Archive for the ‘therapy’ Category

Who am I, who have I been, who do I wish to be? HOW do I wish to be?

April 25, 2012

I’ve been talking to David more in the past few weeks than we have in the past few years. I like talking to him. He’s intelligent, funny, and we share a way of thinking. We know each other in a way I don’t know other people, or allow myself to be known. Somehow it’s always just been this way. Easy, and challenging. Our conversations make me think….and feel.

Today I was left with the question: How would I experience the world if I was the adult I would be had I never experienced childhood trauma?

I spent a lot of time locked in my room, trying to not hear the sound of my mother being pushed down the stairs by my father. A lot of time locked in my head, trying to ignore the yelling – or the silences, as these polar opposites were the hallmarks of my childhood. I didn’t experience a lot of the middle ground when I was a kid.

But then the thought occured to me that I’ve had a thousand times, and I know you have too: if I’d never experienced what I have, I wouldn’t be me. And while I have my rusty parts, my terrified parts, my cranky parts – on the whole I like me. So how to move forward?

It’s a fool’s game to try to change the past, to wish things away or into existence. We just can’t do it.

But you know, I think maybe, just maybe, we have the best of both worlds. We get to have learned from our pasts, but we also have the chance to build on that. Everything seems to be a pretty delicate balance, and for me, learning to stay somewhere in the middle has been hard.

I try to be graceful – my experience with a disordered father has allowed me a sensitivity to other people’s pain I might not have known otherwise. I have strong intuition and instincts because I needed them when I was a kid. I am grateful for these gifts….though of course I’ve had some unwanted gifts. A fear of my own creativity, of taking risks. A fear of standing up to people, lest I get punished in some inexplicable way.

We all have our hurting places. We all think we are the only one to have these secret doubts and black places, but that’s bullshit. We all have them. But I think we all have the potential to try to learn new ways of being, to try to be our deepest, most authentic self – yes, the person we would be if we were not scarred by our pasts. It is hard work. It is grueling, painful, and sometimes joyful.

I have gone through cycles of extreme growth, and lately I’ve been stuck in period of grey sameness. It’s been cold, muddy, mostly lonely. Perhaps this conversation, my watching a friend as he tries to force his way out of a concrete cocoon, will be my inspiration to start over.

Again.

Not the twenty questions of your childhood, but the twenty questions of mine.

November 14, 2011

I don’t know what got me thinking about it, but I keep going to Amazon to look at a book called Adult Children of Alcoholics. It is what led me to googling an organisation called Al-Anon, which led me to reading about Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families Anonymous (now that shit is a mouthful!). I bought the Alcoholics Anonymous book in a charity shop yesterday, and reading it makes me feel squicky. The concept of not being able to change as a human being without surrendering to god? I’m not down with it.

Nevertheless, I am interested in how this aspect of my childhood has impacted on me. I found a list of twenty questions Al-Anon uses to help people determine if they could benefit from meetings. This list is what has captured me. I think of myself, my sister. Anyway. Look:

Do people in authority tend to frighten you?

No.

Do you find yourself constantly seeking the approval of others?

As a child, I suppose I did. I was more crushed when my volleyball coach (at age 9) ignored me than when the other kids did. I wanted approval, but specifically from those I felt had a right to give it – teachers, my parents, etc.

Do you see yourself as a victim or look at the world from the perspective of a victim?

No. But I have done on occasion; it’s made things more bearable. Like when I came out to my mother and the world cracked open? I liked being the victim there.

Do you consider the needs of others to the point of neglecting your own wants or needs?

Ha – I’d say I am the opposite of this. I spent so many years cowering in my locked bedroom that once I broke out, I wasn’t about to be pushed back into (my own) silence and other people’s demands, yelling, punishments.

Saying that, though, I DO or have done this with my parents.

Do you ever have relationships with people who need to be taken care of or need you to rescue them?

My first girlfriend was a huge mess. She threatened to kill herself if I left her, so I proposed (wtf). Yes, I obviously came to and got out of there. Other early relationships with partners….uh, I like strong people. But have always been in relationships with strong people (excepting my first girlfriend, who I think I dated just because she was a girl) who are outsiders in some way.

I know working as a counsellor, my least favourite client were ones that mirrored one of the mental illnesses my father had. I think I rebel at being drawn back into those early childhood situations.

I am a survivor.

Do you judge yourself harshly, especially when things do not turn out perfectly?

Yes, a thousand times YES. Perhaps I have mellowed in the last decade of marriage, therapy, motherhood, but it’s still there.

