One of Those Days
There's been a lot going on this month. In addition to the usual work, home, kids (with their crazy sports schedule) and winter tax prep, I committed to helping select a new school principal, the next day learned my husband's job is relocating, and then last week a friend died after her year-long battle with cancer. It's been a roller-coaster of feelings: purpose and helplessness, fear and excitement, despair and connection, uncertainly and clarity, paralysis and inspiration, overwhelm and peace.
In one of those moments of inspiration/paralysis, I thought I'd distract myself by considering an update for my website (a purposeful attempt to find some control). I typed my URL and got this:
Practicing a little denial, I thought, "I can't deal with this now - maybe it's a glitch and I'll try it again next week." This morning, I woke a little anxious, probably because we're leaving town tonight for spring break, and the packing always gets me a little spun out, (and see paragraph one). Having a later workout class than normal, I decided to use the extra hour to contact my web server and clear up what was certainly a simple fix on their end. Turns out, there's no simple fix; it's a pretty big mess. All the safeguards like pre-payment, auto renewal, multiple contact emails, packaged url/email/web serving didn't negate the fact they did not connect the new credit card in my profile for my web serving. Net net: they deleted the content a month ago and they only keep content backups for two weeks. Since mine was created on iWeb, which no longer exists, it's gone - like GONE, GONE. GRRRRRR!
The frustrated, bitter part of me wanted to write a rant about the company. Yes, first world problem, but a big pain in the ass nevertheless. Thankfully after recognizing my long neglected blog still exists, a more grounded part decided to practice what I preach all day long and radically accept that my content is lost and needs to be rebuilt. To ease into it, I sought out some additional info and went to the gym. I'm choosing to use this as an excuse to get back to blogging, not with a rigid editorial calendar, but when I feel inspired. So in that vein, posting this barely proof-read post and then letting it go over break.
All day long I teach clients about radical acceptance: observing feelings, letting them come and go in waves, accepting what is, and determining what we can and can't change. What I've been reminded in the last month, and this morning, is that IT WORKS!
I know I can't create more hours in the day, undo mistakes that have already happened, control work, change people's feelings, or get rid of my own. I can sweat my butt off and feel a smidge better, eat a bag of Cheetos and not have it be the end of the world, stay up late or go to bed early, toast and talk with friends, take my vitamins, process internally, do what's in front of me, and trust I will be ok.
I went to my friend's funeral with my family this week, the kids' first funeral. We all cried, and I was reminded that my kids know it's ok to express feelings, and I'm ok sitting with them through the pain. I was so impressed that at these young ages (10/12) they're already grasping a skill that it took me into adulthood to learn. Life is short and full of so many moments we don't understand or like; if we can sit through the pain, we are so far ahead. This week brought our family much talk of what happens after we die and what we value while we're here. I'm sad to think my friend's passing was the thing that began these conversations in our home, but am so grateful and indebted to her that it did.
Today I feel a little peace amidst the chaos knowing that wherever I am, I have people I love and who love me. And I'm still breathing...
(And if you're looking for info on my practice, I can't guarantee when that site will be back up. Email me firstname.lastname@example.org or search for Whitney Preece at www.psychologytoday.com).
January 6, 2014
Most of the time, my parenting posts are light on the expertise, heavy on the bumbling through. For those who wonder, I don’t work with kids professionally, for clinical reasons, but also because my own kids keep me questioning my parenting skills on a weekly basis. So, what I’m about to write comes with a disclaimer. I am NOT a parenting expert. That said, I do feel strongly about the issue of educating kids about sex, because I’ve spent years in my office working with teens, adults and couples, trying to undo harm from their “sex education” (or lack thereof).
Most of us learned about sex from an awkward sex talk, limited and late formal education, horribly unrealistic portrayal of simultaneous orgasms in movies, or from our equally clueless peers. The result (surprise, surprise): misinformed, shame-filled adults, who still can’t talk about sex, and are paying the price in their relationships and even their self-esteem.
