My Husband is Not the Problem

#MeToo, #NotAllMen – these topics are exhausting and full of fear, pain and shame on all* sides. I’ve both longed to and avoided writing on this topic. So with fear, vulnerability, wariness and weariness, here I go.

The list of men who have or attempted to violate me sexually or physically is long.  It started in childhood when an elderly man in a park thought he could stick his tongue in my six-year-old mouth.  It includes intimate partner violence, assaults from strangers and “friends”, and extends across my entire lifespan.   However, the list of men in my life who are kind, respectful, generous, and abhor violence perpetrated by any people towards all people thankfully far out number the monsters in droves. One of them is my father, and at least two of them – a sweet boyfriend, and my husband, were a large part of my healing journey. When I attempt to write anything on this topic I hold all of these experiences together.

#NotAllMen are monsters. My husband has never sexually or physically assaulted another person. He doesn’t hang with the types of men that rape and murder people. He doesn’t break bread with guys who think sexist jokes and sexual remarks are funny or clever, and would challenge them if he heard them. He met me when I was wearing a super short skirt and a top with only one button and he made absolutely no attempt to have sex with me, consensual or forced. He doesn’t support the pornography industry or watch women strip.  He is happy to walk women to their cars and keeps a steady distance from women he doesn’t know at night to help them feel safe. He is representative of many men I am privileged to know.

DSC_7618My husband is not the problem. But I need him to be part of the solution.

Before we get there, let’s quickly review some data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) 2016 Personal Safety Survey (PSS):

  • MEN are more likely to have experienced violence. 42% of adult men have experienced violence; compared with 37% of women.
  • One in four men have experienced violence by a stranger, compared to only one in eleven women.

When we’re having this conversation about violence we must not forget these men, we must keep them with us. We need each other.

Here’s some important finer-grained statistics:

  • One in three Australians have experienced violence by a MALE perpetrator, compared to one in ten who have experienced violence by a FEMALE perpetrator.
  • One in four women experienced violence by an intimate partner; compared to one in thirteen men.

When the perpetrator is male:

  • Men are most likely to be assaulted by a MALE STRANGER (66%) away from home (56%)
  • Women are most likely to be assaulted by a KNOWN MALE (92%) at home (65%)

When the perpetrator is female the most common place to be assaulted is in the home, by someone they know.

Violence is a gendered issue because most perpetrators are men**. However, most men are not perpetrators. Sisters, we need to remember this, because we need those men who are not assailants to stand with us.  They may be more fearful of strangers when we’re more fearful of partners; they may be more fearful of a coward’s punch, while we are frightened of rape.  But we are united in our fear and loathing of violence towards all people.

As I’ve watched many conversations unfold across media platforms, I have asked myself what is it I would have men do. I know women are doing plenty; and women are tired, and scared.  The thing that I see the most is that perpetrating men are loud and virulent across social media platforms – and many, many (not all) kind, generous, beautiful men are silent. If you are with us, we need to know you are there.

This is what I would ask of men who are already doing as much as my husband:

  • Engage in these conversations. You are not the problem, please help us.
  • Be aware that both men and women pay more attention to messages and ideas that are communicated by men – use this to all of our advantage and speak out against all forms of violence perpetrated by all people.
  • SHARE, LIKE and COMMENT on articles like this one, both on social media, and through your email networks. Comments as simple as “I’m with you,” or “I’m listeningmake a difference. My husband’s comment on this point was, “It doesn’t feel like it’s doing anything to fix the problem.” Trust me, it is. In fact, don’t trust me – try it anyway, and see what happens with the women in your network.
  • Talk about it when you’re with other men.
  • Challenge victim-blaming where you see it. It is insidious, and believe me, you will be missing it. So are women. Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper’s recent call for us to be more situationally aware is a clear example, but it’s everywhere, sometimes disguised as men advocating for women.  For example this clip produced by Jay Shetty, one of Forbes “30 under 30” starts out brilliantly by calling out emotional abuse. Then he turns straight to camera as he explains it’s a woman’s job to leave. Ah, no. It’s an abuser’s job to learn how to not abuse. That protects not just the current partner, but all future partners too. Excellent bang for your buck, and it can be done (see these three studies).
  • When women try and express how they’re feeling, give them grace and listen.  Women are tired and frightened. Many women feel this has just been left to the sisterhood. So they may sound angry about this. We ARE angry.  Try not to take it personally. Recognise this is a long term cultural issue none of us chose, and all of us live inside. Also listen if they tell you that your well meaning act of support didn’t quite land where they needed it to. We are all going to make mistakes in this – allow women with lived experience to guide you. If you also have lived experience, help guide us too.
  • If you’re like my husband, you’re already paying attention to your communication with women. Men have been culturally trained to interrupt, ignore, and dismiss women, whilst women have been culturally shaped to speak less and allow men to dominate.  That’s not yours or our fault, though it’s often a blind-spot. Look out for it, help your colleagues and friends notice it, and make room for women to speak.
  • Be willing to experience the discomfort that comes with being a part of this movement of change.

Finally, to my dear sisters – I know you are exhausted and frightened. I know you’ve been doing this a long, long time.  Maintain an awareness of these systemic patterns, but try not to personalise them. We have many miles to go yet, and there are male counterparts that would like to be our companions on the road.  There are more of those than there are monsters – and plenty of them are feeling helpless too. Let’s not cut off the people who have the potential to be our greatest allies and partners in ending sexual and physical violence.

* I acknowledge that gender is non binary, and apologise to those who identify with non-binary genders for the lack of inclusion in this piece.  I imagine these issues become even more complex and fraught for you. I stand with you, though I feel unqualified to write about your experience.  

