To the Hurting Mothers

To the mother who has been labeled brave and strong but never set out to be –

   You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother whose heart tells her one thing and photos tell her another –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who never got to celebrate –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who looks down through empty arms to the scars where life once lived –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who stands at the grave to pour out her heart –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who longs for a hug with arms that ache and are heavy –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who wonders if her children will ever know the depth of her love for them –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who worries that she will never make up for the mistakes of her past –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who never planned to parent without a partner –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother whose home is tense and silent –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who repeatedly believes she is not enough–

        You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who is barely scaping by on time, energy, and resources –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who is so exhausted her hair hurts –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who sings the songs just to remind her of the past –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who juggles the schedule to fit in the doctors and the therapies –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who lies awake desperate for a diagnosis –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who cries out for mercy and answers –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who is holding the hand of another that is fading –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who is wrestling with trauma and working towards healing –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who longs for reconciliation

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who is trying to navigate the hard and unexpected –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who mothers those not bound by blood or document –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who wonders if she could have done more –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who never imagined it would be this hard –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

There is One who promises to never leave you,

who promises to forgive,

who sees you completely and chooses to love you,

who would walk through a million fires to rescue you,

who sees you as significant,

who longs to hear your heart,

who is ready to comfort you,

who cares about every pain, every tear, every longing.

To the mother who is still wondering –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

End of the School Year Encouragement

My oldest son began school 6 years ago. Yet somehow, every year around this time, my emotions get stuck somewhere between the disbelief of “how are we already in this last month of school”, the frantic “how are we going to make it through this last month of school”, and the sentimental “how are my babies almost another grade older?”

Here we are. We’re in the homestretch.

Can you feel it?

Keep breathing cause you’re almost to the end.

Welcome to the last month of school.

We are all a little tired.

We are all a little emotional.

We are all a little scattered.

We are all a little anxious that next school year’s to-do list is going to look a whole lot similar to the one we put together at the beginning of this year…because… well…life.

We are all trying to work some serious calendar magic to fit in all of the year-end field trips, spring concerts, living wax museums, class parties, and sporting events.

Remember the start of the year? You determined that you’d surprise your kiddo for more lunches, you’d volunteer in the library, chaperone every field trip, and write encouragement notes regularly to your school staff.

Well again…life.

So you fell short. Forgive yourself and move on. Holding disappointment against yourself only means it’s more likely you’ll look for things to hold against others.

Can we please make a pact? Can we agree to see each other with compassion especially as our raggedness reveals even more of our imperfections? Can we agree to be quick to offer grace and slow to offer judgment?

Instead of judging the parent whose child stumbles out of their car still nibbling on a cold pop tart with untied shoes and an unzipped backpack, can we first remember that it’s the last month and applaud their effort to get to school?

Instead of wondering how another parent could send their child to school in pants that are two inches too short and a shirt that’s inside out, can we remember the stuff that really matters?

Can we make eye contact with those parents and smile with a smile that kindly acknowledges how we’ve been there too?

Instead of being angry at your child’s teacher for making a mistake on the graded schoolwork that was sent home, can we agree to take a breath and think of all the correctly graded papers sent home before this one? Can we remember that for every paper that comes home in our child’s folder, there are 25 other folders with those same graded papers?

Can we heap grace on the teachers who have lost the pep in their step and need four cups of coffee instead of their normal two to get through the day? And can we remember how challenging the previous part of their race has been?

Instead of denying your child the opportunity to spend the evening playing outside with friends, can we just skip the AR reading for the night and let them have a little freedom? It is the last month of school.

My kids are whining more. They are tired. They’ve had tests, and projects, and experiments, and standards to meet. They consistently wake up before the sun. They desperately want a string of days to sleep in. AND honestly, so do I.

Can we remember that the teachers, administrators, parents, and students are all working really hard to cross the finish line? And can we remember that we are all on the same team as we move toward that finish line? Teachers, administrators, parents, students.

