Category: Family

TV Families and What They Have to Do With Us

TV Families and What They Have to Do With Us

I haven’t seen the new reboot of Roseanne but grew up on the original series (along with so many other shows… I was permanently indented into my family’s couch for a few years there.) It’s been interesting to follow different reviews of the new version, including critiques of its social or political messaging and diversity as well as positive reviews (sometimes both from the same source).

But what’s been most interesting to me is what the show has already spurred – lists of other shows that may be worth watching for their depictions of “real” America and real families. I read this list with tons of interest: it includes shows I’ve heard of like Black-ish and Fresh off the Boat, and then others that my pop-culture-oblivious self had no idea about (like The Good Place and Speechless).

So why does this matter so much I’m posting about this? Because there’s often a link between what we watch and how we feel about ourselves and the world. When we consistently don’t see people who look like us on TV (as is the experience of most people of color), we get the message we don’t matter, and that our experience isn’t important. We begin to believe the lie that a “normal” exists and that we’re different in a bad way. Racism on TV shows can make us more racist too

There’s also lots of research, of course, that shows that when we only see stick-thin actors with perfect skin, we compare ourselves negatively to those images. In these and other moments, these TV images can make us feel worse and more isolated instead of what good TV can do: make us feel more connected and empathetic, and even boost our emotional IQ.

So I’m putting Black-ish on my list, along with a handful of other shows. Maybe you will too.

Teens and the Anxiety Epidemic

Teens and the Anxiety Epidemic

The New York Times Magazine cover story this past week was about teens and anxiety. Yay!

And it’s not that I’m a sicko who takes pleasure from other people’s suffering.

Rather, it’s nice to see attention focused on what’s been obvious in my office: that many teens — delightful, smart, precocious, thoughtful teens — are really struggling in profound ways. Self-harm is one way that this struggle shows up. A struggle to get to school is another big way this shows up. And it puts parents in a huge bind over what to do.

Here’s what I want you to know. Anxiety is terrible, and the impulse is to avoid anxiety by avoiding what makes us anxious. But as this article mentions, avoidance generally makes things worse. What helps? Looking at and re-writing thoughts, coping skills for calming the body and mind, and practice showing up for things that feel scary — like school.

 

A Way Out of Loneliness — And It’s Link to Depression, Anxiety and Other Ailments

A Way Out of Loneliness — And It’s Link to Depression, Anxiety and Other Ailments

The research is out, and loneliness is a public health epidemic. I was struck by this story on NPR earlier this week about not just its connections to depression and anxiety, but also its link to stress and resulting physiological problems. Of particular note: about 40 percent of people experience loneliness. That means there’s a lot of people feeling lonely… meaning we’re simultaneously alone in it, and also not alone with the experience.

The story comes from reporting from — who knew? — the Harvard Business Review about the impact of loneliness on workers.

I see teen and adult clients every day who you wouldn’t expect to be lonely. Lots of people have busy lives that may look fulfilling from the outside. Lots of us have relationships with people that have substance and depth. And yet – it may be that when we’re alone with ourselves, loneliness creeps in. Or we’ll be at a party, or at work, or with our families, and feel separate, like we’re pretending to feel something we don’t actually feel or pretending to be someone we’re not. Sometimes when we feel isolated, we stop going out — and then, as a result, feel even more isolated. Or we get busier and busier to avoid the feeling altogether.

There is a way out of loneliness that doesn’t require becoming busy beyond belief. I work with people every day on loneliness in a few different ways. First, we work so that relationships can become more authentic – so you have to hide less of yourself. This can mean dropping the need to look perfect, to yourself and others, which isn’t an easy task for many of us. We work on figuring out what you want for your life, so that you spend less time on things that feel fake or meaningless to you. We also work on your relationship with yourself. How can you spend time with yourself in a way that’s comfortable, and grow to have a relationship with yourself that’s companionable? Loneliness loses its steam when we grow comfortable with ourselves, and with being ourselves.

8 Tips for Talking with White Kids about Racism, Violence, and Charlottesville

8 Tips for Talking with White Kids about Racism, Violence, and Charlottesville

I have a love/hate relationship with the internet, but I’m all love for the world wide web when I see articles that aim to help adults talk to children about important issues like racism and violence. Unfortunately, this is a conversation that parents of color are used to having with their children. It’s time for white families to catch up.

