What I have Learned Through my work

Happy Friday! As part of a blog challenge, I have been asked to write about the biggest lessons I have learned about myself from my work as a therapist. This is a biggie and, as always, I am going to be very honest here because what would the point be otherwise.

As I think about this, I think there are two major lessons. If you know me in real life, you might think to yourself “no kidding” as you read this, but here I go anyways.

Lesson #1:

As a human, I am not actually all that warm and fuzzy and sometimes I really even struggle to care. Gasp, I know. HOW THE HELL DID I GET INTO THIS ROLE???!!! It’s funny as I’ve been thinking about this more and more recently. I have always been told I am a little harsh. I am very upfront and sometimes lack a filter. This is a really great attribute when I am at a bar with friends and am being hilarious and sarcastic and making everyone laugh with my quick wit but can be a real negative thing when I accidentally say something that should have stayed in my head or when I say something in a way that I didn’t really mean it to sound. My resting bitch face doesn’t help either. At work, I think I generally do a good job. I have been told by very experienced therapists that have seen me work that I am really good at showing the client that I am listening and they are being heard. I accept my clients for who they are right in this moment and help them feel like I am on their team. I got you. I am here to help. But, I am not the warmest person ever. I realize that.

My clients also get the best me that I have to offer. After a day of work, I really have to muster up the energy to be empathetic at home. I have 2 little kids and a husband and sometimes I just really have to dig very deep to care at home with my family. I know I am not alone in this as my most favorite yoga teacher who is loved by so many people recently said something similar. When I am in class with her and she is smiling, spreading joy and love to everyone and taking extra care to tuck me in with a blanket for savasana, I can’t imagine that she is anything other than warm and loving all the time, but she recently mentioned that she really struggles with being empathetic and caring when she’s at home. Like when she’s home with her kids or husband who are sick, she has to really try hard to care. Same, girl, same. Seriously. I have recognized this and am truly trying to balance my work life a little better so I am not so drained when I am at home, but also just knowing that this is a struggle for me, helps me practice.

Lesson #2:

In graduate school, we were taught that we could be helpful to clients even if we didn’t struggle with their particular ailments, disorder, stress. Of course this is true. We don’t need to also have major depressive disorder in order to help a client who does. But, I will say that becoming a parent has been a game changer for how I can relate to and help parents. Before I was a Mom, I would work with children and their families and help parents learn more effective and respectful ways to parent and I was decent at it. Results were good but I didn’t really get it. I didn’t understand why the parents were always so exhausted and their fuses were short. I didn’t understand all of the dynamics, stress and exhaustion. NOW I DO. I get it. As a therapist, I have learned that sometimes our real life experiences offer much more to a client than our education and experiences as a therapist. Mama, I understand why the mornings are so stressful and your child is getting to school late despite your best efforts. I hear you. I see you. I will help you.

Much love all! Make this weekend a good one!

Rewards vs Bribes

This will be a quickie because, well, I am swamped with work and my son has croup/not croup but an evil uncle of croup that showed up one night out of nowhere and then disappeared and is now just a yucky cough. Oh and my 5 year old believes now is the time, after never waking up at night to use the bathroom, that she must get up nightly and last night, twice, to pee and she must wake me each time to do this so, needless to say, I am exhausted. *Ignore the run on sentences. They are a specialty of mine.

Often, when I work with children in my practice, I talk with parents about behavior modification. Research shows that using rewards and positive reinforcement is a more useful technique than consequences or punishments (which we want to avoid but I’ll write about that later).

Parents often tell me that they shouldn’t have to bribe their children to do things they should be doing. Bribe? Who said bribe? Rewards are not the same as bribes, although, in my real Mom life, a bribe can be very effective when I am absolutely desperate. Let’s be real, our plans for parenting don’t work sometimes and sometimes we need to dig deep to get something done and voila, a bribe is offered. And, by the way, children do need rewards to do the things we ask and expect of them. Their job is to do well in school and to be kind and helpful and just like we get rewarded with money or praise for the jobs we do, they need this as well.

Okay, back on track… A bribe, as I see and teach it, comes from a desperate place. It’s usually associated with wanting to stop a negative behavior without having a real system to stop that behavior. Your child might be throwing a tantrum and 15 minutes into it you’ve hit your limit and have tried everything else and then you might say “If you stop throwing your fit, you can have this cookie.” Makes zero sense. A child definitely learns that if they don’t stop throwing their fit, there is a cookie at the end of it and instead of it strengthening a positive behavior, it strengthens a negative behavior (the tantrum).

