You Probably Think This Kid Is About You Part 3: Looking At Expectations

This is the 3rd part of a 4-part parenting series. The first post covered your relationship with your partner or partners and whether it was a solid environment for raising children. The second post covered your personal feelings, thoughts, etc. around having/raising children, coping with stressful situations, and the importance of learning parenting skills and ongoing therapy before and while raising children. In this post, I want to talk about your expectations of parenthood and the relationship you want to have with your child as they are growing up. What are your expectations? How do you see the role of parent? How do you see the role of child? What is the purpose of children? What are your responsibilities as a parent? Try to come at this series with an open mind and heart. I want to encourage self-reflection here and walk y’all through how one can figure out if having children is a good fit for them and their life. And if you already have children, this is more of a how to check in with yourself and see where there’s room for growth and improvement.

Set The Scene

I wanna help y’all start to think about the expectations you have about parenting. Start to explore how you think raising children is supposed to go. Who is this all for? Is having this baby for you, for your partner, for the relationship (to take it to “the next level”) or for the baby? Once you can honestly figure out who you’re doing this for, it will be easier to figure out how you think parenting is supposed to go. As I said in previous parts of this parenting series, having a baby won’t make you feel better about yourself. Having a baby won’t fix the problems in your relationship. That’s what it definitely won’t do. Again, having babies and raising children are stressful. This is an obligation and a responsibility. It is a full time job. Let’s talk about what a baby definitely will do though. Adding a baby to an unstable relationship is going to be make the relationship more unstable. And it hurts the child. Babies are not made to love you. Babies are not made to make you feel a way. Intentional adults raise children because they feel ready to take on the extra responsibility of training little humans on how to become grown adults.

Despite what society and the people around you say: having kids isn’t about the person you’re with, the relationship you’re in, your feelings, and/or your personal life goals. And I get it, there’s all this pressure to have children from everyone. It’s what everyone says you’re supposed to be working towards. I see on twitter all the time: “If you haven’t had kids by now (mid-20s to 30s), what’s stopping you?” without considering if people are ready for kids or if they want them. Questions like that put people, especially cisgender heterosexual (aka cishet) women, on the defensive because now they have to justify themselves and their choices. All this constant pressure. And someone is always there to make it seem like your life wouldn’t be complete without babies. Being real and true…it’s interesting how there’s all this pressure to have children, but once you have kids, you’re expected to do everything by yourself. And you will be shamed (“Oh you need money, help with childcare, etc.? Smh. Why did you have kids then?!”) for asking for help.

Everyone is expected to live up to the same expectations, goals, and values. Going along with what people say you should do when it’s not right for you is…a personal decision. But you deciding to bring another life into the world means that life isn’t just about you anymore. Now your decisions can affect at least 2 people. Do whatever you want to do to yourself, but forcing a baby (who will grow to be a whole adult) into a situation that isn’t stable and/or safe is potentially neglectful and abusive. If you ain’t ready, you ain’t ready. Society and the people pressuring you to have children just want cute pics and feel good moments. They don’t know you and your situation. But you can know you though. Take an honest look at yourself, your situation, and your expectations to see what kind of child care situation you’d be ready for (if any).

Society isn’t the only thing influencing how you look at parenting. How your parents handled their relationships with you as you grew up can have a huge effect on how you see children and on what raising children means to you. Your parents/guardians/the adults that raised you had a huge impact on how you see the world in general, but definitely on how you view the relationship between parents and kids. They were the 1st relationship you ever had. The 1st people you had to learn how to trust. The relationships you had/have with them influence you on some level. That’s how you can find yourself saying and doing some of the same things your parents did. Like I talked about in the corporal punishment/humiliation series, the decisions/actions of parents can have long term effects on the child even when they grow into adults. Many people are still dealing with the emotional, physical, and psychological effects of their parents’ decisions. Like I said before, you’re making decisions for more than just you the moment you decide you want to raise a child.

