Home for the Holidays

When I reflect back as my week as a School Counselor, I barely know where to begin. Our weeks aren’t all fun, guidance classes and simple friendship issues. What stands out most this week? Is it the 2 suicide assessments I conducted, the DCS referral, the allegations of inappropriate touching, the conflicts, the panic attack, or the tearful 3rd grade girl who feels abandoned? Honestly, they all hurt to hear about but usually I am able to separate and sleep at night because I am truly exhausted.

This morning as I sit here in the comfort of my home with both of my precious kids awake and awaiting a breakfast menu they will choose, a moment keeps coming back to me. It’s a sad moment that brought tears to my eyes, which is unusual. It’s a sad situation with a good lesson, though, so this morning I want to tell you a little about a girl my own daughter’s age. She’s precious and usually wears a sweet smile on her face while facing a painful reality day to day.

We will call her J. I see both J. and her brother once a week. They ask to see me every time I am there. Why? Because they’ve been removed from their home. Just this summer when they were going into 3rd and 4th grade, the court decided to take away their parent’s rights. I don’t even know what happened as I serve as a support and not a nosey-body.; I’ve never asked and they’ve never told me. I assume it was drugs but they are still living with aunt and uncle now, months later. And, that isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Unlike many other children I know, they aren’t living with complete strangers. They have 2 caring adults who are taking care of their needs. Sure, they lost the comfort of their familiar surroundings and now are dealing with sharing space, time, and conflicts with their cousins. That’s a challenging shift but one I listen to them vent about. They are the fortunate ones who have adults actively caring for them. I always notice how pretty J.’s hair looks when her aunt french braids it.

To see these kids in class, you probably wouldn’t guess they’ve been through this recent trauma. They are the UNusual suspects, not acting out and often flying under the radar. But, deep down when I visit with the kids, I feel their hurt. The very first time the boy, just a little bit younger than my son, asked to see me, he burst into tears and sobbed about missing his mom. We sat on a bench in the garden while I rubbed his back.

Yesterday when J. asked to see me, we talked about her week as usual. No friendship problems and everything is normal, except that it was the family Thanksgiving lunch at school. This is when many parents and grandparents come to eat Thanksgiving dinner with their child. Those who don’t have a family member coming eat in the classroom with their teacher. J. seemed sad yesterday before lunch and I knew why. I felt why. As she got teary so did I because she has a right to feel sad . So, we sat in the hallway with this feeling for a moment and accepted it.

Just last week, there was a court date. She had talked about it in our small group of girls. They were choosing pictures with various emotions and sharing an example in which they experience that emotion. J. drew the card “HOPEFUL”. She was hopeful that her parents would get weekend visits with her. She went to school on the day of court (can you imagine sitting in class, being expected to stay on task and learn, while a judge is making decisions about who you’ll live with!?)….The parents “didn’t show up”. She told me yesterday with tears brimming that maybe mom is out of the state. Neither mom nor dad showed up so there is no change in custody or visitation.

On a day when children are all hyped up because they’re eating with their mom in the cafeteria and then going to the book fair, J. and many other children will think about their parents, not knowing where they are.

The holidays are a joyous time for many of us…but not all. The holiday season with time off from school and work can be extremely lonely , unsettling, and disappointing for some. While the moral of this story may seem sad at first, I’d want you to know that these kids are resilient. They are cute, thoughtful, and normal kids on the outside. They put a smile on their face and remain hopeful in the face of a tough reality. That is inspiring. If you are fortunate to be able to spend time with family over the holidays, be grateful. Others are craving that one simple thing.

And also, these kids remind me something else. Don’t judge from the outside. Many children and adults may look like things are perfectly normal. They may wear smiles and pretty hair styles on the outside but be hurting on the inside. It reminds me to treat everyone with empathy and kindness because you never know what’s going on in their home and in their lives.

And lastly, and always, it reminds me to be grateful for what I have. Instead of thinking about what we don’t have, we should count our blessings, for they are many. It’s sweet children like these whom remind me to give thanks for those around me every day.

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“He wants money.”

Just a few minutes ago, I almost believed Brody was actually being kind towards his sister, Anna, for a second, a rarity indeed! She’s been suffering with some seasonal allergies and her eyes have been itchy and red for the past week. It’s always worse outside.

So when we came inside, she couldn’t stop rubbing her irritated eyes. She washed her hands, popped a Zyrtec, and got a fresh, wet washcloth while whining a bit. Meanwhile, Brody walked by and asked what was wrong.

That alone was unusual and kind for him so I noticed and commented that I liked hearing that empathy. He then said, “I hope you feel better, Anna!”. Now, this was a sweet and very odd thing for him to say! And, I’m like…awww, that’s so sweet, Brody! (thinking, he’s such a sweet brother, I’m raising him right, etc., etc.!)

