Thankfulness: Thanksgiving, Tradition Changes and COVID

I’ve got to admit, Thanksgiving used to be my least favorite holiday. Here are some things I’m not really a fan of:

Turkey

waiting to eat

As a child, pitch-ins, or food I didn’t know what it was made of. I was (and am, if I’m being honest) a picky eater. If food was brought in by someone else, it was hard to know what foods that I might not like were in it.

Thanksgiving always seemed to be a time of waiting until I was really hungry, or snacking to fend off the hunger, and then not being hungry for the meal.

Then there were lots of foods prepared that I may or may not want, and the pressure to eat them. Later, there was the fact that others had a lack of interest in eating dinner because they had overeaten.

I rarely miss a meal, so that doesn’t really work for me.

Now some might say that a reason I am not a huge fan of turkey may have something to do with the amount of time my grandma cooked it. My grandma was one of the nicest, kindest, most pleasant people I have ever met. She had lots of great skills, and there are many, many things I miss about her.

Cooking a turkey? Well, I’m not going to say that was among her list of greatest talents. So for the first 16 or so years of my life, we spent Thanksgiving at my grandma’s house, with a turkey that had been cooked past its prime.

I’ve come around though.

As a kid, we talked about being thankful, and what we were thankful for. We also talked about the story of the Pilgrims and the Indians (the term Native American would come later) sitting down and eating together, recognizing that working together worked best for them. As I learned more about history, I realized that there is a little more to that story.

As an adult, I find the Thanksgiving holiday a beginning, and a time to rest and reflect.

It’s a time to start thinking about the Christmas season, which has always been a time of celebration in extra ways due to my children’s birthday being Christmas Eve.

It’s a time to have a long weekend, without a ton of traditions and hurry. We have a meal, on Thursday. For many years, we alternated spending Thanksgiving with my side of the family and my husband’s. In the past few years, our traditions have become much more fluid.

My in-laws moved out of state; my Aunt and Uncle, who had hosted Thanksgiving since my teens, both passed in the same year; my brother began hosting; and then we moved to Texas.

Then my boys had the audacity to continue to grow up, graduating from college and moving on to their next things.

This year, Thanksgiving is looking different for a lot of us.

We have a global pandemic, with recommendations to keep our gatherings to a small number of people to help avoid the spread of the virus.

Things that people have done for years and years, to indicate the Thanksgiving holiday, are changing for many of us.

For me, I will spend today with my husband and one of my sons. The three of us will eat some turkey, some pie, and several sides that I’m sure will include quite a few leftovers.

I’m looking forward to trying something new, knowing if it tastes terrible I’ll toss it and eat something else.

Today I’m thankful for the chance to sit quietly and begin the day, waiting for the sun to come up. Watching the sky lighten, I know today will be a fairly nice day. Someday I may take the sunshine and temperate weather that we get here in Texas for granted, but I’m not there yet.

I’m thankful that we have the ability to decide who to be around, and that we are not currently ill. Knowing how many families are missing members for the first time this year, and other families where people are ill or quarantined as they recover, makes me aware of how rough that is and how grateful I am for health.

I’m thankful for the chance to begin the holiday season, knowing that Christmas traditions may also look different for many of us. This Christmas season will include thinking about how to be creative, in order to spend time together in ways that may look and feel different.

I’m still wondering how all of these changes in traditions and work patterns may affect us going forward, when the pandemic does not have such a daily affect in terms of risk to our health, and is more about determining what the middle ground is for changes that we’ve made in the last year.

As you think about your holiday traditions, those that you are keeping and those that you are switching up this year, what things are you grateful for?

What do you think about, as you wake up and prepare for your day? Are you spending it similarly to previous years of differently?

What about today do you look forward to, and what do you wish were different?

2020 has certainly been a year of changing the status quo.

Mental Health: Everyone Makes Mistakes, Anxiety and ADHD

Remember the song from Sesame Street? (you may want to ask a parent if you are under 40)

“Everyone makes mistakes oh yes, they do…..

Your sister and your brother and your dad and mother too…

big people

small people

matter of fact, ALL People…”

well, you get the idea.

