I used to consume news all day long. I would listen to NPR on the way to work, on the way home, and any time I was in the car. I would follow all the major news publications and read the latest articles. I’m an activist by nature so it’s in my personality to want to know what’s going on. I’m also Type A and like to be in control–somehow, even though I feel completely helpless when it comes to the injustices of the world, being able to learn and hear about what’s going on made it a little better.
Until I realized that consuming all that news, all that bad news, was making me angry. Not outwardly, necessarily. I still went about my day and functioned normally. But I was churning with exasperation and frustration on the inside. And it was starting to come out in little ways. Like snapping at my kids or my husband. Or having a more negative outlook at work. I didn’t want to be as affected by things that I had no control over, I wanted to be a good steward of all the blessings in front of me.
So, I took a little break. I started listening to podcasts in the car–uplifting podcasts. With speakers who made me feel awesome and inspired. I stopped clicking through to all the articles on Facebook. I cleaned up my newsfeeds so what I saw more often were posts about all the good going on in the world. And it worked, it really did. I didn’t feel so angry any more. I didn’t feel surrounded by so much negativity.
Until recently when news broke about children being separated from their parents at border crossings. Suddenly, it was all over every one of my apps, from almost everyone that I follow. Friends were speaking out about it. Favorite writers and creatives too. I couldn’t escape it. The same thing happened when children were drowning at sea trying to escape the Syrian war. For a long time I tried to shield myself from the news until one day the picture of a toddler washed up on a Greek shore pierced its way through my feed and demanded that I take notice. My heart broke in that instant. And I stopped being silent.
My heart broke again this morning when I woke to the news of an audio recording of children wailing for their parents in a detention center. I didn’t listen to it. I didn’t have to. I know what a wailing child sounds like. I can imagine what my own children would sound like if they were alone and terrified in a foreign country.
I don’t want to speak out about this. I don’t want to acknowledge this kind of horror exists in the world, let alone my own country. I’d rather go back to bed and pretend I live in a world of pump-you-up podcasts. But it’s my Hippocratic Oath as a therapist to demand this inhumane policy end. It doesn’t really matter how you feel about immigration. It really doesn’t. There is no justification for separating children from their families. NONE. The severity of trauma this is causing will affect these babies for the rest of their lives. And I’m not being hyperbolic about it.
If you haven’t heard about the ACEs study, I encourage you to look it up (click on the link for more information). It was a study undertaken by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers of Disease Control & Prevention in the 90s but followed for long-term effects for many years. ACEs stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences–trauma occurring in childhood. Across the board, the study revealed that childhood trauma was related to health, social, and behavioral problems in adulthood. Problems including smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, and obesity along with depression, heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, and a shortened life span. The more ACEs you have, the higher your risk. That shortened life span? That also includes suicide.
You really cannot underestimate the effect of trauma, especially for children. Nor can you underestimate their vulnerability and innocence. To rip them from their caregivers is cruel and heartless and there is no earthly, spiritual, or legal argument to defend it.
In times like these, I always ask what I can do to make a difference. I can speak out about it and spread the word. I can financially support organizations who are enacting and supporting real change (Together Rising is a great place to start). But I can also hold our government accountable and make my voice heard in that way too. A bill was recently introduced in Congress to stop the policy of separating children from their parents and keep families together (The Keep Families Together Act). Please read about it and insist your representatives vote in its favor. It’s a Democratic-introduced bill but was developed in consultation with child welfare experts such as the American Academy of Pediatrics. This is NOT a political issue, friends. Both sides can argue about immigration all day long. I get that it’s complicated and laden. This isn’t about that. This is about the well-being and welfare of children–the future of our world.
The bill is also supported by UNICEF, a nonpartisan humanitarian organization working hard to care for children around the world. They published a letter in support which you can read here. President & CEO, Caryl Stern, wrote the following, which is all we need to know on the matter:
“Children need to be defined by their age, not their borders. Regardless of immigration status, children are children first and need to be treated as such… Children bear no responsibility for the political differences in our world. Every child I’ve met, on both sides of our border, and around the globe, only wants to be safe and protected with hopes for a bright future.”
If you’d like more information on reaching out to your Senators and representatives, there is helpful information on the NAACP site including a number of scripts you can use: Keep Families Together Act.
In my gratitude practice this morning, I wrote about living in security and comfort and not having to worry about my children being exposed to poverty, war, or violence. Ava came downstairs as I was writing and I stared at her sweet little morning face full of life and joy and hopeful expectation for the day ahead. My children belong to me. They belong with me. No matter the circumstances. I’m speaking out against this because it’s my duty as a mental health professional, as a parent, as an American, and as a human being.
