written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
Today’s post is about making peace with your inner critic. You know, that little voice inside that says meaner things to you than you would ever say to anyone else. That voice that immobilizes you sometimes into inaction, emotional instability and self-doubt.
First lets lay the framework to help think about this issue from a different angle than you may be used to. Think about when you go to a restaurant. If it is a restaurant you have never been to, what do you do? Maybe take a peek at the menu? Ask your friend or a server what they recommend? Think about the multitude of internal suggestions that can come up just from looking at a menu. First you might ask yourself what you are in the mood for. Then you might look at the prices and have a conversation with yourself about that. Then you might think about the nutritional value of the meal you are thinking of. You might remember a time you had a meal like the one you are considering on the menu and were happy, or unhappy with the way it tasted. Really, there is almost an endless number of ways our minds can go simply by sitting down and looking at a menu. And, if this is true for most of us about ordering a meal, just imagine the number of internal conversations that go on about parenting!
To simplify things, I am going to call the different internal suggestions you receive parts. The part of you that does the budgeting for your family asks about the price of the meal. The part of you that asks about the nutritional value, we could call the health conscious part (or it could be your inner critic depending on the tone). Another part would be the memory bearer for a specific occasion when you had a similar meal, etc. We all have parts. All of us. When I say we have parts I do not mean that we are all suffering from multiple personalities, rather I am stating that we all have learned experiences that come to mind in relation to each situation we encounter throughout the day. There are some “parts” that we all have and one of them is the inner critic.
When it comes to the inner critic, most of us try to do what we have been told to do with bullies… ignore, stand proud, pretend they don’t exist, etc. but we all know that doesn’t really work with bullies most of the time and with an inner critic it can be even worse! You can’t get away from your inner critic. It’s you! Oftentimes, ignoring it only makes it like your children when you are on the phone, louder and louder until you are forced to take notice. Instead, let’s look at making peace with the inner critic.
I know it’s hard to believe, but most often, when we look inside to the purpose of the messages we get from an inner critic it has something to do with protecting us from a sad, mad, or disappointed feeling. It may have something to do with protecting us from criticism, anxiety or upset. For a moment, reflect upon what the purpose of a particular message that you get from your inner critic that you would like to change.
If possible, take a minute to put aside all of the criticisms you have about the delivery of the message and practice looking for the helpfulness of it. Believe it or not, the true intent of the underlying messages from the inner critic tend to be something like:
- I never want you to feel that hurt/disappointed/angry/used again.
- I don’t want people to treat you badly.
- You deserve better.
- Stay alert and attuned to what you are doing/ what is happening.
- Trust your instincts.
- Be true to yourself.
The packaging of that message tends to sound like:
- What’s wrong with you?
- How could you be so stupid?
- Don’t do that anymore, you’re just going to get hurt.
- How could you have trusted that person?
- What a mess you have made of your life.
Remember that the underlying message or your critic is a loving one, it is the packaging of the message that hurts. This understanding sets the groundwork of the conversation that you can have to help turn your inner critic into a loving inner guide.
To get in touch with an inner critic and begin the process of trying to turn it into a helpful voice, there is a process I would suggest. Before you go through the process, I recommend you read through it to get an understanding of the intention of the exercise. In this exercise, you will get in touch with your inner critic and have a conversation with him or her about changing the tone of the conversations you have. If you have difficulty doing this exercise, please do not push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Take this idea to a therapist that is familiar with Internal Family Systems work (IFS) and they will guide you through it. Some people will feel more comfortable making this a writing exercise. That is fine, however, make sure that you are taking a moment to breathe first and that you have tuned into your inner world.
Getting in touch with your inner critic:
Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet grounded to the floor. Relax your shoulders, and take a few deep breaths. If it feels right to you, you can close your eyes.
Determine a particular message that your critic sends your way. For most of us, it won’t take long for a thought to pop into our head that reminds us of something critical we have said toward ourselves.
Continuing to breathe in and out, gently look inside your mind and ask yourself what the purpose is of this message. Find the loving message that is underneath the criticism. It may help to think of a particular time your inner critic said the message to you. When you think about what the circumstances are when you receive the message, it helps you to identify what the message was about.
