Parenting

Scary Stories

Posted by on Oct 11, 2013 in Holidays, Parenting, Seasons, Stories | 0 comments

Scary Stories

Julie_couch_200_wideIt’s hard to believe that October is finally here, and with any luck the Kansas weather will start to feel more and more like the season I love most…FALLThere is just something about the brisk autumn air, the faint scent of wood smoke, and the orange and gold leaves that feels special and mysterious to me — almost like anything is possible.  If you didn’t already know this, possibilities can be both exciting and terrifying…and most of all…powerful. 

This vision of fall is a story that I have created about what this season means to me, and so it is — special, mysterious, and rich in possibilities, year after year.  For others that I know who tell a different story of fall, it is a season of endings as the leaves begin to die and summer comes to a close.  That is the power of possibility.  When we open ourselves up to a certain outlook, we begin to see its story told over and over and over again, confirming our perspective.  Everyone and everything has stories which influence our experiences.  Let’s take a look at how these stories might play out in our lives…

Autumn

Photo from Pixabay

When I was a little girl, I loved scary stories.  I enjoyed them all year round, but especially in the fall as Halloween got closer.  I would buy books filled with scary ghost stories and read them under the covers with my little brother at night.  Most of them were silly, building the reader up with suspense only to reveal a very humorous ending.  The stories alone were not all that frightening, but once the lights went out in my room and the house got quiet for the night, I would lie there in bed thinking about the stories and all the possible ways for them to end.  The more I thought about them, the scarier they became; the alternate endings that I dreamed up in my head were far more terrifying than the originals.  Soon enough, I would be wide awake in my bed too scared to fall asleep and too embarrassed to tell anyone.  After all, it wasn’t the silly ghost stories that I was afraid of…it was the stories that I had created in my mind. 

The monster in my dreams was much taller than the one I read about in the book, and a lot smarter…hard to fool and outsmart the way the kids in the book were able to.  I became smaller and smaller in comparison, weaker and weaker, and obviously no match for this terrifying creature.  Pretty soon the shadows in my room started to take on different forms, my bed seemed smaller, the noises in the house unrecognizable, and the hallway to my mother’s room much much longer.  To put it bluntly…I was freaking myself out! 

stories

Night Sky: Some rights reserved by just.Luc

Once sufficiently scared enough to do something about it, I would jump out of my bed, race down the hall to my mother’s room, and wake her up.  Some nights my mom would be exasperated, sending me back to my room in a hurry.  Some nights she would cave in and let me sleep with her.  Other nights, my mom was creative and drew my attention to the possible stories that I was ignoring.  What if I could have super powers taking the monster off guard?  What if the monster was a vegetarian who was angry because he couldn’t find a tofu salad in our sleepy little town?  What if he was my pet, his size both terrifying and amazing, but deep down a truly gentle and misunderstood creature? In a sense she was telling me to dream a different dream…write a different story.  We would lie in bed thinking of all the fun possibilities, and pretty soon my monster didn’t seem so big.

Now, as an adult, I don’t lie awake in bed dreaming up scary ghost stories, but occasionally I do find it difficult to sleep while my mind races with other types of scary stories.  Sometimes a little test or performance anxiety the night before a big exam, game, or date can quickly turn into a repetitive story of personal failure.  When fear sets in, it seems the only possibilities we explore are the ones we most wish to avoid…powerful possibilities.  We come down with a bad case of the What Ifs?!  What if I forget everything I’ve learned?  What if the game is tied and the winning point comes down to me and I disappoint my team?  What if my date decides not to come and everyone in the restaurant knows that I was stood up?  The more we sit and consider the negative outcomes, the more elaborate our stories can become and the more we fear their presence.  If this happens…what does it say about me? 