If you have children of your own, hug them a little tighter today. Be mindful of all you have to be grateful for, not the least your own security and comfort. And go listen to one of those encouraging podcasts. You deserve a little positivity and self-care. Especially in times like these.
***I’m editing this to clarify that I limited my information intake not because I wanted to be ignorant of what’s happening in the world but because I realized it was affecting me too much. I entered the mental health field because of my ability to connect with people in their suffering and be a caring, calming presence. But I also learned how to compartmentalize all the hard, dark stuff I witness so I can go home to my family at the end of the day and give them my whole, present self. When I’m not able to do that–when what I hear or witness starts crossing that line–I know that something needs to change. I need to take a break, recharge, and practice self-care. That’s what I have been doing these past couple of months. Until today when I couldn’t turn away any longer. When all that I hold dear and sacred in this life is at stake, I have no choice but to speak out.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to embrace letting things happen. Taking the chance on something and then letting go. It’s not that I necessarily believe that everything happens for a reason. I certainly believe that in everything there is a lesson to be learned but I have a hard time narrowing life down into such a (seemingly) trite statement. It’s more that I hold to the belief that there is enough opportunity–second, third, and fourth chances–out there to try again. It may not be immediate, and it might not look exactly the same, but I know there’s always more that life has to offer.
When we bought our first home, we weren’t the least bit prepared. We didn’t have our documents in order, there was no pre-approval letter–we had never even met with a lender. We thought it would be fun to start attending open houses, get a sense of what we liked and didn’t like, which neighborhoods appealed to us, and begin dreaming of what could be. It was only the second open house we attended when we walked into our home and knew, instinctually, that it was ours. But how could it be ours? We weren’t even ready to buy a home!
We went back to our apartment that evening and couldn’t get it out of our heads. That was our first home. We just knew it. So I did the only thing I knew to do–I wrote the sellers an email telling them how much we loved their home, how we knew it would be the perfect place to raise our family, and how, even though we didn’t have anything in order, we would meet with a mortgage lender right away. The sellers had already received a couple of offers and were anxious to sell as they were preparing to move to CA.
There were many, many close calls during those months waiting for our offer to be accepted, then for the house to be appraised, then inspections to go through, and finally for closing to complete. We were anxious but we also knew that all we could do was walk through one open door at a time. Even though we would have been disappointed to lose the house, we knew it wouldn’t be the last. It might not look the same, or be in the same neighborhood, but there would be more.
The final open door we walked through was the front door to our home after we signed the papers at closing. I still remember that day and how surreal it all felt. In the end, everything went our way–and we were so grateful–but we couldn’t have pushed it or made it go faster. We just had to take it one step at a time.
It has been a dream of ours since we got married to eventually build our own home. We loved the idea of designing everything from scratch and moving into a brand new house that was uniquely ours. We never had a timeframe for when it would, or could, happen. It was just something we thought about when we looked to the future.
This year, however, we started to wonder what that timeline might look like. With the real estate market the way it’s been, we began talking about selling our home, finding some land, and planning our build. Turns out, it’s expensive to build a home. And it’s also really hard to find property in the area we want to live. After meeting with builders and realtors and lenders we decided to focus our search on the land and go from there. We actually had our eye on a plot in the perfect location–just down the street from Ava’s preschool, close enough to restaurants and grocery stores but far enough to feel a part of the country. I can’t even count the number of times we drove by. I’m sure the neighbors started to feel a little nervous. We began dreaming of what it would be like to live there, to wake up to the sunrise over the fields, to greet the horses next door and raise our own chickens and goats (I know nothing about this but in my dream, I was the total chicken/goat expert).
Turns out, we kept running into closed doors. I was trying to learn as much as I could but I couldn’t find anyone to answer my questions and my head was spinning. We lost out on the land before we could even make an offer. Before we could even think to make an offer, actually, and none of the other lots that were available came close to that one.
Until this week. On Monday morning I opened an automated email that listed a piece of property in our ideal location, just 10 minutes down the road. When I looked through the pictures, my mouth dropped. It was even more perfect than the one before. I contacted our realtor, drove by that day, then took Cory by at night. The second we drove up, Cory declared, “We have to buy this.” When we walked the property the next day, we realized it had everything we wanted. Five acres, cleared and fenced, surrounded by fully grown oak trees and newly planted apple and pear trees, and even a cute little playset and chicken coop. I was halfway to becoming that chicken expert!
