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Change anyway

shutterstock_194891645I’ve written before about how change can feel like betrayal to friends and family. What happens is that sometimes it feels so scary that they drag you back and you find yourself in that same rut you’ve been trying so hard to leave. They like you there because having you there is familiar, it makes sense to them. If you change then they have to change (or at the very least change their ideas about you). And they didn’t sign up for that; they don’t necessarily want to change.

Sometimes their need for sameness will be so great that they will refuse to see that you are different.

Let’s say that when you were a little kid you hated birthday parties. Maybe you were shy and hated being the center of attention while everyone sang you happy birthday. Or say you’ve never liked frosting and dreaded the inevitable first bite of birthday cake. I don’t know but let’s just say that’s how it is — you didn’t like birthdays parties.

That became your thing as you grew up. That’s what your friends and relatives would say about you.

“Now that one over there?” they’d say, jerking their thumbs your way. “That one hates birthday parties.”

They would tell all the stories of you sitting in a corner scowling while everyone else made a fuss about presents. They’d pull out pictures that would show you wailing over the birthday cake your grandmother made, even though she’d hand drawn a beautiful frosting design showcasing your favorite characters from Sesame Street across the top.

The more they said it, the more you believed it. Besides there’s proof in everyone’s stories and in all of the photo albums; you are a person who hates birthday parties.

Only one day you start figuring out that it’s all more complicated. Perhaps you went to a birthday party where there was no singing and everyone made their own sundaes. You thought to yourself, “That’s not bad, that’s pretty good. Maybe I don’t hate birthday parties — maybe I just don’t like getting sung at and eating frosting.”

So you go back and tell your friends and family, “Hey, I’m throwing myself a birthday party this year! Do you want to come?”

And they scoff, “You? You, hater of all birthday parties? You who threw up all over my birthday party when I was eight because we generously gave you a corner piece of cake with a big blue rose on it?”

“Well, yeah,” you say. “I hate frosting but I love birthday parties.”

“No, you don’t. You hate them.”

“Turns out I love them when they get thrown a certain way.”

“Oh so now your criticizing the way we throw parties? Now it’s our problem? And now you expect us to accommodate all your new fangled ideas about sundae bars when you know that in our family we eat cake! See, that’s you all over again — ruining birthdays for other people because you hate parties!”

At this point you might start feeling a little crazy. Are they right? Are you fooling yourself? Do you owe it to people to continue on your birthday party-less way because you’ve been such a trial to them throughout your life?

See, there’s a birthday-party-hater slot in their lives and you’ve been filling it for however many years. If you don’t fill it, it means they have to change and while some people can handle change pretty well (perhaps your Aunt Leonie and your best friend from fifth grade handle your new-found love of birthday parties with equanimity) everyone else might freak out.

This can be because 1) they don’t want to think critically about their own creation of your birthday party myth (your grandmother might not want to feel guilty about that Sesame Street cake); or 2) because they need you to fill that slot to avoid their own birthday party hatred (it might be that your little sister hates frosting, too, but needs you to stand in for her so she doesn’t have to suffer the consequences); or 3) they like the story they’ve been telling themselves and don’t want to stop telling it.

You can’t know, really, why they don’t want to let you out of the rut you’ve been in but every time you try to climb out, they push you back in. You throw yourself the party, you invite them all and they stand around and smile sympathetically at you, “Look at you trying to pretend you’re enjoying yourself!”

“But I am,” you say. “This Goat Cheese with Red Cherries ice cream from Jeni’s is to die for.”

“Sure,” they say, nodding and winking at you. “Sure thing.”

Because sometimes that’s how it is.

That leaves you with three choices:

  1. To sigh and let yourself get pushed back into the rut and give up on birthday parties.
  2. To argue with them until it becomes a big old thing and you’re all crying with frustration.
  3. To go on with your bad birthday party loving self anyway and not worry so much about how other people take the Brand New You.

There is a reason there’s a whole genre of television and movies about how you can’t go home again and it’s about growth and change and figuring out how to be the person you’ve become when the people who have been part of your life from the beginning can only see how you were. It’s painful for everybody and certainly for the person trying to grow into something different.

Change is hard but it’s worth it. There are birthday parties out there just waiting for you to show up.

And here’s Whitney Houston’s live cover of “I Am Changing” from Dreamgirls.

Parenting Kids with Special Needs? Here’s a Great Columbus Resource

I’m a huge fan of parents supporting parents and I know that most especially when it comes to parenting kids with special needs it’s vital to connect with other families who can help you find resources; navigate your options; and support your whole family in your journey. The Early Childhood Resource Network+ operates in North Columbus and offers an equipment lending library, support groups and information. Next month there’s a Back to School event, which would be a great time to get to know this wonderful resource. If you’re interested in learning more, please contact Amanda Biel at 614-543-9000 x215 or abiel@ymcacolumbus.org.

