- by Carolyn Bergen
I remember at a baby shower a while back, there was a game that was essentially the "maternity olympics"…there were prizes for the biggest baby, the most over due, and so on. When the "longest labor" event arose, I won. Hands down.
When I was six and a half months pregnant with my youngest Junior Tribe Member (JTM), I began early labor. Through the wonders of modern medicine, the contractions went from three minutes apart to intermittent--as long as I didn't nothing. As soon as I moved around even a small amount, they would act up again. I was in labor for 6 weeks, on bed rest between home and hospital to postpone the birth of the little guy as long as possible.
Problem was that I had a busy and active household, including a 20 month old JTM that never slowed down. What to do? He needed to be chased after, and I needed to not be off the couch.
There was a delightful woman in my church, who I will forever consider my guardian angel. She would phone each Sunday and ask, "Whaddaya need this week?"
And she would invite me to let her know which days I needed someone for childcare and when we needed meals, and she would ask someone to come clean my house. Numerous folks understood and knew my predicament and had offered to assist. She would call those who were wanting to help and let them know when and how to help.
When my baby was born weeks later and needed only 10 days in hospital, it felt as though the community had birthed him. The support and help of the community prolonged my pregnancy enough that the complications were minimal. He was alive and healthy because the community surrounded us with care--the help was literally life-giving.
I will remain forever grateful…and forever open to supplying meals to young moms who need meals as a way of paying it forward. As a way of acknowledging my gratitude for the help.
- by Carolyn Bergen
I wrote recently about the disintegration of my marriage 10 years ago…watching the one I love become increasingly distant as he disappeared into a new life away from me.
One of the things I dreaded about his departure was the effect of this on my Junior Tribe Members. Y'see, I've worked with people for years, and have heard many stories of pain from folks whose parents divorced when they were kids. I desperately did not want my children to feel this pain.
But they watched out the window as he drove away, and we all cried together. And despite the fact that he came by the next day to take them out for a bit, and they have seen him regularly since…they still didn't have their dad at home the way it once had been. The house was quieter, and they missed the routine of having him in their lives in what had been a normal and constant way.
It busted me up a bunch to see them lonely for him, and missing the life we had…and to know there was nothing I could do to make it better. We spent the summer that year hanging out together…me and the JTM's…as much as we could. We played tennis, rode bikes, made forts, slept cosily in the forts, ripped up paper when they were angry.
I couldn't make it better, and that hurt.
All I could do was be with them as we all hurt.
It didn't feel like much. But it was all I had.
As parents who love our kids, and want the best for them, I often hear us telling each other: "I just want my child to be safe and happy". We place as priority number 1 in our lives the task of creating happy and healthy children. We do whatever it takes to help them develop proficiency in three instruments, two languages, and four sports. We work to provide innovative play dates with scintillating friends, top educational opportunities and cutting edge electronics.
We hate to see our children become disappointed, and so we go to bat for them with a teacher who seemingly marks unfairly. We avoid having our children's spirits crushed so we ensure that there will be a place on the team before the tryout even happens. We work to keep our children happy by taking them out to the amusement park right after the loss of the big game so they won't feel it.
We pay their fines, do their chores, run interference with authority--all in the endeavour to keep them out of distress--happy.
And in so doing, we prevent them from engaging in the struggle of life that is so necessary as part of being a successful adult. (And often, we do it because we as parents feel like lousy parents when our children are engaging in struggle…and so it protects us from our own painful feelings of inadequacy as parents)
Think for yourself…go back to a time when you learned something really important. When you discovered a strength you didn't know you had. When you were genuinely proud of your own accomplishment. When was that? Think for a moment…come up with a time in your life like that.
Almost certainly, that growth, discovery of strength and pride came out of a time borne of struggle.
It is in struggle that we learn and grow and gain wisdom. Perseverance comes out of the grind…the long haul that seems discouraging, endless…and definitely not "happy".
We as parents need to challenge ourselves about what "good" and "successful" parenting is…for some of us, we only feel successful as parents when our children feel coddled, supported, and safe. There is a powerful pull to have them feel "special" without doing anything to earn it.
Now, I believe each child merits a strong sense of being loved. Absolutely. And a powerful feeling of belonging. But when you make a big deal out of a child putting his plate in the dishwasher as proof of how special and gifted and hardworking that child is, there is no where to go--because in life, an adult needs to have the ability to clean up the whole table and kitchen after supper. Children can become dependent on external feedback to feel good about themselves…and parents begin to pump up their tires with very little accomplishment.
