I see you watching your child struggle. Struggle with anger, aggression, anxiety or depression. You watch helplessly, as your child sinks further into an abyss you fear they will never return from. I see you tell yourself “this is just a phase, I struggled in high school too.”, but a piece of you knows this is bigger than that. You see how the behaviours of one child affects the entire family. How it affects you.
You are riddled with emotional injury – every angry outburst directed at you, is like a gunshot wound straight to the heart.
You are exhausted – you can’t sleep at night because your child is out somewhere, with someone and all the horrible scenarios are playing through your head.
You are isolated – there is no-one to talk to about this. Friends & family tell you how to “fix” your child, but they truly don’t understand just how difficult that is. You are a social outcast, because everyone is judging you as a failure, and you know it’s true.
You have tried everything;
You buy them all the latest gadgets, brand-name clothes, vehicles – because they said that would make them happy.
You are spending hundreds of dollars on Therapy, but your child refuses to fully participate, if you can even get them to go.
Legal fees, court appearances and probation are forcing you to take too much time off work, but you have to go, because you know they won’t go if you don’t drag them.
Searching for Answers
You have spent countless hours searching for answers and all you’ve found is another vicious cycle of hopelessness:
Free Programs are short term
Your child won’t go.
And the worst – “Your child is not bad enough to meet our service criteria.”
On-line Parenting Groups
Finally a place for you to openly talk about the issues at home.
But still – no real guidance, no solutions, & loads of underlying judgement.
What Am I Looking For?
If you could take a few minutes, with a clear head and really assess what it is that you are looking for in a solution, what would you come up with?
Something that can help me decide what kind of services we need?
A group just for women who support, guide & empower each other? No judgement, just unconditional acceptance? A place that will allow you to rediscover YOU?
A group of forward-thinking Moms who truly understand the emotional turmoil of raising a child who is struggling and are sharing helpful tips, suggests, support & understanding?
Someone who could remind you who you were before all this negativity weighed you down? Remind you of your inner Badass?
On-line courses that understand that you are over-stressed, under-appreciated, exhausted, overwhelmed and will still provide simple solutions to begin the healing process?
A person who has “been there, done that” and is able to support, guide, listen & understand (and it would be nice if this person was available exactly when shit hit the fan to help you effectively get through it)?
Hope, possibility, encouragement, support, guidance, love & acceptance?
I was searching too,
I spent over 10 years searching for solutions for my family. I know the anguish, so I have done all the research for you!! All the services, all the resources & all the supports; complete with direct links – and it’s FREE!! Because someone needs to cut you a break!!
I am the Best Small Graphic Design Business in Los Angeles for 2014-2017, winner of Addy awards, owner of all of the awesome. Spreader of the joy, font knowledge, and endless gradient (and glitter!) love. Encourager of the silliness, the feeling of freedom, and the loudest laughter.
But I am also the same person who suffered through PTSD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder from 10 to 28, has had to deal with colonoscopies and laparoscopies BECAUSE of those disorders, but I am also the person that found a way to heal. Really, fully, entirely heal. I’ve changed things about myself I used to take wholly for granted. In my mind and my heart, I’ve changed right down to the cellular level. My mitochondria sing the mantra Sa Ta Na Ma
To walk away fresh and renewed, happy, fulfilled, and whole by 32; walking away from a life of chaos and parents each emboldened with their own special flavors of narcissistic personality disorder and into a life full of heart and authenticity. My inner voice is my own, and the boundaries I have are grown from a solid foundation within myself. I lovingly nurture a life composed of a wonderful equally strong and tender marriage, FIVE relentlessly needy (but totally loved) animal babies, hilarious, intelligent, grateful friends and colleagues who lift me up, support me, challenge me, and contribute to my craziness (aka The Kubrick project!). I am loved in my life, and most importantly, I am loved BY my life.
