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Why Parenting is Not About You

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Why Parenting is Not About You

When I was a child I dreamt of becoming a powerful attorney living in a high rise apartment in New York City. I wanted to use my relentless arguing skills and my strong sense of protection for the greater good. I did not see marriage in my future, nor could I possibly imagine having children. No interest.

When I did choose to get married, I wondered if I would ever follow the typical path of starting a family. It was hard to see giving up my independence and passion to do so. It wasn’t until I held a premature baby in my hands that I had the flash of desire to care for something so small and seemingly helpless. That was the moment everything changed.

When I became pregnant with my first child my friends had a hard time imagining me as a mom. I felt the same. Two weeks before I gave birth to my daughter, I cried to a friend that I might have made a mistake and wasn’t sure I could do it. Having tragically lost my own mother while a teenager scarred me deeply and I felt like my ability to mother may have died with her. My confidence in my abilities was non existent.

This is the part of the story where I want to tell you that the first time I looked in her eyes, I knew she was what I was waiting for. But that is not even close to true. I felt even more frightened when I met her and even more concerned I had no idea what I was doing. The fact that she was relying on me to pretend like I did was even more scary. I suddenly felt the weight of responsibility that terrified me.

What if I screwed it up? What if I hurt her with my lack of knowledge? What if she didn’t like me or worse, what if I didn’t like her? A lifetime of attachment fears fed my mind and I felt trapped. It intensified when I realized there was no turning back.

Despite my fear, I took the job seriously. I read as many books as I could on how to feed properly, what temperature to not scald the child in a bath, natural remedies for common ailments and what an irresponsible mom I was for letting my child sleep with me so I too, could sleep.

I listened to advice. I took it all in and practiced patience, openness, techniques to get my kid to listen, techniques to get my kid to talk. How to get her to use a toilet and how to get her to clean up after herself. I wanted desperately to do everything right. No one told me that having a child was the equivalent of taking my heart out of my body and holding it out for the all the world to potentially hurt it. The risks felt so huge and the fear so big.

The only thing I could not seem to learn from a book was how to fully love my child—courageously. That, it turned out, was all on me and has been the biggest challenge of all.

After 16 years now of watching my daughter grow and 13 years of watching my son, as well as a lifetime career of working with kids, parents and friends, I’ve learned a few things worth sharing.

1- It’s not about Me.

As egocentric humans we tend think EVERYTHING is about us. The choices our kids make. The paths they venture down. Their successes and failures. None of it is about us. None.

My job as a parent is to guide, to inspire, to create an environment I hope they will thrive in, and then, let them live in it.

The more I make it about me, the more I teach them to lose their confidence, independence and ability to trust themselves.

Does this mean I don’t make it about me? Not a chance. I often make it about me because that’s what we do. It’s what we’ve been taught and its a tough one to unlearn.

On the days they thrive, I pat myself on the back. But on the days I am challenged, I have to again check in with myself to see it’s my insecurities and fears that make it about me even when it’s not.

2- I am not in control.

I never have been. The illusion of control I have held is strong. On my most insecure days I am certain I am in control of their minds, their choices, and their guilt. Nope.

They always make the choice how they will respond. They will either buy into my tactics or they won’t. I have absolutely no control over either despite my best efforts.

They began making their own choices the minute they ventured from the womb. Whether to eat or not eat, to sleep or not sleep, to listen or to ignore. It’s all been their choice.

I control their environment, their belongings in my home, and their comfort in it. I control my words and my expressions. My behaviors and what I model for them.

I control how often I tell them I love and accept them as much as I control my eye rolls. After that, I’ve got nothing.

When I let go of my need to control them, I am rewarded with their trust in me, trust in myself and faith in the process of life. It is the flavor of true freedom.

3- We all came here to love and be loved. All of us.

Our biggest “lesson” in life is to experience love at its fullest capacity. We have the innate desire to be loved and to give it.

That means we have to feel fear if we want to feel faith. We have to feel anger if we want to feel compassion. We have to feel hate if we want to feel love. The extremes are how we experience the full gamut of what life has to offer.

My role is not to shield my kids from this reality, but to use my own experience and wisdom to support them through their own it. They came here to live. My job is to mentor them through it, not to do it for them.

Of course I want to shield them from pain. I want to put them in a bubble and solve all of their problems. And if I did, it would be the biggest disservice to them to not let them truly feel what will make them stronger, wiser, braver and genuinely more compassionate human beings. The same as all of my pains and hardships have done for me.

Protecting them from challenge does not make them happier. It makes them more vulnerable to deeper pains, insecurities and ignorances I can’t protect them from at all.

Loving them courageously means letting them learn to do the same.

Checking in with these truths for myself is what helps me to fully love my children (and my role as their mom) to the best of my ability. And so far, it’s working for us.

Parenting is the most amazing and brave experience I’ve signed up for thus far. The most challenging, the most scary and occasionally- the most rewarding. The attorney in the high rise I dreamt of would likely not have had the courage to work in this gig. I’m forever grateful she changed her mind.


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The Big Ass Circle of Truth in Parenting

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The Big Ass Circle of Truth in Parenting

At some point I felt confident. I knew the consequences I was dishing out to my child made sense.  My intentions are the same every time. I want my kids to learn. I want them to grow from their decisions, no matter what they are.  I want them to have a clear understanding of what works and what doesn’t work.  Isn’t that what we all want?

Yet I keep finding myself in these moments, feeling unsure of my convictions, and remembering just how challenging this gig is.

My daughter is officially a teenager.  Since her birth, I’ve dreaded this time of her life. “Stay little,” I’ve pleaded.  “Stop growing,” I’ve demanded.  Neither children obey my commands.

My girl is months away from being taller than me. Hell, it could even be tomorrow.  I just know it’s close. Dangerously close. She is already more confident than I was at her age.  More self-aware, self-assured, self-loving. She is kind, respectful, and sensitive, yet with a thicker skin she’s developed for protection after a few experiences encouraged her to grow it.

Overall, she’s well rounded and a person I genuinely enjoy being around.  I am proud to be her mother.

So what’s my issue?

The mood swings, the attitude, the typical adolescent poor decisions, the uncertainty of my creating long term damage with my responses to them. My own personal desire to want to get it right the first time…you know, fear.  Fear that I’ll say something to hurt her. Fear that she’ll feel neglected or rejected. Fear that I won’t be able to combat her natural inclination to feel like she’s not good enough…despite intellectually knowing I can’t actually do that.

So when I do upset her and I know how angry she is at me, I have to take a big step back and look at myself and my own insecurities as a parent.  I look at my desire to create the mother/daughter bond I didn’t have. I look at my interest in wanting her to trust me like I do my own father.  I want her to want to spend time with me and ask for my help.  And in that moment, when she wants nothing to do with me, I have to remember that I’m making decisions to support all of those things, even if they look like they will push her away.

The biggest thing I’ve learned in the past year with my children is that as they grow and my desire to stay connected to them increases, my approach has had to change as well.  I found myself hitting a wall with my daughter and she didn’t want to open up with me.  I realized that if I wanted her to let me in, I’d have to do the same.  I told her about my fears of her aging. I told her I knew I had no control over her and how letting go of the small belief that I do is a big piece for me to accept. I told her how the only way we were going to comfortably get through the next few years is for her to not shut me out and for me to trust that she will make decisions that will support her instead of hurt her…and that in the end, everything is going to be okay.

And in these moments of questioning myself, I find that my insecurity always comes back to the same concern…my own wanting to be more than enough for them. I think we refer to this as the big ass circle of truth.  I may have just made that up, but hopefully you see where I’m going with this. I fear for her what I’ve felt myself; feeling like I am good enough. I want to protect her from what it’s taken me my lifetime to work through and understand. And all I can do is trust myself to offer the best of what I’ve got.

In my circle of truth I see it. I know that what I’m creating is to help us both.  When I trust myself, I teach my kids to trust themselves. When I am honest about my fears and flaws, they are more open to share their own.  If I allow myself to be authentic and true to myself, they will observe this and ideally be inspired to do the same, on their terms, in their timing.

This practice of trusting is ongoing.  For everyone. I know that.  But when it comes to parenting, I’ve yet to discover anything more powerful than trusting my instincts, trusting what I teach my kids is in their best interest, and trusting that they will make decisions that are beneficial for them. Most days, my sense of trust IS the best I’ve got.

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Parenting- The Way We View The World

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Parenting- The Way We View The World

Hello! Long time no write!

I realize it’s been an awfully long time since I’ve written anything for this website, but since I recently renewed the website itself and a friend of mine just asked me today to pull it together and start writing about parenting, I decided, fine…I’m in.

I can’t promise regular posts. I can’t promise I will offer you the best advice for your family. But I can promise to be honest and objective and share what I know for sure…this parenting gig is a lot of work, but damn, it’s pretty amazing.

I believe that parenting is simply teaching our children how we view the world.

Our parents were our primary teachers and they taught us how they view the world. They used the words and beliefs which were taught to them by their primary teachers and only changed them if they felt they didn’t work for them. We have the opportunity to do the same.

For example, if one or both of our parents were worriers, we learned how to worry. We learned how to speak and approach life with hesitation. We spent our days mimicking the distress we were taught and even though we didn’t know why, we learned, this is just the way it is. As we got older, we had a choice on if we want to continue with this worry pattern and training on how to perfect it, or if the worrying was uncomfortable enough to question why exactly we choose to partake in it. If the discomfort bothers us enough, we choose to learn something new, something that suits us better. A new belief, a new way of thinking, a new way to communicate. We alter the way we view the world.

All of this translates to how we parent. We share with them how we see life, the rules we have developed to live in it and the beliefs we hold around how we treat people, our loved ones and ourselves. We teach our children the manners we believe are important, our insight based on lessons we’ve learned the “hard” way, and a general appreciation of why people act the way they do. We teach them our fears, our prejudices, our shortcomings and our angst. We teach them where we find joy and just how to find it. We teach them what works for us. And, what doesn’t.

And this, my friends, is why I have not written in a while.

I am not the same person I was the last time I wrote. My views on life are not the same either. The more I experience and grow as a person, the more my view of life changes with it. And therefore, who I am as a parent is changing as well.

I’ve been a single parent for three years now. Scratch that- co parent- with my children’s father. I left my secure job as a school counselor to open a private practice in counseling and figure out what I want to do next for my career. I am changing and therefore, how I parent is changing.

I am growing into my authentic sense of myself and the more  authentic I feel as my own person, the more authentic I feel as a parent. My children are almost 10 and 13. They are no longer small children and I no longer treat them as such.

My daughter is a teenager and is extraordinarily insightful and sensitive and supportive, and I am learning to treat her as the person she is, not as I want her to be.

My son is turning double digits and he is double the fun he used to be! A wise little soul, he tells his momma how proud he is of her all the time…and then drives her nuts with his little boy behaviors that are a hallmark for exactly where he should be developmentally.

We are figuring out how to be a family within our means and how to successfully support each other, while bringing in the outside stressors daily- all of us.

I am incredibly grateful to be their mom and to teach them my view of the world.

And I’m also grateful to be able to share with you. Thanks for reading.

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Making A Big Decision When You’re Not Sure Which Choice is Right

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Making A Big Decision When You’re Not Sure Which Choice is Right

I am proud to announce that I recently had an article published on Tiny Buddha, a fantastic website which shares the wisdom and experience of others, and I am honored to be a writer added to that list.  This article teaches how to make major life decisions that are right for you…my latest forte. The opening quote comes from one of my favorite authors and psychologists who solidified my belief and understanding that we have the opportunity to learn from every experience in life, the identified “good” and the “bad” and how we view those experiences will determine our satisfaction and our personal growth.

“When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ~Viktor Frankl

Over the last two and a half years I have made some big changes in my life. And by big, I mean enormous.

First, I moved with my husband and our children from a home I loved for ten years. Shortly after, my husband and I ended a twenty-year relationship and marriage. With that separation, I made the decision to buy the house we had moved to, which on paper, I shouldn’t have been able to buy.

Apparently ending a long commitment and beginning a large financial one on my own wasn’t enough for me though. The following year I resigned from a secure job to pursue a dream I hadn’t fully envisioned and started a business without projected goals.

When I list out all the changes, I start to question my own sanity.

I have never been one to make quick decisions, especially ones that I hadn’t thought through. I was raised by my father, a self-proclaimed workaholic, who spent his career as a high powered executive for a high risk industrial insurance company.

I was not bred to believe in taking chances, to live on instinct alone, and to leave anything that resembled security. You just don’t do that. But something was stirring in me that kept me unsettled.

I knew it was time to make changes, and I knew those changes were absolutely not guaranteed to work in my favor. I was scared—no, terrified—to alter the course of my life, but standing still gave me even more anxiety.

How do you make the decision to change your entire life and know it’s truly right for you?

I have a secret, one that I’ve used consistently in recent years when making decisions that weighed heavily on me.

It’s a technique that simplifies the agonizing back and forths of “should I or shouldn’t I?” One I wished I learned when I was younger to ward off some major bouts of indecisiveness and internal torment. Although in retrospect, I would not have been ready to use it until I was actually ready to hear it….Keep Reading

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Teaching My Children to Live

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Teaching My Children to Live

I was eating dinner with my kids last night and we were literally eating the last of what I could find in the house to make. I was waiting for money to go to the grocery store and we had been waiting for what felt like an awfully long time. We talked of our temporary situation…more so, the temporary situation I put them in. I am constantly checking in with them about how they feel about my major life change and the decisions I’ve made. And every time, whether they mean it or not,  they seem completely unfazed and answer with cheerleading responses such as “you’ve got this Mom.” “I’m so glad you are doing what you love, Mom.” “It’s not a big deal, Mom” And with every little success I share with them, they act like I just discovered a new sugar cereal.


Our temporary situation is meant to be an upgrade and making the decision to upgrade was quite a risk. I resigned from my very stable school counseling job back in August and have been working to create a new career since. I had to take a couple of classes and study for an agonizing licensing board exam, but I am now a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice. I am also a Master Instructor and practitioner of a very intense energy therapy which facilitates deep healing. And I’m beginning to slowly follow my passion for writing. Clearly very slowly, since I haven’t even written for this blog in many months! But life change will do that to you, throw you off track and go into overdrive trying to figure out what it is you’re doing. At least that’s what it does to me.

When I made the decision to leave my job and completely start over, I knew it was not a “smart” move. In fact, on paper, it seemed irresponsible. I have a mortgage, two dependent children, and no real end goal of where I wanted to be. Who leaves a secure job with a consistent income to follow a dream that materialized over night? Apparently, me.

I didn’t sleep for about a month as I plotted out my every move and how it would impact my children and myself. The flow chart of what if’s was well highlighted and new avenues of dead ends were developed nightly. I was filled with fear, but I knew underneath the fear, it was absolutely the right move. I distinctly remember questioning what it was that I wanted to teach my children during this time of transition. I wondered how my decisions would impact their view on life.

I know they watch me, trust me and see my strengths as infallible. Yet I also know they witness my weaknesses, frustrations and what it looks like when I sit in my fear. And I had to come to grips that it’s okay for them to see me as human, as long as they know and trust that I will rise above those weaknesses and make happen what I set out to do.

So what am I teaching my children?

~That trust is essential, especially trust in yourself and your own abilities.

~That life is full of choices and each of them offers us an opportunity to grow into ourselves.

~That you will always know how you are by listening to the way you feel.

~That progress comes from action. When you feel off, change it up. When you feel good, keep going.

~That the world supports you if you support yourself. Keep your intentions positive and when your perspective shifts to the negative, look at it, acknowledge it, and then prove it wrong.

~That nothing can take your power away, unless you hand it over.

~That if you can embrace your fear, you can also embrace your bravery.

In the moments I get stuck questioning myself, I must constantly reframe and look at my role as their teacher. Would I rather teach them to settle for what is comfortable in its discomfort or take the chance to be themselves in a life they personally create? And then I pray that we will all look back at this time of transition and appreciate the unwavering faith that keeps us going.

I have made mistakes, no doubt. But I have created more successes than I knew I could. And today, I am going to the grocery store and tonight, we will celebrate every one of those successes that have added up. I’ll take it.

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Q&A My Perspective: How Can I Avoid Going to Heaven?

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Q&A My Perspective: How Can I Avoid Going to Heaven?

QUESTION:

My four year old daughter has been thinking about what happens when one grows old, goes to heaven and why. I explained that taking really good care of your body and your mind is very important and when we are here, we need to take really good care of ourselves. Now she asks “will jumping on the trampoline make me not go to heaven?” I’m stuck…any ideas?

MY PERSPECTIVE:

Kudos! You gave a her a great response to an inevitable question! Developmentally, a four year questioning the unknown aspects of death is as common as gluten intolerance these days. And her follow up question is fabulous because it proves she is listening and ingesting your words. Excellent!

The tricky part is, in her mind, she asked a  simple black and white question. In our minds, the land of the gray, we hear a complex question filled with varied emotion and multiple answers. Immediately, we may recall our own fears and discomfort with death, our experiences, others’ experiences and even what could be our experience if our minds let us go there.  Yet, all she really asked was “So I need to stay healthy to not go to heaven. Is the trampoline my ticket to stick around?” (Or some 4 year old version of this question)

A response as simple as “Jumping on a trampoline doesn’t mean you won’t ever go to Heaven. We will all go to Heaven. The trampoline is great for your body and keeps your mind happy, so when you do go to Heaven someday, you can be proud of yourself for taking such good care of yourself while you were here.”  The key is to answer in black and white, not the gray we get stuck in.

If she wants more and seems to have fear associated with it, this could be an opportunity to explore with her what she thinks Heaven is.  The key to decreasing anxiety is making an unknown a known.  Ask her what does it look like, smell like, feel like? If its supposed to be so wonderful, why are we afraid to go there and trying to avoid it?

And perhaps she’s giving you an opportunity to explore this yourself.

Either way, if you speak from your heart, you can’t go wrong. And if you don’t speak from your heart, she’ll likely ask you over and over again until you do.  They’re funny little creatures like that.

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Taking Our Life Back

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Taking Our Life Back

It’s time to take back your life.  Yes, I’m talking to you.  You know the life you always talk about? The one with the free time? The one where you see your friends, read a book, take a bath, journal, go for a walk, drink coffee in quiet.  It’s your life I’m talking about…and mine.

We are in this together, this life of ours.  We cry at the same movies, watch the same news reports, empathize with those in pain and laugh at the same jokes.  Maybe our level of acceptable is different, but humor is humor and pain is pain, no matter the degree.

I know it’s time for you to take back your life because it’s time for me to take back mine.  And of course, we’re all connected, so I know you are feeling the strains and aches and pains and heartache and joy and peace.  Maybe we feel them at different times, but we still feel them. All of us…every single one.

But today, you take our life back.  Today you will make a list of what its’ going to take. On that list will include making a date with a friend.  On that list will be drawing up your vision of your dream vacation. On that list will be exactly when you plan the time and day you will sit alone for 10 minutes and drink that coffee, tea, or chocolate milk by yourself in silence and breathe this week.

On that list, you will come up with the ideal job where someone pays you to do what you love.  On that list, you will write the names of all the people you want to thank for making your life special and filled with joy. On that list you will add one dream you can’t let go of and why. And on that list you will tell your significant other just what that dream is…and if your significant other is currently you, tell yourself.

If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for me. But today is the day. Its Go time.