Do you find you have difficulty having fun?

When I was young, yes. I had a lot of fun with myself – and spent virtually all of my time alone, living in a world of my own imagining. I enjoyed that. But with other children? I didn’t know how to play or make friends. Camp changed that for me, ironically once I was in a position of helping other children learn to play. I suppose I was really nurturing myself during those years.

Now I embrace fun in whatever shape it comes in.

Do you feel you are basically different from other ‘normal’ people?

Always, always, as a child. I felt smarter, more alone, but always different. I largely think that was due to my sexuality, though of course my home life didn’t exactly offer me a chance to learn a healthy way to relate to people.

Now I feel different, but in a good way. A way I am proud of.

Do you have a tendency to be super responsible or super irresponsible?

Yes. Both. At the same time.

Do you have difficulty having intimate relationships?

This was the story of my life pre-TMD. Every relationship was wrong in some way, mainly the way I related to it. I got into them for the wrong reasons, I stayed in them for the wrong reasons, I treated the other person poorly.

Thinking I was broken in some way, thinking I’d never find someone I could be happy with, was a defining feature of my life.

Maybe one day I’ll write about how that changed.

Do you have a tendency to isolate yourself from others, especially when things are not going well?

I don’t know. I have a lot to say about this. I’ll skip it for now.

When others disapprove of you, do you feel a need to change their minds?

Yes, I think. With my mother, yes. With crazy people online, yes. Okay, okay, maybe with most people, though this is at odds with how I see myself. Because, after all, why does it matter if someone thinks I’m shit when I know I’m NOT shit? I don’t know, but it does.

Have you ever been in a relationship with an alcoholic, addict, or other compulsive behaviour?

No. Not that I know of.

Do angry people tend to frighten you?

My father, yes.

Other people….thinking specifically about my mother, or peers….um, I guess I don’t react in a way that could classically be interpretted as ‘fear,’ though I have a definite response. I’ll say no, though. My counselling training extensively covered being in relationship with people who were angry (at you, or angry in the same room as you) and I am genuinely okay with it.

Mostly.

Do you enjoy being on the edge or enjoy taking risks?

Feck. Yes? No? I’d never bungee jump or parachute my ass down from 5,000 feet. But ‘on the edge?’ Depending on your definition, yes. I feel more alive in crisis, more capable, more defined.

Is it easier to give into the demands of other than stand up for yourself?

I’ve always teetered back and forth on this. As a young child, I rebelled against strict eating rules in our house by smuggling food up to my room, eating, and hiding the evidence. I don’t say this was a healthy thing to do, but I think it does illuminate that I wanted to stand up for myself.

As a teen, I got into some pretty raging scream fests with my mom. I think this is normal.

I got power over my father by refusing to talk to him or see him for years.

And now, well, it depends on the situation. Some things I don’t bother with, some things I SHOULD bother with but don’t, some things I DO bother with. I would imagine most people could say this.

Do you have difficulty in telling others your feelings?

I did. Prior to training as a therapist, prior to being in therapy myself, prior to meeting the amazing TMD.

I have evolved into someone who is very open, very in touch and able to name and express her emotions, someone who is okay letting other people know how I’m feeling (when appropriate, folks, I’m not socially freaky).

Do you tend to hold on to relationships, even when they become one-sided or very painful?

Yes.

Do you tend to lock yourself into a course of action, even when it appears the outcome will not be as you planned?

Now, NO. In the past, yes and no – I struggled very much with being flexible on certain things. Though I did it, it pained me and caused me a lot of angst. When younger? I don’t know. I don’t feel I had much control over anything as a child, except the worlds I created.

Do you feel you spend a lot of time cleaning up after problems others have created?

Now? No. I purposely don’t do it (again, speaking in generalities). As a child? I don’t know. I often ignored my surroundings, or just observed them in a clinical way. Again, perhaps I’ll blog about this soon.

I wonder how very different my answers would be if I hadn’t undergone intense personal growth, much of it in the context of my training course (which was therapeutic in itself, as well as required I attend intense therapy on a one-to-one basis). I wonder about my sister.

I wonder.

There’s this one picture I want to show you….

November 13, 2011

I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog. About the blog I used to have before I started this one (and the one before that!). I know some of you followed me here from there, and I imagine there are a lot of differences. For one, I nO loNGer TypE liKe thIs. The backgrounds are not blinding pink, the writing not cursive. Those things are inevitable when you begin blogging when the internet is born, because if you’re my age you were a teenager when that happened.

