You Probably Think This Kid Is About You Part 2: Getting Personal

This is part 2 of a 4-Part series. Check out Part 1 here where I write from the point of view of a therapist in a relationship counseling situation, helping people in a romantic relationship work through the idea of having children together. In this second part, I want to focus on the individuals in the relationship. This is where IRL I’d ask to meet with the relationship clients for 1-on-1 sessions. This post will focus on 1) your personal feelings, thoughts, and fears around having/raising children, 2) how you personally cope with stressful situations, and 3) the importance of learning parenting skills and ongoing therapy before and while raising children.

Y’all Ready To Be Real With Me?

This society loves to focus on the joys and excitement of having babies and raising children (except teens, who are stereotyped as being difficult). Whenever people talk about having babies, they are all encouraged to focus on the highlights: bringing the baby home, the first tooth/steps/birthdays, first day of school…*fast forward*…the kids grow up to love and take care of the parents when they’re old. That’s not the whole story. That’s like wanting to try out a recipe, but only getting the ingredients, the cooking time, and a picture of the end result. Nah, where’s the directions on how to cook it? What temperature do you preheat the oven for? How are you supposed to chop this? You’re not being given enough information and because of that, your expectations of parenting/cooking aren’t accurate. And we all know making decisions without having all the necessary information isn’t the move. Like I always say, awareness is key. Awareness saves lives and time. You can’t get rid of feelings so you might as well face them. Bottled up and/or ignored feelings come out in other ways, but they never go away. Bottled up feelings can turn into physical symptoms (headaches, stomach aches, feeling tired all the time, feeling tense all the time, high blood pressure, etc.) and that’s not good for your health in the long run. Or bottled up feelings can look like taking your frustrations out on other people or drinking them away. Whether through psychotherapy (To help you get started, check out the resources I listed in the “How to Know If/When You’re Depressed” post) and/or other strategies like mindfulness (See the “What Can Mindfulness Do For You?” post for more information on the many different ways to try mindfulness), building/strengthening/maintaining self-awareness is an incredibly important part of any relationship, especially parenting.

As I’ve said before children are adults-in-training and parenting is like being the supervisor. You are actively training a human on how to be an adult. They watch what you say, what you do, your body language, the things you hint at without saying, etc. and they use all that information as their manual in the real world. It does not hurt to be as aware as possible of who you are and how you act. Like I said before, many people struggle with situations/issues that could have been handled better if they were more aware of their feelings and behaviors. There’s value in knowing what specifically about something is making you react like that or feel that way. Especially when raising children. Here are a couple of personal feelings/beliefs that should be dealt with preferably before having children (if you already have children then the sooner the better):

  • Fear: Fear is something that few people talk about when pressuring other people to have children. No one ever says, “So when are you having kids? I remember the times I cried and was stressed all night…” Everyone is so encouraged to feel joy that other emotions are silenced and even shamed. It’s okay to be afraid. Afraid of change. Afraid of turning out like your parents. Afraid of not being as good as your parents, etc. Let yourself face those feelings. And think about how those feelings/fears around parenting could affect how you’d act and how you’d raise children. Reflect on those feelings and/or talk to someone you trust about them.
  • Bigotry: Just like we’d (and I mean “we” as in Black people and other people of color) want racists to stop having POC children, what bigotry do you need to work on before raising kids? Some common ones I see on twitter: ableism (not wanting to have a disabled kid), homophobia (“What would you do if…”), transphobia (pushing assigned gender onto kids, threatening to kill transgender children), and sexism (“I can’t have a daughter…”). These are your issues/bigoted feelings and passing them onto kids is like passing on poison. Only caring about the kinds of bigotry that hurts you is hypocritical. If you aren’t ready to love whoever you bring into this world, don’t have children. You aren’t ready/qualified to train kids into adulthood. And having children despite not being qualified for the job is a selfish act. It makes having children all about you and your life goals and again, raising children isn’t about you. When you make it about you, you will eventually be very disappointed and probably won’t have a very honestly close/stable relationship with your children. It’s about supporting children and training them on how to be grown. If you don’t want to put into this extra effort, you aren’t ready for this job (and I feel for children who are raised in hateful homes. That has longterm effects).
  • Resentment: This is almost unspoken. Parents resenting their children. I mentioned this a little in Part 1 too. Children aren’t just cute IG photos and video clips. They aren’t life goals or trophies to show the world you are successful. Again, ultimately, children aren’t about you. It’s a 24/7 job you can’t clock out of. Are you ready for this job? Are you ready to feed babies in the middle of the night? Scrape butter out of their hair? Deal with the 4th temper tantrum that hour. Watch that cartoon movie you low-key hate 40x? Help your child with homework every single night even though you just got home from work? How about when your kid is a teen and you feel emotionally disconnected from them? Are you ready to make sacrifices for them (social life, privacy, sleep, time, etc)? What are you willing to give up and change as you prepare for your role as trainer/coach of this child? Have you processed this loss? This is huge. This is the loss of your old life and the person you were when you had more freedom and less obligations. Have you reflected enough on this? Have you talked it out as often as necessary? Do you have a plan for a time in the future when you might start to feel resentful and how you’re going to deal with it? Children did not ask to be born. Projecting your non-dealt with feelings onto them is unfair and can harm them emotionally and psychologically in long-term ways.

