But I’m not Ready! Shedding Our Masks and Maintaining Change as We Return to Work, School, and Those All-Important Social Connections

A COVID perspective, 2021

I’ve been watching the news and kind of keeping up on vaccination rates.

It seems like just about everybody who wants a vaccine and is ready to get it, has one. Those who don’t are either hesitating due to a fear they may have, do not want to get it, or just haven’t quite gotten around to it yet.

But they are available, for those who want one, from what I can see.

I’m referring to the COVID vaccines, of course.

As a mental health therapist, I talk with people about what’s bugging them, what’s going well, and we work together to come up with ideas about how to help things they’d like to be different go a little more smoothly, and things that are going well to help stay that way or get better.

The primary groups of people I work with are teens, parents of teens, and people who may be struggling with life transitions or working to have fewer symptoms from depression, anxiety, or ADHD.

I also really like to notice random things people say, and tend to talk to people I see either at the grocery, while waiting in line for an appointment, or to the person sitting next to me at Pilates class.

A year ago, we were (sort of) getting used to wearing masks. It was right about this time that I purchased 5 from a local retailer, in some colors I wear, to coordinate with my outfits.

I wear glasses if I want to see well or read, so I began commiserating with other people who wear glasses that I saw around me.

‘Have you figured out how to wear a mask without fogging up your glasses?’ I might ask, as my glasses fogged from breathing into my mask, and I noticed someone else’s were also fogging, but less so.

‘My husband can’t wear that kind of mask with glasses either. He has to wear the kind that comes up on your nose’, I remember a kind soul telling me during one such experience.

I noticed that some faces tend to pull the mask down below a person’s nose as they speak, and some people have voices that come through the mask clear as a bell, while other people seem to experience a very much muted effect once the mask covers their mouth.

I recently read back over a couple of articles I wrote in March and May 2020, wondering what kind of differences this mandated isolation may cause for people. How our work habits might change, and how kids doing fewer activities might change family dynamics.

I met with someone earlier in the week, and we have been meeting in person since late fall. She was the second person this week who mentioned wearing lipstick ‘again’, and now transitioning to caring about the bottom of her face when she is out where other people can see her.

I had a teen that I meet with discuss that a downside of wearing masks is the acne it causes underneath the mask, and the upside is that the mask will then cover the acne so people do not see it.

Now that schools are beginning to open up (depending on your area, of course), and sports are having fans again, some of our old habits may come back, or may be altered.

How do we transition from working from home without commutes?

One thing I’ve noticed, as a social person, is the camraderie I feel with other people who are also social who have had a hard time with the lack of social interactions in the last year.

At Starbucks, where I continue to frequent, I have gone inside a few times, and even sat outside at a table for a moment taking a break from working or while talking with co-workers.

I saw someone sitting at a table I hadn’t noticed was there, and we spoke briefly about the benefits of being able to do some work at a coffee shop, and particularly the benefits of that somewhat hidden table where he sat.

I hesitate before I walk into stores or buildings, as the Texas rule is that a business may decide whether or not someone needs to wear mask inside. As I do that, I have had a couple of other people hesitate with me as we look at each other and either put on a mask, or continue inside with the mask at the ready in our hands.

Someone asked me yesterday what I was reading, as I walked outside for a brief break from work. We talked about the book, titled ‘The Body Keeps The Score’, and she wrote it down to help her remember to read it.

One goal I have, as an almost 2 year resident of the state (or country, as I like to call it) of Texas is to increase my in person social connections. I attended church last weekend, and was approached by a few people to welcome me.

I mentioned that I was new-ish to the area, and that this is the type of church I was brought up in. For those wondering, I was brought up in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I spent a lot of time there, and feel comfortable attending the service even when I didn’t know anyone.

A woman approached me, and shook my hand. I was startled, but shook it back, and introduced myself to her. Her name is Abbie, and she also introduced me to another new friend, Stacy. We spoke for a few minutes, then dispersed to other activities of the day. We briefly talked about being glad that we were given the option, if comfortable, to attend the service without a mask.

I could smile at them, and they smiled back.

A social connection, even if just for the moment.