But there were other things there, too. Real names, pictures with heads and faces. I miss those things.

I debate switching over again. Unlike some people, though, I’ve never been a blog hopper. I’ve been attracted to the idea to starting many blogs, and may have started the odd one or two that fell to the wayside while the number of entries was still in the single digits. The exception to this was a nice little babywearing blog…..which, of course, has now joined all the others on the scrap heap.

I remember feeling confused when I realised many people classed blogging as their job. Some were mothers who needed to still feel like they had a piece of themselves, something to contribute, as they (like me) were trapped in the mindless, wonderful world of childrearing. For a handful, they made a lot of money from blogging.

For me, well, it’s not for me. Not at a place where I want to just have a dumping ground, an old fashioned diary, a place to record some memories or work out some of my mental bullshit. I don’t want to have to write on a timetable, with sanitized topics, to hunt for sponsors. I don’t want the joy of being me to become an obligation. I’m not sure it would, but for now, this is my place. My Place.

And I’m not an anonymous sort of person.

I know a lot of bloggers are witty and fabulous and funny and smart – and I’m always confused when they say how painfully shy they are in real life. Don’t get me wrong. I know the pure pleasure of being truly yourself – which is something the internet does afford those of us who choose to use it in that way. In the 1990s I regularly used primative chatrooms called Talkers. These were places for the geeks, for the misfits, for the wonderful few who knew how to literally teleport into little black screens, adopt a name befitting your personality, and make genuine friends. Perhaps fall in love.

I did a little of both.

But I’m not that blogger. While I may feel insecure and cautious with the best of them, I am really comfortable talking. If I’m somewhere and a new person shows up who looks a bit left out, I always make a point to reach out to that person. It’s how I met Aussie, actually. I love telling stories, I love making people laugh, I become bigger and more grandiose and shinier when I am with other people. When I am with MY people.

And I’ve always been painfully honest online, in whatever form ‘online’ has been. My online persona matches my ‘real’ persona, or at least I think it’s a pretty damn close representation. I talk about poop in real life. I dance in my underwear with (my!) children. I overshare, etc etc.

As a counsellor, I’m also a pretty good listener. And that counselling bit? Well, that’s the reason this blog started. Simply because my other blog was so big, so public, that I was very easy to find online. And I wanted to talk about therapy, oh, I did. It was my love. I still love it. Except I’m not practicing as a therapist at the minute – though perhaps that will come back into my life as I more fully integrate motherhood into my roles – and that makes it difficult to remember why I wanted to be anonymous online.

I’m friends with many people from here and twitter on facebook. I’m shit at replying to emails, I fully recognize and admit that – and apologize to those of you who have waited weeks or months to hear from me. I have trouble leaving comments on other blogs from my phone. But I am here. Many of you have seen my face, know my children’s real names, and two of you have MET my children!

One of you named her child after me. More of you have sent amazing and thoughtful gifts for my children or myself.

The thing is, you know me. So what do I do? Somehow reread and erase past entries about therapy? I think it’d be impossible for anyone who has read any part of this – well, pre-pregnancy, at least – to not understand that I work with other people for a living. With their pains and fears and hopes and pasts and presents. I like it. It’s part of who I am.

So do I acknowledge that and be more me anyway? I don’t know. I feel like going more public is a choice that accompanies a decision to not work as a therapist. Though I also have deep mixed feelings about how much ‘self’ to share with clients – would the world really collapse if they had outside proof I was really human? Of course not.

So, for now, we stick to headless pictures and cute pseudonyms. I don’t link to my blog on facebook, family and old friends don’t know I’m here, I’ve carved this space for myself. I don’t quite know how to integrate the spaces, but I suspect that’s because I don’t quite know how I’m going to move forward in life.

And I’m mostly okay with that.

Top tips from a me-sized therapist:

October 9, 2011

I know why every counselling agency I’ve ever worked for had giant waiting lists.

It’s because when I told my father-in-law I was nervous about when the injections would wear off, he said:

You’ve got to look on the positive. No use thinking otherwise. The time you have been given now is a blessing.

It’s because when I called my mom and said I was trying not to cry from exhaustion, she said:

Are you still in pain? Yes, but not as bad? I’d sure rather be tired than in pain. See, that’s the kind of pep talk you’ve got to give yourself.

Don’t get me wrong. In no way am I dissing the power of positive thinking. It’s just that we are all, also, allowed to feel worried or sad or tired or angry. Those emotions are all okay, too. It’s just rare to find people who can handle you saying those things – and is also something my clients said again and again. If you show those ‘negative’ emotions, people will label you are things you probably are not: depressed, a pessimist, ungrateful.