Take a moment to absorb the loving message hidden in the criticism.
Do your best to thank you inner critic for sending you that loving message.
Ask your inner critic if next time they want to give you that message, they could try to give it to you in a way that is easier for you to hear.
Communicate to your inner critic the way you might like to hear the message next time.
Promise your inner critic that rather than ignoring the loving message, you will take note of it, you will acknowledge the message, but that ultimately you will need to take everything into account and decide what is best.
Ask your inner critic if there is anything you need to do for it to trust you more, so it can take some time off from all it’s hard work.
When you are done with this exercise. Reflect on what, if anything, that your inner critic said you would need to do to earn more trust. If your inner critic suggested something, reflect on whether that thing is do-able for you.
While I have been talking about the inner critic in the singular, many of us have multiple inner critics. One or more may have the voice of a parent or early caregiver. Another may have the voice of a shamed earlier version of you that did not know how to cope with a particular difficult situation like the ending of a relationship whether it be via break-up, abandonment or death, a traumatic memory, a feeling of being isolated and overwhelmed by a life circumstance or something else. This exercise will help you as the inner criticisms arise to examine them and to make peace now that you are an older, wiser person and know you can choose a different perspective.
Making peace with your inner critic will help not only you but the people around you, especially your children because, as I’m sure you can figure out, the voice of our inner critic also tends to become the voice of our children’s inner critic as well.
- The Art of Breathing (help4yourfamily.com)
- Messing Up Children in Just the Right Ways (help4yourfamily.com)
- To Parents Who Worry Their Children Will Harm Others (help4yourfamily.com)
- Finding the Right Therapist (help4yourfamily.com)
This post is just for moms (sorry dads). I’m working on a new project just for you. How would you feel about a weekend for you (no kids) and a small group of other moms to come together for some rejuvenation and to breathe some fresh air into your most important job- being a mom? I am looking for a location in Maryland to do just this.Think about the last big project you undertook. Maybe it was moving into a new place, or an assignment from work. Think about how much time you dedicated to the planning of the project. Think of the time you took to map out what your intention was with the project. When was the last time you sat down and really took some time to think about what you want for your life, and who you want to be in relationship to your children? A mom’s weekend retreat would give you time and motivation to focus on just such an idea.
If a weekend like this sounds interesting to you, please take a moment to answer a quick survey. I am in the process of making it happen and want to give you something you will truly enjoy.
Thank you for any help you are willing to give. Feel free to use the comments section below to make suggestions if you are not up for taking the survey.
All the best,
written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
Do you ever get tired of the constant routine of getting upset because your child has not done an agreed upon task or said something insulting to or about you, or bothered you while you were on the phone…again? It always seems to end in the child apologizing, you telling them why they shouldn’t do that, threatening with a consequence next time, only to find that they do it again when you are distracted and you just have a redo. Sorrys start to feel hollow when they are said about the same thing one hundred times.
Even though it’s my job to tell you that accepting what we would call a “repair,” (i.e.- I did something damaging to our relationship and now I am trying to fix it by saying ‘I’m sorry’) is best for your relationship with your child, I understand that this can feel more and more difficult to do as a parent when you feel stuck in a rut and like your children get to breeze by with a sorry and no real consequence.
If this sounds like a familiar routine in your house, might I recommend a little trick I like to call “quick jobs.” It’s a list of quick tasks a child can do around the house to help out when they have done something wrong. It’s not a “your grounded forever” kind of thing, it’s not something that has a child doing an extra 20 minutes of chores. These are for the day-to-day grievances, the ones kids say “sorry” for but you have to wonder after a while, “are they?”
Here is a quick list of tasks. You need the list, or this will just be another good idea that you will forget when the time comes (if you are anything like me). You can have fun making them up next time you are trying to straighten the house:
- Dust the bannister
- Clean all the door knobs in the house
- Take the laundry from the washer and put it in the dryer
- Help finish the dishes
- Clean off one surface in the house (the dining room table, the end table next to the sofa)
- Clean out the sink in the bathroom
- Wipe down the outside of the dishwasher, oven, or pantry
Quick jobs are for when you are irritated and need a little something extra. When you use them you can say, “I realize your sorry but I would really know it if you ________.” If a child decides not to do it, you can point out that perhaps they are not so sorry after all and that is a bigger discussion.