I truly believe that it was my multitude of passions that allowed me to connect deeply with my truest self, carving a pathway overriding all of the nonsense that was to come. It was listening to my truest voice when all others tried so hard to drown it out. It was following my gut even though I thought I was diving head first into the deepest pools of insanity. There were times when nothing made sense, and times when even the things I thought made sense was nonsense but sticking with myself has always lead me exactly where I need to be. So, whatever you do, wherever you are, and whatever you are faced with– always choose you. You will always make the best choice there is. I promise.
Thank you, Jenny, for sharing your story!! As I said to you, your energy precedes you!! Thank you also for contributing the artwork for this post!! It is beautiful and expressive!
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THE DAY MY CHILD LOST HER JOY
In an especially chaotic rush out the door to go on a family vacation, I sat in the passenger seat fuming. Mad because I didn’t have time to put the dishes in the dishwasher. Mad because we were late getting on the road. Mad because the garage door was acting up. I’m talking trivial, insignificant, minor inconveniences here, but that was the state of a distracted woman who could no longer see the blessings, only the inconveniences, of her life.
Before we were about to pull out of the driveway, my husband looked at me as if someone he loved very much had died. In a barely audible whisper he said, “You’re never happy anymore.”
I wanted to defend.
I wanted to excuse.
I wanted to deny.
But I couldn’t.
Because I knew he was right.
Where had that happy woman gone? The one who smiled at people she passed on the street just because. The one whose friends often spoke of her positive outlook on life. The one who felt happy simply because she heard her favorite song or had a pack of strawberry Twizzlers in her purse. The one who could laugh off mistakes because mistakes happen, and they are certainly not the end of the world.
Where had she gone?
And that’s when I glanced to the backseat to see if my children, then ages six and three, had heard my husband’s words. Staring back at me was my older daughter picking her lip with worry the size of a small boulder weighing down her small shoulders.
As she pinched that tiny piece of fragile skin on her upper lip with wide eyes, I could practically read her mind:
But there was more. I could practically hear how a young child would interpret her mother’s unhappiness.
Mom’s mad at me.
Mom’s tired because of me.
Mom’s stressed because of something I did.
That’s when an even more powerful question hit me.
Where had my happy little girl gone? The one who woke up with the most gorgeous bedhead and good morning smile. The one who beamed at the words “sprinkler,” “cotton candy,” and “pet store.” The one who laughed so hard tears came to her eyes. The one who licked beaters with sheer pleasure and danced happily to any song with a beat.
Where had she gone?
Because my happiness was based on external measures—on tasks being completed, plans running accordingly, goals being met, hairs being in place—I was continually disappointed … upset … impatient … and stressed. In the process of making my own life miserable, I’d funneled my unhappiness straight into my daughter’s once joyful heart and spirit. Her pain was a direct reflection of the expression I wore on my face.
I desperately wanted to bring a smile back to my daughter’s face. I knew I must bring it back to my own. I began praying for small steps I could take to become a more positive, present, and peace-filled person. On brightly colored sticky notes, I posted daily goals and positive mantras that came to me during morning prayer time. Especially prominent on my mirrors and cabinets were these two go-to phrases: “Only Love Today” and “See Flowers Not Weeds.”
I used the phrase Only Love Today to silence my inner bully. Whenever a critical thought would come to my mind or my mouth, I’d cut it off with Only Love Today. I used See Flowers Not Weeds as a pathway to gratitude, to see what was good in situations and people.
As Only Love Today and See Flowers Not Weeds became a daily practice, I felt a profound transformation occurring in my heart and home. No longer were my goals exclusively items that could be measured or checked off—they consisted of immeasurable items like listening, laughing, dreaming, playing, connecting, and loving. With a more meaningful daily goal, I was able to see the blessings in my imperfect self and in my imperfect life. My eager-to-please, helpful older child looked different too. I saw her for who she was, not an annoyance or a bother, but a loving child with clever thoughts and ideas. For once, I could see all the things she was capable of doing—not perfectly, but good enough for today. The tightness in my face relaxed and the smiles came more easily for both of us.
