family

Blood Is Thicker Than Water

by Jonathan E. Hart, LPC

“Blood is thicker than water.”  

It’s an old saying. I don’t know where it came from. The meaning is that family relationships are more important than any other. You’re supposed to be loyal to your family first and foremost, because “They’re blood”. The genetic familial bond is deep and powerful.

Use your imagination for a moment.

Imagine you have an acquaintance who routinely cuts you down, employs guilt trips or unreasonable expectations to get you to do what they want, yells when you let them down, or tells you that you don’t measure up to their expectations. Perhaps they aren’t as directly difficult to handle, but many of the conversations you have with them feel “off”, like they’re doing something inappropriate, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.

Now imagine that when you mention or resist any of these ways of communicating, they shrug and say, “I’m doing the best I can. Don’t judge”, or “This is who I am, you need to figure out how to deal with it,” or, “You’re too sensitive,” or “You know, it’s for your own good.”

How much time would you want to spend with this person? How often would you want have them over, or pay them a visit, “just to catch up”? Would you want to take your kids over to their house and leave them in this person’s care for a few hours while you went on a date with your spouse?

I’m guessing that the answer is somewhere between “Not so much,” and “Are you kidding me!?”

And yet as a relationship therapist, I routinely see people who place themselves and their children in the path of people who relate in these hurtful ways. These are not reckless or foolish people. They are common, everyday folks who care about their families and friends, who are careful parents and thoughtful about their choices.

And yet, when I ask them why they would want to make themselves or their children vulnerable to someone who treats others so harshly, they reply, “It’s important to maintain a connection with this person! The kids need to have this relationship.” All the while they acknowledge that they feel the pain of being treated this way, and though they feel like withdrawing, they refuse to do so. Parents acknowledge that the way the people in question treat their children to is inappropriate as well. They feel a protective instinct, but routinely squash that instinct in favor of maintaining the connection.

The reasons these wounded people (whether they are parents or not) offer for why they persist in this pattern of maintaining connection with relationally reckless others are many, but generally have one theme. See if you can pick it out:

“But they’re Family!”

“The kids need their grandparents. They need to know where they came from.”

What am I supposed to do? He’s my father/ She’s my mother.”

“I have to stay connected. I can’t just NOT have relationship with them.”

“I have to put up with it and do damage control after.

“What am I supposed to tell them? They have to change who they’ve always been just to please me?“

One of the hardest questions I have to ask anyone is, “If it was anyone else, would you be so willing to put up with it?”

The answer is pretty universal. “No. But… they’re not just anyone else. They’re family.”

“Blood is thicker than water.”

Except it’s not. And it is. Let me explain.

Because a person is related to you by blood does not give them carte blanche to treat you as they will. It does not mean you have to take whatever they say or do no matter what. It does not mean you MUST maintain connection with them in spite of the history and/or ongoing damage they do in their recklessness. If you wouldn’t put up with it from a friend, acquaintance, or stranger, you don’t have to put up with it from family. Period.

“Blood is not thicker than water.”

Except it is.

The difference between “blood” and “not blood” is not what we have to put up with, it’s that we keep on reaching for healing. It’s not that we accept whatever they have to offer, but that we hold out for healthy relationship. We don’t give up on the relationship quickly, but we also don’t settle for less than what it is supposed to be: healthy, mutually affirming, encouraging, strengthening. We resist recklessness in family relationships more than in any other precisely because they are so important.

If our vehicles start making funny noises, or dripping fluids from strange places, we don’t generally say, “But it’s my car. I just have to put up with it.” If our physical bodies start making funny noises, or dripping fluids from strange places, we don’t usually say, “But it’s my body. I just have to learn how to deal with it.” In either case we take steps to seek the cause, seek a remedy, deal with the issue, and keep confronting the problem until it’s fixed. (OK, you might end up having to sell your car, I get it. I’ll deal with that in Part II.)

The difference between family relationships and other relationships is the persistence we use in seeking healing. “Any other a-hole can take a hike, but this a-hole is family.”