Track meets may be one of my favorite sports to watch. It feels like there is little attention on who you are “against”. Whether you are the one coaching, the one running, or the spectator, your focus is on your team. You spend your energy doing what you can to see that your team crosses the finish line. Teammates cheer for one another. They encourage. They remind each other that they are proud of them.

My niece runs like a gazelle. It’s beautiful irony that she was actually born in Kenya. It is a joy to watch her run. She is very specific about what motivates her when she is running. She wants people to shout things like “you are awesome”, “you are doing great”, and “I am so proud of you”. She gets extra motivation when we shout “I love you, Hannah.” When she is in the race and focused on getting across the finish line, she wants to know that we see her efforts and are proud of how hard she is working.

Aren’t most of us like that? Especially when we are frayed and weary and just trying to cross the finish line. I know I am.

It’s the final month.

You are in the homestretch.

You are doing great!

I see your effort and know that you are working hard to cross the line.

You’re almost there…

Now, go find your teammates. They need you as much as you need them.

Increasing the Atmosphere of Belonging in Your Home: What Your Teens Long For

In my time as a therapist, some of my most enjoyable and at times, most frustrating clients, have been teenagers. Sometimes they enter my office so deeply guarded. They are afraid to be open, afraid to disappoint, afraid to express emotions that they have worked so hard to bury. And then there is this beautiful transformation that can happen as they learn to trust the relationship and trust the process.

I will quickly admit that these teens have taught me immeasurable lessons as I have sat with them and as they have vulnerably shared their hearts and stories with me. While the teens may come from different backgrounds and have likely been dragged into my office for differing reasons, the lessons they teach me are often similar. Their sadness has similar roots. Their needs have similar themes. As a way of honoring their stories, I want to share some of the lessons they have taught me… 

Teenagers want a place to belong.

Without exception, every teenager that has sat in my counseling office wants that place to be their literal home. Yet, I have talked to many teens who struggle to feel like they actually belong at home. When this doubt exists, teens search for an alternative place where their need for belonging will be met. I have seen teens search to fulfill their belonging needs through sports, through good grades, through questionable peer groups, through premature romantic relationships, through social media, and more. While I am not saying engagement in all of these areas is negative, I am saying a teen’s effort to fulfill their core belonging needs through these means often leaves them hungry and longing for something deeper.

I have sat with high achieving teens that have struggled with classes and have wondered if they will still be accepted in their family. I have sat with teens that have experienced the fracture of friendships or romantic relationships and believe that no one else will ever want them. I have sat with teens that no longer feel the drive to continue with the sport to which they have dedicated much of their life, and they wonder if they have any other contributions for this world.

When your teen feels like their world is crumbling, my hope is that they will know that home is awaiting them…a home that feels safe and a home where they know they are undeniably loved. This is their hope. And I am confident that it is your hope as well.

I do not take lightly the open view I am given into the hearts and minds of the teens that venture into therapy. They are so brave and have such wisdom to offer. They have spoken to and have influenced this momma’s heart without even knowing it. There are needs they wish they could express and messages they wish they could speak. I want to give a voice to them…because they matter…because I want you to possibly benefit from their wisdom as much as I have.

 Here is some of what they are sharing. And in my opinion, some of the keys to creating an atmosphere of belonging.

Teens want to know that you want them around. They want to know that you are willing to be distracted from what is in front of you to engage with them. They crave your smile. They still want to see that look in your eyes when you see them come into the house…the one that says, “It is so good to see you.” They want to know that their stories make you laugh and smile more than an article, group text or Facebook post.

Teens want to know that you are not only willing, but also desire to enter their world. They want you to listen to their music without it always producing your opinion or your judgment. They want you to watch their shows without the obvious signs that you’d rather be doing something more productive. They want you to ask about their latest sketches, doodles, unfinished poems, and daydreams.

Teens want to know that you care about their hearts and their dreams and not primarily about their accomplishments. They don’t want to primarily talk about their “future self”…you know, the “future self” when they are a college athlete (on a full/partial scholarship), the “future self” when they are living the dream of a successful career, or the “future self” when they are making lots of money so that they can return the favor and send you on extraordinary vacations. Make sure your teen knows you are proud of who they are today. Some teens mistaken your excitement for the future as delaying approval for who they are today. Be mindful that your words do not imply that you will be more proud of them once they get that scholarship, that perfect pass, that outstanding grade, or that dream job.

