Friday, December 27, 2013

Doing Time on Maple Drive

The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.
Steve Furtick

Just returned from two weeks back home for the holidays. Two weeks is a long visit. Longer than a “polite” visit anyway. No, in two weeks you get a little peek behind the curtain. And YOUR warts begin to show as well. Particularly when it comes to families. They’re all a little crazy. Mine included..

While contemplating this idea, I remembered an old movie of the week I saw years ago called, “Doing Time on Maple Drive.” I always loved that title, and think about it often when I work with families. Doing time on Maple Drive. Meaning, life behind the curtain is often messy. Sometimes even really messy. In this particular movie, we see a seemingly idyllic family begin  to crumble. A faithful son struggles with alcohol problems. The family’s golden boy is a closeted gay man, crippled with shame about sharing this with his family. Meanwhile the mother of the family works very hard to maintain the image that they are the perfect family.

But they’re not.

Because it doesn’t exist.

Living in the Facebook age, this is sometimes hard to believe. All we see are nice-looking people on vacation, smiling happily, enjoying beautiful places, having a great time with their families. And we compare ourselves to that. How could we not?

I love the quote by Steve Furtick at the beginning of this essay. We’re insecure because we’re looking at a highlight reel. People’s best moments. We don’t hear about the kids who were caught drinking and brought home by the police, or the cutting or the eating disorders or the constant defiance.

But they happen, I assure you. They happen in almost every family.

Speaking as a therapist, I think it’s an important point for parents to realize. The perfect family doesn’t exist, and yours isn’t somehow broken or flawed or damaged because you’re going through some hard times. Everyone does. Although I’d love to tell you to forget about the social comparisons, you probably can’t. They’re everywhere these days.

Impression management is a concept all of us at times struggle with. Putting our “best” selves out there. Whatever the hell that means. We work hard at telling people about our best accomplishments, showing them our best pictures, and showcasing the best version of our lives for everyone to examine. It reminds me of a famous Chris Rock quote about relationships, how we’re not dating someone during the first six months of a relationship, we’re actually dating their representative.

It’s important food for thought.

So as we start a new year, I offer a little cheers and a word of encouragement to all of the parents out there who think they must be doing something wrong because their kids don’t measure up to the seemingly perfect lives all around them. Don’t buy into the myth. Every mom has heard “You’re ruining my life!!” at some point, and encountered the defiance, and the disrespect, and the thinking that they must have missed something in the parenting manual.

We all have some blemishes. Every family. Every one of us..

If you’re a struggling mom, or a harried dad, hang in there. 
If you need to come to counseling, please know there is no shame in that. It can be a tremendous relief to finally drop the struggle to maintain the image, and find the courage to be imperfect.

We’ve all been there…

No matter what you see on Facebook…

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Our Time/Revisiting the Goonies at Christmas

Don’t you realize, The next time you see sky, it'll be over another town. The next time you take a test, it'll be in some other school. Our parents, they want the bestest stuff for us. But right now they gotta do what's right for them, 'cause it's their time. Their time, up there. Down here it's our time. It's our time down here. That's all over the second we ride up Troy's bucket.
Mikey Walsh- The Goonies

Back home for a couple of weeks for Christmas, and revisiting some of my own old haunts. It always puts me in a nostalgic mood, and I try and remember the good times.

There’s something else though. With each passing year I feel a little less in the Christmas spirit, and I often think about why that is. Has something changed about the holiday, or has something changed about me? Granted, the children in my family are getting older, and Santa Claus and Christmas songs have slowly been replaced by Iphones and Instagram. So it goes.

This all came back into my head as I was driving near Astoria Washington, home of the infamous “Goonies” and close to all of the places they had their adventures. The above speech about that piece of their childhoods being “our time” hit especially close to home. Adults plan, and count, and worry, trying to keep the trains running on time, but that means very little to a kid.

No, to a kid time works a little differently. Putting together a Christmas list may be the most important thing they do that year. For little kids the combined terror and anticipation of seeing Santa Claus can be enough to trigger an anxiety attack, (in both the parents as well as the children). The night before Christmas, time comes to a virtual halt and the anticipation becomes almost too much to bear. I was up at 4 A.M for 20 straight years as a kid. That’s a true story.

As a child psychologist, I get to watch all of this stuff happen every year, and it always makes me smile. It’s their time. Especially at Christmas. But perhaps even beyond that, we as counselors, teachers and parents, need to understand that childhood IS their time. All of this stuff, the first trip to Santa Claus, the first year seeing the shiny new bike in the living room, and all those memories of Christmas, are happening only once for them, even as we as the adults stress, and worry, and count, and budget. If we don’t make childhood special for children, they don’t get more time.

It goes pretty fast..

So this year I’m going to remember that, although I’m no longer a child experiencing all of these memories for the first time, perhaps I can learn to live on the good ones I have of Christmases’ past. I was fortunate enough to have some wonderful Christmases, and people took the time to make it nice for me. Me being cynical and grumpy as an adult doesn’t add one ounce of cheer to the season, and I have a lot to be grateful for. And perhaps it’s not over for us adults either. Personally I packed a number of Christmas outfits to wear just in case. So I’ll be the jackass dressed as Cousin Eddy wearing deer antlers at the Christmas party.

I was kind of a jackass anyway..

Merry Christmas..

Ya filthy animals…