.

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Bear

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Bug

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They are so very different. They are incredibly different from each other, but one bears many similarities to me in personality and temperament. Naturally, I guess, the one who is more like me is just easier for me to understand… I get her, understand her needs and feelings, know what to do to soothe her or challenge her or help her. The one who is not so much like me is generally considered my “easier” child, but for me, it’s less apparent what she needs from me to really develop into herself, the unique individual she is designed to be. I find myself having to try a little harder and pray a little more to know how to meet her needs.

One day I was talking to my friend about my polar opposites and the unique relationship I have with each of them, and  she mentioned an article recently printed in Time Magazine about mothers really having favorite children after all. My friend suggested that maybe this idea of “getting” one child a little more easily is what people are experiencing when they favor a certain child over another. I think so. I read the article and didn’t much care for it.  I don’t feel like I favor the child who is more like me… now some days she makes me feel more competent and successful at mothering, but I value my other baby just as much for her uniqueness and differences.  The one who is not so much like me means so much to me because she is not so much like me… and for that reason she has inspired me to develop parts of my personality that were stagnant, to rely heavily on God to find my identity as her mother, to love and embrace people that I may not have previously understood.  The person she is just amazes me. How did she become that way? I know it’s not because of me, I just see God’s design all over her. How could I ever choose a favorite when each of my girls is so uniquely herself?

~

Dear Bug,

You are energetic, joyful, passionate, bold, brave. You are full of love, mercy, and compassion. You inspire me to love people more, to leave my comfort zone of reserve and caution, to live with a little bit more abandon. You challenge me and teach me about God… I ask Him every day to help me see you, to help me develop the uniqueness in you, to show me how to be the mother you need, and every day I see Him show up through you and our relationship and I’ve never known anything like it. But none of these are the reasons I love you. I love you simply because you are mine.

Dear Bear,

You are observant, sensitive, careful, intelligent, wise. You are full of composure, femininity, and quiet strength. You make me feel loved and competent and like the only mother in the world who could ever have been meant for you. You teach me about myself, let me see that so many of my ways are just innately and uniquely built into me and that they’re good. I’ve never known anything like it. But none of these are the reasons I love you. I love you simply because you are mine.

~

For me, one of the most amazing things about being a parent is getting a tiny glimpse into what God’s love must be like for His children.  I think the love we have for our children gets us just a little bit closer to understanding those things of God that are so hard to fathom, like unconditional love, undeserved grace, unearned salvation.  My love for my children is a constant reminder to me that I can not make God love me more by being good or love me less by being bad, but that He just loves me all the time, more than I can imagine, simply because I am His.  It’s the way He feels about all of His children.  He loves us and values us for our uniqueness.  I think people can forget that sometimes, and start to think instead that God loves best those who are most like Him.  The criteria for judging who is most like Him can get reduced to those who appear to serve in church the most, or read their Bible the most, or know the rules the most.  I think when we start to think that God loves certain people more, we have missed the whole point… that we’re all His favorites, that Salvation came for the lost and hurting, that we can love those who are different than us, that He loves those who are different than us.  He loves us all simply because we are His.

 

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Bug and Bear ~ My Two Favorites

 

Battlefield of the Will

Posted by on Apr 29, 2012 in Bug & Bear, Mental Health | 2 comments

Battlefield of the Will

A 3 1/2 year old and a 16 month old live at my house, so a lot of my life centers around watching little people’s wills emerge. Sometimes it’s cute, like when my Bear insists on pulling her big sister in the wagon all by herself. Or the time my Bug, in an effort to help her distraught little sister reach something she couldn’t get while I was driving the car said, “Don’t worry, Mommy, I’ve got this. I HAVE A PLAN!” That’s cute, I thought, not paying a ton of attention…next thing I knew she had unbuckled her car seat straps, stood up, and was climbing into the front seat as we traveled down the freeway.

Sometimes it’s maddening, like when they have tantrums in public places, or scream because I don’t understand them, or yell, “NO!” when I ask them to do something.

Mostly it’s just messy. I know I don’t want to squash their little wills, but finding the balance between giving them some practice making choices and experiencing consequences, yet needing them to listen and be obedient so I can keep them safe can be challenging. Especially because sometimes a little person with a lack of judgement and no life experience wildly screaming NO!!! in an act of complete defiance kinda pushes my buttons. And because sometimes other people look on with disapproving stares, or even comments, when the children aren’t being the most charming versions of themselves.

So I was thankful for this reminder the other day that I want my children to have a strong enough will to make good choices even if I’m not there to do it for them… I want them to do the messy work of learning who they are, how to make decisions for themselves, and that choices have consequences even if it inconveniences me at times…and I don’t want them to learn blind obedience to all adults.

We were playing at the park and my social butterfly Bug had, as usual, quickly made a friend with whom she was playing. After some time, the friend became frustrated with Bug because she wasn’t playing chase the way he wanted her to. The child’s grandmother approached me and pointed out that Bug was playing the game incorrectly. I agreed, but didn’t intervene…with so many opportunities in a day for power struggles and battles of the will, I generally see the park as a place she can make her own choices and find her own way in friendships without my intervention as long as no one is in danger. When I didn’t get involved, the grandmother started trying to call to Bug…

Grandmother, calling my child by name: “Come here! I want to tell you something!”

Me, quietly observing, wanting to see how my Bug would respond to this stranger.

Bug: “No thank you!”

Grandmother, again calling her by name: “Come here! I need to tell you a secret! Don’t you want to hear a secret?!”