After I complimented this statement, Anna simply replied in an unimpressed monotone voice, “he wants money.”

ūüėāShe gave him money earlier in the week when he was upset with her to try to cheer him up. Truly, it was him that needed to apologize to her on this occasion for his bad attitude, but she just wants to please him. (And, he really wants new soccer cleats and is broke!)

So, did she bribe him into being nice?! No money was exchanged and I don’t know what his intention was…

#wantingtobelieve

#shesthesweetone

#siblinglove

A Piece of Clay

Don’t you kind of secretly wish your child would be interested in the same things you are? It’s not the worst thing when someone comments on how your child reminds them of you, or looks like you (which rarely happens in my case)! But, it teeters on a compliment when your kid is called ‘mini-Sarah’. I admit that I don’t mind.

However, when Anna was little, I would frequently be disappointed by her genuine dislike for the outdoors. Forget hiking. She was super sensitive towards the cold. She was ultra lazy. And, she was just not happy with our outdoor excursions. While I feel energized by fresh air and nature, she was the polar opposite.

But, I kept trying. We kept going over to Ijams. We continued to go to the park. We even foolishly camped from time to time. Many memories include Anna crying, whining, and being generally unhappy. Yet, I persisted.

camping

And then there was Brody. He did enjoy being outside and was usually happy exploring, getting dirty, and having adventures. What he wasn’t into was sports. While Bo once applied to work at ESPN and had season tickets to the VOLS, Brody just didn’t seem destined to be a sports guy.

He wasn’t one of those toddlers who went straight towards a ball. He didn’t have much coordination. He didn’t ever want to watch sports. He¬†was (is) actaully a little wimpy. I just¬†prepared Bo¬†by telling him that¬†he may not be the¬†sports kid. (And we were both ok with that.)

Fast forward to ages 8 and 10 and I’d say their interests¬†have changed quite a bit.¬†I pressumed Anna would always be a little princess.¬†Yet, ¬†Anna actually said she wanted to go hiking the first day of spring break and thanked me afterwards. What!?¬†And when we were at the beach this past week, Brody begged to play soccer at the soccer fields every day, all of the time.

family fun

Not only that, but Brody records football and soccer games on t.v. He has¬† knowledge of players I have never heard of. It’s like he actually cares. Is it because it’s the ‘cool’ thing to do when you’re a 4th grade boy? Maybe. But, I also think that if you continue exposing a kid to something and they kind of like you, it’ll catch. Eventually, you wear them down! ūüėČ

I’m not saying Anna will hike the A.T. or Brody will become the next Messi, but there’s a chance that these are habits they’re building. Anna loved the school yoga class and chooses to go on walks, jogs, and even the occasisonal hike. While Brody asks to go play basketball, throw the football, and most frequently play soccer most afternoons. If we, as parents, didn’t enjoy these things and they didn’t see us doing this stuff, I don’t know that they’d want to give it a try.

Some kids are born just naturally loving something. Brody was passionate about dinosaurs and reptiles¬†when he was young,¬†and Anna still loves Baby Alives in an unnatural way. So they do have their unique interests, and I’m glad.

But, what I do believe is that kids are malleable. You can’t mold them into any shape you want (nor should you) but we do help shape them. Children who are close to their parents will end up absorbing some of their habits and interests, the good and the bad!

It’s really fullfilling to see them finding joy in something, self-discovered interests, family interests, and activities you enjoy together. I want to continue this balance. The ying yang of family interests and personal hobbies creates a healthy blend.

There’s the old saying, ‘A family that prays together, stays together.’ While that may be true (who knows?), I do believe that you spend enough quality time together and genuinely like, appreciate, and encourage¬†each other, you’ll stay together.

A family that plays together, stays together!

It’s the frenzied time of year where even making a quick trip to the store seems like a chore. Is it really worth it with all the traffic? Forget the West Town Mall exit. And, you couldn’t pay me to go to Turkey Creek. It’s nuts out there….like really nuts! People are shooting each other in road rage? What’s wrong with people!?

We have lost perspective. Sometimes we loose sight of what’s important. And while many¬†say that ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’, it’s often times not lived out. Jesus is the reason yet we are rushing around the mall? Jesus’ birthday is the focus but look at all my Christmas lights? ‘Put Christ back in Christmas’ but act rude to your co-workers, talk behind people’s backs, and complain about all the Christmas parties? We have lost sight of the real meaning of life, not just the season, when we get all wrapped up in all the¬†superficial non-necessities.

Stockings, gift wrap, fancy bows, tacky sweaters, and that perfect Christmas card. It’s true that I am guilty too. Guilty of not being mindful. Guilty of getting sidetracked. But, thankfully, I have my children to help me get back on track.