** Obviously this article is not an exhaustive commentary on this complex issue. Rather I hope that it adds productively to an important, painful conversation. Yes there are other gendered issues involved in this. Google them, and by all means share, like, and comment on those articles too.

Photo Credit: © 2018 Luke McKenna

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Posted in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Violence | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sitting in the Mire

Whether you have trained in Emotion Coaching, Circle of Security, or Triple P, almost all parenting approaches include the importance of soothing and validating emotions before moving into problem solving – and indeed, children are excellent at solving their own problems if we just give them enough support to do so. But in the thick of high emotion, it can be so hard to trust in that process. We want so much to rescue, and to STOP this PAIN – for them and for us. Yet when we communicate with our kids that their emotions are valid and heard, something far more beautiful, deeper in our connection can emerge. I offer this post as an example of how it played out in our family recently.

It’s school pick-up and my son is heading towards me. His face is a mixture of hurt and fury and with a sickening thud in my guts I think I know what’s about to come next.

He stops before me, eyes full of tears and rage, “You didn’t come,” he says with disbelief, “Why didn’t you come?!”

Oh. My. Love. No.

Rupture.

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It’s a day and a half earlier, we’re on our way to school and he says “So are you going to bring Newton tomorrow?” Newton’s our newest family member, our adorable pup that we’re hoping to train well enough to be a Therapy Dog. Taking him to school has been one of our plans for his socialisation and my son’s been super excited about it.

TOMORROW?! Eek, well, we’ve been talking about this, but I’m thinking this is pretty short notice for the teacher, and our little pup is pretty scared. I think perhaps early next term will be better. I tell him this, but check my diary, and confirm that I am free. “Check with your teacher and let me know,” I say, “but it’s probably too fast to pull it off for tomorrow.”

It’s the last conversation we have about it. From my perspective.

It’s an hour and a half earlier and I’ve been up at the school to attend his music lesson in among a busy day of work and trying to tie up as many loose ends as possible before the children start term holidays. I’m saying goodbye at the end of the lesson, and he says “See you in an hour!” I think to myself, well an hour’s near enough to home time. He doesn’t say “with the puppy,” and it doesn’t even enter my mind that’s what he meant.

In MY mind, bringing Newton would’ve had a thousand other conversations attached – exactly when and where will I bring him? How shall we present him to the class? What skills will we ask him to demonstrate? Will you do it, me, or both of us?

And here we are now. I know these signs, my son has entered his threat zone. Feelings of embarrassment, abandonment, humiliation – all of those are sitting with him right now. Oh gosh I want to rescue him from this. I want to make it go away. And having three more decades than him under my belt, I can already see The Most Excellent Solution, and it bangs at the sides and roof of my mouth, begging to come out.

But now is not the time for solutions. Now is the time for sitting in the mire together. He can have all of those horrible feelings, but he doesn’t have to feel them alone.

FIRST SOOTHE: Name and validate the emotion.

I wrap him into my arms and for a moment he lets me. But his arms are held against his chest and his muscles are tight and shaking.

Oh my love, you must be feeling so let down right now. I didn’t realise you were expecting me to bring him today.”

So far okay.

You never confirmed that it was okay with the teacher to bring him.”

Too far, too soon.

He pulls away, “I did!” he tells me. “I did tell you and you said you’d bring him!

He storms across the oval and I watch him go. I know my boy, now is not the time to chase. He reaches the other side and climbs the only tree the school has left with branches low enough to reach.

Damage control.

I duck across to the teacher – how bad is this? She’s as confused as me (a little relief). She said she had no clarity around what was supposed to be happening, so she hadn’t told the class anything (more relief) and was just going to roll with it if I got there. I quickly assure her we’ll set something up properly together next term. Okay – so he will have told some friends, but we’re not looking at Total Class Humiliation. Time to head to the tree.

He’s in the lower branches when I get there. I approach slowly, and as he sees me, he climbs higher and higher. My heart aches. He’s pulling away.

SECOND SOOTHE: Name and validate the emotion.

You were expecting us to come, and you must’ve been so excited about it all day. And I didn’t realise that’s what you were expecting. You must’ve felt so let down and disappointed and I bet you’d told some friends I was coming too.

You DID know. I DID tell you. You. Didn’t. Listen.”

Deep breath. This is not the time to Fight for who’s Right. I use a side-move I learned from Darin, “I know. From your perspective you told me to come; and from my perspective I didn’t know that you had.”

Pause.

I would never intentionally hurt you, you’ve got to know that.

But. You. Did.

Wham!

THIRD SOOTHE: Name and validate the emotion.

I did. And you feel really upset and angry and let down, and disappointed and hurt. You were expecting me and I didn’t come, and that sucks.” My pace is slow and careful. I imagine that it’s possible for these words to carry all the love in my heart across to him.

Is it enough yet? I invite him down from the tree. “No, you climb up,” he counters. I tell him he can sit in the tree as long as he needs. I find myself a spot nearby where I know he can see me, to patiently wait.

I message my husband for a bit of moral support. Tongue-in-cheek he suggests I walk home – our son knows the way when he’s ready. We both know there’s no way I’m leaving him like this. He is wounded, and I will not ask him to do this alone.

It takes 20 minutes. Slowly I hear him make his way from branch to branch. When he’s near the base, I slowly go back under the tree.

Do you want to come down?”

Fine.” All feet on the ground. Eyes definitely cast down and away.

FOURTH SOOTHE: Name and validate the emotion, and freaking apologise.

