Posts by hollylien:
The anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks are among us and many of our children will be discussing these events in their classrooms. Children and adolescents may return home after a day of school with many questions. Some children may return home with many fears. The events of September 11th are difficult for even the most sophisticated of adults to comprehend, so it is understandable that children and even teens are left confused and uncertain about the world and the tragic events that took place that day. It is important that parents are prepared to help their children put into perspective tragic events so that they are able to cope as best they can with the uncertainty around them.
Here are a few recommendations about how best approach our children when they come to us with fears or questions:
1. Limit the amount of television coverage – exposing our children to the horrific images of that day can be frightening to children of many ages, not to mention adults.
2. Monitor our own reactions – as parents we need to be mindful that our children look to us as an emotional compass about events that are going on around us and in our world. As adults we may experience our own emotions of that day and it is necessary to be mindful that our children will be looking to us for guidance.
3. Answer questions directly – be clear and concise. There is no need to go into areas that they are not inquiring about. This can only exacerbate their fears and open up unnecessary
dialogue about the uncertainties.
4. Reassure them they are safe – remind them that the discussions they are having in class or images they may view on the television are events of the past and that they are safe.
5. Let them express their feelings – encourage your child to talk about the feelings that arise from possible discussions or memories. Children who were very young at the time may
not remember the events directly, but may recall feeling frightened, but not have the exact words to explain it. Try to help them sort through what they might be feeling, even if they do not directly remember the day it occurred.
Just remember there is not just one way to help a child deal with traumatic events in their world. These are just a few recommendations. Parents need to be in tune with their child and
what the specific fears may be and address them accordingly. Observe your child and note any changes in behavior or mood. Some children will not have face any challenges, others may just have questions that are easily addressed, while others may question their safety as well as the safety of those closest to them. Being mindful is the key to best addressing any concerns or questions your child may have about these events.
Next Week’s Author: Tricia Hodges
Shopping in stores these days one cannot help but see the covers of magazines highlighting the recent events of celebrity lifestyles – marriages, divorces, deaths, births, and more frequently adoptions. Celebrities are not the first to look into this as a viable option to parenting either because of infertility or simply to provide a child a better home. Adoption can be traced back to Biblical times. The book of Exodus tells the story of a Hebrew woman who bore a son during a time when Pharaoh had offered all Hebrew male infants be put to death (Exodus 1:15-22). The mother made a waterproof basket and sent her infant son down the river with the hope that he would avoid the fate of many other Hebrew male infants. One of Pharaoh’s daughters retrieved the baby filled basket and eventually adopted him into the royal family. She named him Moses. He later went on to become one of the most faithful and blessed servants of God (Exodus 2:1-10).
Adoption has many benefits. It allows people who would not normally be able to have a child experience the joys of parenting and it offers the adoptee an opportunity for a better life and stable home. Many view adoption as a celebration, which it is, but many fail to take into consideration the potential hurdles and emotional implications of the adopted child. The excitement and celebration can overshadow the fact that for there to be this gain for the adoptive parents and child, the adoptee has had to go through their own loss – loss of connection with their biological parent. This can be a significant event for the infant or child. Oftentimes, the adoptee experiences a mixed bag of emotions (sometimes conscious, sometimes not) of gratitude and love along with shame, depression, grief, and abandonment. For a child to be taken in by another family even under the most loving of circumstances it means there was a loss for that child prior to entering the family.
Adoptees can express this “mixed bag of emotions” in a several ways, two of which are very common. An adoptee can rebel against the adoptive parents in an attempt to prove they are unworthy of love, affection and acceptance. This is a very shame-based reaction and can manifest in emotional outbursts, physical confrontations, and rage. The other common way an adoptee can respond is by being the “perfect child” with the hope their good deeds will prevent them from being given away to yet another family. This, too, is a shame based reaction. Shame is a very “heavy” emotion in that it is based on the premise that the individual is a “bad person.” This differs from guilt in that guilt is based on a behavior shame is about the person’s being . I can feel guilty about dropping my mother’s expensive vase. But a shame-based person feels they are “rotten at the core, a bad human being.” Shame is like a wet blanket that people cannot get out from under and for the adoptee is very common. Because of cognitive development in early childhood, egocentrism (the idea that the universe revolves around oneself) rules and this means that what happens in their lives HAS to be a result of something they did or did not do. Egocentrism does not allow for many other options which makes them so susceptible to shame and blaming of themselves. Adoptees view that their relinquishment by the biological parents is somehow tied to who they are as people.