Role Call

How do you see the role of parent? Meaning what purpose do parents have? What do parents do in your opinion? Many people grew up in a household with parents who saw themselves as unquestioned leaders. A “my way or the highway” kind of parent. Parents with this idea of parenting expect compete obedience in exchange for providing you with your basic needs. Other people see the main role of parents as caregivers and caring for the child’s physical and emotional needs is a huge priority for them. Parents need to make personal sacrifices to provide as safe and stable a home and childhood as realistically possible. Also as full time coaches/trainers, parents prepare the child for their future. Much of your job as a parent involves actively preparing your child to be a grown adult and walking the walk so your child has someone to show them the way. Actions speak louder than words here.

How do you see the role of child? What is the purpose of children? More often than not, people see kids as extensions of parents and not as individuals or as adults-in-training. Because most people see children as just another thing they have to do before they die (somewhere after marriage, but before retirement), kids are expected to fit into the world of parents. Especially once children are old enough to walk and speak, they are expected to be seen and not heard because children shouldn’t get in the way of the either parent’s life plans. To say it real blunt: People are generally encouraged to treat their children like accessories to show off their personal achievement in the world. And that’s so much pressure for both parents and their children. All these expectations before your child can even decide what they want to do with their life. Parents are trainers/coaches. A trainer’s job isn’t to live vicariously through their trainee. A coach’s job isn’t to push the athlete into doing something because it makes the coach feel comfortable or because it makes the coach look good. Trainers that only focus on themselves and not on developing the skills and interests of the athletes are trash trainers. Those athletes probably wouldn’t be as prepared as athletes with trainers who got to know them as individuals and trained them how to be the best versions of themselves. How you see the relationship with your child and how you come at the relationship affects how you will treat them, your relationship with them, how they feel about you, and how they feel about themselves and the world. No exaggeration. This 1st relationship is a big deal. If you come at this like your child is a tool to be used or something to show off, that definitely sets a tone. Versus coming at the relationship like you are open to learning about this new person and open to coaching them into adulthood.

Another common role I hear people assign to their children is future home health aide: many people at least claim to have children so “someone will be there to take care of me when I’m old”. Many people want children who will obey them without question without thinking about the long term effects on the parent/child relationship as long as they get a free built-in home health aide when they get sick. Remember what I said in the corporal punishment post? If the only kind of behavior you have modeled for your children is powerful vs powerless, weak vs strong, do what I say no questions asked…what happens when the roles are reversed? I never understood the logic of having children to force them to become caretakers AND not bothering to build a close, honest relationship with them. Again, have you prepared this adult-in-training for the real world? What happens to this now grown adult once you die? And remember, children aren’t young children forever. How do your responsibilities as a parent/trainer change as they get older? Parenting is a full time job that requires a lot of sacrifice. How do you plan on changing to meet these needs? They are the child. You are the parent. This isn’t a “they have to meet me halfway” kind of situation. You have to do most of the work because you are the adult and you are their guardian. If this sounds intense, it’s because it is.

Even Trainers Need Training

I’ve talked about how game-changing therapy and parenting skills classes can be in the Part 2 from the perspective of a counselor assisting people with coming to terms with their own personal feelings, fears, etc. around being a parent. Good parenting skills classes also teach child development so parents can learn how brains grow, what children are physically and psychologically able to do at each stage in their life, and how to speak to children in a way their child brains can understand. Many people, including our parents, were just winging it and didn’t have an understanding of the child human brain. How many times do you see a parent fussing at or yelling at a young child to sit still for an hour or more? Or yelling at them to not ask for something shiny or sweet in the store? Young children can’t do that. They literally not mentally there yet. They don’t even fully understand what they’re being punished for. And remember, shaming/corporal punishment (I wrote about this before: part 1 and part 2 don’t even work and can cause future psychological issues and violent behavior.

Again, a parenting skills course would teach you other ways of child care. And if you think parenting skills classes would be “white people shit” and not sensitive to your specific cultural concerns/issues, look for classes, trainings, and/or books written by licensed, certified, and/or degreed professional therapists, social workers, psychiatrists, researchers, doctors, etc. of color. Check their credentials and make sure their degrees and/or licenses are in the same subject as what they’re teaching you. A degree in business, law, marketing or fine arts doesn’t make the person qualified to talk to you about child development and/or psychology. Also check their work experience. Degrees and licenses are great, but also how much direct experience doing research with or working as a therapist with our communities do these people have? Do they have experience working with people who look and live like you? And what is their reputation in the community? As I’ve said before, raising children and training them on how to be grown is hard work. It’s a full time job and even trainers need support. Trainers need training to do their job right. No one wants a supervisor that just wings it all the time. It sucks that you didn’t receive better, but you can definitely do better.

Thanks for reading. The next post will cover what polyamory is and how to get into polyamory (as a single individual & as people in an ongoing relationship) from the perspective of a relationship counselor.

Drug Use: When is it a Problem?

It’s amazing to me how much misinformation there is out there about drugs and substance use. Especially when there are so many people who use some kind of drug/substance every single day. I’m writing this post to explain 1)the basics of what drugs are, 2)some reasons people use them, 3)the different types of drug use, and 4)how to tell when substance use (not necessarily a problem) may be turning into a substance use disorder (harmful to self and the people who depend on you).

Substance use and substance use disorders are 2 specialities of my clinical/counseling work and I work from a harm reduction philosophy/approach to therapy. Abstinence and harm reduction are 2 ways of looking at substance use issues. Abstinence as a philosophy is basically “Just Say No”. It’s traditionally the view that the only way to deal with substance use problems is by never using or by totally stopping using drugs/substances. Abstinence as a philosophy is not particularly interested in asking people to reflect on why they use the way they do. Abstinence as a philosophy instead tells people why they use (moral failures, weakness, addiction as a disease, etc.) and then tells them to stop using drugs. It can be an effective strategy depending on the person and the situation, but doesn’t work for everyone or every situation so it shouldn’t be the only solution. “Just stop using” can be too basic for people’s complicated lives. Harm reduction works from the idea that people have complicated relationships to drugs and abstinence is not the only solution to struggling with substance use. Sometimes abstinence (the specific act of not using a given drug, not the philosophy) is the answer.  And harm reduction recognizes “no use” as 1 of many options. Harm reduction sees substance use problems as a public health issue (instead of a moral/character failure or a disease). Harm reduction strategies uses empathy and compassion to work together with people on how to realistically be healthy, safe, and well on their terms.

Harm reduction also takes the approach that people have been using drugs for different reasons since the beginning of time and are going to keep using drugs. Shaming people, stopping them from getting jobs, taking away their homes, locking them up in labor camps…I mean prisons…obviously doesn’t do anything to stop people from using (the drug game is alive and well, even in prisons). What all these policies really do is cause harm and human suffering without actually getting to the heart of the issue. What works is working together with people and, if they want to change, helping them figure out how to change how they see, think about, and use each of their drugs on their own terms. Harm reduction is also about giving people accurate and unbiased information so they can make their own choices. And through information giving and collaboration, harm reduction is another way to help people become more self-aware about their use and to become more curious about themselves and how they act.

So What Are Drugs?

A drug is a something that changes how your central nervous system (your brain and brain stem) works. Any substance outside your body, that changes your brain chemistry when you use it, is a drug. Examples of drugs are coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, Celexa, marijuana, cocaine, Oxycontin, poppers, Klonopin, etc. These are all drugs because they change your brain once you take them. In the US, drugs are arbitrarily broken up into categories like legal vs illegal, medicine vs not medicine, recreational/part of society vs something to be ashamed of. But these categories weren’t created based on actual knowledge and research. They are based in stigma and prejudice. It’s always assumed that people who use stigmatized/shamed drugs are illogical, but people use all drugs for a reason. And usually these are logical reasons that actually make sense when you sit down and listen to people. The fact is, drugs work and people tend to choose the drugs (legal and otherwise) that best fit their brain chemistry and the experiences they are looking for.

Here are some reasons ppl use drugs:

For fun/to get intoxicated

(Let’s not even front here, y’all.)

