Sports Parenting Part 2

We’ve all been there. You’re at the game, watching happily as your child plays their chosen position. Then they do it. They make the worst decision they could possibly make. In soccer, which my daughter plays, they do a soft cross in front of their own goal when playing defense. Your heart sinks. The other team pounces. It’s a goal. And you know it was because your kid maybe made the wrong decision or didn’t execute the right decision well.

Do you yell at them? Do you yell encouragement? Do you talk about it in the car?

Believe me, I’ve seen and done a little from columns A, B, & C.

Nobody wants to be the parent who can’t shut up from the sideline. Just like nobody (or mostly nobody) wants to be the parent that ruins their child’s love of the game.

But it’s SO HARD to watch them make mistakes and to sit by and let it happen. It’s SO HARD not to want to help them to see how they could do better – because you, their loving parent, know exactly how they could do it better and be better and be happier and be wonderful and safe and, and, and…

So, you clap and you cheer and you try not to watch when things go wrong. Or you mutter under your breath and critique every play but refrain from ever uttering it out loud where your child might hear you. These two parenting types, by the way, find it difficult to co-exist. This is why my husband and I no longer sit together at my daughter’s games. He’s a mutterer and I choose not to see any play as bad, lest I be inclined to offer constructive feedback – but the muttering tends to pierce my veil of ignorance and I’m NOT TRYING TO HEAR THAT AT HER GAME.

So we don’t sit together.

I’ve noticed that we’re not the only ones.

The reality is that I don’t really care how good they are at any sport, but I do care very much that they try their best. At what point do we get to raise a lack of effort? Number 71 is a great player, she loves the game. BUT – and this is a big but – she’s still just a 10 year old girl and sometimes she’s just not in the mood to work that hard. This can be galling for a number of reasons. First – the games are like an hour away and it’s Houston so it’s generally 200 degrees outside on the sideline (facing the sun, always). To attend is a sacrifice that I’m happy to make when she’s out there actually DOING her thing. But to watch her NOT do her thing is tough. Second – I hate to see her disappointed or hurt if she gets benched. I know natural consequences are key, but they’re horrible and painful to watch as her mother who never wants her to hurt. Ever.

So at what point do we get to point out that maybe that wasn’t so much fun for us.

The good parent answer is probably never.

The good enough parent answer is that we try really hard to make it home and to just ask leading questions rather than yell.

The real truth is that occasionally we don’t make it home and occasionally voices might get raised.

UGGH. Those days are the worst.

Those days are usually not at all about Number 71 or about the Dancer at all. They’re about us, the parents. We identify with our kids and their successes. Just like we blame ourselves too much for their failures or struggles, we give ourselves too much credit for their successes. And so, we assume, do other people. If our kids aren’t working as hard on the field as we believe they should, we assume other people are thinking that we’re bad parents for raising a kid who maybe doesn’t care about whether her team does well on a day when it’s 200 degrees and sunny and she had a fight with her friend and she doesn’t like the away uniform socks and she didn’t sleep well because she had a bad dream and her tummy hurts from the three hotdogs she had for lunch.

We feel ashamed – not of our kids, but of ourselves.

Those days are the worst. The days when we’re in shame. I try not to let them happen to often now that I know what they are. I try to offer myself the same care and grace that I offer in my DBT skills group – I’m doing the best that I can. She’s doing the best that she can. I’ve noticed that those days where things don’t go so well after a bad game are the days when I was already on the boil with shame – where I woke up and realized I never did the dishes, where I was late to a meeting, where I realized that I had forgotten to wash the uniform needed for the game. I was already feeling low and bad and ineffective and the bad game is just an example of yet another way that I haven’t done my job as parent.

I give myself too much credit and too much importance.

The reality is that our kids don’t need us to be the good parent. They just need us to be the good enough parent. The uniform doesn’t need to be clean, they’re just going to sweat on it again – 10 year olds really don’t care if they smell. Research has demonstrated that 95% of the parenting battle is just showing up from time to time. From offering love and praise, but mostly just feeding them and sheltering them. The occasional hug is important. But the perfect birthday card and the perfect response to on field screw ups is not required.

