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Redefining Unconditional: How Our Son Completely Changed Our Lives

I was so honored to have the opportunity to write a very personal piece at Rosevine Cottage Girls a few weeks ago. Cheyenne asked me to join their series on the “unconditional love of a special needs parent.” Oh, yes, please! You see, I believe this article is for any parent. Our children transform us and chip away at selfishness and pride, if we’re willing to let our parenting experiences shape us into better people. Parenting of any kind is saying “yes” to the changes that happen within us when we welcome the possibility of unconditional love into our lives.

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For two years, I would sit at his basketball games and silently sob.

Not because Little Man (our youngest son) wasn’t as good as the other kids were. (He wasn’t at the time.)

Not because I was embarrassed to be the only parent with a kid on that team not keeping up.

Redefining Unconditional_ How Our Son Completely Changed Our LivesI would weep because he was cognitively stuck. Like a computer sluggishly trying to process a hard drive full of information, he would stare. The game went on around him, and he lagged 30 seconds behind. He would run down the court just as the team was turning around to head the other way down the court. Then he would remember, briefly, to “guard his man” before getting lost in the loudness of the gymnasium, the overstimulation of the ball bouncing around him, the fast pace of the kids racing past, and the pure anxiety of being in slow-motion when everyone around you is on pace. He would peel his hangnails and wear a perpetually worried look on his face.

My heart would ache and shatter not because he was different but because it was an indication that once again, he was suspended in that time and place called dysregulation, for whatever the reason, and we would need months to partly climb back out again.

Join me over at Rosevine Cottage Girls to read how Little Man changed our lives for the better.

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Read the rest of this entry »

 

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My Master’s Feet

My Master's FeetThe other morning I thought I’d start work early so I could spend most of my
day with the kids, who are now on summer vacation.

As I sat down on my IKEA chair, my Shih Tzu Delilah jumped up to sit at my feet on the ottoman. Her barrel-chested brother Samson, a few pounds heavier and a bit more awkward, couldn’t leap up to join her, so he pawed my arm and whined for several minutes until I heaved him up. This time he didn’t want her company. He wanted to be close to me.

He immediately resituated so he could lick my bare feet and then laid his soft, teddy-bear head against them.

I believe this was Samson’s way of snuggling in, receiving reassurance, tapping into my “master love.”

Oh, Samson, Buddy, what a parallel I draw here. Thank you for being my morning muse.

[Samson’s sister likes to lick laptops. Yeah, dogs are weird.]

How much I am like Samson! When I wake and know my Master is with me, Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Be Still and Walk with Him Awhile 

BeStill

“’Be Still’ isn’t just for crisis mode.
That’s simply where we found it.
It is a new way of life, ensuring the health of our family.”

Today, I am so excited to be featured as a guest blogger at “The Urbane Flower.” My piece, “Be Still and Walk with Him Awhile,” can be found here.

Check out this uplifting blog site that my new friend Heather Gee put together!

I look forward to Heather guest-blogging here at “Espressos of Faith” very soon!

 

 

 

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A Letter to Parent Volunteers in Elementary School Classrooms

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The following blog is written the way that it is, in letter format, because of a wise friend who saw my Mama Pain in a brief vent on social media today and encouraged me to write something that informs parents from the perspective of a parent with a child who struggles. He is often the recipient of harsh treatment from perhaps well-intended parent volunteers. Sometimes, this has happened right in front of me at volunteer times in the classroom, and sometimes, my child tells me days later, in tears. He is sensitive, but not overly so. He knows not everyone will jive with everyone else. In his short school tenure, at age 8, he has had teachers he really clicked with and those he hasn’t. He knows not every person will really try to know him, and that’s okay. That’s true of life.

But I have been growing very weary of parent volunteers going in to a lower elementary school classroom lacking humor, patience, and compassion, especially for kids with struggles or who think outside the box, and “playing uptight parent” to someone else’s kid. I know the lower elementary school teachers benefit from rotations of parent help for reading times, math games, and research, and we have wonderful staff, but if a parent is going in to exert a power trip over little kids, perhaps they should not volunteer. I volunteer to help children and teachers but also now to babysit out-of-line parents. Happens every year.