We as parents hate it when our children are upset…and often turn it on ourselves as a sign of our own inadequate parenting when a child is frustrated. It's not easy to watch our children struggle…and yet that is what successful parenting requires.
Parents raise children who will be able to handle the inevitable challenges and difficulties of life, to enable them to struggle through the inevitable frustrations of a lousy boss, unexpected bills, and the grind of showing up at an entry level job day after day. Success comes after perseverance as an adult…and too often children learn that by doing an hour or two of chores, they can earn an Xbox, and they can be surprised at how real life doesn't get them promoted just because they'd like to be in charge.
So…how do I love my JTM's with a fierce mama bear love that only wants the best for them? How do I do right by them in a complicated world of technology that teaches that instantaneous is the norm? How do I help them understand that inevitable slow and painful growth is valuable and significant in a world that values all things instant? How do I be an effective parent when everything in me says to make their childhood pain free and
This is a video that has a lot to say, even in the first 2 minutes and 43 seconds…it can challenge--and revolutionalize your parenting--teaching our children how to sit in the dark--as an important life skill that is our responsibility as parents to teach:
Letting them fall, fail and fear is the way to love my kids…
It's no fun watching a child cry out in pain from a fall. No fun at all.
But the valuable part of falling is learning. Learning that some things aren't a good idea…because to do them hurts! It is pain that teaches us that skateboarding without elbow pads isn't such a good idea…and protective gear is worn…and in years in the future…that same kid wears his seat belt regularly as a new driver.
Falling hurts, but it doesn't kill us. I remember falling off my bike as a kid…I remember hitting a tree riding down the Elmwood sidewalk. I remember the scrape on my belly from the handle bar when I hit it. I remember how it hurt…but I also remember that I healed. And I remember how hard it was--but how worthwhile it was--to get back on the bike. I became a proficient bike rider in my early elementary school years even tho I fell.
It was important for me to realize that I could get back on the bike, even after I fell.
Kids need to know that falling hurts. The pain of it can make a person wiser to avoid such nasty pain in the future. A kid also needs to know that even when falling hurts, it might be hard, but it is worthwhile to face that which has created the fall…and to conquer it.
There's no feeling like being able to get back on the bike and ride it.
Failing sucks. Quite simply.
No one likes to fail.
And failing hurts. Failing feels like…well…it feels like failure.
And when a person fails, it can feel like a person is a failure, rather than having failed at something.
Failure is a valuable learning tool.
I would rather have my child hit the ditch at 30 km an hour while a teenager in my care, than hit a brick wall at 100 km an hour as an adult.
- by Sabrina Friesen
I am grateful. I have colleagues that I work with daily in our offices that I respect and admire. They wow me with their insights and wisdom. If you could hear our walls talk, you would hear stories of wonder--the work with the therapists do with our clients is incredible.
Sabrina Friesen is one of these wise and wonderful colleagues of mine. I am fortunate to know and work with her…and she shares with us here on the blog today...
Our house had recently been under the weather. Like reaaalllly under the weather. I don’t even want to add up the number of visits to the doctor we have collectively had in the past three weeks. I’m not sure about you, but when people don’t feel well here there are a few things that happen:
On a particularly gnarly Saturday a little bit ago, with the one then-healthy member of our family shipped off with friends and the two boys happily watching sports, I set myself up in our dark basement with tea and tissues and hours of Call the Midwife on Netflix to keep me company in between the coughs. I can’t remember the last time I sat for hours (and hours, and hours) and just watched a show. It was kind of magical.
For those of you who aren’t fans, I don’t blame you. It’s about midwives (and babies) and they say things like placenta. It’s definitely not a show for everyone. But this period drama about a nurses’ station run by nuns and staffed by midwives in the East End of London, England in the 1950’s is quite captivating for me at least. It’s a show about people, social classes, community, and life and death and what it means to intersect in the lives of others.
What can I say, I’m a therapist – I am all about people and their stories.