In a very innocent attempt to “know” ourselves and the people around us, we rely on the use of language to communicate our perceptions of each other.  We can feel a sense of comfort in “knowing” ourselves and others, but we also can feel an uneasiness when the story we most often tell and hear limits us from fully expressing the many parts of who we are or from seeing our peers in all their potential.  Narrative therapists call this the “dominant story.” A simple Google search of the word dominant immediately pulls up the definition: “most important, powerful, or influential.  Synonyms include: presiding, ruling, governing, controlling, commanding, ascendant, supreme, and authoritative.” According to this description, a dominant story is not just something that we have heard about ourselves but a story that has deeply impacted us…something that holds power and authority in our lives.  These are the stories that help us climb to the top of success because we “know” ourselves to be motivated, capable, intelligent, talented, determined, resourceful, supported, etc.  These are also the stories that discourage us because we “know” ourselves to be lazy, worthless, dumb, irresponsible, unimportant, unreliable, etc.  We begin to internalize these expectations, see evidence of their validity, and live accordingly. And yet, deep down, I think we all know that there is more to the story. 

Books and stories

Photo: Some rights reserved by azrasta

Just when we think that we really “know” ourselves, we might be surprised to discover that all we have done is narrow our window of opportunity, limiting our ability to just “be.”  Am I suggesting that we should simply look on the sunny side of life, ignoring the parts of ourselves that we find unhelpful and focus solely on what makes us great? Not exactly; after all, that wouldn’t really honor the complexity of the human spirit with our many ways of being.  What I am referring to is a life of “both/and” in comparison to “either/or.”  Am I good or am I bad?  I know that I have behaved well and badly and will continue to do so over the course of my life.  Am I a success or a failure?  I have succeeded and failed at many things.  Am I weak or strong?  There have been days where I have been amazed at my ability for both. If you read my first blog, “Are you looking for change?,” then you know that nothing stays the same and change is constantly occurring in our lives, rendering it impossible to be any one of these things exclusively at any given moment.  What is the dominant story in your life?  What stories have you been told about yourself?  What stories are you telling about others…about life?  Does it feel as if scary stories are ruling your life? The next time these stories are being shared, stop for a minute, rather than question, “What if?,” ask yourself, “What else? What else am I?  What else is he/she/it?,” “How is this story helpful to me?,” “How does it serve me?,” “Is this the story that I want governing my life…my relationships?” Don’t let the story of your full potential be the story left untold.

To further capture the spirit of MY STORY of fall, I leave you with a fun little “scary story” that I have been telling to others around this time of year since I was a little girl.  It brings back many memories for me! 

My favorite story to tell my younger brother was a tale about a brother and sister (of course) who were stranded on an old dirt road.  Thinking they might find someone to help, they took off on foot down the long dark path seeking a home nearby.  After walking for what felt like hours, the siblings spotted an old farm house with a candle lit in an upstairs window.  Knocking on the door, the pair wondered if this was not a good idea, yet they had come so far and knew of no other option. When no one came to the door, the older sister decided to open it and peek inside.  It appeared as if nobody was home, but they spotted a telephone sitting conveniently next to the little rocking chair in the corner of the living room.

They decided it was best to use the phone and then head back to the car to wait for help to come.  As his sister picked up the phone and began to dial, the young boy heard a strange voice coming from the second floor: “Guess what I can do with my long hairy fingers and my red ruby lips?”

Frightened, the boy pulled on his sister’s jacket to get her attention, but she ignored him, frustrated with the phone.  Convinced that it was his imagination but determined to discover what the mysterious sound actually was, he inched closer to the staircase. And then he heard it again…a little louder this time: ”Guess what I can do with my long hairy fingers and my red ruby lips?”  He lunged for his sister, certain of what he had just heard. 

Having no luck with the phone, the sister decided to calm her brother’s fears and show him that there was nothing to be afraid of.  Marching up the stairs with her brother trailing closely behind, she came to a bedroom door and saw the flicker of light under the door which must be coming from the candle she had seen burning in the window. 

Happy Halloween!

Nemo Photo by / Pixabay

A little uncertain, she opened the door and found a big hairy monster standing in the corner breathing down at them: “Guess what I can do with my long hairy fingers and my red ruby lips?”  She began to scream, terrified by what was standing before her eyes. 