Not on my watch.

In my opinion, being that harsh to a child with or without struggles (not their own child…mine or someone else’s) is without excuse. The school environment should be a safe place for little hearts.

Some of the most cutting, sharpest comments are made to my child by parent volunteers. Little Man sat at my breakfast table this morning in tears thinking he had done something wrong when he was being creative. (I cleared up the details of what was said, why, and if there was misbehavior or teacher intervention. There wasn’t.) His exact words: “She [snappy parent volunteer] connected with all of the other kids there but me. She didn’t make a good connection to me.” This was after letting me know what she did say to him. I spent part of the morning praying down my mother rage. I don’t even know her or her name.

It motivated me to write this. Thank you for reading it.

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Dear Elementary School Parent Volunteer:

There are a few things I would really like us all to know, to think about, to swirl around in our minds and hearts before we enter the classroom to help with math games, reading centers, research units. Going to volunteer training is not enough. We must go in deeply, firmly rooted in an understanding that we are not the parents of every child in that classroom. We can’t possibly know each situation, each struggle, each backstory, each tender heart. We do not know what each child faced that morning over his/her bowl of cereal.

  • He could have heard his parents threaten each other with divorce for the tenth time this week.
  • She could have heard that anger rising in the voice of a violent family member or encountered the malaise of a depressed or ill parent.
  • He could have had his fifth meltdown because the tag on the neckline of his shirt was irritating him.
  • She could have had a panic attack about the small oral presentation she had to give today for her book project.
  • He could have washed his hands 12 times before, during, and after getting dressed because he was worried about germs.
  • She could have struggled to get her math facts the night before, and everyone else in the class seems to catch on more quickly.
  • He could have struggled to write neatly and color in the lines because of a fine motor weakness.
  • She might not be able to focus because something happened on the bus on the way in that was too loud for her, too much for her to process at once, and she’s still in the middle of processing it.

Dear Parents: We don’t know whom and what we are walking into when we go in to help. We are not experts on the issues of all children. Let’s face it: Some days we don’t always even know the “right” approach for our own. We do not have full perspective.

We are not there to parent other parents’ children. The class discipline is really up to the teacher’s discretion and discernment.

Even if some of us have degrees in special education, social work, or child/family therapy, if we do not live with a child with those challenges, we only know the outside story. We do not know the inside one. We do not know what it is like to work around the challenges and struggles, big or small, typical or atypical, on a daily basis of those specific kids.

We also do not know what it is like to be a child with adults towering over him/her trying to be part of a “solution,” one that is assumed, while the child is silently trying to figure out where and why he/she is failing expectation.

Here are some things we need to remember: Everyone struggles with something. In any home, there may be:

  • academic super-achievers who are a little immature or socially behind
  • dyslexia and other learning disorders
  • developmental delays
  • autism spectrum
  • ADHD/ADD
  • anxiety/depression (yes, young children can legitimately struggle with these for a host of different reasons)
  • speech delays
  • processing disorders
  • a combo meal of several of these

And the list goes on.

Really, do any of us know what those all look like in individual children and families? Are we reading IEPs before we go into the classroom as parent volunteers?

Of course not.

So we need to allow for the fact some kids are going to be slower to process something, have trouble focusing, melt down emotionally more than another kid. We don’t have access to this information, but we absolutely should go into the classroom to volunteer wearing:

  • grace
  • patience
  • compassion
  • understanding
  • kindness

I’ve had a parent hover over my child who couldn’t complete a drawing/coloring task anywhere near the time other kids could. She kept on him as if he were her personal “fix-it” project for the day.

I wanted to say to her:

“That is not why you are in the classroom today. You need to let the school specialists help my child in that way. Your job is to encourage him, perhaps kindly redirect, but to help him at whatever point he is at. It is not to tell him over and over again he isn’t as quick as everyone else and to hurry up and catch up, and why is he coloring like that?

Your job is to keep him on task, to make sure everyone is including each other, to build these kids up, to make sure they understand the instructions.

Your job isn’t to roll your eyes when one kid is fixated on dinosaur facts. Or another talks louder than others.

Can you see inside his ear? Do you know if he has a hearing problem or processing disorder?”

No, we just work around whatever we find in the classroom. We don’t try to fix, control, or judge it.

One day, my child could not move beyond the glue on the end of his fingers that came off of a Valentine someone gave him. He thought it was a germ. A volunteer yelling at him to hurry up and finish his own Valentine wasn’t going to help him stop fixating.

Again, the voice in my head had an internal conversation with her:

“Because you don’t live with him, you don’t know that he is having a massive, internal panic attack, one that, not being visible, is almost more crippling. It’s not your fault you can’t see it, but please approach him with kindness and not judgment. He is my ‘project.’ He was given to me. Along with specialized staff, I’ll take it from here. Please know your part is just to do classroom tasks and not to make everyone fit into the same size box of expectation.”

To be fair, I see so many parent volunteers do it well. Because they bring grace in with them—and the perspective that they do not “know it all” and can only come at it from their own limited experience. Just like mine is limited. We each come in with only one piece of the puzzle.

Like all of the adults in the school building directing small kids, volunteers make an impact and leave an imprint. My son often receives the message that (his exact words): “She connected with all of the other kids there but me. She didn’t make a good connection to me.” Young kids are smart, intuitive, and sensitive. They know when adults don’t like them or are irritated.

For 45 minutes, can we please just walk in, turning off the following buttons in our minds and hearts (we all have them):

Judgment
Diagnosing
Criticism
Impatience

Can we please go, approaching tender hearts as if we didn’t have all the answers yet?

Because none of us do—even in our own homes and situations.

Let’s take the burden off ourselves and let the staff “figure out” the kids. Some kids might not read as fluently as the rest of the class or color inside the lines. Let’s meet them right where they are and just grace them to the next logical step, or even just help sustain the learning of the moment.

Today might be a rough day. A child may have already been necessarily corrected by several staff at this point. He/she might be weary, frustrated, or sad.

If you have three to five adults (parents, teacher, principal, special services teachers, specials teachers) in your life every day that you expect to be leading you, having several more in your face—some outright strangers—can add stress when you’re 5, 7, 9.

Let’s go in and be stress-reducers, speaking in soft tones.

Let’s remember how our kids are all still works-in-progress—how we all are.

Sincerely,

The Concerned Parent of a Child Who Struggles

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In the middle of writing Not Just on Sundays, I heard the squeaky, growing voice of my youngest child begging to be heard, and a children’s book deposited itself into my heart; I asked all three of my children to collaborate with me. It attempts to shed light on how it feels to be a child when adults aren’t really listening to them. Why Don’t Grow-Ups Listen? should be out in 2015/16.

*This blog can also be found at Mom 2 Mom Monday Link-Up #25, Make a Difference Mondays, Pick Your Pin TuesdayFaith-Filled Fridaysand Grace & Truth Link-Up.

 

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Why I Don’t Mind That You Know We Go to Family Therapy

Why I Don't Mind That You KnowOne of my personal goals in life is to take the stigma and shame off mental health issues and to open wide the floodgates so that people who struggle (or their family members/friends) will not shy away from walking through doors of help. I want to write about the things we all desperately want to know so we don’t feel alone, but maybe we just aren’t ready to be public about. Maybe we are intensely private in general, or perhaps we just can’t let this part of our lives out into the light yet.

That’s okay. I get it. I’ve been there. I felt deep shame for a while because I didn’t know how to tell people I wasn’t well, find the right words, or even understand how to get them to listen. It’s only been six years for me. The feeling is still fresh. I get it.

Today I want to open up conversation about family therapy because even if you go, you might not write about it. Or maybe you’re considering it but not sure what it’s about. Maybe it seems overwhelming or intimidating. Obviously, I will not divulge personal details here that dishonor anyone in my family or step over any privacy/professional lines. This is about the overall experience.

It’s to broaden the dialogue.

To make people feel less alone.

To reach into dark places and shine some light.

[Disclaimer: I have permission from my family members to share this. We remain committed to sharing the journey together with the goal of bringing hope and help to others walking a similar path. Ours is neither a worst-case nor a best-case scenario. It’s simply our scenario.]

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2014 in ADHD, Anxiety/OCD/Depression

 

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Un-Defining a Day: Setting Expectations Properly

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I wasn’t going to blog this morning. I was going to take the day off. I’m tired. I just published my first book. It’s my birthday. It’s the dogs’ birthday (that was God’s very personal gift to me last year: Samson and Delilah landing on this planet exactly on my birthday). I just took my child to the early arrival program while still in my pajamas (vest over me, but you get the picture). I have the oldest home from high school today. I haven’t had my coffee.

I could watch the dogs play with their new rubber squeak toys, sip a pumpkin spice latte, and read my own book. LOL.

I haven’t stopped much to rest in the past two months.

And really, after a blog 6 times a week, for 7 weeks, how much more could I possibly have to say right now?

But this morning was an OCD battle morning. And I realize that I need to blog. I sometimes can’t turn off the writing noise in my head until I’ve thrown a few words out there, italicized and bolded for good measure.

The blogging compulsion is so strong lately that I blogged an email to a high school teacher. Yes, yes, I did. What I mean by that is that I wrote the email blog-style (although it was shorter). After, my son and husband agreed with me that maybe right now I shouldn’t really be trusted to write emails to teachers. It wasn’t horrible or anything. But she probably needed it more in paragraph form. I hope she at least sipped some tea and might consider a little trip to my amazon.com page as a result. But, that really wasn’t my goal or my point.

And this blog isn’t about the specific episode I encountered this morning with some inflexible thinking, rigidity, and panic in one of my offspring. It’s really just about how to not let a day completely derail you. I’m actually learning a lot about this as we look for ways to keep our calm on around here.

As this morning’s getting-dressed-for-school-and-twitching-about-the-time-arriving-to-the-flexible-arrival-school-program episode played out (how’s that for avoiding detail?), I found myself back to my pretzel breathing again. My blood pressure was climbing to unpleasant levels, and I needed to get a grip. I’m not a morning person, I made a decision as a parent not to rush that morning, the husband is traveling all week, and I just have to let perfection go.

But this particular child of mine could not let it go. And so I drew a calm, clear boundary (while thinking a lot about the metal pot I once threw in frustration on Kwajalein—I didn’t throw it at anything but the floor, but that’s a blog for another time). Reliving the feel of tensing my muscles for that metal pot throw in the past really did alleviate the need to do it again today. I don’t throw things anymore (I only have a handful of times anyway). I’m growing up! But I thought about it.

Boundary was received not too long after the last round.

And I know that not every morning is going to fly by and smile at me. I know when we’ve been up too late the night before, the next morning will not be smooth. A birthday doesn’t guarantee that a traveling spouse is home, high school three-hour Back-to-School Night isn’t on the same day, and our usual issues and struggles take a vacation.

I’m in my 40s and just recently figured this out. If you’ve figured it out sooner, that is so awesome. It’s toffee-nut-latte-worthy, really. I genuinely mean that. Sometimes I wonder how I got to be this age and still do not have this whole expectation thing down. My child certainly had expectations this morning. I kind of just threw mine out the window today, but I’m not mad about it. I’m actually quite peaceful.

Expectations can often dictate the day. Mine always have coffee in it. And Jesus. Beyond Jesus, everything else can flux and be unpredictable (even my beloved caramel white mocha latte!).

I want to start un-defining my day because it’s not me who really controls everything. And reasonable expectations help me chillax. When I over-define the way in which it should go: epic fail. I can strive to achieve a few things in my day, but I do not actually define it. Wrapping my head around this has been incredibly freeing.

The sidewalk I walk on suddenly got bigger, more open, and lots of room for more of Jesus and peaceful living.

Psalm 18:36, David speaking about God
You provide a broad path for my feet, so that my ankles do not give way.

