One of the hardest thing for us parents to wrap our heads around is how often we have to repeat ourselves.
“Shut the door.”
“Pick up your shoes.”
“No, you can’t have cookies for dinner.”
“Hitting is against the rules in this house.”
You’d think they’d figure it out after the 457th time we’ve said it and yet there we go, repeating ourselves over and over and over again.
There’s a reason we have to turn into broken records; our kids are always growing and so they need to learn some things over and over and over again.
When your child grows from one stage into a new stage she’s learning things in an entirely new context. She has new developmental tasks to master, new facts to contemplate, and new skills to integrate. In this entirely new environment the things you’ve taught her — shut the door, pick up your shoes, etc. — don’t mean what they used to mean and she has to learn them again.
For example, your average everyday 3-year old may be pretty good about not slamming the door. She’s anxious to please you, likes your approval and wants to prove what a big girl she is. That’s the context she’s learning that whole “shut the door quietly” rule.
That very same child as a 4-year old may start slamming the door again. Her curiosity may be more intense at this age so she may be so anxious to move onto the next thing that the door slams behind her before she even notices. 4-year olds may also be more interested in challenging adults, leading to more door slamming because now she wants to explore what happens when she breaks your rules.
Totally the same behavior happening in totally different contexts with totally different things to learn. We just see the annoying behavior, we just hear ourselves saying it yet again — “Don’t slam the door!” — but for her it’s not just a slamming door, it’s a whole new thing to learn in a whole new way.
What parents need is faith that all of our repetition is sinking in because it is. We also need to know that continued commitment to the house rules and values create a structure that makes it safe for our children to grow and that part of that growth includes challenging that structure. It’s not easy, I know, but know that with every repetition you are offering your child a new opportunity to learn.
Parenting is a long-haul operation, lemme tell you. Hang in there!
And now for your listening pleasure (because parents need a little pleasure to get through some of this rough stuff) is The Bird and The Bee singing Again & Again.
The Bird And The Bee “Again and Again” from Miky Wolf on Vimeo.
I remember when I was in my early 30s and seeing a therapist to process my experience with infertility. At the beginning I had so much to say that I didn’t know how I would make it between sessions. Then after (I thought) I had said it all, I would worry before appointments that she’d be disappointed because I didn’t have an idea about what we should talk about.
I used to plan our topics. All week I would store up events or musings and I’d have them neatly prepared. I would continue to do this even after I realized that during most of our appointments we’d end up talking about something completely different. She’d ask about something we discussed the session before or in our casual opening we’d end up on a subject I hadn’t even considered. But I’d wrench us back around to the topic I had planned even if it fell flat because I thought I was supposed to.
I didn’t know then that it was more than OK to just show up. I didn’t have to have a topic prepared. I didn’t have to know what we were going to talk about. I could let the conversation happen organically and trust her to help me figure out what I wanted to say.
Therapy is a lot like writing. Sometimes you come to the page with a plan and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you have it all outlined and mapped out and sometimes you’re free writing whatever comes into your head no matter how messy and disorganized and ungrammatical it might be.
You can’t have too much of one or too much of the other. Yes, you do need to have goals and you need to pay attention to your goals but you also need time when you’re sitting in the chair riffing on whatever comes up.
You and your therapist are working in collaboration. You don’t have to come up with every topic and she’s not going to always lead the way. The two of you will discover what it is you’re working on through the course of your conversations. If you do too much editing (especially if you’re not bringing things up because you are afraid she will be upset or bored) then she’ll be working with less material than she needs. If you try to plan your topics because you’re afraid that she will be annoyed if you sit there blankly saying nothing then you may lose the opportunity to see what the silence will bring to you.
(Sitting in silence with a person who is wholly tuned in to you can be very powerful. Try it sometime.)
Therapy is collaborative creation and growth. Trust the process and give yourself permission to allow the session to unfold however it will.
I am a fan of boredom. I don’t necessarily like to experience it but I think that small doses can bring very good things because boredom often begets day dreaming.
Day dreaming is a mild form of dissociation, a way to take a break from our surroundings and go someplace else. It’s when we tell ourselves stories and make big (and little) plans and find solutions to sticky problems.
Day dreaming is also an effective way for a child or adult who is feeling emotionally overwhelmed get a break. Children in school or adults at work may get lost in thought because the study or work doesn’t interest them, sure, but sometimes they are gazing out of the window because they need a mental vacation from everyday stresses. It’s just like when babies become overstimulated and they turn their heads away from you.