Teens want to have confidence that imperfection is acceptable. They want to tell you about their shortcomings and mistakes without feeling the disappointing glare that many of us are pros at demonstrating. Even more, they want to tell you about their shortcomings and know that even still, you are proud of them.

They want to know that you know you are not perfect. Truth be told…the teens I talk to are aware that their parents aren’t perfect. However, conflict arises most often with the teens that tell me their parents think they are perfect. So again, teens want to know that YOU KNOW you are not perfect. In appropriate ways, tell them about your mistakes. Tell them when you were late for a meeting, how you got lost on your way to a friend’s house, or how you became impatient in the store. Take ownership for your own shortcomings without blaming it on the person who distracted you on the way to the meeting, incorrect GPS directions, or a slow cashier. Demonstrate through your words that we are all growing and learning…and imperfect.

Teens know when their environment is tense. They know when their home is unsettled. When they lack the confidence that the tension will resolve, many teens find ways to disconnect or escape emotionally or physically. While, just like we individually are not perfect, we cannot expect our most intimate relationships to be free of conflict. However, I want you to know that your teens (and children for that matter) are observing if/how the conflict will resolve. They can tell when you are pretending even if you think you are a master at doing so. They pick up on the glares, the irritated tones, and the times you are ignoring your partner. But even more importantly, they also pick up on the smiles, the hugs, the genuine “I’m sorries”, and the “I Love You’s” that are also exchanged with your partner following conflict. When you demonstrate an atmosphere of resolution, grace, forgiveness and connection with your partner, this atmosphere infuses the home, creating a space where teens are more likely to believe they belong.

Teens LOVE to see their parents laugh. They LOVE to laugh with you. They LOVE when the entire family unit is a part of it. I learned long ago that LAUGHING together releases Oxytocin. Oxytocin is the same hormone that is released when a mother nurses her infant and through the process of being released, it creates a bond between the mother and infant. HOW AMAZING IS THAT!!! The same hormone that produces the bond established during the nursing process is also released in humans when they laugh!! When families share laughter, they create a connection. Genuine connection creates a sense of belonging and a sense of safety. Dance together, read jokes together, watch funny animals videos on YouTube together, Hula Hoop together, play charades, sing at the top of your lungs. P.S. That same hormone is also released during hugs.

As I consider the insights that I have gained from the teens in my office, I am full of hope. Full of hope for them and full of hope for you. They are giving us ways to grow, ways to respond, ways to succeed. Most of the wants they express are within our scope of control. We can effect the change they are looking for. They want what we want. They want the same connection, emotional safety, and acceptance that we desire for ourselves and for them. Be encouraged. Small changes today can lead to significant impact tomorrow. 

Behaving on the Sidelines: Finding Ways to Engage with Our Young Athletes

It’s that time of year again. The trees are turning and it is time for fall sports to begin. For my family, that means soccer. For you, it may mean football, volleyball, fall baseball, or a combination of activities.

Our family is ready. We’ve washed last season’s sweat stains from the shin guards, found the correct size soccer balls, and purchased snacks for the team. Several weeks ago, my family started the countdown, as we all get excited for the season to commence. Because crisp fall mornings on the fields watching kids work hard and do something they love is fun, most of the time.

As adults, we hold a significant role when it comes to children’s athletics. The few and bravest of us will volunteer to coach. To you, I say “thank you.” The repeated pleas for more coaches were hard to read but I honestly just didn’t want to do it. Someone had to, so thank you for answering the call.

For the rest of us…the leftover parents, the grandparents, the aunts, uncles, and occasional neighbors, teachers, pastors, and neighbors who sit along the sidelines watching the games…we, too, have a great responsibility.