In the final episode I watched, one particular scene stood out to me. A midwife, Nurse Noakes, who was pregnant and ready to pop with her own wee one at any time was sitting with Fred, the handyman at the nurses’ station. Fred was holding his own brand new granddaughter, whom the nurse had just helped deliver. As he held this wee bundle and caressed her teeny tiny baby feet, he said to Nurse Noakes:
grew up in me barefeet. My dad
spent more on beer than he did on shoe leather. I used to think, ‘When I have kids I’m going to give them shoes, hot dinners, a happy
home. And I managed all
three. ‘Till Hilter
intervened. When the bomb dropped
I wasn’t there.
And that’s what makes you a parent, Nurse Noakes. Proximity. You can’t sell that in the shops.”
Merriam Webster defines proximity as the state of being near.
It’s a word I use in session with clients when we’re talking about relationships. I hold my two hands up in the air, thumbs and fingers together – with fingers pointing towards each other as if they wanted to kiss. It’s my (very poor) visual of two people engaged and looking at each other. This closeness, with fingers representing faces, is a relationship ideal.
This is the kind of connection we so often long for in relationship.
But unfortunately for us, relationships are often fraught with disappointment, frustration, and hurt feelings. What happens to those two hands that are close and pointed at each other is that somewhere along the line, one person gets hurt.
Maybe it’s a parent who is hurt that their kid lied to them again, so we emotionally (and sometimes physically) turn away and become cold and distant. We’ve turned the back of our head to them, and the proximity and accessibility we once shared is now gone. Imagine the two hands that were once pointed towards each other now far apart, with one turned away. The other looks on, seeing only the butt of the person they love and want to reach.
Maybe it’s a ‘joke’ that your husband told at your expense at the latest work function that got under your skin. That pain might lead you to give him the cold shoulder, maybe move over on the couch, or turn over in bed when he puts his hand on your back and wants to draw near.
Maybe a friend hasn’t responded to the email you sent her last week, or the phone call from yesterday, and you feel like you’re the only one putting in work. So you exclude her from the girls’ night text and plan a fun night without her, maybe even ignoring a call as you’re getting ready to head out for the evening.
I think that handyman Fred is really on to something here with this whole proximity business.
What does it mean to be accessible to someone else? What does it mean to exist in the state of being near?
I can tell you what it isn’t.
Proximity is not staying close enough so someone can step on you again, and again, and again. It’s not becoming a doormat who never leaves, or taking another blow to your confidence so someone else can feel important. Proximity doesn’t mean staying so close when it doesn’t feel good.
I don’t think a lot of us like to feel alone.
More specifically, I don’t think we
like it when someone we value and depend on all of a sudden disappears on us –
be it physically or emotionally (or both). This can be
excruciating, and leaves us thinking all sorts of nasty thoughts about how
they must not love us, how we’re not enough, and how we did it wrong again. Or maybe you get vindictive, dreaming up ways to stick it to
them so they can pay for how badly they hurt you when they left you there all alone.
Sometimes my pre-schooler gets under my skin. We are a lot alike in our propensity towards intensity and we get into these seasons where we trigger each other to no end. Now I love this kid with some ferocious mama love, and I adore the intensity of joy and delight and celebration this little brings into our family.
But sometimes I get so mad that I can’t be in the same room as her. I could storm out and slam the door, ignore her, and take a moment to calm down. That could work. But it feels kinda yucky leaving her there, not knowing where I went or what happened.
I am all too aware that she might come to think that, “when I don’t act the way she wants – my mom can’t be with me.” And that thought nearly breaks my heart, because it has way less to do with her attitude and way more to do with my hurt feelings and sense of inadequacy as a parent.
Instead of pulling away and
disappearing on her, my typical response (when I don’t absolutely lose my
marbles and go into loud-mama mode, because, folks, that happens too!) is to let
her know that I’m feeling frustrated and need a time out. Then I lock myself in my bathroom for a
few moments and hope to goodness she doesn’t come hunting me down, because that
just might push me over the edge.
When feelings are hurt, what does it look like to take a few steps back? Imagine the kissy fingers are now not so close. Maybe an arm-width’s apart even, but the “faces” are still pointed at each other. They know where the other is. It’s distant, but they can find each other, and if both take steps – they are steps toward each other instead of away from each other.
What do you do when you see someone’s behind? Do you run towards them and chase them
down? Do you turn away too? Do you stand still and wait for them to
What about when your feelings are hurt, what does that look like? Who sees your backside and loses sight of you?
I wonder, what does it look like to back up from someone you love but to still remain proximate? How do you deal with the inevitable bumps and bruises that come with being close, but stay accessible to those you love?
