We’ve Got It All Wrong: Attention-Seeking Turned Around

Let’s turn our negative assumption about needing attention on its head

Girl with blonde hair wearing sunglasses and a white feather boa.How often have you heard someone say, rather derisively, “Oh, s/he’s just looking for attention!”? There is an implied understanding that this is not good… that somehow the person in need of attention is too needy, or inappropriately needy, or perhaps even that their need is wrong, or not real.

We might even feel an implication with this statement that the person in need should be ignored or punished somehow, so they stop seeking attention, or at least stop the behavior driven by their seeking.

Do you know what I’m talking about? People label “attention-seeking behaviors” and proceed to respond to those behaviors by ignoring them, or getting upset with them.

There is something inherently wrong with this negative implication surrounding attention.

Imagine you are in a shop and you see the perfect house plant for your office. You’ve been looking for something for that one corner for a while, and this plant is absolutely perfect. Excited and pleased, you buy the plant and bring it to your office, only to discover you were absolutely right! It’s just the thing for the space!

Then you go about your business, doing your job, going home at night, and within weeks the plant starts to look droopy. You might wonder what’s wrong, but you think, “oh, it will be fine,” and you continue on with your work.

A few weeks later the plant looks like a shriveled, dried up disaster. “What happened?!?” you wonder. You consider taking the dumb thing back to the store, because clearly they sold you junk. But, you know a good plant person, and decide to first ask her to come into your office to take a look.

She looks at the plant, observes your office, and puts her finger in the soil in the pot.

“What is wrong?” you ask.

“Well, your office has no windows, so your plant hasn’t gotten any sun. And when was the last time you watered it? The soil is so dry it’s like rock,” she responds.

The plant that was so perfect is dead, from lack of attention in the form of the right amounts of sunlight and water.

We could up the ante a bit and talk about puppies. If you went out and adopted a puppy, (cutest wittle fing you ever saw, all fuzzy and wiggwy and sweet!!) and brought it home, but then gave it no attention, within hours your house would be a wreck and you would be wondering why you were so insane as to think this was a good idea.

Or, how about your spouse or partner? If I came home from work and my husband was home before me, sitting in the living room watching his favorite show, and didn’t greet me… ignored me… he would be in SO much trouble! Same thing if the situation were the opposite, and I ignored him, I would be in trouble!

When we get home, we greet each other. We hug. We kiss. We ask about the other’s day and tell about our own. We give each other attention. And if we didn’t, our marriage would not be a happy one.

My point here is that attention is a basic need of all living things, and we need to stop thinking about it as “bad,” especially in children. Our children need our attention.

In fact, I would posit that healthy relationships — between parents and children, partners, friends — are all about the quality of our attention!

So, what do I mean by that? Well, there are three components of high quality attention:

1) Good observations

High quality attention begins with good observations. It’s all about noticing the small things…downcast eyes, slumped shoulders, a change in tone of voice.

These are not things we will notice as easily if we are rushed, or sick, or having a bad day. Our ability to make good observations is strongly dependent on our own internal climate, which is part of my case for good self-care and self-regulation, which you can check out here and here.

2) Accurate interpretations

The second step in high quality attention is accurate interpretations. If we are making good observations, are we also making accurate interpretations of the things we notice?

We are most likely to misinterpret things when we have unresolved trauma, or when something we see in this moment is linked in our minds with something else that happened before.

We also are more likely to misinterpret our observations when we are dysregulated in other ways, perhaps feeling lonely, or angry, or overwhelmed, or tired, or even hungry.

Another thing to consider here is the power of an open mind that believes the best. This does not mean ignoring a problem, but to consider as many possibilities as we can, and to make interpretations which honor the highest good in the other person.

3) Respond in a way that meets the need

Once we have made good observations, and have accurately interpreted what we notice, we then have an opportunity to respond to the need in a way that the other person feels it is met.

Let’s think about an example of this process together. Imagine with me that your child has just come home from school. You are waiting at the bus stop, and notice him getting off the bus quietly, looking down at the ground. You know that usually he comes down the aisle giving fist bumps to all his friends and hops down the steps to the sidewalk, a stark contrast to what you just witnessed.

You give him a sideways squeeze, kiss the top of his head, and then ask, “what’s up, buddy? How was your day?”

You notice he is still looking at the ground as you walk and hasn’t spoken to you yet. He kicks a small rock hard enough for it to ricochet off a sign post and ping your ankle.

At this moment, you could be feeling many things. You might be worried about your typically energetic and engaging child. You might be upset that he isn’t speaking to you, and frustrated, or even angry that the rock hurt your ankle. The amount to which those things bother you is likely correlated with what type of day you have had so far and what your expectations are for your child’s behavior.

How will you interpret these behaviors? To honor the highest good in your child, you certainly would NOT assume he was just being a brat. Instead, you might start thinking that perhaps he’s had a hard day, or maybe that something has happened that has upset him somehow.

How will you respond? Knowing your child and relating to him in ways that are appropriate for his age and personality are at the foundation of your response. You might say something like, “it seems like something is upsetting you.” Or, “seems like it’s been a hard day.”