Me, thinking to myself, I know this woman isn’t trying to sound creepy but she does, I wonder what Bug will do.

Bug, crossing her arms, looking directly at the woman, and using a firm tone: “NO! I’m busy!”

In that moment I realized that my Bug’s will could save her life. Now she definitely needs help using it for good and not evil, but I recognize that the same will that can get her into trouble is also what will keep her out of trouble. I can think of many situations, both at this stage and in the future, in which I definitely want my child to scream NO!

After we left the park, on the car ride home, I told my Bug how proud I was of her for saying no at the right time in the right way. We talked about times you say no and times you say yes. I explained that if a stranger says something to her like, “Come here, I want to tell you a secret/give you something,” that’s a time to say NO. Or if anybody asks her to do something that scares her or would hurt her, that’s a time to say NO. On the other hand, if mommy or daddy asks her to do something then that’s a time to say YES because we ask her to do things to keep her safe. Or if her teacher at preschool asks her to do something that’s part of her jobs at school, like cleaning up, or washing her hands, or sharing a toy, that’s also a time to say YES. I know she doesn’t completely understand yet but I’m confident that one day she will, and I will sleep just a little easier at night knowing that my daughter knows the right time and the right way to say NO.

 

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Hear her roar!

 

Sunshine

Posted by on Apr 18, 2012 in Bug & Bear | 0 comments

Sunshine

 

“Children refresh our spirit, make our hearts smile, and give us the courage to overcome overwhelming obstacles.”

Dr. Mark Freed

 

 

 

Reminders today from my sunshines…

 

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They remind me to show kindness

 

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The remind me to enjoy the simple things

 

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The remind me that love is most important

 

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They remind me that life is beautiful

 

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They remind me to keep growing because someone is looking up to me

 

Plan B

Posted by on Apr 12, 2012 in Bug & Bear, Mental Health | 0 comments

Plan B

A couple months ago I weaned my second child from nursing and had the realization that I have been pregnant or nursing for the better part of the past four years.  I know that for some women that has little or no impact on their fitness level, but for this woman it means a looooot of taking it easy.  I’m just of the mind that pregnancy and nursing require so much physical and psychic energy in and of themselves that asking my body to do much else on top of that would be terribly unfair.  But when I’m not pregnant or nursing, working out is incredibly important to me.  For me, physical strength, emotional strength, and spiritual strength are all inextricably tied together.

So I weaned my second child and realized I was ready to get back into my fitness routine.  I headed down to the gym with my little ladies in tow to see what I needed to do to reinstate my membership, which has been on hold for most of the past four years while my poor tired body sustained life.  It didn’t take long to realize that the gym was not going to be an option.  First of all, a membership plus child care is expensive!  But the major obstacle seemed to be my sweet Bear, who strongly resists being dropped off anywhere.  While Bug ran through the child care tour screaming, “I LOVE MY NEW GYM!  Can I stay, mommy?  Pleeeeaaaaasse??” Bear clung violently to my shirt and howled at the top of her lungs while giant tears streamed down her face.  “Ummm…so how do you handle a child who cries while she’s here?” I nervously asked nice gym lady.  Nice gym lady replied, “We give it about 10 minutes and then come get you if we can’t settle her.”  The sad realization that I would pay more than I could afford each month yet never be able to work out more than 10 minutes at a time hit me and I decided to find a Plan B.

To my surprise, Plan B unfolded nicely.  I realized that I could recreate my regular gym workout – 30 minutes of interval cardio followed by 20-30 minutes of weights – outside with Bug and Bear in tow.  All I need is my jogging stroller, snacks for the girls, some free weights, and a complete lack of shame.  The lack of shame is because half of this workout requires me to look a little cray cray in a public  park, but ya do what ya gotta do.  So the girls happily eat their morning snack in the stroller while I run, then they play in the park while I watch them and do my weight workout.  Then we all play together.  Turns out, I love it.  It is much more challenging than doing the same workout in a gym, but it goes by much more quickly because I’m outside.  And because answering a 3 year old’s thought provoking questions about everything under the sun while I reach anaerobic threshold makes my head spin so fast that I lose all track of time.

While I do my weight workout, the girls busy themselves picking flowers, hunting bugs, and running around like banshees.

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Hunting bugs

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Caught one! A roly poly

 

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Picking flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My absolute favorite part of this is when the girls join in the post workout stretch.  It’s just really adorable to see a 1 year old do a calf stretch while my 3 year old releases all the tension in her hamstrings.

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Streeeeeeetch

 

If you are a mom, then you know it can feel so impossible to find the time and lose the guilt to do the simplest of things for yourself.  I have gradually come to realize that there’s not much I do that can’t include my girls, and they get into participating in working out, cooking, praying, etc., and they learn.  I need time away too, but it’s just not always an option.  For me, this workout struck a balance between taking care of myself and taking care of my children.

 

 

 

Favorites

Posted by on Apr 9, 2012 in Bug & Bear, Marriage & Family | 6 comments

Favorites

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are my favorites, enjoying a family day ~ I love these people the most

 

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My Bug ~ full of joy, loves adventure, fearless

 

 

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My Bear ~ cautious but confident, super smart, determined

 

 

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Husband and Bug ~ she's a daddy's girl, he's the best daddy

 

 

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Husband and Bear ~ she thinks he's hilarious

 

 

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Mommy and Bear ~ this one's a momma's girl 🙂

 

 

 

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Mommy and Bug ~ this girl's got personality, she makes me laugh all the time

 

 

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