So long as we apologize for over-reacting to the bad game and attempt not to do it anymore, we’re doing ok. We’re doing the best that we can. And that’s actually good enough.

For more about the good enough parent see: Psychology Today.

Food and love…

Food is love. For me and for a lot of people, food is a way to offer myself care and rewards. It’s one of the ways I show my kids I love them (hello rainbow cakes).

When I was a child and I did something good, my mother would take me to Dairy Queen. This was a serious reward because I was one of those kids with the healthy lunch before every kid started having a healthy lunch. You know the lunches – wheat bread and meat, never mayo or peanut butter and jelly, 100 % juice only, never Capri Sun, and, if I was lucky, Fig Newtons as a desert. No one ever wanted to swap with me. So you can see how those Dairy Queen trips would seem like a big, important thing. They felt like an icy-cold, sweet and comforting demonstration of affection and pride.

My other food=love memory is of when my mom would make macaroni and cheese (from scratch but using Velveeta – shocking considering the health regime in our house) once a week while I watched the Cosby Show and a Different World.

Those are good memories among a set of more difficult memories of my relationship with my mother and my relationship with food. It’s been a near continuous cycle of restrict and binge for nearly as long as I can remember. I’ve tried nearly every diet –cabbage soup, weight watchers, carb free, the master cleanse…I’ve done them all. During high school and college, with my mother’s encouragement and insistence. Those trips to Dairy Queen and mac & cheese nights disappeared with a near obsessive focus on my weight and appearance. It didn’t improve when I moved out and lived on my own. It’s really only in the last three years, since starting to work with other emotional and binge eaters that I’ve realized that living with these cycles of restrict and release isn’t working and is negatively impacting my health and happiness.

SO I stopped. I stopped restricting and started living with the idea that no food is good or bad, I can eat anything I want (literally, I’m adult with the disposable income and transportation available, which allows me to eat whatever I want at any time). Giving myself this permission changed something fundamental in my relationship with food. I know that while I can eat anything that I want, I can’t eat everything that I want every time that I want it. Now that I’ve given myself permission, I’m so much more able to decide if food is what I actually want. To start listening to whether I’m hungry or if I’m looking for something else from the food.

I work with a number of clients when binge eat and with many who rely on food to cope with their emotions (sadness, shame, loneliness, boredom, anxiety – food seems to work on all of them). As a country we seem to rely on food to numb out and feel better. When clients come in they often tell me how hopeless it is that they could lose weight or stop binge eating because they just really love food. The thing is, for most of them, when I ask them what it tastes like after the second bite, they really don’t know. They really also don’t know when they’re physically full or physically hungry. Sad, lonely, bored – they all merge together to feel like hungry.

SO, going back to my food is love premise. My husband and I love milkshakes from a certain fast-food restaurant. It’s open until 10PM and a few years ago it started to be that every night at 9:30PM, I would start to crave a cookies and cream milkshake. My husband was always happy to go get it for me. To leave behind whatever he was doing – usually working in his office or watching baseball or whatever, to go get it and then we’d sit together on the couch and happily slurp down our 10,000 calories. I was telling my therapist (yes, of course I have one) about this habit and she asked me what feeling I get in my body when I drink that milkshake. I realized it was safety and connection to my husband. Two things that have NOTHING to do with the milkshake. What else gives you that feeling? A HUG.

I realized during that session that what I actually wanted was a sign that my husband loves me and some time with him. I was asking for the milkshake instead of just asking for him to come hang out with me and give me a hug. Once I started asking for that, I found that I didn’t actually crave the milkshakes anymore.

This doesn’t meant that sometimes a craving for a milkshake isn’t just a craving for a milkshake because they’re delicious and wonderful. They so are. It does mean that we need to start paying attention to ourselves and our urges for food that go beyond using it as fuel. If what we really want is love, we need to ask for love rather than relying on food to approximate it. It requires curiosity about our cravings and a willingness to question our urges.