You probably don’t want to focus on the rock that hit you, or the fact that he is not speaking to you. Instead of being punitive, believing the best of your child, and understanding that he is having a hard time, will help you hear and respond to his need in the best way possible.

It could be that this is all your child needs — a bit of compassion and a ready listening ear. It could be he needs time just to be close to you, walking home, and will be ready to talk later. It could be that he needs a hug or time to snuggle together.

Meeting his need will result in the two of you feeling connected. If it all goes as we would hope, you will come through this situation with both of you feeling better. He will feel valued, understood, and cared for. You will feel like an effective parent.

Attachment research tells us that if we give our loved ones high quality attention (making good observations, accurate interpretations, and responding in ways that meet the need) a mere 30% of the time, we will have a secure relationship! This gives us so much room to be human. We can be distracted and miss the behaviors showing us there is a need. We can misinterpret the behaviors. We can respond in ways that don’t meet the need. But if we are giving it our best, choosing to learn and grow, we can repair mistakes and strengthen our relationships.

“Needing attention” is the state of all things, ourselves included. Let’s embrace our ability to meet that need for those we love, and enjoy the deep and lasting relationships that result.

So much love,

~April

My Top 6 Life-Changing Parenting Books

Close up of roses with the quote “How did the rose ever open it’s heart and give to the world all of its beauty?  It felt the encouragement of light against its being.” - Hafiz

My clients will tell you I am constantly referring them to books… whether it’s parenting, spirituality, mindfulness, self-acceptance, there are so many wonderful books out there!

So today, I wanted to share a few of the parenting books I consider to be most life-changing for both myself and my clients.

I do not yet have any affiliate status, so I am not receiving anything in return for promoting these books. They are just that good.

Life-changing Parenting books

Let me first say that I am a huge fan of Dan Siegel. Like, if I put posters of rockstars on my wall, it wouldn’t be Springsteen, or Hendrix, or Prince. It would be Siegel, all the way.

And I don’t even know if the man sings.

But I do know that he has put together more than half a century of attachment research, along with the latest developments in neuroscience, to help parents rock their roles.

All puns aside, I need you to know that I am not one of those people who reads every parenting book. In fact, when I was pregnant with my first child, I swore I would not read a single parenting book other than “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” because I hated all the conflicting and faddish advice.

And yet, here we are… Due in no small part to the fact that Siegel’s approach is rooted both in hard science and deep love, two things which are arguably the opposite of faddish.

So, with no further ado, my top 6 life-changing parenting books!

Parenting from the Inside Out by Dan Siegel and Mary Hartzell

This first one is, in my mind, foundational to all the others. After all, you can know all the right things to do and still struggle to actually do them. In this book, Hartzell and Siegel take time to help the reader think through what it is that could be stopping us from being the parents we want to be. They introduce the reader to the concept of “reparenting” oneself in order to overcome the barriers within.

While dense at times, the information could not be more useful and effective if put into practice.

https://smile.amazon.com/Parenting-Inside-Out-Self-Understanding-Anniversary/

Autism Breakthrough by Raun K. Kauffman

This one is for all the parents of kiddos with autism. The thing that stood out to me in this book was not the idea that autism can be cured, though the author claims that very thing happened to him, but that without ever talking about attachment theory, the author’s parents lived and breathed attachment with their son.

There is no universe in which a child doesn’t benefit from parents “entering their world,” and in this case, that idea is applied with love and kindness to parenting children with autism.

I understand neurodivergent conversations, and I am not endorsing this book for the purpose of upholding neurotypical as the only, or even the best, way to be in this world. Instead, I see this book as a guide for helping our children with autism be the best they can be in a way that makes everyone feel whole, understood, and loved.

https://smile.amazon.com/Autism-Breakthrough-Groundbreaking-Method-Families/

No Drama Discipline by Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

This should be required reading. I’m talking every parent, before their child is 18 months old, should have to read and pass a test on this material.

Life. Would. Be. Better.

The title is self-explanatory. The information is accessible. The tools are practicable. Whether you have a two year-old or a ten year-old, this information will transform your relationship with your child.

Read. This. Book.

https://smile.amazon.com/No-Drama-Discipline-Whole-Brain-Nurture-Developing/

Becoming Mrs. Rogers by Cindi Rogers

I know this one won’t be for everybody, but for those in the Fragile X community, and anyone who loves someone with FXS, this book will be a godsend.

Cindi Rogers is the mom of two adult boys with Fragile X Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that is the number one cause of inherited intellectual disability, and the only absolutely-for-sure known cause of autism. She writes with love, transparency, and hopefulness about lifelong caregiving and learning to do life differently.

https://smile.amazon.com/Becoming-Mrs-Rogers-Cindi/

Untangled by Lisa Damour

For anyone who has a teenage girl, or a girl approaching adolescence, do yourself a huge favor and get this book now!

I love teenagers. I used to be a youth pastor because I think teenagers are amazing. They are thinking through things in new ways, with their whole life in front of them. They are planning for their futures, and charting a course for their lives. It is an exciting and critical time.

