You’re Not Stuck!

As I was flipping through channels on a lazy afternoon, I happened across one of the movies that I can watch over and over and over again: The Devil Wears Prada. I’m not sure what it is about this movie that sucks me into watching it but I couldn’t help but watch it again.

Ok, so spoiler alert. If you haven’t seen this movie, you weren’t going to anyway so I’m going to spoil it for you. The movie is about a girl who lands a job that she hates. That’s basically the plot, but in between the storyline are a lot of great clothes, shoes and purses. Of course, some of my favorite scenes are the ones that showcase the high fashion clothes. Hey, I’m a girl, I can’t help it.

This time watching it, there was one scene that I’ve never really noticed that stuck out to me. The scene where Anne Hathaway’s character, Andy, confides in her co-worker that her private life was suffering. The coworker said “Let me know when your life is going up in smoke. That means it’s time for a promotion.” Depressing to think about, but a reality for many. That balance between work and life can seem impossible.

Work-life balance. Ugh. It sounds like one of those aspirations that we all hope for yet in the back of our minds, we don’t believe that we can actually achieve it. How can I be a great dad but still put in the 80hrs/week? How can I climb up the corporate ladder and still maintain my marriage? How can I have a social life and continue to be an excellent employee?

Easy, do what Andy did. After realizing that her job was infiltrating every aspect in her life in a negative way, she decided to quit. It’s just that easy. Actually, it wasn’t easy for her to walk away; it took the whole movie before she decided to! And it won’t be that easy for you to walk away, or do something different than what you’re doing now. But if something needs to change then it has to start with you.

Disclaimer: I am not advising that you quit your job! However, I am aspiring to help you see that you don’t have to be stuck in a situation or environment that is bad for you. Maybe you can’t quit your job, and that’s your reality. In that case, a life change may require a bit of creative brainstorming. Maybe you can quit your job but you don’t believe you can. Maybe you have no clue how to change your current situation.

The first step toward change is believing that you can do something different, then being intentional about doing something different. Also, seek out help. This is actually a common reason to seek out counseling. Whether it’s getting help with achieving your goals, or help with figuring out what your goals are and how your goals match up with your value set, a counselor can be a great resource for you in this area.

In doing so, you could end up like Andy: relationship with boyfriend restored and getting a great job doing exactly what she wants to do. If Andy can do it, why not you?

Grieving during the holiday season

It’s the best of times; it’s the worst of times. That’s how I feel about the holiday season this year. It’s the best of times because I love the holiday season, who doesn’t? I eat so much I can’t move, I see family members that I seldom see and I get time off of work. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

But this year is very different because my mom isn’t here. She passed away suddenly a few months ago. So this year, I’m truly dreading celebrating the holidays because it will be a constant reminder that my mom isn’t here to celebrate with me. Rather than being a time of thanksgiving, laughter and cheer, this holiday may bring feelings of sadness, emptiness and loss.

Grieving a loss during the holidays is incredibly difficult. Your loss may look different than mine. You may be grieving a loss of a relationship/divorce, a job, a pet, a home, a friendship, a miscarriage, a financial loss…..the list goes on. So how are we going to get through this holiday season with all this grief?

My plan this year is to just get through it. The first holiday season is usually the most challenging. If your loss is fairly recent, just focus on getting through the next few weeks.

If you are able to do more than just bear through the holidays, here are some suggestions for dealing with grief this holiday season:

  • Allow yourself to enjoy it. Don’t feel guilty if you find yourself laughing, having a good time or even forgetting your grief for a moment. You are entitled to experience some joy. Surround yourself with supportive and comforting people who will encourage you to be yourself and will accept your sadness and your joy.
  • Accept the sadness. It’s unrealistic to expect yourself to be happy all the time. Allow yourself times of solitude but do not isolate yourself. Letting yourself feel sad or cry is actually good for the grief process.
  • Talk about it. Permitting yourself to feel grief and openly talking about it will actually help you feel better. Talk to people you trust and be honest about how you are really coping. Sharing memories can also be a source of comfort. Ignoring the grief and pain will only lengthen the grief process.
  • Modify old traditions. New traditions don’t have to be established right away but finding a way to make new traditions to fit your new situation will help with grief. Some may find comfort in the old traditions while others find them terribly painful. Be open with your family and friends about how changing or keeping old traditions affects you.
  • Say no. Feelings of loss can leave you physically fatigued. You may not be able to do as much as you have in the past. Listen to your body, do what you can and only what feels right. Don’t feel obligated to participate in anything that you don’t feel up to.
  • Honor your loved one. It’s important to find a way to honor your loved one. You can make their favorite dish to honor them or spend some time reflecting on their life and how they impacted you. You can even incorporate them into your celebration of the holidays.