As an adoptee I came across a book in graduate school called Twenty Things I Wish My Adoptive Parents Knew. This book really hit home and I immediately asked that my parents read it. I was hesitant to suggest it as I did not want to offend my parents because I am so eternally grateful for all of the love and support they have offered me over the years. However, my dad was thrilled I suggest he read it and he stated he wished they had a book like that when they brought me home from the adoption agency.
It is imperative that all those involved with the adopted parents and adoptee be sensitive to these concepts for healthy development of the family. Adopted parents need to understand that the feelings of grief and loss are common and understandable and not to be ignored. They cannot take it personally, as this will alienate their child. Adoptive parents need to make themselves available to discuss with their child all emotional aspects of the adoption – both pleasant and not so pleasant. Open lines of communication are essential.
God has given me the tremendous gift of loving parents who show me daily unconditional love and support. I am so blessed and I am eternally grateful for my adoption. And….it has taken some effort to work through normal confusion many adoptees face throughout their lifetime.
Next Week’s Author: Kelly Patchin
Last summer my youngest son was in the middle of undergoing medical tests to determine the cause of some abnormal blood work. It had been a long journey leading up to this point. What started out as multiple missed days of school in late January ended up leading to rounds of blood work, a CT scan, an MRI and a liver biopsy all by the end of February. I wasn’t terribly worried at that time, considering doctors thought he was fighting off an infection. But when all the results indicated this was not the case and we were referred to a pediatric neurosurgeon I started worry. We found ourselves exploring medical conditions I never considered. Specialists were certain he had a very particular type of Muscular Dystrophy and sat with us parents, as well as my son discussing life expectancy, heart problems, wheelchairs and the fact there was no cure….only management for the disease.
We left the specialist’s office visibly shaken and perplexed. How is it that our son who plays soccer and baseball might have a disorder that would progress to him being bound to a wheelchair? As a mother my mind started to question everything and began to realize the hopes and dreams I had envisioned for my son may not come to fruition. Had I mislead him when I had told him he could be anything he put his mind to, that the “sky was the limit,” and nothing could hold him back? How could I face my child and tell him he would face a life of challenges. I ached inside thinking about the possibilities – partly for me, but primarily for him. How do I help him manage this information? How do I help him cope?
There were many nights my son and I talked before bedtime about his questions and fears about the road that was ahead of him. I felt helpless to answer some of them because I did not know the answer, nor did I understand why it was happening to him. I held him and talked with him about prayer. Honestly, I remember talking with him about it from the perspective of “of course this is what we will do, we will pray.” But somewhere deep inside me I questioned if this would even help us. Prayers work for other people, but my son’s medical condition was almost a given based on the specialist’s assessment. I was lost in a state of confusion, depression, anger, fear and grief. That was my helplessness and hopelessness talking, not my faith.
Friends and family began to pray for my son. Entire congregations began to pray for him and I was emotionally touched, and overwhelmed by this. I started to think maybe prayer might work for my son, and if it did, why would it work? One night in particular I was feeling so vulnerable and distraught I could not contain my emotion. I felt completely helpless as a parent, unable to protect my child. Scooping him up and holding him was not going to fix the situation, nor stop the physical and emotional pain. I did not want to frighten him so I went into the bathroom, locked the door and turned out the light. I literally sank to my knees in tears. All I could say was “help.” It felt like I had lost my ability to pray, my “right” to pray and ask God for son’s healing. How did I know what God wanted for my child and who was I to think I had the right to ask? All I could muster was “please help us. ” I left the rest in God’s hands hoping at the very least He would help heal our aching hearts and give us the strength to travel the road ahead of us.
After several months of anxiously waiting for genetic testing to confirm the specialist’s assessments I had received a call from the doctor. The voice on the other end of the phone was subdued and expressed reluctance to give the information over the phone. It seemed at that point I had been given the results without her coming out and saying it directly. No one wants to give bad news over the phone. I started to quietly cry and thought “here we go.” I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to breath in every ounce of strength possible. She informed me the test results for the two types of muscular dystrophy they were looking for were negative. NEGATIVE? Negative. It was like someone had just slid the needle off the record and a screech was heard around the world. How could this be? The doctor was so certain, so sure this is what we were looking at and the results are negative.