Maybe blood actually is thicker than water. And maybe we’ve gotten confused about what that idea actually looks like in real life.   –JEH

Click here to be taken to “Blood is Thicker Than Water, Part II: I Tried, But They Won’t Change! Now What?” And click here for Part III

8 Things I Learned about Parenting as a Stay-At-Home Dad

8 Things I Learned about Parenting as a Stay-At-Home Dad

One great thing about writing this blog is that I get to write about my family!  My wife, Hannah, is awesome and a full-time marketing force-of-nature. My daughter, Naomi, is also amazing and a full-time coloring expert. Because my wife has a terrific job that takes her on the road a lot, I get to split time working at Avenues Counseling and caring for our wonderful 2-year-old. It has been the best and most challenging experience of my life. I had no idea how hard it would be. So I wanted to pass on 8 of the things I’ve learned about parenting from this school of hard-knocks.

Avenues Counseling

 

  1. You’re not lazy. Parents are the busiest people on the planet; right up there with your friends when you need help moving a piano. So if you want to just read the bolded parts of this article (in between meltdowns and near death experiences), that’s okay. I get it. Give yourself a break. We are finite people, with a limited amount of time. The 24-hour day didn’t expand with your added children. You’re just not going to accomplish as much as you did before. That doesn’t mean you’re lazy.
  1. Comparing is counterproductive. Ignore all the amazing things your Facebook friends appear to be doing for their kids. What your kids need most is your love, reassurance, and calming presence. Competing for parent of the year will only make you both anxious. I’ve never had anyone come to counseling complaining about how their parents ‘messed them up’ by serving non-organic vegetables. Having a community that identifies with our missteps is more life-giving than comparing ‘highlight reels’ on social media.
  1. Take time for your relationships. Whether it’s your spouse or a close friend, spend quality time with people other than your children. Contrary to popular opinion, children do not always need to be the center of our lives. That’s a lot of pressure. They want to know that their behavior does not make or break us. You have a life beyond them, and that is good.
  1. Take time for yourself. Don’t neglect your hobbies and passions. Your children benefit from your happiness. Balance tedious tasks with activities that are enjoyable and meaningful to you. Not every activity has to revolve around your children.
  1. Have one goal for the day. Parenting does not always feel ‘rewarding.’ Though parenting is incredibly meaningful, you rarely see the results of your labor. And not seeing results from a day of backbreaking work can be very draining. That’s why I have one goal each day just for the ‘high’ of crossing it off my list. The goal can be as simple as reading a couple pages, doing a few pushups, or having lunch with a friend. Whatever it is, I’ve done something to improve my life today! I get to make a big red ‘X’ on the calendar. These little things add up and visible rewards are very energizing.
  1. Nurture who your child is. Even at a young age, I can tell that my daughter has her own unique personality. She is not me. Recently I took her outside to play soccer; she showed complete disgust for the ball and went straight to the garden. Now, I could try to shape her into my own idea of who she ‘should’ be to gain my approval, or I could embrace who she is and nurture and support her uniqueness. My job is to make her feel special about who she is, not tell her who to be.
  1. Have fun with it. Parenting is easier when you just embrace the chaos. It’s gonna get messy; just go with it! Clean up time can come later. Kids have endless energy. That’s a strength not something to be subdued; growing up takes lots of work. Turn into the curve, put down the phone, and be active with them. You’re not going to get much done any way. Embrace your inner kid and have fun. They’ll love it!
  1. Don’t put disposable diapers in the washing machine. That one just kind of speaks for itself. It doesn’t end well . . .

by:  Andy Gear, PLPC

 

 

Parenting Our Children

Parenting my children has been one of the hardest things I have ever done.  The role I have taken on as “Mom” is daunting at times when I realize that it’s my job to teach them how to be people – regular ole’ human beings, it can often feel like one of the hardest tasks I have been given.

 

This is why I am extremely thankful for people like Brene’ Brown and Glennon Doyle who often put into speech or writing things my mind and heart very much need when it comes to parenting.  After re-listening to Brene’ Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability, and making my way through Glennon Doyle’s book, Carry On, Warrior, there were some commonalities in what they were saying that I believe is something to keep in mind as we parent our children – We are human beings, they are human beings, and we’re all in the same boat.