As a part of cultural, social, and/or religious rituals
  • Champagne at New Years Eve
  • Ayahuasca ceremonies
  • Marijuana in the Rastafarian religion
  • Wine in communion/eucharist in Protestant and Catholic Christian faiths
During social settings and/or to build community
  • Going to a bar with coworkers
  • A professional/networking “function” serving alcohol
  • Sharing a cigarette and smoking outside together
As medicine and to cope with life (prescribed by a Dr or self-medicated)
  • Smoking marijuana to cope with social anxiety before going out
  • Having beer or some wine after work to de-stress
  • Taking antidepressants every day for depressive symptoms
  • Taking prescribed stimulants (Adderall) or unprescribed stimulants (cocaine) to treat ADHD symptoms

What Is Drug Use?

In my clinical work, I see drug use as a person’s specific relationship to each drug. It’s easier to talk about substance use and figure out options this way. This perspective allows us to do some digging and look at all the reasons why people use drugs. Then it’s easy to see how people can develop a bond, create good memories around, and feel emotions towards the substances in their lives. Especially if it’s a part of your culture or if it’s a substance that you have been using for a long time. This drug could have literally saved your life at one point. It could have comforted you. It could remind you of family gatherings, the playoffs, or chilling with your close friends. And everyone is different. Everyone has a different brain/brain chemistry, has different genetics, grew up in different environments, and has different life experiences. Each drug is going to affect each person differently. Each relationship with each drug is going to be different. And each relationship is complicated. 1 drug can cause some problems and fix other problems at the same time. Just like a relationship with another person can be complicated.

In their book, “Over the Influence: Second Edition: The Harm Reduction Guide to Controlling Your Drug and Alcohol Use” by Patt Denning and Jeannie Little, they talk about the different types of use/relationships that people tend to have with drugs. Learning the different types of relationships and being able to label one’s relationships to drugs begins to take away the stigma/shame that comes with drug use. And it sheds light on the misinformation and myths surrounding drug use and when use can become a problem. The relationships to drugs they describe in the book are: No use, Experimental use, Occasional use, Regular use, Heavy use, and Chaotic use.

No Use:

Not using now or never used a particular drug

Experimental Use:

Experimenting with it a few times because you’re curious

Occasional Use:

Using the drug occasionally without a pattern

Example: Drinking during the holidays or using poppers sometimes when you have sex

Regular Use:

Using a drug on a regular basis to the point that it’s become part of a routine and there’s a pattern

Example: Smoke weed every night after work or snort coke every weekend at parties

Heavy Use:

Using a drug more than you probably should, depending on your health and social norms

Example: You have diabetes and drink a couple beers a night. Technically not a lot, but because of your diabetes, even that little bit of beer puts your health at risk

Example: You could be physically dependent on coffee. Need to drink it everyday at the same times or you’ll get headaches, irritable, and can’t focus

Example: Smoking weed or cigarettes when you have asthma or COPD

Chaotic use:

A heavy use that the person cannot control and their entire life is controlled or revolves around using that drug (what is usually called “addiction”)

Example: Losing your job or not being able to pay rent because you are spending your time and money getting, using, and/or recovering from using drugs

Examples of how the different types of relationships to different drugs can look over time:
Example: Person A
  • Has a history of chaotic use with alcohol
  • Never used crack
  • Experimented 1x or 2x with Molly
  • Smokes marijuana regularly everyday after work

Example: Person B

  • Regularly sniffed a bag of heroin daily after work for years while keeping a job
  • Retired at age 67 and heroin use became chaotic without the job schedule and when the person couldn’t pay bills anymore
  • Went to substance use treatment and now is abstinent from heroin
Example: Person C
  • Experimented with marijuana, Molly, and Lean a few times in college
  • Occasionally takes Xanax (without a prescription) before going on planes
  • Heavy use of alcohol to fall asleep at night despite some issues waking up in the morning for work

Like I said before, a person’s relationships to drugs can be very complicated. Someone can have a history of chaotic use with 1 drug and need to stop using that 1 drug forever, but is able to function on other drugs. And even those relationships to drugs can change over the years. A relationship with a drug can start off stable, become chaotic, and then through treatment/hard work become stable again. Some people have used substances and never developed a chaotic relationship to any substance. Again, this is why awareness (I think I talk about this in some way in every post) is so necessary.