For today let’s just focus on a quick fix that helps set things right again and teaches children how to really “repair” when they have done something they wish they hadn’t.
written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
Whenever it’s time to bring up the topic of sex, I think about that old Salt and Peppa song, Let’s Talk About Sex.
Let’s talk about sex baby,
let’s talk about you and me,
let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be,
let’s talk about sex…
let’s talk about sex!
I guess I’m aging myself here. Anyway, people would be surprised how much I talk about sex with adults even though my main client population consists of families and children. While I spend plenty of time talking to the adolescents and adults I see about sex, more often, I find parents who bring their children to see me are asking me about it as well. Let’s face it, having a highly spirited child, or a child with an attachment issue, depression or any other mental health issues is draining and often the relationship you have with your spouse/partner can fall down a notch on the priority list.
I was inspired to do this post because of Christine Moers, mother of several biological and adopted children who has dedicated her past month of blogging to a month she has named “Sexuary.” I’m a huge fan of Christine and think she has amazing, funny, honest advice for parents.
Before I tell you what Sexuary is, let me say this. Sex is important in a relationship. It is not the most important part, but it is important. As one couples therapist said to me a while back, “Good sex will never fix a bad relationship, but lack of sex or bad sex can ruin an otherwise good relationship.” I completely agree and have seen this in my practice.
Here are some common mistakes I see parents making when it comes to sex:
- Not talking about it to each other…ever.
- Believing that sex is not important to their spouse without checking to make sure they are correct.
- Allowing their spouse to believe sex is not important to them.
There are a bunch more, but this post is not about the problems, it is about finding solutions and bringing couples closer together. Happy parents make happy children and I want your family to be a happy one.
So, for anyone who has questions about having more sex, better sex, any sex, or anywhere in between, I’m going to direct you to Christine’s posts (linked below) so you can read about Sexuary, which is picking the month of your choice to try to have some intimate contact every day. She does an amazing job walking you through the process of bringing this up with your partner, making a plan of action according to where you and your partner are, etc, even if your kids are not helpful, even if you haven’t had sex with your partner for months, or even years, even if you think your partner does not like, or want to have sex…
I would love to hear what you think about her posts:
The Kind of Partner Everyone Needs (welcometomybrain.net)
Sexuary- What the Heck Are You Thinking? (welcometomybrain.net)
Sexuary- Closer Than When We Started (welcometomybrain.net)
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
It seems to me that many parents I come across in my practice are in a grieving process without being fully aware of it. I would venture a guess that there are many parents outside of my practice who are grieving as well. Grieving, while often associated with death, is really just a word that describes a transition from one reality to another. Transitions have stages that go along with grief like, sadness, denial, blaming, anger, bargaining, and relief. We can grieve relationships with or without death. We can grieve changes, like moving from a home we have loved to a new home- even if we are excited about the move. What I think most parents grieve is the fantasy they had about the parent they thought they would be. We all have those thoughts before we become parents, then, after becoming parents, we have days where we question what the heck we were thinking in the first place.
I remember having my first daughter. I was so excited and felt so much joy that she was coming. I was allowed that pure joy because I did not fully understand at that time, nor could I really without experiencing it, the enormous undertaking I was embarking upon. I remember that almost confused feeling, where my husband and I wondered aloud how it was that we came to the hospital, two of us, and left with a whole extra person. All the nurse needed to check was that we had a car seat properly installed. I’m sure the same is true for adoption and fostering as well. One day there are two of you, or one person on your own and the next day there is a whole extra person who does not know a thing about your expectations (even if you told them) and they are just there…all the time.
