Tag Archives: parenting

I Want a Silverback Father!

I’m certain we could learn a lot from silverback gorillas. Not about grooming habits, but about the way they care for their young.

The movie Instinct stars Anthony Hopkins as an anthropologist who lives among a community of gorillas for two years. He starts out as a detached observer, but it isn’t long before they win over his heart. He admires and adores these powerful yet gentle creatures and is especially touched by their undying devotion to their young.

Gradually, he is accepted as one of them.

One day, sitting among the gorillas as they groom themselves and nibble away at leaves, he becomes aware of a constant, attentive gaze that embraces them all. The gaze was coming from the “silverback,” the name given to the chief male—the elder or overseer—of the gorilla clan. His job is to protect and maintain order.

“It’s an amazing experience—the feeling of being watched over,” the anthropologist observed.

The gravity of that simple statement struck me. I wonder . . .  do our children feel “watched over” by their fathers . . . and in this manner?

I think a lot of kids feel “watched,” but not “watched over.” To me there’s a huge difference. To be “watched” implies a suspicious, critical eye. “Watching over” combines guidance with compassion.

Sam Keen, author of Fire in the Belly, has this to say:

In the quiet hours of the night when I add up the accomplishments of my life, those things that rank first, in terms of true success, have to do with my children. To the degree I have loved, nurtured, and enjoyed them, I honor myself. To the degree I have injured them by my obsessive preoccupations with myself, with my profession, I have failed as a father and a man. The health, vitality, and happiness of the family is the yardstick by which a man, a woman, a society should measure success.

To the dismay of many men and their children, that lesson is typically learned in hindsight. One such father put it this way: “Men fall into the trap of believing what their family needs most is a secure financial foundation. This isn’t so. The foundation comes from the heart, not the wallet.”

Turning again to Keen: “We learn to trust in a world that contains evil when we come crying with a skinned knee and are held, hurting, in arms; and the voice that is forever assuring us, ‘Everything is going to be all right.’”

Boys learn how to use their masculinity—in both positive and negative ways—by watching their fathers. Keen says, “A boy naturally learns how to be a man by observing how his father treats women, how he deals with illness, failure, and success, whether he shares in the household chores, whether he cuddles and plays.”

Keen mentions how his priorities as a father have gradually changed. “First time round as a father I had truckloads of rules, oughts, ideals, and explanations—all of which kept me at arm’s length from my children . . . . Lately I have come to believe that the best thing I can give my children is an honest account of what I feel, think, and experience, to invite them into my inner world.”

We frequently hear the term “the absent father.” This doesn’t necessarily refer to the actual physical absence of a father. It can also refer to emotional absence. Children need to feel that there’s a special place in their dad’s heart reserved just for them. They need to see a certain delight in his eyes when they talk to him about their day or when they share their dreams and achievements with him. They hunger for his full attention—chunks of time in which he’s not distracted by schedules or electronic devices.

They need to see their father as powerful, but not “powerful” as in domination or through tough displays of fierceness or force. A father of young children once told me that good fathers are good leaders and that being a good leader requires a delicate balancing act. He said, “I must maintain an air of authority, but I have to be the right type of authority. I’m learning that the best leaders lead without squashing the spirit.

So, good fathering is about a warm and receptive heart. It’s about being involved and interested. It’s attentive to needs and distresses. It nourishes self-worth. It protects, guides and maintains order. It’s about cherishing and listening. It models strength, self-restraint and kindness. It comforts when there are tears. It accepts when there are mistakes and failures.

Being watched over is an amazing experience! The world needs more “silverback” fathers, wouldn’t you say?

© 2017 Salee Reese

4 Comments

Filed under General Interest, Parenting

A Mother’s Heart

“Making the decision to have a child—it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”     —Elizabeth Stone

I don’t know about you, but that speaks to me. I have two sons, and although they’re full-fledged adults now, they’re never far from my heart-thoughts.

From the earliest days of changing diapers and changing diapers and changing diapers, I’ve experienced degrees of joy and warmth I never thought possible. But I’ve  experienced degrees of frustration and anguish I never thought possible, too.

Nope, motherhood is not for the faint of heart. It exhausts and tests you to the point of wondering why you ever signed up for it in the first place. I could say it challenges you to grow—and that’s true—but it’s more accurate to say it forces you to grow.

There were times—humble times—when I knew that staying stuck in the old me was merely going to make matters worse. I had to change. I simply had to upgrade my way of seeing and doing things.