Right after my daughter was born, I used to tell people how much I loved having this tiny baby and how excited I was to have a teenage daughter some day. People laughed in my face. I’m not talking a tiny chuckle. Seasoned parents guffawed. They told me, “you just wait!!”

Fourteen years later, well, let’s just say it is a bit different parenting than pastoring.

If you need some help navigating these waters, like I do, Lisa Damour is a wise and seasoned advisor.

https://smile.amazon.com/Untangled-Guiding-Teenage-Transitions-Adulthood/

Brainstorm by Dan Siegel

And of course, my list of six books could not be complete if half of them weren’t from Dan Siegel!

Brainstorm is a scientific look at adolescence that also offers practical and transformative application.

Learn why those maddening behaviors maybe aren’t so terrible, and how to harness the very best aspects of this tumultuous time in our children’s lives.

And by the way… did you know that the brain develops more during adolescence than it does at any other time in a person’s life other than between the ages of 1-2? Wild.

https://smile.amazon.com/Brainstorm-Power-Purpose-Teenage-Brain/

No matter where you are on the parenting journey, I hope you enjoy these books as much as I have!

What parenting books have been life-changing for you?

So much love,

~A

Chronic Grief

Opening ourselves to grief can make room for joy

Sunrise over the ocean

I will never forget the first time my daughter rolled over. She was just two months old, and by some fluke she managed to flip over while laying on the bed. I made a huge deal of it, as only a first time mom can, talking to her, cheering, and immediately beginning to anticipate when she would roll over again. Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. Then one day she did it. And then again. And again. Suddenly she was rolling across the living room, going wherever she wanted.

Her development continued in this way… she would consistently do the next “big” milestone, like sitting up, or crawling, or walking, one time and very early. Then she wouldn’t do it again for at least two weeks. But once she did it the next time, she had it nailed. Seriously, once that child started to actually walk, she rarely fell. It was like from the beginning of her life she was wired to only do something if she could do it well (yikes, I know).

Her brother was quite different. He took forever to hold his head up in a way that made me confident he could sustain it. Every developmental milestone was delayed, heightening my search to figure out what was going on. I think I thought if I knew what was happening, I could fix it. There must be some therapy, some medicine, some diet that would help him.

But no one seemed to have answers, and even when answers came, solutions did not follow.

It was the first time I’ve felt so completely powerless.

We would go to church and I would stay in the nursery to help, watching all the other babies doing things mine could not do.

Comparison to his sister or to his peers was excruciatingly painful. I knew I shouldn’t do it. I had heard all the people say, ” he will do it in his own time.” And I knew that if he was going to do anything, it would be in his own time. The problem for me was not the delay, but the unknown… it wasn’t about doing it in his own time, it was about what he would or wouldn’t do at all.

Each milestone that passed brought a fresh wave of grief.

Would he learn to sit up?

Would he crawl?

Would he walk?

When would he say words I could understand?

He cries so much, if he could just speak, maybe he could tell me what’s wrong and I could make it better…

Then came school, and all the things were hard. Fine motor, reading, writing, math, peer relationships, gym class, recess, field trips…

And with each struggle, grief. We can say all the nice things about developing character and growing through adversity, and I can accept that to be true for myself. But for my child? Sure, to a certain extent, yes. But not like this. When everything is hard, that doesn’t grow you, that defeats you. There has got to be a limit to what a person has to bear.

Of course, this was really just my struggle. I would guess that if my son could tell me about his early school experience, he would say it was fun. He knew he was loved, and I have entire scrapbooks filled with joyful pictures of shaving cream projects and sensory tables, PT’s balance beams and OT’s scissors.

He might have been behind his peers, but I am pretty positive he was blissfully unaware of any difference.

No, this was mostly my problem. But it really was a problem. Grief seemed to ooze from my pores, like too much garlic. Grief over the unknown, grief over the unfixable. It never quite left and it never quite consumed me. I pushed it off with prayers focusing on what I had to be grateful for, and all the things I could do to make things the best they could be. I believed in cures and new medications and miracles. But just underneath the surface, I questioned God’s goodness, and felt plagued with the why of it all.

Then one night, in the middle of the night, laying in my son’s bed as he rocked back and forth beside me, unable to sleep, I heard very clearly, “I am not going to heal your son. This is something both of you need.”

Tears welled up in my eyes and ran silently down my cheeks. This was not the answer I wanted. This was not the clarity I sought. And yet I knew it was true. Deeply and unshakably true.

Since that night, I have experienced varying degrees of acceptance, from raging against it to hesitantly embracing it. The words that God placed on my heart from that time on have been trust and surrender, neither of which seem to be my forte as I am still working on them over a decade later.

Through all these years of grief, it seemed like no one really had the right words for my experience and yet I knew it was not unique. Many other parents I talked with experienced similar sadnesses as they raised their children with special needs. This grief was not a one time event, as in the death of a loved one, with lasting impact. Instead, it was a series of events (or non-events like missed developmental milestones), each like a dull ache, lingering… chronic grief.

Sometimes I felt guilty for feeling the sadness at all… my child was not typically developing, but as far as I knew his disorder was not life threatening. How could I grieve when other parents have lost their children?