A reward is planned. It is thoughtful and it is used to strengthen a desired (positive) behavior. In our house, both our children have issues with bedtime and wakeup. Our daughter has been throwing fits before bedtime and our son loves to wake up and be noisy before his green light goes on (we use an OK to Wake clock). We started a reward system that targets these behaviors. They earn a star for each bedtime/wakeup that they follow the VERY CLEAR expectations and when they earn 5 stars, they earn a reward of their choice (within limits, of course).

The IMPERFECT Mama example this week: My son has been practicing learning how to ride his bike without training wheels. He can fully do it but he isn’t super interested in it. He rides so leisurely that essentially the bike basically just stops. WE, on the other hand, are very interested in him learning this skill because that means we’ll be able to go on family bike rides and make it more than 3 blocks in 45 minutes. So, on Tuesday, I took him to the bike path near our house for some practicing. After I helped him briefly, I said “Okay, show me how you can do it all by yourself.” He did and it lasted 2 seconds before his bike stopped. Eventually, after awhile of this, I offered up 10 minutes of iPad time (which, if you have been reading my blogs, has been taken away for about a month). Boy, did he jump at this. He rode that bike with the wind blowing in his hair and with the ease of one of they serious cyclists on the bike path with their matching tight shirt and shorts.  He loved it. He was so proud and also super excited to get that screen time. Reward? Bribe? Don’t really care because it worked.

Putting Extra Time in When Needed

I know what you are thinking… Extra time? How is that even possible? I barely have the regular amount of time. Same. I get it. For real.

Last week was rough. Real rough. I think the exhaustion from school finally caught up with my 5 year old. She was struggling to listen (check out the post I put up on Friday to the IMPERFECT Mama and therapist Facebook group), tantruming every night before bed, just complete craziness. I had some real heart to hearts with myself and I’m not going to lie, some of them while I was crying and aimlessly walking around my yard in the dark. This parenting thing is HARD and I am IMPERFECT.

I realized that we needed to get back to basics. No more iPads. Not even while I needed to get ready in the morning and not even for a reward for going to bed nicely and waking up at a reasonable hour. No more screen time right before bed. We used snuggle in for snack and 15 minutes of a show before bed but even that became a battle so that is off the table. I put signs up all over the house on how to respond if you are having big feeling as reminders that yelling and being aggressive is not a good choice but taking deep breaths, taking a break or asking for a hug are. I told a friend about these signs and she asked if they were for me or the kids. Both I said with a grin. Back to basics also meant that we need to slow down. That I was going to try extra hard to be present. To build in more times where we are just together with no other distractions and if that means I am going to get less “productive” things done, well then so be it.

After my son woke me up at 5:50am on Saturday morning (so that I could fix his blanket because it was no longer laying perfectly on his pillow. Don’t ask.) I decided that I would get up to a quiet house and bake muffins. I baked 2 different kinds of muffins before anyone was up for the day. I was hoping and praying that when my kids got up and I told them I made muffins that maybe, just maybe, they would be excited and we could start the day off right. IT WORKED! It was such a small thing but it put giant smiles on their faces. We all settled in that morning with warm muffins and snuggles and had a very lovely family weekend. We were all together the whole weekend except for the 2 hours on Saturday morning that I went to yoga while they went to gymnastics.

I see parents at every stage of their children’s lives just trying to make it through the days. The survival mode we experience when we have babies and are exhausted, the hustle and bustle of carting our kids to and from activities and friend’s houses as they get older and barely finding time for family dinners when tweens become teens and barely show their faces at home. It’s not easy to find extra time to put in more energy but it is necessary. So think about that. What are you or your family missing? More time together? Exercise? More downtime? More time to just talk and connect? How can you make that happen? I know for me, I am exhausted by the end of the day but I can manage to get up earlier in the morning if I know I need to accomplish something extra. I even remember as a little girl waking up around 5:00am to have breakfast with my Dad before he went to work. This was never anything he asked me to do but I felt sad he had to eat alone and I missed him since he worked all day and nights were hectic. There’s always a little more time for something meaningful. How will you find it and use it?