Getting through this holiday season while grieving will be extremely difficult. Believe me, I know as I am experiencing it myself. The most important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holiday season while you are grieving a loss. However, if you are experiencing hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, change in appetite, loss of enjoyment or thoughts of hurting yourself, make an appointment to see a therapist as these are signs of depression. Love yourself enough this holiday season to get the help that you need.

Disciplining Your Child: The importance of presenting a united front

As a parent, how many times have you heard the phrase “But Mom/Dad said I could” after telling your child “no”? Adolescents and teens alike are suspiciously well-adept at the art of manipulation. No, that doesn’t mean that your child is some kind of sociopath- it’s what they are supposed to do!

Children develop healthy identities and values by pushing the limits; this enables them to identify and distinguish between right and wrong. That being said, witnessing your child test the waters can be infuriating. Not to mention the sinking feeling of wondering if your spouse is even on the same planet as you are when it comes to discipline. Presenting a united front is one of the most important lessons to learn when disciplining your child, especially when they are young.

Because little ones are typically black-and-white thinkers, children around the age of six and under are easily confused when only one parent enforces the rules or if consequences differ between each parent. Six year olds do not do well with mixed messages! This black-and-white thinking leads them to the conclusion that one parent is “right/good” and the other is “wrong/bad”. In a home where children constantly hear the phrase “just wait until your father gets home”, who do you think the bad guy is? What about a home where Dad is only about playtime and Mom is the only one to enforce rules or consequences? No parent wishes their child to favor one parent over the other, but it’s only natural for a little one to pick playtime parent over time-out parent. Think about it- if a two year old can figure out that screaming in public can get her that giant cookie, then you can bet a six year old knows which parent will be more likely to give her what she wants, when she wants it. Fortunately for me, my parents learned this lesson pretty quickly… my attempts at pitting my parents against one another in order to get what I wanted worked for about a week before they put an end to it.

As for older children, the importance of being a team in the discipline arena becomes less about presenting a united front and more about modeling appropriate ways to handle disagreements. Imagine this scenario:

Teenaged daughter: “Mom can I go to the party at Sarah’s tonight?”

Mom: “Sure honey.”

Dad (simultaneously with mom): “No way.”

What typically happens next? Mom and Dad erupt at each other in front of the daughter? Daughter begins frantically negotiating? Mom and daughter team up against Dad? If this all sounds familiar, here’s what I have to say: Do NOT miss this opportunity! This is your chance to show your child that you two are a team- teammates may disagree but they strive to work together for the win.

By presenting a united front when it comes to discipline, you’re one step closer to ensuring that your child will not only grow up knowing that Mom and Dad can’t be manipulated, but also being witness to healthy communication habits. The last thing the two of you need is a six year old who’s scared of the one parent who enforces consequences or a teenager who knows (or thinks he knows) how to work the system.

Peaceful (School) Mornings…

Did you read the title of this and chuckle to yourself thinking…

  • “Yeah, right. She’s probably writing this from a beach chair in Tahiti.” (I wish!!!)
  • “She should try living in my house. We live in the real world.”
  • “She probably doesn’t even have school-age children.” (I do- 2 of them.   And 2 dogs. And a cat. And a tortoise. And a husband. But I digress…)

Your kiddos have likely been in school for about a month. If mornings in your house are anything but peaceful, hang on!! There is help and there is hope. Let’s reclaim peace- even on school mornings.

I like lists, so I’m going to give you a handy dandy, practical list of tips get your (school) day off to a great start.

