In the line of work that I do, many frustrations when working with children who present with behavioral concerns almost always lead back to the parents. It’s common that parents will send their kids to therapists thinking their children are the ones who need to be “fixed” while they, the parents, don’t have to do anything to modify their behaviors. “My kid is behaving poorly and that’s my kid’s behavior, not mine.” Trying to help parents understand that their behaviors and actions greatly impact how their child behaves sometimes can feel like trying to teach my cats to give me hugs. Not impossible, but very challenging.
But once in a while, you get parents who totally get it. They understand access to mental health interventions is as important as modifications to their behaviors as a parent. Those parents are awesome. And parents who can respectfully and calmly advocate for their kids? Even better!
A few years ago, I had my first dose of working with young school-aged children. When I think back on how I behaved as an “adult,” I am quite embarrassed that I wasn’t able to treat them better. I know, those things are learned, but I still feel awful sometimes, especially to the kids who were the “trouble kids.” There were a few who had “behavioral issues.” I found those kids to be particularly challenging and “stressful.” Despite how I was choosing to respond to their “bad behavior,” I always tried my best to be good, kind, and caring nonetheless.
I was cleaning out some things and came across a letter a parent had written to me. I knew her well – her kids were the “trouble kids.” She was aware of their behaviors, but she loved them dearly and always tried to teach them better. (Trust me, those kids were scared of their momma.) Anyway, she wrote to me stating that at the end of the day, when I would say to the kids, “Go home” she found that particularly hurtful. While I may have intended it to be a joke, the impact was not the same. It was one of the first times where I needed to be mindful of my speech. It was also very helpful that she delivered her message in a way that was not only well written, but came from a place of honesty. She didn’t attack or make assumptions about me; she explained why she felt what she felt. That’s what I loved about her letter. I didn’t feel the need to be defensive; I felt sad that I had caused pain.
Rereading that letter today reminded me of how far I had come. I still work with kids every now and then and there is a almost always child who could easily be labeled as the “trouble kid.” I have since learned to give all kids the benefit of the doubt. A “trouble kid” isn’t “troubled” – it’s a kid who has yet to learn the “appropriate” social responses to their emotions and impulses. Providing a positive space for that learning to happen in a safe manner will greatly benefit everybody involved. I’m glad that I’ve been able to modify my own behaviors and be more inclusive with parents. If I could re-do that year I did, I would in a heartbeat. Nonetheless, I’m still grateful to have learned what I’ve learned and to continue learning.
This past week has given me a great challenge to identify and solidify my values. Some people are really great with their morals and convictions but then something else comes along. Sometimes, what becomes really difficult is to choose between two very different opportunities. I was given that option this week and through a lot of introspection, reflection, and processing with others, I came to several conclusions.
One, I love comfort and while change can be exciting and worthwhile, sometimes, it’s okay to want to stay in some place comfortable.
Because two, even if it is comfortable, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities for growth and challenges. They can be found anywhere and to be in a space where those options are unlimited is amazing.
Three, quality people are hard to find. Quality people who get your quirky jokes, have a love for cats, and support you and your growth, are hard to find.
Four, I judge myself and project on others way more than I should.
Five, it’s important to figure out what my values are because that will determine how motivated I shall be.
Six, asking for advice is not as scary as it sounds, even from people who you may not think to ask.
There are probably more, but that’s a pretty good list for now. And it’s quite possible that my values may change in a few years. Things happen and that can always shift my perspective on life. But for now, this is the one I’m working with and I’m pretty happy with that.
Today I had a client who told me a lot about her life and I was in awe of everything that she had gone through, everything that she had survived. I was doing really well in session when she started crying (I tend to cry when people cry). It didn’t hit me until I got home and started thinking more about what I could do for her and I realized how much counter-transference I was holding on to. And I want to cry. I want to cry for her pain, for her losses, but most of all, I want to cry for the strength that she has been carrying all her life. Of the few people I’ve been given the opportunity to work with this year, she is one of the ones who’s really moved me. I know as a clinician, I shouldn’t let this get to me, but I am more than a clinician. I am a social worker. I can’t just separate the feelings aside from the work that I do so easily. I feel and I care and to be honest, I think that’s why I chose the profession I chose. If I wanted to do therapy only, there are other programs, but this one, this one is near and dear to my heart.
I’ve been feeling a little disconnected lately from the work that I’ve been doing, mostly because I haven’t seen some of my clients in a while. But today, today was a really good reminder about why I chose to do what I do.
I am currently feeling a profound sense of sadness. I don’t know exactly why – it might be a culmination of everything within the week.
School – I hate research. I hate it with a passion. Well, more importantly, I hate writing the paper that goes with the research.
Work – Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do – I just want more time without compromising my time! Or… somehow be more efficient with the time I do have. Somehow. Paperwork! Eek!
Partner – I hate that he’s been gone for the week. I barely get to talk to him, converse, chat. I’d feel guilty otherwise since he’s off having fun. I noticed this last time too when he went away to China. I felt like something was not right in my day and that was a lot less communication.
Life – It’s so busy. Granted, I made it this way, but I wish I had a patio where I could just sit, watch people, and drink wine. Maybe pet my cats once in a while.
Daddy – While I was folding laundry, I came across a letter written over a decade ago. I won’t go into its details, but essentially, my dad had expected to retire at 55 (he’s 60+) and he was unhappy with mother at that time. I’ve been thinking about him for the last couple of days – is he happy? Is my daddy happy? Is the man who provided so much for his family finally able to feel a sense of joy? Peace? Free of worry? Is he working out of necessity? Is he happy with work? Would he be happier in retirement? How can I help him get there when I am not financially independent yet? In a nutshell, how can I finally support him when he’s done so much for me?
The strangest thing is that what set it off was that I broke a french press that I had just bought off craigslist. I was really excited to finally try and taste the awesomeness that is coffee in a french press, but I broke it and will have to wait until I go to IKEA to buy one. These are all little things, but maybe when put together in the same space, they mean something.