I’ll be really interested to hear, sociologically, how this generation of kids, 20 somethings, and middle age adults are affected by this last year of health concerns and social isolation.

in 2008-2009, we had recession that affected a lot of industries and people. Going back a little farther, in 2001, there was an attack on multiple sites in America that we frequently refer to as 9-11.

My own children, being in there almost mid-twenties, have now lived through a major life event at around the age of 3, a recession that affected both of their parents’ incomes during 2008-2009, and now a pandemic that prevented them from having an in-person graduation from college.

When I called my son early last May, I asked him if he was celebrating graduating and getting ready to move onto his next steps.

‘Feels more like a funeral’ he said, matter of factly. He and his brother walked around campus and took some amazing pictures, that included very few people.

As I watch my friends’ kids go through their own college graduation ceremony this year, I have some conflicting thoughts.

I see the proud smiles on the parents’ faces, the giant gowns the graduates wear with mortar boards and tassels, and think ‘my kids didn’t do that. My kids shared a graduation gown that their friend bought, and took turns taking each other’s pictures’. My son’s girlfriend was a great help in getting those pictures taken, and appeared in a few.

I asked her this year, as I was able to be with all three of them for what would have been the weekend of their college graduations, if she wanted to take a picture in a graduation gown. She said, quickly-

‘That depends. Could I wear one in a color I like??’

I appreciated her candor, and couldn’t help but remember the downsides from my own in-person graduation from Indiana University. My husband and I sat by each other-and commiserated. We would marry just over a year later.

It was hot, it was too crowded for all of the proud parents and grandparents who attended, and I couldn’t understand what was being said due to the echo in the football stadium at Indiana University that day in May, 1993.

The person who stated to me, earlier in the week, that she wasn’t ready to wear makeup like lipstick regularly, and wanted a little more warning that we are coming out of the pandemic, really stuck with me.

How are you, as a person who was affected in some way by the past year’s change in pace, preparing for upcomg changes as some things go back to in-person, and some things remain remote?

How are you maintaining your peace, and social connections, as you may have to return to your office for a set number of days?

What are you going to continue to do, that you’ve enjoyed doing for the past year, that you didn’t make time for before March of 2020?

I hope you find a way to ride your bike if you like to do that.

I hope you continue with your mental health therapy if that has been helpful to you. I also hope you continue to allow your child, who may participate in a lot of activities and have a lot of success, but also be anxious, depressed, or have an ADHD brain, to continue with their mental health therapy.

I’m really glad I don’t have to wear a mask as often anymore, at least for the moment. I really like to wear my very large glasses that help me see from different focal points, and they just aren’t as fun when I am coordinating them with a mask.

Parenting with Fierceness: Raising the Bottom

One of my favorite roles as a professional has been teaching a class for first-time substance users who were teenagers.

The program occured in Clinton County, Indiana and was funded through the Probation Department to help educate youth about substance use and abuse in order to help prevent future under-age/illegal use.

One of the phrases I used in that role was ‘raise the bottom’.

I have found, as a therapist working primarly with teens and youth, that encouraging the adults who are helping to provide teens with structure and consequences to ‘raise the bottom’ to be somewhat of an ambiguous term that at times needs an explanation.

When I think of this term, I also think of ‘failing small’.

Failing small is when we allow those in our lives, or in our care, to fail so that they experience some failure which can help motivate them to make some changes based on the consequences they receive.

For my own children, one of the tactics we used as parents was to state ‘That’s one consequence’ in the middle of a 4 year old’s temper tantrum.

Continue with the tantrum? That’s two consequences.

The actual consequences were discussed and determined later, when both the child and the parents had a clearer head.

I know, for myself, if I had followed the urge to hand out a consequence at the time the infraction occured it would have sounded something like ‘you are never going to leave your room again!!’ or ‘time out, no movie, no gameboy, and no television for the rest of the night!’

For children in the heat of anger and tantruming, this can sound very much like a challenge they will try to win.

During my sons’ middle school years, I supervised a Pregnant and Parenting Teen program. The program was staffed in 8 hour shifts.

The staff frequently became very frustrated with the residents in our care.  At the time I supervised this program, my own children were in middle school.