Here’s what I mean…if you are reading this blog post then without even knowing who you are I know some things are true of you – you are a human, you make mistakes, you are not perfect even though you may want to be, relationships are hard, life is hard, and if you’re honest with yourself you worry about how your kids will grow up in light of your imperfections.

It seems important that we begin to realize (and live as though it is true) that our children will invariably experience life as we do. After all, you are human and they are human, and being human means we naturally have limitations of which we have no control over.

Avenues Counseling

So as parents/caregivers should we approach this reality by trying our hardest to perfect our children as best as we can?  Do we really think we can keep them from experiencing the realities of what it means to be alive?  The truth is that no matter how much time and energy we put forth for our children, or high expectations we place on them, our desire to make our children perfect will never reach perfection.

When it comes to our children (and really just life in general) we need to stop trying to make the uncertain things about life certain.  We will never be satisfied and we will never be perfect.

Consider what both Brene’ Brown and Glennon Doyle share with us when it comes to parenting:
Here’s an excerpt from Brene’ Brown’s TED talk entitled, The Power Of Vulnerability (to listen to her entire talk click here).  She spends about a minute talking about the topic of parenting:  “We perfect most dangerously our children.  Let me tell you what we think about children – they’re hard wired for struggle when they get here.  When you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say, “Look at her she’s perfect.  My job is just to keep her perfect.  Make sure she makes the tennis team by 5th grade and Yale by 7th grade.  That’s not our job.  Our job is to look and say, “You know what, you are imperfect and wired for struggle but you are worthy of love and belonging.  That’s our job.  Show me a generation of kids raised like that and we’ll end the problems I think that we see today.”

In this excerpt from Glennon Doyle’s book, Carry On, Warrior, she is talking about the two things she tries to keep in mind when parenting.  Here’s what she shares with us, “First, I remember that I am a human being, and human beings make mistakes.  Almost constantly.  We fall short of what we aim for, always.  We get impatient.  We get angry.  We get selfish.  We get extremely sick and tired of playing pet store.  That’s okay.  It’s just the way it is.  We’re human.  Can’t fight it.  Elephants gotta be elephants and people gotta be people.  Then I remember what my most important parenting job is, and that is to teach my children how to deal with being human.”

What if we banded together as parents and caregivers and made a pact to no longer try to perfect our children?  What if, instead, we chose to spend our time and energy teaching our children what it means to be human?  Let’s make them experts on what it means to be human and equip them to thrive within their human limitations.

 

-Lianne Johnson, LPC

 

Gentleness and Patience in the Midst of Pain

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC

While looking through my ever exciting and thrilling Facebook page a few months ago, I saw a blog post a friend of mine shared.  The title caught my eye.  It read, “Let’s be gentle with each other.  Let’s read each other’s signs.”  After reading the title I thought it sounded interesting so I clicked it.  Little did I know how powerful the story I was about to read would be.  Have you ever asked yourself the question, “How different would my friends and family be with me if my pain (this includes all types of pain) didn’t scare them?”  I have often wondered this in my life.  I have wondered how much more care I might receive if the people trying to care for me weren’t so wrapped up in how my pain/problem(s)/fear(s) were impacting them.

This post I am about to share with you is written by Melody Ross.  She shares with us her story.  It’s a story about personal pain, being cared for by others, being judged, and most of all surviving.  If you take the time to read it I would enjoy hearing your thoughts about it and how it impacted you.

Here it is…

By MELODY ROSS

After a dear friend telling me about a hurtful experience she’d had this week. I began thinking again about a story I have told a few times…. a story that my children will tell to their children, and maybe even beyond that… because it was such a learning experience in our family, maybe even a turning point.

It’s a story that I think about often because we were the main characters in it 3 or 4 years ago, and even though it was something that lasted less than 15 minutes it changed all of us and now I see others differently, especially when it seems that they might be main characters in the same story…or one a lot like it. I used to be too embarrassed to tell this story… but I am not anymore. This is a human story that everyone needs to hear, I truly believe this. I hope you will stay with it, it’s kinda long.

As we move along… I want you to think about some of the big signs with big messages that I bet you wish you could wear around your neck sometimes so that people would be more gentle, or even that you could put around the neck of someone you love — so that you didn’t have to go into a big long story to defend yourself or someone else– so that people would just stop judging and and just be kind.