He starts to stride out and I call his name, reach for his hand. He lets me catch his fingers. I take his face in my hands, and look him directly in the eye. When he finally meets my gaze my whole body absorbs the pain I see inside them. Oh, my boy. My tears fall.

I am so, so sorry for my part in this miscommunication. I love you SO much. I would never, ever intentionally hurt you, and yet here we are, and I’m a part of that. And I look at you, and I think about how I would’ve felt all those years ago, when I was your age, and if this had happened to me, and I would feel exactly as you do.

Pause. In this moment there is just me and my son, and we are seeing each other, just as we are. Vulnerable. Hurting. Scared.

Can you forgive me,” I ask gently, “for the part I’ve played in this?

Now his eyes are streaming too. But this is different. The tension is gone. He wraps his arms around me and buries his head under my chin. “I love you too,” he says. We stand there together for the longest time, and I breathe in his hair.

He takes my hand. We walk home, and the moment is done. He talks with me excitedly about his day, his plans, his thoughts about the holidays. On the way, I ask him if he’d like my ideas for when we DO bring the pup in next term. “Sure!” he says with enthusiasm.

Here’s the part I noticed next – something happened in that repair; in that moment of being with. Over the course of the next couple of days my son spent more time snuggling up to me on the couch, sharing space, time and stories with me. After our rupture came the most beautiful repair, a tighter knitting between two who love each other so much, and sometimes hurt each other, and can heal in that space together.

…Then he reads this over my shoulder and says “Mum, it’s only been two days, you know!

And on we go…

 

Posted in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Circle of Security, Compassion Focused Therapy, Parenting, triple P | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Resources and Recommendations for Separating and Separated Parents

On the day people say, “I do”, there are few who imagine a time when they’ll say “I don’t”. In the post-separation roller-coaster, it is usual for parenting skills to suffer for up to two years. This makes a lot of sense – no matter how amicable your separation, and how careful you are to protect your children, it is likely one of the most stressful events you have ever had to navigate. There are many decisions to make and negotiations to step through with someone you used to love and now have different (and possibly many) feelings towards. Be gentle and kind with yourself in this process. Here are my top recommendations to parents navigating the aftermath of separation.

Don’t delay getting legal advice

In pre-separation lives, most people’s functioning knowledge of who does/gets/chooses what is understandably limited, based at best on stories from other people who have been through something “similar”. An initial chat with a lawyer can help you understand what your rights and responsibilities are, and quickly orient you to how to best separate legally. This can include helping you understand how child support works; how to set up shared parenting arrangements; and how decisions about divisions of assets are made. A preliminary chat with a lawyer may help you miss some of the minefields that could otherwise lead to a protracted, conflictual separation. Free and low-cost legal advice is available. If proceeding to retaining a lawyer, look for non-adversarial representation with a lawyer whose primary line of work is in family law.

Buy this book:

Overcoming the Co-Parenting Trap: Essential Parenting Skills When a Child Resists a Parent

This book is cheap, short, easy to read, and will possibly be the most useful guide you have in figuring out how to talk to your kids about your separation, and about the other parent. If possible, read it before there’s even an opportunity for your kid to start resisting seeing the other parent.  With chapters written for both the favoured and unfavoured parent, it is chock-full of useful tips, and even examples of scripts, to help you talk to your kids.  The authors have been working with complex child-parent estrangement problems for many years, and this book gives you quick and easy access to their extensive collective wisdom.

Use this Website:

OurFamilyWizard.com

This subscription-based service will cost you less for a year than you pay your lawyer or psychologist for an hour, and that alone makes it incredibly good value (around $100USD). This website and its associated app are specifically designed to improve co-parenting between separated parents. Increasingly, it is being included in Court Orders across the USA and Canada to reduce family conflict.  It contains tools to simplify coordination of shared residential care including:

  • A family calendar to track the children’s activities and organise parenting time trades
  • An expense log for keeping track and splitting relevant expenses
  • A payment transfer system that keeps track of your reimbursement documentation for you
  • A shared space for keeping your children’s health and school records
  • A trail of documentation that’s easy to download and support any Family Court process. There is no option for “he said/she said” because every action is stamped with who made it and when.

Here are my two favourite features:

  • A “Tonemeter” that will help improve your communication with the other parent, alerting you to aspects of your communication that may come across as emotional, aggressive, or hurtful.
  • If necessary, or desired, you can easily add your family health professional (for free) who can oversee interactions and make recommendations.

Children can also have a free account, which allows them to view the shared family calendar and message boards, create and view journal entries, and view the family resources section.

2houses.com and its associated app appears to offer a very similar service at a similar price point, with a free 14-day trial.

Try these Apps:

Divvito is a free messaging app for separated parents. It will flag messages that use inflammatory language, and will delay sending them to give you time to revise your message. If you do not revise the message, the app will replace harsh words with less hurtful alternatives. The app organises conversations by topic, to make it easier to keep track of decisions, and does not preview contents in push notifications, so your children are less likely to accidentally see them.

Kidganizer  has similar basic features to OurFamilyWizard and 2houses. It is only available on iOS platforms ($1.99).

Amicable is a free app with a slightly different and potentially money-saving purpose. This app is designed to be a simple and fast way to “collect, share and communicate essential divorce information with your ex.” It has questions and templates to help you create your own parenting plans, financial arrangements and settlements. Amicable is a UK-based app, and you should seek legal advice on how legally binding any agreements would be in Australia.

Engage a Family Therapist

Contrary to what you might expect, in this context attending Family Therapy does NOT mean you are working towards reconciliation, and nor does it mean you and your ex necessarily need to even attend at the same time, in the same room.