As I have sat along the sidelines for many seasons now, I have learned a few things about myself, about the players, and about our tendencies as spectators. I have some thoughts for all of us…

Let us remember who the coach is. Honor them by letting them coach. Remember that they answered the call to step in and we did not. Thank them for their time. Recognize that no matter how organized and assertive they are, some practices may still resemble herding cats. Give them grace when they forget to rotate players in a fashion that allows each player to have the same amount of playing time. Notice that they are doing something risky but beneficial when they allow a player to try their hand in the goalie box for the first time because the child had bravely shared that they’d like the chance to give it a go. Remember that they are trying to stay focused on introducing your child to the sport while nurturing their interest and eventual love of the game. Encourage them by telling them what they are doing well. If there are legitimate concerns, go to them privately and express them in an adult manner with a foundation of respect. Much of the same can be said for how we honor the officials. Keep in mind that kids watch how we interact with and respond to authority. Our children see how we treat the officials…whether we question, argue, or consider their calls ridiculous.

Let us remember that the players are kids. They are not college athletes and they are certainly not professionals. I have been watching my kids play soccer for years now, and I still get confused when we talk about “off-sides”. I’m getting closer, but people, let me tell you that it has taken a while for my mind to make sense of it. And if my “developed brain” has struggled to catch on to this rule, can we agree that our kids are working really hard to soak in a lot of new concepts. They are consistently being introduced to new skills and rules each time they are on the field. Cognitively, a child’s brain functions in a highly concrete manner of reasoning until reaching adolescence where they grow in their ability to think logically about possible scenarios and abstract ideas. We, the adult spectators, can not only quite literally view more of the field than the players on it, but we are also thinking with adult reasoning brains, therefore again viewing the field and the possibilities from a different perspective.

Let us resist talking negatively about our own children or another person’s child. Just don’t do it. Don’t talk about how clumsy they are because their body hasn’t caught up with the size of their feet. Don’t talk about how they are too slow or lazy on the field. Don’t talk about how they should have made the goal after they obviously didn’t make it. Don’t talk about how they should have stopped the goal that obviously went between their legs. Don’t talk about how your team would have won if so and so had done their job. DO intentionally look for specific ways to encourage and affirm them. Look for ways that demonstrate that they are enjoying the game, focusing hard, making steps towards mastering a skill, or treating their team and coach with respect and kindness.

Let us find ways to interact well with our kids immediately following their game. When your child runs up to you after their game, pause your adult conversations and engage with your child. Be ready to do this because it is really important to them. They may have been waiting patiently through the entire game to see how you will respond to them. Don’t worry about having too many words at this time. Let them know with your eyes and your smile that you are proud they are your child no matter how they played. Hug them. Kids always want to know that their people are proud of them. Heck, adults like to know this too…but that’s a topic for another time.

Consider the conversation in the car ride home. Be balanced. Resist pointing out all of the ways that they could have worked harder or played better. Choose your words wisely because they’re really only going to take in a portion of them. Better yet, draw thoughts out of them by asking good questions. Ask them what they learned today as they played. Ask them what was most fun. Ask them how they noticed their team working together. Ask them if anything was hard for them today. But in this process, we must remember that they will clue us in when they are done talking and we must try to honor this. Bulldozing past their desire to move on to a different conversation is usually more about our need to “coach more and make them better” than actually wanting to engage in a meaningful way. My boys tend to give us fairly bold cues that they are ready for a shift in topic…generally it has something to do with what we are going to eat for lunch or what are plans are for the rest of the day.

Lastly, try not to take it all too seriously.Let your kids see you cheer, laugh, and enjoy the process. Think about letting them coach you at home by teaching you what they are learning. Quite literally…grab the ball and ask them to teach you a skill they are attempting to master. Let go of control. Resist correcting them as they coach you. (Hint: If there is arguing, it may be that you may need to resist correcting even more.) Demonstrate how to listen, respond, and engage in the process with eagerness and a willing mind. They’ll be grateful you did…and your relationship will be grateful too.

Why We Tell Our Children our Love Story

My husband and I are big on traditions. I knew early on in our marriage that creating traditions unique to our family was something I desired and wanted to pursue. It took very little coaxing for David to jump on board. And if you were to ask about the traditions we have since established, they are equal parts him and equal parts me. Most of the traditions are very simple and yet perfectly beautiful in our eyes.