Maybe we’re going through all the right motions, and doing the right things. Maybe we’re fighting like cats and dogs and are on the brink of calling it quits. If handyman Fred is as wise as I think he is, he’d probably say neither of that really matters, so long as we can see each other.
- by Carolyn Bergen
One of my favourite things that happens in therapy is this:
I love those times when folks come in and give the other credit for the shifts towards warmth and connection in their relationship.
A couple comes in for an initial session. There is tension between them. They are fighting. They have forgotten how to be friends…they have forgotten they are friends. They begin with the complaints…He works too hard. She complains too much. yada yada
As the session progresses, we continue talking…and I'll ask them what they are looking for in counselling. And one of them will develop a far off look and want the way it used to be…when they were friends, and laughed, and were supportive, and had each others back, and gave each other the benefit of the doubt.
And I'll ask more about that. And they'll tell me about how they have been with each other in better days…and they will recall the friendship, and the support. And they tell me, in any one of a 1000 different ways of the story of love in their lives. And it might have laughter, or tears, or be a little crusty around the edges, but we take a look at "the big picture"
And then I'll tell them that I can work with them on this. That it doesn't have to be this way. That I want to work with them on this, and we will work to get them to where they want to be.
Next, he comes in…and he tells me things are much better between them…and he's not actually sure why, but she sure is a lot easier to get along with. She's softer and kinder and he so appreciates the way she has been with him…it makes it warmer at home and he's relaxing.
Next, she comes in…and she tells me that something happened to him after the first session--not exactly sure what, but he's more patient, and he's tried harder to let her know what's happening…and the way he has changed makes her feel different in the relationship.
- by Carolyn Bergen
Sometimes a conference is just a conference.
Sometimes, a conference pokes pretty deep.
Today--well, I got poked. Deep.
I attended the Storyline Conference this week, hosted by Donald Miller. He has written one of my favourite books, A Million MIles in a Thousand Years…something I wrote about several times almost 3 years ago when I first read it.
He challenges a person to write a story about their lives that is interesting and captivating…a story that is compelling and meaningful. If someone made a movie of your life, would it get bogged down cuz all you wanted was a new Honda and a move into a three bedroom home?
One of the critical parts of story--any story--in a movie or a book or a tale well told--is that the main character has a conflict…a challenge that s/he must overcome. And part of how a character is developed in the plot of a movie is how negative life turns are somehow, over time, valuable opportunities to grow and develop and mature, gaining skills and qualities that ultimately help the main character triumph.
Donald Miller had us think about some of the negative life turns of our own life…and how, in the words of Victor Frankl, we could see them from a redemptive perspective.
Victor Frankl was a psychiatrist, a guy who hung out with Sigmund Freud. He felt strongly that it was possible to find redemption in all suffering.
And right about now, as you are bald with chemotherapy, or grieving the loss of a partner, or just having lost a job, you're thinking, "Wait…huh? Like, seriously?" Some suffering is just plain suffering, eh?
Let me just say, Frankl earned the right to say this. He was Jewish man living in Austria in the 30's and 40's. He lost his wife, mother and brother to the horrific actions of the Nazis. He himself spent time in concentration camps. It was in those camps, that he encouraged men not to despair and end their life with suicide when everything seemed hopeless and desperately bleak. He encouraged the men to only die at the hands of the Nazis…thereby actively being part of the atrocities of the Nazis to show the world what was happening.
I found myself, in the middle of the morning, drifting away from Miller's words towards old memories…a time exactly 10 years ago when I was in the midst of despair, watching my life as I had known it crumble both behind my back and before my eyes.
It sucks to watch your life fall apart over a number of months, desperate to do anything to save it--but seeing that any sort of struggle to rescue it only sped up the pace of the disintegration.
I silently bore witness to my my marriage dissolving.
A marriage therapist, helpless to do anything to save her own. Yeah, ouch. Yikes. ohmigosh…no, no, no, no. But yes--and helplessly so.
