Archive for Mother blog

Promises

Yesterday I asked my 5-year-old son to promise me that when he grows up, he will not go to war.

He looked at me with his big brown eyes and said , “I pwomise, Mommy.  I won’t go to war.”

I come from a long line of pacifist men, so I’m hoping his word is good.  It’s one of the scariest things about having a son.

My mom was sitting nearby and she said, “And Amelia.  Make Amelia promise.” And even though I’m a feminist to the core, I really have zero fears about my daughter enlisting.

This is why:  I play a game to get Josh to eat his vegetables, where the broccoli is held with one hand and labeled a kitten, and the other hand is the monster. The monster chases the kitten into my son’s mouth, and his mouth is the refuge. He is distracted with fun so he will eat his veggies. But this silly game is upsetting to my 8-year-old daughter, because she feels sorry for the kitten and the monster scares her.   She has to leave the dinner table.  That child is not going to enlist.  Not even in a parallel universe.

But Josh loves to make sticks into guns, and shoot his bow and arrow at the cat. When he was 3 years old, he was poking a snail with a stick and I scolded, “Don’t do that.  It hurts the snail.”

He asked, “Can I at least pee on it?”

He was born aggressive, and with a loving family it will turn into assertiveness and drive.  But I am scared that when he’s 18 and his prefrontal lobes aren’t developed and consequences are abstractions and death is a myth and being a hero is a worthy goal, he could just amble on down to the armed forces center on a bright sunny day and sign his life away.  Nooooooooooooo.

Josh, promise me.  Promise me.  No war.

“I pwomise, Mommy.”

The Attach Place Center for Strengthening Relationships

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

Parenting with heart,

Jennifer Olden, LMFT

The Wink

It was 4 PM and my contractions were intensifying. I still felt on top of them and naively considered that maybe I had grown more pain tolerant since my previous labor. This time around I wouldn’t want/need an epidural.

Hahahahahahahaha…

The nurse examined me and shook her head grimly saying, “You are only 3 cm dilated. ” She informed me that they had a strict policy to not admit women until they were at least 4 cm.”

I said, “But I’m 42 years old.”

The nurse looked at me sadly and said she’d check with her boss before sending me home. She returned looking positively cheery. She exclaimed, “Good news! We can give you a ‘pity admit.’”

Yes, it’s a thing: “Pity admit,” for those women who are managing labor so pathetically that the staff relents and lets them take a bed.   Luckily, in the midst of excruciating pain, my pride takes a back seat.

I was instructed to walk around for an hour to speed up the labor, which I did with my husband, Randy, on my right. The contractions intensified more. I remembered my previous two un-medicated labors and insisted that we return to my bed so I could get the epidural NOW, to which they complied. The epidural nurse was magazine-beautiful with long blond hair. She announced, “I love my job,” as she stuck the needle in my back.

All better.

Then we chilled for four hours.

Finally the nurse said that I was 10 centimeters. The doctor arrived in 20 minutes. She was a slim, dark-haired, no-nonsense, energetic woman in her 50s named Dr. M.

Dr. M told me to push and I did as instructed.     Except, Sam didn’t come. He didn’t move an inch. He appeared to be stuck. Not only was he stuck, but his heart rate decelerated every contraction, which was a red flag for the doctor.

I tried harder to push. Nothing. Sam didn’t move and his heart kept dropping. Then during one contraction, it dropped down so far that the nurse and the doctor grabbed me and pushed my knees to my chest while pushing me over onto my left side. I was exhausted and in a dreamy altered state so their intervention felt intrusive and strange.

“What are you doing?” I demanded.

They pointed to the monitor and said that his heart rate had dropped too much. I knew they were worried.

This is my third child, third pregnancy, third labor, and so I know something that first time moms can’t possibly fully understand. Being a mother is a profoundly vulnerable experience because you realize that your child could die right before you, and even if they live there is only so much you can do to protect them from pain. The realization is searing.   Every single parent bumps into a horrifying reality: ultimately, I am powerless. We do what we do to protect our little ones from danger and heal their hurts, but there is always that edge of powerlessness we must learn to live with at the cost of loving deeply. There is no way around it, and I hate it.