But sometimes, we really do just want that mickey bar. And, because we’re adults, we can actually have one any damn time we want. This is one of the reasons I look forward to going to Disney World – I know that I’ll get to have a Mickey Bar even though what I’m really craving is a link to childhood and a sense of vacation and relaxation. I still have one, even knowing it’s not about the hunger – because those times when I’m on vacation I give myself permission to eat more than I normally would – to soak up that joy and love that come with food and also from time with family. But when I come home, it’s back to making sure that I’m meeting my actual needs and not using food as a drug to ignore them.

So I guess food is love, but it can’t be the only love we offer ourselves. It should be one out of many methods for giving and receiving affection and care to and from others. It should be a sign of love, an offshoot of fun, rather than a poor substitute for the real emotions.

The tyranny of the blank page – ALSO controlled breathing skill training

Today was a difficult one for a lot of different goals. For example, it’s 10:12PM and I’m just now sitting down trying to figure out what I want to write. I also woke up at 4AM, my heart racing and my breath short – for no reason that I can come up with, other than that my anxiety seemed to be on high alert today.

I didn’t want to get up to run and I almost didn’t. But I reminded myself that running is like medicine for my anxiety and not something that I can skip because it helps work off some of the anxious jittery feelings caused by adrenaline. It also feels like taking actual care of myself, while staying in bed would have felt like avoidance and caused those guilty, ashamed voices in my head to fire up their critical voices for the rest of the day.

So I ran. It was not a good run. But I felt good about doing it. Then the day went a bit off the rails. Things were busy and we had family over, which proved a bit overwhelming and emotional when politics intruded. I took my daughter out tonight and when I got home, I remembered that I hadn’t written anything today.

Like this morning, I almost let myself skip it. But here I sit. Trying to figure out what to write that’s meaningful and worth saying. The tyranny of the blank page is rearing it’s ugly and insidious head telling me to just skip it since I’m not sure what to say.

But that’s not the point of this exercise. The point is to write each day. No matter what. To work to find my voice as a writer and to re-discover my style and creative spark. I know I used to be able to write meaningful things in college, but time and daily life have erased the memory of those stories from my mind. The desire for respect and admiration have grown in my heart as I’ve aged and has stifled some of my creativity due to fears about how it will be perceived.

So I want to write again about taking steps toward goals, even if they don’t feel like meaningful or successful steps. Sitting down to write, even if it’s not earth shattering content is a step towards becoming someone who writes. If I wait until the circumstances are perfect and I want to do it and the perfect idea is formed, I’ll never write.

Sometimes meeting goals is a struggle, a mental fight against self way more than it is a bolt from the blue or divine intervention. So I relied on my anxiety coping skills a bit more than usual today. I needed to engage in my controlled breathing and push through the anxious voice telling me it’s not worth it and that I’ll never get there.

Also, so this post has something actually useful to someone other than me: Controlled Breathing is a practice to calm the physical symptoms of anxiety (tightness in chest, racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, foggy thoughts). When we’re anxious and our fight or flight reflex is activated, our nervous system is sending far too many danger signals to our whole body. We need to turn it off. Breathing out is actually our somatic nervous system (basically the internet of the nervous system)’s off switch. SO, when we’re activated and anxious, the best way to calm our bodies quickly is to focus on breathing OUT for longer than we breathe IN. I start by breathing in through my nose and out through pursed lips. Generally, I close my eyes and sit upright in a chair (if possible) and rest my hands palms up in my lap (this is called willing hands, try it, just sitting with palms open and up can change the way you see any situation or encounter and can be somewhat unnervingly vulnerable). I then focus on my attention on my breathing for a period of about five minutes (or until I notice myself start to calm). When thoughts come into my head, I gently acknowledge them: I’m aware that I’m worrying this is useless. I’m notice that I’m worrying about what I’ll make for lunch. Then redirect my attention to my breathing.

Sports Parenting

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sports parenting. Or really activity parenting. My own parents drove me to whatever sport I wanted to participate in, but were never the team mom or all that involved. They attended games, but never had an opinion on how I played – or really even knowledge. My dad played hockey, my mom never played sports. Figure skating was pretty unknown territory to them and I’m reasonably certain in never occurred to them to learn much about it.

The same was true of most of my other activities – swim team, theater, choir. They came to the big shows and meets, but never really made much of an effort to get involved beyond that. Play or quit, didn’t much matter to them as long as I finished out something the season.