A family therapist is someone who can work with your whole family system to support you through this transition into a successful separated co-parenting relationship where your children can thrive. The therapist can assess your children’s mental health and well-being and assist them with psychological flexibility and resiliency tools for adjusting to their new family arrangements. The therapist can work with both parents (separately or together) to optimise parenting and communication skills in this tricky time, reducing conflict, and easing stress for the whole family system.

In engaging a family therapist, ensure that they have experience working systemically/contextually with separated families, and that they have familiarity with the Family Court process.

Engage your own Therapist

Take care of yourself! This may be one of the hardest transitions you ever go through. The support of family and friends is important; however a psychologist provides you with a neutral skills-based focus for helping you manage stress, navigate difficult scenarios, and ensure you are equipped with plenty of self-care and resiliency tools as you make your way through to the next chapter. Ensure that your psychologist has experience in working contextually with separated families, and that they have familiarity with the Family Court process. It can be beneficial to give your psychologist permission to share information, at your discretion, with other treating health professionals involved in the family system, particularly if a Family Therapist has been appointed. Always remember, your divorce lawyer is not your therapist!

For those who have walked this trail before:

Are there recommendations you would share to your companion travellers? What has helped you move to a successful co-parenting relationship with your ex? Please share your wisdom in the comments below.

Posted in Book Review, Parenting, Separted parents | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Give up on Happiness

It’s early morning and Toothless is distressed.

“There are THREE mornings I have to go to school early.  I don’t want to!” he tells me.

I’m not a morning person either – he has a sympathetic ear with me.

I sit beside him on the bed, “That makes perfect sense,” I tell him.  “You’re only seven.  Three mornings a week is big for anyone.”  I explore with him each of his before-school commitments.  “You can drop any or all of them.  Which ones would you like to stop?”

His face is pained.   “I love ALL of them!!” he implores, “I don’t want to miss out on ANY of them!”

“I get that.” I tell him, “If you give up one of those activities, you will feel HAPPY that you don’t have to go to school early, and you will feel DISAPPOINTED that you’re missing out.  If you keep all of those activities, you will feel HAPPY that you’re doing things you love, and you will feel ANNOYED that you have to leave home early.  Which way do you want to go?”

He’s facing a tough reality.  There is no option where he gets to be just “happy”.

He chooses to keep all the activities – whilst repeating “I HATE having to get ready early!!”

“I know.” I say (hopefully compassionately),  “Are you WILLING to have those feelings you don’t like in order to do the things that matter to you?”

He gets out of bed and starts getting ready.

*****

I tell this story often in my therapy room.  It encapsulates a truer story of emotions, rather than the one society sells us.  I often ask people what it is they hope for their family, their children, themselves in coming to therapy.  Almost without fail, there is some variation of “to be happy”.  Our society presents “Happiness” as though there is some kind of dichotomy where we can be “happy” or we can feel “other emotions” – with happiness being the desired goal.  But the reality is emotions are transient and do not occur in isolation – we can experience a kaleidoscope of any emotions at any given time.

I remember years ago the engagement parties for two couples in our network fell on the same evening.  Both were fabulously happy events, we were delighted for both couples.  We felt happiness that we had these wonderful friends who had found each other; and joy that we could go to their engagement parties.  We also felt frustration that we couldn’t be in two places at one time; guilt that we left one early and arrived at the other late; and exhaustion at the end of the night (oh, and I was pregnant – so there were swollen ankles too).  There was no option where we could just be “happy”.

Now I’m much older and my back isn’t what it used to be – I can do my physio exercises every day and be mostly pain free, or I can not do them and be mostly in pain.  If I take the time to do my exercises, I miss out on other things I would prefer to do with that time.  How do I solve this problem to ensure I am “happy” at all times?

20150708-P1010532Even in DISNEYLAND, “the happiest place on Earth” I wasn’t just “happy”.  It was amazing.  It met – no, it exceeded – my every expectation.  But was I “happy” the whole time?  There were moments of exhaustion, hunger, panic… And the entire, magical two days we spent there were also tinged at the very edges with sadness, because I knew that this special time with my young children would only happen this once and there was no way I could make it last forever.

Think about that – even our greatest moments of joy are tinged at the edges with sadness.

…and the reverse can also be true. Check out the beautiful illustration of this from Inside Out (spoiler alert):

Our constant pursuit of happiness has a darker side too.  When we seek to keep our children “happy”, we race to solve their problems, soothe their frustrations, before they have a chance to develop their own coping and resiliency skills.  In this process they instead learn a dangerous message – that they should actively avoid any emotion that isn’t “happy” – that if they feel anything else, it is somehow dangerous, wrong, or something faulty with themselves.  Children begin to experience anxiety and fear at the very idea of experiencing anything other than “happiness” – do you see what an impossible loop that sets up?  And so hard and heart-breaking for these parents who have only ever acted out of love and care for their most precious little people.

So I encourage you to give up on Happiness.  At least, give it up as an attainable, permanent state, the way society sells it to us. When we make an emotion our end game rather than an information source, we are already setting ourselves up for failure. There is no option to just be “happy”.

Steven Hayes, co-creator of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, explains it this way:

“I think we’ve got the wrong model of happiness… Defined as a values based life of integrity and fidelity to yourself and what you most deeply want to stand for – THAT definition of happiness, man that’s the kind of life I want to live and I think that will support people, sustain people.  But this cheap thrills version, this sort of ease definition, the feel good definition of happiness is an empty promise

If we can give up on Happiness as our end game, we are free to explore something else: We can explore what it means to live with purpose; what it means to act in accordance with our values, the things that matter most to our heart; how to live a life that is rich and deeply fulfilling, even in moments of sadness and pain.  That’s what I’m choosing.  That’s what I’m aiming to model for my children.  After all, there is no option to just be “happy”.