Yes, my sons have been my teachers in many respects, and I thank them for that. They’ve made me a better person, but most of all, they’ve made my heart grow.

 

(c) Salee Reese 2017

3 Comments

Filed under General Interest, Parenting

The Unhappy Chameleon

chameleon2

Doug wowed me with this in one of our sessions:

“I always wanted to blend in . . . like a chameleon.” Then looking away reflectively, he added, “You know, it takes a hell of a lot of energy to change my colors.”

He’s right. So why do we do it? It’s all about making sure we’re liked and loved. If we don’t make ourselves acceptable, we fear rejection. And rejection is a very lonely place.

We all do our share of adapting and approval-seeking. It only becomes problematic when we lose sight of our true selves. In the book, The Dance of Anger, Harriet Lerner describes that condition as being “submerged” or “de-selfed.”

Here’s one of Doug’s examples: In the midst of ordering chicken from a menu, his wife interrupted, “You don’t like chicken—you like roast beef!”

He remembers his meek, defeated response at the time: “I guess you’re right. I don’t like chicken.”

Sadly, Doug didn’t really know what he liked. He was used to being defined by the outside world.

When I first met Doug, he described himself as unhappy most the time. That makes sense because de-selfed people can’t be happy. They live a compromised existence which includes spending endless amounts of energy pleasing and accommodating others. The end result is often depression, a depleted interest in life, and hidden anger forever percolating just below the surface.

Adrian was a card-carrying member of the de-selfed club when I started seeing her. Her comments echoed Doug’s:

“I’ve spent most of my life adapting to others,” she said, “disguising and burying myself to get approval. I’ve done it so well for so long, I now have difficulty grasping who I really am.”

“Who is the real me?”

“I’m a chameleon and I don’t know my real color.”

Adrian started submerging her true self at an early age. “My mom’s love would turn off if I didn’t say and do what she wanted,” she said. “I wasn’t allowed to have a self.”

Adrian’s habit of self-denying followed her directly into her marriage … beginning, actually, on her wedding day. Her father handed the newlyweds $500 with special instructions. “He insisted we use the money for having a good time on our honeymoon—and nothing else,” she said.

“Well . . . that didn’t happen,” Adrian said with a defeated sigh.

That incident was a snapshot of things to come. Adrian listed off a series of comparable incidents that took place throughout the 23 years of their marriage. She then lowered her head solemnly and said, “I think my mantra has always been: ‘Yes dear, anything you say.'”

Adrian so needs to speak up in this relationship. She needs to share the person she really is with her husband—not just with me. How else can she relieve her depression and resurrect her actual self? And how else can the relationship possibly change if she doesn’t change?

When Adrian first started therapy, she thought her problem narrowed down to two people, her mother and her husband. Her thinking: If only they would change. But she has moved beyond that and is realizing it’s not what others have done to her, but what she’s been allowing. Until she realized that, she was powerless to change things for the better.

Something very interesting happens when we communicate directly from the depth of our natural being. Our total person comes forward. Call it our true self.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2016 Salee Reese

4 Comments

Filed under Couples, General Interest, Get Free, Parenting, The Latest Wow!

Listen to Your Grumpy Self

grumpy-bird

“I was grumpy when I got up and then I took it out on my kids,” Lori said. “I was just lazy and didn’t want to get up.”

Lori had a good reason for wanting to stay in bed a little bit longer. She had worked late the night before. She needed the rest.

But something tells Lori she “ought to” spring out of bed full of sunshine and butterflies every morning, regardless of what else might be happening in her life.

Sacrificing herself for others is a common theme for Lori in every arena of her life. Saying no—or saying yes to herself—seems selfish to her.  “I can’t let people down,” she says. That mindset leads to exhaustion, and exhaustion is a recipe for guess what? Grumpiness.

Guilt’s the enemy here. It’s the driving force behind Lori’s failure to set boundaries and it’s the basis for her exhaustion and eventual grumpiness. She’s caught in a vicious cycle. Her grumpiness leads to guilt, which leads to overextending herself, which leads to exhaustion, which leads to grumpiness.

Lori needs to learn the language of grumpiness and kick guilt out of the driver’s seat.

Rather than being critical with herself, she needs to listen to what her body is telling her. It’s an unparalleled tool for communicating what we need. Young children don’t seem to have a problem with this. When they’re tired, they take a nap. When they need to play, they play. When they need time by themselves, they take it.