We put in an offer that day–along with another heartfelt letter–but found out on Wednesday that there were two others we had to compete with. We submitted our best counteroffer and then waited. It wasn’t enough to blow them away but it was all we could do. We knew it was exactly what we were looking for but we also knew it wouldn’t be our last chance to make our dream come true.
Late that night, we received a call from our realtor that our offer was accepted–thanks in large part to our letter. (Lesson learned: writing works!) We still have all the normal hoops to jump through–appraisal, surveys, closing–until it’s officially ours but we’ll take them as they come. One door at a time.
I’m sitting here in the quiet of the morning having finally dragged myself out of bed before my children have the chance to wake me up. It feels good! My coffee’s beside me, I’m looking out my window to the backyard, and the birds are serenading me with their sweet morning calls. Why don’t I do this every day? Oh, right, because usually my kids are waking me through the night and I’m exhausted.
In the last semester of my graduate program I was so burned out on school and so tired of writing papers that I literally COULD NOT write anything ahead of time. In fact, I defined “ahead of time” as 24 hours before it was due. Most weeks I was writing something the morning of the deadline and rushing to class to turn it in. I still managed to finish my courses with As but I certainly wasn’t submitting my best work. Or at least my most thought-out, well-edited work.
Last night, after we put the kids to bed, I waited at the front door for groceries to be delivered. Groceries I ordered on my computer while at my desk three hours before. I felt like some kind of queen. I didn’t sign up for the service because I like sitting on my throne waiting for people to serve me. I signed up for it after scrounging in our kitchen every night this week and serving our kids scrambled eggs for dinner three nights in a row.
There are so many days when the laundry is left in the basket, the dishes are piled in the sink, and we’re making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner. Could I wash, fold, and put away our clothes all in the same day? Probably. Could I make sure to load the dishes before I go to bed? Likely. Could I plan out our meals and whip up something simple after I get home from work or set the crock-pot in the morning? Well, it will be a lot easier now that I’ll have groceries but sure, it’s doable. But I’m tired at the end of the day and most nights I just want to sit on the couch with my husband and watch a rerun of Fixer Upper or Friends (of course I still watch Friends, it’s the best show ever).
I may not wake up when my alarm goes off every morning. I may have to pay $50 a year for someone else to shop for and deliver my groceries. I may not serve home-cooked meals every day or get all my chores done in a timely manner. It may not be my best work. But I’m certainly doing my best.
At some point in my life, I’m sure I’ll excel in those areas. I’ll learn how to meal plan and make delicious home-cooked meals that my kids will eat (or at least my husband will eat). I’ll be able to do a load of laundry a day. I’ll make it a habit of waking up as the sun rises. But am I going to do all of that today? No, I’m not. I’m going to do what I can.
Today I woke up early but my hair hasn’t been washed since Sunday. I gave my kids their vitamins for the fifth day in a row but I haven’t cooked a meal all week. I wrote two blog posts and put something up on Instagram each day but I still haven’t written any copy for my website. Celebrate your wins today. It may not be your best. But doing the best you can is good enough.
The voices of self-doubt really settled in this weekend. Nothing was off-limits. Not my body. Not my clothes. And especially not my dreams. Every time I allowed myself to think ahead to what could be, those voices followed loud and strong. You? The mom in her mid-30s? Lady, you must be crazy! You need to just be content with where you are. You have a family to raise.
I could go on and on.
You wouldn’t let someone come into your house and bad mouth you, would you? Imagine going through all the trouble to have someone over. You dust the furniture, sweep the floors, you even clean the toilets. You go grocery shopping, prepare food. You light your best smelling candle and fluff the pillows. Then your guest walks in and immediately starts talking about how your house isn’t clean enough, your food isn’t gourmet enough, nothing about what you’ve done or who you are is enough. Would you keep that guest around? Hell no you wouldn’t! You would kick her ass out! (Or at least you should.)
So why do we allow those negative voices to stick around? Why do we invite them in, tell them to make themselves comfortable? Why do we offer them the best seat in the house? They don’t belong in our sacred space.
Step one: Tell your negative voices to STOP. Literally say it out loud, or just to yourself if you’re in a public place and want to avoid concerned stares. You may even picture a stop sign or slamming the door in that no-good guest’s face. Whatever helps you take a stand against them, DO IT. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
And what about when they come knocking on your door again? Because you know they will. You have to fill your house with enough positive people that they can’t get through the door. You have to host the best, most raging positive party you have ever thrown. Who cares about the floors and the food and the fluffing! These people just want to have a good time. They’re here for you.