But I’ve learned that grief doesn’t follow rules, and feeling guilty for feeling what we feel rarely makes us feel any better. In fact, more often it leads to despair and stuck-ness.

Instead, I have come to expect this chronic grief. It seems to be a natural partner to chronic illness, but I never know when it will show up, I just know that it will. And when it does, the only thing to do is to acknowledge it. Look at it, full-on, without hiding. Much like a storm, it is here now. It was not yesterday, and it likely will move through by tomorrow. Somehow acknowledging this makes it both less surprising and less overwhelming. I feel more able to roll with it, and not be drowned.

And just like an unexpected rainbow immediately following a storm, as I have come to expect grief, I have also been amazed by joy. As I get better at letting go of my own expectations for what “should” be and accept what is, I am finding that what is can be exquisite. Joy springs up in the recognition of goodness that still surrounds and upholds us. Joy slips in in the simplicity of mutual care, expressed through small acts of kindness. Joy underpins the creation of our own path, making a unique life that works for us. Joy overflows in watching my children grow at their own pace, in their own ways, light-bearers all.

Grief still settles in beside me at times, usually accompanied by some worry about the future, or perhaps some present pain, but it is a familiar presence, lacking the power it used to hold. This life, all of it, is making me soft and strong. It is forming me and my family into the shape of grace.

Wherever you are on this journey, may hope accompany you. May you see dawn breaking on the horizon, because even if circumstances don’t change, you can. May this path open you up and fill you with grace.

So much love,

~A

I want to be a Wiping Wizard

It’s all about the small moments

Close up of hands rinsing a soapy white cloth under running water in a sink

When I was staying home with my very young children, I used to joke that my primary job as “Mom” was to wipe… wipe noses, wipe bottoms, wipe tables, counters, floors.

If you were to add up all the hours spent wiping, it would be around 27 hours a day. That’s right, more than 100% of any given day as a SAHM of multiple youngsters is spent wiping something. Spilled milk, my shirt, drool, my pants, my child’s shirt, spit up, poo, the potty seat, my child’s face, my face, my hair, my child’s hands…

You get the picture. All. The. Time. Wiping. I dreamt about wiping… messes too big for any cloth. Laundry piling up. Washing machines breaking under the strain. My flabby triceps becoming svelt and defined from the constant effort of it all. (There’s always a silver lining, folks)

Then one day it dawned on me that really, honestly, being a good mom to my kids could actually be all about the quality of my wiping. I realized that this thing I do constantly mattered deeply.

We spend so much of our time worrying about how we are doing as a parent… how many months (or years) of therapy will our kids need as grown-ups because of us? Are we providing enough support? Too much? Are they having too much screen time? Do they need more activities or more rest? How are they when they are away from us? Are they respectful? Kind? Do they tease other children the way they tease their siblings? Are they hitting their developmental milestones on time? Are they hitting other people?

What I’ve learned over the years working in attachment is that it is all about the small moments. We get caught up in those questions and miss the fact that our child’s face flashed with shame when their milk spilled on the carpet, right before they started to cry.

If we are doing a good job of wiping, we are present. We notice not only that the milk spilled on the carpet, but also that our child feels bad about it.

If we are doing a good job of wiping, we selfregulate. Rather than letting our initial annoyance or frustration take the lead and cause us to say or do things we later regret, we take a deep breath (or five) and lead with compassion.

If we are doing a good job of wiping, we are responsive. We might be worried about getting the milk up or the possibility of lingering stink if it’s not cleaned properly, but we choose to respond first to our child’s emotional need. It might only take a moment, getting down to our kid’s level with a hug… “oh dear, your milk spilled! That’s ok, I know it was an accident. We’ll get it cleaned up, don’t worry. You can help! We’ll work together.” Or we might need to spend a little more time with our kiddo before it’s ok to start wiping, responding first to their needs and then to the task.

If we are doing a good job of wiping, we are kind. This may be the 7 millionth spill we’ve cleaned up in the past 30 minutes, we might be ready to lose our minds, but we recognize that our child is not the bad guy. Our child is just that, a child. And children spill things. Kindness allows us to treat our children as we would want to be treated. Kindness allows us to look past the momentary frustration to see the beautiful little person we value more than life itself, and to treat them accordingly.

We can learn a great deal about ourselves in these small moments… Are we patient or do we lose control of our emotions? Are we servant leaders or dictators? Do we understand our children or miss them entirely? However we are, our children soak us up.

In these small moments, I have the unique and weighty opportunity to be the person I want my children to become.

I no longer feel exasperated by all the wiping (though, admittedly it has lessened somewhat). It has become for me a sort of barometer for how I am doing… on good days I am present, regulated, responsive, and kind. Other days I might struggle with one or all of those things, and then know I need to give myself a little care in order to get back on track.

These days, my parenting goal is to be a wiping wizard.

So much love,

April

Happy Holidays??

Experiencing joy in our open, exhausted hearts

Sunlight on icy, delicate, dried flowers

I’ve been struggling to write the past several days, and I was just about to chalk it up to writer’s block, when something made me pause.

“Writer’s block?!? Maybe. But seriously, have you considered what the last week has been?” The skeptical little truth teller voice in my head likes to jump right in during my introspective moments.