And interestingly, when they’re grumpy, they don’t judge themselves. That comes later . . . after the programming phase of their life is launched. That’s when they’re trained on how they “should” be and what they “should” feel guilty about.

Yes . . . we should be responsive to the needs of others, and oftentimes sacrifice is called for. But wisdom should be the driving force—not guilt. With wisdom at the helm, we take into account the whole picture including what’s best for our well-being. Balance is the key.

I think this quote from the Buddha sums it up perfectly:

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2016

 

3 Comments

Filed under Client of the Week, Contemplations, Get Free

Thank You, Daddy

daddy-kiss

Whether you’re a grown-up or a young child, your father probably occupies a special place in your heart. 

Over the years, my clients have shared many thoughts about their fathers with me. One client made me smile with this one: “I remember Sunday mornings listening to records and Dad dancing the polka in stocking feet on the linoleum floor in the family room!”

Can’t you just picture that?

Annette recalls: “I treasure the simple memory of Dad tucking us in bed each night and kissing us goodnight. And he was the one to get us up in the mornings and make us breakfast.” He cooked the evening meal, as well. She was especially touched by how he went out of his way to make their favorite meals.

Chad told me of his father’s endless patience: “Whether Dad was showing me how to throw a ball, helping me with my homework, or teaching me how to drive, he was always patient.  And when I got in trouble, or failed at something, Dad wasn’t the type to blow up. I can still hear him say: ‘Well son, what did you learn?’”

Claire loves that she can go to her dad for reliable advice: “What stands out about my father is how well he listens. I can talk to him about anything and I know I’ll get his undivided attention. I remember one time when I had been offered a new job and was debating whether to keep my present job—which I really liked—or take the new one. So when I shared my dilemma with my dad, he asked me questions about both jobs—what I liked about my present job and how different the new job would be. In essence he was causing me to weigh the pros and cons of each. He didn’t actually tell me what to do, but prodded me to examine all aspects so I could figure it out for myself. It fills me with a sense of security to know I can always turn to my dad and he’ll listen to every word.”

My own father never had much to say, yet somehow his love for his three girls infused the air with an ever-present soft glow. When he did share his thoughts, I could tell he was in the habit of doing some deep thinking when off by himself.

Dad was the playful one. I have precious memories of him playing hide-and-seek with us. He taught us how to swim, how to fish, how to plant a garden, how to dance and how to go after what we yearned to achieve. Like Annette’s father, he did the cooking.  When we came downstairs in the morning, a smiling dad and a breakfast of poached eggs awaited us. There were no exceptions. Even on Christmas morning, Dad made it mandatory that we eat breakfast before all else. Our presents would just have to wait. Seemed like hours! 🙂

Jan, another client, was moved to write about her late father.

“As I sit here anticipating my first Father’s Day without my dad, I wonder: Does everyone who has lost their father feel the same emotions I’m feeling?

“Before he passed on, Father’s Day meant worrying about purchasing the right gift and hoping it was something Dad would enjoy. It was trying to get everyone together and accommodating schedules. With five other siblings, this wasn’t always an easy task.

“My father was a man of few words. He had minimal education and worked construction his whole life. He worked many hours to provide for a family of eight. There weren’t many heart-to heart talks with my dad or one-on-one moments. Sometimes—I’m embarrassed to admit—I even wondered if my dad really loved me.

“But as I sit and ponder, I realize it wasn’t really about the gift I had to buy or the time it took from my busy schedule. Father’s Day represented the man in my life who was always there. He wasn’t going to divorce me or leave me. He was there for every holiday, every marriage, every divorce. Basically, Dad was there for every event.

“Although we didn’t spend a lot of time together and never talked about the latest topics, he was present and always watching over all of his children. More and more I realize there’s something comforting and important about the feeling of being watched over.

“Recently we buried my father, and as all six siblings stood watching over him in his final days, I realized there was no animosity between us. We were in total agreement in his last hours about how we would make him as comfortable as possible.

“It was the night my dad passed away that I finally realized what he’d taught me. He taught me how to love.

“And as I watched my five siblings gather around his bed that final night, I also realized they were given the exact same gift.

“Most importantly, I realized that with my brothers and sister in my life, my dad would always be there. I can now see him in each and every one of us.

“So here’s to you, Dad: You might not have taught me to put a napkin on my lap or how to write a letter, or to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ but what you did teach me was so much more valuable. Thank you for the gift of love. It outweighs everything else.

“Happy Father’s Day, Dad.”