Short of changing my gender, there was absolutely nothing to be done. Nothing
So 10 years and 9 days ago, on October 22, 2004, I wrote a letter to the love of my life that contained these words:
What few questions you have asked me over the last month have been targeted at finding out what it would look like for me...if you decided to leave. I never wanted to be single again, I wouldn’t have invited it, but neither do I want a husband who is bound to me out of guilt or obligation. If you need to go—go. A relationship will not work if you don’t feel you can be in it…not facing that doesn’t make it go away. So…if you need to do homework...let’s do it.…If you need to figure out all the logistics in order to free yourself to truly look inside of you in a way that up until now you have been too terrified to do, then let’s do it. …
In that letter I went on to I speak about how it would be hard if he left, but I knew I would continue…a previous loss of children which I write about annually on June 18th every year had done its redemptive work:
The marriage counsellor, the one who helps others connect meaningfully with a partner, lost the connection with hers. And I was devastated.
I thought I would die, (I remember wishing I would get hit by a bus), I thought the grief would make me go crazy, I thought I couldn’t go on without them coming back and so on. But, as I have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, I did. I still miss them, I still wish it wouldn’t have happened, but I have a good life and found ways to find joy. So…to sum up this paragraph, I will go on, and I will find ways of making my life rich and meaningful, even as I struggle…
I never intended it to happen.
It was born out of necessity--as a single mom I needed to find a way to provide for my children while also being present with them in the mornings before school, and in the afternoons after school--and everyone knows most couple therapists are generally busiest in the evening. I brought in colleagues to work with me.
We've created something remarkably special that we can provide to the people who walk through our doors…and it never would have happened if I wasn't scrambling to survive.
I have discovered parts of myself I never knew existed. I have been provided with leadership opportunities that others think I am capable of…who knew? I didn't. I have strength to push through difficult times that I couldn't have known about without this difficult times. I learned that I can be terrified and still get something done well enough--in a way that oftentimes, others don't even realize how intimidated I am. I was pushed to think through issues of suffering and loneliness in ways that have carved me gentler…more compassionate and understanding. I think I'm a better therapist.
I know what it's like to want something so bad you can hardly breathe. I know the absolutely physical pain borne by those in grief…the physical ache that bears heavy and constant for a long time. The fatigue that happens with grief and loneliness that cannot be shook--it's exhausting to feel like you've lost a part of you, and to figure out how to live when an essential part of you is gone. I know what it is like to have the breath knocked out of you and the struggle to inhale seems too much.
Yep, been there. Done that. Bought the T-shirt--and wore it night after night trying desperately and in vain to have it keep me warm.
I have written over 750 blog posts in the last 5 years. No married person has time to write that much. It made sense for this introvert to write and post as a vehicle to let people know about our work. Not only has it let Winnipeggers know about our work, it has informed and challenged people about issues of connection and relationship all over the world.
I spend time weekly with Dahlia on CJOB680 discussing topics of connection and relationship in our lives. I speak at women's groups and retreats, corporate training events, and healthcare education. I never intended to do any of this. I am a Certified Daring Way facilitator, delivering workshops developed out of the work by Dr. Brené Brown. I likely would have done very little of this--these opportunities were born, link by link, strand by strand, out of activities of Bergen and Associates Counselling. They were not in my life plan prior to 10 years ago.
My Junior Tribe Members attended a different school than they would have otherwise attended because of the curve ball our lives took after I became a single mom. They have both made deep, significant lifelong connections that will alter the course of their lives, in life changing ways. One has a sports scholarship after excelling at volleyball…only because of that school change.
I love my life…I love making a difference in the lives of our many clients, of interacting with therapist and administrative colleagues on a team that loves working with each other. We make each other stronger. They make me stronger. I am grateful for all my colleagues, clients, and experiences have taught me. I am grateful for the impact we have.
The death of my marriage was painful--I was lonely, sad, disillusioned and broken--for a long time. It is something I never wanted to have happen.
But it did. It ended, without my having any input into the whole thing. I didn't get to decide. I wouldn't have been able to predict what would happen. It seemed bleak and impossible.
And the gorgeousness of my life sometimes takes my breath away.
- by Carolyn Bergen
I love when art imitates life. I love watching a 16 year old girl say its her dream to sing, and as she starts singing, "Don't rain on my parade"…guess what…Simon Cowell rains on her parade. He pours monsoons over it, drenching her parade soaking wet.
And I love how she lives her song.
She's got gumption, audacity, chutzpah, and piss-n-vinegar and then some…cuz she's got game…and she gives'er better than ever.
No way Simon Cowell is gonna rain on her parade.
Jodi Bird triumphs--big time.