We all have a tendency to make mistakes. What we don’t all have the tendency to do is to be aware of how to be tolerant of others when they make mistakes. Even more importantly, we have to learn to be tolerant of ourselves when WE make mistakes.

Maybe the song should have gone something like this:

“Please remember this when you type on your social media page

Or yell at your spouse

or your child

or….yourself”

I write a lot about leadership and how important it is to foster a trusting relationship. I write about encouraging questions and an environment of learning.

What I haven’t written as much about is how to be OK with our own errors, and to work through those anxious feelings when mistakes happen. For adults with ADHD tendencies, or diagnosed ADHD, those learned behaviors of feeling anxious about behaviors and actions can result in a whole lot of anxiety.

Ever think back on a social event and think ‘why did I say that?? I probably shouldn’t have. I wish I could go back in time and not say it’.

This rumination, or thinking about the same thing over and over again, is a huge part of attention differences. Anxiety co-occurs with ADHD with a really high frequency, and can have a real negative affect on social relationships, sleep, and our own self-talk and self-care.

I’m really fascinated by the ADHD brain.

The ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) brain is different from those whose brains may be more neurotypical.

ADHD isn’t really about not being able to pay attention.

It is a different wiring of the brain, which can be either over or under stimulated.

Let’s take an example of someone who has been diagnosed with ADHD.

That person may be able to focus intently on a specific task at times (referred to as hyperfocusing), and struggle to give attention to something they need to focus on at others.

As a parent to a child with those behaviors, it may seem that the child focuses on what they like, or what they want to, but not on what they need to focus on, such as completing chores or schoolwork.

The parent may then experience frustration and express that to their child in a negative way, perhaps by using a loud voice.

The child may then become anxious and worried about forgetting tasks, which creates a cycle of lower success.

A few things that can help a child who has an ADHD brain to have more success are:

Provide structure. Have a routine of tasks that need to be completed. The child then has more predictability and may know ‘OK, after dinner I do my homework. After homework I take my bath and get ready for bed’

Another idea is to break tasks into smaller chunks instead of listing everything out at once. A child who hears ‘Take your shoes upstairs, then put these clean clothes away, then I need you to come back down to finish your homework’ may take their clothes upstairs, notice they left out their game from earlier, and begin playing it.

The caregiver may then become upset with the child for not listening, and the child may become more and more anxious as the parent gives them a list of tasks because of their fear of forgetting.

The ADHD brain fires differently, and as with all things, we are still learning about how this works.

I encourage you, as an adult reading this article who may have a brain with ADHD or attention differences, to continue to educate yourself about how your brain may work differently than someone who does not have attention differences.

I encourage you, as a parent who may be reading this who experiences frustration, to give your child structure and provide small chunks of instructions instead of lists of them. To say ‘I need you to go upstairs do 2 things. Put your shoes up there and put your clothes away.

You have then told the child how many things to do (2), and what those two things are. The child has a better chance of remembering to complete them because they may have focused on the number of things to do, or the items, which both help them have a better chance of completing the requested tasks.

Then monitor your child for success. Encourage them to recognize that they did complete a task, and to know you are both seeking success and less frustration.

As you and they continue to make mistakes, as you and they both will, remember the song I referenced at the beginning of this article. In this time of COVID, we’re learning a little more about our own tendencies and our children’s as we spend more time interacting and learning new patterns and habits.

Everyone makes mistakes oh yes they do…..

Leadership: Using Empathy ‘I Hear You Saying You Are Frustrated’

So anyone who lives in the US (or really, in the world) knows that there has been a recent election in the US.

It was, or is, a very tight race, with lots of people voting for the candidates whom they feel best represent their interests, their level of comfort, and numerous other reasons that compel people to vote.

Record numbers of people have voted, which affects local races, the Senate, Congress, and the election for the next leader of our country.

As a leader, both in parenting my children and as a leader in my work environments, I tend to have a lot of opinions about characteristics of leaders and what I find useful in bringing out the work/change in others that we are working together to accomplish.