Except for piano lessons. I liked the idea of being able to play the piano but was never really willing to put in the work to practice daily. I remember my mom sitting at the piano with me, fighting with me about my work ethic and my desire to play. I remember her frustration that I didn’t feel a drive to respect my talent or early promise at the piano. I played for 13 years and never really gave it much of an effort.

When I quit skating, something to which I had devoted such a significant portion of my young life, I don’t remember any argument or attempt to get me to stay with it. I feel some regret over the way I quit, the way I just gave up when I got tired instead of working to take breaks and to find ways to keep doing something that I had loved so much. Part of me wishes they had cared more when I quit.

By the same token, my mother would NEVER allow me to quit piano. Bribery, cajoling, threatening. All of it. I was ambivalent about playing, but somehow convinced to continue. Not to really try, but to continue. I’m glad, to this day, that I can play the piano. But, I remember the fights and the tears and the toll it took on our relationship. I’ve often wondered if the last five years of lessons were worth it, considering I can play now about as well as I could in middle school and it’s sufficient for my purposes today.

These experiences run through my mind today as I parent my own children through their activities. There must be a middle ground between disinterested chauffeur and stage mother. But it’s a tough balance to strike. My own girls play piano. Number 71, like me, is an indifferent player. The Dancer is more talented and interested than I am, but also has a middle schooler’s lack of drive to put in the hours. Number 71 would quit tomorrow if I would let her and never look back. The Dancer would probably feel some regret since she aims for a career in music/dance/theater. Neither wants to practice. How much do I push them to play and to practice?

Do I push them equally? Do I push them at all?

I’ve settled on a blanket rule of playing until middle school and then continuing if it makes sense for your ambitions. I’m willing to push the Dancer to overcome her teenage laziness because she doesn’t push back too hard and rationally knows she wants to continue. But I’m not willing to sacrifice my relationship with Number 71 the way my mom did with me when my daughter doesn’t seem to care AT ALL about piano.

It’s hard to find that balance in all aspects of parenting, so my current goal is to practice Wise Mind when it comes to choosing activities and to engage my kids in a discussion of the same. What are the rational reasons for doing what you want to do (quit, keep playing, add activity) what are the emotional ones (tired, overwhelmed, fun) and how can we come to a place of balance. It’s not all or nothing. Can we find a way to make what isn’t fun, fun again? Can we scale it back or find an alternative? Can we switch from club to recreational? Can we add an additional sport to take the pressure off this one?

It’s proving to be a good way to get them to talk about their options and their feelings. But, honestly, it’s mostly just about providing candy before and after each piano lesson.

Enough is enough

Football was one of the first professional sports that I really enjoyed watching. I loved the story lines and the ease of understanding it. I didn’t really play team sports as a child. I didn’t have time.

I was a figure skater. I lived at the rink. Three hours before school and another three after school. Every day. All year long. Except for a week or two at camp over the summer. I remember getting hurt as a figure skater, broken toes, bruises, cuts. I even hit my head once or twice – typical when you’re learning jumps and footwork.

But nobody tried to hit me. Nobody was knocking me down.

Still, I loved watching football. Partly because of the receivers. I loved watching how they could leap and come down with the ball. The way that they looked like figure skaters taking the air. But I also loved watching the linesmen. I thought it was amazing how they would clash and rebound off of each other.

I left figure skating behind in high school. I was burned out and tired from working at my sport for years. It stopped being fun. It started being work and I was tired of hurting muscles, missing time with friends, and feeling frustrated about my progress or lack thereof.

I went to Dartmouth College. We didn’t play football. Or, at least, we didn’t play football well. But I still liked watching football from time to time. When I went to law school, I became friends with people who really did love football. So I started watching more. Then I met and married my husband and continued watching football. Wanting to be able to talk about sports and the things my husband is interested in, I started listening to sports podcasts. I got so that I could pick the lines for each game each week.

But the last couple years, I’ve wanted to watch less. I didn’t really notice it at first, but I’ve started to feel not good about football. Watching the hits didn’t inspire any joy, it started to feel like I was watching trauma.