Children are precious gifts. Messengers from God. Angels. Reminders of what is real, and true, and pure.

This week, as I walked down the halls of Bearden Elementary¬†,¬†I admired the fraction Christmas tree art and snowmen decor. So festive and fun the schools look this time of year! I paused outside of Anna’s classroom to examine the essays they wrote on “THE BEST GIFT”, the writing prompt. Some said the perfect gift was to pick up litter so the animals and earth aren’t hurt. One said a plane to visit friends and family. Some were about giving and many were about getting. Then, I saw Anna’s.

20161221_174749

Now, does that not show what we have lived the past couple years!? And, does it not also show the biggest gifts in the world can’t be bought!? As Anna put it last night, it’s better to give than receive.

She’s not perfect. And, she can drive me cra-zy! But, she also makes me so proud. She actually makes me a better person. She inspires me. She is a gift.

Friends and family: they are gifts. Comfort: what a gift. Peace: another gift. And, health: is that ever a gift!?

The best gifts cannot be bought, indeed. It’s a Hallmark card and also from the mouths of babes! And, when it comes from an eight-year-old, it truly seems genuine. Be mindful, older souls, that we have some many great gifts every day, even if you never make it to the mall! Merry Christmas!

#heartofgold  OR  #santaswatching!

The sun will come out tomorrow…

Brody, age 10, was just belting this out on an early Saturday morning out of the blue. While playing on the iPad and hanging in the kitchen, he just started singing.

This song brings such hope, but also such powerful memories for me. When this movie was first released, we loved it. The kids and I would belt out the songs as we had the dvd. It’s just a great movie. Brody was eight and Anna was six. This was just before Brody was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

There’s a moment in time that I wonder if I’ll ever forget. The Sunday before he was to admitted to the hospital, not knowing what was about to take place or the seriousness of the situation, we took the kids to Barnes and Noble so Brody could get a new Harry Potter wand to bring him special powers. We knew he’d need some magic, and a little distraction the next day.

As we rode home together, the anxiety we had as parents was mounting. I could hardly keep it together. I wanted a happy song in the car so I pulled this up on my phone, on Youtube. Anna and Brody sang at the top of their lungs,

‘the sun will come out tomorrow’ ……

At first, I was singing along too. But, I had to stop, fighting tears, and just focus on calmly taking in their hopeful, happy words.

This message radiates with me. HOPE.

What a miracle that I can sit here in my p.j.’s ¬†with my favorite boy in the world as still hear him belt out those same words. It doesn’t stop amazing me.

Whatever you’re facing, whatever struggles or battles, however dark it gets , you have to believe that things will get better. Have hope that you get to try again tomorrow. ¬†And, just keep singing.

‘There will be sun!’

#musicismedicine!

 

Divorce

I wish I had some cute story, some enlightening moment, or unique experience to share from this week. The first couple weeks of school have been easy for me as a counselor; they usually are as the honeymoon phase is expected for at least the first couple weeks. And so, I don’t have a lot of friendship conflicts or unexpected tragedies so far (knock on wood) but there is¬†a persistent nagging theme among the kids I have seen so far, however: divorce.

At both schools, I have had many¬†students come to see me about their family. It’s their parents living separately and bouncing from 2 difference living spaces that’s really tearing at these kids. There is a sadness and unrest that they can’t put into words. And, although they know that other kids have divorced families, they feel so alone and different.

I’m not here to advocate for parents staying together because sometimes the fighting is more dysfunctional and hurtful for all involved. Children living in tension-filled homes are anxious and unable to reach their full potential. And, of course, abusive relationships are seriously damaging and traumatic for children to witness. However, I also think divorce is something not to be taken lightly.

I know many children whose parents have been divorced for years, even, and still have unresolved feelings and issues with it. It makes many kids depressed. These first couple weeks of school, I have listened to many¬†students whose parents are not newly separated but they are still working out the complications of the divorce. It’s not easy on kids, and a friend who is divorced once put things in perspective as to why.

She was mandated to attend a class, I believe, led by a judge following her divorce hearing. She once told me a little about it. The judge directly told these divorcees that they should not speak unkindly about their ex-spouse because to their child, it’s like they are speaking unkindly about them directly. It’s personal.heart

Kids feel torn. Kids are half their mother and half their father, if they grew up living with both parents. So, no matter if one parent has been nicer, more loving or more responsible, the child still feels it personally. The child can’t help but take it personally as an attack on their character even though the child is innocent. Speaking ugly about one of their parents is an insult to the child, even if they have a poor example for a parent.

I¬† see it a lot. A child struggles with their identity and confidence even if it’s their parent who did something wrong. Since children are still dependent on their parents, they haven’t developed their own separate identity. So, parents shouldn’t insult their ex-spouse as it will feel like an insult to their child. Children living with combative, bitter divorced parents will struggle to find their own place in the world. It’s complicated.