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5 Ways To Teach Our Kids How to Use Their Voice

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5 Ways To Teach Our Kids How to Use Their Voice

Remember the last time you walked away from an interaction with someone where you didn’t respond with what you were really thinking?  The one where you had 27 brilliant rebuttals or hard core responses you wish you said, but clammed up out of fear of how your words would be received and what repercussions there might be for speaking your truth. Of course you do, we’ve all been there.

And then we tell our kids to “Use Your Words” when they hit or are verbally aggressive at times and overreact because they don’t know how to communicate their emotions in calm, rational ways that get their point across respectfully. Its not a double standard. Oh wait, yes it is. (I can not apologize for the sarcasm, its how I speak my truth)

Yet, we want our children to speak for themselves and learn the value of self advocacy. In my professional view, its one of those life skills that not only helps you in ANY career you choose, but also in any relationship or friendship or interaction with another human being…and occasionally pets. (I am 99% sure they understand everything we say). But I am not kidding, its that important.

Learning to speak your truth and use your voice could not be any more valuable.  Shoving down your emotions starts with a disagreement with your parent or your friend or your sibling or your teacher or the kid bullying you at school and ends with stifled interaction and communication with your boss or your colleague or your spouse and a self esteem that feels it can not get out of its own way. It becomes a patterned behavior and response when we fear that if we speak our truth we will not be supported or worse off, rejected. And most of the time we play out the scenarios in our head and fear the worst without ever having lived it. We reject ourselves before we are rejected and silence ourselves without ever hearing the sound of our voice.

So how can we stop that pattern with our children?

1- Help them to identify what they want as an end result.  How do they want to feel at the end of the conversation?  What is the intent? Its important to know what they want to feel so they will be able to tell when they have met their goal and end the conversation and embrace the success.

2-Give them the words to use.  Do a mock conversation with whomever they feel they need to speak to. Help them play it out to make the unknown a known and they can feel prepared.  All those “I wish I said this” can be played out in advance to give them a better shot at saying them.

3-Reframe any negativity. If the conversation feels remotely confrontational (and most people avoid confrontation), help them see it as a positive more so than a negative.  For example, if they have to speak to someone who they feel is treating them unfairly, explain to them that by speaking up they are teaching that person how their actions and words affect other people, something they may not know, and in turn will help them rethink how they speak to other people, thus protecting future “victims.”  Annnnd they will feel awesome once they say what’s on their mind.

4-Help them see any fear around it as simply a thought, not a reality.  There is no real way to know how a conversation/interaction is going to go without assuming….and we all know what assuming does.

But more typically, the anticipation is far, far worse than the actual event.  Help them play out the worst case scenario so they can see that nothing is truly too life altering if it doesn’t go the way they’d like.

5- Tell them stories of situations in your own life that they can relate to so they see that they are not alone and that life goes on.  Its so helpful for all of us to speak to someone who we feel gets us and our fears when we are having them and when its the strong parent you look up to, even more so.  Sometimes the most comfort comes when we hear survivor stories of those who’ve been in similar shoes.

The  hardest part for some parents will be to not do it for their children.  When our protective instincts come out, we pump up our chests and want to fix it for them with our experience, but allowing them to do it on their own actually is a far more empowering opportunity for growth.  And isn’t allowing them to grow the best way to advocate for them? I vote yes.

And if you are wondering if they are old enough to handle it on their own? If they can speak up to you and use their voice, then they are old enough to handle it on their own.

Wanna hear the super bonus of all? The more you teach them and encourage them to use their voice, the more confident and comfortable you feel doing the same in your own life. Two lessons in one. What’s better than that?

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12 Simple Lessons Every Pre Teen Girl Needs To Know

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12 Simple Lessons Every Pre Teen Girl Needs To Know

Remember high school girl drama?  You know, “I heard you were talking about me.”  “No I wasn’t.” “Then why did Betsy say you called me a slut?” “Maybe because Betsy told me you were talking about ME and YOU called ME a slut.”

Okay, there aren’t many Betsy’s in high school anymore, but for real, they still talk like that. It’s BEYOND painful. Be-yond. And they mean it…and Betsy really did tell her she called her a slut, to both parties, I’m sure of it.