This was the first time I felt that fear with Sam. I squeezed Randy’s hand and he squeezed back.

The doctor instructed that I stop pushing.   It was decision-making time.

Dr. M said that there were three choices:

  • Vacuum
  • C-section
  • Stay the course

The third option was the most risky.

“I’m scared.”

The doctor replied, “Me too.”

When I tell people this part of the story they always gasp and express righteous indignation, “You should have told her to go get someone who knows what they are doing!!!” I don’t share the outrage.

I loved the doctor for this honesty. I loved that she gave me a choice and didn’t have an answer because that’s life and I imagine (If Grey’s Anatomy has taught me anything) that this is never truer than on the operating table. The crossroads don’t have definitive signs and cost/benefit analysis must be done in a split second. Sometimes intuition is our only guide. So when Dr. M told me she was scared, she let me know two things:

  • She cared.
  • She owned her vulnerability. She wasn’t omnipotent   She was like me, but with a medical degree.

The next contraction came and I threw up. Baby Sam skootched over to the middle of my stomach. I decided to stay the course, for now. I pushed again. Dr. M looked at me. Her face 3 inches from my vagina, her hands ready to catch the baby, and then….She winked.

When I think of my labor this is the indelible imprint of the whole experience, not my baby’s arrival. Sure, that was earth shattering and transcendent, but my tiny OB perched between my legs with a smile and a big wink cannot be erased. It’s funny that we cannot escape ourselves. Even though this was a real life, cliff-hanger moment, my brain had the stamina and the gall to have an awkward social moment. “Should I wink back?” I wondered. I decided against it.

It was 1 AM. I pushed with everything I had left. With a mighty UMMPH, he slipped out and everyone cheered. He cuddled onto my chest and I held him close. Big love. One minute into a relationship with this baby and I already knew that I was sunk. I was totally and completely crazy in love with my sweet blue-eyed baby boy, Samuel Reed Olden.

The Attach Place  Center for Strengthening Relationships

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

Parenting with heart,

Jennifer Olden, LMFT

The Middle Child

Daniel Siegel, attachment researcher, neuroscientist, and author of a dozen books on the brain, teaches us that we create a life that reflects our brain.

 

We create a life that reflects our brain.

 

This isn’t just something the mystics and the new age hippies espouse with their manifestation boards and drum circles. It’s hard science.

 

So, if we believe we are unlovable then we provoke rejection from our most beloved people. This is more than a cognitive choice. It’s a reflex. It has to do with the mechanics of our brain and the wiring of our early experiences.

 

I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy on November 15, 2014. My five-year-old son just became a middle child instead of The Baby. Since then, Josh has provoked disapproval from me.

 

Example: Last night I was looking up how to use butternut squash in a salad and whether or not it was reasonable to add raisins instead of cranberries (it’s not) and Josh comes by and wordlessly shuts my computer. Then he ambles away, laughing hysterically.

 

He also ate half the tube of toothpaste, for the second time.

 

After I instructed him not to touch the muffin tray, he reached out anyway, and predictably burned his finger.

 

I said, “Josh, don’t stomp. You’ll wake up the baby.”

 

Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.

 

I said, “Don’t put the binky in Sam’s mouth because you’ll wake him up.”

 

Josh promptly put the binky in Sam’s mouth.

 

Josh drives me CRAZY. He doesn’t listen nor follow directions and purposely does the exact opposite of what I want him to do—just to mess with me, the exhausted post partum mom.

 

I am reminded of a Louie CK joke.

 

He quipped, “Before children when I’d see a parent yelling at a child in the grocery story, I’d think, ‘Oh that poor child. What is wrong with that mom?’ After I had children, I’d witness the same scene and instead think, ‘That poor, poor woman. What has that horrible child done to her.’

 

During one of Josh’s oppositional moments I accidentally visualized sending him outside.

 

“Go play outside,” I’d yell and then enforce it.

 

I pictured him behind the sliding glass door crying; his giant alligator tears falling down his cheeks. That’s Josh’s worst fear, I think, to be behind a pane of glass separated and rejected by the people he loves the most; and yet that’s exactly the response his behavior provokes. Luckily, I have Herculean mental strength and self control not to obey his command.