 

*If you are struggling finding the time, check out my blog on self care

Moms Driving in cars with Children Acting Crazy

This blog is coming straight from the trenches of parenting. It was last week, while I was driving my kids the 7 minutes from our house to swimming, that I realized I really needed to blog about the craziness it is to drive children. Seriously though, if I thought that driving a minivan would allow my kids to be far enough away from me that I wouldn’t have to hear them or their 1000 requests and demands while I was driving a very heavy vehicle, I might just go buy a Toyota Sienna right now. But, I know better. My children have loud mouths and even an extra row of seats wouldn’t stop them from believing that I should be able to grant every wish they have for the duration of our car trip.

Why is it that the second they are buckled in and I put the car in drive do they need gum, mints, the window down, then up, the moonroof open and then closed and then the shade closed because apparently now it is too sunny. Then, they need me to pick up the one toy that I allow in the car, that has now fallen onto the floor, which of course is no where near anywhere I can reach while I. AM. DRIVING. A. CAR. Every car trip seems like a nightmare. And then the screaming! Somehow someone has managed to upset them so much by the 5 minute mark, that now the car is filled with screaming. I understand why parents have those built in iPads or TVs or whatever in their car. It’s frickin’ lunacy.  Just yesterday I was driving home after taking them to a trampoline park  and my son got so upset at me because he asked for gum (which I gave him) and he dropped it (not my fault) and that I didn’t have anymore gum (because I gave them my last piece to share even though I will probably have smelly breath at some point this week and I won’t have any gum and will probably offend my clients) that he let out the loudest, most PTSD triggering scream I have ever heard. I had to pull over and just sit there until he could stop and be kind before I could keep driving. I think my heart raced for 30 minutes after that. Sudden screaming. Not my jam.

So what do we do? How do we survive? What should we do? There’s probably some parents somewhere who have mastered this. I know if I just let them watch a screen the whole time, there wouldn’t be a peep but I just can’t reconcile with this. That’s a lot of screen time and I really prefer to use the screen time I do give them, as a babysitter for times that I get ready for work, cook dinner or try to have a peaceful conversation with my husband. Sometimes, I can put on music that they enjoy and if they are in just the right mood, they will just sing and dance and forget about the laundry list of car demands. Sometimes we play I Spy until my daughter insists that my son doesn’t know how to actually play and gets annoyed with him. And sometimes, I do allow them to play music on my phone but that means that I have to listen to Larry from VeggieTales sing the first verse over and over because my 3 year old doesn’t really know how to choose songs or how to let a whole song play through. Mostly, I just drive fast, blast old school rap and hope there is wine on the other end of the car ride.

What’s the point of this rant?? Well, partially, I really just needed to get this off my chest. No one tells you about this before you make the decision to have a child. For real, this is what 7th grade health teachers should be talking about as a form of contraception. But really, parents, please just know that you are not alone. I am struggling and it’s my job to help parents parent. It’s okay to struggle and not know what to do or question what you are doing, it’s part of the job. Don’t give up. Keep trying. Pretty soon your child will be 16 and can drive you around and then you get to scream when your gum falls out of your mouth.

Valuing Your Partner

Happy Monday!

Today is one of those Mondays that I wish was actually Sunday. Sometimes weekends prepare me to start my work week and sometimes they make me want another weekend. This past weekend my husband and I went to Chicago to celebrate our wedding anniversary which meant I was barely home and feeling unprepared for Monday. Oh well. It’s here. Monday always happens whether I am ready for it or not. It’s actually a great gift that way. Gives us practice in doing something that we aren’t prepared for which ends up being how much of life can feel like.

Before I got sidetracked, I mentioned my wedding anniversary. It got me thinking about how often people forget about their relationships.  I was just talking to a client today who was in a funk and it turns out, she is just in the midst of life. Life had taken over as it so often does and we forget. We forget to be mindful about our choices. We forget to practice our hobbies. We forget to be social and see our friends. We forget to bond with our partners. We forget that we are actual people with actual wants and needs.

Most of us know that 50% of marriages end in divorce. This stat says nothing about unmarried couples but let’s say it’s about the same. We also know that one of the most common reasons couples don’t last is because of a lack of emotional connection. So, clearly prioritizing your relationship is of the utmost importance. I know how hard it is. I know that after a long day at work and then nights with kids or all days with kids (God bless you stay at home parents), the last thing you want to do is put energy into your relationship. Remember, I am IMPERFECT and certainly am at fault of this myself. I’m empathetic all day at work, drained by my children and still have my husband who deserves some of my energy as well. It’s hard but it’s so important. There is about a 0% chance that you can have a happy family without a happy partnership. I see people prioritizing their children over their marriages constantly and it almost always ends poorly. I am not talking about the cases in which one parent is hurting a child and the other parent doesn’t do anything. I am talking about refusing to go on a date night because your child says they will be sad. I am talking about never taking a trip or a moment to yourselves because you think it’s going to negatively impact your child. IT WON’T! Your child can hangout with grandma or a babysitter for a short period of time and be just fine. They will still know you love them and it’s good for them to bond with other caregivers. Your kids will be fine and when you get back you will feel refreshed and happier. EVERYONE WINS!

