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Blog ~ A Thoughtful Look at Life

First Row Living--Co-hosting Radio Live!

- by Carolyn Bergen

There are some things I absolutely knew I would NOT do in my life. Astronaut. Brain Surgeon, Professional Race Car Driver. Radio Talk Show Host.  Y'know...some things are just beyond a person's scope of's not remotely possible, with skills I would never, ever have. Being these wasn't gonna happen for me.

Except one is. Tomorrow I'm gonna be a radio talk show host.

Now, to be clear, I'm on co-sharing duties, and doing it for exactly two Fridays while the regular talk show host, Dahlia Kurtz, is on vacation.'s not like I'm changing professions...but still. Something that wasn't even remotely on my bucket list of things to try is something I'm gonna do tomorrow. YIKES!!!!

Still shaking my head on it.

Hard to believe they asked me. See, I'm not a person who could ever be a radio talk show host. I've never even had the guts to call into a radio show. I just couldn't. Y'know how sometimes we know things about ourselves...we just know these things to be true, and we live out of them? 

We stick ourselves into boxes of a smaller size because we determine who we are in a way that limits us. We tell ourselves stories about who we are and we live out of those stories. Sometimes those stories we tell ourselves make our stories too small.

After CJOB680 asked me to co-host these two shows, I found myself forced to re-examine why I "couldn't" be a talk show host. There were two main reasons:

  1. I lose the ability to speak in full sentences when a microphone is put in front of my face.  I know this. I have experienced it for years. I freeze and start to stammer and hesitate. My sentences don't make sense--at least to my ears. I can spend days second guessing how I got it only half right and "shoulda/coulda/woulda" myself half to death. Over recent months, I've gotten past this, thanx to folks like Dahlia Kurtz and Dana Foster. I know that I'm far from perfect, but when I go in front of CJOB's guys microphone, I trust myself that Dahlia and I are gonna do OK. That a minor miracle (that was hard fought with months of day-of-show anxiety, and reminding myself of all the things I coach clients on to do terrifying things.
  2. With the first gradually debunked over the last year and a half, one very real one persisted. I can't be a radio talk show host because I am not cool. I'm not. Not at all. I know this. How do I know this, you ask. I'll tell you--I know you're eager to know. I asked myself how I knew this...and the answer came from a faraway place deep inside me very quickly:  I started wearing glasses in kindergarten. I was the only kid with spectacles in my class. While other kids were still cute, I was not. While other kids grew up into beautiful young woman, I remained bespectacled and therefore not in the cool group. The cool kids in my school were athletic. I was on the teams, but only because essentially everybody that tried out made it...I didn't play much...I wasn't cool. Then it became increasingly clear that I was an introvert...and so I would be off in the corner at a party getting to know one or two people in really interesting conversations, while the cool extroverts were in the centre of the room regaling the crowd with their wit and wisdom. I stereotyped myself Only cool people are radio talk show hosts, right? So I couldn't be one.
But then Dahlia asked me a few weeks ago to cover for her along with Dr. Syras, her relationshipologist. She asked me! That's a little nuts.

I wanted to say no

I was sure I would have a sore throat that day (weeks away). I might be too busy. I might have to clip my fingernails or water the plants. But I have this rule that I'm not to say "no" because of fear...and I knew that everything I could come up with was only a flimsy and fear-covering excuse, not a valid reason to say no.

I work with folks who come into my office with no excuses, no hiding--they talk about the things they've always kept silent. I have a front row seat to the courage of my can I live any different?

So I said yes. 

I told Dahlia I wanted to make her proud. And sweet, dear friend and wonderful person that she is, she responded:

Look. You already make me proud. That's why I chose you to do it.

I heard someone say once somewhere that encouragement is fuel for the soul. Dahlia's words were very much for me that day, and these days leading up to tomorrow--the day I become a co-host of a radio show.

Showing up and being brave: radio show hosting.  possible because: Encouragement is fuel for the soul

I can't quite imagine doing this--because there is something still in me that "knows" I can't do it. But I've done things before, out of my ridiculous and terribly short sighted "not allowed to say no because of fear" rule I live by that I "knew" I couldn't do. I've done them. A buncha times. 

And been the richer person for it--enriched me deeply.

I saw this photo by British photographer, Grace Robertson today:

You can choose to live in the front row or the third row poster.  Photo by Grace Robertson

 Caption is by

I love this idea...and it is spurring me on to go for it tomorrow on-air. To read who is sponsoring the weather and tell the time and read the weather like I own the place. To have interesting conversations with fascinating people to hear stories that inspire me. I'm gonna push buttons to turn the microphones on like I belong there. Being a co-host for the first time is a definite "front row experience" for me.'s the deal. I'm sticking my neck out. I'm writing about this adventure I've signed up for before I've gone on the adventure. I have no idea how it is gonna go. I may fall flat on my face...and my first row living will look disastrous.

But here's the other deal. Dahlia, who works in radio full time (so theoretically she knows what she's talking about) says I'm ready. 

And I know, no matter what: 

  • I go home to a family who loves and cares about me. 
  • I'll still be Carolyn. 
  • I'll still have clients who do good work with me. 
  • I'll still have my friends who know me and love me.
  • I'm still gonna operate from a place of worthiness because I know that no single two hour span of life defines me.

So often, when people talk about exiting things things, they talk about them in retrospect, when they have triumphed. I want to proclaim, right here and right now, that I have triumphed in saying "yes" to something I find terrifying and that I feel unqualified for. I think life is best lived when the triumph isn't in winning, but in showing up and letting ourselves be seen. Being brave is the triumph.

The triumph is not in the outcome, but in the Yes

The yes to new experiences, to being stretched, to learning something new, to trying on something I've never done before.

What sort of "yes" are you being challenged to? And how much do you live in the front row of your life?

Front row living can be humbling...those ladies have their undergarments showing in ways those third row ladies do not! But I wanna go through life feeling like the front row ladies, even if that means I get humbled sometimes.

Yikes! I'm talking myself into this by writing in this blog. I'm still scared, but I'm gonna do it. Tune in tomorrow on CJOB680 at 1:00 to listen in to Carolyn Bergen and Dr. Syras filling in for Dahlia Kurtze from 1-3 pm!


What is Your Calling?

- by Lindsey Walsh

Our newest therapist, Lindsey Walsh, lets us in on his thoughts today...