I took a minute to consider this… the past week has been full of good things and very challenging ones. School was only in session two days, after a four day weekend due to snow days at the end of the previous week. And then it was off to the grandparents for Thanksgiving, leaving at different times because my husband needed to work late Wednesday, which we have NEVER done before. Not once. This kind of unusual schedule throws us all for a loop… and that’s a nice, mild euphemism.

And while I love love love being home with my parents, my thrown-for-a-loop youngest children were almost literally bouncing off the walls the entire time we were there.

Not kidding.

Not even exaggerating.

It was mind-numbingly exhausting and I became less patient than usual. If you had been a fly on the wall three days in, you might possibly have caught me screaming into a pillow.

Maybe.

I won’t bore you with the details of insufficient sleep and unrelenting teasing and sugar highs (and sugar lows!! why do we never talk about the crash, my friends?!? The crash is a terrible time of misery for anyone within ear shot of my youngest child).

We got home, and I sat at the table with my husband as our seemingly feral children ran circles around us, and I asked, “am I unreasonably impatient right now? I mean, could this be a side effect of the new supplement I’m taking, or do our circumstances warrant my short fuse?”

He looked at me, half smiled, and said, “oh, our circumstances warrant it. For sure.”

Perfect.

Happy Thanksgiving! And here’s to doing the same thing to the nth degree in just a few short weeks.

Now, today, my littlest guy has been running around playing with his toys. They are all saying, “Happy Holidays!” to each other.

We’ve been putting up Christmas decorations, and he’s been playing with Mary, “Jofuss,” and baby Jesus.

This evening we tried watching a family Christmas movie together. It was not to his liking. And as he cried heartbroken, wailing, gasping tears about wanting a monster movie instead, his big brother went and found him his pjs and his nighttime diaper. The same child who has been teasing this little one mercilessly for days, was the most tender, sweet sibling for him tonight.

Both of the youngest balls of energy are now fast asleep, and I am feeling not unlike day old bread… kind of stiff and bland, not too far from molding.

In previous years I have been aware of my expectations being too high or too different from reality, killing my joy. This year, I think I had a win on that front. I’m pretty sure my expectations were almost nonexistent and therefore impossible to be unfulfilled. I am thankful for the joy which opened up in unexpected places because of that.

And maybe this is what holidays are… exhaustion with joy sprinkled on top. Like some kind of stale cupcake with superb icing. Maybe crawling in bed early tonight is not only a gift to myself, but a reasonable response to the week we have had. And maybe, tomorrow morning we’ll wake up ready for a new Monday. Or maybe not. But at least I’ll have gotten enough rest to get me through whatever the day might hold. I hope. And if not, there’s always coffee.

Here’s to happy holidays in all their forms. May you and yours be conscious of unexpected joy springing up inside your open, exhausted hearts.

So much love,

~A

Repairing Relationships

It could be the best thing you ever do

Black and silver hammer laying on a piece of wood with various nails driven into it with varying degrees of success — some are bent, others only part way in

Relationships are complex! We are in a continual dance with those around us, sometimes one that flows and feels amazing, other times stepping on toes and tripping each other. When relationships are going well, we can feel on top of the world. Burdens are lighter. We have less anxiety and feel more capable of facing challenges. But when relationships crumble, we can crumble too, falling apart in ways we never dreamed possible.

I have experienced this in my own life, and as a therapist working from an attachment perspective, I’ve walked with clients through the highs and lows, beginnings and endings of their relationships.

One of the biggest reasons I am so in love with Bowlby’s attachment theory is the concept of repair. Maybe this shouldn’t feel so novel to me. After all, I take my car in for repairs regularly. We repair things around the house. I’ve had some teeth repaired. Repair is a normal part of life!

But somehow, when it comes to relationships, we tend to not think about repair. We might think about “making up” after a fight, or “making it up to” someone we’ve wronged, and those things can get at repair if done well, but real relationship repair runs a bit deeper.

Think about any close relationship in your life (because this will happen in every one of them at some point — much more than once). Remember the last time you were really excited about something, or really sad, or just filled with fear, and you went to your person. You tried to tell them about it. But they were busy, or distracted, maybe feeling overwhelmed by their own emotions, and you didn’t feel understood. Or you felt brushed off, unimportant. Hurt.

A small rupture just happened in your relationship with that person.

What did you do next? Depending on the situation, you might have done any number of things… perhaps you tried to talk it out, told your person how you felt, they listened, understood, and the relationship was repaired; or you were too upset to do that, so you yelled, or shut down, or just walked away.

The interactions following a relationship rupture determine the depth and breadth of what needs to be repaired. What started out as a small thing can become huge. A moment of pain can become a pattern. We can begin to close ourselves off from the other in an attempt to protect ourselves. We can feel less safe, less secure.

But wait! All is not lost. Repair is the beacon of hope in relationships. Research tells us that not only can repair happen after hurt, it can actually make the relationship stronger than it was before!

That’s right. Messing up can actually benefit you and those you love when relationship ruptures are repaired well.