The truth is, we all have days where we don’t feel okay. And it’s important to learn how to be okay with not being okay. That’s one of the things we can get out of counselling/therapy. The ability to be able to sit more comfortably in our giant piles of shit. (And shit comes with its own benefits, surely. Flowers sprouting? Butterflies? I digress.)

So.

If you have a friend or family member that you can share your ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feelings with, give them a hug. Tell them thanks. And then try to to do the same for someone else. People don’t always need (or want!) advice, lavish sympathy, or stories of your own experiences. Sometimes they just want someone to listen to them and acknowledge them. Let them know they have been heard, and known.

And loved anyway.

 

A new day, a new update. Which is pretty similar to past updates, actually.

March 18, 2011

I guess you could say I’m a lapsed Buddhist. A very particular kind of Buddhist, called Nichiren Buddhist – a member of the Soka Gakkai International. While I don’t actively practice the daily rituals, I still agree with this as a philosophy of life.

One thing that popped in my mind this morning was sancho shima. Basically, when you are about to make big changes in your life – actively going to move things in a positive direction – things often go to crap. Like if you’re trying to clean out your gutters, there’s a hell of a lot of gunk that will need to be washed away before the gutters work the way you want them to.

When I had a meeting at our house to discuss formally joining this organization, I randomly stubbed my toe and it wouldn’t stop bleeding. I know it’s minor. But when we went for our IVF consult – well, that was a fucking class a nightmare. Trains cancelled, TMD running down country lanes for the car, etc etc.

Is this stuff true? I don’t know.

But maybe, just maybe, all of the shit lately is bit of sancho shima. I hope.

Last night was rough. I had trouble falling asleep, Coconut woke for a feed, etc. And then….and then she woke at 3:30 crying and saying, ‘Mummy, Mummy.’ I pulled her into my bed, where she was still asking for TMD. She was awake for about two hours, while I laid next to her in a stupor. She finally slept for about 30 minutes, before waking up and crying for Snort.

Just now she said, ‘Bye bye!’ to me and marched away. I said, ‘Where are you going?’ She looked at me like I was an idiot and said, ‘Snort Snort.’ She then beckoned for me to follow her to the front door. Ugh.

I guess he had a better night last night. He managed to get some sleep, even sleeping through a few treatments. They managed to stretch him three hours, so that’s a pretty big improvement. I guess he still needs the nebs, but maybe will switch to inhalers soon? Having more steroids as well.

I woke up having breathing problems – yeah, he inherited this shit from me. Coco is coughing up a lung every few minutes. Call us the family of health. Though she found my inhalers and was busy puffing away and holding a bottle of arnica (babyproofing? What’s that?). I think she was like, ‘Hey, dude, I need the breathies and medicine too. Take me to the hospital and maybe I can share a bed with Snort.’

The other fucked up thing is that MIL texted last night at 10:30 pm that she was coming up today. No question about whether this would actually help or hinder. And that I should text back to acknowledge I had received her text.

It’s all very awkward, as FIL (they are divorced, and it was not a friendly divorce) drove halfway across the country to get to his house last night (he lives in same city as MIL, about three hours from us) and called this morning saying he wanted to come help. I tried to put him off but he wouldn’t budge, so I had to pony up and tell him MIL was coming. Holy fucking awkward, Batman.

Thank God for my counselling training. In theory, it allows me to better manage difficult and uncomfortable conversations. Ha. Also thank the UNIVERSE for FLYlady, as the house is in reasonable condition considering one kid is hospitalised, the other is sick, and so am I. Aside from the growing mound of clean laundry on the couch, anyway.

I’m feeling upset this morning. Just hope Snort starts improving and we can get him home. Also worrying about if this is going to happen every time he gets a cold.

This is the second morning without my baby boy – and the third overall, if you count the last time he was in the hospital. I don’t think there is any talk of discharging him yet. Everything is so quiet with just me and Coconut; I miss the other half of our family.

And that? That’s everything. For now.

Thoughts on this rainy late morning.

January 6, 2011

I seem to be going in spurts – writing 50 posts a day, or writing none for days on end. Sometimes this is because I am empty and have nothing to say (or am too tired to say it), sometimes it’s because I have too much to say.

I was talking to someone about how (fake!) anonymous my blog is, so it cannot be found in search engines by people who know my name. I was asked why it’s set up this way.