Therapist Lindsay Walsh is a counsellor at Bergen And Associates Counselling in Winnipeg

Do you have a calling? I’m guessing you probably do, even if you don’t know it yet.

I must confess: I’m a late bloomer.

A veeery late bloomer.

Winter wheat late.

Trick-or-Treating at American Thanksgiving late.


And yet, here I am, nearing the big Four-Oh and I find myself with both a calling and a bit of a specialty. The calling I’ve had for eight years now. That came about because someone I was volunteer-counselling with said,  “You should really do the Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy”.

I’m not even sure I’d heard of such a being before. How do you fit everyone on the couch? I wondered.

Just kidding!

My fellow volunteer basically summarized Marriage and Family Therapists as “Professionals who help people get their emotional needs met and to change the negative patterns that can get in the way of change, growth, and fulfillment.”

That sounded really neat to me, so, I followed my co-volunteer’s advice. I applied to the program with Aurora Family Therapy Centre at the U of W and I got in.

And here I am, seven years later, with a great deal of practice under my belt. I’ve worked with individuals of all ages, faiths, and many different backgrounds; straight, lesbian and gay couples; and lots and lots of parents with their children.


And lots, 

And lots of kids and either one or two parents.


And I absolutely love it. There really is nothing like helping people feel heard, understood and appreciated by their loved ones. And when I can help a child feel her or his mother’s, father’s, or other caregiver’s full, compassionate, curious, and courageous presence – well that’s just magical.

After all, when we know our loved ones are there for us, then we can really, really blossom. Then the world doesn’t seem like such a big, scary place. And when it is big and scary, at least we aren’t facing it alone.

So, that’s my calling: Marriage and Family Therapist. It’s what I put on my business cards. Along with being a dad and a hubby, it is perhaps the truest expression of why I’m here on Earth.

What do I love about this challenging work?

As a therapist, I get to:

  1. serve my community
  2. pay the bills (along with my very hard working spouse),
  3. grow professionally, and
  4. build amazing relationships with and between people.

What an amazing way to spend my work days.

But what about a specialty? Is there anything that I am a little more passionate about? Anything that I have a bit of an edge on?

I am committed to serving many different clients with many different needs. But, there is nothing I am more passionate about than helping caregivers nurture kids.

Parenting therapist Lindsey Walsh at Bergen and Associates.  Poster states If children feel safe, they can take risks, ask questions, make mistakes, learn to trust, share their feelings, and grow.  Quote by Alfie Kohn

I love working with parents and other caregivers, helping them really tune into their kids, to soothe them, and help them overcome their struggles.

And sometimes people do deserve help, because it isn’t easy being a parent.

And it definitely is not easy being a child.

So, I’m here, you know, just in case you want some help making it a little easier to help you and your Junior Tribe Members listen to and share with each other.

How about you? What’s your calling? What do you get out of bed every morning to do? What carries you past that first cup of coffee? Do you have a specialty? Is there any one thing that you are just a little more passionate about and skilled at doing?

If not, maybe someday someone you love – or like me, a complete stranger – will give the best advice of your life. The advice that moves you from being a lovely person, to being a lovely person who has a career, or hobby, or whatever-it-is that you can call…

Your Calling.


Lindsey Jay Walsh

If you are interested in booking an appointment with Lindsey or another therapist at our office, please call 204 275 1045 or contact us via our webpage.

Wasn't washed away

- by Carolyn Bergen

Reflections years after having silent born sons. quote by Anne Lamott: The depth of the feeling continued to surprise and threaten me but each time it hit again and I bore it...I would discover that it hadn

I have three Junior Tribe Members that don't live with me. On Monday, one of those JTM's came over for supper...we caught up as we ate our meal, made snickerdoodles together--one scooping cookie dough while the other rolled the balls in the cinnamon sugar--and then watched the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs. I so enjoyed hearing his news and just hanging in the same space.

I visited the other two JTM's today that aren't under my roof. I went to the cemetery to visit them...or rather, where their ashes are buried. I brought them each a white rose, as I have for years...


That's a term I have learned in the last year...a significant remembering of a hard, awful day years ago. 

I kinda liked it.

I was thinking about using it for today, but I have decided not. It doesn't fit

Today, June 18th, is the day when I remember my silent sons. It's the day I remember the year that I celebrated Mother's Day as a pregnant woman, anticipating being a mom. The year I went to the hospital thinking I would be told I was an over concerned first-time mom. The year they actually told me, instead, that it was bad, really bad. The year then I found out that I didn't have one, but two little ones whose lives hung in the balance. The year that I went on solid and utter bedrest to save these little ones, and it looked like we might beat the odds. I remember it was the year that we didn't beat the odds, and one morning they couldn't find the heartbeat of either baby. The year they were born silently.

It is not a crapiversary. There are those. But this is not one of them. This is a birthday. 

It is a day to honour two little Junior Tribe Members who I held briefly in my arms, but will hold forever in my heart.

So...I write all the time about the value of connection and community. I know it, I see it, I live it, and and I work with this knowledge every day. It's the air I breath...but today I am experiencing it in my life in ways that fairly take my breath away:
  • The annual daisies from L and G...every year she remembers--even the year when she was getting married the next day. Those daisies are a highlight of my life.
  • I am married this year for this birthday of mourning...and my Senior Tribe Member is on call the entire day. Let me know to call him whenever and wherever and he will come. Gladly. Ready to be there for me. Ready to give me space (which I think is even harder). Whatever I want. And oh...supper today is taken care of--I don't have to think about it. I mean...Seriously. Wow.
  • M, my Thursday morning coffee buddy for 10 years, was sitting waiting for me this morning and treated me to a latte today. She often gives me a gift on June 18th--their birthday...she said she couldn't think of a single thing to get, but she said she could give me something even more important: The gift of knowing my little JTM's were not forgotten by her...they are very clearly remembered. She's right. That is the most valuable gift ever.
  • Emails from family letting me know they remember. (Note to self: I suck at dates and remembering other people's significant dates...I gotta write things down and think to let people know it's on my radar...knowing people remember rocks! To know that people are with me during the hard times is big.)
Today is a day that I remember, specifically...where I go to the gravesite to cry and think and pray and ponder and imagine.

But, like many who have and continue grieve, it has become a part of the fabric of who I am--everyday.

It doesn't make me miserable anymore (there were months that it did)--it changed me.

I think the me I've become is wiser...Life happens. It isn't fair. There are times when nothing anyone says will make it better. When someone hurts, care for them. When something hurts, it's ok to cry. Y'know...obvious stuff that sometimes we forget to know.

I think the me I've become is one that understands pain and loss better than I did before. I'm kinder.

I think the me after being their mom, and losing them is braver. I have more courage. I know how to bounce back. There is a sense of: 

"If losing kids doesn't finish me off, nothin'will. So what the heck--lemme try it/say it/do it/live it!"

So...this is a hard day, but a good one. It's not a crapiversary. It's a day when I celebrate two of my children that rarely get to be celebrated. It's a day when I surprisingly find myself grateful--for what having them being my children, and grieving their lives--has done in my life. 

It's a day when I cry--but it's not crappy, it's a gift.
Tags: Grief

On Being Loved: both in spite of and because of ourselves

- by Sabrina Friesen

Love is a burning thing.

I really think ol' Johnny Cash was on to something there.

When I work with folks and we talk about love, I often mention how good love is--you know, the kind that leaves us feeling full up and just good right down to our toes, that kind of love is the kind that loves us in spite of ourselves. That is the kind of love that feels safe and secure and just plain awesome. It's the kind of love that we know won't go away, even if it gets a little distant or disappears for a while.

Often, particularly working with couples, it seems that one or both partners feel that it's somehow faux pas to talk about the crummy parts of their partner. They often struggle to admit that there are things about their partner that they don't really like or enjoy. 

You know, what I'm talking about, right? 

Those hard-to-love parts like the defensiveness that is so often the first reaction to a simple question? Or the tendency of your person to shoot down a fun idea because it feels risky? Or how your spouse can be a bit controlling at home when work is extra chaotic? 


Those are the parts I'm talking about. 

Sometimes those parts are just so hard to handle and so we might just try and ignore them, and pretend that they didn't hurt our feelings, or drain us dry, or leave us annoyed . We try and back up from those hard-to-love parts and pretend they're not there. We do this not only with those we love, but sometimes even with ourselves.

But friends, when we ignore them then those defensive and crusty and hard-to-love parts don't get what they want, what they really, really want. 

Which is to be seen and loved. 

loving ourselves and others including the hard parts...loved in spite of and because of. The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved -- loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves. Victor Hugo quote

They stay locked up and lonely, and our crusty partner (or friend, or kid, or self) gets even crustier as they put pressure on themselves to show the "good" and hide the hard.

Being loved in spite of ourselves means that we get to all show up to the party. That our amazing and hard and creative and scared and everything-in-between parts get to be seen and known and loved. And that doesn't always mean liked. But it means that we can come out and our person (or our people, or ourselves) can still love us, and we can still feel safe and secure and good enough in spite of the ways we are not always awesome. 

(Note: good enough≠perfect)

I have two kids, and it is simply factual that my eldest is definitely a kid who is easier to love. The ability to listen, tolerate frustration, and just be awesome comes naturally to him. He is my observer, and is the more cautious one of the two. 

My youngest is the opposite. She takes waaaaaay more emotional energy and more work to stay connected to. She can be hard to love. She is feisty and fiery and intense. 

Yet clearly I love them both with a ferocious, protective, and intense mama-love.

I often think of what it means to love my kids in spite of themselves, particularly my youngest whose tantrum throwing and sassing skills are finely tuned, when this week I realized I was missing a huge part of that equation. As I was tucking my birthday girl in this week I was telling her how much I loved her just the way she is, and how much I love that she has big feelings. 

Because I do. 

Because her intensity, which is crazy ass hard, also makes her the most excitable, adventurous, energetic, intensely caring and super affectionate girl. She is my kid who dances in her underwear to Taylor Swift. She is the one who sings loudly. She is FULL of life. (In contrast, my safe and cautious eldest kid would be watching from the side.) 

Though my youngest tests my patience and pushes every one of my buttons some days, those qualities that make me sigh and sometimes stomp and throw my hands up in exasperation are some of the same things that I love most about her.

I love her for who she is in all of her intensity, and in spite of who she is in all her intensity because that makes her her.

Those things that are hard-to-love about us and those in our circles? I venture to guess that there are redeeming parts of those qualities. 

The crazy cleaning tendencies of one partner might also mean that life is really organized, and easier knowing everything has a place. The part that nags is also the part that remembers to bring snack and water to sports events, because it thinks of everything. The seemingly 'boring' quality of a partners personality also might make them an extremely safe person.

I wonder what it might look like if we were able to more honestly acknowledge the hard-to-love parts of ourselves, and let them be seen and acknowledged rather than hidden or compensated for. Can we love ourselves and others for who we are in this present moment, without needing to necessarily 'like' or enjoy the trickier parts? 

After five years I still haven't grown to looooove a good tantrum, but I can tolerate the tantrum, and love the intensity and fire of the girl who is having one.

My hope as a mom, as a wife, and as a friend is that those in my circles will know that they are loved for who they are in their entirety. That doesn't always mean I'll like or know what to do with parts that are tricky, or that I won't be super annoyed when I have to drive to two stores to find the 'right kind' of yogurt drinks (hypothetically speaking, of course!), but when those hard-to-love parts do come out, my people know that I am not going anywhere. 

Love really is a burning's warms and can's good and it's hard. Who do you get to love for and in spite of themselves today?

**The blog is blessed today by the thoughts of one of our favourite people...therapist Sabrina Friesen

12 Steps to Step Parenting: What clients taught a therapist

- by Carolyn Bergen

When I was a kid, there was a time when I would race home from school so that I could watch the Brady Bunch on TV. She has three daughters, he has three sons and they marry--they children have squabbles, to be certain, but they were always lovingly and successfully resolved at the end of the 22 minute show. The boys relate well to their step mother, and the girls to their step father--again, there are disagreements and mild dustups--but fundamentally, the issues were "regular" growing up issues--not related to being a blended/step family.

I've been working with step-families/blended families for years in my counselling office. Let me tell you, the Brady Bunch was a television show in all its glorious fiction. Step families take multiple years to assimilate and form a new sort of family that has routines and cohesion--and there is generally deliberate work to accomplish this along the way, and the sailing is anything but smooth. 