One morning, I looked out the kitchen window to see her making a little garden right there in the middle of the yard. I watched as she tended to her miniature plot. Her joyful smile made me take pause. Clearly, she was at peace tending to her garden. I took a picture and sent it to my parents. Nothing could have prepared me for the response I received. My parents wrote:
“Thank for this precious picture of our beautiful granddaughter. Over the last two years, we have seen a tremendous change in her. We no longer see a scared look in her eyes; she is less fearful about you being upset or impatient with her. She is much happier and more relaxed. She is thriving and growing into a content, creative, and nurturing person. We know for a fact the changes we see in her coincide with the changes we have also seen in you.”
I covered my mouth to muffle the sobs.
When I was struggling to breathe beneath the weight of perfection, distraction, and self-induced pressure, my child was too.
My daughter had absorbed my tension.
She had absorbed my frustration.
She had absorbed my anxiety.
She had absorbed my unhappiness.
And as my negative emotions were being filtered down to her, they impacted her ability to grow, thrive, and blossom.
If I didn’t know it before, I know it now:
Our children are our garden. They absorb our stress, just as they absorb our peace. They absorb our negativity just as they absorb our joy. And we have the power to control what they absorb, but first, we must tend to ourselves.
It might sound like this:
Dear one, you have feelings. They are worth listening to and acknowledging.
You have limits. They are necessary to keep in place as a means of valuing your time and honoring your health.
You have dreams. You are worthy of time to pursue what makes your heart come alive.
You have needs. You deserve affection, rest, sustenance, and grace.
Perhaps you forgot that it is necessary to look after YOU. It’s okay. I forget too. But we still have today. Thank God, we still have today.Today let’s tend to ourselves as we do our loved ones. Perhaps we can make it a habit. We’ll never know how much we can grow and flourish until we take time to tend to what is most precious.
***Negative behaviours in your children are often a direct result of your own emotions. Emotions your children feel, cannot understand, but simply react to. If you’d like to reduce the effects of your emotions on your children, please contact me for a FREE Consultation.
This post was written by Molly Kathleen. Thank you Molly for articulating this in a way that I couldn’t. This is powerful, raw, and direct.
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Family, the first group of people we know. We depend on our family to help us create a sense of self. Our Family gives us anchor in a crazy world.
Think of someone you know who has suffered a heart attack. The immediate response is not to shame the heart for stepping out of line. We do not ask the kidneys or the liver to pick up the slack. We certainly don’t kick the heart out until it changes its behaviour and try to go on with out it. We don’t blame some external force for the heart attack.
To effectively treat a heart attack, we examine all aspects of the body, internal functions & external forces to create a well-rounded plan to prevent further episodes. We look for ways to reduce both internal & external stressors. We improve our diet, our physical exercise and work to reduce the toxins going into the body. We find ways to reduce our stress at work & at home. A heart attack is a symptom of a much larger problem – lifestyle. To prevent another episode, we change our life-style.
The same can be said for how we address challenges within the family. A struggling child is merely a symptom of a dysfunction within the family. These dysfunctions can be addressed quickly providing the family as a whole is willing to look at both the internal & external stressors and adjust the lifestyle of the family to prevent further episodes. But how do we do this?
Let’s first begin by defining your role. I’ve met many families where roles are reversed – the man is the mom and the woman is the dad, or same sex parents, or platonic friendships raise the children, whatever your family looks like, let’s first figure out who you are.
Nurturer – provides the soft, emotional guidance to children
Nester – creates a loving, stable environment
Sustainer – provides essentials to sustain life – nourishment, medical care
Teacher – promotes transition of milestones – sitting up, first steps
Protector – creates a level of intimidation to outsiders
Gatherer – brings in food, clothing, shelter
Disciplinarian – teaches the hard lessons – natural consequences
Hard Skills – problem solving, using tools, maintenance of home/car, catch a ball
Logical – guided by reason & logic
These are just guidelines. The Mom may be the nurturer, the nester, the sustainer, the provider and the teacher of hard skills. My point is, which one best describes you and your role in the family?
As we continue in this post, these are the terms I will be using, not the stereotypical mom is a girl, dad is a boy.