So what is it? What does repair look like in relationships?*

Step 1

Repair begins with openness toward the other, a desire to maintain connection, and a courageous vulnerability to examine oneself and one’s behaviors without defensiveness.

Step 2

The next step is empathy. When we empathize with someone, we are able to see things from their perspective without offering to fix it or change it. This is vital because there are at least three things going on when people relate with one another: there is my experience; there is your experience; and there is a third, a co-created experience of us, who and how we are in relationship with one another.

When we are able to be open to hear the other’s story, to empathize with how it was for them, and to examine our own thoughts and actions without defensiveness, we have a solid foundation for repairing the rupture in any relationship.

Step 3

After those pieces are in place (and this may be quick and easy, or long and arduous, depending on the situation), the next step is for each person to think about what I need to do to make it right. You might be thinking, “I don’t need to do anything! They hurt me!” And sometimes that is totally true, but this goes back to openness. Perhaps what I need to do is forgive, let go of my bitterness or desire for some form of revenge.

Then more hard work of introspection… are we willing to be open to the possibility that it is not entirely the other’s fault? Are we willing to look at ourselves first, not to take blame, but to own what is ours? Just as defensiveness has no place in repair, blame will kill the process.

Likewise, we do not do anyone any favors by taking responsibility for what is theirs. When you are vulnerable enough to examine yourself, also be wise and discerning enough to only own what is yours. This isn’t about blame! You can own what’s yours and allow the other to own what’s theirs without blame. Repair is about each person taking responsibility for themselves.

It’s kind of a spiral process that builds on itself: begin with openness and vulnerability; empathize; take responsibility.

When each of these steps is done with thoughtfulness and kindness, repair is most likely to be successful and the relationship made stronger.

So next time you trip up in the dance, or get your whole foot crushed, remember: repairing relationships is not only possible, it could be the best thing you ever do.

So much love,

~A

*Repair cannot happen in abusive relationships. What happens in the cycle of violence is not repair. It is not good, nor healthy, for the victim to try to be open and vulnerable with someone whose intent is to harm them emotionally or physically. If you are in an abusive relationship, protecting yourself is both reasonable and healthy. You can get help. Call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to their website at thehotline.org for live chat.

The Human Garbage Disposal

Caregiving is complex, both in the reward it offers and in the toll it exacts

Plate of spaghetti Alfredo with Parmesan sprinkled on top

Several years ago I called myself the human garbage disposal… it was sort of in jest, but like all jokes, had a pretty solid thread of truth.

Two of my kids were quite little and not only did I rarely have a moment to myself, I frequently didn’t have time to sit down and eat. I was busy preparing and serving food, cutting it up, and helping my kids eat, only to become the referee, or the bath-giver, or the naptime rocker almost immediately after they were done. When I had a chance to eat, it was what I could grab easily, and since I hate wasting food, it was most often the things my kids hadn’t eaten.

The result was a pretty sad food existence… Not only was I not eating the things I wanted, I had diversely picky eaters dictating the food I prepared.

Don’t get me wrong, I have thoroughly enjoyed a good homemade mac’n’cheese in my day, but we all know that a steady diet of refined carbs and dairy does not a happy body make.

Through the years I have frequently resolved to treat my body better by eating more veggies, less sugar, and only whole grains, but my resolutions have consistently failed in the face of uneaten food that I can’t bear to throw out (hello, awful-day-old-cookies-sitting-out-in-the-open-on-the-cooling-rack-getting-stale). But with the birth of my youngest son a couple years ago, my body decided to stage a sit-in and get my attention.

It started in my hands as I was driving long distances for work: sharp pain around my thumbs. Then numbness and tingling in my hands and up my arms. Then in my feet and legs. My body needed my attention.

“A whole-foods plant-based diet is great,” my doctor said, “try to reduce your stress and get some exercise as well. Yoga would be good.”

So while my doctor is running tests, I am trying to eat better. I cook oil-free vegan food every chance I get and research kid-friendly options for my picky eaters. I throw away more things that they aren’t finishing, and have just about eliminated added sugars and caffeine.

The food part of taking care of my body is going a whole lot better. But the exercise? Not so much.

When does one fit such a thing in? 4am seemed like my best bet. By 5am my middle son is almost always awake. My youngest is a natural night owl, so by the time we outlast him with the bedtime routine I am a virtual zombie, unable to walk up stairs let alone get into some at-home exercise routine from YouTube.

Getting up ridiculously early didn’t work. My body was also telling me it needed sleep, the rarest gem in my life for over a decade. My next idea was to exercise during my toddler’s naps on the days I was home. That went well for about two weeks.

Last Saturday I sat on the couch with my husband and started to cry. “What is the balance?” I asked, tears streaming down my face. “How do I balance taking care of everyone else and taking care of myself?”

Like the good man he is, he listened. He heard the whole thing… all the reasons why cooking is so hard and exercising is even harder… all the struggles to take care of our family and not slowly kill myself in the process.

You know there’s some octopus (maybe all octopuses??) who lays her eggs and spends all she has left nurturing them into being. Then she dies.

Melodramatic me feels like that octopus sometimes… like raising these kids is going to take everything I’ve got. They’ll grow up, move out, and I’ll be dead.