The Brady Bunch did us all a disservice in lulling us to be unaware of the complexities of combining what was two separate families into one household. Folks that think step families work like the Brady Bunch are Set. Up. To. Fail.

Often two-families-seeking-to-be-one come in to see me at their wit's end. Things aren't working--kids are hostile and resistant. Often the children are draining all the loving energy between the couple so that despite the couples best intentions at starting fresh with a loving marriage and family are dashed to smithereens. Discouragement sets in, and parents and step parents feel defeated. It is be ugly and painful to be a part of that sort of family dynamic.

I've also worked with many folks who have been a part of step families who come in for a variety of reasons in their lives and their family experience is a source of tremendous support and encouragement. They will tell me how incredibly supportive and encouraging a step parent was, or how their family changed for the better when their bio parent got married. These folks, who may be having difficulty bringing to them to the counselling office, turn to their positive step family experience as a resource in their lives--and drawing on their family experience of having a step parent, they are able to move forward. I notice that they call their step-parent "mom" or "dad" with a loving tone.

Little did I know that one day I would become a part of a step family. My Junior Tribe would more than double in size. I would be stepping into a situation that seemed potentially fraught with land mines, that would take years to develop and quite likely add extra layers of stress on a new marriage. 

I, however, had an advantage in this new family dynamic that few others have the privilege to have. I get an inside perspective on step families that almost no one else gets. I've had meaningful and vulnerable and authentic conversations with folks for years, discovering the ins and outs of step families. I've read the literature on what works and doesn't work with stepfamilies, and how folks can navigate the tricky waters of step parenting--and watched folks develop trust slowly with each other with careful respect and understanding. (And FYI...the best quick read that I know of for step parenting is a chapter in Harriet Lerners: Marriage Rules--concise, clear and infinitely helpful, and consistent with current research on the topic)

My clients have taught me how to be a step parent. I want to thank them for the lessons I've learned that I've used to help other families--and now myself. I'm so not perfect, and I'm sure the Junior Tribe Members could point out with laser accuracy where the mistakes have been...but I know that I deliberately relate to my step children in light of all I have been taught. 

It was my birthday this week...and all JTM's and girfriend and fiancé and us Senior Tribe Members walked to Boston Pizza. We laughed and joked over pizza with FIFA soccer in the background. We walked home, shared birthday cake, and played a fun game together (with NBA and hockey playoffs in the background). I received a card from each JTM that was respectful and affirming. We aren't perfect by any means, but I can just feel that we are on the right road...I have been taught well. That feels awesome.

Having watched and learned from families who learned by trial and error, and families who were warmly and wildly successful at creating something new when two families are joined in marriage, we decided that, to the best of our ability:

1. Our dating/engaged/married relationship moved at a rate that made sense for the kids, as well as us. He would check in with his, and I with mine about how they felt about things (when the other wasn't present) to get candid feedback on how they felt about their parent dating, and then later being engaged and getting married. We slowed things down if even one child needed some time.

2. We didn't assume any of the children would be OK with our relationship, or the sort of things that come out of that relationship. We asked for feedback from each child as our relationship progressed. For example, he would ask a JTM if the JTM was comfortable with me coming to watch his game. If the answer was "No", then I didn't go. I would work to remember to be grateful that the child was candid about his needs, and I would choose to believe that he was learning I was respectful of him by not going, and not making a big deal of it. If the answer was "Yes", I would go, but remain in the background...and then ask again the next time. Just because he said "yes" once, didn't mean it was yes from then on. Each child was in control of when his friends found out about the fact that their parent was dating. I went into this knowing that being sensitively tuned into the JTM's comfort with me, and then being generous about giving as much distance as the child requested is often the best way to show care to that child.

3. We sought to avoid disruption of regular routines and relationships. That meant that while we were dating, we often only visited after 9:00 pm when the youngest went to bed. After we married, I moved into his house so the youngest wouldn't have to move to reduce the disruption in his life. He is the primary parent to his kids, and I to mine--that doesn't change. He still tucks the youngest in every night at the same time, just like before...and it takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r--just like it did before.

4. I sought and seek to be a positive presence in the lives of his children, though not as a parent. I know the currency of the adolescent boys--I bake, make good meals, offer to help with homework, do a drop off or pick up, or review a resumé if requested. He did and does the same with mine. I relate to his JTM's in a similar manner as I would to good friends of my Junior Tribe Members when they have been over--friendly, welcoming, supportive, curious and appreciative but fully aware that I am not the parent. I'm finding out about their favourite movies and investing in watching them with them. I know more about some video games than I used to!

5. I realize that I am not a parent, and I have not earned the right to speak into the lives of his children in a way that implies I can assert my will/opinion/thoughts in a way that seems in any way judgemental of a child. I simply haven't known them that long, and to tell them what to do or how to do it would be presumptuous. Simply put, I don't have enough equity in the relationship bank to give advice or discipline or be corrective. 

Tell me--do you like it when a neighbor tells you how to mow your lawn, or your new co-worker tells you why you haven't been promoted? It's simply not my place...influence in a child's life is earned slowly, over time...and at the child's pace. I expect that I won't have the right for years yet.

6. My main task with regards to the children, besides being a warm and supportive and helpful presence in their lives is to support their biological parent to be the best parent he can be. Sometimes, I'm around when "stuff" happens...I notice things and I might mention it to him privately later, if he is open to my observations. I have some distance, and so can sometimes see dynamics that he can't (and vice versa too!!) 

7. I do help him parent his, when his dad isn't home, I remind a JTM of the screen time that his father has said he can have, or let him know it is the time his dad told him to go to bed. It's like he's the lead singer in the parenting band for his kids...and I'm the Doo-Wop back up singer. Doo-wop singers are important but they don't set the tone--they are not the lead singers. I support the rules he has made if he isn't around, but he sets the stage, the rules, and determines the rhythm of parenting for his JTM's.

8. I seek to have far more positive "bids" in their lives than neutral or negative. It's not that I'm trying to buy their love, but I am conscious of how nice it is for them to have fresh baking for their lunches, or when one likes a particular supper I make. I like to visit with them and find about about their day--they are important in my life and I want to get to know them and be a positive presence in their lives. Their dad has earned the right to do the "heavy lifting" of discipline and correction...I have not.

9. We are now three distinct families...his, mine and ours. We live with that as a reality. On Mother's Day, he spent lunch alone with his JTM's, while I spent time with mine. Other times, we are together as one enlarged family. I check in with my JTM's about how they are experiencing things in this enlarged household so that we can deal with what comes up. They have told me that they won't feel comfortable about raising these matters in front of my new husband.

10. There is a family expectation of mutual respect collaboration--not unlike expectations at school or the team or anywhere else. That's it. They are not expected to love me--or even like me. Any of that stuff, as it comes, is a bonus (and it would be a welcomed, treasured bonus which I will cherish should I be fortunate enough to receive it--but I recognize it is not owed to me). JTM's did not sign up for this. Love cannot be demanded. Demanding love is not love at all. The literature suggests a paradoxical effect often happens...the more you demand to be loved as a parent, the less likely it is to happen...and the more you give space and respect and not have expectations, the possibility for love to develop increases.

Step Parenting Guidelines. Poster: We all hope for love, enjoy it and desire it, but expecting and demanding it of others fouls up a good relationship. Alan E. Nelson

11. We are both committed to reinforcing the JTM's relationship with their biological celebrating it, facilitating it, and supporting the JTM every possible way to love the other parent. For me, that means honouring her memory by having pictures of her up, and making sure that we are bringing her memory up regularly in conversation...and finding ways to honour her myself--to give the JTM's the ability to do the same if they so choose. I planted a planter pot full of red flowers and put it on the top step--red was her favourite color. I know this is trickier when the bio parent is means drawing deep on one's love for the JTM to remember that every child longs and needs to love the bio parent--and to be patient and kind and loving to support that love for the bio parent, even when there are "grown up reasons" to be angry and vengeful. One of the greatest gifts a person can give to a step family is helping the children love both bio parents--that can be a gift that is only given at significant personal cost--but the investment is worth it.

12. We actually avoid the use of step-mother and step-father.  I am simply Carolyn. And I like it that way--that's my name! :) I am married to their dad. We live in the same house. We belong to a new family that is made up of two families. But "step mother" is so fraught with baggage, we simply haven't used it. We use other language that works for us.

We are in the early stages of this yet. More mistakes will be made. We will become aware of how we need to tweak, refine, readjust, and recalibrate to make it work for the JTM's. This isn't easy for them...and I am so often humbled and awestruck at the efforts they make to make our new family work. JTM's want to love and be loved--in ways that work for all of us--including them. (Sometimes they make that a little hard to see on the surface, but it's there--it's always there). This new brood of enlarged JTM's brings me to tears with the efforts they make to include me, welcome me, and reach out in sometimes-barely-but-definitely-there ways. 

 I am grateful.

Tags: Parenting

Necessary losses

- by Carolyn Bergen

Losses are a part of life--universal, unavoidable, inexorable.  And these losses are necessary because we grow by losing and leaving and letting go.  Losing suck. Quote by Judith Viorst.

We know, as parents, from the moment we give birth to a child, that this precious being is only entrusted to us for a time. 

I knew one day that my child would leave. I knew that in my head...but didn't ever think about facing the reality with my heart.

We raise our children with the intent of them learning and growing--to roll over, tie their own shoes, learn to read, make their own friends, bike around the block by themselves, drive a car on their own, all the time becoming their own person. Increasing their independence.

Parenting is loving our children enough to, very gradually, work ourselves out of a job. To have them not need us as parents, because we helped them to develop all the building blocks of being an adult on their own.

We want to position ourselves so as adults, our children only WANT us to be a part of their lives with ongoing relationship, connection and support, but they no longer NEED us to survive in this world.

I'd always hoped that I would give my Junior Tribe Members (JTMs) sufficiently nourished and healthy roots that they would have the stability to develop strong and capable wings. In order for children to launch well, they need a solid sense of stability and groundedness in who they are and where they come from.

It is one thing to plan and parent and dream for decades about the launch.

It is quite another thing to actually launch a JTM.

It happened to me last week. He moved out. 

This isn't for "while he is in school" for a semester. He's gone...lives in his own home (albeit a 15 minute drive away).

It's one thing to prepare a child to leave one day, and quite another to have that child actually leave.

It happened so suddenly. I knew it was at the end of the month, but the end of the month wasn't until Sunday. On Thursday, I was busy moving boxes and shifting this and that. He asked to play a game with us...and I was hung up on getting some of my own end-of-the-month tasks done early. I put him off on the game.

I shouldn't have. I'll be regretting that for a long time.

He got up for work on Friday and said he would be with friends at his new home that night, and with family the night after. He had been gradually moving stuff for two weeks, but he let me know he had just spent his last night at home with me.

And just like that, it was over. My little boy is all growed up. And moved away.

It just seemed like it snuck up so fast. 

The thing you never understand about being a mother until you are one is that its not the grown see before you.  You see all the people he has ever been rolled up into one"  Quote by Jojo Moyes, Me before you.

It reminded me of a passage I read about in Jojo Moyes book, Me Before You:

The thing you never understand about being a mother until you are one, is that it’s not the grown man, the galumphing, unshaven, stinking, opinionated offspring you see before you, with his parking tickets and unpolished shoes and complicated love life. You see all the people he has ever been, all rolled up into one. I looked at Will and I saw the baby I held in my arms, duly besotted, unable to believe that I had created another human being.  I saw the toddler, reaching for my hand.  The school boy, weeping tears of fury after being bullied by some other child. I saw the vulnerabilities, the love, the history...the small child as well as the man. All that love, all the history.

So much of life is about learning to let go. That's so hard to believe as a parent.

When you are raising a child, the never ending work of it all has it seem it will never end. I remember when he was an infant...I was up with him yet again, smelling his sweet softness, and in my exhaustion struggling to remember this son of mine's name--I could remember what letter his name started with, but was stuck after that. There were many days when I thought I would never eat a hot meal again, never be in a parking lot with this little one without my heart in my throat at he constantly threatened to dash away from me. I remember him using all his toys as rocket ships and missiles...even the dolls flew through the air to destroy whatever they landed on. The crayons at the restaurant weren't ever used to color quietly like the children at the next table...he would carefully unwrap the paper off one crayon after another, and after he created a huge mess of little shards of paper, he would, you guessed it, turn the crayons into little rocket ships and missiles to destroy whatever they landed on...maybe even the burger at the next table.