  1. Understand that “leave time” and “load time” are two entirely different times. Read that again and really think about it. It differs for each family depending on the age/stage of each child, but typically “load time” is 5-7 minutes earlier than “leave time.” Give this a shot- it’s a game-changer, I promise!
  2. Eliminate morning clothing drama. This applies to uniform and non-uniform wearing children. The night before school, work with your child to lay out everything he/she will need for the next day. This includes all clothing, accessories, special sports/band equipment, shoes, etc. that they will need the next day. A plastic tub at the foot of the bed or in the closet works well for storing all of the morning necessities. And…the golden rule: NO mind-changing the next day!
  3. Think about food. Have your child decide what he/she will eat for breakfast the next day. Set out the dishes, cereal, etc. Have the milk/juice poured in cups in the fridge. Have lunch boxes pre-packed the night before with perishables ready to add from the fridge in the morning.
  4. Get backpacks loaded and ready to go the night before. Check with each child to be sure that all homework is finished and in the proper place in the binder. Check for any notes or forms that need to be signed and returned, locate library books and any “special” items that need to go to school the next day…you know, “special” things like four items that begin with the letter Q and fit into a brown paper lunch bag, the class pet, show and tell items, the science project with jars of growing mold,etc.
  5. Gather everything that will need to go into the car (backpacks, sports equipment/uniforms, gym bags, snacks, cell phone, purse, car keys, work bag, etc.) and put it in a central location (at my house this is usually on top of the kitchen table because a) it is big enough for all of our junk and b) the puppy hasn’t figured out how to pull stuff off the table and eat it…yet!).

A few final tips and tricks to restore peace to your rushed mornings:

  • Stay off all electronics in the morning (parents too!)
  • Plan to arrive 5-10 minutes early and use the extra time to play a game of I Spy, listen to a favorite song, ask Siri some goofy question, etc. This sure beats shoving the kiddos out of car and telling them to run to beat the tardy bell!

Remember that you are very likely dealing with “morning people” and “night owls” living in the same house. Be sensitive to personal preferences in the morning…and please don’t try to talk to me before I’ve even poured my first cup of coffee!

The Beauty of Vulnerability

“What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.” – Brené Brown

There is one thing that I am definitely not good at — being vulnerable. I’ve always been taught that vulnerability was a sign of weakness; that people will take advantage of you if you show weakness. The fear is that if I reveal my true self that I may be misunderstood or rejected.

What I have learned is, being vulnerable isn’t just about being okay with showing parts of yourself to others, it’s more about being okay with all of yourself. When you love all of yourself, it matters little what others think.

What I am also learning is that vulnerability is a choice. It doesn’t always come easy and I haven’t mastered it yet. There are still many moments when I remain guarded and less willing to be truly open. It takes a conscious effort to look for the opportunities in which to be vulnerable. However, the rewards are much greater than the risks. There is a level of connection that cannot be met if you tend to hold part of yourself back.

Here are a few practicals on being vulnerable:

  1. Be honest. If you are going through a difficult time, tell someone. You may be pleasantly surprised at the response.
  2. Ask for help. Contrary to popular belief, this is also a sign of strength. You don’t need to struggle in silence, there are people willing to help.
  3. Learn to say no. Sometimes being vulnerable is letting others know that you are not a superhero. By saying yes to everyone, you are saying no to yourself. Let people know when you have too much on your plate.
  4. Stop comparing yourself to others. In actuality, their lives aren’t better than yours. You really have no idea what goes on behind closed doors.
  5. Be wise. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean telling everyone everything about you. Be wise in whom you choose to be open with.

10 Ways to slow down and tell your children, “I Love You”

It is crazy how quickly the lazy days of summer can turn into the mad rush of summer camps, play dates, and activities. Since children spell love T-I-M-E, here is a list of things you can do to slow down and say, “I love you.”

  1. Pull out an old photo album and tell the kids funny stories about when they were little.
  2. Have a water balloon fight.
  3. Play a board game.
  4. When you are having a conversation, put down your phone and really listen.
  5. Lay in the grass and find animals in the clouds.
  6. Turn on some music and have a dance party.
  7. Turn off the screens (tv, phone, computer, tablets, etc.) for a set amount of time.
  8. Run through the water sprinklers.
  9. Have a make-your-own mini-pizza night. Everyone will be in the kitchen together while making their own dinner.
  10. Laugh with your kids.