Totally over the top. Untrue.

Maybe.

The honest truth is raising kids is hard. Special needs ups the ante. How do we, as parents, do this well and not die trying? Even better, how do we truly, deeply enjoy the life we are living? I want to thrive!!

But there are many times when taking care of ourselves is in direct opposition to taking care of another. How do we manage that? Is there such a thing as balance?

Caregiving is complex, both in the rewards it offers and in the toll it exacts.

So I come back to breath. I come back to this moment. Today I ate wonderful, healthy vegetables. Today I fit in exercise by playing with my toddler. Today my kids enjoyed their food and, most importantly, they enjoyed being with their mama.

It is not as simple as putting the oxygen mask on my own face first, nor is it as sad as being a human garbage disposal. It is a dance… a moving, flowing creativity of caring for myself as I care for my babies, constantly changing and growing with each other. Rough patches and false starts interwoven with deep connection and overflowing hearts.

We may not be able to make a fixed plan that works like a charm, but we can be attentive to ourselves and our loved ones in each moment and discover new ways for everyone to have all that they need.

So much love,

~A

Trust Yourself

I will never forget that first night in the hospital… after a long, hard labor I had welcomed my beautiful little boy into the world, slightly jaundiced, but otherwise healthy and whole. My emotions were a mess as my two year-old daughter held her brother for the first time, snuggled beside me on the hospital bed, clearly still recovering from the terror of Mama being gone when she woke up that morning.Baby’s hand holding mama’s shirt

But as night fell and visitors left, I entered the first of many very long nights with my son. He cried inconsolably, struggling to nurse, struggling to sleep. Nurses tried to come and take him to give me a break, but I couldn’t rest, wondering how he was when he was away from me.

The confidence I felt when my daughter was born seemed to evaporate like early morning fog, as all my best efforts to soothe and nourish my son proved ineffective.

“Is something wrong?” I asked one of the nurses. “I can’t seem to help him. Why doesn’t he latch well? And why is he gagging?”

Patiently and calmly, the nurse told me some babies just took a little longer to figure it out, that some babies were fussy, that I should give him to her and get some sleep.

But I couldn’t sleep. Maybe it’s just a difference in personality… or maybe it’s a boy thing… after all, I had no experience with baby boys…

I tried reassuring myself. I tried to believe the nurse. But fear had started to set up camp in my brain. I knew something was not right.

Two days later we were sent home with a clear bill of health, apart from instructions to hold him in the sunlight to keep working at curing his jaundice.

My parents stayed to help, my mom holding her newest grandbaby in the sunlight with all the delight of centuries of grandmas glowing in her face. I held my daughter and rested as much as possible. We kept working at nursing. My baby boy kept crying.

“Something is wrong,” I told my husband. I told my mom. I told my pediatrician.

“Don’t worry, he’ll be fine,” they all said. “It’s probably just colic. He’s probably just a fussy baby. He’ll outgrow it. He’ll be fine.”

I turned to the dark and frightening world of self-diagnosis on the internet. Words like Developmental Delay, and Fragile X Syndrome, and Autism Spectrum, and Sensory Processing popped up. And I read, and read, and read.

And I cried with my baby as he tried to nurse, as he tried to sleep, as I rocked him, and bounced him, and shushed him with lullabies and humming.

Our first diagnosis from our pediatrician was at 6 months. We got a referral to a local early intervention program.

My husband got angry. Clearly I was just worrying too much. Our son didn’t need therapists. He was going to be fine. I was too uptight and needed to relax. Everything was fine.

But it wasn’t. So therapists came anyway. Speech was first, helping him swallow. OT came with a Wilbarger protocol. PT came and he started to walk.

And still he cried. And never slept through the night. And hated going to noisy restaurants, or being buckled in his car seat, or pushed in his swing.

Those first few years were painful, and exhausting, and lonely. I fought with my husband over every doctor visit, every intervention, every therapy appointment.

I still didn’t know what was going on, but I knew we were making progress, and I wasn’t about to quit.

Diagnoses came over the course of a decade. Puzzle pieces started fitting together. I became fluent in the language of visual schedules, and sensory inputs. I learned how to be the safe harbor my son needed by holding him close and bouncing instead of rocking. No humming. Definitely no singing. He needed me close with a firm touch and unintuitive silence.

He learned what he needed, and was soon able to let me know when he needed to jump on his trampoline, or just have some space by himself. He knew when he was ready to engage again, and did so with joy.

A divorce, remarriage, a stepson, and a toddler later, we have learned SO much. I feel like I will never stop learning.

My boy is able to be in the present moment unlike anyone else I’ve met. He loves people and forgives almost instantly. He has a huge, tender heart and a mischievous streak that inevitably gets him in trouble.

But even now I can’t allow myself to go too far into the future very often. There are too many unknowns. Too much is still uncertain.

Throughout our lives we face a multitude of uncertainties. What is the next right thing to do? Are we being lead by true intuition or by our worst fears? What if those two coincide?

Perhaps you have your own story of diagnosis. Maybe you’re in the middle of it right now. Maybe there is something else entirely that is your unfixable thing to be faced.