 

I’m not going to send Josh outside, because the other half of the story is this boy is

bad-ass and hilarious and so intensely loveable I couldn’t imagine loving him more (or less) for any reason. He shines.

 

Josh collected snails in a plastic 16 oz cup, set up a table in front of our house, and made a sign that read, ”Snails for sale. $4.00 each.” Only one snail was purchased by his sister and she got a deal; it was free.

 

Josh wanted to invent a diving board flinger to solve his sister’s fear of diving. He imagined that he could just push a button and take the choice out of it for her.

 

When his sister cried about a mean friend, Josh offered (at about two-years-old) to beat up the culprit.

 

He wore dresses like his big sister and when he started realizing that boys don’t usually he just put on pants, too, tucking his dress into his pants when he was in public.

 

Josh is obsessed with the regular boy stuff including cars, tools and trains and he also loves Origami, classical music, and drawing pictures. He has an uncanny ability to imitate other people and can run as fast as an 8 year old. He loves to dance.

 

My heart is tied to his every single day. I believe in Josh’s soul.

 

Yet, he provokes my irritation and anger and disapproval, despite my deepest feelings about him and my intention to fill him up with love and approval every day.

 

Parenting requires ENORMOUS self-control.

 

As an antidote to this nasty dynamic, where Josh was annoying me and I sent him disapproval, which made him act out more, which caused me to disapprove more, I started noticing what Josh was doing right.

 

I assigned him little jobs around the house like getting the water for my tea and putting a blanket on the baby. I praised him with every success. I ignored the oppositional moments—when possible.

 

Then one night, I put him to bed and listed all the things he did right that day.   He said, “But I got into some mischief, too.”

 

I responded, “When I was a little girl, I did mischief, too.”

 

He said, “You are still kind of sneaky with popsicles.”

 

I told him that if he could see himself through my eyes, he’d never doubt himself again.

 

He put his arms around my neck and we cuddled till he fell asleep.   I am shaping Josh’s brain right now so that he has a template for love. Even when he is struggling with being a middle child and acting out, he is still intensely loveable. In the end, he will see himself through my eyes and when he looks in the mirror, he will see what I see: A capable and fiercely independent but also deeply loving and affectionate, beautiful boy.

The Attach Place  Center for Strengthening Relationships

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

Parenting with Love and Laughter,

Jennifer Olden, LMFT

2014 in Review–Parent With Heart Blog

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,200 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 20 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Failure To Dive

At some point I decided to stop trying to be a better parent and just work on being a better person. I realized that it matters less what you do, than who you are.

Luckily, parenting gives me x-ray vision into who I am. I am able to see my generosity right along side my control freak tendencies within the same day—sometimes within the same thought.

For example: The entire time I was pregnant with Amelia I felt overwhelmingly responsible.

I actually thought, “Now I need to make the brain. “

And then, “Shit, I don’t know how to make a brain.”

I had five fingers and five toes on my to do list for the day.

I realized that there were 8 billion cells, all doing specific jobs, and just one of them on a long lunch break meant Spina Bifida.

This was the kind of pressure I was under.

Being pregnant is the most vulnerable experience. All I could do was drink green juice, stay away from soft cheeses and sick people, and sit on the sidelines of control shouting out my preferences, as something bigger than myself put together my baby.

Even when I was in the tremendous agony of labor, my doula said to me, “Just a few more hours and you’ll be holding your sweet baby. “ I couldn’t picture it. When I tried, the baby was this translucent ghost child.

And again, when Amelia was born and she went straight to the nipple and knew just what to do, I had the feeling she was a savant. In my mind I had to take her to some sort of nipple sucking school where she would have to learn the basics of nursing.

I am aware that I am not alone in this tendency to assume control of things that I cannot control, and that my futile efforts leave me panicky and self-critical. There are moments I see the same pattern in Amelia (age 7) and Josh (age 4).

For example, last night when putting Amelia to bed, in tears she proclaimed, “I am a TERRIBLE swimmer and it is so embarrassing. I am the worst swimmer in the world.”