And the little guy shows that the big guy doesn't win.
Sigh…don't we all need to be inspired a little?
I LOVE this video:
- by Carolyn Bergen
Join me in a little experiment?
Get comfortable. Shake out your arms and legs. Take a couple of deep breaths. Check to see if your shoulders are relaxed. Breath in and out again slowly.
And spend a long minute simply noticing this picture, and also notice what you notice about this picture:
What did you find your eye drawn towards? Leave a note in the comments below…it would be interesting to hear what you each saw when you looked at this picture.
Did you look just at the fruit? Or the plate? Did you notice the way the lights and shadows highlight? Did you see the glistening on the fruit? Did you notice the bright contrast of the green stem? Did you imagine the flavour? Imagine feeling the texture of the strawberry's flesh in your mouth?
After spending a single minute in the middle of a busy day or evening, now notice how your body feels. Monitor the effect of this simple and brief exercise
Many find that when you simply focus on a simple object, life slows down. You notice the pleasure of just noticing the strawberry. It's really beautiful, isn't it? When is the last time you admired a strawberry? When was the last time you slowed down to simply admire the simple beauty of anything?
This, in a very basic form, is an example of mindfulness.
Christopher Bergland says that a kickstart to mindfulness is simply this:
A few things about mindfulness:
It is a calming…a quieting of the "noise" that we all have in our heads to be able to focus on the immediate experience. This allows for a greater ability to recognize what is happening within our awareness of the present moment.
Like…feel your left foot in your sock right now. Notice the surface and feel of the seat underneath your butt. The ability to be aware opens up possibilities to see things that otherwise might not be noticed.
What is happening is neither right nor wrong. It just is. It may not last, or it may. It is allowing what is, to simply be, without wishing it away.
It allows space for what exists, to simply exist.
Curiosity is simply exploring, wanting to notice.
Curiosity pays attention.
Curiosity wants to notice for the sake of noticing.
For those of you who are interested in what a mindfulness practice could look like (and believe me, volumes have been written about this--and it can range from full on meditation practice to deliberately slowing down to check in oneself periodically) take a peek at one possibility by a well respected authority on the subject:
- by Carolyn Bergen
This weekend is Thanksgiving. In a couple of months will be Christmas. Several months after that will be Easter, then Mother's Day, Father's Day, and July Long Weekend…all of these occasions for times with family.
The week running up to Thanksgiving can be a preoccupied one at a counselling centre. And the week after it, is definitely affected as well.
1. People often put unfair value into hosting family gatherings. The very act of hosting the big dinner is unconsciously turned into a measuring stick of how important one's family is.
Hosts put a lot of pressure into the "perfect gathering" where everything is perfectly cooked, there are multiple salads, and everyone gets their favourite pie. The decorations are specially made, and the centrepieces are planned ahead of time.
It's like there is a belief that one's love is measured by Martha Stewart-esque perfection and intensive labor.
And the whole thing is no dang fun…just a pile of stress.
And there is little joy in the hosting…and sparse little time for actual lovin'--the laughter, the sharing, the casual conversation…the joy of simple connection.
2. Hosts who invite and encourage help host gatherings that are often more fun.
If someone offers to bring something--say YES! Have a mental list of side dishes or desserts that can make your life easier so when people offer, you know what to say. When people stand up at the end of the meal to help carry dishes into the kitchen to load the dishwasher--say THANX!
Quite frankly, I love it when people accept my offer to bring something. I feel useful. When I'm only making one dish, it gives me a chance to google a new recipe and fuss a little. It's nice to know that there is one less thing for the host to do. And it increases the sense of community when those who can, are able to contribute something.
When I grew up, and we were at my Oma and Opa's house, there was a monstrous crew at the table with all the children and grandchildren--a tiny house and no dishwasher. Cleanup was part of the fun of the evening. It wasn't something that we tolerated to get to the fun…it was part of the fun. The dishes were washed in the kitchen sink and the pots and pans were washed by a second crew in the laundry sink.
Get over making it "perfect", and welcome friendly and casual chaos that has people feeling welcome and comfortable to be their own imperfect selves.
1. In 2014, family gatherings can be a huge hassle and no-win situations, with competing and overlapping invitations. A couple may both have divorced parents with separate homes, and their children may have non-custodial parents. There are times when there isn't time to accept all the invitations. There is no making everybody happy.