In addition, I have quite a stubborn streak, which can help me in guiding those who are dealing with people who like to be persistent. Those working to connect and motivate frequently experience an amount of frustration.

“If you decide to go toe-to-toe with a teenager, they will win”

“They are better and more locked into winning this battle, so as stubborn and persistant as you feel you may be, they are still going to get the better of you due to their super-power ability in this area”

Those are some phrases I said consistently when supervising the staff who worked in our residential program for Parenting and Pregnant Teens, who were having some frustrations.  

We then worked together to problem-solve some trauma-informed, natural consequences to attempt to motivate our teens who were pregnant or parenting.

Now let’s think of this area in terms of parenting your own children:

When we raise the bottom, we allow our children to experience a natural consequence to their choice.

An example of this could be wearing shorts on a cold day. The child/teen will be cold if they do not dress appropriately for the temperature.  That is a consequence of dressing for summer in the winter.

If you do not turn in your homework, your grade will reflect that. A ‘0’ score brings down a percentage much more quickly than a score of even 50%, so turning in your homework will help your grades if you are motivated by grades.

These get tricky, because we as parents tend to remember all of the things we wish we would have known when we were teenagers, and can recognize that lecturing and informing our child about this will certainly motivate them.

Which it probably will, it just may not motivate them in the way you are seeking.

If they are self motivated, they may not need much guidance in terms of completing their homework.  If they are high achievers, the grades or feedback themselves generally motivate them.

As we think about what areas we want to work on as parents or employers, I encourge you to think of 1-2 things you’d really like to focus on.

I encourage parents to tackle one area at a time with a child in their life who is generating some frustration.

When I am meeting with teens or pre-teens, I encourage them to learn to recognize what the consequences are for their choices before they do the act of whatever thing they may be choosing to do at that time.

Learning to recognize their feelings about conseuqneces and whether or not they are motivated to change their behaviors based on the potential consequences is another area for teens and parents to think about as they make choices and experiences the consequences of them.

Utilizing In Your Life.

I would like you to think about something you’d like to focus on with someone who is in your life at this time.

What behavior would you like to spend less time focusing on talking about or dealing with, and how would you like to allow your child to spend more time allowing your child to experience that natural or prescribed consequence?

Some sources of frustration might be related to spending money on meals, movies, etc; working on grades/homework; or anything that is causing you frustration as you and your child interact.

Now I encourage you to set aside a time to meet with the person who you are having some frustrations with, and talk about some ways to handle this differently.

Maybe you check their grades less often, or you monitor their spending a little bit less, or maybe you give them less access to funds.

Now that you have thought of what to talk about, and thought of a time that might work for a conversation, I encourage you to talk during a peaceful time.

This time could be in the car on the way to somewhere, it could be during a meal, or it could be a scheduled time where you take into consideration their schedule and how they will respond at that time of day.

It could be at a time that just ‘pops up’. We call these teachable moments, and you as the adult or other participant in the relationship can work look for opportunities as they arise naturally.

One time that I will discourage you from choosing, when dealing with teens, is right when they wake up. Clearly, though, that is up to you.

To summarize:

‘Raising the Bottom’ means letting the person in your life experience real consequences to their behavior to help motivate them to make change vs. saving them/protecting them from all consequences.

I hope you can experience a little less frustration in an area that has been frustrating for you.

Thanks for reading!

Podcast 3: Parenting Protectively and Fiercely: A story of parenting twins, staff, and encouraging autonomy

www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-m5mfj-abb7e2

Parenting with Fierceness: Some Drawbacks and Perks from a Mom of Twins

I was so excited the day in 1997 when our obstetrician told us we were having twins.

We had waited for them for just a little bit longer than some people do, as fertility was something that I had to work a little harder at than some other things I had set to accomplish in my our 25 and 26 years of life.

We found out at about 20 weeks gestation that they were both boys, so from then on we set to naming them.

As many can imagine, parenting them (let’s face it, being pregnant with them) has had its own set of challenges and rewards.

14 lbs is really too much baby for a uterus, and chasing two 18 month olds was enough to keep anyone on their toes.

I’m not even going to go into potty training two toddlers at once or teaching two of them to drive at the same time.

Who wins?

For today, let’s focus on game playing.