He climbed on top of the little sandbox house at the playground while the other children played quietly underneath it. I remember sending him off to school in Grade 2 with a wide bald strip on his head where I had forgotten to put the attachment on the razor...rather than have me shave the rest of him to match, he chose to try a "comb over" and wear a ball cap for two weeks to let some serious stubble grow in. Serious cuteness--and courage. The club he belonged to in junior high? They would phone to make sure he was coming...because when this JTM was coming, the leaders knew it was gonna be a blast for everybody. This was the boy that loved rooftops, biking down scary steep hills, and discovering yet another thing to blow up or light on fire.

There were long days of wiping and rewiping the table from play doh bits or cracker crumbs that it seemed it would NEVER end. Days of blow drying his little butt for the screaming wicked red diaper rash. Days of toilet training misses that signalled never ending moments of parenting. It seemed he would always be there, testing my patience and my nerves...and now he's not. 

And I miss him desperately...even being in the next room or downstairs with his ear buds in.

I know, I know...I'm grateful he's alive and he came for lunch on Sunday...but it's not the same. He won't be living with me anymore...and I can't remember what life was like without my JTM. Yes, many times he drove me crazy...there were times when I would have gladly given him away...even though I would, even then, have gladly given up my life for him. 

The man that walked out the door...he was a man, but I also saw the infant, the toddler, the boy, the teen and the man...and I felt like all of them were walking out the door at once.  

It's good. I'm glad. But I'm grieving, too. Life is a series of hello's and goodbye's...and the goodbye's are necessary losses. 

Losses suck.

And losses help us grow. Sheesh.

Just sometimes, I don't feel like growing, y'know? :)

But at the same time, I'm fiercely glad that he's growing...and grown. I'm glad his roots have given him the wings he needs to be more independent in this world. 

My goodbyes have become his hellos to the larger world.

Tale of a Wedding: JTM's

- by Carolyn Bergen

The success of love is in the loving- it is not in the result of loving. Of course it is natural in love to want the best for the other person, but whether it turns out that way or not does not determine the value of what we have done. Quote by Mother Teresa.  Poster by Bergen and Associates in Winnipeg

I have loved my Junior Tribe Members since before they were conceived. I have been their mother all of their lives. I have worked to provide a stable base and safe haven for them, particularly during times of transition--and our family has had periods of significant shifts. Their sense of security came first for me...and so getting "out there" was not a priority for years for me.

Same for him. I got to know him first when he called me wondering about how to help his JTM's after their mother's death. He worried about them, and wanted to do right by them.

I started a strong friendship with J literally the day I came home from dropping my youngest JTM off at college out west--right at the time I had time for a relationship.I didn't know then it would turn into love, but it did. A beautiful love that was strong and stable and was something we thought could make our kids' lives better.

We worked to be attuned to how each JTM was doing, and what that child needed to be able to move forward with a parent getting married (more about figuring out how to step parent in another post). When it came to JTM's, we had a few guidelines when planning the wedding:

  1. We got engaged with each child having input to the biological parent about they felt about engagement/wedding. After each child felt OK about it, the step parent asked the child for their blessing. For many families this could not be a part of it because of a variety of circumstances--we received the support and blessing of each child. That rocks--and that is a gift we don't lightly.
  2. We invited each child to be a part of the planning as fit that child. However, it wasn't their wedding, and so we didn't expect significant involvement in planning...they have their lives. We didn't want them to resent us "force feeding" the wedding on them. They made some suggestions, but mostly were just kids doing their own thing up until the day before.
  3. We gave them choice where possible. They decided together what they would wear. Each JTM picked out the color of shirt of their choice, and bow ties and suspenders were optional as they chose. One wanted to wear runners the day of the wedding instead of dress shoes--will it matter in 6 months if sneakers show on the picture? NO. Will it matter if he remembers the day as one where he wasn't forced to do something he didn't want? YES.
  4. We wanted the wedding to be a blast for the JTM's. They aren't stuffy or fancy...they are loose and casual and fun. We have JTM's whose native habitat is the gym. We had a basketball/volleyball/Dutch Blitz/running-around-the-gym wedding--instead of a dance, we went to the gym. It was a terrific fun for them. They played "rock, paper scissors" in the middle of the ceremony to determine which ones would sign the marriage license. The food was simple, hearty fare that they would enjoy and be able to tank up on, as young adults tend to want to do. No fussing. Gym shorts and high tops were an essential part of the evening.
  5. Each JTM invited several friends to this affair. Each was able to have their own table of friends and cousins...they were comfortable and had a blast during the wedding with their peeps.
Some samplings of the kids' day:

They also had choices when it came to the vows

As parents and step parents, we promised more than they did. 

The parents bear the responsibilitySome of them are of adult age, but when it comes to parent/child relationships, the parent always takes on the heavier load to make the relationship work. I went online and got some help, read samples and read comments from kids about what they liked at a ceremony.

I said this to his JTM's:

JTM's. I want you to know that I dearly love your father. As you have so graciously shared your dad with me, so will I share the love I feel for him with all of you. 

Together, we will learn much more about each other. I promise to be fair and to be honest, to be available for you as I am for your dad, and, over time, to earn your love, respect and deep friendship. I don’t want to replace your mom, but to make a place in your hearts that is for me alone. I will value my life with all of you. On this day when I marry your Dad, we become a family, together, with you, and I promise to love and support you as my own.   

He said the same to mine.

We invited these Junior Tribe Members of his and mine (and were grateful when they accepted), to also vow to each other and to us. We made careful suggestions about this...asking that they promise to respect us, the situation, and each other...and to allow us to love them, and to let us learn how to love them better. There was lots that it might have been convenient to make them promise to us, but that would not have been fair. We were careful to not expect things of them that we as parents have no right to expect.

The officiant asked them, as they stood at their tables, with their friends and cousins right beside and around them:

JTM's, do you promise to respect this marriage, and support the creation of this new family?

Carolyn's JTM's, are you willing to create space in your lives for a developing relationship with J, and J's JTM's are you willing to create space in your lives for a relationship with Carolyn? One that is respectful and honest, taking time to get to know each other, and letting them know how they can best relate to you? And there are going to now be many brothers in this family—you will be two families that will be also becoming one family.  Will you work to be a cooperative member of this “becoming-one-family”?