Without making tough choices, a person could rush from one huge turkey meal to the next, and still feel like they are disappointing a parent, a step parent, an ex-partner…dragging around exhausted and frazzled children who hate the whole thing.
Give yourself permission to develop a realistic and quality schedule that works for all those involved…yourself and your kids included. Alternate occasions…skip some expressing regrets and the reason behind the choice. Don't expect everyone to understand all the time. Sometimes even those who do understand will be disappointed. That's OK. Disappointment is part of life and it doesn't kill anyone, and its a sign that you are wanted.
Develop a sustainable rhythm early on…create space for new traditions. Having Thanksgiving time with one family either one week early or late may make it a more special experience and something that can be cheerfully anticipated.
2. Doesn't matter how old you are, when you sit down at your mama's table, there is a tendency to feel like a 12 year old.
You know what I'm talking about, huh?
Old insecurities, petty jealousies, sibling rivalries suddenly come out of no where and hijack your normally sane and mature mind. Seeing siblings around the table can bring up feelings we forgot existed.
A person can find themselves experiencing all sorts of things that one hasn't felt or thought about for years…and then acting in a manner that is more consistent with being an adolescent than a fully grown adult.
Expect it. Plan for it. Plan things to remember that you might want to gently remind yourself: "When he pokes at me, it makes sense to respond like I did 20 years ago, but I'll be OK. I'm a grown man/woman and I may not be perfect, but I am much more than this poke".
3. Alcohol is an unfortunate and big part of most of these gatherings.
Lemme just be really crass about a very real truthful equation:
Quite simply: you can't unring the bell, people.
The Tuesday after a long weekend where there are family gatherings generally have a few messages on the answering machine from folks who have experienced the trauma of a family gathering gone wrong. And generally, there was alcohol involved in the downward spiral.
Alcohol loosens tongues. People say things that shouldn't be said, or in manners and times they shouldn't be said. People say things that aren't true…but those things aren't forgotten.
4. Family gatherings challenge alliances.
I'm not just saying this cuz I'm writing this with Survivor playing on the television in the next room…alliances are huge at family gatherings.
It's painful for a wife to go to her in-laws for Thanksgiving and watch her husband be more loyal to his parents than to her:
Another part of the alliance is supporting your partner…sure, you didn't grow up with his parents, and maybe his dad has bad breath and tells bad jokes…but it's his dad. Going to a family gathering is an act of love.
Does your partner know you have his/her back at the family gathering this weekend?
Family gatherings at Thanksgiving (and other times of the year, for that matter) are a complicated tricky business. They can be painful, triggering, and a ton of energy. The can be tricky to schedule and navigate. They can be exhausting at multiple levels…and can feel like a minefield for new wounds or the reinjury of old ones.
They can also be times of laughter and reconnection, increasing the strength of the ties that bind family to one another. Stories are re-told, and there can be collective sadness and joy at the memories that are reminisced. Family gatherings increase the glue that connects people…there is benefit from that strength in difficult times ahead. Favorite foods shared remind those around the table of common roots in ways that strengthen the soul.
- by Carolyn Bergen
My favourite number is 2.
It has been for a while. One Junior Tribe Member (JTM) has worn 2 on his jersey for quite some time…and another wears 11 (which added up, equals that).
But now "TWO" is really and truly my favoritest number, forever and ever.
Its because of this pint sized little hockey player in the video below. Now, many of you won't take the time to watch the full two minutes and forty five seconds of this video, because in this day that is too long to watch such a slow moving video.
But the slow movement is the truest, awesomest beauty of it.
The puck is on the blue line…a pro player can get it to the net in a second. Even a mediocre hockey player would take 5-10 seconds.
It takes the littlest guy a full two and half minutes to get from the blue line to the goal…and Number 2 is with him the whoooooole long dang time of it.
Number 2 doesn't give up, doesn't take over…Twoster hangs in there, steadily encouraging, helping, shielding, running interference for, and generally just plain ol' persisting to help the little guy reach his goal. HIs patience is something I long to emulate.
Being there for someone else isn't easy. Sometimes its a thankless job, because truthfully…the best helpers disappear into the background so when the goal is achieved, the one being helped can celebrate the victory
(cue up "arms raised over head" in the last few seconds of the vid--doesn't every pint sized hockey player dream of raising his/her hands after a goal?)