At the bottom of this post are a few resources. And here are seven tips:

  1. Let your child know that no question is stupid.
  2. Provide age-appropriate answers that support what you want your child to believe about the world. Do you believe there are “good” and “bad” people? Then use that language. In my family, we talk about how when people feel mad or sad, sometimes they act in mean ways.
  3. Remind them what your family believes – and how that guides your family’s actions. For instance, “In our family, we know that everyone’s equal and important and so we treat everyone with kindness and respect. I’m sorry that other people don’t feel the same way.”
  4. Let them know that there’s also lots of good in the world. Brainstorm a list together of different things they’ve seen or experienced in the last day or two that have made them feel happy, loved and loving.
  5. Let them know your job is to help them stay safe.
  6. Limit exposure to upsetting media. Like adults, kids’ anxiety can go up when they have information they don’t have the capacity to fully process.
  7. Consider a realistic family project to help your child feel empowered to act. A few ideas are drawing a sign for your front yard, having a lemonade stand and giving money to a charity you believe in, or sending a thank-you note to an activist or politician you respect.
  8. Despite what many of us grew up believing, we know now that kids confront racism best when race is something they know they can talk about openly. Being “color blind” is a myth, and one that can be offensive to many people of color. Learn more about talking to kids about race here.

This article from the New York Times does a good job compiling book resources. 

Local bookstore Charis has compiled a great list of books. 

This article may be a helpful first-person perspective on talking with white children. 

 

Testing, Testing – Tips for Parents

These last few weeks, I’ve seen kid and teen clients’ stress skyrocket as a result of mandatory statewide testing. It reminds me of my own days as a student in DeKalb County schools taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills way back in the 1980s. You may have a similar memory of using #2 pencils to bubble in answer sheets or long hours of boredom ctesting, testingoupled with the pressure to do well. As far as I can tell, none of that has changed.

It’s easy to be sympathetic to these clients and their anxiety. Tests can be confusing, and often don’t reflect what my clients have learned throughout the school year. Multiple studies over decades have shown that race and socio-economic class can impact scores, raising significant doubts about validity.  

And yet, even when these smart, savvy kids have this information, they still feel tremendous pressure to do well on these tests. For some, these test results make up a significant portion of their final grades in school. For some, their performance impacts eligibility for talented-and-gifted programs. For many, it’s easy to tie self-worth to scores — which means even more pressure to perform.

In my years counseling teens and kids, many parents have come to me saying, “my kid seems more irritable around testing time.” This is not a surprise. When we’re anxious and don’t feel a lot of control, that can come out as irritability or efforts to control other parts of our lives in constructive or not-so-constructive ways. 

So here’s what I tell parents:

1. Recognize that your child is likely feeling anxiety and pressure. They may not tell you that they’re anxious, but you may be able to tell if your child is acting out more than usual. Any perceived pressure from you may feel like “too much” to them, since they’re already worried and negatively anticipating the test.

2.  Help them prepare in practical ways (getting a good night sleep and eating a good breakfast beforehand). If their school allows books or other materials for in-between testing times, help them select something that will reduce boredom.

3. Reassure your child that you love them and that testing is much less important than other things (their character, perhaps, or their overall effort during the school year).

4. Make plans with your child to do something fun after testing is over. 

And, thankfully, testing will be done soon!

Grief Before They’re Gone

It’s become clear to me that it’s time to say a bit about anticipatory grief, that sort of pain we feel when someone we love is dying. This is different from grief we feel when someone is already gone; rather anticipatory grief is what we experience when we’re fully aware that a loved one is mortal, and dying, and that we’ll likely be here without them after they die.

anticipatory griefAnticipatory grief carries with it all the usual emotions of regular grief — including anger, guilt, anxiety, denial, bargaining, and sadness, to name a few — but is complicated because the person is still here, in some form or another. We can’t have the same relationship as before, and acting like everything’s “normal” can be a huge strain. We can’t imagine living without them, but we know things will not get better or easier. We know that dying leads to death, and the anticipation of this can be terrible – worse, even, than the death itself.