A story of when I was first hired to be a supervisor of staff in a previous role:

I was 28, and my two children who were born on the same day were just about nearly 1 years old. I had been providing mental health therapy to families who were involved with Child Protective Services, and had learned about a program called Healthy Families. A difference between Healthy Families and the work I had been doing was the timing of the intervention to assist kids who were at risk for being abused or neglected by their caregivers. The program is intended for families who have a certain level of assessed need.

Healthy Families targets families who are going to care for an infant, and has to begin within the first 3 months of the child’s life. The research has been pretty clear that children who receive prevention/protective services fare better in terms of lowering their likelihood of being abused of neglected compared to those families who do not receive that support. The criteria to qualify for services at the time period in which I was working was a pretty low amount of documented risk, and families chose to be a part of the program.

I was hired to supervise this program that was new to two of the counties in which I had been working. I was promoted from my position as home based therapist/caseworker, to Healthy Families Supervisor.

A few benefits to me were the following: I had a predictable time to finish work each day, which was generally before the day care my children attended closed; I was able to be a part of something which I truly believed in and wanted to support; and I could utilize my skills/training in mental health to supervise entry level staff. I went from being a peer to several other employees, to having no peers. I got to jump in and lead two staff who were new to the company and learn with them how to implement the program. I was also able to retain just a few clients I had been meeting with for counseling and of course, continue to parent and lead my children to be functioning adults.

I noticed that utilizing empathy when a staff is feeling frustrated helped them to perform better.

If I had a staff who was stressed about trying to schedule the number of families that they were seeing, particularly taking into account the distance the families lived from each other, I could identify the emotion that the staff was feeling by naming it and then having a discussion about their interpretation of what could help.

Example: I hear that you are feeling frustrated about getting all of your families scheduled. It sounds like you are concerned about driving distances between each client, while you are also wanting to make sure to get them all scheduled. That must be stressful.

The above is an example of empathy. I’m verbalizing that I hear that they are frustrated, which they may have specifically stated, and I am summarizing what I am hearing that they are frustrated about. I am then stating the stress that I am interpreting that is causing them.

One difference that we have is that we tend to use different words to express our feelings. I might say frustrated, and the staff member may correct me and state they are not frustrated, they are irritated. Or angry, or sad about it.

Me naming the correct emotional label was less important than me indicating that I heard what they were saying, with an opportunity for them to correct me if needed.

Leading with empathy can be very effective in getting desired results both at work and in the home enviornment with parenting children.

With kids, I will give a different example, which involves my then 4 year old son.

He was hungry, or wanted to play something different, or had some sort of need.

I don’t remember specifically what we were having a disagreement about, but I do remember getting quite frustrated and raising my voice to a higher volume. I was repeating myself, and he was repeating himself, and we were not communicating well

He stopped and yelled my name:

Mom!! I get frustrated when you use that voice to yell at me!’

As you may be able to tell, he had spent four years of his life (so far) with a therapist for a mother. He wasn’t getting his needs met, which for arguments sake was a snack before dinner.

I wasn’t getting my need met, which was for him to accept that I had told him ‘no’ and to move on to something else

We both started using loud voices, which can be hard on our ears and unpleasant to hear.

When he yelled my name, I stopped and listened. He was able to express his feelings, and to name his own emotion. This story includes an ‘I-statement’ and it indicates that he was listening and hearing my loud voice.

As we all work toward having peaceful moments, I encourage you to think about how you can show empathy for others.

How can you, as someone who is hearing someone say something, indicate that you are hearing what they are saying and understand what they are saying about how they feel?

In graduate school, at the University of Cincinnati, we had a whole course on practicing reflective listening and using empathy. We practiced with each other, and it felt awkward at first.

As you are working to get your needs met and yourself heard, how do you respond when someone shows empathy to you? Do you feel more heard and listened to when the person you are speaking with names the feeling you have or reflects back what you have said?

I challenge you to work to increase the amount of empathy that you show. I encourage you to speak in ways that show the person you are talking with that you hear not just the words they are saying, but also the emotions behind it.

%d bloggers like this: