There is no word or title to describe me

It occurred to me recently that there is no title for me that my ex-husbands new children can use when referring to me. There is not a single word to describe ‘my-half-siblings-mother’ or ‘my-fathers-ex-wife’ in the English language.  This made me think of how important titles are to me and that each one comes with a built in group of expectations and beliefs — mother, daughter, sister, friend, partner, step-mother, cousin, niece, woman, professional…ex-wife.

Yup…despite trying to fulfill as well as I can on all of the expectations of all of these titles, I still ended up as an ex-wife. Which is a title that I did not want. I am keenly aware of the beliefs and expectations that people have of someone with the title of ‘ex-wife’. Especially my ex-husbands’ beliefs and expectations.

So this thought that I need a title for what my ex-husbands new children can call me seems important to me. These titles tell us and the rest of the world how we relate to one another and what they can expect from us. A title is helpful and makes it simple and straightforward for people to lump us in to their own thinking so they can move on with their day.

I most certainly don’t want to take up anyone’s time by trying to describe the complex-messy-fullness that is my life and the relationships and people in it. It would be so much easier to just say a word and everyone – including me – can immediately understand the relationship.

The fact that I am thoughtful about what my ex-husband’s children will call me is a sign of my growth and progress.

6.5 years ago my thoughts were occupied with my immediate survival of being heartbroken.  With two very young children I was worried about waking up each day and doing the next thing required of me. I had a new title – single mother.

And then, as time went on, my thoughts and energies were devoted to the process of living each day and trying…trying, to fulfill on these new titles that I grappled with wearing. Separated, ex-wife…high-conflict divorcee. I was living each day doing the best I could trying to wear all of the new expectations and

beliefs about these titles that I would never have chosen for myself. This violent shove into a new reality was more than I thought I could handle. I did my best.

We were stuck for years in our roles and titles as ‘ex’s’ in a ‘fight’. Not ‘fight’ in the messy yelling kind of way (although we’ve had our moments); more a ‘fight’ in the legal wrangling kind of fight. We added ‘client’ to our list of titles. Our divorce lawyers happily became our guides through the family court system.

We had a couple of legal issues, but mostly we just didn’t have the skills to

resolve issues with our enemy — a new title we both wore. Enemy. Nemesis. Again, living up to the beliefs and expectations of these titles for one another.

We both believed that we were doing a great job of insulating our children from our battle. We didn’t argue in front of them. We were exceedingly polite when we did speak. We effectively ignored each others’ spouses, but again, we would never be overtly rude! We did not think we spoke badly of the other parent. We both believed we were doing a great job protecting these beautiful children from our inner, legal and financial turmoil. We were both fighting the good fight. Doing what the family law system tells us is the right way to serve our children. This allowed us to add “martyr” to the long list of titles we were accumulating through this process.

We ended up being very angry, bitter, broke, suffering – all titles I wore proudly to show the fight was worth it. Fighting endlessly with the only result being that one of you loses is stressful and painful. It’s frightening. For some reason, we also felt like our children didn’t see or feel our fear. After 6+ years in the family court system we were at an impasse.

Family counselling became a way out of the wet paper bag that was our lives…no judge could solve our issues. No two lawyers would encourage us to just speak to one another! We were ingrained in our titles of warriors and enemies. Then we began family counselling.

The humbling experience of family counselling began in earnest…with bi-weekly appointments and tension that you could cut with a knife. We all met together, the four of us; me and my spouse with my co-parent and his wife. We had to deal with our titles and our beliefs about one another. We had to learn how we would speak to one another and the basics of human interactions. We said our fears out loud. We listened and heard one another for the first time. We got angry. We got resolution. We got to laugh. We cried. We reached…agreement. An agreement about how we wanted to co-parent going forward.

 

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Through this process I have come to accept that we all carry another title…a title that overrides any of us as individuals. We are a SYSTEM. Each part of the system is critical. We all have roles in the system. We each have impact on the others. This was a humbling thing to accept  because you can not stay enemies with someone your system/team depends on! You need them to be happy and healthy so that your children, and ultimately the system can thrive. We are a family system. None of us chose it. None of us know how to do it well. We are all learning. We are all figuring it out as we go.

Through the process of accepting the system  I could still name my roles in the system. Mother. Partner. Co-parent. I was defining how I wanted to look and feel in these roles and with growing confidence we were all wearing our titles with some pride. We were developing new expectations for those titles in our system.