She is a bad swimmer. I mean, that’s just true. She is 7. This is her second time in swim lessons and she’s not a natural athlete. She’s also careful and more concerned about form than about actually swimming the length of the pool. So there will be other kids just thrashing about toward the other side, while Amelia is trying to do everything just right: with her little cupped hands and deep breaths every third stroke. Her process is slower.   At the end of every lesson Amelia is supposed to dive into the water. She is terrified. She stands at the edge of the pool for five to ten minutes contemplating the dive, but in the end she can’t force her body to do what registers as dangerous no matter how many lifeguards come by and tell her that it’s safe.

This struggle makes her feel bad.

Sandwiched between them, I am putting my Josh and Amelia to bed. We talk about our day together. Amelia is sobbing and thrashing about in Josh’s bed and I’m trying to say soothing words that have no impact.

Josh pipes up, “You can do the Bob!”

We laugh. Amelia laughs. She says to Josh, “Everyone can do the Bob. It just means bob under water.”

There is a pause in the despair, then Amelia starts up again.

“I can’t even dive.”

I again attempt to comfort, “You will. These things take time. It’s ok.”

Josh interrupts me, “I have a great idea. Why don’t we get a button by the diving board and when Amelia is about to dive in, someone pushes the button and flings her off?”

“Then all her problems will be solved,” Josh boasts.

We crack up together.

“Instead of a diving board, it’s called a flinging board,” Josh continues.

I’m laying in the middle of Josh’s bed and Josh’s head is nestled in to me and my arm is wrapped around him, while Amelia is on the other side tucked in to me with her arm around my belly. I’m suddenly very happy.

I then know what to say: “Amelia you haven’t yet learned how to swim proficiently and that’s OK, but you know what I noticed?”

“What?” she asks.

Even though you feel bad about your swimming, every Monday, Wednesday, Friday you put on your bathing suit, jump in the pool with the other kids, don’t fight about going, stand on the edge of the pool and work up your courage to dive and basically don’t give up. It would be easy to say that you aren’t good at swimming and just throw in the towel (ha ha), but you continue to try. That’s what’s going to make you a success at life.“

Maybe you won’t like swimming. Maybe you’ll fall in love with something else, like dancing, singing, drawing, or acting, but no matter what, at some point, you’ll feel like you are not very good at it. At that moment if you are able to stick with it and keep trying, then you’ll be successful.

She calmed down. She took in my words.   She understood that it’s persistence and effort and a vision that lights the path, not talent and transcendence.

It’s true for me, too, I guess. I’m not in control of Amelia’s trajectory any more than I was in control of the sperm and egg meeting and forming a zygote and attaching to the uterine wall and then making a brain. I’m not in charge or control.

Maybe showing up with hope and vulnerability is all we have to do.   We must not resign and at the same time we must give ourselves enough space to grow.

Maybe Josh’s idea of a button that flings us into life so we don’t have to sit at the edge of life and plan it all out before taking the plunge is a genius idea.

Maybe that’s all I need to do now with this new baby inside, kicking my uterus, saying hello, preparing to enter the world in a mere three months, is to just give myself space and know soon that button will be pushed and together we will fly into a new life.

The Attach Place  Center for Strengthening Relationships

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

Parenting with love,

Jennifer Olden, LMFT

This Post IS Inappropriate

My kids are at that age when it is ubiquitous for parents to say the phrase to their children, “That’s inappropriate.” I often hear my best friends reprimanding their small children, when the poop talk starts up during lunch, with, “That’s inappropriate.”

The problem I have with this particular instruction is that I LOVE everything inappropriate. As an adult, my favorite things are ALWAYS inappropriate. I love crass and irreverent books, movies, memes, and conversations. Ok, even hand gestures. I LOVE THEM.

When I remind my kids to be appropriate, I always cringe a bit like I do when telling tales about Santa. Sooner or later the truth is going to come out.

Currently, I leak the truth anyway.

Here is an example: My daughter goes to Waldorf School, which postpones learning to read until later grades, but she has taught herself the basics so no longer can I spell the word I-C-E-C-R-E-A-M without her jumping up and down. Imagine this:

I am reading “Hyperbole and a Half” on the couch, which qualifies as inappropriate with little cartoon pictures. Amelia cuddles up next to me and asks me to read out loud. So, I read, editing the parts I think are inappropriate.