... Do you promise to let them love you and care for you as well?

I'm thinking that last part might be a good idea for a lot of us to promise to the ones that love us--the "let them love you and care for you" part. 

It's not always easy for any of us to allow others to love us. 

Sometimes we can make it downright hard to let ourselves be loved, don't we? 

Wouldn't it be cool to let others know how best to relate to us and love us? 

Isn't that just something that is kind and helpful to another when you let them in on how you tick...and how you roll about all sorts of things? It's not's a gift

It is a gift to let others know how best to relate to us. 

Letting another learn how to love us better by actually teaching them how best to love you, is something that we can all think about promising each other. 

They're kids--and they're human--and they will fail at their vows, as grownups fail at their vows regularly. But they have the memory of having read them, reviewed them, approved them, and then agreed to them. 

And now we all have the privilege of enjoying the chaotic and busy household as we are two families and also one family.

Part of a series:
Part of a series:
Tale of a Wedding Part 1-The style
Tale of a Wedding Part 2-The ring
Tale of a Wedding Part 3- The vows

Tale of a Wedding Part 3

- by Carolyn Bergen

I respected him before I knew him, and liked him as a human being before I loved him as more. 

He is someone I have fun with, am supported by, and challenges me. In him was a man I couldn't imagine being without. He is someone I want to invest in, and make his life better. 

He understands that because our children are important, there are evenings when our relationship is temporarily put on the back burner because a child needs a concert to be heard, or a birthday to be celebrated, or a game to be watched, or simply a card game to be played--providing a safe haven for our kids is important--and he gets that. That is part of getting me...and I love him for that.

He inspires me to be a better version of myself. My heart slows when he enters the room, because when he's around, all is right with the world, and I relax. He is good to me, and good for me. He gets that I do crazy unusual stuff like weekly radio, regular writing for a blog, weekly Starbucks visit with a friend, and occasional teaching that can require hours of prep and a willing soul to hear me practice...he listens like its the only thing in the world he wants to do at that moment. 

Our vows--not pulled from a book or website...uniquely ours. He wrote his. I wrote mine. We wrote, and edited, and edited again...fussed over them for several days a bit at a time, until they said what we wanted them to say. I've watched couples struggle through hard times and win--love wins. I've watched successful couples and seen what is their relationship "secret sauce". I've watched people live out their vows...being a couples therapist shaped my own vows. 

We decided on some overlap...and some parts of it unique. What he needed to hear as promises from me is different than the promises I needed to hear from him.

Carolyn Bergen with her new husband at her wedding

What I said to him, as I committed my forever on this earth to him...

J, last summer when we first met for lunch to talk about our kids, we sat for hours longer than either of us realized…we shared stories of heartbreak and struggle, and our parenting celebrations and goofs. We simply enjoyed friendship in a way that caught us both by surprise.  Then, as we started walking in the cool fall evenings, we listened much more to each other’s stories.  We laughed a lot, even as we talked about so much hard stuff.

We clicked…in all sorts of ways--in a circumstance that was unusual. And it seemed that so often when we spent an evening together, it was one more opportunity to discover one more way we clicked.

J, there are many wonderful things about you, but perhaps one of the most lovely qualities is the way you have gently and thoughtfully made it possible for me, who’s been hurt before, to move forward our relationship.

Long before there was a “we”, I heard stories of your loving faithfulness to Car, and how the two of you worked to make your marriage work. Then, as we did become a “we”, you were so sensitive and reassuring.  You made space for who I was and am. 

You celebrate my strengths, and believe in me.

I’ll never forget the early winter afternoon when you asked me not to be mad at you because you hadn’t just taken my car in for an oil change as a favor…you had also put winter tires on my vehicle. You said that if we got married, you wanted your future wife to be safe.  And if we didn’t get married, you wanted me to always know that I was thought of and valued, and treasured.  

You have created safety for me within our relationship, and I want to thank you for that....

You have taken deliberate and great care in thinking our relationship through in terms of our children. [wee bit of teariness here] Thank you for your concern and love for my Junior Tribe Members—you understand, maybe because of the tremendous love you have for your own children, how very important my JTM's are to me. I can be a better mother because of you.

Carolyn Bergen at her wedding with her new husband

[insert deep breath here]

J, because of who you are, and because of who you are to me, and because of how very much I love you, believe in us, and am committed to you--with God’s help, I now promise to:

Support and love you--today, tomorrow, and each day for the rest of our lives in all the circumstances life gives us.  I’m going to make mistakes, and will be asking for your forgiveness.  I promise to learn from those mistakes...

I commit myself to working with you on the very hard stuff of life.  I want us to face our differences head on, struggling through them with integrity, trusting that those difficult conversations will lead to a richer and deeper relationship.  I commit myself to inviting you to be open about things that are important to you, even if they are hard for me to hear. 

I commit to celebrating and practicing a life of gratitude, joy and laughter with you.  We laugh often and much.  I believe that will give us resilience to handle the inevitable challenges that we will face in our lives together.

I want to learn from you about how better to be your partner.  I commit to being a student of you, J, to discover what makes you tick, what is important to you, and how best to collaborate with you.

I commit to letting myself be known, letting you know who I authentically am.  That requires a discipline of vulnerability which I believe God calls us all to. That won’t always be easy, but it’s the right thing to do.

I commit to us figuring out how to parent our children in a situation that they didn’t ask for, but have blessed us in. I want to help you be the best dad you can be, and I commit myself to being there for your sons in the way that fits each of them best. 

I will be faithful to you and you alone.  Together we faithfully place God as the author of our lives, and weave our story to be a part of the bigger one of His. We will write ourselves a better story together, than either of us could have alone.

You understand better than most what a forever love looks like, and how painful it is to follow that through to the end.  I respect that profoundly. I commit myself to you as long as God gives us both breath.

[Sigh] Feels good to be married to this man.

Part of a series:
Tale of a Wedding Part 1
Tale of a Wedding Part 2
Tale of a Wedding Junior Tribe Members

Tale of a Wedding Part 2

- by Carolyn Bergen

Rings for wedding in Winnipeg Manitoba

At a wedding we usually talk about the wedding bands being a perfect circle, with no beginning and no end.  But we all know that these rings do have a beginning.  

Rock is dug up from the earth.  