Don’t drag your children into your mess. Don’t some of you wish someone would have said that to your parents?

Don’t Be Scared To Ask For Help

How do you deal with stress and frustration? I just turned on “Cranes in the Sky” to type this next bit: Do you bottle it in…take it out on people…drink/eat it away…pull away from ppl…? How do you cope with the world around you? Again, awareness in parenting is so important: know yourself so you know what you do to the people around you and the potential impact this can have on a child that depends on you for everything.

Let’s talk about family planning, parenting skills training/classes and psychotherapy. Because you are not alone in this magical 21st century. You can decide if/when you are ready to have kids and I’m actually not talking about finances here. I’m talking potential limitations like the parents’ personality right now, the parents’ trauma, and emotional/mental health. Do you have a solid support system? If you aren’t ready, be honest with yourself. Parenting skills training/classes (especially if led by mental health professionals, ideally of color) and psychotherapy done by willing parents and soon-to-be parents can help build awareness, learn how to deal with emotions, symptoms, and trauma reactions, and, learn new ways of communicating with their children. Also parenting skills classes and psychoeducation teach people the science of how children develop biologically and psychologically. Learning about how the brain develops and what children are actually capable of doing at different ages really helps you make sense of how children act. I see a lot of people who get frustrated at children for being children with child brains. Most of the time, parenting is looked at as something that “comes natural”. Something that you can wing it and everything will turn out fine, except it doesn’t. We know it doesn’t. People can pass their traumas onto their kids and create new ones without realizing because they’re caught up in their own unresolved problems, feelings, and traumas. There’s a lot of stigma on therapy in this society and most people wouldn’t think of it as a regular part of preparing for parenthood and childcare. But I really think incorporating low-cost, high-quality, and culturally competent psychotherapy would change society in huge, positive ways. Imagine more self-aware people, working on what they need to work on, and raising a new generation of people to build that awareness from the very beginning.

A little self-reflection ain’t hurt nobody. Are you ready for children? Like people child-proof a home, have you prepped yourself? It’s your responsibility to make sure that you are fully qualified and prepared to take on this management/supervisor position. Yeah, society is pressuring you, but you don’t have to rush into this if you’re not ready. Your decisions have a huge effect on a whole human’s life and on the people they will deal with. This isn’t just about you and your “Things to Do Before I Die” checklist. If you already have children, remember that this is a job and just like at work, you gotta leave your personal stuff out of this. See a therapist. Take continuing education trainings (parenting skills). Build up your support system/network with other parents. Vent to friends. Taking feelings out on your children or living through them harms everyone in the household. And it’s time for healing.

The next part in the series, Part 3, will cover beginning to reflect on the expectations you have of parenting and the values/perspectives taught by your parents and society. The next post, on 6/10/18, will cover drugs, what substance use is, and how to tell when use has become a problem.

What Can Mindfulness Do For You?