Since reading about Andrew Luck retiring suddenly, I’ve been thinking a lot about skating and my experiences when I quit. I can empathize with his feeling of tiredness and the sense that the sacrifice isn’t worth it. I was just sacrificing time with my friends – he was sacrificing his body. At what point does a human say, this isn’t what life should be.

Apparently he reached his point. Much later than I reached mine. He probably loved it a great deal more than I loved skating, because he took a great deal more pain than I did.

Self care and waiting

Running has been difficult lately. We’ve been busy with back to school and birthday craziness (second rainbow cake finished and halfway consumed). And it’s been hot. I have a lot of very good, logical reasons why I haven’t been great about putting on my shoes and heading outside for an hour.

But the truth is that I just don’t want to. I don’t feel like it. I would rather sleep for an hour, or read a book, or do an extra load of laundry, or answer emails, or, or, or. I keep waiting for that hunger, that moment of desire to run.

I’m waiting to want to. A concept that I talk about all the time with clients and in DBT skills group. Motivation for self care is often at it’s lowest when we’re stressed and tired. Vegging out on the couch feels like self care when you’re tired. And it certainly is, but it’s not super effective self care. It’s not present and connected self care. Clients always respond with some version of what I wrote a paragraph ago – “I’m just overwhelmed right now and I’ll get back to exercise when…”

I compare self care to taking your medication. It’s a thing you may not want to do every day (or even any day) but you need to do it regularly and as a priority because otherwise the systems just don’t work as well as they should. I’m less irritable and jittery on the days when I run. I feel less run down by mid afternoon on the days that I run.

Even on the days when I have a really bad run. The days when the walk breaks are frequent and feel imperative even when you know it’s not your body or legs that needs a break, it’s your mind. I’ve come to realize what a mind game running actually can be. It’s overcoming the urge to just stop. For me, who is not a natural runner, it requires pretty constant self check in and mindfulness to be sure each walk break is needed for my physical rest not just a mental fatigue.

SO, when I run I do practice one-mindfulness by focusing on what’s happening around me, changing my routes and focusing on small goals. These are all helpful skills for regular life as an anxious person, it’s what my running medicine gives me on the days when I get out there.

And so, I’m going to run today. I don’t really want to (though I do more as I write this), but I know that I need to.

Certainly uncertain

Uncertainty is uncomfortable for human beings. I think we like to know what’s going to happen. To be certain of what to expect and when to expect it. The unfortunate reality is that life ISN’T certain. A fact which makes me and many of my clients uncomfortable.

I remember thinking a lot last year about uncertainty and the ways we try to avoid its discomfortable itchiness last year when reading about the college admissions scandal. If you think about it, those were parents who generally exert iron-clad control over their daily lives, subject to the same anxious wait as the rest of humanity when it comes to the thing they value most – their children’ futures. Faced with that feeling, they coped by avoiding it – by attempting to control the situation.

Many of those kids would have probably gotten into the colleges they were hoping to attend (or ones fairly similar) through the regular admissions process. They were privileged and had access to dozens of the best coaches and teachers for school and extra-curricular activity. I’m sure they would have been able to manage a successful alumni interview and to be trained to respond well to essay prompts – along with substantial edits from a concerned and informed college counselor – their admissions essays would have been at least passable.

But their parents couldn’t wait. They couldn’t stand the uncertainty of not knowing for sure until the spring. Of waiting to see how their kids actually did on the SAT. They needed to know now. And, with their socio-economic privilege, they could arrange to know immediately and not have to wait like everyone else.

When did we lose that skill – the waiting skill? We want what we want the minute that we want it and are uncomfortable wondering if we might, if we’re patient enough, down the road, get it.

I’m just as guilty of losing this skill as the next person. When we went to Disney World for Christmas (see the Bad Trip) we paid for the extra FastPass+ that were offered to us as guests in the concierge level at Disney’s Beach Club Resort. We loved the ease of planning 90 days in advance (with the paid extras you get to book those AND your regular three 90 days out from the first day of your trip, rather than the 60 usually available to resort guests). Every ride was available at the times that we wanted. We were able to plan every minute of every day.

We were so happy to know and to be certain.