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

(c) 2016 Salee Reese

 

4 Comments

Filed under Contemplations, General Interest, Parenting

Spoiled for Life

kid in jail straightened

Jail time is a common occurrence for John. Why is that? He has a nasty habit of picking fights and throwing fits when he doesn’t get his way. Even in jail, if people don’t cater to John’s demands, he resorts to threatening and hostile behavior.

John’s behavior hasn’t changed much since he was a small child. That’s because his blustery, bullying temper tantrums weren’t nipped in the bud before he became an adult. Instead, such displays were rewarded—he got his way. Unsurprisingly, he still expects the world to bend to his every whim.

 Read more…

There are many stories like John’s—please share yours. Or if you have questions or comments, feel free.

2 Comments

Filed under General Interest, Parenting

Don’t Grin and Bear It!

smile outside

 

Out for a walk one day, I was struck by how natural it is for animals to protect themselves from harm. Their survival instinct doesn’t seem cluttered with emotional logjams such as second-guessing, guilt, or denial. At the first sign of danger, without the slightest hesitation, a bird will take flight. Likewise, rabbits hop away to safety. I think birds and rabbits have something to teach us about boundaries.

Cassandra, a distressed client, comes to mind.  She once asked me, “Is it okay to skip being nice to people who mistreat you?”

“It’s more than okay, Cassandra!”

I pointed out that, just like birds and rabbits, we’re supposed to be invested in self-preservation.

Unfortunately, Cassandra’s boundaries crumble when the programming of her childhood overrides the instinct to protect herself.

Cassandra’s parents downplayed her brother’s bullying behavior and sarcastic remarks. Instead of protecting her, they excused him. The message conveyed was this: “Boys will be boys. And you—being a girl—should be nice.”

Because we’re drawn to what seems familiar and normal to us, we tend to surround ourselves with people who psychologically resemble those from our past. So, not surprisingly, Cassandra’s in a relationship with a man who treats her like her brother did. And instead of objecting to his hurtful behavior, she takes it. The result is a dampened spirit and constant knots in her stomach.

Her learned behavior is the same in all settings, including her workplace. Wearing a smile despite being treated unkindly, Cassandra allows them to cross her boundaries.

Cassandra yearns to free herself from such programming. That’s a good thing, because trying to make something palatable that isn’t—enduring the unendurable—is not only exhausting, it’s also an act of self-betrayal.

In the weeks ahead, Cassandra and I worked on boundary-building. It began with her learning to listen to the truth of her feelings instead of listening to the programming that told her how she “should” feel. I recommended a book I would love to hand out on street corners, The Nice Girl Syndrome by Beverly Engel.

Birds and rabbits don’t question—even for a second—their right to self-preservation. And the predators of the world have learned just how difficult it is to lay a paw on them. Why should we—thinking creatures—be any easier prey?

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2016 Salee Reese

6 Comments

Filed under General Interest, Get Free, Parenting

Call it Parent Power!

colorful explosion2

Laura’s petrified that her teenage daughter may be headed down a dangerous path.

While she and Kaitlyn sat across from each other in my office, Laura rattled off her string of concerns. Among her worries were slipping grades, Kaitlin’s recent choice of friends—some have been in trouble with the law—and a controlling boyfriend who habitually puts Kaitlyn down.

As her mother talked, Kaitlyn made every attempt—frantically—to disagree and voice her opinion. Understandably so. None of us likes to be cast as a loser, and in Kaitlyn’s eyes that was exactly what was happening. To Kaitlyn, her mother wasn’t listing concerns, she was listing failings. This same scenario was often played out at home, and with even more intensity.

I explained to Laura that during those times, Kaitlyn was defending her self-image. “She must resist your impression of her, because she has to believe in herself,” I said. “If she doesn’t, she’s wide open to all those things you’re worrying about.”

“Your influence as a parent skyrockets as you believe in your child.”

In fact, there’s no better way to arm a child for the challenges of daily life.

As parents, we have little control over what happens after our children become teenagers. A smaller child is much easier to influence. As they head for some danger zone, such as a stairwell, we swiftly reach out and grab them. We can’t do that with teenagers. But we can convey that we have confidence in their ability to master life’s risky stairwells on their own.

Laura won’t be able to dictate Kaitlyn’s choice of friends, and criticizing them will only backfire. Like all of us, Kaitlyn needs to feel valued and accepted, so if her friends are the only ones providing that fundamental need, she will lap it up like a starved kitten. And, let’s face it, when we’re starving, we’re not picky about what the food is and where it’s coming from.