Which brought me to the realization that started this entire thing…there is not a word for me and my role in the lives of my ex-husbands children. What do Luke and Emily call someone who loves them simply because they were born my children’s sibling? What title would apply to someone who values and cares for you as part of a family entity that all works together?

I have heard that the number of words a society has for something indicates how important it is to the society. Is it true that my role in their system is not important? That can’t be because I have seen evidence of the fact that we are a system. And I have empirical evidence that all of our lives are improved with the acknowledgement that we are a system. A living and breathing and evolving system that must work together to the benefit of everyone in it. Does everyone else get a title except me?

Looking back on all of the titles I have worn during this process I have to wonder…do these titles actually help us? Are the beliefs and expectations for each role even true? Do titles alone describe the value of each role in the system? Have these titles and beliefs that society puts on all of us helping us forge ahead in this new world of blended families, problem solving with the enemy, and embracing the fact that we are a system…that no individual is more valued than another?

No!!! Living up to these titles might be the reason we stayed so long as a failing system.

I choose to see this lack of a name and title as liberation…we can all define my role in their little lives in a way that works for us in our system – no expectations or set beliefs. If my role is not immediately clear and understood by others, that’s okay because maybe in describing the role I play to others we can all move the needle on how we understand and name people in a blended family system. How we can move past the titles and become valued parts a system that thrives. It is not perfect, but it thrives. It is not our choice, but it is our reality. I, for one, am ready to break out from the titles and beliefs and expectations everyone has of divorce and blended families and I want to say….”I’m ready to try this in a way that honours everyone in the system. In a way that honours me”

Who needs a title when I have a name. They can call just me Karen  🙂

 

(editors note: this post was submitted by a mother, co-parent, person … who was brave enough to imagine, seek, find and adopt a different outcome after separation and divorce)

What is peer pressure?


                                                            Photo credit: Oleander from morguefile.com

Some may define it as when friends or peers attempt to influence how you think or act, however, it may also include how we perceive peer influences. While peer pressure can be helpful at times, it can definitely affect our decisions or make them slightly more difficult. During adolescence, developing healthy relationships is a new, fresh experience, like an adventure someone takes without much of a map or with little pre-planning or direction.

Some teens may not realize they are being “pressured” or influenced in any sort of way.  For instance, we may hear these statements like these from our teens: “They’re my friends, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”… “They care about me more than you do!”… “You’re too old to understand.”… “My friends really care and have my back”.

What are the negative effects of peer pressure?

When a peer or friend behaves in a way that has a teen questioning right from wrong, most likely that teen is being exposed to peer pressure. This may not always be negative, yet we usually think of peer pressure as leading another into something harmful or wrong. Friends may persuade teens to do things they may not want to do, such as: defying parents, staying out past agreed upon times, engaging in sexual activity, drinking alcohol prematurely or “experimenting” with drugs, stealing or other crime-related behaviours, poor school performance (e.g., skipping classes or homework assignments).

Choices and decisions may not always stem from peer pressure though. Some teens may admit to willingly making the choice to engage in destructive behaviour. Nonetheless, teens might experience an increased pressure from others to make certain choices in their lives, often without getting much advice from an adult. They may ask themselves any or all of these:

  • If I say no, will I be called a loser?
  • What if they don’t like me anymore?
  • Isn’t this my chance to be a part of the group?
  • Is this what having a real friendship is like?
  • They will have my back if I get in trouble….right?

There are positive effects to peer pressure?

There are positive effects to peer pressure. Some peers influence others to join school activities, play sports, and help reach goals. With this kind of support, the growth and development at adolescence is beneficial. It can go a long way to boost self-confidence and improve self-esteem. When peers influence each other toward positive behaviours, teens are better able to socialize, engaging in activities, sports and talents, improve academic performance and have a generally more relaxed, confident and positive outlook on life.

Counselling can be a great resource for teenagers, parents, and friends to find a balance with peer and family influences. With professional counselling, individuals are able to build the self awareness to more clearly consider the consequences of behaviours before acting impulsively. Strategies are available to help teens understand thoughts, related feelings and how these influence behaviour patterns. Counselling also helps people create action plans to recover and move away from difficult situations that may cause or increase chances of danger or harm.