Tips on how to prioritize your relationship in the midst of parenting:

  • Communicate! Tell your partner how you are feeling so they can truly understand and not assume that your absence, distance or quietness is because of them.
  • Plan the time. If you are like me, nothing gets done unless it’s written down and I have planned time for it. Plan time to watch a movie together after the kids go to bed, plan a date night, plan to cook a meal or order in food after the kids are sleeping, plan sex!
  • Find out your partner’s love language (check out Gary Chapman’s book or google them) so that when you do put energy towards your relationship, you know you are not wasting your efforts and you are doing things that your partner will value and appreciate.
  • Make time in daily life. When you partner is sharing a moment of their day with you and your child also wants to tell you something at that exact moment (please tell me I am not the only one that experiences this. No one wants to talk to me and then everyone does all at once…), ask your child to wait their turn. Showing your children that you value your partner is important too.
  • Appreciate your partner. Tell them thank you.  Tell them they are a good parent. Tell them that you appreciate them. Treat them like you want to be treated and watch all the positive juju come right back to you.

Go on now, go do something nice for your partner and report back!

 

Saving People Copays Everyday

Here’s a real “day in the life” story of a therapist…

I was at a party for a friend’s child and let’s just say my child wasn’t acting as you’d imagine a child of a Child Therapist would (perfect). A friend of a friend made a joking comment about my parenting in that moment (which was to laugh when my child was melting down). Perfect? NO. IMPERFECT? Yes. We then began chatting and I said something to the effect of “If anyone is looking at me to be a model parent, don’t.” We laughed more as she started telling me that she has been thinking about seeing a therapist to figure out how to deal with her kids being normal kids (AKA jerks). I commiserated with her big time because I. GET. IT. BIG TIME.

I gave her insight into why her struggle is also something I struggle with and she thought it was really interesting. At the end of our conversation she said something I love…

“You just saved me a copay.”

You are welcome. I am glad I could help her but here’s the thing. She helped me. I am in this too. I am an IMPERFECT parent too. Knowing that others are struggling helps me. It normalizes what we are all doing. A good parent is one that tries every single day. A good parent is not a perfect parent. No such thing. Stop pretending it is.

Feelin’ the Funk

Uh. That’s all I can say. Today is Wednesday, August 28. Does it mean anything that I started writing “Monday” because it seems like every day lately seems like a Monday? Here in Wisconsin, it is feeling like Fall. There’s something I love about the Fall. It’s time to open the windows and air out the house, wear almost anything in your closet, make soup.  There are so many things about Fall that I love. I won’t be listing pumpkin spice because I am really not a fan (gasp… I know). It sounds like I like fall, right? So, what am I in a funk about?

This year is really the first year my kids will be in school. Both of them! My son will be in 3K just twice a week but on the days I don’t work so I will get a couple hours all to myself in the mornings for the first time since I had kids and it will be delightful. This year is also the year my daughter is going into 5K. This week we found out who her teacher is, who is in her class and information about her bus. It was a biggie. She has a great teacher but that teacher will also be on maternity leave for a couple weeks in the beginning of the year which means my daughter, who already takes a long time to warm up to people, will have to adjust to her substitute and then also her teacher once she’s back. Substitutes don’t have to have any experience or qualifications other than have graduated college so I am also concerned about that person being qualified to assist my daughter in developing peer relationships but also getting her class started out on the right foot regarding reading which is a big focus of this year. Uh. Again. I saw the class list and none of my daughter’s friends are in her class. AND I found out she is the first one to get on the bus (an hour before school starts) and the last one off after which makes for a very long day for a young 5Ker.

Clearly I am anxious. Adjustments and long days are already hard for her but then adding on all these other things on top of it is sending ME over the edge. I haven’t really said much to my daughter because I don’t want my anxiety rubbing off on her. Everything she has been told is framed in a positive way with the caveat of “Let’s see how it goes and if it’s too hard, well figure out something.” It’s not the best strategy but it’s what I’m flying with now.