How Do I Know When My Use Is A Problem?

So how do you know when your use is becoming chaotic? In the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, 5th edition (the manual used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental disorders), chaotic use is described under “substance use disorders”. There are many different types of substance use disorders in the DSM 5, including alcohol use disorder, opioid use disorder, etc.), but all use disorders basically have similar core 11 symptoms (and only 2 is needed to be diagnosed a use disorder):

  1. Using more of the drug than planned for longer than you meant to
  2. You keep wanting to stop or trying to stop, but fail
  3. Spending a lot of time getting, using or recovering from the effects of the drug
  4. Cravings
  5. Using the drug has start to negatively affect obligations at home, work, or school
  6. You keep using drugs even though it’s messing with your relationships with people
  7. You drop the things/activities you used to like to use more of the drug
  8. You keep using drugs even if it’s physically dangerous/risky
  9. You keep using drugs even if it has caused a physical/mental health problem or using drugs has made your health worse
  10. You develop a tolerance: you need more and more of the drug to get high because the same amount is affecting you less and less over time
  11. You start going through withdrawal (get sick) if you take a break from using and you try to avoid withdrawal

Again, the substance use disorder diagnosis is another way to talk about chaotic use. One way to tell the difference between using drugs and having a substance use disorder is using 3 out of the 4 Ds (1st mentioned in my depression post here): Distress, danger, and dysfunction, (deviance is not useful here because of the stigma put on certain drug use and certain people).

Does your drug use (and your relationship to the specific drug) cause you distress? Does your drug use put you in danger? Does your drug use affect your ability to function: pay bills, go to work/school, etc.? Working from a harm reduction philosophy, I don’t care if a client is using drugs as long as the specific drug they are using is not causing them distress, doesn’t put them/their health danger, and doesn’t change their ability to pay their bills/successfully go to work, school, etc. And I want to separate distress caused by 1) society stigmatizing certain types of drug use over others…versus 2)someone feeling upset because of the effects naturally caused by their choices.

Example 1: Feeling distress because of unfair drug laws that prevent people from working, receiving housing, and/or having custody of their children even if the person’s use is not chaotic and the person could reasonably take care of all their obligations. This is a man-made problem, created by society. It’s related to systemic racism or classism and is not a problem that the individual created themselves. Their distress is in response to the punishment that society is unfairly inflicting on them.

Example 2: Feeling distress because their chaotic use is preventing them from paying rent and keeping an apartment. This distress is directly related to their substance use disorder.

So I’ve explained what drugs are, the different types of substance use, and the difference between using drugs and having a substance use disorder. So at this point, you might be wondering: Ok so how can I tell if my use right now is becoming a problem? Not everybody has a copy of the DSM 5 just chilling in their home. I get it. But what many of us do have is internet access. Use these free online drug use screenings to see if you need to start slowing down your use or seek treatment. Assessing your own use/relationship to the drug or drugs in your life before it starts to become chaotic is important (similar to how you’d check in on the relationships you have with the people in your life from time to time). Two short, easy to take questionnaires that I can recommend for y’all are the Drug Abuse Screening Test (DAST-10) and Michigan Alcohol Screening Test (MAST). Both are available for free with a quick Google search. If your assessment results say that you need to “reassess later” or have a low-level problem, that would be a sign to consider slowing down your use. If your results say you are experiencing moderate to severe difficulties due to your drug use, you may have a substance use disorder. Consider looking into treatment including 1-on-1 psychotherapy.

Using drugs isn’t a problem. When your use starts to become chaotic, that’s when it’s time to be concerned. Chaotic substance use is a symptom of a larger problem and again, this is a public health issue. Society creates problems for itself when it criminalizes health issues instead of dealing with the root causes. I hope this post helps you reflect on your own relationships with legal and illegal substances and create relationships with drugs that work for you.

Thanks for reading. The next post on 6/24/18 will be Part 3 of the 4-Part parenting series, focusing on parents’ expectations of parenthood and thinking about the kind of relationship you want to have with your child as they grow up.