Jeremiah 29:11, Jeremiah the Prophet sharing the words of God
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

 

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Just Can’t Stop Pretzel Breathing

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So, I learned a new technique a few months ago from my son’s therapist. It’s about breathing in while folding my arms around each other and pulling them in against my chest. Something about the breathing in, folding, and exhaling interrupts the body’s stress processes and calms us down. In other words, it takes the “wig” out of “wigging out.”

Well, I thought I’d just be reminding my son of this lovely new tool, but instead, I find myself pretzel breathing in rush hour traffic on the way to karate; while watching my kids painstakingly slowly pack their backpacks up and tie shoes as I hear the bus rolling up; when we are fighting homework battles with one who isn’t big on receiving feedback; when arguments break out between siblings right when I need to get out the door; when the dogs eat the important mail; and when the person in front of me in line is simultaneously on the phone while trying to order bagels and coffee for 30 people who aren’t currently with her.

Yeah, I really just can’t stop pretzel breathing. I’m not sure if it’s counterproductive or not to replace OCD/anxiety symptoms with obsessively using techniques to interrupt them, but I pretzel breathe to the umpteenth power. Cannot get enough of it. It’s a new compulsion, and I’m not even the patient.

I even went so far as to demonstrate my awesome new skill at my moms’ prayer group at the start of our prayer year, and since then, one prayer warrior mom has reported she’s in love with it too. Really, all of the pills* in the world to fix this, that, and the other thing, and all we have to do is twist and breathe? Sign me up!

It works so well that I don’t think I’ll ever stop. I’m pretty sure my gravestone will read: “Faithful wife, mother, friend. Pretzel-breathing advocate to the very end.”

So, I asked myself, is anything close to pretzel breathing in the Bible?

I have no idea.

I think taking Sabbath is along the same lines. [For more on this, kindly refer to: “And on the Seventh Day He Rested….” The kid in the picture is pretty cute!]

What I do know is that prayer, Bible reading, and worship are like that. When we participate, they beautifully interrupt our trudge through the sludge of life and ground us. Praying empties me of my burdens. Yes, sometimes I need to pray the same thing over and over again until I am ready to fully let it go to God and trust Him, but the discipline of running to Him first is what frees me.

When I read the Bible, it always speaks directly into something I am going through. That’s because it is not just a history book. It is the living Word of God. It comes alive in us because it is always relevant and because He sends the Holy Spirit to those Who trust in Him, to help us gain understanding. God’s words are meant to be read back and prayed to Him. That’s what engages them in our lives: believing them, speaking them, talking to our Creator. It’s not something we chant to get our minds or hearts in a better place (although that is a definite result). It’s living dialogue with God, Our Father. Unlike pretzel breathing, it does more than calm the body. It calms the soul. It says: “At rest, my soul. You’ve spoken with and trusted in God.”

And worship is praising Him, singing to Him, acknowledging Him, dancing to Him, honoring Him. We worship even when we tell others about something great He has taught us or has done in our lives. It’s acknowledging His awesomeness, and no matter how rough your day, wouldn’t that turn your perspective around a bit? If we were each focused on His awesomeness?

Pretzel breathing is a fantastic stress tool, that’s for sure, but its effects are simply in the moment. I have to keep performing that task when different scenarios come up that stress me out.

Prayer, Bible reading, and worship are also beneficial, if done repeatedly, but the difference is: They last. They build into our peace like a storage chest of truth, rest, hope, and promise. Practicing them, as well as practicing thankfulness,** eventually leads us to and sustains us at a state of joy, no matter our circumstances.

There’s no harm in wrapping my arms inward and exhaling now and again. I honestly don’t think I even know how to stop, at this point. But, by far, the best way to interrupt the day’s stress is to spend time with God. Eventually, we get to the point where His Word is in our heads and hearts, and He speaks it to us right when we need it.

Psalm 119:10-18, unnamed author

I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.

Be good to your servant while I live,
that I may obey your word.
Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law [emphasis mine].

*This does not mean I am in any way anti-medication. Our personal journey to making medication decisions can be found in Not Just on Sundays.

 **This is a great book for practicing thankfulness:

Voskamp, Ann. One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.

 

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