I think of those emotions, in contrast to having my second daughter, where I cried in the delivery room before I had her. When my husband asked me why I was crying, I told him I was happy, but I was also scared. I knew then the awesome responsibility we were taking on. We were responsible for a human life…two of them! Even with the knowledge that we had a supportive family and community around us I still felt that feeling, you know, that knowing that “the buck stops here.” I wanted to be a good parent and, even with all my training as a social worker, I knew it was going to be tough to feel successful as a parent.
I know too, that for parents adopting children at an older age, there is an added complexity. When you adopt an older child, you don’t have the advantage that parent of infants have in that, when you figure out you do not know what the heck you are doing, your child does not understand that you are just figuring this stuff out too. Instead, you have a child who is probably a bit hypervigilant, who is looking to see if you do know what you are doing, and who is actively testing you every step of the way (usually without naps). Even if you have already raised biological children, you have now taken on a child with a history you did not control and that was not ideal. They are going to be vigilant in their seeking to see if you know what you are doing, as you realize that really, lots of times you don’t, even if you went to all the trainings about therapeutic parenting.
A few weeks ago, I was laughing with a mom in my office when she told me she thought adopting internationally would be great, her son would be used to other children, having spent the first year of his life in an orphanage with other children. She would put him into daycare right away, where he would be familiar with other children, then she could keep working, and sometimes she and her husband could sneak away for dates periodically. She told me this after we had just spent the session with me reinforcing the importance of this mom spending time alone with her husband, since she had been a stay at home mom and they had not had a date in the three years since they brought their child home.
We parents all know that the actual day to day realities of raising children are different, perhaps vastly different, than what we expected. Some of it is more amazing than we could have ever imagined. Parenting can be funny, serious, exciting, and tiring! No matter what, it is always different than we thought it would be.
The children I see most often come with an unique set of challenges. They have been traumatized. Their brains work differently than other children’s brains due to neglect or drug use while they were in utero. They have experienced loss. Their hearts have been broken. In a harsher, less gradual way, the parents I see recognize that the children that live with them, sometimes children they have not had an opportunity to fall in love with yet, if they were adopted at an older age, need more than our traditional notions of parenting have afforded us. Biological parents can find this out as well. We live in a new age of parenting where there really is no dominant model for parents to follow. The media loves to tell you how to raise your child the “best” way until, if you were to try to simultaneously follow all the advice, you would feel schizophrenic trying to figure out whether you are supposed to tell them what to do, let them figure it out themselves, hover, or hang back, stay home or work… the list is endless.
I think a big part of the grieving I see in parents is grieving the loss of knowing what you are supposed to do! As a single, or even in a couple, before those little ones came along, we knew which days were sleeping in days. We ran our own schedules. We thought when the kids came we still would know what to expect in a given day, remember? Remember transitioning from most of the time being your time, to your time feeling like stolen time where you had to weigh whether it was “worth it” to take time for yourself away from your children? I remember before children, going to the movies with my husband and turning around to go home without seeing a movie because we had already seen all the movies that were worth seeing. One day we will get there again…maybe.
Until then, we will go through a series of transitions. We will transition from knowing where our child learned everything, to hearing them have a thought or bring home an understanding from someplace else. We will watch our children prove to us over and over that while we can attempt to control their outside world, we do not have total control over their inside world as they will have their own unique interpretations of the world as they see it. We will realize we can not shield them from pain, nor can we make them forget the pain they have already experienced in the way we fantasized we could. We will see our own understanding of parenting shift as well. The parent we thought we would be makes way for the parent that we are becoming. Often, we find that rather than being the parent we imagined we would be, we must adapt to becoming the parent our unique children need us to be.
What have been some of the transitions you have made as a parent that surprised you?
Messing Up Children in Just the Right Ways (help4yourfamily.com)
A Quick Primer on Early Primary Relationships (help4yourfamily.com)
To Parents Who Worry Their Children Will Harm Others (help4yourfamily.com)
Quick Self-Care for Parents (help4yourfamily.com)
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
This week I am writing to you from my vacation because I love you just that much. I am in Hawaii and I have been reminded of something that feels too good not to share. It is this…remember it is important to stand back in awe at the wonders of all life has to offer. I know that feels easy for me to say from Hawaii, but I was actually first reminded of this two times on my day long plane trip to get here (12 hours for those who are wondering).
