Ahh, how time marches one. Three years ago, I had a couch and an office with a waiting room and datebook full of appointments. Now, I just have memory loss and a sink full of dishes.
It was a great article - and I agree with a lot of the points made. It got me thinking, though, that being an MFT or psychologist or someone "on the other side of the couch" puts us in a certain division of people. Since matriculating into the Motherhood field of study, I've slowly forgotten that I have specialized training in a really fascinating subject: human beings. I guess sleep deprivation will do that to a person.
This knowledge is going unused. Tragic, really. Especially since I wrote this on my Facebook page last month:
I've decided that living with a toddler is akin to living with someone with multiple personality disorders: narcissism, histrionic, dependent, anti-social. With a hint of suicide ideation (as they continue to attempt to jump from high places). No wonder I'm tired. I'm running a psych ward.
Motherhood ain't pretty, that's for sure. It's rewarding and special and fun (at times), but man, it can really take the mickey out of you.
So I've decided to re-engage my brain to see what useful tips I can come up with that combine my training with my current profession. Instead of Kim, MS, MFT, I'm now Kim, MOM.
This is what I came up with:
Value quality of time, not quantity of time.
During an average week while in practice, I only spent about 50 minutes with each client. It is very, very difficult to get anything done in a 50-minute span, particularly if issues were acute. But I got into a rhythm of starting the session on time and making use of every single minute we had together; no chit-chat, no ideal conversations about the weather, no answering questions about myself (unless it pertained to the topic at hand). I wanted to make sure my client(s) had 100% of my attention for those 50 minutes, to give them what they needed for the week ahead.
In Motherhood, I'm finding out that it doesn't matter if you work outside the home or stay home with the tot; if you don't pay attention and give that kid quality time, things can get messy. Case-in-point: just this past week, Scotty has taken a back-burner to the many activities going on. I've taken phone calls, been on the computer, etc, while he is awake. And not surprisingly, he started to act out. He threw a drum at music lessons yesterday. He nap-striked on Wednesday. He had an accident on the floor last night. I could dismiss his behavior as the typical terrible 2's, but in my heart, I know the kid is mad that I'm giving him good, quality attention. Because quite simply, I'm not. He doesn't need all of my attention, all the time (learning to play independently is just as important), but it's not fair of me to expect him to be entertained and happy while Mom is on her 10th phone call of the morning or glued to her phone. The kid is rebelling and I don't blame him.
I'm attempting now to divide up our time together, and really focus on giving him more of me. I believe once he feels secure again that Mom is 100% present, he'll be more likely to play happily on his own.
See past the issues at hand - the old "content v. process" trick
Most of the time therapists are in session, we're not listening to what you are saying (I mean, yes, kind of. I'm not making grocery lists in my head). We're looking to find patterns in your behavior, how you say things, and how you react and feel to those things - i.e. the process of your language, attitudes and interactions. Content - the 'what' - is usually irrelevant.
I once worked with a mother and daughter who nearly came to blows over dirty dishes in the sink. They were literally at each others' throats in session about what had happened earlier that morning. (I literally had to stand between them with the file in my hand, blocking the blows). I could have easily addressed the content with basic solutions - i.e. each person takes a turn putting the dishes in the dishwasher (compromise), or the daughter loses her car privileges if the dishes aren't put away (punishment). But in reality, their problem had nothing to do with dishes - it was about the daughter, who was a first generation citizen, breaking free from old cultures and traditions her mother valued, and the power struggle that erupted between them. The mom was sad and in pain, and the daughter felt smothered and socially repressed. This is a much different argument than dishes.
And in Motherhood, it's very similar. Is Scotty fussing because he's unhappy or because he needs something? Is he really upset that I left the fan on in his room, or is he just overtired? Is he throwing drums in music class because he's a bad kid, or is he begging for my attention? (ahh, the guilt!) Looking past the "what" of the problem to the "why/how?" can help find answers.
Pick your battles
Oh lord, if I had a nickel for every time someone in therapy just let loose a diatribe of complaints about something or someone - and wow, women love to complain about other women - well, let's say Brian wouldn't have to work anymore. (sorry, honey). Yes, part of therapy is allowing the client to vent (a little) and having someone else bear witness to their situation, but from the therapist's point-of-view, my thinking was always, "...heavens. Where do I even start?"
There's a term for it - it's called "chopping up the ecology." In family sessions, when there are multiple people present, it is very difficult to get anything done if you allow everyone to talk and express all of their thoughts and feelings. It's also really easy to get side-tracked, and then you've spent those precious 50 minutes doing nothing but allowing all of them to complain and vent at each other. The outcome is then everyone is actually more upset when they leave than when they arrived. Part of the therapist's job is to chop that up - disassemble the whole litany of problems discussed, find one to focus on, and try to come to a successful resolution. It may take all of those 50 minutes to work through one small problem, but if you can give the family a tiny victory, the dividends will likely be great.
Same thing in Motherhood. On any given day, I could pick any number of behaviors I need/want to change with the Bear. He's swearing, he's throwing rocks, he's banging his cars around, he's running his trucks on the wall.
(wow, my kid sounds really bad. I swear, he's not. This week has been especially bad)
If I attempted to address all of those all at the same time, the boy would be sentenced to time-out until he was 14. But I just want to focus on the most important behavior - usually the one that involves him getting hurt or him hurting someone else - and tackle that one. Rock throwing? Done. He spent two minutes in time-out and returned a remorseful, apologetic Bear. And guess what? He hasn't thrown anymore rocks.
This leads me into...
Ultimately, it's all about the relationship
Therapists all have different training. Some may practice evidence-based approaches, others will swear by more client-centered theories. Which one is better? Well, there has been lots and lots of research done to determine this, but they keep coming back with one consistent answer: while the modality of treatment is contingent on the therapist, the greatest indicator of success in therapy is the relationship between the therapist and the client.
In short, people who felt their therapist genuinely believed and cared about them had the best outcome. They felt supported, validated, and empowered. And they were able to translate that to other areas of their lives.
I think the cross-over to Motherhood on this one is pretty clear. There are a million ways to be a good parent (...and a few specific ways to screw it up...), but when the rubber hits the road, if your kid believes he/she is loved and heard by you, it's all going to be okay. Which means our job as parents is to make sure we love and listen to them. Everyday.
After Scotty's time-out for the rock-throwing incident, as I leaned in to give him a hug, he didn't want to kiss me. I must have made a silly face, because he broke into giggles. I then grabbed him for tickle while shouting, "More kisses! Gimme more kisses!" in this deep voice and he giggled hysterically. This turned into a game of Chase and we were both better for it. The tension from a few minutes ago had completely disappeared, and I had my happy little Bear back. And I hope he felt loved.
As parents, yes, we're supposed to teach our kids right from wrong, but if they don't feel loved, then we've lost our audience. My main job is to make sure my audience is a willing and open participant.
Hope you enjoyed reading this - I had fun writing it.
That will be $125, please. ;-)