At this time, her little brother who was no longer interested in playing games shouted, “What?!?!  What can you do with your long hairy fingers and your red ruby lips?!?!”  Pleased, the monster smiled and said, “This!,” and then placed his fingers to his lips, moving them back and forth as he blew raspberries from his disgusting mouth: “thbphbbpphbbth.”  My brother and I would laugh hysterically under the covers in relief and satisfaction with the story’s silly end. 

Happy Halloween!  I hope you enjoy this season, whatever story it holds for you!

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Get Ready To Launch!

Posted by on Sep 2, 2013 in Adolescence, Change, College, Parenting | 0 comments

Get Ready To Launch!

Julie_couch_200_wideAfter campus visits, course selections, and roommate assignments, your young adult is ready to leave home for college.  You’ve undoubtedly prepared for this moment in many ways, from picking out dorm furniture, to making their favorite home cooked meal before they enter a semester of cafeteria meatloaf and cold pizza.  And yet, with all the excitement, you’re still a little nervous about this milestone in your son or daughter’s life.  Will they go to class?  Will they make good decisions?  Will they miss me?  Do they need me anymore?  What will I do when they are gone?  If this scenario seems a little close to home, then you are not the only one.  Many parents experience what is often called “Launch Anxiety” as their child launches from adolescence into young adulthood.  

college student

Image by Pink Sherbet Photography

That feeling you get in these moments…that uneasiness… is a call, a call to place yourself outside of your comfort zone…and your adolescent, too!…as you establish a new relationship with one another as two adults!   The role that you have assumed for 18 years is undergoing a major transformation, and there are, no doubt, growing pains that accompany this important and necessary transition.

Here are 5 strategies to help you navigate this opportunity for personal growth and closeness to your young adult.

1.  Self-Regulation:  In the book Scream Free Parenting, author Hal Runkel, LMFT says, “The greatest thing you can do for your kids is learn to focus on yourself.”  Doesn’t that seem to go against everything we are taught as parents?  We are taught to be selfless, sacrificing, and available to our children the moment we are needed. But we often accomplish these things without realizing the toll it takes on our own emotional well-being and find ourselves feeding others from an empty can that desperately needs a refill.  This refill only comes by calming your own anxiety and emotional reaction to your son or daughter’s developing self.  I like to think of it as coaching yourself.  If you could be the teacher and the student all in one, how might you coach yourself to calm your own anxiety?

Perhaps you can start by identifying your thoughts on the matter, free of judgment from what you should or should not be thinking.  Said differently, you conduct an honest exploration of what is concerning you. Then, you decipher what emotional responses are accompanying these thoughts.  Do you feel worry, sadness, excitement, relief…or all of the above?  How do these emotions influence the way you interact with your young adult? What effect does this have on your relationship? How might you alter thoughts that lead to distress and amplify those that bring comfort? 

2. Accepting the challenge:  Challenges are not always fun, they are definitely not easy, and yet they are a necessary part of growth and maturity.  You can expect that this transition will be a challenge for both you and your young adult.  Part of calming your own emotional anxiety is accepting that challenges will occur and will provide experiences that teach each of you valuable lessons about yourself and life.  It can be difficult to watch your child struggle with life’s challenges, and there is a good chance that you have given them years of advice, encouragement, and direction.  Now is their chance to practice these valuable lessons.

3. Re-Introduce yourself:  Whether you are a mom or a dad, I’m willing to bet that you are other things as well.  It might be difficult for your child to relate to you outside of your parenting role and as a regular human being that doesn’t always have all the answers, that sometimes makes mistakes, and that knows what it feels like to desire some space and freedom.  Maybe they know that you are a photographer, but do they know what fuels the passion behind the art.  Maybe they know that you started your own business from the ground up, but have you told them about the nights when you just wanted to throw in the towel?  Try having conversations like these without making them lessons, but from your new role as a peer who really gets it. “Hi Johnny, this is your mother speaking.  My name is Joan and I am human”.