When we arrived, though, we often felt trapped by the schedule. Because we had paid for these FastPass+ we felt like we could not waste them or miss them. Because of the 1 hour window between each FastPass+, we found that we had over six hours scheduled in the parks and felt pressed to stay, even when tired, or sick, or hungry. The tyranny of the certainty took over our days and made it feel like it wasn’t a vacation. I confess, I often feel this way on the Disney Dining Plan, as well.

This is certainly not Disney’s fault. They’re answering to guests who demand to know. To be guaranteed that they will get what they want on their trip. I absolutely understand that want, too. We give ourselves so little break in our lives these days that we have taken the break out of our breaks. Vacations must be scheduled and planned and we must tick off all of the sites and adventures during our two weeks per year allotted to rest and relaxation. We are uncomfortable taking the days as they come because of fears that we’re missing an opportunity.

It’s also so hard to stay present when we’re skipping from activity to activity, worrying about what comes next. Can we ride the Jungle Cruise before our FastPass+ for Dumbo? Should I change the Dumbo FastPass+ for the Carousel? (answer to that is NEVER, of course). Will we be done enjoying our dining by precisely 12:05 when we’re supposed to ride Mine Train? When you’ve paid 200 dollars, per day, for a family of four for this extra certainty, the ride becomes imperative and then you find yourself shoving food down at Cinderella’s Royal Table, unable to take a full hour for lunch because we can’t miss our FastPass+!

This is why we’ve sworn off this type of vacation. It’s not for us. We’d rather put the money towards an After Hours event or two, where we can be less scheduled and less SURE of what’s coming. We love the wander and the slower pace. The opportunity to absorb all of the things that we truly love about Walt Disney World. The magic of finding ourselves sitting in Gaston’s Tavern at 5:45 having a warm cinnamon roll while the rain pours down outside, watching it sluice off the eves through the windows, laughing about the number of antlers in all of his decorating. The wonder of having no where to be and no reason not to spoil our dinner.

I couldn’t let myself have that when we were booked solid with FastPasses and Dining Reservations. Again, that’s not Disney’s fault. I have to resist the urge, when planning each trip, to over schedule. To accept the uncertainty of whether we will ride everything again.

Instead, I have the magical certainty that we will come back. I may not always know when or how, but I always know that we will. I think that’s what those parents missed with the college scandal – the certainty of life is not of a specific outcome, but that we’ll all get SOMEWHERE on the journey. It might not be the place or the way that you imagined, but you will get there.

If you just can remember how to wait.

Back to school

Back to school. When I was younger back to school was the best and the worst day of the year. Best, because I loved the smell of freshly sharpened pencils and new notebooks. Worst, because of the early morning after a summer of lazy sleeping in or, when I got a little older, working odd hours and earning enough money to shop as I wanted. Best, because of laying out and planning my first day outfit and anticipating how cool I would look (read: not cool. Marvin the martin on a t-shirt my first day of 8th grade was far from cool). Worst, because my locker was inevitably far from my classes and the lunch was worse than I remembered. Best, because of seeing my friends after a summer off and anticipating how great our friendships were going to be this year. Worst, because inevitably the friendships weren’t better than in the past, were sometimes worse, in fact, and people were all feeling each other out as the year began heightening that first day anxiety.

The possibility of a fresh start and a new year where anything could happen was so intoxicating and anxiety producing. There’s really nothing like it in adult life. There’s no optimistic restart quite like the start of a new school year. Which is also the best and the worst.

I hear it a lot from my clients, my diet starts today. I’m going to change my life starting today. Today, I’m going to feel different. I do it myself – today I’ll get myself back on track. We’re always hopeful that we can have a fresh start, just like we were on the first day of school, and we inevitably find that our fresh start has bits of our old start scattered throughout and is hampered by the people around us who aren’t also becoming all new on the same day we are. We’re all still feeling it out.

And yet. It’s the first day of school here for Number 71. She raced off, barely willing to stop and pose for her obligatory first day of school picture. There were eye rolls from the Dancer, who started last week, but was forced to pose with her sister for the combined first day picture. And here I sit, feeling optimistic and ready to start anew.