Many of you no doubt think of me as That Twin Mama Blog, but this blog was actually set up waaay back in the day to talk about the other love of my life: counselling. My last blog was totally non-anonymous – and possibly more fun because of it – but as soon as I started offering counselling to people I closed up shop. I wanted a safe space to be able to talk about what it was like to train as a therapist…and then later, what it was like to work as one.

How I’ve strayed from those days – though certainly I’ve never been a ‘one subject only’ blog. At least until I got pregnant, I mean.

The truth is, being a mother has become an inescapable part of my destiny and who I am now. It’s hard to think or write about things without automatically seeing how my kids fit in. I think that’s good, but sometimes I am overwhelmed by what that means. Since these two little people have come into my life, my time, dreams, and energy is not just my own. It is always being shared, being sucked, being filled back up.

I guess having such young twins (16 months, if you’re not keeping track) means that it will take longer to establish a new sort of normal. A normal where I am a mother, yet still me.

Snort and Coconut are now sleeping happily in their room – fodder for another entry, maybe – and the other night when I couldn’t sleep I wandered out into the lounge, threw myself on the couch, and laid there with my eyes shut while listening to QVC. That was a trick I used to get to sleep before I had children, and for those few minutes, lying there, I felt like a bit of my ‘old’ world has somehow snuck into my flat and caught me unawares. It was nice.

Life is a bit on hold right now, but also more alive and fun and joyful and awesome than it has ever been before. Two sides to every coin.

I didn’t have kids so I could immediately force them into my adult life. Fact is, I don’t know what my adult life is. I don’t know if we will send them to nursery at age 3. I don’t know, sometimes, if we will send them to school at all. Life is full of a lot of unknowns right now – TMD’s job, future thoughts about moving, what direction my life will head. I’m mostly okay with not knowing and just living in the present. That’s one gift my kids have given me.

But if you’ll excuse me, I need to watch some mind-numbing tv or read a book or just sit on the couch and stare into space now while they sleep. Because the other gift my kids have given me? Bone deep exhaustion. (I say that not as a whine, just as a fact.)

The borderline between professional and personal. Pun intended.

September 25, 2010

Please note: No offense is intended to anyone in the mental health community – whether that is a person with mental health issues or their workers, or someone affected by a family member – from this post. It is based solely on my own professional and personal experiences. I fully recognise I am generalizing by appearing to paint all people with a specific mental health issue with the same brush, and that is not my intent.

The thing about being a counsellor is that the skills never leave you, even when you spend most of your time hanging out in your lounge reading ‘Can You Moo, Too?’ over and over and over and…

I don’t mean to suggest that skills aren’t honed by experience, and that I’d be able to just waltz right in the consulting room and see five people a day after having such a long break. But the things I have learned, in my training and in experience with clients, stick with me.

Like, let’s take my dad’s primary mental health issue: Borderline Personality Disorder. This is like the personality disorder. Billed as ‘untreatable’ in some circles, and certainly it is very hard to work with people with BPD. It often comes hand in hand with other issues, such as alcohol or drug dependency. BPD itself also often means that clients are also self-harming, impulsive, etc etc.

But the main reason why we were warned off BPD so many times? It’s the problems with forming attachments and relationships. People with BPD can be really, really exhausting to work with. Even very experienced counsellors/psychotherapists might have their own personal rule of only having one BPD person on their caseload at any one time.

Its difficult to explain why to someone who hasn’t worked¬† – or lived – with these people. Maybe you can just take my word for it?

The other major thing that can come along with BPD is a tendency to see things in black and white, which is why these people (ie: my father) can have difficulties with relationships. For example, it is either all loved up and perfect …or a huge, festering shit roast party in hell. There is no in between.

Your girlfriend does something that you see as abandoning you? Well, obviously that’s a shit relationship and you hate her and you don’t fucking need her….but if she leaves me that will be so horrible i can’t be alone please please i need you and will kill myself if you leave…..but i fucking hate you. Etc etc.

Sometimes in counselling circles there is talk about a ‘parallel process.’ This means, in very simplistic terms, if your client is obsessed about money, you may become obsessed about money as you talk to your supervisor. Or in more easy terms – your client is fucking in love with the colour blue, so you are weirdly fixated on the colour blue….in supervision or with this client. And if you’re not good at sectioning things off in your head, the blue thing may leak a bit into your personal life.

And god help us if you already had a preexisting problem with blue, because working with this client will force you to reexamine your own blue-related issues. To question if your reactions to what they are saying are truly about the client, or yourself.