Some of our favorite traditions involve telling our boys our LOVE STORY. We’ve been doing this for years, way before they even seemed to care. There are three primary times during the year that the boys hear the most details of our love story: the anniversary of our 1st date, the anniversary of our second 1st date (yep, there’s a saga that obviously goes along with that one), and our wedding anniversary. Of course, there are times outside of these celebratory dates that we share pieces of our love story with them, but the traditions tied to these dates includes giving the boys a much closer picture into our early life together.

David and I are fortunate enough to live a short diving distance from Taylor University, where we met. Every year on our wedding anniversary, we return to the university with our boys. We revisit the literal place where we first met. We revisit the spots where we first really noticed each other. We walk paths that we traveled together. We point out where we each lived. We return to the restaurant where we had our first date. We even order the same specialty strawberry lemonade that we shared that first night.

Throughout the evening…during the drive to the university, as we walk about campus, and during our dinner at the cute diner/ice cream shop as we drink the same strawberry lemonade we had many moons ago…we talk about details of our love story with our boys.

As the years progress and as our boys age, their attention span and desire to engage in the discussion has grown. Early on, the trips down memory lane consisted more of pointing out the physical structures where we spent time together. At that point, those were the details to which they could attach. The process has since morphed into something much more.

As we return to those places now, we talk about what drew us to one another. I talk about how their father made me laugh and about my respect for his love of Jesus and people. Their father tells them about his reaction to seeing me for the first time and how he knew he wanted to pursue something deeper. We tell them about the days of getting to know each other…the walks, the bike rides, finding ways to cross paths even when it meant going out of the way between classes. We tell them about meaningful conversations we had about life and God and music and our dreams for the future.

AND, we tell them about some of the heartache. How figuring out relationships can be messy and take commitment and work. We tell them about the 15-month break-up and the hard lessons we learned about love and life and our identity. We tell them how really good things can come from unpopular decisions. And we tell them about our process of returning to one another and our decision to shortly thereafter move towards marriage.

We tell our boys about our love story because it matters to us.

We want them to know that being attracted to someone because they make you laugh and because you admire the way they love God and others are pretty great reasons.

We want them to see that human love is not perfect.

We want them to see that journeying together takes patience and gentleness and forgiveness.

We want them to know that bike rides and walks and ice cream shops were our favorite dates then AND our favorite dates now.

We want them to know that their parents have chosen to love each other even after hurting one another.

And while we share our love story for all of these reasons, I am recognizing a more precious product that emerges from the experience…

Each time David and I talk about our early life together, we return to seeing each other through the innocent eyes of a new and exciting relationship.

We remember how we have traveled up mountains and down valleys together.

We are reminded of what it means to choose to love one another even when we have been hurt.

And we are reminded of the reasons we chose one another in the first place.

Stuff That Happens When You Ask a Child about Their Love Life

Like many kids, my boys began attending preschool when they were 3 years old. Within weeks of starting school, the strangest thing began happening…I KID YOU NOT…the most well-intentioned adults began asking my boys if they had found a girlfriend yet. I don’t know if it had to do with the fact that their “ocean” had just expanded or what…but I was perplexed by their line of questioning.

Over the past several years since those initial encounters, I have spent many moments considering the implications of asking our children about their love life. While my initial ponderings began as a result of hearing people inquire about my very young sons’ love interests, my ponderings have continued as I have walked through elementary school with my boys and their friends, sat in conversations with my own friends traveling the same road and as I have sat in sessions with preteen and teenaged clients.

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, I fully believe that the folks asking my boys if they had girlfriends were well-meaning and intended no harm. Most often, these questions come in the form of teasing and ‘good ole’ fashioned fun’. Other times, the questions may simply come from an innocent place of wanting to know more about the child’s life.

But can we talk for a moment about what’s happening under the surface when these questions are repeated over and over to our children?

We establish the thing to strive for and establish indicators of our children’s personal worth.

Significant other = mission accomplished.

Significant other = personal value established.

Significant other = people are proud of me.

