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Parenting a difficult child

difficult childPerhaps the hardest thing about parenting a difficult child is the way that the day-to-day struggles undermines your confidence. It’s hard to feel good about yourself or your child when you wake up feeling helpless and dreading the day together. As the old saying goes, “You are only as happy as your unhappiest child”; when one child is struggling, the whole family follows.

With this in mind, I decided to create a psychoeducational support group for parents who are having a hard time with their kids.

The group will be gently structured to give us learning opportunities will still allowing parents to bring their concerns to each meeting.

Do you have a difficult child?

The group might be right for you if you answer yes to any of the following:

      • Your child has a diagnosis, IEP, 504 or none of the above;
      • Your child has been labeled “spirited” or “high needs”;
      • Your child explodes with anger or withdraws and feels impossible to reach;
      • You feel trapped in a rut and want to create change in your relationships;
      • Your marriage or partnership is suffering;
      • You want new tools and the space to reject what doesn’t work;
      • You feel that your less difficult children are getting short shrift in the family;
      • You feel isolated, judged or even condemned by others who don’t understand your struggle;You want to be acknowledged as the person who knows your child best but still want direction and support.

The group, Parenting Challenging Children, starts on Thursday, September 4th and meets from 7:15pm to 8:30pm in the group office at Building Family Counseling, 6660 North High Street (suite 1G for groups). The group is $100/month, which ends up being $20 to $25 per session depending on how many weeks there are in the month. This is an open group, which means enrollment will be ongoing although we’ll cap the group at about 12. You can register for the group by going here and you can either pay online or in person at your first meeting.

It doesn’t matter how old your child is or what your struggle looks like, I hope to see you there if you are struggling.

If you have questions, give me a call at 614/301-8030.

Crying in front of your counselor

depression-insideI generally don’t think that your therapist’s personal experiences can tell you whether or not he or she will be a good therapist or the right therapist for you but there is one exception to this: I think every therapist ought to have had his or her own therapy. Not just to work through our stuff (‘cuz we all have stuff), but to intimately know the vulnerability of pouring your heart out to a stranger who is getting paid to listen to you.

Some of us decide to come see a counselor because we have thoughtfully considered our options with logic and care and we have decided that therapy makes the most sense. That’s some of us. But most of us come because we are desperate and we need things to change; most of us come because we’re in crisis. So we come, shaken and perhaps scared and perhaps defensive and we sit down in front of someone we have never met and who might be afraid will judge us and find us wanting, and we try to open up.

And sometimes, when we are feeling very fragile we may start to cry and that may feel terrifying or humiliating. We might be afraid that our therapist is disgusted by our tears or is anxious for us to stop.

So I thought I would tell you what it’s like for a therapist (at least this therapist) when clients cry so then you will know. And you can ask your therapist what it’s like for her so you can know that, too.

I used to worry before I had clients that I would cry, too, because I usually cry when other people do but it turns out that the boundaries of our relationship protect me from this. That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes get a lump in my throat or have to quickly blink back tears before I catch myself but when my clients are crying, I’m very aware that I can’t let myself have the luxury of falling in with them. I feel both expansive — like I’m making way so there is room for all of the tears — and small — because I’m humbled by their vulnerability. I know that a big part of my job is being strong enough to stay exactly where I am and to allow my client to have her whole entire feeling without needing to share it with me or protect me from it or even to protect the feeling from me.

  • I do not judge her.
  • I do not feel annoyed.
  • I do not feel uncomfortable and wish she would stop.
  • I do not think she looks ugly or silly or weak.

I do trust her and I trust that crying is what she needs right then. I am a great believer in the power of crying to make us feel better. (I listened to this song a lot as a child.)

The counseling office is sacred space and part of what makes it sacred is that it’s a safe place for shedding tears.

It’s not suffering that does damage

"It's not suffering that does the damage ..."The parental voice, it’s like the voice of God. It spoke to us with such power when we were small and so we carry it with us for good or for bad.

“Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” And we learn that our sadness is not true sadness.

“How can you be hungry? You just ate dinner!” And we learn that we can’t trust our own appetites.

“Come on now, Santa’s not scary; sit on his lap and tell him what you want for Christmas!” And we learn that we can’t believe our instinctive fear.

“You do not know yourself as well as I know you!” That’s what those things say to children. That’s what was said to many of us and so we don’t know. We don’t believe ourselves. We try not to cry because our problems are not worthy of our sorrow. We eat when the clock — not our bodies — say. We ignore that sinking feeling that something is very wrong and stay with the person who hurts us.

We parents, we sometimes have a hard time remembering that our children are fully their own people. It’s understandable because for such a very long time they do seem to be completely of us. The infants we carry, the babies we know, the toddlers who need tucked in to sleep even though they want to keep running — no wonder we have a hard time believing them when they insist that they’re full or that they are truly afraid of the bathtub drain. We know them best; we knew them before they knew themselves and those first breaks away are painful and hard.

It takes practice to separate on both sides. It takes practice to say, “I end here and there you begin.” We’ll make mistakes and insist on coats when they don’t want them and buy them gifts they don’t like because we’ve read them wrong. Generally, if there’s love and respect and (importantly) a willingness to acknowledge that we may be wrong our children will thrive in spite of those mistakes. But when we insist, when we tell them that our filters have to rule their worlds, we do real harm.

Some of us do that harm because harm was done to us. We grew up believing that we could not know anything because we were so small. We believe that our parents ignored our wants, wishes and needs for our own good. We repeat the damage because confronting our own losses is just too hard. To acknowledge that our children are separate if we were not allowed to be is to confront the loss of the self-awareness we were denied.

This is one reason parenting is so dang hard. We’re not just parenting our children; we are re-parenting ourselves.

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