My favourite little twoster understands the value of buffering a bit…letting the other person concentrate and do something at their own pace. He sees that sometimes you have to hold people off or get in their way so that the process can continue its own painfully slow natural course to accomplishment. He knows that given enough time, the goal will be reached and so sometimes, the hardest part of helping is just hanging in there, not taking over, letting it all happen.
I know that it won't work for all of you, dear readers, to watch it to the end…but if you can create the time, please do so. It had me in tears watching the whole relatively-painful-to-watch sooo-slow eeeeking towards the goal at slower-than-a-snail's pace. But along the way, Twoster taught me some lessons about helping in ways that have challenged and changed me in good ways.
The beauty is in the slowness…take a breather, be mindful, slow down, and watch what a difference careful helping makes.
Being a number 2 can make such a difference in someone else's life.
- by Carolyn Bergen
Trust is an emotion--a distinctly human feeling.
And normally business likes to think it runs on facts, and we think that feelings don't belong. People who "deliver" regularly--who do everything they promise they are going to do--they are reliable…it doesn't mean people will trust you. You know…you have a good long term friend who messes up…yet you still trust him/her right? It's because s/he and you have a common belief system, a history, and a set of values…we become more confident to take risks and explore…because we trust them, we know they have our backs.
Leadership will tell a person what to do. And it might work, but leadership in and of itself isn't trustworthy. When a person in leadership has the trust of those they lead…then they have authentic authority.
Authority and leadership…so not the same thing. Trust is the difference.
Simon Sinek tells this story:
Imagine you want to go out on a date, but need a babysitter for the evening. You have two choices…you can get a 16 year old girl from down the street that you have known for years with very little babysitting experience…or a 32 year old who has 10 years experience. Who would you choose?
Yeah, I'd pick the young girl from my community too.
We'd rather have people that we have multiple points of connection with than well qualified people who we don't know what they believe and what their values are and where they come from.
The emotion of trust develops in a "high touch" and high frequency sort of way. We need confidence and frequency to develop trust…trust happens in drops, and fills the trust bucket gradually.
Picture this…you have a positive interaction with another person--it's like a little string. A single string isn't very strong and could break easily. You have a thousand small interactions with that person…little moments of connection. A thousand strings…well, that forms a net.
A net can hold a lot more weight…and with that level of trust, weightier stories can be shared.
We all long to be known…we want to tell our stories and be heard…but the strength of the bond between us needs to be able to hold the weight of the stories.
There's a few things I know about the strings that hold trust:
It's hard to develop trust online. We have these "mirror neurons" in our brain…you know that reflex to yawn when others yawn? On MRI's, the parts of our brain that have us smile light up when we see others smile…we connect and build trust when we are with another person in a way we can't when things are done online.
Trust is about human interaction and real conversations.
When we are in face to face something extra happens that can't happen online. When two people "shake" on a deal, it means something more than if they just agree to it verbally. That physical act of shaking hands and looking each other in the eye seals the deal.
The net that develops that holds the weight of major trust develop in the smallest of moments, with small strings and little threads gradually building strength.
The net that develops with thousands of small threads can be destroyed in an instant.
Picture this: You take a child for walks regularly…and they meet dogs along the way. The child who meets dogs that are the same size, and sniff and lick or held on a leash by the owner. Then one day a dog pulls the leash away from the owner's hand and bounds up to the child, knocking the child over. The dog snarls and bites the child.
The next day, the child refuses to go for a walk at all…so as not to encounter any dogs at all. The child now doesn't trust any dogs…because despite many friendly dogs, one really bad encounter with one nasty one sours the species.
Trust is like that.
Disengagement is the most subtle way to break trust. It's sinister and subversive. To pretend to "be there" and be trustworthy, but to be preoccupied and not be following through…and then to deny it when it's raised. That erodes the net slowly over time in difficult and painful ways.
(This video has some great ideas…the middle is a little boggy…but the first and last 5 minutes are really helpful to our discussion)
Fear, Failure and Falling: It's every parents' instinct to protect our child from pain. But what problems can we create in protecting our children from the curveballs of life? A profound video and some thoughts on sitting with our children in the dark.
Proximity: How to find ways of staying close when times are tough. The importance of finding ways of staying connected and reconnecting after the crap of life creates distance.
Redemptive perspective on tragedy…a very personal take on the topic arising out of the Storyline conference I attended this week in Chicago.