With BPD, I had some issues. Having experienced massive trauma as a child and young adult in relation to this disorder, among other things, I developed a curious ability to bear deep pain in my clients. This has worked to my advantage, mostly, though my old therapist and a past supervisor suggested I would always need to make sure I was taking care of myself – because I could bear to hear my client’s deeply traumatic shit meant I would hear it. People sense if you can deal with these things, I think, and consequently I dealt with a lot of people who wanted to go very deep.

This was a blessing, I think, derived from my childhood.

On the flip side, I seem to draw clients with (usually undiagnosed) BPD to me like a moth to a flame. On my counselling training, a pat phrase we heard a lot was ‘You get the clients you need.’ I agree with this….to a point.

BPD is very, very difficult to diagnose. It is not my place as a counsellor to diagnose. However, in one counselling placement alone, I had three major cases of clients with BPD walk through my consulting doors. None were coming to therapy about this as an issue – they were coming for other issues.¬† One particular person had not disclosed the issue during their initial assessment, and the therapist did not ‘catch’ it.

Oh, no, leave that to Super Existere, the counsellor with antennae 8 miles long for people with attachment issues.

The thing is, working with this person – even for the brief period I did – left me totally fucked up. I was going blank after sessions, unable to remember stuff. And the gut feeling I had in sessions? Very familiar. I was so upset by this person….who outwardly was certainly charming, intelligent, and someone I liked (I hate to put people in boxes, but again, this is ‘typical’ of BPD)….that I was reeling.

My supervisor said she felt I was in real danger. I sort of laughed. I said this could probably be explained away by my past history, especially taking into account that I grew up with a primary attachment figure who had BPD. I dutifully spoke to my manager at the placement, though. She did a bit of digging, and it turns out that this client had in fact been diagnosed with BPD by their psychiatrist (many of my clients also had psychiatrists), and…they had lost control in previous counselling sessions and their counsellor was at grave risk. Needless to say, I stopped my work with this client.

Because sometimes being a good counsellor means knowing when you are in above your head.

I don’t know how I got into a lecture on the mechanics of counselling, and this is feeling long, so cheers to you if you’ve read this far.

The whole point of this entry was for me to say that I tend to go all ‘parallel process-y’ on this blog in relation to my dad, only talking about the bad stuff. In real life, I am what psychotherapists call ‘integrated’….meaning I’m good at finding the middle ground, seeing things more realistically. It’s a good way to be, but it makes the necessary ‘black and white’ things difficult for me.

There were good things about my dad. I feel like I want to write about them, as part of a mourning or grieving process.

But actually, maybe I just needed to come here and say: I was a really good counsellor. But in counselling, I made a conscious decision to take a break from people with severe mental health issues (like BPD, for instance) and work with people who had more ‘ordinary’ problems – though often quite traumatic and extreme (because, again, I draw hardcore cases to me), but sometimes blessedly mundane.

I felt I was more helpful to people without severe mental health issues – maybe because the MH client group is prone to not turning up to appointments, etc etc – but also because I was making a choice to take care of me.

If I could do that professionally, maybe I can do it personally.

Unconditional parenting….or giving your own kid play therapy?

June 18, 2010

It’s no secret I’m into natural parenting, gentle parenting, attentive parenting, attachment parenting…whatever labels you put on it, I am into paying attention to my kids, conveying to them that they are loved, having fun with my kids. I believe my kids, just because they happen to be babies, are not subhuman. I take their needs seriously. I also trust them to know when their tummies are full, when they are sleepy, and when they want to be cuddled versus left alone to play.

That being said, I’ve been hearing more and more about something branded ‘unconditional parenting.’ I’ve not read The Book on it, let’s get that out there. But I’ve heard anecdotal stuff, I’ve read some research papers online, and…..I’m horrified.

The idea behind it is good: to let your child know they are loved for who they are, not what they do. I AM BEHIND THIS A MILLION PERCENT.

But part of this, a major part of it, seems to be not offering your child praise.

So, if you child has been working really hard on a painting, for example, and shows it to you, you might say, ‘You used blue and red and green.’ Or ‘Tell me about what you have drawn.’

I don’t see anything wrong with this, but let’s be clear: I think these techniques and theories might have been drawn from child centred play therapy. And that is something I have read the books on. It’s something I’ve done, and done well, with children who are needing some therapeutic support. It’s for kids who are having troubles at home – and who, dare I say it, might not be getting positive praise from their parental figures.