On the second plane I was on there was an infant that could not have been more than two weeks old with her parents and three doting women, maybe grandma’s and aunts, in her entourage. She was a beautiful little baby and I had a wonderful, nosy neighbor view as I watched her parents rock her, coo with her and love on her. I got to see her sweet little smile and remember other babies I have held, my own, my niece and nephews, my friend’s children, my client’s children and grandchildren. I felt awe at the realization that we go from being such fragile, dependent beings to functioning people who walk and talk and make major decisions on a daily basis.
I know some people don’t like plane rides but I love it. There are so many things you just can’t do on a plane. I can’t fix anyone a sandwich. I can’t take anyone anywhere, get an extra load of laundry in, do a quick clean up, or return phone call or emails. I can have a conversation with anyone who wants to have a conversation with me, my husband, my children, or a random passenger who feels like talking even though I’m too shy to initiate the conversation. I can take a cat nap. I can read a book, watch a movie, if one is offered, or catch up on reading the newspaper. It was actually while catching up on the news that I found my second moment that reminded me of the importance of awe.
Everyone who knows me knows that catching up on reading the newspaper is a pretty quick deal for me. I skim over the bad parts, just enough to be informed, and focus on the good parts. Anyone who reads the news knows that’s a quick read because there is not much good stuff. This past Sunday however, in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine, I got a nice surprise. There is an article which details the love story of Bill Ott and Shelly Belgard, two mentally impaired adults who fell in love and got married. I actually went to high school with Bill. We did not know each other personally but I do remember him going to prom (he might even have been with Shelly). I remember how dear he was with his date, how they both remarked about being nervous to one of the chaperones, and how they both were smiling every time I happened to see them.
The part of the article that reminded me about awe came from a quote from Shelly’s mother, Gail Belgard. In it she talked about how the doctors told her when Shelly was born that she would not live six weeks. Her mother says that Shelly kept “not dying” and actually went on to begin walking and talking. “You know what was nice?” Gail remembers. “People have all these expectations of their children or wishes for their children — to go to Harvard or whatever. For us it was, ‘Shelley learned to tie her shoe! She learned to feed herself! Gee, she’s walking!’ Everything was great. Whatever she was doing was great.” (Washington Post Magazine, Feb 7, 2013)
This made me think of the families I work with. So many children come to me who have suffered incredibly difficult trauma and/or neglect from very early on. It is amazing that they are able to survive with any of their spirit intact. I am in awe of their ability to survive. Much of my work has to do with helping parents to see the enormity of a child trusting in parents again after an essential parent/child trust has been broken. I wish I could give some of the parents who come through my doors a bit of the feeling that Shelly’s mom had but in this case, a sense of wonder when a child is willing to tell you the truth, even after a lie, even though they might get in trouble; or a sense of wonder when a child asks for help, even though they have always relied on their own skewed sense of survival to make it through the day.
As a reward for reading this far, I want to share with you a third moment of awe that I felt, this one from the actual vacation. We went on a whale watch this morning at sunrise. I got to see the sun come up and there was a moment when I realized that on Maui, you don’t have to look for rainbows as much as you see that the world is the rainbow. Whales were all around and my husband was good enough to catch a bit of it so I can share it with you…
When Bill Met Shelly: No Disability Could Keep Them Apart (Washington Post Magazine)
The Importance of Delight (help4yourfamily.com)
Parent Affirmation Monday- being present (help4yourfamily.com)
- This is your brain on attachment
- Last Chance for Two Great Opportunities
- Mother’s Retreat Weekend- It’s Really Happening!
- Stopping the Parent Shame and Blame Game
- Making Peace With Your Inner Critic
- Putting together something fun for you!
- Quick Jobs for Kids
- Staying Strong as a Couple
- Letting Go of the Parent You Thought You Would Be
- Add a Little Awe to Your Life
- Upcoming Trainings
- Older Kids with Bathroom Issues: Why Does it Happen? How Can You Help? Part 2