Mother's Day by Jessica Gombis

Mother’s Day is upon us.  It’s a pretty loaded day I’d say.  I’m a mom and I have a mom, and well, let’s be real; we have expectations.  We have expectations of our children. We have expectations of our spouses.  Heck, we have expectations of the person giving the sermon at church, the server handing us our mimosa, the weather, the flowers, the jewelry, and the phone call.  C’mon! Being a mom is a hard job y’all so, it’s no wonder that mom’s have expectations.

There’s also so much heartbreak that mother’s day can bring.  There’s the heart-wrenching pain of wanting to be a mom and not getting to be one.  There are folks who have lost their moms and moms who have lost their babies. There’s mom guilt.  And even when everyone is living and thriving, the relationships between moms and children can be fraught with pain, conflict and absence.  There’s enough pain potential wrapped into this one holiday to land anyone in bed with the covers pulled over your head.

Some might say we should scrap the whole thing, and I think I agree.  While it’s lovely to have a day dedicated to honoring this relationship and these people who mother us, maybe the real issue is that one day can’t hold it all.

One day can’t hold enough gratitude for all the ways mothers sacrifice and serve their families.  No bouquet of roses, hand-written card, lovely brunch, or piece of jewelry can fully say thanks for all mothers do for us.  And in turn, one day can’t hold the pain of loss and broken relationships or serve to make up for them. It takes a long time; a lifetime sometimes to find that peace.

My perspective is that we need to make it our regular practice to honor and thank those who mother us as often as we can.  I need to call regularly, I need to send notes of gratitude regularly, and to give gifts regularly. No annual call or gift will ever be enough.

In seasons and situations of pain or loss, we need to regularly acknowledge those who are suffering.  When we are the ones suffering, we need to make it our regular practice to work toward reconciliation or peace.  It will take time and effort. If you find it difficult to do that work on your own, part of that regular practice may be going to counseling.  You’ll find some great Chicago counselors at Sprout Family Clinics in the South Loop or Evanston to help you on your journey.

Maybe the best motherly advice I can give you is to mother yourself a little this Mother’s Day.  Sleep well, eat well, love well and be well all you moms and dads and daughters and sons.

Also, I want a necklace and flowers if you’re reading this Sophia, Graham and Mason.  JK- but not really. Xoxo- Mom

The Generosity of Youth By Sandie Johnson, LCSW

In this season of gift giving, there is much emphasis on a child’s reaction to the holidays and their gifts. I remember my own kids’ excitement when they opened a gift that they thought was “so cool.” I felt joy, just seeing them feel joy! After all, Christmas is about the kids, right? It’s about seeing their faces light up when someone gives them a gift or they have a new experience. I’d like to challenge that notion by suggesting that the joy that I experienced watching someone else receive a gift that he really wanted, is a joy that children should experience as well.

So how do you get young ones to think about someone else? Children can be self-involved for very good reasons. They are figuring out how to get what they need through practice: asking for it over and over again, sometimes in more gracious ways than others. However, there are several ways that we can encourage kids to look beyond themselves to be generous in order to experience the joy of givingFirst of all, building a child’s empathy for others is crucial. There is no better way to get out of being self-focused than trying to imagine what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. Seeing strong emotion in movie or book characters and asking your child, “How do you think that person is feeling?” prompts empathy. It can even happen with siblings or strangers and then awaken a sense of generosity towards them.

Furthermore, noticing a child’s generosity will reinforce it. Children can be naturally generous,  especially if they are with someone they want to please. Even though there may be self-centeredness entwined in sharing their cookies with a friend, noticing and remarking on it can help the child feel validated when they are doing something that might feel a little hard. When given positive attention, an action that is hard may take on a brave or courageous quality. Then that feeling of bravery becomes associated with generosity and the nobleness of generosity is highlighted for the child.

In addition, your own attitude about generosity is one of the biggest influences on your child’s propensity to be generous. If they see you extending yourself to be helpful to others, giving to charitable organizations (not just at holidays), and practicing kindness in small ways, they will follow your pattern and see these acts as a healthy habit. Having moments everyday when you excuse a mistake that is made or acknowledge a server’s work in a restaurant will communicate an attitude of generosity, not just an act of generosity.

An example of practicing generosity as a family could be to pick a family project that creates a holiday tradition as well as setting a generous example.  Perhaps volunteering at a food pantry, making cards for residents at a nursing home or making cookies for your neighbors could be ways that kids can be involved hands-on in generosity. It will also give you time together as a family, building memories of the times your family shows generosity again and again.

However you encourage generosity in your children, you can count on the fact that when humans are generous, gratefulness arises, and when someone is grateful, contentment is found.  I hope we can all find that kind of contentment this year!

The main ideas in this blog come from “Tips for Raising Generous Children,” an article found on the Childmind® Institute website. (Tips for Raising Generous Children)

Celebrating Halloween Without Creating Monsters By Sandie Johnson, LCSW

I’ve noticed in the last 10 years how much earlier Halloween decorations start to go up now. I saw one family putting them up the last weekend of September this year. The elaborateness of them seems to have gone over the top too.  My favorite was an inflatable ghost that rose up from behind a gravestone and then went back down slowly. Very effective on the spookiness scale.

So how do kids perceive all this? We as adults have a filter that says it’s not real. Small children may see the scary things and be either fascinated or afraid depending on their previous experience. Older children (6 to 10 years old) may experience real fear because of images that they’ve seen and stories that they’ve heard.

Some kids manage the fear and enjoy the startle factor that comes from being scared momentarily. Others make it very clear that they are afraid and upset by the images and can tell a parent that they don’t like looking at a certain decoration. The third category of children are the ones who feel afraid internally but can’t express it for fear of looking “like a sissy.” These children often have older siblings that they are eager to impress. When left alone with those feelings of fear these children may have their fear come out in other ways. They may have a meltdown over having to go to bed. Or maybe they become resistant to activities that are normally fun for them to do.

As a parent, you can handle all three of these scenarios! First of all, know your child. If there are experiences that predispose your child to anxiety, count on the fact that Halloween is a stressful season for them. No matter how many times you say, “It’s not real. You don’t have to be afraid,” they are still going to need time to process their feelings, either verbally or just through play. Provide downtime leading up to the holiday as well as on the day. When trick-or-treating, for children 5 and under, I would recommend only going to houses of people you know and keep it to 30 to 45 minutes. Little people will be overstimulated by any more than that.  For older children you as the parent can set up the structure of the evening so that expectations are clear about how long you will go door-to-door, how much candy they can eat and what time they have to be in bed. Afterwards, process what they saw by asking questions like, “What was the scariest costume you saw?” or “What was the high and low of the evening?“ Having time at home before they go to bed where they can play or read is the ideal to give them some space to process on their own.

However you do it, check your own expectations as well. Are you trying to create an experience for your child that you didn’t get? Are you being as creative as you can with the costumes to impress another family? If you’re focusing on your child, even if they want to wear a garbage bag as a costume (yes, that really happened) you’ll be able to enter into their excitement and enjoy the holiday with less external pressure.

Happy Halloween!