2 three signs Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

I need to start this story by giving you a little bit of background. You see, my husband had an accident in 2004 that injured the frontal lobe of his brain. It has taken 6 years to get him back, but in the middle there, between 2004 and now, lots and lots of stuff happened. He was essentially out of it, but not just that, he changed to someone else, we lost him.

His personality changed completely, he could not work, he was angry and depressed and could not cope with human beings.  He did not feel love or affection, really he only felt anger, rage, and he was suicidal most of the time. He did not remember a lot of things. He could not take care of our family or even himself, really (and I want to mention again that through lots of miracles, he is 100% recovered now…we are so thankful….he is even BETTER than he was before his accident).

But during that time he would have these confusing and amazing glitches of time when he would be totally normal. It was bittersweet. They would last for an hour sometimes, and sometimes for days or even weeks then he would sink back down into that horrible place. When he was sick, I protected him fiercely. I didn’t want anyone to see him like that. I had faith that someday he would recover but man oh man it was lonely. I wished every single day that I could just walk around with a sign like this…

1 signs husband Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

because on the outside I looked like I had EVERYTHING GOING FOR ME I looked like I might just have a perfect life but I was hiding a very painful secret…

Well, a lot of other things happened too. You can imagine what might happen over the years while we have a 7 acre farm, a pretty big international business that we own with lots of employees, a life that  HE managed before his accident, while he just let me do the fun and creative stuff. Now we had lots of medical bills, lots of sorrow and lots of distractions, we also had LOTS of kids — and no one competent managing the business.

Well, after a few years, I couldn’t hold it all together. Our business was suffering for all of the reasons listed above and a few more reasons on top of that and we discovered that we were really SINKING. Well, one day when he was partly lucid…he was THERE…he was coherent — I told him the condition of our life.

He kind of panicked and he went straight to work figuring out what he could do. It was insanely heartbreaking when he would “wake up” after weeks or months and I had to tell him how much things were deteriorating financially, etc. It was very hard. But when he could, he did what he could before his mental illness sucked him back into the prison it kept him in most of the time.

He called a sign place and had a huge sign brought out to our house…the kind that you can put letters on, and it was electric and lit up. He put it by the road in one of our horse fields. Then he drove our Suburban, both of our trucks, my classic Thunderbird that he got me for my birthday a few years earlier, our tractor, all of our tractor implements, the boat that I worked 10 years to get for him (and that caused his brain injury, incidentally), and he lined everything up along the fence and he put a price tag on every single thing. Then, he put the letters on that big huge sign and plugged it in.

You have to understand that we had worked for MANY years for those things. We started a business in our twenties and we sacrificed everything we had for all of those years to make it work. We owned almost all of it outright, but, when I told him that the business was struggling, this is what he did.

Sooooo…there it was. All in a row. All of our stuff –out in our field.

All of the neighbors driving by, our friends, the community, people who knew us most of our lives and people who knew nothing about us…we were just the young family who lived in that beautiful little farm house on Beacon Light road with the perfect lawn….or what USED to be.

You see, in addition, for months, our once beautifully manicured yard started to be filled with weeds that were now several feet high. I just couldn’t keep it up. The lawn was a nightmare. Everything was just falling apart all around me and my heart was broken over my husband, too. It was humiliating and exhausting and horrible, really.

2 please be gentle Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

Well, the sign was not up in the field for more than a few hours, when my husband’s phone rang. It was someone who saw all the stuff and my husband’s phone number on the big huge sign. We were sitting out in the yard while he was still coherent and he was feeling devastated about the condition of our lawn. I was apologizing that I just couldn’t do all of it. He was so heartbroken at his limitations and that he had left me to try to handle our life alone. We were trying to make a plan.

He answered his phone. I saw that he was just listening. I could hear that the person’s voice was getting louder and louder and louder. My husband just listened. He turned his back to me a little so I wouldn’t hear. But I could hear it. It seemed to go on and on and on.

These were the things I could hear on the other end of the phonecall:

“You are bringing down the value of my property with that ugly sign!”

“What are you doing?”

“That is the most obnoxious sign, do you have a permit to have that out there?”

“Are you starting a used car lot?”