I’d love to hear your reflections 🙂

PS – Sorry it’s been a while. This is such a huge, important topic (and my current soapbox). This post just scratches a tiny bit of the surface – check out the Books and Resources page if you want to delve further.

 

 

 

Posted in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mental Health, Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

From the Lips of Those with Autism, on World Autism Awareness Day

It is an immense privilege in the work that I do that I come into contact with so many beautiful individuals with Autism.  My experience in doing so is that while there is a time and a place for parents, health professionals, educators, and others to advocate for these people, the people we really need to be listening to are those who are walking in their own shoes.

So for Autism Awareness Day I’m just going to share with you some of my favourite quotes ABOUT autism, by those who HAVE autism.

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Stephen Shore, author of Beyond the Wall: Personal Experiences with Autism and Asperger Syndrome.

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Dr Temple Grandin is a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, and is well known as an author and speaker.

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Read more about Neal Katz, self-advocate.

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Patrick Jasper Lee is an author and musician.

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Jerry Newport is an activist an author.

And to finish with, this from one of my greatest teachers, who is content to be anonymous just now:

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Posted in Autism, Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to talk to your kid about seeing a Psych

image-20160930_145105This would have to be one of the questions I’m asked most often by concerned parents.  They have reached the point of deciding psychologist support is a useful step for their child, but Oh!  How to broach that topic???  It’s Mental Health Week, and this is my guide for how to approach this with your child.

Compare Psychologists to Coaches and Teachers, not Doctors

Your Young Person is not broken.  They are not sick.  A psychologist will not make them better.  I have often heard, and in the past even used myself, analogies along the lines of “you go to the doctor when you’re sick; you take your car to the mechanic… ergo it’s okay to see a psychologist when you’re mentally unwell.”  These are well intentioned messages, but they all support the idea that something is WRONG with your child, and the magic psychologist will FIX THAT RIGHT UP for you.

Instead, remind your child that they are under construction – they are learning many, many life skills right now.  Depending on their age, they’re learning to read; or they’re learning algebra.  They are learning the rules of team sports, how to ride without training wheels, or maybe how to play an instrument.  Some of that – a lot of that – happens at school and through incidental learning.  However, sometimes the skills we need for a particular situation require more specialist attention.  I might teach my kid to kick a footy in the park, but if he’s serious about AFL, I’m gonna send him to Auskick.  Not because his kicking is broken and defective; not because there is something wrong with his hand-passes; but because kicking and hand-passes have become important to him and I don’t have the skills to teach him that myself.  Also, I’m his mum, there’s some things the boys just don’t want to learn from me!

Sometimes our kids find themselves in situations they’re just not developmentally ready for – maybe they’ve changed schools; social dynamics have unexpectedly left them feeling on the outer; mum and dad are a bit more stressed than usual; their amazing brains are making really scary / anxiety-provoking connections at a rate they’re not able to make sense of – any number of situations can emerge where suddenly your child needs some skills they just haven’t mastered yet.

Our teachers in our schools are amazing – and the expectations on them are high; and the demands of the curriculum leave little wriggle room for more.  It would be ideal if much of what is covered in a psychologist’s room was actually covered as part of the stock-standard school health curriculum (and people like Louise Hayes and Joseph Ciarrochi are working hard to make that happen). But it’s not yet.  So sometimes it’s really useful to spend a few sessions with a psych to do the essential stuff that teachers can’t cover when they’re forced to teach six year olds how to write persuasive text.

Let your child know that you’re looking at this as a skills development opportunity for both of you.

In the same way that your child is under construction, so are you as their parent, always.  Let your child know that you hope the psychologist will be able to guide YOU in how to provide better support to your young person.  As parents, some of what we do makes things better, some things make things worse  – but we are never, ever neutral.  Let them know the two or three of you are going on this adventure together.

Help them make an informed choice.

If your child is reluctant to see a psychologist, help them explore the pros and cons of what that is about.  Are they making assumptions about what will happen in the psych’s room?  How do they know those assumptions are right?  Have there ever been times they thought something would be dreadful and it turned out it was okay?  Let them know that it is normal to feel anxious, scared, uncertain, etc, and that you’ll be right alongside them.

My recommendation is to encourage your young person to come ONCE – meet the psychologist, find out what’s involved in the process, and from there the two or three of you can make an informed decision together.  Until you’ve had that first go, your child does not have enough information to make an informed choice.  Praise them for their willingness to be brave and vulnerable in the face of something that may feel really scary.  Talk with the psychologist for strategies for continued engagement if you believe further sessions are in your child’s best interests and s/he is still reluctant.

Use this same language with all Health Professionals

If you have an appointment with your GP to organise a Mental Health Care Plan and/or referral, use this same language (we are looking to build skills together and would like some coaching / guidance from a psychologist in how to do that), and help the GP to use that same language when speaking directly to your child.  If your GP starts using language to suggest brokenness and fixing, politely steer them back on course (NB you do not need a referral to see a psychologist; but you do need one if you want to claim the Medicare rebate).  Use this same language when you first take your child to the psychologist; and if there are significant details you would like to convey to the psychologist that may contradict that message, request that the child leaves the room before you share this information.

But is it too early?  Maybe things aren’t “bad enough” yet?