I was reminded of the story of Hezekiah when he was told by Isaiah that he would die and God wanted him to get his affairs in order. In 2 Kings 20:5 it says “Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you.” I realized the Lord heard my anguish, saw my tears and also knew my son’s fears. The amazing power of prayer was being played out in my family’s life. When I told my son that the results were negative he let out a sigh of relief and expressed confusion and started to say, “but the doctors said….” All I could say was “yes , the doctors did say that and we have had a lot of people praying for us.”
We still do not have all the answers or a diagnosis. The doctors are perplexed. Maybe it was not so much they were wrong, but that God heard the prayers of His children and offered help. Where do we go from here? More tests and biopsies in the next month, but we enter this round of testing with greater hope and strength to conquer whatever comes our way. And….we continue to offer our prayers to our loving Father.
Next week’s author: Kelly Patchin
Three weeks after my first son, Christian was born, my sister-in-law, my neice and my nephew had made the long drive from Southern California to see Christian for the first time and to spend a few days with us. My neice was about eight at the time, my nephew about 13 years old. One morning the three of them rolled out of bed at about 10:30am, while I had been up for since about 4am. Working on only a few hours of sleep I sat and watched my sister-in-law enviously — it all seemed so much easier. She talks, they listen. They talk, she listens. She asks them to get dressed, they get dressed. They could actually sleep through the night! I watched my neice and nephew do things independently from their mother. I looked down at the little bundle in my arms and thought it seemed so far away before I would be able to enjoy even a tad bit of Christian’s autonomy from his nursing mother. It would be years before I could shower as long as I want, eat when I was hungry, and sleep until I was no longer exhausted.
Last week Christian celebrated his 13th birthday. “Those years” that seemed so far away suddenly creeped up on me without me realizing it. Looking back now the months leading up to this “teen scene” – the stage of establishing a stronger sense of independence from his parents was present for years. I noticed it first in subtle ways – he asked less frequently for me to sit with him on the couch and watch a program he had recorded, he no longer asked me to lay with him for “just a minute” before he went to bed and talk about his day, and his conversations with me became shorter, one word responses most of the time – answering politely what he was asked, but did not volunteer much more information. What seemed like a very quick transformation, had been in the works since he was his first year of life.
All of life’s daily routines that take place in the first few years of life help establish the very foundation in which teenagers use to meaneder their way through the turbulent waters of adolescence. Adolescent’s “developmental job” is to discover who they are in relation to their world and others around them. This is one of their primary responsibilities – to become their own person, not just the person people view them as (the smart kid in math, the girl in the the choir with the great voice, the tall one on the soccer team, the shy boy at lunch), but who they think they are. Teens experience individuation – the process in which they seperate themselves from their parents and caregivers. Although individuation takes place at many stages during the life cycle, the process during adolescence is especially critical and lays the founation for the coming challenges and experiences of young adulthood.
It can be difficult for some parents as their pre-teen and teen enters this stage. In my private practice I have heard parents express concern that their teenager is “oppositional, selfish, closed-off, secretive, rebellious” and worry that their child has lost their way and forgotten the morals and values that have been taught in the home. In most cases these behaviors are all part of the the individuation process, even some of the more extreme scenarios. It is typical for a teen to experiement with different things (hairstyles, clothes, music, friends) that maybe five years ago they hated. It is normal for them to “talk back.” I know this can be a very difficult one for parents, yet it is normal (again within reason). As parents we have to set some limits about what is an acceptable level of “rebellion” all in the name of individuation. A teen will express disagreements with parental views, opinions, beliefs. They will balk at requests that are made of them. They are learning what their limits are and how far they can push them, learning how to have self-expression, to have a seperate voice – but it is
important that the parents be there to guide them so this is done in an appropriate matter. Teens storming off in a huff is going to happen and that is normal. Teens calling their parents every foul name in the book after being told they need to unload the dishwaher should be addressed. Again, the parents have to find what are the negotiables and what are the non-negotioables. This is where the perfect cliche’ comes into play: choose your battles with your teen. If parents do not allow for some rebellion, secretiveness, selfishness it will
be a long, long road ahead and that road will most likely lead to resentment on both sides and unsuccessful/unhealthy individuation for the teen. This means for rockier times in adulthood when they are more on their own in their world and when the world requires them to figure things out. The teen needs to be able to make mistakes and learn to adequately prepare them for their future.
If you have ever been in the parenting section of a book store you will notice that there are thousands of books on parenting your child for every concern under the sun. There are thousands of books on similar subjects and age groups and it can leave parents reeling in what approach is the right one. It can be confusing and overwhelming for parents who are just wanting to help their child. Let me save you from hours of trying to figure out what book is the right book or what technique is the right technique. Here is the kicker: there is no “right answer.” There may be better choices but all of it is dependent on YOUR teen.