“You have got to get all of that moved and out of here or I am calling the authorities”

I sat there, mortified, embarrassed, humiliated, mad, sad, devastated. I was certain that this would snap my husband back into his dark hellish place.

But, when the man was done ranting, my husband waited a second and then very calmly said something that I will never, ever forget.

“Sir,” he said, “There was a time in this country, in this community…when if you drove past your neighbor’s house and saw every single thing they own was for sale in front of their house…and that their lawn had not been mowed for weeks….that you would stop and say….WHAT IS GOING ON, SOMETHING MUST BE TERRIBLY WRONG, WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP YOU?”

The man was silent, and then my husband went on to tell him a few details about what was going on with our family.

The man waited a moment and then his tone changed. He apologized. I mean, really apologized and then said:

“I am going to call all of my friends and see if any of them need any of this stuff….”

***************************************

I wish with everything in me that we could have put a sign up on that big stupid lit up billboard in our field that said OUR LIFE IS FALLING APART, but all that we really could put up is a sign with the price of everything that we owned that was worth any money.

WHAT IF we could all wear a sign that said what WE REALLY MEANT? What if we could go straight past the small talk or the masks, and we could actually go straight to the heart of the matter. What if our friends and family wore signs like this?

1 four signs Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

…we would treat each other differently.

I think we should just try to imagine it. That when a friend is quiet…or not showing up to stuff she usually shows up to, or acting a little “off”, or a family member is wearing pajamas to the grocery store for weeks on end, or not answering the phone, or the lawn is not mowed…

2 signs in a row Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

whatever it is…

IT IS A SIGN. It is not a sign that can be read in words and letters, but it is a sign that someone needs to be treated gently. That they need help. Most of all, that they need love, understanding, and that they DEFINITELY DO NOT need to be judged.

Every time I think of this story I want to be better. I want to do better, I don’t want any silent signs to go unread before my eyes or my heart. I don’t want to make up my own answers to what must be going on. I don’t want to assume…

2 together Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

—– The original post can be found at:  http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/her-husband-had-an-accident/

Relational Trauma

By: Andy Gear, PLPC

I recently read a book entitled Your Sexually Addicted Spouse that I found very illuminating, and I wanted to pass on what I learned to you. In it Barbara Steffens specifically seeks to help partners of sexual addicts “survive, recover, and thrive.” But her ideas can be helpful for anyone dealing with pain from damaging relationships.

One of the most helpful ideas she brings up is the concept of relational trauma. When many of us think of trauma, we think about physical wounds. But she points out that victims of betrayal have also experienced very real trauma. This relational trauma is often just as painful and life altering as physical trauma. Many people even experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress as a result of being betrayed or emotionally victimized. The pain is increased when done by someone we should have been able to trust.

I have found this concept extremely helpful, because I have noticed that many people who have experienced consistent relational trauma tend to minimize what they have been through. People often believe that because they cannot locate one definitive trauma in their life, then they have no reason to feel hurt or traumatized. But Steffens helps us realize the lasting impact of chronic relational trauma.

The rest of the book proceeds to explain what it looks like to begin the journey of healing. If your life has been impacted by a damaging or hurtful relationship then I would encourage you not to ignore its impact. Please take the time to begin the journey of healing, because relational trauma is significant and your pain is real.

 

 

 

Sexually Addicted Families

By: Andy Gear, PLPC

I recently attended another workshop on Sexual Addiction by Dr. Richard Blankenship: president and director of the International Association of Certified Sexual Addiction Specialists (IACSAS).  This workshop was about Sexually Addicted Families, and I wanted to pass on a sampling of what I learned to you:

On average, children are now exposed to pornography at 8 years old (5 for boys):
     -Early exposure is imprinted on a child’s brain, and the images stay there.
     -These early experiences can shape arousal later in life.
     -These young children experience significant shame.
     -They are not developmentally ready to handle this and can become developmentally stunted.
This is a multi-dimensional problem that requires a multi-dimensional solution:
     -Blocking software is only one tool in the toolbox
          –Covenant Eyes or Safe Eyes (monitor and filter)
     -Address the shame involved
     -Provide accountability
     -Find community
     -Technology: a child should not have internet access behind a locked door.
     -Sex Education: helps prevent sexual addiction & should start immediately in developmentally       
      appropriate ways.
          -The number one trauma of sexual addicts is that no one ever talked to them about sex.
Families with these qualities often have the sexually healthiest kids (Coyle).
            -Good power balance in the family.
                        -It doesn’t mean full democracy, but not a full dictatorship either.