We love the idea of starting over and getting to clean the slate. I get it and do it too. But why are we so obsessed with leaving our pasts behind and being different?

My DBT skills group is working on radical acceptance and I think the start of the school year should be a time of radical acceptance. Radical acceptance in DBT means a soul-deep acceptance of the reality of your given situation. A decision to stop fighting reality. Easy to understand in concept, but truly hard to really practice in life.

I lost 80 pounds two years ago. I lost it through a combination of Weight Watchers and exercise. I’ve gained about 15 back because, well, life. I’ve gained it back because it’s hard to accept that I will have to track and pay attention to what I eat every day for the rest of my life if I want to keep the weight off for good. So often I’ve felt like I would lose weight and then be able to eat like a normal person. What that even means kind of escapes me. But radical acceptance tells me that I have to stop fighting the reality that my body will retain calories in a way that will cause it to gain weight and I need to count and pay attention.

This does NOT mean that I can’t eat ice cream or cake, but it does mean that I can’t eat all the ice cream and cake and I can’t eat ice cream and cake every day (hard when Number 71 and the Dancer have birthdays six days apart and require their own birthday rainbow cakes).

The other aspect to radical acceptance is that you have to keep turning the mind to acceptance because it wants to slip back into rejecting reality. I thought that I had accepted the idea that I can eat this way forever and it’s a lifestyle. I certainly said that in meetings and to friends. But over the last year or so my mind has periodically slipped away from this acceptance and turned towards eating all the cake or the pizza more often than not. I have to turn my mind back to my reality and focus it anew on my goals and ambitions.

That’s really hard. SO best and worst, I’m recommitted to it with the start of the school year, which means some more time during the day for myself, I’ll track and pay attention again and make choices with my goals in mind rather than just instant gratification.

I just have to make and eat one more rainbow cake first.

Red Light, Green Light

We have girls. I’ve mentioned this before. But it bears repeating whenever I think about parenting. We have two tween (or tween-adjacent in the case of number 71) girls.

There’s a lot of affect flying around this house.

Affect, meaning outward displays of emotion in therapist speak.

It’s hard for my husband because with the three of us in the house, our affects bouncing off each other and the walls all the time.

It’s hard to manage and I’ve started to realize that my anxiety doesn’t help. It makes it hard for me to have fun doing the things that they AND I like to do because now that I can’t control how they do them, I get worried about how they want to handle things.

For example, the Dancer likes Lululemon. Or at least all of her friends have Lulu shorts so she must have them too, because seventh grade. We went to the store to look at Lulu shorts so that she could get a first pair for her birthday. I love workout shorts and running apparel. This should be fun, right?

It kind of wasn’t.

She wanted the super short ones, I wanted her to get the classic model for her first pair. We both got frustrated with each other. Her affect all annoyance and rolling eyes, it feels like a solid shove for distance and space. Mine all tight-lipped and tense, anxious about why she won’t just listen, am I wrong about which shorts look good?

We got over it and compromised, so it worked out and she’s thrilled with the pair she ended up with (not classic, not super short). I’m happy that she’s happy. But it wasn’t as much FUN as I wanted it to be to buy them.

That said, they still sometimes switch off the tween and become the girls I remember from when they were small and so much easier to make happy. [note: the therapist in me wants to be clear that we don’t actually MAKE people feel any kind of way, we offer support and love and opportunity, but they actually choose how they react and interpret and feel. What I’m really remembering is that my kids didn’t interpret help when they were small as a sign that I think they’re not smart enough, not mature enough, not ready. They saw it just as what a mom does. That story is often obscured by a new one that says they know what they’re doing and any help is judgment about whether I think they know what they’re doing. Too often they read judgment in help. Sigh.]

But anyway, there are some moments when they’re desperate for my help and guidance still. When they turn huge, tear-damp, relieved eyes my way when I offer it. It’s just so hard to know when those moments will be that they accept help or guidance without reading judgment into it. It would be helpful if there was some sort of warning light installed. Red light: shame sensors up and receiving everything as me telling them they’re not good enough. Green light: please, please help me, I have no idea what I’m doing.