Fill your mindspace with positivity. Read encouraging books, listen to motivational podcasts, follow people on social media who remind you how much of a bad ass you are. Decorate your bathroom mirror with post-its. Speak your dreams aloud and gather people around you who will cheer you on even when you falter.
Even though the voices were relentless in their pursuit to tear me down this weekend, I battled back, time and again. I told them their doubt and negativity weren’t welcome, and I repeated every positive phrase, slogan, and mantra I could remember. Who do you think you are? became I’m going to do great things with my life.You’re a mom in her mid-30s became you have so much more life experience now, and you’re leading by example for your girls. It takes practice and persistence but eventually you’ll find that negative guest hanging out on your front lawn as you dance the night away at your perfectly imperfect party.
One of my favorite concepts in therapy is dialectics–the notion that two opposing ideas can be true at the same time. Kinda like the I-love-you-but-can’t-stand-you-right-now type of situation. You know, like when your husband is napping while your children are awake. Or your four-year old is telling you to “say sorry” because you scolded her.
I was reminded of this concept last week while listening to my second podcast of the day (my new obsession, by the way). In the first, I was being encouraged to believe that where I am right now is where I need to be. I don’t need to do anything else to bring worth to my life. Yes! I am enough! I can feel good about myself and who I am today–not yesterday or tomorrow. I felt accepted and valued.
Then I listened to the second where the speaker declared that I am made for more. I was made to be more than who I am today. That instead of being content with where I am right now, I should listen to that spark, that desire, within me for something more. Yes! I can do great things! I can achieve my dreams! I felt encouraged and motivated.
I am enough but I am made for more?
How does that work?
It works because two opposing things can be true at the same time. You have inherent worth, which means who you are today is ultimately good. But you also have goals you want to achieve, hopes for being better, and things you wish to change. Those are important as well–and if you are content to remain the same you will never fulfill your full potential. You were made for more because you were made to grow and learn and develop, even as an adult. And where you are right now is where you are meant to be–it’s all a part of the journey.
We talk about dialectics in therapy because in order to change, you have to first learn to accept yourself. Change takes courage and confidence. In order to move forward, take risks, and try something new, you have to believe that you are capable of doing so.
You are enough. Believe that with your whole heart. Let those words sink in and fill you with worthiness and value.
Then listen to that still, small voice within you that calls out for something more. A dream yet realized, a goal hiding away. There is a potential waiting to be fulfilled. You were made for more.
Let me tell you about my oldest daughter. She is my ultimate power struggle. She is spirited and independent, stubborn and determined. She is always on the go and barely ever stops moving. As an infant, after finally getting her to sleep, Cory and I would have to hold down her arms and legs to keep her from wiggling and waking herself up. All while being tightly swaddled. After four years of battling bedtime, we finally paid for a sleep consultant this year to help us find a way to train her to go to sleep on her own. She fought every single intervention and still to this day wants one of us to stay with her until she falls asleep.
With each passing year, she has become more challenging. Two was full of tantrums, three was full of mood swings, and four has been both plus an extra dose of defiance. Two weeks after Emmie was born, while I was trying to close my eyes on the couch, she walked over to the corner of the living room, took off her pull-up, and pooped on the carpet. You guys, my kid POOPED ON THE CARPET.
For Ava, no is a suggestion. She wants what she wants when she wants it. She’s a master debater, a cunning compromiser (“how about four books because I’m four?”), and she is an expert at pushing every. single. boundary (her favorite tag line is “just one sec”). She has to pee, without fail, five minutes after we leave the house or enter a store. She wails–and I mean WAILS–when she gets hurt. And she asks really insightful questions like, “Mommy, why is your tummy so big?”
There are days I’m not sure I can last two minutes with her. When every little thing she does takes every last bit of my patience and self-control and even taking my own timeout in the closet/bathroom/corner doesn’t help. She can, quite honestly, bring out the worst in me.
And yet, as each year passes, I realize more and more how much of a gift she is. She pushes me to my limits, forces those dark parts to face the light, and reminds me daily that I cannot do this job on my own. She is my daily do-over. Another chance to get it right, for a few hours or minutes at least. She is where I get to practice vulnerability and humility, where I get to trade power for gentleness, and where, with every apology, I’m reminded that grace is infinite and unconditional.
So, on days like today, when my tank’s on empty before 9:30am, I remind myself that it’s only iron that can sharpen iron. As she breaks down the facade of control and helps me see the parts of myself that need refining, she is making me a better version of myself. And it’s that version–the more capable and loving, stronger and vulnerable version–she needs to bring out the best in her as well.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.