            -Flexible roles in the family.

                        -The family has a willingness to adapt.

            -Healthy and safe touch

                        -If kids don’t find healthy contact, they will find alternatives.

                       

Allure of the Web for Women:

-Immediate (though artificial) sense of connection

-Eliminates inconvenience & risks of face to face interaction

-Provides total control of sexuality & relationship

-Provides unlimited supply of potential partners

-Illusion: “you’re going to make me feel whole/complete me”

            -No person can do this.

Affects of Sexual Addiction on Women:

            -Often cuts more to the core of their identity

            -More shame: hate themselves/not just their behavior

            -Hate their femininity: feel devalued

            -Women have different consequences: pregnancy, cultural stigma, shame

Common Consequences for the Spouse of a Sexual Addict:

1.     Abandonment by spouse, friends, family & church

2.     Financial ruin or absent finances

3.     Financial dependency

4.     STD’s

5.     Lack of boundaries

6.     Emotional abuse

7.     Physical abuse

8.     Isolation

9.     Physical and emotional illness

How to Help the Spouse of a Sexual Addict:

            1. Husband:
                    -Don’t: deny, minimize, blame
                    -Do: confess, repent, show remorse
            2. Friends:

                    -Don’t: blame, withdraw, be afraid, give incorrect information

                    -Do: support, validate, show empathy

            3. Church:

                    -Don’t: blame, isolate, provide inadequate or incorrect information,
                     gossip, pressure to “forgive & forget.”
                    -Do: provide support, safety, empathy, encouragement, prayer
What to look for in your Sexually Addicted Spouse:

1.     Openness

2.     Brokenness

3.     Humility

4.     Consistency

Enemies of Recovery:

1.     Pride

2.     Arrogance

3.     Isolation

4.     External Focus

             

Unhealthy Family Messages of Sexual Addicts

1.     I can’t depend on people because people are unpredictable

2.     I am worthless if people don’t approve of me.

3.     I must keep people from getting close to me so that they can’t hurt me

4.     If I don’t perform perfectly, my mistakes will have tragic results.

5.     If I express my thoughts and needs I will lose the love and approval I desperately need.

Sexual Fantasy Attempts to meet Desires of the Heart:

1.     To have a voice

2.     To be safe

3.     To be chosen

4.     To be included

5.     To be blessed or praised

6.     To be attached, connected, or bonded

7.     To be affirmed

8.     To be touched (in healthy non-sexual ways).

Addictive Sexuality is:

1.     Uncontrollable

2.     Obligation

3.     Hurtful

4.     Condition of love

5.     Secretive

6.     Exploitative

7.     Benefits one person

8.     Emotionally distant

9.     Unsafe

Healthy Sexuality is:

1.     Controllable energy

2.     A natural drive

3.     Nurturing/healing

4.     Expression of love

5.     Private/sacred

6.     Mutual

7.     Intimate

8.     Safe

                       

Help for Healing:

1.     Learn about healthy sexuality

2.     Accept Support and Accountability

3.     Find a Mentor

4.     Join a Therapy Group

5.     Seek Counseling

6.     Work through family of origin and trauma issues.

7.     Look for safe Community

We can’t just ignore our issues and hope they get better. But if we address our problems, we can experience lasting change. “What we bury rises again, what we make peace with truly dies.” (Blankenship).

Raising a Superhero

by: Andy Gear, PLPC

“Since teaching college I’ve been amazed at two things: (1) how deeply young adults want their parents to be proud of them, and (2) just how deeply parents communicate, directly or indirectly, that their kids are not good enough. . . . I may invest in a dry/wet vac for my office. They believe their parents love them but don’t believe their parents are proud of them.” –Dr. Anthony Bradley

My wife and I are having our first child in less than a month, and we are very excited to meet her! Awaiting her birth has stirred up all sorts of emotions in me. I have so many hopes, so many fears, and so many desires for this little person.