I believe empty praise is shit, don’t get me wrong. But if your child does something they are clearly proud of, they have worked hard at, and they show it to you ? I think a lovely ‘That’s a great painting, Snort!’ isn’t misplaced. Of course, you can follow it up with, ‘Coco, looks like you had a lot of fun making that painting, did you? Tell me about it! What a fantastic job.’

When our kids are little, they are self-contained in many ways. They have the seeds – the ‘nature’ bit. But babies, toddlers, and children look to their parents (I include whoever is the main attachment figure here – be it a grandparent, uncle, whoever) to give them feedback…this is the ‘nurture’ bit that helps them grow and bloom. When you convey to your child that you love them, you are proud of them, you think they do a good job at things, it helps them to solidify an inner picture of self-worth, confidence, and resilience.

When I am with a child in the context of play therapy, I stick more to observational comments and questions. For instance, my longest term play therapy client was a child who did not have any consistency or safety from her life. My job was not to be her parent, my job was to help her regain some of the things she’d lost, and to develop things she’d never had an opportunity to do.

My job was to help her explore her pain, her fear, her anger. She was seven years old.

I cared very deeply for this child and believe she knew it; we had a fantastic relationship, we had a lot of fun, we shared a lot of troubled moments where she confided things that she was worried about.

Her life was pretty fucked up, but you know what? Her parent loved her. Her parent gave her praise, and that little girl was one of the most creative and resilient children I’ve had the pleasure of working with.

I believe everything in life is about balance. I adore play therapy and I think the theory of trusting children to heal in their own time is fantastic. I think children are amazing, perceptive, and full of potential – even the ones who are throwing shit around the room, even the ones who are refusing to talk, even the ones who are hitting and stealing and lying. I think those children are even more amazing – and honest.

What I try to let kids know when I’m working with them (and this extends to teenagers as well) is that I trust them, I respect them, I believe in them. I am not a detached sort of therapist, and that’s because I’m not a detached sort of person. I radiate warmth, acceptance, and curiousity – or at least I hope I do.

After over14 years working in a professional and paid capacity with a very wide range of people ages 0-18, I can’t see how it’s good to never give your child praise. Praise doesn’t have to mean the end product is more important than the process. Praise doesn’t have to equate to pressure to be the best.

Praise can be a hug, a pat on the back, a smile, a few words. Well placed and meaningful praise can make your child feel special, loved, and willing to take risks in the world. If they receive what they need to get externally from their parent when they are young, they are able to internalize this and offer it to themselves as they get older.

I listen to myself when I talk to the babies, and there is no doubt that the therapeutic theories I’ve read, used, and taught have leaked into my being. About twenty minutes ago I heard myself said, ‘Okay, Coconut is feeling angry because she doesn’t want her mama to wash her face.’ I am always naming emotions (without any judgment or expectation attached), I am always describing what they are doing – but I am also always giving them a kiss or cuddle when things are going well.

I don’t want to ‘condition’ my children like dogs – that’s not why I do it. But you know, there are lots of things to learn in this world – what do I think of myself? How do I feel when my mama holds my sister/brother instead of me? When I wake up in the night and it’s dark, how do I feel?

I want to make sure my children are learning a lot of good lessons, lessons based in love rather than fear, or anger, or neglect. Praise is a form of encouragement and a message of unconditional love when done correctly, and to suggest that praise harms a child?

What a load of ridiculous fucking nonsense.

After years of training to be a counsellor, I step out of the job market. I AM A BABYBABYMAMA.

May 11, 2010

I know I need to tell my job I’m not coming back, but I am so reluctant to do so. I know it’s not just about the whole ‘pain’ thing, as even if I was running marathons daily and baking wholesome treats on the side, I would still be dragging my feet (in a peppy sort of way) to tell them this ride is over.

I think it’s because right now I can pretend I’m still a counsellor at the best charity in the world. Oh, yes, I am still doing family therapy, couples counselling, one to one, play therapy. Oh yes, look at my active caseload. I get to glue shit to sticks and play make believe and get paid for it. My goodness, aren’t I just a high flying star on her way to the wonders of therapyland?

Of course I would rather stay home. Like, times a million. I guess I am just having trouble breaking up with work, which is a joke since in the two years I’ve been employed this June, I will have had a year of maternity leave, five weeks of leave over the accident, weeks of leave over morning sickness, a week off for fake appendicitis, and on and on and on. I AM A STELLER EMPLOYEE. The joke being that at my last job, the one I didn’t like, I was never fucking sick. Ah, pregnancy totally fucked over my current job, it did, it did.