These ideas might be simple, but these are the type of things that your children will remember when they grow up. In fact, this blog entry is rather simple and short because I was too busy laughing and spending quality time with my children. And that’s a good thing.

The Gift of Silence

Jill Blog Pic

Pain, heartache, and struggle are all part of the human experience.   We have all struggled. We have all experienced the excruciating emotions that accompany loss. We have all been in the dark trenches life drops us in at one point or another. Why, then, do we get uncomfortable when someone else is hurting? We clam up, feel uneasy, and say things we regret a minute later.

One possibility is that feeling the emotions that accompany a loss are not so pleasant, and embracing these difficult feelings puts us way out of our comfort zone. We don’t like the way it feels to hurt and it is almost worse to witness others hurting so we do everything possible to fix it. We say things like, “Time will heal this”, “He wasn’t the right guy for you anyway”, “You can have more children” “At least he isn’t in pain any more”.   All of these comments are meant to be helpful but have the potential to minimize the loss, put a timeline on grief, or even relay the message that I can’t bare your pain so hurry and fix it. This leaves the hurting friend feeling as though they are not valid in their pain and often times folks suppress it and eventually put on the happy face those around them desire.

We spend a good portion of time planning the “just right” thing to say and get ourselves worked up when it is time to say it, when the reality is that what the hurting person might need doesn’t involve words at all.

This friend in pain might simply need your PRESENCE. Someone who is willing to put on their tall work boots, grab their flashlight and trudge through the mud and darkness with them.   Many times when a tragedy occurs, communities of people swoop in to help and comfort those in pain. However, these well-meaning folks may tap their toe in the mud but quickly jump out and provide encouragement from a place of distance where it is dry, clean, and not so dark or messy.  While the encouragement is nice, the heartbroken person is still down in the dark pit alone. What they need most is someone, anyone, who is willing to jump in and get dirty with them. Someone who is willing to walk next to them, in the dark, where the light at the end seems just out of reach.   With this commitment comes the possibility that your own emotions might be triggered. However, if you are willing to jump in, it just might be the best possible gift they could receive.

Benjamin Allen sums it up perfectly in his quote:

“There have been so many beautiful people who have stopped to be with me in my brokenness. The special ones didn’t shy away from my sorrow or shun my sadness. They sat as close as they could in silent support. Without them being there, I wouldn’t be here.”

The next time you experience a friend in pain and feel unsure as to how to help, consider one of these alternatives:

  1. Offer your presence. There are no words that can reverse what has happened or lessen the pain.   Sit next to your friend and say nothing at all. Just being present in the room says, “ I care about you and I am here for you.”
  1. Simple acts of kindness.   With struggle comes exhaustion. Emotions are absolutely fatiguing. Prepare meals, run errands, send a card, or bring by flowers. Offer to pick up groceries or just drop off groceries at the door.
  1. Let them vent and simply listen.  You don’t need to say much at all. Let them express their anger, sadness, or frustration.   Listen.   Don’t feel the need to have all the answers or provide the most insightful feedback. More than likely, they do not desire feedback or advice. Just provide an ear to vent to.
  1. Walk with them through the entirety of the struggle. When a community of people get word that one of their members is hurting, everyone initially wants to help. At first, the hurting might even feel overwhelmed with care, phone calls, meals, and kind words. Unfortunately over time, these caring individuals go back to their busy lives and the outpour of care slows down. Continue to walk with your friend through the length of the healing process. Be patient and know that this is a very very lengthy process.

 Notice that not one of these suggestions requires saying the “just right thing”. Most of them actually do not call for any words at all.   Next time, your friend is hurting, put on your boots, grab your flashlight, jump in the mud with them, and just place your shoulder right next to theirs.

The “Yes, please” marriage

Back in college I overheard a friend say, “Can you pass me that?” to her new boyfriend. His response changed my life for the better. He told my friend that his parents had a wonderfully loving and respectful relationship until the day his father died. His mother and father always said “please” and “thank you,” even for the little things. His parents knew that their efforts were not taken for granted – they knew that they were a team working together – and this was the foundation for solving disagreements in a loving marriage. My friend’s boyfriend then said that he would always say please and thank you to the woman he chose to date and ultimately marry. Then, he asked my friend if she was willing to do the same for him? She said yes.