Whatever it is that kept you reading this far, take a moment.

Breathe in deeply through your nose.

Let the air expand not only your lungs, but your abdomen as well.

Let your breath out slowly through your mouth.

Let your face relax, your jaw loosen.

Drop your shoulders.

Breathe. Slow and deep.

Trust yourself.

Settle in.

Pay attention to that voice of wisdom inside you.

I could never have imagined all those years ago what life would be like today. But I didn’t need to. I usually had no idea if what I was doing was actually the next right thing. I fumbled around filled with fear and uncertainty.

You don’t have to do that. Or you can, if you want. But right now, you can breathe.

You can do the thing in front of you to do.

And you can do it with kindness for yourself and for those around you.

All will be well.

It may not be as you expected, planned, or wanted, but all will be well.

There is Love guiding us.

There is enough light for this moment.

Breathe.

Trust yourself.

All will be well.

So much love,

~A

Trust Yourself

I will never forget that first night in the hospital… after a long, hard labor I had welcomed my beautiful little boy into the world, slightly jaundiced, but otherwise healthy and whole. My emotions were a mess as my two year-old daughter held her brother for the first time, snuggled beside me on the hospital bed, clearly still recovering from the terror of Mama being gone when she woke up that morning.

But as night fell and visitors left, I entered the first of many very long nights with my son. He cried inconsolably, struggling to nurse, struggling to sleep. Nurses tried to come and take him to give me a break, but I couldn’t rest, wondering how he was when he was away from me.

The confidence I felt when my daughter was born seemed to evaporate like early morning fog, as all my best efforts to soothe and nourish my son proved ineffective.

“Is something wrong?” I asked one of the nurses. “I can’t seem to help him. Why doesn’t he latch well? And why is he gagging?”

Patiently and calmly, the nurse told me some babies just took a little longer to figure it out, that some babies were fussy, that I should give him to her and get some sleep.

But I couldn’t sleep. Maybe it’s just a difference in personality… or maybe it’s a boy thing… after all, I had no experience with baby boys…

I tried reassuring myself. I tried to believe the nurse. But fear had started to set up camp in my brain. I knew something was not right.

Two days later we were sent home with a clear bill of health, apart from instructions to hold him in the sunlight to keep working at curing his jaundice.

My parents stayed to help, my mom holding her newest grandbaby in the sunlight with all the delight of centuries of grandmas glowing in her face. I held my daughter and rested as much as possible. We kept working at nursing. My baby boy kept crying.

“Something is wrong,” I told my husband. I told my mom. I told my pediatrician.

“Don’t worry, he’ll be fine,” they all said. “It’s probably just colic. He’s probably just a fussy baby. He’ll outgrow it. He’ll be fine.”

I turned to the dark and frightening world of self-diagnosis on the internet. Words like Developmental Delay, and Fragile X Syndrome, and Autism Spectrum, and Sensory Processing popped up. And I read, and read, and read.

And I cried with my baby as he tried to nurse, as he tried to sleep, as I rocked him, and bounced him, and shushed him with lullabies and humming.

Our first diagnosis from our pediatrician was at 6 months. We got a referral to a local early intervention program.

My husband got angry. Clearly I was just worrying too much. Our son didn’t need therapists. He was going to be fine. I was too uptight and needed to relax. Everything was fine.

But it wasn’t. So therapists came anyway. Speech was first, helping him swallow. OT came with a Wilbarger protocol. PT came and he started to walk.

And still he cried. And never slept through the night. And hated going to noisy restaurants, or being buckled in his car seat, or pushed in his swing.

Those first few years were painful, and exhausting, and lonely. I fought with my husband over every doctor visit, every intervention, every therapy appointment.

I still didn’t know what was going on, but I knew we were making progress, and I wasn’t about to quit.

Diagnoses came over the course of a decade. Puzzle pieces started fitting together. But even now I can’t allow myself to go too far into the future very often. There are too many unknowns. Too much is still uncertain.

Throughout our lives we face a multitude of uncertainties. What is the next right thing to do? Are we being lead by true intuition or by our worst fears? What if those two coincide?

Perhaps you have your own story of diagnosis. Maybe you’re in the middle of it right now. Maybe there is something else entirely that is your unfixable thing to be faced.

Whatever it is that kept you reading this far, take a moment.

Breathe in deeply through your nose.

Let the air expand not only your lungs, but your abdomen as well.

Let your breath out slowly through your mouth.

Let your face relax, your jaw loosen.

Drop your shoulders.

Breathe. Slow and deep.

Trust yourself.

Settle in.

Pay attention to that voice of wisdom inside you.

I could never have imagined all those years ago what life would be like today. But I didn’t need to. I usually had no idea if what I was doing was actually the next right thing. I fumbled around filled with fear and uncertainty.

You don’t have to do that. Or you can, if you want. But right now, you can breathe.

You can do the thing in front of you to do.

And you can do it with kindness for yourself and for those around you.

All will be well.

It may not be as you expected, planned, or wanted, but all will be well.

There is love guiding us.

There is enough light for this moment.

Breathe.

Trust yourself.

All will be well.

So much love,

~A