I can’t speak for all psychologists, nor all parents.  Here is my view on this:  As a mother, I would far rather jump in early and be told I’m neurotic than wait longer and discover my child has had to navigate a much harder road than was necessary, without the most useful equipment.  As a psychologist, clients coming in at the start of a potentially tough road are a joy and delight.  There is excellent “bang for your buck” when you come in for some strategies to support healthy development right at the start of difficulties becoming apparent.  Clients sometimes comment that they are worried about “wasting” my time on their issues, when there are people with “bigger needs”.  My view: Come now!  Be short-term, do a teeny bit of work together, and get on with your totally awesome life.    Send me an email five years from now to tell me how great things are.  Or better yet, forget my name all together because we seriously only met a handful of times 😉

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PS – if you seriously thought my last post WAS my “Last Post”, go back and read it again 😉

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Tasting Freedom – and why this is my last Blog Post ever.

There’s this moment when I’m flying down the hill, wind in my face, blue sky above me, and I notice this thought passing by – that this is it, THIS is tasting freedom.  It’s exhilarating, and not just because I’ve got all that lovely exercise endorphin flowing through me.  In fact, this freedom has nothing to do with the bike.

Nine-ish years ago, a close relative was having a hard time.  I rang one of my senior colleagues and asked if he would help.  I told him my loved one probably just needed some really good Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.  My colleague respectfully replied, “Sure, but I think I’ll try ACT first.”  Okay, whatever, if you say so…  I have heard of this Acceptance & Commitment Therapy stuff.  And then as I watched the most beautiful transformation occur in the life of someone I loved so dearly, I realised my colleague had something in his toolkit that was far more powerful than anything I knew I had in mine.  I needed to get me some of this ACT (said as one word).

Though when I went to my first ACT workshop eight-ish years ago, it wasn’t my professional toolkit I was thinking about.  I was busy raising our first precious son, recovering from my unrecognised and undiagnosed post-natal OCD , and all I knew was I was seriously missing out.  This beautiful, precious child was growing up before me, and I could barely get out of my head long enough to be there with him while he did it.  My mind was holding me prisoner, and it was time for me to find my way free.

What’s that freedom all about?  Oh gosh, the words sound so simple, and yet it reflects years of practice, stumbling, and many, many more of those still to come. I’ve learned and I’m learning to take my mind less seriously.  Like all of us, my Beautiful Mind is hell-bent on protecting me and keeping me alive.  She just doesn’t care too much whether I’m having a fun time – so long as I’m not dead, her evolutionary purpose has been achieved.  She’s a bit like that gloomy friend who sees the downside of everything.  She loves to tell me who I AM, to define ME, give me my box DO NOT GET OUT OF THE BOX IT’S NOT SAFE AND YOU WILL DIE OUT THERE AND PEOPLE WILL LAUGH AT YOU WHICH MAY, IN FACT, BE WORSE.

My Beautiful Mind tells me I never finish anything.  She tells me this the whole time I’m methodically stepping through each step in any given project.

For many years she wanted me to know I wasn’t athletic, and because of my eyesight deficits and lack of coordination that I would never ride a bike.  Besides, everyone knows you can only learn that in childhood.  She often tells me it’s better to sit on the couch or drive the car than be physically active.

She thinks it’s terribly important that I check my phone for news updates rather than connect with my children.

Then she berates me for not being a good enough mum.

She tells me I have nothing of value to say, and even if I did, others say it far better than me, so this (and every preceding post) will be my last blog post EVER.  For real this time.  Totally.  She thinks it would be safest if I stopped writing this one now (and she can be pretty convincing, it has been three months since my last post).

She tells me that it’s pretty bad news that I’ve taken on a research project with Telethon Kids Institute because I’m dreadful at statistics and this time FOR SURE everyone will discover how rubbish I am.  The results won’t be significant because I will mess up by not being a good enough therapist while presenting the two treatment conditions.  This means I will let down the whole Contextual Behavioural Science community AND Telethon Kids Institute all in one swoop.  I will probably have to wear a dunce hat.

She tells me these things, and I love her so much for the way she looks out for me.  And I love that whilst she tells me all of those things, she and I can walk hand-in-hand and choose actions that reflect who I- we – WANT to be.  I don’t need to argue with her (okay, sometimes I try anyway) – she can just chatter on while together we go ahead and do the things that actually matter.

This morning she was so convincing – the clouds were threatening, the weather was cold, my muscles were aching, surely today, TODAY, it would be better if Hiccup and I just stayed home??  She natters away to me while I put on my cycling gear; and I notice a similar voice is chatting away to Hiccup while he puts on his.  We are 30seconds into the ride – 30 seconds, and already pumping our quads to make it up our first hill – and my boy calls out behind me

“I love this, mummy!  I am with one of my favourite people in the world, doing one of my favourite things in the world!!”

OH GOSH, FOR THIS.  I will carry my nay-saying negative know-all a thousand miles and more for THIS moment, right here.

So I ride my bike. I start a research project. I learned to quilt (you can’t sew, don’t you remember the leggings from Year 9?). I started singing lessons. I post another blog entry.  I wonder in amazement at this life I’m building that looks nothing like the future my Beautiful Mind had mapped for me.