She stops me, looks up with her cherubic face and bright blue eyes, “Why didn’t you read the motherfucker part?”

Ok, no more Hyperbole and a Half. This is one of the many places my actual personality bumps into my role as a parent.

Jennifer Olden, Child Whisperer

The Attach Place  Center for Strengthening Relationships

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

 

Humanness Required

Recently, on the EFT list serve, an online community of Emotionally Focused Therapists, there was a discussion about recommended parenting books for a pregnant woman.  Therapists wrote in and recommended:

1)   Parenting from the Inside Out

2)   The Whole Brain Child

3)   How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen

4)   Blah

5)   Blah

6)   Blah

And I confess, I’ve read most of these books and the information that I gathered was invaluable.

But, I don’t read parenting books anymore.   At all.   Ever.  I get a little “ugh” feeling every time I see one of those half-read suckers on my bookshelf right next to the Atkins Diet and Raw Foods Cookbook.  They tend to make me feel panicky and a little bit like I’m failing.

Instead, I check out blogs by moms where the theme of imperfect parenting runs through their stories like gold.  I love the moms that talk about how parenting is hard work.  We moms have a difficult time admitting this because we think it sounds like we are saying that it’s hard to hang out with our beautiful, sweet, and soulful children.

We are afraid we will be misunderstood.  So let me be clear. Parenting is hard because of the worry, guilt, and mundane tasks.  That’s what is hard.

Last weekend my daughter, Amelia, and I went to the Farmer’s Market and she wanted to stay when it was time to go, so she threw herself on the ground screaming, “I’ll never leave this place!”

I just kept walking to the car without reacting and she followed. When I got her in the car, I let loose.   I gave her the kind of lecture that would make me cringe if I overheard it from another mother because it was so long-winded and shaming.

I yelled, “You are five now and this is the second tantrum in two days.  You don’t see other kids acting like that.”

Even re-writing this makes me want to prostrate myself on the ground or go to confession or somehow quit being a mommy.  No big fanfare; it just didn’t work out.  I’m putting in my two-week notice and placing an ad on Craigslist.  Thanks for the opportunity, but I’ve realized I’m not cut out to be a mom.

Parenting books don’t even touch this part of me.  They don’t touch the guilt I feel for working so much, or the shame for lecturing my daughter, or the fear—which is really driving my reactivity–that somehow if she doesn’t deal with her emotions more appropriately (I know, how ironic) then she’ll grow up unhappy, and I’ve got a thousand permutations of this outcome.  The parenting books don’t touch that.

When I read my mommy blogs, I instantly feel less alone, because I am assured that a mistake is just a mistake.  Parenting blogs written by honest moms in the trenches teach me this:

I am forgiven.  Or maybe it’s, I am accepted.  I am enough as I am.  I am loved.  At the end of all this learning I am still going to mess things up, not because I am a failure, but because I am human. 

After our horrendous day, I put Amelia into bed.  I opened the window and felt the cool breeze blowing in.  We lay in bed together side-by-side and pretended that we were on a boat under a night sky tucked in together.  I felt silly and said, “We are as safe as popsicles.”  Amelia said, “Popsicles aren’t safe because they drip onto the ground.”

That girl is always thinking.

So then I said, “We are as safe as cookies.”

No, again, because cookies crumble.

“Ok, then what’s the safest thing you can imagine?”

Amelia answered, “Mommy.  You are.”

So even after my worst day of parenting (in a while), I still manage to be logged in her mind as safe, which means that just maybe I’m doing okay and that there is a lot of grace for me.

And for you.

The Attach Place  Center for Strengthening Relationships

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

The most important thing a pregnant mom needs to hear is, “We are all human, love is like glue, and nothing close to perfection is required.”

Jennifer Olden, LMFT and Mom

 

 

Hold Me Tight Couples Weekend Workshop for Parents of Attachment Challenged and Special Needs Children

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Weekend
April 25, 2014   6pm to 9pm
April 26, 2014  10am to 4pm
April 27, 2014  10am to 1pm
Hold Me Tight
Weekend Workshop for Couples with Adopted and Special Needs Children
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The Hold Me Tight Workshop is designed to give you a weekend away to connect with your spouse. This workshop will not teach you useless things; it will give you an opportunity to fully engage the deep, loving connection you desire in your relationship with your partner.