Special Needs Family Support Group

Brought to you by ECRN+

Join us for an informal monthly gathering held in an environment for families to foster connections and networking opportunities with other families of children with special needs. We offer a place to help families of exceptional children meet their unique challenges through advocacy and peer support. Typically our meetings are held on the first Thursday of every month at ECRN+ office located at 6555 Busch Blvd, Suite 112, Columbus, Ohio. Occasionally we will come together on other dates or at different venues. Please call to confirm next month’s details or check facebook.com/ecrnplus for the latest updates!

WHO

Parents, family members and guardians of children with special needs. Both YMCA Members and Non-Members are welcome!
WHEN

Thursday, September 18th from 6:00pm to 8:00pm

(Note: Meeting held on the third Thursday this month due to back to school season)
WHERE

JASONS DELI - 1122 Gemini Place, Columbus, OH 43240

(Located directly across from Rave Motion Pictures, Polaris Mall)
MONTHLY AGENDA

Parent’s night out! The kids are back in school! You did it and it’s time for YOU to take a breather! Join us this month for some relaxation & emotional support in the company of other families who truly understand the unique struggles and celebrations of raising a child with special needs.
COST & MISC INFO

First order of single soft drinks, coffee or tea will be provided.

Further yummy food purchases are at your expense.

Not hungry? No problem! Fellowship & Friendship – Always free!

No formal childcare is available but children are always welcome.
RSVP & QUESTIONS

Amanda Biel, ECRN+ Family Support Specialist

Phone: 614-543-9000 x215

Email: abiel@ymcacolumbus.org

Facebook: facebook.com/ecrnplus

Counseling by text

counseling by textThis is what my social media policy says about texting (this is part of the intake paperwork all of my clients receive and I have them sign something that says they have read and understand my policies):

You may text me with questions about appointment times, to reschedule or to cancel (please note my cancellation policies require 24-hour notice). You may also text me if you would like me to call you back. However please know that I do turn my phone off during client hours, meetings and outside of office hours so I cannot guarantee when I will read your text and get back to you. If you do text me, I will assume you welcome a text back. While it is unlikely that someone will be looking at these logs, they are, in theory, available to be read by our cell phone service providers. You should also know that any texts I receive from you and any responses that I send to you become a part of your legal record.

I’m a late adapter to texting and most of my clients are much more comfortable texting than I am. Originally I was reluctant to add texting to the ways clients can get a hold of me because our profession is still struggling to know how to ethically manage all these (fairly) new developments. After consulting with colleagues I decided to very cautiously add texting with clear limits. The reason I’m so cautious is:

  • People think of texting as immediate but I’m not on call 24/7. Unlike my voicemail where you’ll get a response that specifically says you may not hear from me for 24 hours (and will give you a referral number to Netcare in case you are in serious crisis) or email, which people don’t necessarily expect you to check constantly, texting feels like it should be immediate. But it’s not. I may not get the message until the next day and there’s no way to tell you that your text remains unread. (This is, for me, the greatest issue with texting; it gives the illusion that I am more accessible than I am, which is why I try to be so clear in my social media policy.)
  • Texting is a lousy medium for processing problems. It’s great for quick messages, “Hit traffic! Running late!” but not so much for big issues, “I saw my ex today and we had a discussion …” It’s best to save those issues for in-person sessions.
  • What you text (or email for that matter) — the exact words — becomes part of your paper record. Ethically I have to record any written contact we have and while your record is theoretically confidential there are times where other people could get access to it. (For example, if the counselor was subpoenaed by the court.) It’s one thing if a client rants about an annoying co-worker in session because I can record our discussion as, “Client shared frustrations w/colleagues” but it’d be another thing to have the whole rant there in the records verbatim because she sent it via text.

Some counselors have more flexible texting policies and some counselors do not text at all. It’s important that you talk to your counselor and be very clear about what she is open to when it comes to electronic communication.

Free Car Seats and Car Seat Checks at Neighborhood Health Fair

car seat checksOn Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at the Westside Health Center, 2300 West Broad, Columbus, OH from 11am to 3pm the Westside Health Center in partnership with the City of Columbus, the UnitedHealthcare Community Plan, and Columbus Public Health will be giving car seats to low income residents and offering car seat checks to anyone who needs them.

Health Fair events include:

  • Free Car Seats & Installation
  • Free Health Screenings
  • Health & Wellness Giveaways
  • Games with OSU Mobile Tour &
  • Expedition Fit Kids
  • Health and Wellness Resources
  • Music and Prizes
  • Healthy Nutritious Snacks

You must be registered and attend one of the class times listed to receive your car seat: 11:30am -12:30pm or 1:30pm-2:30pm Call the Westside Neighborhood Health Center for more information (614) 645-2300.