I have watched this equation play out in my own life. Between the ages of 10-15, I cried a sea of tears thinking I was less than my friends because I didn’t have a boyfriend. Well-meaning peers would console me by telling me that someday someone would like me in that way. But until then, I questioned my value…I had not accomplished the mission.

I have watched this equation play out in the lives of my children’s schoolmates. My sons have told me the stories of wedding ceremonies and kisses on the playground. They’ve told me about the boys that have multiple girlfriends and the girls that pester them about being their boyfriend. (Remember…my boys are only 8 and 10).

I have watched this equation play out in the lives of young clients in my counseling office. I have worked to help mend the identity of several teens that question their value because their partner broke up with them and have moved on to someone else. They have interpreted the loss of their significant other as the loss of their value.

If we came from the perspective that the words we speak hold significant weight as our children seek to understand their value, we would trust that even innocent teasing and ‘good ole’ fashioned fun’ have the power to influence the path a child may follow.

Here is the reality…children will believe that their value comes from the topics that are most often brought to the table. This refers to their activities, their performance, their grades, their boyfriend/girlfriend, their appearance, their failures…

BUT OH-SO-FORTUNATELY, the list does not stop there.

My husband often says one of his biggest annoyances is when someone points out the problem but offers no alternatives. I never want to be guilty of that in my writing.

So, I want to offer some other options. Questions we can ask our children that communicate value of who they are from the inside. Questions that call out their uniqueness. Questions that indicate that THEY matter just as they are…not because of how they perform, what they have accomplished, or who they are with.

As a place to start, here are a few alternatives…

What things make you happy?

Tell me something you have learned recently?

Tell me about your dreams?

What’s something that has made you laugh lately?

What’s something you are excited about?

What’s your favorite color and what do you love about it?

Describe your best day ever?

Then, allow your kids to see your eyes light up as they respond…

Together, let’s seek to hear the hearts of our children and let’s seek to demonstrate that there is value in who they uniquely are.

When Your Child Sees the Way You Look at Yourself

Recently, I published an article about the influence adults have over children in regards to how children learn to talk to themselves. You can read more about it here: https://frommychair.blog/2017/07/14/our-influence-on-our-childrens-internal-dialogue/.

After reading this article, a dear friend contacted me and vulnerably shared that her adult daughter had recently asked her why she was never happy with her body. My friend’s daughter expressed that her mother’s unhappiness with her physical-self caused her to feel like she, too, should be ashamed of her body. It hit my friend hard. Although my friend knew she didn’t see her body in a positive light, she thought she had kept her thoughts fairly hidden. The conversation led my friend to consider how she had unknowingly influenced the way her daughter thinks about her own body.

I have to tell you, in spite of the story that you just read, I think my friend is a really great mom. Here is why. She raised a daughter who had the courage to talk to her about this vulnerable aspect of her life. Her daughter felt safe and confident enough to know that she could trust her mother’s response…one that humbly sought her daughter’s forgiveness.

Oh that I might always be that kind of mom. The kind that my children can confidently approach with the hard stuff. The kind of mom that will admit my wrongs. The kind that will humbly seek their forgiveness.

My friend’s story got me thinking more deeply about how we influence our children’s inner dialogue specifically about our bodies. If we are really going to lean into this matter and teach those within our influence to love themselves better, we have to take the humble approach like my friend and think about more than just the way we speak about our bodies.

If you are like me, you have (mostly) mastered the art of self-control over allowing self-disparaging comments to roll off of your tongue when kids are listening. However, our children are not fooled by our silence…at least not when our actions tell their own story.

Like…

What about the way we look at ourselves in the mirror? Do we smile when we are getting ready or do we let out an exhausted grunt when we assess our finished appearance, demonstrating a slightly disgusted glance?

What about the way we respond to compliments? Do we genuinely accept them or do we list 3 negatives and shove the compliment right back in the giver’s face?

What about our responses when shopping for clothes with our children? Do we dread the experience because “nothing fits quite right” and make those aforementioned disgusted grunts every time we look at our self in the dressing room mirror?