I haven’t lived in, and¬†I’m not judging. I wouldn’t¬†say divorce itself is a ‘bad’ thing either. But, I do know that divorce can be really painful for children and there are some ways to make it less so.

  • Do not share too much information with children. Being honest is good but don’t be too honest and tell children all the grimy details about what led to the divorce. It’s too much, and unnecessary.
  • Don’t trash-talk the ex. This must take a lot of self-control assuming there was hurt along the way. But, talking negatively about a child’s parent will hurt and confuse them.
  • Include and invite both parents to events. Kids want both parents there for their recital, game, or open house.
  • Get along for the kids. Kids are so happy if their mom and dad are getting along. It makes all the difference in the world even after the divorce.
  • Make a set schedule and stick to it. Even if kids have two great homes, it is still hard to bounce back and forth. Knowing what to expect makes the transition easier.
  • Ask them¬†kids how they¬†feel because they may not share openly without prompting. They may be sad, angry, confused, and hurt. Parents don’t have to fix these feelings. Acknowledging feelings goes a long way to healing.
  • Don’t get their hopes up by talking about the possibility¬†of getting¬†back together. Talk about confusing. This can be a real let-down.
  • Let them talk to someone outside the family. Find a therapist or even the little ole’ school counselor like me! It’s cool how even within one session together, a child may go from rating their family at a ‘0’ and then ending by saying a ‘6’. The act of just getting things off their chest relieves a lot of pent up hurt.
  • Think about their feelings but also¬†be in touch with your own.¬†During a divorce, there must be a lot of painful, depressed feelings that kids notice. Show kids how to take care of themselves by modeling how to deal!

I am no expert, but¬†I have to speak up for the kids who don’t have the words to express the above. These are observations that have been made when kids are in pain. There are many loving parents who choose to do what’s right for themselves and their children, while acting very intentionally.¬† I have friends who are wonderful parents who did the above and have thriving children. Children of divorced parents can be just as successful, confident, and happy as the next child if they work though the above. I’ve seen it! I want that for all kids, and I know parents want that too. It just takes some extra, conscientious work. We can all help the healing if we know someone big or small in pain.

#helpnothurt

 

dren

The Family Bill of Rights

Wouldn’t it be great if we were provided with a simple set of guidelines when our babies were born? These rules and guidelines could provide a framework for daily expectations and goals as we move through the different stages and challenges of parenting. We could refer back to these ‘rights’ or rules when we are trying to make fair decisions about parenting and balancing common sense with structure throughout the duration of childhood.

I never thought of this until now. Parenting definitely has a curve, and we go through ups and downs as changes hit us, both expected and unexpected. What remains the same, though, is parenting is CHALLENGING! Balancing priorities is stressful. Remembering to stay consistent is tough. And, being a role model can be a lot of pressure. Family systems are wonderful, and crazy! And, as parents, we can second guess ourselves.

What if we had some guidelines to constantly refer back to and remind our children of? If could have such a set of written ideas that would benefit everyone in the family, wouldn’t it help makes our lives just a little easier as parents? Couldn’t it help our children remember what we expect? Don’t you think there could be less arguing and fighting if the system of the expectations were right there in black and white from an early age. Usually, these family rules and norms are unwritten. But, just recently, I thought‚Ķ.What if we actually had a written set of rights and expectations for all members of the family to help everyone stay on track? Less confusion, uncertainty, and less room for arguments! More importantly, a happy, safe and productive community for all to live and grow in‚Ķ…

So, here ‘ya go!:

The Family Bill of Rights

  1. All family members have the right to feel loved. Family members will make an effort to point out more positives than negatives, more strengths than weaknesses. Family members should express love through both words and actions.
  1. All family members are expected to uphold the law.
  1. All family members are allowed the right to change their mind, and must accept that plans change. Just like the word ‚Äúpromise‚ÄĚ should be reserved for sincere intentions, changing of plans and actions must also be honored.
  1. All family members must be accepted as individuals. All members must honor and accept that personal preferences, thoughts, opinions, and even goals may vary within the family.
  1. All family members must understand and agree upon set of values established by the parents, and stay true to honoring these values. Our 3 tops values are:
  1. All family members should share in household responsibilities.
  1. All children must respect the chain of command and understand that the rules and demands of their parents must be obeyed unless the demands cause harm to self or others, or break the law.
  1. All family members must honor time and distribute time fairly. Parents and children have the right to take time for hobbies, friends, spirituality, exercise, and special interests that promote happiness and growth.
  1. All family members will be able to express needs and wants honestly without fear of rejection.
  1. All family members will accept that people make mistakes and accept failures as an opportunity to grow. It is expected that there are consequences for actions. Children will grow with fair, consistent discipline.

 

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