I’m not alone in this.  I watch my inspiring mother as she uses her retirement to commit to volunteering work; to take assertive action in standing up for our refugees; and lobbying Australian politicians to support evidenced-based programs to foster nurturing communities.  I follow my little sister’s adventures as she gets described on the radio as a “Fitness Guru” (A WTF??  We’re the family that were relieved if we managed a “C” in sport).  She runs events at Fringe, champions to reduce mental health stigma… the list goes on.  My father, who in his retirement started a whole new career in Mental Health advocacy; and warmly, lovingly, passes his musical legacy to his grandsons in teaching them piano.  My older sister and brother-in-law, who bravely retrained to follow their calling in teaching.  Stoick, who never lets anything block him from reaching his dreams, who I think lives by the motto ‘If anyone can do it, so can I.”  Professionally, I am inspired by personal stories such as the one Steven Hayes tells in this TED talk, or this blog by Kelly Wilson, two of the co-creators of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and it’s wider family of Contextual Behavioural Science.

It’s not like we weren’t already each challenging the limits our minds set for us.  The skills in the ACT process are not a silver bullet.  However, they’ve given me ways to attend to the things that matter in my deepest heart on purpose, and with greater consistency, building skills over time with repeated practice.

Also, just word up to my Beautiful Mind – she’s not just full of useless hurdles and insults.  She was the one who pointed out to me that the recent difficult time I was having with my son was probably related to how short and impatient I was being with him – and that maybe if I did something about THAT, things would improve for us.  She was right.  I could’ve done with less of the “bad, bad, bad mum story,” but I’m getting more compassionate with her and my greater self, looking for the useful information she has for me, unhooking it from her criticisms, and connecting back to the actions that matter.

Kelly Wilson has a powerful Yoga metaphor he uses, and it sits with me every day.  He says, “What if we consider falling as part of the pose?”  What if every time we stumble, we consider it as part of – not a failure in – the process; a wonderful opportunity to come back to the practice again.  Sometimes my mind convinces me to move away from my values – to shout at my children when I care to give them patience and nurture; to sit on the couch; to put foods that are not good for me into this body that I would rather treat healthily and respectfully. But I love that this is a choice now.  I love that there’s this moment, every time, where I can choose to come back to the pose.  Where I can choose to unfold my life with my values, not with my Beautiful Mind’s concept of who I should be.

That’s my freedom.

The book and workshop that got me started on this (very much unfinished) journey are here.  There’s a bunch of other resources I think are really useful here.  You can find me and other ACT therapists at The Charles Street Clinic, or find an ACT therapist in your local area by searching here.

See you next time.

 

Posted in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mental Health, Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Stuff that Definitely Doesn’t Suck – a review of Ben Sedley’s “Stuff that Sucks”

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Good things come in small packages – and this is very, very good!

I don’t know what your reading list is like – maybe it’s a little like mine. Last year, I was super excited to hear a colleague of mine had his book published.  What a magnificent achievement.  Then I looked at the pile of books beside my bed I was slowly making my way through, and committed to finishing them before I would move on to this one.  That was my mistake. Don’t make the same one.

Today, Clinical Psychologist Ben Sedley’s book, “Stuff that Sucks”, arrived in my mailbox, and by the time I had finished reading the first page, I was hooked.

Stuff that Sucks is a book written for teenagers, and across 89 succinct, well laid-out pages, Ben takes the key elements of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and presents them in ways that are immediately accessible, relatable, and actionable.  On page 8, Ben writes “I don’t know you. But I do know a few things about you.” As I read on, I see he’s absolutely, unequivocally right.  Over the following pages he lays bare exactly the thoughts and feelings I had in my teenage years. His tone is caring, his text in plain, and it’s clear that this is the human experience – that we are not alone in this, there’s a bunch of us (okay, the whole human race) in this together.  He doesn’t hold back from the hard stuff either – touching on the very hardest issues and darkest, most painful thoughts teenagers (and the rest of us) face.  With humility, Ben invites his readers not to take him at his word, but to try offered ideas out for themselves, and use those which are helpful.

I admire Ben for what he’s achieved with this book. In my view, adolescents are a really tough audience to write for.  Potentially the harshest of critics, teenagers can detect a patronizing, condescending tone a mile away, and yet many books aimed at this age group hit exactly that.  Ben writes for his adolescent readers with dignity and respect, and I found myself longing to have had such a book in those tough years of my own.  Indeed, as I turned the pages I found myself thinking of each of my current teenage clients in turn – and what a useful resource it could be for them right now.

And whilst I’ve left it to last to mention it, this final point is not insignificant – it is EASY and FAST to read! I unwrapped my parcel at 3.30pm this afternoon, and by 7.30pm I had hosted a play-date for the boys, supervised sight-words and home reading, listened to music practice, washed the dishes, cooked dinner, read a bedtime story to Toothless and… read this book from cover-to-cover.  Not, might I add, because I wanted to rush it – but simply because I couldn’t put it down.  I would encourage the teenage target audience, however, to take it a little slower to make time for the brief exercises that are scattered throughout the text.

Readily available to purchase online, this book retails for $15-$20ish and at that price is exceptionally good value.  Relevant to all teenagers, this is one I’ll be recommending both in the therapy room and over the school-mum coffee table. Judging by this article, I’m not the only one.

Other excellent ACT resources for teens:

 

 

Posted in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Book Review, Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s not the boundaries that matter

I’m at a business lunch talking with a stranger.  He’s a father of two, and he looks at me intently and asks “How do we keep our children safe?  How do we protect them from all there is out there?”

In a memory, I’m nine years old and the fire is crackling in our lounge room.  We’re all in our jarmies, squished together on the couch.  Mum’s in the middle, she opens our new story – this time it’s Seven Little Australians.  I’m an independent reader, and have been for some time now – but my Mum, she reads to us from this big, hard-covered, fully-illustrated tome and there is nowhere else I would rather be.