Mindfulness is one of those buzzwords that nonprofits, corporations, and some parts of social media just found out about. And even though it’s really popular right now, not many people seem to really know what it is or which mindfulness techniques to use in their everyday life. Most people seem to think mindfulness is just another word for meditation. In this post, I’m going to break down what mindfulness is and isn’t, the potential benefits of using these techniques, the risks of using them incorrectly, and some examples of simple ways you can be a little more mindful everyday.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness as treatment has roots in Buddhist practices and has been relatively recently introduced into Western psychotherapy and mainstream pop culture. Since then, many different techniques and therapies have been created and updated. Mindfulness is basically a heightened awareness of yourself. You can use these many different methods to help exercise your awareness of yourself like a muscle. Many people tend to run on auto pilot due to stress, trauma, anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms, and other mental health and physical health concerns. And as a result, many people lose touch of the present moment. Many people lose contact with some of their emotions or don’t feel totally connected to their own bodies. Or forget how they ever enjoyed the things they used to. Mindfulness is about allowing yourself to just be and accepting your present moment for what it is. No judgments. No rushing to “fix” a feeling to make it acceptable. No pushing thoughts/feelings away. Mindfulness is about giving yourself a little time with your feelings/thoughts instead of pushing it aside or distracting yourself. You could look at it as a way of creating a temporary safe space for yourself. Being aware and mindful can also build empathy which is important in building community and keeping those connections with people. Building community is so important, but are you able to maintain those connections and relationships with people? All that starts with learning and updating your knowledge of yourself. Every day, there’s something new to learn. You stop learning yourself when you’re no longer changing…and we stop changing when we die.

What It’s Not

Mindfulness isn’t a set way of doing things. It’s not 1 size fits all. Put more bluntly, it’s not just meditation. Again, there are many different ways to become more mindful. If 1 method doesn’t fit you, find another. It’s like clothes. Shop around. If 1 way makes you uncomfortable, put it down and find another one. Meditation is not for everyone. Some people with trauma and anxiety symptoms cannot clear their minds, sit still, and/or close their eyes for too long. That’s ok. Don’t mediate. There are lots of other ways to do mindfulness.

The Risks of Using Mindfulness Techniques Wrong

The only technique most people seemed to know about was mindful meditation, but I did notice that many of the negative side effects that were being reported and blamed on mindfulness in general were actually people either being forced or forcing themselves to use mindful meditation when it is not a good fit for them. Many companies have been forcing their employees to try out mindful meditation at retreats/workshops or have implemented mandatory meditation policies, which defeats the entire purpose of mindfulness: learning about yourself in a safe environment when you choose to. Forced therapy isn’t therapy. Employees usually cannot consent and definitely aren’t usually enthusiastically consenting. They’re being strongly encouraged/forced to participate. And usually employers force employees to do 1, maybe 2 styles of mindfulness (usually a kind of meditation), which does not work for everyone. And that can be uncomfortable, unpleasant, and even harmful for certain people, depending on their medical history or life experiences. If employees cannot opt out or feel peer pressured to participate, the “therapy” becomes toxic, ineffective, and potentially abusive.

And besides, companies love pretending their systemic problems and toxic work environments are individual employees’ problems. Morale isn’t going to be fixed with mandatory retreats, ice breakers, and meditation. Pay people a living wage and vet out middle management and you will see miracles.

Something else I saw people saying in my search was that mindfulness can cause depression, psychosis, etc. Mindfulness doesn’t “cause” depression, dissociation, delusions, mania, etc. What can happen is certain techniques, like meditation for example, can kick up uncomfortable emotions, sensations, memories etc. for some people. And without a mental health professional there to supervise you and be a safety net, you shouldn’t be diving deep alone if you are currently dealing with active trauma or other severe mental illness symptoms. Just like you’d think twice before going rock climbing without a spotter. No need for unnecessary risks here. Again, because mindfulness techniques are not 1 size fits all, you can drop that method and use another technique. Mindfulness (when you are doing it alone and not under the supervision of a mental health professional) is supposed to be another form of self-care. Mindfulness is supposed to be tailored to fit your needs and comfort level. It’s not supposed to hurt. It’s not supposed to feel hardcore. It’s not something you are supposed to suffer through. It’s supposed to be something you can look forward to doing as a part of your usual routine.

What Are Mindfulness Techniques Used For?

As I said before, mindfulness techniques are a way to savor life or to be intentional about living life. To be more aware of yourself, what you do, and would like to do. Allowing yourself to feel how you feel: no excuses, no judgment, and even acknowledging the feelings and thoughts that make you feel uncomfortable. Ignoring, avoiding, and/or suppressing emotions because they make you feel uncomfortable is not psychologically healthy in the long run. Those feelings will get pent up and bust out in other ways that you probably will have a harder time dealing with. Mindfulness is the kind of awareness that can give you a little control over your reactions and/or know yourself enough to know when it’s time to leave a situation. Again, mindfulness can also be a kind of self care (See my post about what self-care is here). Mindfulness techniques can give you a way to hit the pause button on your life for a second. Give yourself a little break. Take some time to yourself and put the focus back on yourself and your needs for a moment. Being mindful is not only enjoying the small things in life, but also doing some self-reflection.