The behaviors I see now with my son, Christian are different than ones I will see with his brother, Joshua. The individuation process is still occuring for both of them, but it will quite possibly look different. Christian is passionate and vocal; Joshua is more quiet. When Christian mumbles under his breath dissatisfaction with something I have asked of him it is more his way of individuating, whereas Joshua won’t mumble anything, he is more likely to feign deafness and say he never heard me. The concept is the same, however, with both of them asserting their independence and seperateness from me as their mother. I may not like how it is displayed at times, but this was my job as their parent – to help them come into their own as people.
Ironically, Christian came in and layed with me on my bed last night and watched TV…without me asking him. At one point he said “where is it?” I thought for sure he was looking for the remote so I handed it to him. He said, “no, your hand.” A touching moment for me. I was taken back to times when he was younger and that time when my family was visiting. I found myself missing those days he was a bundle in my arms because the years have gone by in a blink of an eye and I am starting to see my child grow into a young independent man.
Holly is the proud mother of 2 boys- Christian, age 12 and Joshua, age 10. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist working in private practice in Davis, CA. Prior to entering private practice she worked for over 10 years in a residential (group home) treatment facility helping troubled youth and their families, as both a therapist and clinical director. She enjoys watching movies and playing board games with her family, supporting her boys in school and sporting activities, and going to as many San Francisco Giants games as possible.
This past summer I was looking through some old photo albums my parents had stacked neatly away in a storage closet. I was quickly taken back to my childhood, reminiscing with my parents about camping trips, softball games, childhood pets and holidays. A friend who was with me pointed at a picture taken one particular Christmas morning and said, “Wow, what a face! You look tired!” I looked closely at the photo and without thinking I shouted, “That was when my brother got a hamster! I was so mad!!!” Silence fell over the room and then laughter erupted as if everyone was wondering how I would remember such a thing simply by looking at a picture taken of me when I was seven years old. I, too, was honestly surprised how I recalled that detail when there was absolutely no evidence in the pictures of a hamster, or even my brother for that matter. It was only my mother and me sitting next to the Christmas tree with packages around us while I was intently looking at something the camera did not capture.
That stroll down memory lane brought into perspective an issue my family has dealt with on many Christmas mornings since becoming a parent– the issue of “My brother got that? Why didn’t I get that? He got more, that’s not fair.” It felt like Christmas mornings with two boys were quickly becoming an emotional roller coaster ride of elation and excitement to disappointment and competitiveness. As parents we felt ourselves cringe, rethinking the gift choices and wondering if a different choice would have alleviated the scene that played out in front of us.
In an attempt to treat their children fairly, parents oftentimes try to treat their children equally, yet there is a significant difference between the two concepts. Trying to treat each of your children equally will result in a losing battle of trying to prove you love each child the same. As parents can we love each of our children the same? The answer is no. We love our children for their individual qualities, their uniqueness, and idiosyncrasies. We love them individually for who they are, and we treat them fairly – keeping in mind equal is not the same as fair.
I recently took my oldest son, an avid sports fan, to a San Francisco Giant’s game. Prior to getting the tickets I wondered if this would upset my younger son (someone who likes to play baseball, but does not enjoy watching it as much as his brother) and if I should get him a ticket as well. So, I asked my youngest about this and he said, “Nah, I would rather do something else with you another time.” If I had gone the route of treating them equally, both of them would be sitting at the game regardless of personal preference. I would have missed the opportunity to participate in activities that celebrated and acknowledged their individual interests and needs.
As we now find ourselves quickly approaching Christmas morning, it is important to keep in mind the simple mantra – fair does not mean equal. Children may not quite grasp the full concept, especially when they see that their sibling got something that was wrapped in a much bigger box. However, talking with our children about our love for them being based on who they are, not who their sibling is, may help lay a foundation for them to start to understand.
The irony is I never wanted a hamster. My brother had several hamsters prior to the one he got that Christmas morning and I had no interest in having the responsibility of caring for that kind of pet. I think my parents were demonstrating the concept of “loving us fairly.” They knew me better than I knew myself, I suppose, and knew there was no way I wanted to spend my free time cleaning out a hamster cage. Instead, they gave me items I had put on my Christmas list that year. After unwrapping the Farrah Fawcett Glamour Center complete with hair styling clips, rollers, combs, and makeup, the hamster was all but forgotten.
Next Week’s Author: Kelly Patchin