We lead such busy lives with so many screens and so many activities, that we sometimes forget to recharge by doing nothing. Sometimes our children need reminders to day dream; sometimes we need the reminders ourselves.
Exercise can be an opportunity to let our minds wander (unless you are like me and need a soundtrack of some kind to get to the end of a work out). Meditative housework like washing dishes, folding laundry or mowing the lawn are also good as is knitting, doodling or other creative kinds of busy work.
Chances to be bored can help us set our thinking free, too — long car rides, waiting at the bank, being stuck in traffic. If you know there is no other way out, surrender your plans to start dinner on time or to show up early and see where your thoughts want to lead you. Leave your smart phone off (or the kids’ DS games at home) and watch the world fly by outside your car window, letting your mind fly outside, too.
If you’re out of practice, give yourself a small but friendly assignment, like imagining a better ending to a movie or a sequel to your favorite book.
Day dreaming can help you feel more relaxed, less stressed and urgent, and can do wonders at untangling knotty problems. It’s also fun.
Your healing doesn’t have to happen on somebody else’s timeline. Nobody else gets to decide what your process should look like, what order you should go in and when you need to cross the finish line. This is your experience and you get to be the boss of how you live it.
People will say, “You ought to be over it by now.” People will tell you, “If you don’t resolve this soon then you’ll always … or you’ll never …”
But this isn’t true.
Here’s the thing about life — life keeps on happening. Life itself is a process where you run away, start back up, face things down, and then meet them back up again. You’ll make good choice, you’ll make bad choices and you’ll get better at being you the more you live with yourself. You’ll realize where you can make change and where you can practice acceptance and that will keep on happening for as long as you live
Every challenge is an opportunity to get better at meeting challenges. If you screw up somehow, don’t kick yourself. Learn from the mistake and trust you’ll have another chance to do it right. Maybe not in the exact same situation but probably in one an awful lot like it.
You don’t have to be over it before you’re over it. You don’t have to resolve things by a deadline. Every day is a step towards resolution if you look for it. Even when you feel like you’re standing still, if you’re looking for the way out then know you are getting closer to it.
And if you need help finding the way, you know what I’m going to say — a therapist can be a big help with that. You don’t have to struggle alone.
The other day I was headed to a meeting, listening to NPR in the radio. Fresh Air was on and Terry Gross was interviewing Sarah Polley about her new documentary, Stories We Tell, which is about Sarah examining the story she was told. Sarah’s mother died when she was eleven and she died without telling Sarah that her husband was not Sarah’s biological father. Sarah discovered this as an adult and she was the one who ultimately had to tell her dad that they’re not biologically related.
I stopped and listened because the parallels to closed adoption and parents who don’t tell their children when they are conceived donor gametes are so similar (except that in those cases one can assume that both parents know the secret).
In the featured quotes pulled out from the interview, Sarah says she doesn’t regret her mother choosing to keep this secret.
“To be honest, I don’t see what the point would have been [of] telling me when I was a child about this. I mean, I was growing up as a member of the Polley family and I was very much a part of that family, and I’m not sure what the point would have been in adding all this confusion.”
When I heard that I thought about the many parents who will take that and hold it tight to justify their own secret keeping. But note that her mother died when she was eleven. And note, too, that the story is complicated by the fact that Sarah was conceived during an adulterous affair.
I wonder if/when Sarah’s mother would have finally told her. By keeping the secret, Sarah’s mother gave away her opportunity to be the person to tell her daughter, to ask her for understanding, to explain herself. She also made the decision for Sarah to not know her own truth and the decision for her husband and Sarah’s biological father to not know either; she gave away their opportunities, too. And she saddled Sarah with the responsibility to keep the secret since Sarah knew for some time before she told her father (her hand was forced when a journalist confronted her with it).
That is a lot — A LOT — to put on your kid.
I haven’t seen the movie and I don’t know why Sarah’s mother made the decision she did although I am sure her intentions were good.
Parents keep secrets because they want to protect their children but the secret-keeping can do more harm than the secret itself ever could. Because when the child (or adult) finds out the truth they have to contend with this truth and also their feelings about having that truth kept from them.
If you’re trying to figure out how to talk to your child about his or her adoption or conception story, please think of giving me a call. Maybe I can help you sort through the muddle.