Thursday, September 19, 2013

Stronger in the Broken Places

Resilience is defined as "the ability to become strong, healthy or successful again after something bad happens." In the counseling session, we hear from our clients story after story about all the bad things that can happen in life. Our nightly news shows and daily papers highlight the horrors, tragedies and frightening circumstances that humans can't escape. And yet, go on we do. In the face of great uncertainty (will our government shut down due to budget disagreements?), nstural disasters (the flooding in Colorado) and human loss (the rising desth tollmfrom gun violence), we find ways to put one foot in front of the other. As a species, we've endured through cataclysmic events like the Holocaust and the World Wars in the past century, and plagues and bloody revolutions throughout known history. What allows us to survive, even thrive, amidst horror, devastating losses and mind-numbing pain? Some would say survival is a testament to the strength of the human spirit. Others would argue that our biological instinct is to survive and procreate at any cost. Hemingway wrote, "The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong in the broken places." We cannot avoid the pain that comes with living, with loving. But we CAN choose to mend ourselves, and each other, so that we are stronger where we were once broken, strong enough to reach out to each other, hold each other up, and keep moving.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Building Our Parenting Muscles

We all know them. We've all been haunted, at some point, by these evil entitities, these demons that cast doubt and shame into the life of every parent. That's right -- The Perfect Parent. You know, those parents who bake gluten-free, nut-free and yet delicious snacks for the school bake sale. Or who arrive at 10 pm play rehearsal pickup wearing freshly pressed chinos or flawless makeup. The mom who not only attends every one of her child's performances/games/speech competitions, but also heads the PTA and hand sews her children's Halloween costumes. I will never be the parent who purees my own baby food from organic produce, or creates homemade flash cards to ensure my child is reading fluently in two languages before he is potty trained. But my work with families over the last three decades has taught me that I don't need to be in order to be a good-enough parent to my child. I've not come across any data that suggests that stressing myself out to parent "perfectly" will somehow earn my child entrance to his Ivy League school of choice. Not to mention a recipe for failure. None of us are perfect, as parents or otherwise. But the good news is we don't need to be. In counseling, we teach parents that being a "good enough" parent provides our children with a healthy foundation to grow into functioning adults. "Good enough" parenting focuses on what kids really need: nurturing, challenging, safety and structure. Most of us are comfortable with our skills in a least a few of these areas. I, for one, am confident that my affection, love, and empathy for my child communicate my love for him. But my "muscles" in challenging my child can be woefully week. Really, does my 14-year-old need me to cut his nighttime snack of an apple? Or would encouraging my child, who struggles with fine motor tasks, to tackle this task be an opportunity for him to develop competency and self-esteem? The good news is that our awareness can be the beacon that directs us to focus on those parenting behaviors that need strengthening. Whether you need to remember to deliver more praise, or to enact a bedtime schedule that ensures your child gets adequate sleep, becoming a "good enough" parent is within the grasp of all of us. Reject the myth of the Perfect Parent. Go ahead and bring that store-bought cake to the Scouts' bake sale. Letting your 10-year-old count out the bills at the checkout is a lesson for you both.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Respect the Rest

Nap. Snooze. Shut-eye. Bedtime. If you are like most people, these words conjure images of snuggling beneath covers, curling up on a comfy couch or otherwise retiring for some well-deserved rest after a demanding day. But, if you are also like most people, you are woefully, chronically short of the amount of sleep your body and mind need. Science is increasingly studying the phenomenon of sleep, and discovering its vital role in health and longevity. Poor sleep has been linked to every ailment physical and psychological -- from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, to cancer and heart disease. We need sleep not only to refresh our bodies and minds from the exertions of our day, but also to allow our bodies and minds time to HEAL. Many parents have had the experience of waking their children in the morning to discover that their little ones seem to have grown overnight. While these changes are more a function of perception than a factual happening, it IS true that our bodies and minds use the time during sleep to regenerate and renew. Sleep slows us down, allowing tension and inflammation to ease. Sleep is a time for our thoughts to quiet, for our list making snd to-dos to take a breather. Like a cleansing breath, sleep rewards us with needed energy and stamina and offers an opportunity to leave behind thoughts and behaviors that may not have served us the day before. Sleep is a necessary boundary between "what was" and "what can become." We have become accustomed to hearing about the importance of a healthy diet or making time for regular exercise. Perhaps we will soon hear that sleep is as essential to our well-being as low cholesterol or vitamin supplements. And while we will sacrifice sleep at times to get in a workout or finish a project, we may be even better served by hitting the snooze and rolling over. If we could approach our bodies' need for sleep the way we consider it's need for fuel and exercise, we'd be more likely to give rest the respect it deserves. Invest in a good pillow. Try those high-thread-count sheets when they go on sale. Notice the sensation of your body sinking into the mattress, the feel of the covers conforming to your body, the sound of your breath as it slows and evens. I wish you sweet dreams.