I want to have a happy and healthy baby, as all parents do. But I have other hopes and desires as well. My wife and I often lie in bed at night and dream about what our little girl will one day be. We dream of her being a special person: smart, funny, sensitive, doing something we think important (becoming a doctor, a professor, or the President of the United States).

But where do these desires come from and are they good for our developing child? We think she should do special things because she is special to us but also because of our own unfulfilled desires. If we are disappointed with how our life turned out we might desire that our child do what we were unable to accomplish or be the person we wish we were.

The problem is that this completely ignores the humanity and uniqueness of our child. Shouldn’t she have a say in this? This may not be who our child is. She is a little person, not a vessel through which to meet all our unfulfilled desires. It is normal to have dreams, but it can be harmful to have goals or expectations for another human being.

The professor (quoted at the beginning) made the point that well-meaning parents place too much weight on their child’s performance. We put subtle pressure on our children to be an academic, spiritual, athletic, social, or financial success. We make our child’s performance part of our own identity. So we send subtle messages to our children about the conditions for their acceptability.

Our children begin to sense that we are only proud of them when they meet the expectations or goals that we have for them. So they often try to become what we want them to be—to varying degrees of success. But this is done at the expense their own identity and happiness. When they don’t fit the mold we set for them, they feel as though they are failures and are not free to pursue who they truly are.

Just because our child is special to us, doesn’t mean that it is not acceptable for them to be ‘ordinary.’ Not everyone has to be a doctor, a CEO, or the President of the United States. It is enough for them to be themselves. Of course we want to nurture them and provide an environment where they can flourish. But we must be ok with them being who they are. If we are not, they probably won’t be either. They will go through life believing that they are not good enough, don’t have what it takes, or are defective. They may suffer from low self-esteem or anxiety about their performance. Our expectations may rob them of the joy of enjoying who they are.

The messages we send our children, as parents, are extremely powerful. Our words and actions can send the message that they are acceptable because of who they are, not what they do. Or we can subtly poison them with the message that they are only acceptable if their performance matches our expectations. 

Though I may not dream of my daughter being an emotionally reserved janitor, what if that is who she is and chooses to be? Would I celebrate who she is? Or would I subtly communicate that she needs to change in order to make me proud? When I expect her to be someone else I am doing violence against her own unique humanity. She is her own person, and I want to help that person flourish.

I don’t want to create an environment for my daughter that leads to her crying in her professor’s office because she doesn’t think she is living up to my expectations. Though I have hopes and dreams, it is unfair for me to have expectations or goals for another human. She gets to decide who she wants to be, and I have the privilege of helping foster her unique self. I want her to flourish, but I don’t get to decide how she flourishes. She doesn’t have to be the best at anything to make me proud. She will make me proud by just being who she is.  

The Holidays are Coming

by Jonathan Hart

If this phrase fills you with a sense of foreboding, you’re not alone. For many, the holidays can be a time of guilt and frustration in which the traditional family gatherings are fraught with conflict, tension, and heartache. Family gatherings can be confusing. “Why is this so hard?  Is it supposed to be like this?  That’s just how they are, I need to get over it… but I can’t!”

Families are rarely perfect.  We often feel pressures and expectations when we are among our closest relatives that we don’t feel anywhere else or at any other time of year.  I’ve heard more than one person complain, “Mom (or Dad) treats me like I’m still twelve years old!  They don’t seem to understand that I’m an adult now,” or “I just go along with it!  I can’t seem to stand my ground with them.”

While these pressures and conflicts are not unusual, they are painful and difficult to handle for many people.  We feel the power of these relationships and expectations deeply, and we aren’t sure what we have the right to challenge and what we don’t.  All too often we avoid confronting what is painful because the consequences are just too great.  “I can’t say that to my Mother!  It would crush her! It would ruin the whole trip!”

If you are among those who need help sorting out the expectations and learning how to relate in a healthier way when you’re at home, I’d encourage you to sign up for the “Surviving the Holidays” seminar that we are presenting at Rooftop Church in Affton on Friday, November 9th from 5:30-9:00 PM.  We will discuss how relationships are designed to function, how they get off track, and how to change the pattern in a healthy direction.  For details on how to register for this event CLICK HERE!