I was raised to say please, thank you, and all the other polite southern niceties. But this was a whole different way of thinking about it! I was completely taken aback by the concept of moving “please” and “thank you” from a polite custom to a demonstration of true appreciation. I thought about how we are so good at being polite with our acquaintances and co-workers, but often forget about the people we choose to have in our lives – our close friends and family, significant others, or spouses. At that moment, I decided that I would incorporate this into all of my relationships. I decided that I would be mindful of expressing my appreciation each and every day to the most important people in my life.

I added this into my life and got wonderfully positive results – demonstrating appreciation is contagious! People love to hear that you appreciate their efforts and often respond by passing it on to others. Years later, I began dating my husband, and I know that my marriage is considerably stronger because I overheard this conversation.

Note to the friends I overheard: Thank you for affecting my life and marriage in such a positive way. I appreciate you and your friendship. I hope y’all have a wonderful 16th wedding anniversary!

Choosing Life Without Regrets

There was a time in my career when I worked in a medical hospital with patients who were facing death.  Though people develop differing attitudes when they know that their death is imminent, many express feelings of regret.

In the hope of encouraging you to consider living life in ways to avoid these, here is what a lot of people say they regret.

1.  Choosing not to live their lives in ways that they really wanted, but how they were expected to live them.

These are the people who discovered their passions but did not pursue them.  They had dreams but never acted on them.  They let the opinions of others or culture dictate their decisions.  What they chose wasn’t necessarily bad, but wasn’t as fulfilling as what might have been.  Frequently their sadness at life’s end is around the pursuit of money and “things” instead of relationships and their own true preferences.

2.  Working much and living little.

They worked instead of being involved in the lives of their children, whether it was their sports involvements, recitals, plays, or even homework.  They didn’t spend enough time just enjoying the relationship and “playing” with their spouse.

They worked hard to create a “lifestyle” instead of making a living so they could savor life.  There seems to be a movement recently to simplify in order to satisfy.  It’s difficult in our “get all you can get” culture to choose to downsize lifestyle and enlarge living, but the needed perspective and painful regret appear when health is lost.  Then it is too late.  Some of the most painful statements start with “I wish I had/hadn’t…”  At the end, newer, bigger, better, and more don’t mean much.

3.  Fearing to break the silence and speak the truth.

People often express regret at not having had the courage to appropriately express their true feelings.  The usual result is thinking less of themselves for keeping quiet instead of being pleased with themselves for speaking their truth and running the risk of “upsetting someone else, hurting their feelings, avoiding conflict” or whatever excuse they used to support their fearful silence.

Over time, bottling negative feelings creates resentment and bitterness toward others AND toward the one whose voice is silent by choice.  Bottling the positive feelings leads to sadness from missed opportunities and relationships not beginning or being nourished.

Speaking your truth with courage can add to the depth of a healthy relationship or the end of an unhealthy one.  That’s seems like a win-win to me.

4.  Neglecting to maintain and to nurture valued friendships of old.

The usual reason given is simply choosing to be busy with things that are now seen (with the benefit of hindsight and impending death) as far less important than those wonderful, rewarding, and rare relationships.

Realizing that loving relationships are the most valuable commodity human beings can possess comes too late when you only have weeks or days to live.  If nurturing them over time and benefiting from them for years has been missed, they will also be missed as special support during those last days.

They will be missed, not because of preoccupation, but because of the absence of intending to pay attention to those we truly value.

5.  Failing to CHOOSE to be happy.

Huh?  Yes, happiness is a choice.  We can consciously choose to focus on being positive, using language “in our head” that gets us out of the rut of familiarity, frees us from unhealthy or unpleasurable behavioral patterns, overcomes our fear of change, relieves us of the weight of pretending to be satisfied with our lives, allows us to laugh more and be serious less, and encourages more smiles than looks of fatigue, boredom, and sadness.  We can do this consciously and intentionally.

If you don’t know what it would take for you to be successful at achieving this goal, give it some serious thought, talk about it with someone you love, go to a comedy club, rent a funny movie, or call a therapist.

Like Nike said, “Just do it!”, before it’s too late.