Roles of the Children
The children take on various roles as well. Depending on the level of conflict in your home, your children will adapt to their surroundings. Psychologists have studied family dynamics and determined that there are 4 personas a child will develop to manage their family situation.
Takes care of the emotional parent and the other siblings.
He/she tries to ease the stress in the family.
Steps in during times of conflict to try to minimize the situation.
This child is blamed for the faults of others.
The result is anger and self-defeating behaviours.
The golden child.
Works hard at school, get good grades, helps around the house.
Truly believes that if she/he is perfect enough, the family problems will go away.
The Lost Child
Quiet, withdrawn, depressed & anxious.
Chooses to be alone.
Takes the blame for the issues in the family.
Murray Bowen – The Bowen Centre for the Study of Family
“It is the nature of a family that its members are intensely connected emotionally. Often people feel distant or disconnected from their families, but this is more feeling than fact. Families so profoundly affect their members’ thoughts, feelings, and actions that it often seems as if people are living under the same “emotional skin.” People solicit each other’s attention, approval, and support and react to each other’s needs, expectations, and upsets. The connectedness and reactivity make the functioning of family members interdependent. A change in one person’s functioning is predictably followed by reciprocal changes in the functioning of others. Families differ somewhat in the degree of interdependence, but it is always present to some degree.”
This “emotional skin” that Bowen speaks of explains a lot about what happens in your family. When your teenager screams something very hurtful at you, you take this personally. She has rocked you to your core. No-one will ever hurt you as much as a member of your family because you all share the same deep-rooted emotional connection.
When your children were little, you could see that their emotions mirrored that of the emotional parent. They were learning from you how to react to situations. If you were scared, they were scared, if you were stressed, they were stressed. You eventually picked up on this and tried to shield your emotions from your children. But it always seemed as though you had a fussy child at the most inconvenient time. Temper tantrums would erupt when you had to race around to complete errands, meet deadlines, clean the house and put on your happy pants because the in-laws were coming for dinner. Today was not the day for this child to be miserable – you did not have time!! The reality of this scenario is that your child was simply mirroring your stress & frustration. Their little worlds were out of balance because you were out of balance. You ask them what’s wrong and the usual answer was “I don’t know.” How could they know, they were just picking up on your emotions and reacting the only way they knew how.
During times of adult stress, we tend to focus our attention on the stressor; bills, errands, relationship, politics or world drama. We create space between us and our children to shield them from these stressors. Our role as parents is to protect our children. However; we have unknowingly created the opposite effect. As we will discuss in a future module, the connection between family members is so strong that it will predict future outcomes. Children develop a sense of self by watching you. They learn what scares them, what pleases them and what nourishes them. Their likes, dislikes all come from the family.
“The less developed a person’s “self,” the more impact others have on his functioning and the more he tries to control, actively or passively, the functioning of others. The basic building blocks of a “self” are inborn, but an individual’s family relationships during childhood and adolescence primarily determine how much “self” he develops. Once established, the level of “self” rarely changes unless a person makes a structured and long-term effort to change it.” – Murray Bowen
In short, if a parent is unable to truly connect with a child, this alters their sense of self, their place in the family. They will search for ways, either actively, or passively to find a connection – to someone or something. This is the root of family issues. This is where the regression started.
“In a regression, people act to relieve the anxiety of the moment rather than act on principle and a long-term view.” – Murray Bowen
Let’s fast forward to today. You are sitting here desperately seeking information on how to help your teenage child. They have lost their way. They are struggling, and it is manifesting in a variety of ways; poor grades at school, victim of bullying, hanging out with the wrong crowd, lack of motivation, experimenting with substances, self-harm or addicted to technology.
You are a strong parent and your child is not living in line with the values you tried to teach them. You taught them to respect others, do their best, and be a productive member of society. So where did it all go wrong? How did we get here?
Think about the emotional connection you have with this child, the connection they have with other members of the family. Could it be that they feel a disconnect? Whether or not it is physically present, could they perceive themselves as an outsider, or not worthy? Was there a time, when your attention was focused elsewhere?