I imagine there are other people that you might need to introduce yourself to as well. Your spouse or significant other?  Chances are you have met as “parents” on several occasions over the years.  Has it been a while since you talked to their other sides?  Has it been a while since YOU’VE talked to YOUR other sides?

4. Respecting autonomy:  Have you ever had a friend over for dinner that you just loved and cherished regardless of your opposing political views, life choices, and values? 

Love and grow

Texture by Pareeerica

Have you ever fallen into the trap of trying to parent a friend?  I know I sure have, and it’s never pretty!  Support vs. Advice…what a difficult thing to balance when you care about someone. Moving toward a relationship with your child as two adults means working toward this balance, seeing them as an individual separate from yourself, honoring their individuality by sharing your wisdom when they actively seek it from you, and respecting their decision to take it or leave it.

5. Negotiation:  Negotiations are a natural part of relationships and always exist in one form or another.  Maybe you are helping your son or daughter pay for school or providing assistance in some other form and would like to establish a few conditions.  How might you approach a business transaction with a colleague?  Would you hand them the money and tell them to have fun?  Would you have it directly withdrawn for its intended purposes?  There really is no right or wrong way of doing it.  The trick is that you have a discussion as partners who both hold influence in establishing a system that works for your circumstances.  When a negotiation is successful, both parties feel valued rather than compromised.

All transitions take us somewhere…somewhere new and different. These transitions are seldom easy, but they are worth the challenge and we are better for them. The best way to cultivate love is by giving it room to grow.

I’ll leave you with a story of my own adolescence.  Are any of these strategies present in this story?  Which ones are missing?  How might they have been incorporated?

I remember getting my learner’s permit when I was a teen and how excited I was to get behind the wheel of my parent’s car for the first time. If I’m being honest, I was also a little nervous I might wreck the car, although I put on a fairly convincing face of confidence masked by my enthusiasm.  My dad felt it would be best to conduct my first lesson on the outskirts of town where I could get a feel for the car away from other traffic.  He drove me past the city limit sign, stopped the car on an old dirt road, and handed me the keys.  We practiced left hand turns, emergency stops that don’t give the passengers whiplash, and parallel parking between tree rows.  Just as I was getting the hang of things, I gave the car a little too much gas as I was turning left and felt the tires spin on the gravel.  Panicked, I turned the wheel hard overcorrecting for my mistake and fish tailed the car into the ditch.  Scared and a little embarrassed, I turned off the engine and handed my dad the keys.  I certainly wasn’t excited about the possibility of landing in the ditch again and judging by the look on his face, neither was he.  In a way, I was bidding to my father to relieve my anxiety by taking control of the situation when I handed him the keys.  It would have been so easy to call it quits for the evening and say, “Well you did good for your first time”. Somehow, though, he was able to calm his own emotions and resist the parental urge to intervene and “rescue me” even while I was asking him for exactly that. Perhaps he knew that he wouldn’t always be around to help and saw the value in letting me figure this one out. He simply gave me a look and then said, “Start her up and let’s try that again.” He had me recreate the pullquote2situation, instructing me to give the car too much gas and teaching me how to spin out and regain control of the car without swerving off the road again. I was nervous, but the more that I practiced, the more confident I felt.  By managing his own emotions, my father allowed me the opportunity to manage mine. At the end of the day, I was the one who gained control of the car.  I was the one who had to calm myself and make the decision to try again. That night I felt prepared, I felt accomplished, like I had really learned something useful. I knew I was not only capable of handling myself under ideal circumstances but that I could even manage myself in a challenging situation. 

When I reflect back on what might have happened if my dad had taken those keys from me, I know that I would have missed out on that sense of accomplishment and achievement. I would not have had the opportunity to work through my anxiety and learn something new…to grow.  I think we both accomplished something that day…we were more aware of our separatenesswe both took responsibility for ourselvesand we were closer because of it.

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