Girl drama drives me nuts and yet a I have a bizarre love for teenagers. I find great joy in working with them because they are just hitting the cusp of adulthood. They are still listening even when they are pretending they are not. They want your opinions and approval even though they won’t ask for it, and the best part…I am not their mother, which means I can say whatever I want without fear of them not loving me and causing long term damage to both of us. But honestly, they are just simply kids, trying to figure it out and needing a little bit of help…or A LOT of help along the way.  As they sort out how they feel, what they think they should feel and what they think they shouldn’t, they get sidetracked on where they stand. As parents and adults who care about them, our role is to redirect and help them navigate which way feels best for them. This can be a challenge, because lets be honest, they can be stereotypically stubborn and extremely annoying. Extremely. But work we must, to assist them to the finish line of adulthood, without tearing out every last one of our pre gray hairs.

Listening to teenage girls hash out their differences can be exhausting. Often, I find myself walking away with a tension headache and a realization of the intense fear I have of my own pre teen daughter growing into adolescence.  I may have even said a few silent prayers to the Universe asking that my daughter be spared of raging hormones, latent insecurity and a need to be liked by anyone other than herself.

And like an Irish prayer (because my daughter is Irish and I think I am–even though its only true on St. Patrick’s Day) I pass on my wishes and lessons to the pre teen girl, as she works her way into blooming adolescence…

At the dawn of transition, may you find the truth in these lessons:

May you notice that for every one person you think doesn’t like you, there are 25 more who are so thankful to have you in their life.

May you learn that when your heart feels broken, that feeling of sadness will only be two blinks worth of time in your life span.

May you recognize that everyone has an ounce of pain in their life, if not more. When you think you understand them, ask again, they may only show you what they want you to see.

May you have an understanding that you are NEVER in control of what other people say and do. You can manipulate those who will buy into it, but they still call the shots as to how they will respond.

May you taste the words that are sweet and the words that are bitter as they come out of your mouth, so you know which ones feel better to use.

May you realize that your brain is by far the most attractive thing about you, because when you use it openly, suitors will follow you around and recognize you as the Goddess you are.

May you always know the difference between the story to share and the story to keep to yourself.  In the world of friendship, it is the sacred keeper of the stories that holds the key to real trust.

May you see that relationships are more about how you see yourself than how others see you.  When you see the beauty in yourself, truly see it, it won’t matter who sees it as clearly as you.

May you remember that the love you give out will always be the love you get back, but the way you define love may fluctuate.

May you experience that every ending is simply the beginning of something else to learn.

May you discover that the only limitations in life are the ones you create.

And may you always know that the earth will continue to rotate, the stars will continue to twinkle and the sun will continue to rise each day, whether we choose to see it or not. But when we choose to see it, life is so much more fun.

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Peeling the Layers to Understand Kids and Those Around Us

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Peeling the Layers to Understand Kids and Those Around Us

I am a people person.  I like people. They intrigue me and I like to understand what makes them tick.  One of the benefits of being a high school counselor is that I get to meet all different types of kids.  I see the high achievers, the not so inspired, the funny, the bright, the anxious, the depressed, and everything in between.  A natural analyzer, I have the luxury of having multiple personalities at my disposal to read and understand, helping me craft my skills.

What I like the most about meeting people is peeling their layers in an effort to understand where they are coming from.  Each of us has layers of our personalities, of what we are willing to show and what we are more comfortable hiding.  Typically, what we hide is well protected and is revealed only at times or moments we deem as safe.

Kids are not quite as good at hiding their layers and that is an advantage  for those of us trying to get in to understand and help them.  And depending on what they show, their layers are more transparent than they’d like to think.  The high achievers have the secret underworld of insecurities, waiting for those around them to find out that they are not as perfect as they portray.  The not so inspired haven’t found their niche or their passion yet, so they choose behaviors that either keep them under the radar or keep them in full view for all to see they are struggling.  And the everything in between kids probably protect their layers more than the rest, and they are so good at keeping them hidden, they may not even notice how interesting each of their layers are.  Once you peel off the layers and see them for who they are, they each have their own brand of beauty to add to the world and their needs are basically the same…to be loved and to give love.  It’s just innate.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that I spend more time getting to know the kids who face heavy challenges.  I’ve run multiple groups for teens including Anger Management, High Risk Behaviors and Grief Groups.  Although individual counseling provides insight into the person, group counseling provides insight into the person and how that person works in a society, obviously a much smaller society, but none the less, their interactions with others is quite telling.