The celebration continues all that week with the following events:

August 11- Monday- Columbus Neighborhood Health, Center Tour

August 12- Tuesday- Westside Health Center, Free Car Seat Installation and Health Fair

August 13- Wednesday- East Central Health Center, National Homeless Awareness Day

August 14- Thursday-Northeast Health Center, Patient Appreciation Day

August 15- Friday- All Health Center sites, National Health Center week

August 16- Saturday- John Maloney Health & Wellness Center: Healthy BBQ Community Celebration 12p-4p

 

 

Speaking truth to your adopted child

thoughtfulgirl-inside(This is an edited repost from my defunct personal blog, which is why it references other posts from four years ago and Lost, for goodness sakes, like the olden days or something.)

Malinda posted about this parenting advice from Brian Stuy:

We have never brought up, unprompted, our daughters’ birth parents. We have discussed adoption, conception and pregnancy, and other corollary issues from time to time, but I have never, without having the subject introduced by a daughter, initiated a conversation by saying, “Do you wish you knew your birth mother?” Or, “Do you want to know more about your abandonment?” I have always indicated a willingness to answer any and all questions (not just about adoption but about anything), so I am confident my kids know that if they ask any question we will try to provide them with a good answer. But the point is, I wait for them to ask. Those that force-feed their children the deep issues of abandonment, birth parents and adoption, risk, I believe, getting the kinds of responses displayed above. In fact, by presenting the reality of birth parents before they are mature enough to handle it, for example, I think we risk diminishing our own position as parents to our children.

I was watching Lost on Tuesday, which is chock full of obvious and less obvious adoption issues and adoption cliches and stereotypes and I was thinking about how deeply ingrained our presumptions are about “real” parents and changelings and lost orphans and false parents. I was thinking about fairy tales and mythology and thinking that our collective unconsciousness already feeds us these ideas. (I am typing this to avoid spoilers.) It doesn’t matter if they are “true” or not — they are part of our belief system.

So unlike Brian, I think that even if we never ever ever breathe an unasked for word about our kids’ birth parents that our collective unconsciousness is already, in some ways, defining our own position as parents to our children. And our kids need to figure that out for themselves, which I think means we should be more explicit in welcoming that discussion. Not because we need to sway them but because we need to hear them out (or at least say to them, “I am bringing this up because I will hear you out”) so that they know whatever direction they choose, whatever belief feels like home to them, we will love them and accept them and never ever leave them. Even if they feel more attached to their birth countries, families and origins than they do to us. They may reject the “blood is thicker than water” belief system or they may not. But they will wonder about it.

Brian also says:

They might ask at that point if they were born of their adoptive parents, and that would be a good time to answer, “No, you were born to a woman in China.” That is the type of answer I would give. But many use this opportunity to go ahead and answer questions not asked and not even thought of: “No, you were born to a woman in China. She is your birth mother, and she wasn’t able to keep you, so she left you at the gate of the orphanage.” This is the type of over-feeding that overwhelms most kids, and creates, I believe, unnecessarily emotional issues.

There’s a third response, “No, you were born to a woman in China. What do you think about that?”  or “How do you feel about that?” or “I know that might be confusing. Do you have some questions about that?”

I mean, culturally? We romanticize birth ties. I’m not willing to say that this romance is more true or less true. I’m not willing to say that it’s a cultural bias we need to question or reject or welcome with open arms. I think it’s one that’s interesting to explore and for any adopted child, it is an absolutely vital exploration because it is a conflict she is living and she will need to make sense of it in whatever way she needs to.

This is why we need to bring it up. We don’t say, “Hey, my lovely child, do you feel so much more tied to your birth mom than you do to me? Since she’s your real mother and all?” Instead we can say, “How did you feel when so-and-so was talking about this thing that might relate to adoption?” If I was Brian Stuy in a closed adoption from China, I’d surely say, “Sometimes I wonder about your birth mom. Do you wonder?” Because I would wonder. And if I’m wondering, it’s not such a far stretch to think that the child herself wonders.

I do not think that birth ties are any more magical and true than love ties but I do believe that birth ties are rich with meaning. I do think that in a culture that romanticizes our genetic origins that those genetic origins have an important weight.

For example, gender has tremendous cultural weight, agreed? We can say that gender is a social construct but it does not negate the weight of it. We can say it is a figment of our collective imagination and we can choose NOT to believe that gender matters. Individually, we can do that. But culturally, gender still has weight and our questions and struggle with the cultural construct of gender is practiced against the beliefs that we are questioning. Which is to say, no matter how much we choose to believe that gender does not matter for ourselves, it does matter. Our personal practice of gender exists in contrast to the larger cultural construct. In other words, Lady Gaga owes as big a debt to Phyllis Schlafly as she does to Madonna.

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