I’m talking to this guy who is tough and tattooed, but this day I see something else.  A quiet boyish smile plays on the corners of his mouth, and his eyes mist as he lets a memory spill out.  He’s a small boy arriving at Nanna’s and can smell the baking from her front door.  She wraps him into her arms, and there’s a delight in her laughter that is just for him.  Later that afternoon, he snuggles next to Pop and they watch cartoons together.

“There is this thing we’ve always done,” another man explains, with a shy look across to his wife.  “We dance in our kitchen.  It starts out with just us, but then all the kids come in and join us.”  They giggle, and for a moment they forget I’m even in the room.

How do we keep our children safe?  As parents we set boundaries, of course – we teach our children parameters of behaviour, and hopefully we go with them as they explore the edges and make decisions for themselves, using us as a guide, a credible source of information.

AND there is something else, both powerful and enjoyable, that we can do.

The biggest predictor of kids engaging in risky, antisocial, dangerous, delinquent behaviour is that they have done so previously.  We can’t do much about the past (until my son achieves his ambition of inventing time travel).  The next biggest predictor of delinquent behaviour is hanging around with the “wrong crowd” (see here).  The two biggest predictors of children hanging around with the “wrong crowd” are:

  • Disengagement from school, and
  • Disengagement from family
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Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The way we keep our children safe?  We have to make it worthwhile to hangout within the boundaries.  We can concentrate on making sure HOME is a good place to be (and school, but let’s tackle that another time).

I look to my parents as awesome role models on this.  My school years were tough years, and my 9-3 Monday-Friday was filled with taunting, being spat on, a soft place to land a kick or a punch – or, worst of all, exclusion.  The factors that contributed to me being bullied aren’t as important as the factors that ensured I survived.

Outside of the schoolyard, I felt wholly loved, and my home was my sanctuary.  Our weekends and holidays were full of picnics, camping, Sunday roasts and board games.  Our opinions were heard and encouraged; my high school days began with a cup of tea in bed; and there was always time for a cuddle on the couch.  My Mum made my school lunch Every Single Day through to year 12 – a little care package and reminder she loved me right there in the middle of my day.  We ate dinner every night around the table together.  Our achievements were celebrated, and our losses were supported.

Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of conflict and imperfect moments too.

But what my parents did was enough to hold me.  It was enough to keep me safe.  And through all of it, they were reliable, up-front, trustworthy sources of information about the world.  It wasn’t always easy to talk to them about “stuff” – but when I did, I always got all the information I needed, and I wasn’t judged for asking.

Except for when I got my tattoo.  Dad definitely judged me for that 😉

Here are some things you’re probably already doing a lot of the time, that help create a home environment worth hanging out in:

  • Talk openly with your children, and with others, about the things you value, love, and appreciate about your children.
  • Family mealtimes (with no TV or other devices).
  • Work on projects together – whether it be home renovating; planting a garden; geocaching – or ask your kids for their suggestions.
  • Find interests the whole family can share in.  Personally, I would never make the choice to go fishing.  But when I go with Stoick and my boys – the joy on their faces is like nothing else.  I go, just for that.
  • Make sure there’s plenty of times when all of and only your family are engaged in pleasant events together.
  • Speak kindly to each other.  Sarcasm, insults, name-calling: they have no place in healthy relationships.  Ever.
  • Say what you mean, and mean what you say.  Our children need to be able to trust us as credible, reliable sources of information.
  • Model the behaviours you want from your children.  It’s not sufficient to tell them – they watch us, and actions teach louder than words.

I know I’ve raved about his book before, but for more on how to (and why you would want to) create nurturing environments for our children, I implore you to read Anthony Biglan’s “The Nurture Effect”.

Meanwhile, we are a village raising children together – what do you (or your parents) do in your home, to create an environment worth staying in?  Comment below 🙂

 

 

 

 

Posted in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Parenting | 2 Comments

The Jacarandas are Blooming – The Importance of Stories

It’s the eve before Toothless’ birthday and we’re enjoying a goodnight snuggle as I start to tell him the story of his birth.  He wriggles and giggles with anticipation – he’s heard this many times before, and he delights in this special tale that is all about how incredible it was that he came to join our family that day.

It’s a story I love telling him.  Partly to remind him how much he has always been loved; and partly because I remember when I was his size, on the eve before my birthdays, and how loved and cherished I felt each time mum told me MY birth story.

Our parents were always tellers of stories and our family folklore takes on a life of its own.  I know that mum scratching her leg will turn on the light; that even if my little sister “did it she wouldn’t have”; and how the kind ladies gave strawberries and fish to my dad until they mistook my mother for his mistress.  I know what happens in a kitchen floor episode; we still tease dad about the bits and pieces; and my cousins will attest to the Evil Uncle with his glasses falling down his face who actually Peeled Back the Roof of the Tent whilst we were Astral-Traveling.

As I said, it’s now folklore.

It turns out that what my parents did instinctively – as many others have for generations – was incredibly important to our development throughout childhood.  Who knew, huh? Thanks Mum’n’Dad.

The importance of telling family stories:

jacaranda-268926_1280The jacarandas are in bloom again.  In my family’s stories, we know the jacarandas herald the arrival of my big sister.  The whole country blossoms to celebrate her birth.  Toothless doesn’t get to have the jacarandas in his story, instead he hears of how his jacaranda Aunt was the one who made his belly button so his bum won’t fall off.  She lives a long way away, my sister.  I hope her street is full of stunning purple blossoms, and if she can’t quite remember her birth story, I know a special lady who tells it really well.

 

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