Metal is liquefied in a furnace, then molded, and painstakingly polished.  

Something beautiful is made out of hammering and heat.  

Love is like that.  
It's hot, dirty work.  

It comes from humble beginnings, made by imperfect beings.  

It's the process of making something beautiful where there was once nothing at all.  

We have made something beautiful out of painful and difficult experiences…and we celebrated that with the exchange of rings that will continue to remind us of the promises we have made on our wedding day.*

*Adapted slightly from our wedding ceremony.

Metal is liquefied in a furnace, then molded, and painstakingly polished.  Something beautiful is made out of hammering and heat.  Love is like that.  It

Wedding rings are beautiful. They are round, without beginning or end. They are hardy and solid and yet precious...but they themselves are borne of struggle. The making of the ring occurred with considerable shaping, molding, and heat. They end up beautiful...but the process is anything but.

To find love in mid-life is a lot like that.

His marriage died when she did. Cancer is an ugly disease...and it does its best to wreak havoc on the entire family. Cancer threatens to hijack a family with fear and pain--physical and emotional.

It was in the hearing of his painful story that I came to know of his strength, and his gentleness, and his perseverance in struggle. It was in the hearing of his challenges and difficulties and his joys in the midst of all of that that I fell in love.

My marriage died a tumultuous tragic end--it's painful to watch a train wreck and be powerless to stop it, and then being left with the aftermath.

It was in the hearing of the ugliness of my story that he heard beauty of family love, of community support, and of wisdom gained in the school of a stressful life. He says it was in the hearing of my challenges and difficulties and my joys in the midst of that he fell in love.

Wearing this ring is sweeter for the struggles. Beauty arising from ashes.

(For more about the wedding, see Wedding Tale Part 1, Wedding Tale Part 3, Wedding Tale: Junior Tribe Members)

Tale of a Wedding Part 1

- by Carolyn Bergen

Spending time with you showed me what I’ve been missing in my life. Quote by Nicholas Spakrs

Life took an incredibly sharp right turn for me this last winter when I met the man who is so special and so supportive and so loving and so kind I can't imagine spending my life without him

He's one of those men who has loved and was loved well in the past...a long and painful tragedy ended his marriage. He was tried and tested, and I watched him love well for the long haul in difficult days. I admired him before I knew him, and respected him long before I loved him.

We focused on the marriage, not the wedding. But we did want the wedding to be a representative sort of match our values and our style. 

So our wedding was:

1. Fun and Informal

We like to laugh and we like people to feel relaxed and comfortable. Folks grabbed beverages before the ceremony, which took place while casually seated around tables. There was no walking down the aisle...he and I just got up from our table near the front to join the ministers when it was time. It felt warm in the room. Not a lot of pomp and circumstance...but a whole lotta love.

2. Sporty

Yeah, I'd never been to a sporty wedding either. But this was a wedding of two families, and we wanted our Junior Tribe Members (JTMs) to have a blast. One of my favourite places to be in all of life is sitting on the sidelines or in the bleachers cheering for the kids while visiting with friends.

We had a "basketball wedding"...instead of a dance, folks put on their sneakers and played ball...people of all ages and stages played volleyball, while the younger ones played basketball. There was a riotous game of Dutch Blitz in the middle. It fit us and ours.

Pink sneakers in a wedding dress for a sporty wedding

And yeah, those pink sneakers? They came in handy. It is a little tricky playing volleyball in a wedding dress, but I can attest personally to the fact that it is indeed, very possible

3. Connected

Weddings celebrate connection...between husband and wife, but also within a community. Very good friends--both pastors--officiated. There's something kinda wonderful about having good friends I've known for decades, and had coffee with just the week before, marry me and my husband.

I had coffee with a good friend yesterday. She chopped up veggies for the appetizers...that's a lot of chopping! Her favourite part of the wedding was the set up that occurred in the afternoon before the wedding. Friends of his and friends of mine working happily together setting up tables and chairs and tablecloths--introducing themselves to each other and enjoying the cheerful vibe.

As informal as the wedding was, there was no the night before we had a rehearsalless dinner with his family and mine at our house...pleasant chaos with little children on the trampoline, a group of young adults in a big circle on the back lawn, and small groups of adults visiting inbetween visits to the kitchen.

I know when I am out of my league, and a big part of the fun of this wedding was accepting the help that was offered. I'm learning that when others offer, it's often because they love the opportunity to use their gifts. It was great to see people I love do what they do best, outta love for us:

  1. My shopping/stylist guru friend, J. cheerfully self appointed herself the wedding planner. Two days after engagement she sent me a text: "We are going wedding dress shopping on Saturday. Count on all day. Bring a good attitude. I'll help you." She did. And it was beautiful. She loved sending me lists and telling me where to go to get things. Priceless.
  2. My future daughter in law is crafty and loves Pinterest. She created table numbers, seating chart and prettied things up. She had great ideas and ran with them. Sigh. I am in love...and I get to keep her for a lifetime!
  3. A whole crew volunteered to show up a couple of hours early and set up the venue. It was beautiful
  4. Friends and family took pictures, gave speeches, did childcare with a JTM after the wedding, picked up ice, dropped table clothes off after...I could go on.
  5. Some daughters of friends made all the cupcakes for dessert. Delicious and made with love.
Cupcake arrangement at a wedding.  Made by family friends.  Delicious!!
We were surrounded by love and support for weeks before and weeks after. So many people were kind and supportive. be loved with love like all of this.

4. Simple

beautiful yet simple table arrangement for wedding

I wanted the focus of the wedding to be on relationships, not "stuff". We deliberately kept things simple. A few daisies for centrepieces in borrowed vases. Supper was basic but delicious BarBQ. No string quartet or brass band. Lots of love, tho. 

Love is simple, isn't it? Layered, nuanced, complicated to express, but ultimately, simple.

The happy couple at the wedding ceremony

For more about the wedding see Part 2, and Part 3, and Part 4)

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Blog ~ A Thoughtful Look at Life

June 25, 2015

"Show up, be seen, live brave"™ is a concept from The Daring Way™. I'm showing up and living brave tomorrow by co-hosting a radio program...something I "know" I can't do. Wish me well?!

Another guest Lindsey Jay Walsh...our newest therapist. What is your calling? He knows his! Book an appointment with him today!

Not getting washed away...reflections on grieving years later...

read more