So, it was through that lens that I began reeling when my 8-year-old son recently asked, “How old were you when you first had sex?” For a split second I thought about lying, “when I got married.” Or at least fudging the truth.
Fortunately, my therapist self is skilled in processing questions (a.k.a buying time). “Hmmm. Interesting question – why do you want to know?”
I disguised my elevated blood pressure as we laid in his bunk having a surprisingly open dialogue about why he wanted to know, when he thinks he’ll be ready (sometime between college and now – WHAT?!?!), my concern that if he knows my start age he’ll think that’s the “right” age, and, most importantly, that our bodies usually feel ready before we’re emotionally ready. Whew - that's a lot for one sentence, but a good illustration of the pressure in my head at the time.
Anyway, my blood pressure stabilized when he asked, “What is ‘emotionally ready’?” I babbled about emotional readiness, oxytocin and how sex changes things (and not always in a good way), all while considering, what should I tell him?
Finally, my doesn’t-miss-a-beat kiddo observed, “But you still haven’t answered my question, Mama.” After another soliloquy about our relationship, trust, and keeping this to himself (not sharing with his friends or sister), I told the truth. “I had sex in high school with someone I had been dating for a while, when I knew I was ready to handle it.”
Some of you are probably reeling, aghast that I would tell my child I had sex in high school. Some of you are hoping your kids wait until college, marriage, or maybe when you’re dead and buried. In my case, he’d already revealed that high school or even younger was a consideration, which is why my priority was to convey when it’s physically and emotionally healthy to have sex, and why it’s different for everyone. Whatever your priority is, this is the time to share it, when your kids are impressionable and value YOUR opinion. (We know that will change very soon, right?)
My goal behind my answer, and our conversation in general, was to be as honest, direct and shameless as I could. I let go of the desire to see him as my baby boy forever, and opted to start teaching him how to be a grown up (when the time comes) with regard to sex. I wanted him to know:
- My mom trusts me enough to answer my questions and tell the truth.
- Sex and sexual feelings are part of life and important to talk about.
- Everyone is ready on his or her own timeline, and we each make a choice the first time, and every time.
- Healthy sex is mutual, respectful, and enjoyable.
While I don’t know if we’ve conveyed messages two through four yet, when, a week later, he asked follow up questions about something he heard from a friend at school, I realized we’d conveyed the most important message. He was coming to us for more information!
So, borrow these messages, or create your own, but be sure to prepare yourself for the conversation(s). Answer questions when asked, and keep the dialogue going. You are a powerful person in your young child’s life; right now you are a resource. Don’t unknowingly encourage your kiddo to look elsewhere by dodging the tough questions.
In preparation, consider your own early sexual experiences. Were there things you wish a trusted adult had shared? If your early sexual experiences occurred before you were ready, or were non-consensual, how will you address that when related questions come your way? How can you be honest, even if you don’t want to share your specific history? Beyond your own discomfort about your child having sex, how do you want him or her to experience sex (when it's time)? Below are some responses to try:
“My first experience wasn’t positive, which is why I want to keep talking with you about all this, so you can experience something healthy for you.”
“Sex is a private thing, so I won't tell you when, but I will tell you I felt ready. What do you think makes someone ready?”
“I did it before I was ready because I didn’t have anyone guiding me about this stuff. That’s why I want talk with you about it, so you can make sure when you have sex, it’s right for you.”
"I want you to experience how special and fun sex can be when you share it with someone you really care about, who also really cares about you."
"Sex can sometimes feel awkward to talk about, but I want you to know that just because I'm fumbling doesn't mean I don't want you to keep asking questions. I'll answer as well as I can, and if I don't have an immediate answer, I promise to think about it and get back to you."
Whatever you do, use your answers as a springboard for conversation. Ask yourself, “How do I answer the tough questions now to pave the way for my child’s healthy adolescent/adult sexuality?” As uncomfortable as the questions and conversation may be for you, if you don’t act as your child’s guide, someone else will. And that would be a loss for both of you.