The reality is, the good old MOM GUILT is kinda creeping in. I am wishing that I could do something different for her or better, but I can’t. Because I am feeling anxious about all of this, my mind has already decided it’s going to be hard for her and this year is already going to suck. You know how you do that when you’re anxious? Anticipatory anxiety and catastrophic thinking is what it’s called. You believe the worst case scenario will happen and then you start reacting to it before it even happens. Because of my job and the knowledge I have, in general, I can label it and work through it well on the occasions it pops up. I have been coping by telling everyone who will listen about it (I am sure my husband and friends are ready for me to stop by now) and reminding myself that it will be fine. Really, everything always is. I once heard someone say “If it isn’t fine, it isn’t over.” I believe that. We will work this out until it is fine. I am also reminding myself that I know it’ll go better than I am assuming it will and that once the first day is over and we have all survived, I will feel a ton better.

But Mamas (and Dads if you are out there), the feelings are real this year. And here’s another reminder, if you are feeling any of this alongside me, you are not alone. It is normal. It is okay and it will pass.

Much love!

 

 

 

Who is the IMPERFECT Mama and Therapist?

The IMPERFECT Mama and Therapist is me, Jenna Behrens, MA, LPC. I am a woman, wife, mama, Licensed Professional Counselor/psychotherapist/counselor/shrink, Child Specialist, Family Mediator and Author.

I am the mama of a 5 year old girl, 3 year old boy and two crazy dogs. I find joy in spending time with my family, drinking wine with my friends, going to the spa alone and vacationing with my husband.

Motivation Monday: Perspective is Everything

Woah! Happy Monday! Was I the only one ready to come back to work today? I wanted to post quick about something that happened over the weekend. My husband was gone for three nights and over the weekend so by Sunday I was pretty burned out. My kids were nuts on Saturday afternoon and I had to take them to the grocery store.  By the time we left, my daughter was throwing a fit on the floor because I had counted to 3 and she earned herself a consequence and everyone (for real) was looking at me and the kids like I was unfit and they were monsters. You know that look, right?

As we left the store, I looked at all the other people checking out and shrugged my shoulders as if was saying “Those darn kids” and confidently strolled out of the store. But truthfully, I was exhausted and embarrassed and confused why my children were so hellbent on making our lives so much more chaotic and annoying than necessary. That was the narrative I had in my head which isn’t true but it was there.

So fast forward to Sunday morning, I knew we just needed a chill morning. I cancelled plans to meet a friend at the farmer’s market and instead I relaxed and cleaned and the kids played until we got our Sunday Starbucks and donuts and went to a nearby low key park. While we were at the grocery store getting our donuts, my kids were running down the aisles, screaming happily, chasing each other and just all around bursting full of energy. I was in go with the flow Mom mode just counting down the minutes until I would be sitting at the park reading my magazine and sipping my cinnamon dolce latte. We got the donuts and were checking out and one of the cashiers said “What did you do to make those kids so happy?” I started tearing up. She continued by saying “They are bringing so many smiles to so many people’s faces and you aren’t even noticing.” She was a sweet older woman and meant no harm by her observation but she was right. I was just trying to get out of the store. And because of the experience we had the night before, I was just trying to get out of the store without anyone giving me disapproving looks because of how rowdy my kids were. The funny thing is, I generally DO NOT care what people think of me but when it comes to people judging my parenting or my children (it’s really just my perception they are judging because no one has ever told me I am not a good parent or that my kids are naughty or anything similar) it really bothers me. So anyways, back to Sunday and donuts- What she said in that moment completely changed my perspective of what was going on. She was right. They are just happy and they were last night too. They were hyper but happy. Seeing it through that lens made it so much more enjoyable and I felt like a great Mom. Ya, MY KIDS ARE HAPPY and I must have something to do with that!

MY JOURNAL IS ON SALE!!!

Hey!

This is a quick message because my son is going to call me upstairs to get him in a minute when he realizes his green light is on and it’s an appropriate time for him to get up BUT…

MY CHILDREN’S GRATITUDE JOURNAL IS ON SALE NOW!!!!

It is entitled “Children’s Journal for Lasting Happiness.” Used regularly, this journal will promote lasting happiness by helping young children to develop positive self-image, self talk and overall warm and fuzzy feelings! If young children feel secure in themselves and have positive self talk, they are more resilient and less likely to participate in bullying activities and less likely to suffer from mental health issues.

Go get it!

CHECK IT OUT NOW!!!

https://store.bookbaby.com/book/Childrens-Journal-for-Lasting-Happiness