We’ve all watched people socialize in groups, how they interact, the way they position themselves and the body language…its what makes people watching so fun.  We’ve been annoyed with how one person presents themselves in groups and wished they’d go away.  We’ve also been surprised on occasion when we’ve talked to the same person one on one and they really weren’t that unpleasant or annoying as we originally judged them to be.  Once we let go of our assumptions and invited them to do the same, it’s amazing how the image of one person can instantly change into one we can accept and even like.

And that’s because of our layers. It is my belief, that we each have five layers.  The first layer protects us with words and actions that shelter us and portray whatever image we think will get us what we need. This is the layer we see after knowing someone for five minutes.

The second layer has increased protection with meatier words and behaviors to back up the first layer. We use our behaviors in this layer to mold others perceptions of us and assess how much more we want to share based on their reactions. This is the layer revealed after talking to someone for an hour.

The third layer holds our beliefs of other people and the world, the way we see them and talk about them. For example, do we speak of life experiences and others with a positive tone or a negative?  Do we live our lives with optimism or pessimism, or a combination of both? Our negativity exposes our fears and insecurities and our optimism shows that we are able to find faith and acceptance.

The fourth layer reveals how we see ourselves. Even to those who know us well, we keep this layer well protected as it creeps into the layer where we are most vulnerable.  Our insecurities, our pride, our truest belief in what we feel we are able to do lie here. This layer takes quite a while and a lot of trust to be revealed to others.

The last layer, our core, the culmination of it all, is the essence of who we are and this is the layer we only expose to those we trust the most. In order to see this layer, you will have to prove to us repeatedly that we are safe in your presence and we do not feel judged.  Overall, the more we trust, the more layers we’ll show.

It is typically the most annoying, the most rude, the most outwardly dysfunctional, whose layers are the most transparent, but because of their unpleasant persona, they are most often rejected as the “bad seed,” “loser” or “lost cause.”  Yet, if you take the time to peel off that first layer and then the next, you will more likely find the scared little boy or girl who got hurt somewhere along the way and recognized the need to protect themselves. And what better way to protect themselves than to choose behaviors that repel others from getting close to them and setting them up to be hurt again.

One more layer down, you will see the same little boy or girl who, like everyone else, really does want to be cared for and accepted, but just doesn’t trust enough to allow it to happen. You will also find the self loathing and sadness that peppers their mind with negativity and creates an inability to understand that different behaviors and thinking can create better outcomes.  They just get stuck in their own head which keeps the cycle going strong.

But “lost cause?” “Loser?” “Bad Seed?” I think not.  Broken maybe, but not irrepairable.

We all have layers, therefore, we all have the ability to see the layers in others.  It can take time and patience to wait for others to be comfortable enough to unpeel their layers, but our natural instincts and insight can speed up the process when we allow it to.   That young boy that lives down the road and teases the kids on the block has layers.  That teenage girl who struts around in skimpy clothes has layers too.  The quiet kid who the other kids say is “different” has his own layers.  And each of them has a need to be cared for and accepted.  Just like you and me.

One of my students gave me a card at the end of the last school year that read…

“In a world that’s easily impressed with “star quality,” it’s a rare person who sees the promise in quiet souls. Who sees beyond a shy exterior and recognizes a hidden talent.”

I was honored that she saw me this way, but in reality, it’s not a rare person who sees it. We all have the ability to see the promise in others. We just have to be willing to open our eyes, let go of the judgments that muddy our vision and have faith that our efforts will pay off…and one layer at a time, allow the beauty to shine.

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