This is one of the reasons I love Disney World so much. When we go there the green light is on. Or, at least, the red light isn’t illuminated as much as it seems to be at home. They ask for help – I’m scared, will you sit with me, on Expedition Everest. They ask for guidance – What does octopus taste like, will I like it, at Tiffins. They express joy and preference without eye rolls. Disney is a source of bonding, where we can be as a family without having to be cool or grown or sophisticated.

Nobody is cool at Disney World.

Parenting Fails

As a therapist, I’ve had to work to pay attention to my own reactions during session. To be aware of them and to check in with them to be sure that I’m not putting my own stuff onto the client. So when I feel the urge to cry during session, I need to ask myself whether I’m crying because of something I’m feeling for my client or if I’m feeling the urge because of something in my own history or relationships.

If it’s my own relationships, then I have to stop and put it aside, promising myself that I can come back to it later. That it won’t go away, it will still be there to take out and examine when I’m no longer on the clock for someone else.

Then I have to remind myself of that when the thoughts about my own stuff drift past during session.

It’s hard work and sometimes I’m exhausted after session because all I want to do is take out the thing that I’ve realized from my own life and pick it apart. I’m scared that this insight will somehow disappear – as if I’ll forget this thing that I’ve realized.

Maybe it’s more that I’ll chicken out from pulling it back out because it’s a scary thing or an uncomfortable thing that I’ve realized.

I had one of those moments today. I realized that I’ve parented in a way that isn’t good. I’ve been the parent I swore I would never be. I’ve been my mother (who is a whole other can of worms, suffice it to say that she had some quirks as a mother that I didn’t want to duplicate and, for the most part, I’ve managed not to – but she was anxious and I am anxious and I don’t want to respond to my anxiety the way that she responded to hers).

I’m anxious. I tend to overreact when I feel overwhelmed. I feel helpless and scared and I go to my angry and irritable place to feel a little less powerless. When I’m scared, I’m not so nice. I know this about myself and I try not to be that person, but it’s hard because I have anxiety. I will always have anxiety. So I will always have to make the conscious choice not to react the way my body and mind urge me to react. They urge me to make it someone else’s problem. That anger is motivating. That someone is doing something that makes me anxious on purpose.

So what does this have to do with parenting? Sometimes, as a parent, I get mad. I get mad when my kids don’t work hard enough or succeed at something I know they can do because it makes me anxious. It makes me feel worried about what the consequences of not succeeding at this thing will be in their lives and I want to keep them safe from those (imagined) consequences. I’m scared because I love my kids and want them to have every opportunity. Something about parenting today feels like walking a tightrope. It feels like any wrong step will send us plummeting off that wire. Slip up even a little bit and say goodbye to Harvard. Post the wrong picture and say goodbye to friendships. Everything feels so heightened and like the smallest mistake can come back at any time.

SO these little things feel huge and because they feel huge my anxiety makes my reaction huge. Which doesn’t help to make my kids feel empowered or able to deal with these small problems or mistakes. It makes them see them as huge. Hello Anxiety, welcome to the next generation.

The other thing the overwhelming reaction does, and this is what I realized today, is make my kids feel like they ARE bad. I’m so careful to always say that they did something bad, rather than that they are bad because I don’t want them to internalize that message. But sometimes just the yelling is enough because they want to believe that I’m good. Kids want to believe that their parents are perfect and they don’t really know yet that we’re not (BOY am I not). So they think if I’m reacting badly and angry that it MUST be because they’re bad. Not because I’m anxious and reacting wrong. They won’t put that together until they’re in their own therapy sessions as adults.

I realized, during session, that I wanted to cry because I was feeling hopeless. All that effort and I STILL f’ed it up.

SO I redirected back to the clients and gently turned my spotlight back on them over and over again until this feeling and worry receded. But now, after everyone’s gone. I can come back to it and, in doing so, I had another realization. I can do things differently than my mom might have done. They’re not grown yet. I can still do it better. I can apologize and explain that it was about me and my faults and not theirs.

Boy is that uncomfortable to admit to my kid. Because the truth is, I want them to see me as perfect and as good and as flawless. That feels great and wonderful and powerful.

But I want them to see themselves that way more.