What about when we’re watching movies, looking at pictures, or browsing magazines? Do we verbalize a running narrative about the physical appearance of the people we see? Are we giving it more attention than it deserves?

If we are going to walk towards healing together, I have to talk about the tough-to-hear truths…These reminders of our behaviors are not about creating a list of don’ts so that you can simply pretend to value yourself. The change has to happen at a heart, mind and behavior level.

But let us not forget, there is always good news.

A course can always be redirected.

There is this supercool thing related to our brains called neuroplasticity that simply put, means we can retrain our brains…that means we can retrain the way we respond to ourselves and retrain the way the little ones watching and listening respond to themselves.

How about together, we take one step that begins to shift our course and potentially the course of the little eyes that are watching and listening?

Start with the heart, mind, or behavior. You choose. Just start somewhere.

How about we start here…

 Let’s smile at our reflection.

 Let’s assume a compliment was meant to be accepted.

 Let’s teach our children to look more deeply for beauty.

 Let’s find ways to compliment others based on their character and what we see looking into their eyes.

If only we could see ourselves through eyes that are full of grace and kindness and are certain of the beauty that lies beneath the surface. Let this be the course we pursue.

If only we could keep the perspective of another dear friend’s wise daughter, Soren (age 8) who sweetly wrote these words, “Thank you soul for choosing me to be your cover.”

Ahhh….let that be our course.

Thoughts on Leaving an Emotional Inheritance

Most of us are familiar with the idea of receiving an inheritance. Most often, an inheritance refers to what is passed along from our parents. The inheritance generally comes from our parents’ abundance. It may be in the form of land, money, collectibles, family heirlooms, etc. In some situations, the inheritance may come in less desirable forms such as debt or storage sheds of unattended-to chaos.

In the counseling world, I see evidence of a different type of inheritance that is passed along from one generation to the next… the emotional inheritance.

 When a parent does not deal appropriately with their emotions, the “responsibility” (of dealing with the emotions) generally gets picked up by someone else within the family, typically a child. Children recognize when the family is out of balance and desire peace just like we do.

Here is where the difficulty lies…the child is not equipped to deal with the emotions because they likely have not been appropriately trained to do so AND because the emotions do not actually belong to them. Therefore, accomplishing the task of achieving the desired state of peace becomes one that often feels out-of-reach. Even if the child does accomplish the task of momentarily manufacturing peace, it certainly feels unstable to them…sort of like placing masking tape over the hole in the bottom of a boat, feeling confident for a moment, and then wondering when the water is going to come flooding back in, once again disrupting the peace of the passengers.

 While an emotional inheritance could be any emotion on the spectrum of emotions, I most often observe it in the forms of anxiety, anger, and persistent unhappiness.

If you are reading this article through the lens of being a parent, I want to pause you before you get lost in a shame spiral believing you have permanently damaged your children. These thoughts are unhelpful and will likely just lead you to a deeper place of believing you are incapable of appropriately dealing with your emotions. Remember that children are amazingly resilient and full of grace and that our brains are miraculously capable of learning new patterns of seeing and responding to situations.

While I am certain to talk more about learning to appropriately cope with emotions in future articles, I want to at least boldly clarify that we as parents are not expected to be perfect. In actuality, our children do not need to possess the expectation that perfection is the goal. There’s a whole slew of other problems that come from this line of thinking! What our children do need is for us as parents to take ownership for what is ours. For me, this means that when I am grieving, I let my children know that I am having a hard day thinking about my father. I let my boys know that it’s okay that I am grieving, that I would love a hug, but that they do not need to feel responsible for making the grief go away. And then…I do the personal work to deal with my grief.

For me, it also means that when I am feeling anxiety over facing a new situation, and my children pick up on my shortened patience or my distracted presence, I let them know that there is a new experience that is creating some anxiety for me. I let them know that sometimes this happens when we face challenges and that I am working to remind myself of my value regardless of the outcome of the situation. And then, I do the work to actually do just that.

Having these types of conversations remind our children that we are responsible for our emotions just like we expect them to become responsible for their own emotions.