When Kaitlyn feels good about herself, she’s more likely to make choices consistent with that good feeling. Her grades will likely go up, and putdowns will no longer be tolerated.

Laura can help make that happen. I advised her to do the following:

  • Instead of saying: “Be careful,” as Kaitlyn leaves the house, say, “I know you’ll be careful.”
  • Avoid lecturing her about all the dangers out in the real world. She’s heard them a zillion times from you already. Instead, tell her you know she will use good judgement no matter how tough the challenge.
  • Convey that you have confidence in her ability to handle controlling people by saying to her, “I know you’ll stand up for yourself.”
  • When she does well, acknowledge it and praise her. We too easily point out errors.
  • When she falls short, don’t lose confidence in her—she will be less likely to lose confidence in herself.

I also suggested that Laura add the following phrases to her everyday vocabulary:

  • Keep up the good work!
  • You can do it!
  • You must be so proud of yourself.
  • I believe in you.
  • I trust you’ll do the right thing.

By believing in her daughter, seeing her in a positive light, and trusting her ability to navigate life’s various challenges, Laura will indirectly bolster Kaitlyn’s self-image while safeguarding her with the strength of confidence. Consequently, she can’t help but influence Kaitlyn’s life for the better.

I call that extraordinary power!

 

Names are changed to protect client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2016

 

4 Comments

Filed under General Interest, Parenting

Latest Wow: What Love Does

ballet

 

Love doesn’t involve pain or control … it sets you free. 

   ~Don Armstrong

Not long ago, a former client—who’s in her forties—was telling me of an incident involving her father. He was giving one of his typical straightening-out-her-thinking talks and at some point he began shaming her . . . “just as he did when I was ten,” she said.

That was a definite mistake on his part. Why? Because she doesn’t just sit and wilt anymore. Nooo. She’s earned her black belt in speaking up. So she called him out—objecting to his unwelcomed shaming tactics and firmly declaring that it wasn’t okay thirty years ago and it isn’t okay now.

He excused it away by saying he “does it out of love.”

Her black belt response:

“Dad, being loving is building someone up, not tearing them down.” He had no words.

Wow!

 

2 Comments

Filed under General Interest, Get Free, Random Acts of Courage

Gifts that Endure

family collage

A gift is defined by how it impacts the heart. 

Sadly, we’re hypnotized by ad campaigns that tie the act of gift-giving to the act of spending money. In fact, the more money spent, the greater the perceived value of the gift—and the greater proof of love.

Something has definitely gone awry when the measure of one’s love is determined by the amount of money sacrificed.

The word “sacrifice” is no exaggeration for many people around this time of year. Some have difficulty paying for heat and groceries. So, instead of joy in their heart during the holiday season, despair, guilt and anxiety fill the air.

Jerry is a good example. He’s a construction worker with four children. When I counseled him a few years back, jobs were scarce. I couldn’t help but sense his heavy heart as he talked about how disappointed he was with himself. Why the disappointment? Because he wasn’t able to buy enough “stuff” for his family. He was convinced he was a failure as a dad.

Another client, Nicole—a single mom—was equally distressed. She was laid off so her Christmas-anxiety was the cause of many sleepless nights and, like Jerry, she also felt like a failure as a parent.

How can Jerry and Nicole arrive at peace? I like what The Beatles had to say about that:  “All you need is love.”

As a therapist, I deal with issues of love and abandonment—stemming from childhood—all the time. But I’ve yet to encounter an adult client grieving over having received too few gifts as a child.

The fact that Jerry and Nicole are concerned for their children tells me their hearts are in the right place. The love—that precious commodity underlying a healthy parent-child bond—is more than evident.

In an effort to have them rethink their definition of a gift I asked them two questions: What would bring joy to your children’s hearts? Throughout the year, what do they ask you to do with them?

To get a sense of the sheer magic of those questions, imagine yourself at age eight and being asked by your parent, “What would you like us to do together?”

Our involvement with our children spells love to them. So my advice to Jerry and Nicole was simple: “Give them you.”

Sure, there’s a thrill—a rush—when receiving material gifts. But more often than not, they impact our pleasure circuits—which are fleeting—not our heart.

Ask yourself this: How many gifts do you really remember from last year? I would venture to guess that joyful experiences—involving people—remain memorable, evoking inner smiles yet today. Such memories clearly take center stage . . . because they impact the heart.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2015

 

6 Comments

Filed under General Interest, Parenting