I think I already have the panic flutters over having to haul my ass back into the working world in a few years. I told TMD I want to be a stay at home mom even once they are in school. She laughed at me.

Not having the internet for those couple of days last week really helped my little romance novel grow. Because when I have the internet, I have an inability to not take advantage of that*. Hell, I’m looking up Cookie Monster hoodies on eBay, I’m reading trashy mean forum threads about politics, I am finding new and annoying Facebook games to play, I am wishing I had The Sims installed on this laptop. ALL DANGEROUS THINGS.

I was just going to say I would stay off the internet today, but then I realised what a dumb thing that would be to do or say. Why, there are So Many Interesting Things on the internet, but I know one thing there is not…..an email to my boss saying I need to have a chat with her. Ha. I did have a dream about her last night, so no doubt The Talk (TM) is coming.

*This is like a double negative situation, and upon rereading I had to read this sentence a few times to make sure it said what I wanted it to. Even now, I’m not sure it does. Blame it on the codeine, yeah, yeah….

Therablog.

March 20, 2010

So, the other day I was talking with a friend about sexual abuse. We won’t go into details, because I know some readers have faced this and I don’t want to trigger anything for anyone. (If I write about this more in future, will put a ‘sensitive’ warning at start of post.)

That night, I had a dream that was like remembering things. Not very dreamlike at all, if you get me, more like my brain opening up doors and me saying, ‘Oh, yes, that’s how it was.’ I tried to tell myself it was because of this conversation with a friend – and it probably was – but kept thinking about it.

Then a certain post went up on Violence Unsilenced (a great, great site!) and I found myself having difficulty breathing. Literally felt like all the air was out of my lungs, I felt nervy and panic ridden. It didn’t help that I’m quite friendly with the author of the post, and was completely blindsided by how a ‘normal’ person (like me, of course, like me) can have this whole malignant past and be brave enough to tell people about it.

All of that aside, we went out today and when we got back in I was so sore I needed to go have a rest. I ended up falling into a very deep sleep, and who was there? Kleinette (my old therapist, for those of you who are newish to the blog). Kleinette was there with me in the area where I grew up, driving a car while I was in the backseat. (And had quadruplets in this dream, that TMD handily left for me and Kleinette to drive around- despite having no car seats. Way to be unsafe, TMD’s dreamself!)

We sort of went around different places, had some good, challenging talks, etc.

I woke up feeling like I’d just had a very intense therapy session. It was good, but also bizarre. And can I say, I haven’t had a dream about Kleinette in, what? Years?

The dream had come to a natural conclusion, and then I was properly woken up by two manically screaming babies. I decided to take pity on TMD and hobbled out of the bedroom to help feed. So I’ve lost some of the clarity of our dream discussion, but a few salient points remain. And the emotional feeling of having probed wounds, but knowing I am strong enough to deal with that now, certainly has stuck with me.

Just wanted to get this stuff down in case it was important. And there I go, downplaying it. It is important. And it was nice to see Kleinette! Yes, I know she was a figment of my mind, but she has connotations of safety for me – and it is always nice to see the face of someone you care about, in reality or dreams. Perhaps she has ‘come back’ to help me think deal with things, sort of like Dumbo and his magic feather.

The one thought I had upon waking was, ‘Of course I’ve got a fucking pelvic problem.’ This was the result of thinking about finally writing Kleinette back (ah, you don’t know about her baby gift drama – I sent her a birth announcement, she sent me a fab card and awesome baby slippers, I didn’t write back because I didn’t want her to think I was stalkery, she ended up texting at New Year’s to see if I got the stuff, I felt like a heel for not thanking her, etc) and mentioning the SPD. Then I remembered that it was mentioned on more than one occasion about my – holy shit, I forgot the acronym.

PMDD. Yes, PMDD.

And then I thought (because apparently you can take me out of a paying job as a counsellor and put me on maternity leave, but you cannot take the counsellor out of me), isn’t it innnnnteresting that all my major problems are in that one region of my body. I also thought about how the last time I lost shedloads of weight, I was in therapy – not to talk about weight at all, but the weight seemed to fly off during therapy/training as a counsellor, and I don’t think that was an accident.

If this is a bunch of wobbling, rambling mess, forgive me. It’s late at night, and I’ve already been asleep for like four hours. Just feel like I needed to write something real, and also, well, you know. Comfort blogging. It’s better than your favourite comfort movie, or at least it is to me.

Night, all. Hope you’ve had a good Saturday and will have an even better Sunday.


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