If you are reading this article not through the lens of being a parent but through the lens of being the child, I want to pause you before you get lost in a resentment spiral of thinking your parents have permanently wrecked your life. This line of thinking is also unhelpful and leads to feeling powerless. If in fact, you have already received an emotional inheritance that is undesirable, let’s face the facts that you unknowingly accepted it and that now it is your responsibility to find ways to appropriately deal with the emotions or figuratively (or quite literally) give the task back to the person to whom it originally belonged. Doing so frees you so that you might be equipped to pass along a new emotional inheritance to the future generations.

When we lean into the process of facing our stuff, there is such healing that awaits. Let’s not lose sight of this. While we are capable of passing along an undesirable emotional inheritance, we are just as capable of passing along an emotional inheritance full of beauty and life. I see this evidence as I look at my own children.

My oldest is incredibly confident and excited about life. My youngest is full of humor and loves people deeply. These aspects are part of the desirable emotional inheritance. The undesirable items…they are there as well…and we are a family in process…working to take back the unattended to stuff that is actually ours…sort of like the storage shed of chaos that deserves our attention before our children believe it’s theirs to bring back into order.

Our Influence on Our Children’s Internal Dialogue

Some time ago, I had the insight that as I interact with my children, I am significantly influencing the voice they will hear in their mind as they grow and experience life. Particularly, as they struggle, my voice, even when I am not physically present, will be one that they hear.

Wow! Sit with that for a moment. The influence we have as parents is intense and it oh so humbling.

If you are doubting that we have as much influence as I am suggesting, pause for a moment and think about what it’s like when you are stressed. Think about the messages that are firing off in your mind. Try tracing them back. Try thinking about who else speaks in a similar manner. It’s more than likely someone you knew early in your life.

Obviously, there are the other voices that factor into one’s internal dialogue mash-up…the other parent, caregivers, peers, teachers, grandparents, coaches, one’s relationship with God, etc. But how our voice is represented…that is what we have the most power to influence.

If we lived and chose our words with our children today like we knew that our words will some day become a part of their internal dialogue, would we speak with a different tone and would we choose different words?

Let me be real for a moment. I am not a perfect parent. There, I said it.

Some time ago, when I had the realization that my voice is one my sons will hear when they struggle, it was because I heard my words come out of their mouths. For one child, it happened when he was working on a preschool assignment of writing his alphabet. “These aren’t good enough”, he said. And he’d erase them…over and over again. And then, it morphed into expressions that he would never complete the task but somehow needed to hurry to get it done. I recognize I am providing an example that may seem insignificant, but writing assignments for preschoolers are the types of challenges they face. I’ve also seen it play out as my kids have struggled through piano lessons, soccer games, homework projects, and relationships.

Before you go down the road of self-shaming and thinking you have already messed up as a parent in an unrepairable way, I want you to hear some really good news.

It is NEVER too late to ask for forgiveness.

We are wired for forgiveness.

I see evidence repeatedly as I interact with friends and as I engage with clients. The change when forgiveness occurs is observable. Crossing over the threshold of forgiveness leads us to peace and unity. It is a deeply emotional and spiritual process. I’ll talk more about forgiveness in the future, but for now, hear me say that forgiveness has intense healing power. Healing power that can even repair damaging internal dialogue.

So let me keep going with more good news. Even though asking for forgiveness is humbling and can feel fairly uncomfortable at times, it doesn’t have to be complicated!

When we mess up as a parent, when our words have been too harsh, too anxious, too critical, or too angry, admit it. Be specific. I have shared with my children that when I feel stressed, I can become impatient and hurried. I have shared that sometimes I do not offer myself the grace for things to be ‘good enough’. I tell them that I am sorry that I have spoken with the words and the tone relaying these messages to them. I give them a better option…reminding them what offering encouragement and compassion and kindness to myself sounds like. I ask for their forgiveness and 100% of the time they offer it.

I walk away more empowered to speak to myself with encouragement and compassion and kindness… because it’s more likely to pour out of me if I’m pouring it in.

And those words, that tone…that’s what I want them to offer themselves when they struggle.