Monthly Archives: October 2012

Holiday hype

I don’t completely understand all of the reasons behind the phenomenon, but kids with a trauma history often have heavy duty sensitivity to holiday hype. I am sure that it is connected to highly sensitive brain chemistry and an insatiable desire to fill an aching hole – kind of akin to why alcoholics drink, shopaholics shop. An irrational and probably subconscious hope that this one thing/event/gift just might make the pain go away. Needless to say, it does not satisfy.

In early October during a stressful morning wake up time, our most stress sensitive child and I jumped into a conversation that bounced from Halloween costume to hoped for Christmas gifts to Easter basket possibilities in under 10 seconds – throw in Thanksgiving, an adoption day and birthday in the next few months, and we have a recipe for total overload. Our family is not alone. I was chatting with several friends in my parenting learning/support group the other day and their kids were already planning, stressing and obsessing about Halloween in July. For me, who raised three sons, only one of who ever put any forethought into his costume, this is a big switch from the rummaging through the drawers and closets on Halloween day to see what we can come up with.

This challenge can be daunting in our consumer driven society that literally has large Christmas displays in early October. The other day on my way to buy pumpkins and mums, the Christmas music blared and the lights were flashing. I am going to date myself but I absolutely remember when Christmas commercialism didn’t come out until after Thanksgiving had its proper turn – the good ole days.

What to do? We the parents have to be very conscious about the level of our activity, stress and busyness all year round but especially around this string of holiday celebrations. Less truly is more. Last Christmas, we had a son returning from spending six months in Haiti. We were advised and in our hearts knew that returning to the consumption crazy, materialism gone wild United States would be a big jolt after living in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. We made intentional plans and decisions as a family to have a simpler and more thought out Christmas celebration. Just a few carefully chosen decorations, reduced gift giving with a focus on time together over material gift, shared cooking responsibilities all made for special memories and reduced exhaustion and post-Christmas let down. It’s time for our family to start planning, making choices and deciding what we will and won’t do during these next months. Saying no to many of the beckoning holiday events often leads to a larger yes to health and well being for our family.

20121026-101943.jpg

Sick day connections

“Yet behind her words was an inexplicable softness. Her touch, too, was different; the thorough way she cleaned my hands, without the heavy, silent burden in the actions of all my other foster mothers. I didn’t trust it.” from the Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The above quote is the voice of Victoria – an 18 year old girl who, after being bounced around her entire life, is being released out of foster care and into the real world. She is describing the one person in her life that she connected with – her inner thoughts and feelings within the first 24 hours of meeting her. I am only 81 pages in, but I can tell this is going to be a good read.

The “I didn’t trust it” part is what jumped out at me. Victoria had only known harshness and dismissive treatment in her life. This was different. And it was delivered during a time of injury and pain. Actually she had tried to destroy something special to this new foster mom and in the process of making it right, she injured her hands and they needed care. This situation was emotionally charged. There was reason to be fearful and for Victoria to wall her heart up in a way that had helped her survive all of the other disappointments in her life.

This week I had the opportunity to build trust during a couple of sick days with our daughter. Now I admit that my very first reaction to one of my children being sick is something like this – “let’s take that temperature again to make sure; this is terribly inconvenient to the agenda I have”. But with time and really paying attention to what goes on when a child is sick or in pain, my view of sick days is shifting. They are often days of great moments and hours of one on one care giving. There are a myriad of opportunities to build connection and trust.

I was able to express my empathy, belief and confidence in her as she had a blood draw gone wrong – the poor guy did his best to hit the vein on first stab, but he missed. We played games and worked on winning and losing. At the lunch table, she shared with me her idea for an invention. She wants to create a time machine that will let a person go back in life to experience things they can’t remember – makes a lot of sense for a child whose first 22 months are practically unknown. She talked about whether or not it would be a good idea to be able to get do-overs in our lives with this machine and therefore avoid all mistakes, pain and suffering. After some back and forth, she settled on the decision that it would be best to just see our lives to fill in things we can’t remember – she agreed that God often uses pain and challenge to make us who we are and we wouldn’t want to derail that.

I saw the same “sick day” dynamic in action last spring when this same daughter had surgery and required fairly hands on care for two weeks. Something that I dreaded became a time to meet her needs and for our family experience community care in action. So, next time the sick day comes, I hope I will remember the things being built and shaped during such times. Maybe even someday I will stop double checking the thermometer.

20121018-150006.jpg

No one size fits all

I wish I had learned this a bit earlier in my parenting journey – one size/method/approach does not fit all children. Though I would have nodded intellectual assent to the idea that all children are different, in practice I relied on a narrow parenting paradigm. Some of the books I read, people I listened to, and classes I attended when I was a younger mom proclaimed a fairly formulaic parenting style. A + B = C – if you have situation A, respond with B, then down the road, you will get behavior/child C. My experience is that this is a huge over simplification – raising children is nothing like elementary mathematics.

Recently, I was reminded of this in a very real and applicable way as I listened to Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s book “Kids, Parents and Power Struggles”. Replacing the more traditional parenting approach that is wired into my brain requires a fair amount of repetition, reading and different ways of overlaying the entrenched message. The volume of the old tapes running through my brain is often LOUD. It is my quest to rewire my brain and have new thoughts and ideas rise up in discipline encounters with my children. At the suggestion of a seasoned veteran of a local parenting education center, I have been popping “Kids, Parents and Power Struggles” cds as I drive around town. Yesterday I had a big “aha” moment as I did so.

It is not news to anyone who has met our daughters, even briefly, that their personalities and temperaments are on extreme opposite ends of the spectrum on just about every dimension. One clearly comes at the world from the position of a thinker and the other a feeler. I am primarily a feeler and my husband a thinker. We all need to incorporate both facts and feelings into our approach to life, but most of us have an initial “go to” during times of conflict. It was like a bolt of lightning in my brain when I heard Kurcinka talk about best ways to approach a feeler and thinker in times of conflict – facts first for the thinker and feelings first for the feeler. Wow – as a feeler, I had been approaching the thinkers in the family from my own preferred perspective. That might explain the recent observation during a time of conflict by our thinker daughter, “I just don’t like your style” – facts first kids can’t jump into talking about feelings at the onset of a discipline encounter. Any thinking dominant person wouldn’t want to start there. What an empowering and enlightening piece of parenting wisdom.

And as for our sons who grew up with a younger more energetic yet not as thought out in the parenting role kind of mom, I have some regrets. I wish we had this information when raising them. Thankfully, we have fairly communicative and authentic relationships at this point, and it is never too late to shift a relationship. The reality for many of us is that the more challenging the family dynamic, the more impetus for seeking change. Today I am grateful for the dynamics that have led us to grow, reconsider and seek new ways to do this thing – we are learning so much.