One thing I was never able to completely do was to parent them in a way where one of them was able to consistently ‘win’ at games we played together.

We played a lot of board games (or ‘bored’ games as my husband and one of my sons tend to call them) as they were growing up. The person who won the game was always the person who ‘actually’ won the game.

In Uno, we each tried our hardest to be the one to run out of cards first. In Monopoly Jr., the goal had something to do with Mickey Mouse, so that effort was put forth to win applied to that game as well.

When they were about 4 years old, we got together with a childhood friend of mine whose son is about 6 months younger than they are.

As we were playing, she got a confused look on her face.

‘How do you decide which one is going to win?’

I looked at her with an equally confused look, since the person who won was the person who got the joy of winning.

She went on ‘Well, I tend to let my son win, so if you have two the same age, how do you decide which one wins each time?’

At that moment, I realized how another facet of having and raising twins is different than raising singletons.

My children have never individually been my ‘one and only’.  They have always each been one of my ones and only, but they have also had each other for as long as they have had their dad and me.

Parenting using a Zone Defense

Another incident that comes to mind from around the same age occurred when I took them to a playground with a childhood friend whose son is a little over 2 years younger than they are.

We went to a park in Fishers, Indiana, where she lived at the time.

There was a very large playground there, where we watched our children from far enough back to be able to catch them if any of them got too far away or hurt themselves.

We experienced some frustrations because some of the other parents (or ‘those Fishers parents’ as we called them at the time) watched their children from such a close distance that if their child ran quickly through the playground, the parents had to either book it to the other side of the playground set or jump up and go through the obstacles themselves.

Kind of like a zone defense vs. man to man in basketball. We utilized the zone defense, the one to one parents really put in a lot more legwork.

We were both amused when parents were on the playgroud itself. They had to do some interesting gymnastics to try to keep up with their child as they skirted out of arms reach.

These children, who we have now raised into twenty somethings and now have peers in college and in the workforce, are now much, much bigger than they were at 4 and 2 years of age.

In Summary:

The takeaway from this article is thinking about how, as we parent, are in relationships, and supervise others, are we providing that balance of support and autonomy.

We want our children to stay safe.

Those big giant heads help us to do that as we understand that they cannot meet their own needs.

As we are in relationships where we want our children to grow and become more automonous, how do we provide that support while also enabling them to have some small failures and to be independent in the process?

As someone who has supervised 20 something staff for many years, I started to hear ‘you are just like my mom!’ several years ago.

I have talked with staff about how their parents encouraged their independence, as I encouraged them to separate from their parents in ways that would help them to become adults who are able to work independently and productively.

This task, for me as a supervisor, is much easier than the task is for me as a parent.

As my children moved to Bloomington as 18 year old ‘adults’, I thought of all of the things my husband I had done to encourage their confidence and independence, and all of the things we have done that has allowed them to continue to rely on us.

Putting Into Practice

As you think about the people in your life who you are trying to help become successful, independent, good-enough decision-making adults, what are some areas that you feel you have success in?

What is one specific area that you can look at about what you have done, whether that is with a friend, a spouse, an employee, or a child you have a role in raising, that you can look back on and think

‘I am doing a pretty good job at that task’?

What areas can you think of where you are helpful to someone else?

Now I encourage you to think of an area where you have what I call ‘room for growth’.

As you think about that area, what is something that you think about that you can be doing presently to help yourself, someone close to you, or a future relationship you hope to have?

When you think about that area you have room for improvement in, what is one specific thing you can think about that you will try to be better about?

For me, I encourage myself to remember that 21 year olds have a lot of independence and a lot of questions about how to maintain that independence.

The next task: identify something you’ll do, make a note of it in some way that you’ll remember, then make an effort and do it.

Now decide by when….

Happy Friday! It’s definitely my favorite day of the week!

Connecting! Leading Through Words, Looks, and Intentional Silences

I’m a big fan of toddlers and teenagers.

I love their expressive faces, their body language, and their non-verbal expressions.

Please click the link below read an article initially published on Thrive Global about managing and connecting with staff:

https://thriveglobal.com/stories/connecting-is-fun-leading-with-how-you-doin-empathetic-looks-and-silence/ 

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