It’s an honor to get to support people who are experiencing grief. These are some of the most difficult, lonely moments that life brings us, and a time for deep reflection about who we are and what’s most important. It’s a privilege to walk with people through the desolate landscape of grief and help them find their way back home to their own precious life.

 

When the Political Gets Especially Personal

Sexual desire or its absence. Religious beliefs or the belief that the here-and-now is all we’ve got. The thoughts or experiences that make us feel weird, or embarrassed, or alone.

One reason I’m such a fan of counseling is that it’s a space to talk freely about aspects of our lives that sometimes go unspoken to even our closest friends or family members. We need places in our lives to talk openly about who we are without fear of being judged, criticized, or excommunicated from our most important relationships.

personalpoliticsIt’s been especially important to me lately that clients of all political persuasions know that politics is something they can talk about openly in sessions. Some are excited and hopeful as a result of this new presidential administration. Other clients are finding their anxiety aggravated and their depression worsening as a result of recent political actions. More than one has been in a fight with a loved one about ideology or the “right” way to act or react.

For many clients, the political situation has been a catapult into de
eper exploration of meaning and purpose. I can relate. In and out of session, so many of us are wrestling with questions of how to better translate personal principles into purposeful actions that go well beyond our own self-interests. We are exploring how to live with difficult emotions without acting out or checking out. We are figuring out how to engage in respectful dialogue that avoids condescension and assumes best intent. And, of course, we continue to discern how to respond to our own limits and needs with self-compassion.

This isn’t selfish navel-gazing; rather it’s trying to figure out how to live and stay connected to ourselves and to one another despite sometimes widely different beliefs about how to make the world a better place.

It is an honor to walk with clients through these questions, holding space for uncertainty, acknowledging fears and courage, and helping them connect to their deepest values.

Why You Won’t See Me Quoted In A Magazine Next Month

images-2Last week, my email dinged with a message from a magazine writer asking for an interview. Hurrah! I thought. I love talking about therapy! But then I read closely. The writer wanted my expert tips on how parents should design their children’s rooms for optimal development, including the “right” kinds of toys. I felt my heart slowly sink back to it’s normal position in my chest. For while I love talking about counseling and kids, I hate doing anything to perpetuate parents’ anxiety that they’re not doing enough.

I laughed, thinking about my own kid’s room: a few pieces of used furniture; a motley assortment of stuffed animals (a few of whom have lost plastic eyeballs to our otherwise lovely dog), the usual assortment of kid-related clothing, and lots and lots of books. I’m pretty sure that if I had strong opinions about kids’ rooms, my own child’s room wouldn’t measure up. But the idea that kids only thrive in a very particular set of circumstances simply isn’t true.

So I ended up saying a big fat no to that interview request.

What’s in a kid’s room matters much less than who’s with that kid in life. Research supports that what matters most for healthy childhood development is the presence of caring, mostly-consistent adults, not the presence of particular toys in a certain sort of space.

Is this a missed opportunity for me to spread the good news about good therapy? Perhaps. But I’d rather miss out than spread misinformation and fan the flames of anxiety and guilt.

 

 

Surviving Our Families Over the Holidays

 

“If you think you’re enlightened go spend a week with your family.”

-Ram Dass

It’s that busy few weeks right now between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when many of us have barely had time to recover from one family gathering before the next one looms. We don’t need to have deep, dark family histories in order to find extended time with family challenging. Stick us in a house with anyone, add in lots of expectations for how Thanksgiving or Hanukah or Christmas or Kwanzaa “should” be, and we’re bound to feel challenged.

Holiday survival with familyToo often, these holidays are also a reminder of loss – who isn’t here with us, how these holidays used to be, and what may be missing right now from our lives. Underneath the cheer is often a layer of sadness or worry or regret tinged with some self-recrimination. Shouldn’t we be enjoying ourselves right now?

My wonderful colleague Tara Lozano reminds me that sometimes the only thing to say in these moments is “This too.” It’s the exciting holiday season – and we feel sad. We love our extended families – and they drive us crazy. Saying “This too” makes room for the fact that our lives often have elements of wonder and despair at the exact same point. Saying “This too” makes space for the facts we can want to hug and kill our relatives, sometimes at the exact same time. This is normal. It doesn’t make us bad people that we hold such a wide range of emotions – it just makes us human.