I want to take some time here and explain that I too had a child that acted out. She was the Lost Child, spent most of her time alone, engaged in self-harm and lacked enough drive or determination to pursue her own goals in life. I spent countless hours searching for answers. We spent years going from one psychologist to another, treatment programs, emergency rooms, and I eventually had to take a year off work to care for her after a rather serious attempt at suicide. I felt as though I had failed her. She was this vibrant, beautiful little girl with an infectious smile, and somehow, she became withdrawn and highly introverted.
In my years of research, I discovered several helpful hints and an equal number of not-so-helpful hints. My goal is to spare you the years of searching for answers. I may not have them all here, but this will be an excellent place to start. This will give you the foundation to move forward.
Like you, while I was raising my children, life happened; abusive relationships, divorce, single parent, job loss, and older daughter became seriously ill and was involved in a potentially life-threatening car accident. These are things that I couldn’t control. I now know, that these are all considered trauma. Traumas that I did not have time to deal with. Traumas that I pushed aside for the betterment of my children. This is where my younger daughter lost her connection. I am very happy to report, that we have worked hard to re-establish her sense of self & her sense of connection. We still aren’t perfect, but we keep trying.
Today, all my children have tools that will serve them well as they become parents. We have learned to openly, respectfully & effectively communicate. We have learned to lean on one another and rally to support each other. Together, we have created a legacy that will continue through future generations. You can do this too.
I can’t promise you it will be easy, but it will be worth it!!
It is my hope that you have a greater understanding of how you got to where you are. My intent is not to blame you for the position you find yourself in, but to create awareness. Dr. Phil, and so many others like him, tend to blame the parents for the mistakes of the child. This is not my intention. My intention is to create awareness that while you were busy, parenting, working and reacting to the situations before you, things happened. Things that are not apparent in the beginning. Sir Isaac Newton said, “Every action has an opposite & equal reaction.” This is what happened. You did not fail your child or your family, you simply reacted with the information you had at the time.
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We live in a world where everything is indoors, online, quick and easy. Today’s generation understands immediate gratification, social media and “as seen on TV” (or any other screen).
We’ve lost the social interaction, patience, gratitude and quality time spent with family and friends (in person).
This week, our family rented a little cottage on the water in Muskoka. My husband and I enjoy the outdoors, waterfalls, fishing, boating and hiking. All of these activities were completely foreign to our foster child. She struggled with debilitating anxiety just thinking about this trip. But once we got here, her world changed completely.
She is in awe of the beauty all around her. The huge rock formations that suddenly open up to vast lakes, the height and density of the trees, the stillness of the water, the people are so friendly. All of this was something she just couldn’t understand because she had never been outside the city.
The first day, it was obvious that she wanted to try everything, but didn’t know how to do any of it. I fitted her with a life jacket and we hopped on a paddle boat to tour the lake. Her fear of being on the water vanished as she allowed herself to just breath. She told me that it’s so relaxing here, she can’t get anxious about anything, even the things she would get very upset about at home, don’t bother her here.
After that, she quickly learned to Kayak, Canoe, fish and eagerly looked forward to our little day trips. She can rig her own fishing pole (including the worms), and somehow managed to catch a huge snapping turtle (which we quickly released).
We took her to High Falls, just North of Bracebridge and she was off like a shot. She became our tour guide and lead us to several little falls in the park. She crossed downed trees to reach the other side of the river, she climbed steep rocks, stood on the edge of a cliff looking down, snapping pictures the whole time.
We sat down to chat one evening and I asked her if all the excruciating headaches and anxiety were worth it? No, she said, it was all just a waste of time, this place is amazing! I asked her about her fear of heights and she replied that apparently she doesn’t have that fear anymore.
This trip has been an interesting point of self-discovery for this bright, beautiful and now; highly spirited young lady. She is going to camp for the first time in August and prior to this trip, had spent enormous amounts of time stressing and worrying because she didn’t have anything to compare the experience too, and now she does. Now, she is looking forward to camp and all the activities, the people, and especially the scenery.
Moral of the Story
“if you change your view, you can change your point of view.”