• Address stuck patterns and negative cycles

• Make sense of your own emotions

• Overcome loneliness

• Repair and forgive emotional and physical disconnection

• Communicate to develop deeper understanding and closeness

You will strengthen your bond through private exercises with your partner, didactic experiences, and video demonstrations of couples that have moved from distress to that longed for deep, intimate connection.   This workshop takes place in the safe environment of experienced attachment specialists and other parents experiencing similar attachment pushes and pulls in their lives because of the demands of healing the broken hearts and emotional difficulties of children from difficult biological beginnings, maltreatment, abuse and attachment breaches.  YOU will be “seen” here and your struggles will be understood.

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Hello Ce,
This attachment focused couples workshop is brought to you at a 50% reduced rate by The Attach Place Center for Strengthening Relationships. We believe that you, your relationship, and your love matter.  The stronger your relationship, the better able YOU will be to whether the slings and arrows of raising children from difficult beginnings. The Attach Place Logo  2

This workshop is especially designed with YOU in mind. To that end, we are dedicated to providing creative financing to make this opportunity possible for you and child care options.

Who:                YOU and Your Partner
When:                6pm to 9pm April 25, 2014
10am to 4pm April 26, 2014
10am to 1pm – April 27, 2014
Cost:                $300.00
Child Care:       $5 per hour per child

Snacks Provided and Local Restaurant List for Lunch Options.

Reserve your place by RSVPing to: info@attachplace.com

If you can carve out time for yourselves on a weekend, we promise that you will have valuable experiences to help you strengthening the safety, connection, and bond in your relationship.

Love Matters,
Ce Eshelman, LMFT, Jennifer Olden, LMFT, Robin Blair, MFTI,
The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

Here Little Fishy

Josh, my four-year-old son, hates water. He is desperately afraid of it and even the bathtub pushes his comfort level. He refuses to let me dump a cup of water on his head. The number of times I’ve shampood his hair I could count on one hand. So you can imagine how terrifying a swimming pool is for Josh. It’s exactly like jumping off a cliff without a parachute and imagining that just this one time you might fly and not die. I take him to the YMCA for swim lessons where the policy is to just force the child in the water while the parent moves out of sight. Here is a transcript of the usual conversation between the teacher and the student:

“AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” (Subtext: Mommy/God/Anyone save me, I’m dying.)

 

Swim instructor: Like a fishy. Yay! Slash splash. You are a sweet little fishy.

Young child:

 

Kids generally scream like this for two-three sessions and then—of course—they realize that they are going to be okay. On session number four, they magically transform into the happiest and most playful students in the class. Parents plug their ears, suffocate that caregiving instinct for the half hour of class and wall off their heart for the cause of an imminent skilled swimmer.

The ends justify the means. Maybe this is true. Drowning is the number one cause of death for small children and so a little screaming isn’t so bad when the other choice is high risk for death. Maybe this is the right thing to do. It’s considered to be the standard for children learning to swim.
But I realize that I’m not worried about Josh learning to swim. I am positive he will get this down quickly with my support and the more important lessons that some people never learn are: 1) Trust oneself 2) Be brave.

Because this is my bigger goal in parenting, I want to teach him to listen to that quiet voice inside that says, “Wait, this isn’t safe. It doesn’t feel right to me.” Or conversely, “I can do it. I’m scared, but I’m going to jump anyway.” And that courage is driven by an inner fire not an external pressure. I imagine this friendly relationship with oneself is the crux of a happy life, so screw learning to swim. Let’s just use the pool as the context for learning a deeper and more important lesson, trust oneself, leap when you are ready, and know that you will never ever be completely ready. A happy life demands risk, but its risk on one’s own terms, otherwise it”s potential trauma and loss.

Josh doesn’t want to wear his bathing suit. He imagines it as the first step toward the cliff, so we bring his bathing suit and once we arrive he is willing to put it on. He refuses to get in the water, but he’ll sit on the edge with his little starfish shaped hands gripping the side of the pool watching the other kids thrash around in the pool.

flat faced little swimmerHe’s nervous and I can see his little shoulders scrunched up. I walk over to him and whisper in his ear, “You are so brave. Just sitting here right now. So, so brave. You are doing a wonderful job.”