Mindfulness is also used in mental and medical health as 1 of many treatments for depression, anxiety, chronic pain, cravings, etc. because it allows people to sit with their emotions, their symptoms, and how they feel about their emotions and symptoms. Some people talk to their anxiety or their chronic pain symptoms as a way to be mindful. “Yeah, I get it leg, You hurting right now. You’re allowed to hurt. You going through real shit right now. I’ma pop this medicine and give you a few minutes to be in your feelings, leg. You deserve a few minutes. But I got shit to do today so that’s it, ok?” There’s power in giving yourself permission to feel whatever you’re feeling. A mindfulness technique people use to deal with intense feelings like drug cravings, cutting urges, or wanting to beat somebody’s ass is called “urge surfing”. Urge surfing is used to help people deal with cravings using awareness, acknowledging emotions, and deep breathing. It’s called urge surfing because you are literally riding the waves of your feelings, rolling with the punches, and staying on top of them. Some people find it helpful to literally picture their emotions moving over them like waves that come and go. Instead of fighting the feelings or trying to distract yourself from feeling like that, stop for a second. Acknowledge the feeling. How is your body feeling right now? Head to toe. Do you have a headache? Are you seeing red? Is your heart racing? Does your chest feel tight? Take the time and observe yourself while deep breathing. Study yourself. The deep breathing helps anchor yourself while feeling the urges. Some people like to talk to their urges too: “My head hurts. I’m shaking and I wanna do xyz so damn bad. I’m tired of feeling all this shit and I wanna use/I wanna beat the shit out of such and such. That’s real. That’s not solving anything in the long run so lemme just let myself rock right here.” Notice and describe your feelings until they eventually start to go away enough that you can move on with your day. Urge surfing generally works because cravings/urges are temporary by nature. Your body literally can’t be in that physical state for long so if you ride it out, they will go away after a while. It’s about acknowledging your feelings and giving yourself some time in the moment. Without judging yourself and without rushing yourself. It’s easier said than done, especially when you are first starting out, but it does get easier to do with time.

Examples of Simple Ways To Help Boost Self-Awareness Every Day

Whatever you choose to do, while you do it, let yourself be you. Let whatever thoughts and feelings happen come and go. Don’t force them along. Don’t push them to leave. Let them come and go like clouds in the sky, rain down a window, or like water in a stream. They’re your thoughts and feelings. See them. Acknowledge them. Observe them until they’re not all up in your face anymore. Eventually, they’ll pass on and you can move on to the next feeling and thought. Pay attention to how your body is responding and any sensations you feel as they come and go. Try not to judge yourself or put labels/values on whatever you are feeling.

Here are some examples things you can turn into mindfulness techniques:
  • Writing
  • Closing your eyes & sipping tea
  • Meditation
  • Focusing on the beat on your favorite song & vibing out
  • Taking an extra long walk, savoring the walk and let your mind go
  • Working with your hands (sewing, crocheting, boot blacking, etc)
  • Urge surfing
  • Relaxation techniques like deep breathing

There are so many ways to be mindful. This society directly and indirectly encourages us to check out and go on autopilot. People are not generally encouraged to be aware of themselves as a whole. Many people struggle with issues that could be handled better if they were more aware of their feelings and behaviors. Mindfulness techniques are useful for checking in with yourself, managing anger and cravings, etc. and it can be a solid part of your self-care. Knowledge is power, right? Know yourself. Take a little time for yourself. Get mindful. I want to end this with a very important point: Mindfulness (and mindful meditation) is not a cure. It is not a solution to your problems. It will not make your depression, anxiety, stress, etc. go away. Like I said before, mindfulness can help you become more aware of yourself. Awareness and self-knowledge is what you can expect from this. And with this awareness, you can make informed decisions about your next moves.

Thanks for reading. The next post is Part 2 of the You So Vain: You Probably Think This Kid is About You parenting series on Wednesday, 5/23/18. I’ll change my focus from the relationship of the parents to each individual parent. I will cover each parent’s personal feelings, thoughts, and fears around having/raising children, how they personally cope with stressful situations, and finally, the importance of learning parenting skills and ongoing therapy before and while raising children.