Remember that you are not alone, and talking to an un-biased, non-judgmental counsellor can help.  Book an appointment with us today.


Photo credit: ardelfin from morguefile.com

Many families will come to counselling as a sign of support to help a loved one through a difficult time (e.g. addiction, cooperative parenting, disordered eating, anxiety, depression, OCD, etc.). Sometimes families will provide financial support for a treatment program while others may attend sessions to improve overall teamwork. Still, other family members will change habits in the household to reduce the chance of addictive behaviours reoccurring.

How much family support is too much or not enough? This question is difficult to answer. As parents, we want to help our children (even if they are adults) to the best of our ability. However, sometimes this means we may be doing too much for them. Doing too much can often prevent individual growth and development. Parents may also want to take responsibility for the child/adult’s behaviour.

This is where family therapy helps, drawing upon family systems research and practice. It helps families clarify when to take responsibility or ownership and when not to, how to set clear boundaries and opportunities for change. Families can also establish new roles and expectations along with accountability measures for noncompliance and strategies for encouraging and increasing the behaviours desired.

Insufficient family support can be very debilitating for a person with mental health concerns and, thus, for the family as a whole. Strained and inconsistent communication is very common when there have been hurt feelings and years of promises broken.  As the support of loved ones grows thin, the person with mental health concerns can become even more distant and make even more harmful decisions. Balancing relationships within the family and keeping supportive connections while in treatment is a very important topic to discuss with a professional counsellor.

There are many ways in which a family can support one another through the difficult times. Start with this LISTEN acronym:

L: Learn to hear each other out more, increasing understanding and Love for one another.

I:  Inspire one another by having Integrity with your word and authenticity in your actions.

S: Solution-oriented state of mind helps focus on positive steps forward, finding solutions.

T: Treat others with respect, Teach caringly, Talk calmly and with Teamwork language.

E: Establish family goals together, Empower action and Encourage achievement.

N: Never give up on each other.


 Photo credit: click from morguefile.com

When a mother holds her daughter for the first time, a number of overwhelming thoughts and feelings accumulate. We love our daughter so deeply and unconditionally.

As our princesses grow, we watch our daughters blossom. We observe them in their playgroups, we watch them play pretend housewives or have tea parties with their stuffed animals. Then they grow out of pretend play and school hours and then peers occupy the majority of their time. We may feel a sense of loss. We now learn more from our daughters and begin to realize that many other sources now influence their lives and choices.

As mothers, we might struggle with how to protect our daughters, concerned with exactly how to help them make it in this world. Becoming too lenient or too strict is easy and can quite quickly negatively impact parenting. Increased confrontations between mothers and daughters can stem from having fewer and fewer open, calm and honest conversations.

Common assumptions made by both can include:

  • Mom: “She doesn’t know what she’s doing!”
  • Daughter: “She doesn’t understand me!”
  • Mom: “I just don’t want her to make the same mistakes that I made.”
  • Daughter: “When is she going to realize that I can take care of myself?”
  • Daughter: “She should stay out of my business.”
  • Mom: “Maybe I should just leave her alone?”

With these assumptions, many miscommunications can form. This can lead to increased confusion, uncertainty and even hostility toward one another. Hurtful things can be said and done making it more difficult to mend an already tenuous relationship.

Relationship coaching for mothers and daughters who are having difficulty communicating can be very helpful. Boundaries may be adjusted, roles clarified and relationships reconciled in the counselling process. Counselling helps family members voice concerns, relate to one another differently, resolve problems effectively and listen to each other’s needs in the relationship.

Book an appointment with us today to improve your relationships.

Perhaps This Is Normal

In life we are faced with many challenges and obstacles to overcome. At these difficult times and during trying situations, it is imperative to have people to assist us, to provide support and guidance and to encourage our efforts to improve. In our families, at least ideally, we hope that we can come together and support each other through the tough times. This is not always the case, however, as our family members may also be struggling and, thus, are less able or unable to help. Of course, the stress we carry can be brought into the family and our loved ones can certainly add stress to our lives.

Family members may become more negative;

  • “We can’t cope as a family.”
  • “No one respects anyone else.”
  • “If I don’t raise my voice no one will listen.”
  • “We are a failure.”
  • “My parents could not possibly understand what I’m going through.”
  • “I have no power as a parent.”