By the way, my son didn’t let up on my non-specific “when I was in high school” response. He persisted about the specific age. I suggested maybe I’d tell him when he arrived at that age. He then asked, “Will you tell me when I’m in middle school?” To which I responded, “We’ll see. Let’s keep talking about it.” And so we will…
I'd love to hear about your responses to tough questions from your kids. Or thoughts about what you wish someone had told you as a child. It can be about sex or other topics.
If you’re looking for an actual parenting expert, check out my friend Tracey Johnson’s Practical Parenting website. Lots of great resources!
Recommended Reading (and there are many more out there)
Asking About Sex and Growing Up. Joanna Cole.
The Boy's Body Book. Kelli Dunham.
The Girl's Body Book. Kelli Dunham.
How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex. Linda and Richard Eyre.
It's Not the Stork. Robbie Harris.
It's So Amazing. Robbie Harris.
It's Perfectly Normal. Robbie Harris.
Where Did I Come From. Peter Mayle.
Ten Talks Parents Must Have with Their Children About Sex and Character. Pepper Schwartz.
April 10, 2013
My trouble started with my client’s gift of homemade chocolates. While gifts are officially a no-no in the therapy world, homemade stuff is an exception, and on this packed day, the cocoa concoctions were just the generous dose of sugar I needed to reenergize for evening clients. The next morning, however, I was punished: the inevitable sugar hangover was looming, complete with headache, lethargy and irritability.
I was able to maintain patience with the kiddos that morning (thankfully), but didn’t have it in me to push myself to my usual workout class. So I opted or plan B: a quick walk around the park and then take out my funk on the overgrown garden.
You see, we recently had some work done that left portions of the grass a good three to four inches below the front path, an ankle roll (or postal worker lawsuit) waiting to happen. To fix it, we leveled and reseeded the lawn, leaving sporadic patches of compost for the next few weeks. As if keeping the kids from walking and playing in it isn’t enough, the lawn’s unpleasant visual disorder was getting to me within days. There it is: neurosis exposed (in case it wasn’t obvious already).Yes, I’m symmetry obsessed, and I prefer to start and end my day looking at the balance of a well-manicured lawn and flower beds.
With the lawn looking like crap and my sugar funk altering my usual mood, I decided working on my flower beds, to create some visual interest and distract from the grass, was the best option. Secondarily (or maybe primarily), it would also provide me with a sense of control.
Assuming you’ve read any of my other posts or you’re a parent yourself, you’re already aware of the letting go required in parenting. As a therapist, it’s pretty similar. I have little control over what people interpret in our sessions, whether or when they’ll make changes, and if they do, what outcome will be revealed. So, with acceptance (sometimes reluctant) of my powerlessness in most of my life, the immediate gratification of a few hours of weeding, pruning and planting helps me feel accomplished, pleasantly expended and powerful.
On this day, I plan a 30 min walk, hour of gardening, quick shower and then off to my clients. It’s not the full dose of dirt I really need, but it’s a start. I begin walking quickly with my true desire – gardening in the rare spring sun – in mind. Interestingly, before long, my pace has shifted, slowed. I notice a patch of wishes (the seeded dandelion type) and then another, and as the walk unfolds, more than I’ve seen in my lifetime!
A little history: wishes and their earlier dandelion form are a nemesis for any lawn. Years ago, ours was full of them; it was the East Portland trend to let your lawn burnout to conserve water. Every July and August, we mowed our foot-high dandelion fields overtaking the dead front yard. Since having children, however, wishes are a welcome find, a treasure of sorts, now that the neighborhood has turned over and lawns are being groomed, seeded and yes (gasp) watered.
Today, I reflect on this lovely, but invasive, weed, and appreciate the irony. I see beauty in the blooms and seeds someone else tends but find frustration (and even loathing) when I’m the one tending. I even laugh out loud, recognizing that the reason I was enjoying today’s walk at all, was so that I could get a little exercise before returning home to shape and WEED my own little piece of earth.
Thanks universe, I guess I needed that. Message clear, I extend my walk another loop. At least for that day, I let my sugar funk go, not by obsessively tending to front yard disorder, but by delighting in the wishes and weeds.