He looked at me doubtfully but remained seated. His hands loosened up a bit. I realized that my validation is a circle and when I validate Josh and see him as brave and enough, then suddenly and unexpectedly I see myself as brave and enough. Even though the swim instructors may see me as overprotective and other parents might perceive me as hovering, I am listening to a small voice inside of me that knows that risk titrated is still risk and that I am focused on a larger intention than learning to swim.
There is this sense that Josh and I really are in it together and I’m proud of us both.

felt safety with momThat night Josh and I are in bed together and talking about the swim lesson. I let him know that someday he’ll learn to swim and glide through the water and find that he can float. He is quiet for a moment and says, “I’d like to do that. Someday.”

• I think this swim lesson technique is used because drowning is one of the top five ways little kids die. So we parents have good reason to push swimming lessons. For the record, Josh is learning to swim—just my way: Slowly, with lots of comfort and validation and with his mom always present.
• If you taught your kids to swim the traditional way and this blog makes you feel guilty, your child is fine. It’s the climate of childhood that makes the difference, not the single event. The story about swimming is a metaphor as much as it’s about swimming itself.

The Attach Place  Center for Strengthening Relationships

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

Jennifer Olden, LMFT and Mother

The Tantrum Family

Josh suddenly screamed from the back bedroom, “Daddy got my hair wet.”

Josh hates his hair getting wet. When he was just 14-months-old, he spilled boiling hot tea on his arm. I grabbed him and jumped in a cold shower, both of us fully clothed, to stop his skin from burning. The burn healed completely but the psychological damage remained.
Ever since that day he has hated, no, feared water on his head. Now he is nearly four years old and I have probably washed his hair twice in his entire life because, trust me, It’s not worth it.

“Josh come out here,” I called from the living room. “Mama can hold you.”

“AAHHHHHH,” screaming continued.

“I got a space for you,” I persisted.

“Space?”

“Yeah, space. I have a spot for you.”

He started walking down the hall toward me. “A Hot Spot?”

“Not a Hot Spot. A place. A space. Here, come here.”

He was naked like a little baby and I let him pile himself on top of me. Without a blink, he stated a well-known fact among three-year-olds, “iPads can make sadness go away.” His expression was stoic, faking neutrality.

“No iPad Baby. “ He continued to lie on me until he got bored and hopped up on top of a noise-making toy. His sister seized the opportunity to slide onto my lap, causing Josh to scream again. I was at his disposal, not hers. He then tried to wiggle his way between his sister and me.

Amelia screamed, “Eww, his penis was just in my face. Disgusting!”

I looked up at Josh in order to read his expression, not wanting him to experience body shame. A half-smile appeared. No shame there. He was thrilled. Antagonizing his sister is one of his deepest joys. Seamlessly, they both returned to fighting for my attention. I yelled for my husband, “Help me.”

Their Bionic Dad finally came and pulled Josh up by the leg. Josh screamed and I yelled, “Don’t pull him by the leg, because you’ll break it and then we will go to jail!”

I wonder about this chaotic little scene. Sometimes it seems like other families are so calm and patient with each other. At the grocery store I see a small child just chilling for an inordinate amount of time while her mom chats with an old friend. My sister-in-law painted her entire living room with two kids under five, apparently playing quietly while she worked all day. Another friend mowed the lawn with her infant strapped to her back, while her toddler played horsey on the porch contentedly. I start to feel bad about my kids, my parenting, and my generally fussy personality before I remember something that I must never forget: If I compare my insides to another person’s outsides, I’ll always come up a few feet short.

The Attach Place  Center for Strengthening Relationships

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

It’s so natural to look around and imagine that everyone else is parenting better than me, and that I’m the only one with my hair on fire, fried to the max. Even though we are The Tantrum Family, our intentions are good–be healthy, happy, at peace, and loving to each other. Sometimes we are a moody and fussy crew; that’s our signature style. We will never be perfect, but we are forgiven and we are enough.

As always, parenting with heart,

Jennifer Olden, LMFT and Mother