Stress is a normal part of living and of any family experience. Life is hard on this planet and families constantly face a multitude of difficulties or stressors. How we handle stressful moments is the key to healthier and happier outcomes and relationships. When a family is in crisis, it is very difficult to get to a positive resolution without getting professional help.

Reading materials, joining community or on-line training courses and using counselling can provide the guidance and support families require. Registered, professional family therapists (“coaches”) can help identify areas for change together with the family and incorporate a wide variety of strategies to help families achieve their goals.

“Family counselling can be done in a lighthearted way, with an accepting and encouraging style that helps all family members feel accepted and valued.”

Additionally, drawing upon family members’ current strengths and resources, the counsellor can fairly quickly help the family improve teamwork, re-negotiate roles, expectations and boundaries, making it easier to resolve issues and function well.  Knowledge bases used include cognitive-behavioural, developmental, attachment, family structure, narrative, and family systems theory. Bringing these tools into the family arena allows for better clarity, communication and compassion through a more understanding and accepting view.

New strategies are introduced, in these “coaching” sessions, to overcome some of the negativity or “Stinkin Thinkin” that has developed and recover from past hurt. Through the therapeutic process, families can grow closer and develop more satisfying relations with each other. They redefine goals, assess and clarify shared values and beliefs and develop new ways to love, support and care for each other.

For more information on family “coaching”, call us today!

 

“I Hate to Admit It”

They tease each other, pick on one another, make fun, wrestle, and yell. Their confrontations always end up with one crying, or bleeding, or slamming doors.

Will they ever get along? Can we ever achieve serenity in our home? I’ve heard of sibling rivalry; but this is a bit much. How do I know when I need to get more help for my kids?

These are questions that many parents may ask as their children display increased conflict. Some may not know this, but conflict is actually a normal and healthy part of relationships. When the emotions and behaviours to express and resolve conflicts are carried out appropriately, both parties achieve closure. Conflict can teach us many things:

It can teach us how to appropriately present our perspectives.
We may learn how to confidently rebut other viewpoints.
When done correctly, we refrain from inflicting emotional and physical harm on one another. (both verbal and physical harm inhibits communication and learning and can fuel a variety of mental health issues).

So when is the right time to get help? Teaching children the appropriate ways to resolve conflict can become very overwhelming in the heat of an argument. When parties have had time to separate, breathe and calm down, examining their experience (Time-out), it can then be helpful to bring them back together to sort through the argument and develop solutions (Time-in).

Of course it is easier said than done, especially when habits have developed and conflicts are occurring frequently. Family counselling may allow all members to express their concerns in a respectful manner and learn new ways of resolving disputes.

In family counseling, families can establish goals for themselves as a family and individually. Together they learn to cope with stressful events that occur in their lives (relationships, school, work, etc.). In a safe, professional, therapeutic environment, families have the opportunity to enhance their relationships and create a strong support system for one another. Call us today … we can help.

What I wouldn’t give to feel normal again!

Sometimes we lay in bed and as we awake to our alarm clock, before moving an inch, we think we are going to feel normal again, pain-free. We roll over and as we attempt to get up, BAM! We are reminded by the strike of pain sent to an area of our body like a lightening bolt strikes trees.

It is difficult to explain people’s experiences with chronic pain. Some are “lone”parents, some have to manage going to work, some become addicted to pain killers, and some have broken relationships due to the difficulty coping with their chronic pain. Each person suffering from chronic pain will have different experiences; however, some of the thoughts associated with chronic pain are still similar:

 

  • “Why me?”
  • “I can’t take it anymore!”
  • “I wish this never happened!”
  • “I will never feel normal again!”
  • “No one understands what I’m going through!”
  • “I feel alone. Just me and this pain.”
  • “How am I going to manage?”

 

These thoughts lead to feelings of worthlessness, exhaustion, stress, depression, anxiety, and hopelessness. Without a consistent support system and appropriate coping strategies, the behaviours associated with dealing with chronic pain can be quite alarming: addiction (to prescribed medication or substance abuse/misuse), separation and divorce, suicidal ideations, unproductive behaviours (such as refusing to wake up or work), and anti-social behaviours such as shutting out family and friends.

It is very unfortunate that people endure chronic pain hardship for any length of time. However, there are resources available to help those suffering. Families and friends struggling due to another’s chronic pain experiences can also get help.

Call us today to find out how we can help you and your family cope more effectively with chronic pain.