The football game is on. One kid is sitting with me doing homework, one is getting ready for bed and the college kid is home stirring up the pot that we call home. It’s louder, sassier and more chaotic when we are all here under one roof, but it is The Nut House as we know it and I wouldn’t trade it (well, most days).
Many of my friends and clients have endured the big transition of sending a child off to college and figuring out the ‘new normal’ with a less than full house. I’ve heard talk about accidentally setting too many plates at the table, having to rework a grocery list to accommodate less mouths and scheduling a Skype call for birthday celebrations.
Enter Thanksgiving Break. The college kid comes home and sleeps his way through the early morning bus runs that the siblings must suffer for the first part of the week, the bathroom schedule is upended and there are suddenly 137 shoes and jackets to trip over as opposed to the mere 82 that have become my routine land mines. This ‘new normal’ that most families have adapted to throughout the fall is now interrupted and we all transition again.
It’s only been three months and yet the college kid has done a one-eighty. An entirely new living situation, meal routine and academic regiment. New friends, infinite experiences, unbridled freedom and yet, now their parents want to know where they are.
I read a discussion online by a group of parents of freshman about whether to enforce a curfew when their child was home for break. I read another discussion from another group of parents worrying about their freshman being able to negotiate the airport and all that entails to arrive safely home to their excited, worried and wanting-to-parent-but-not-sure-how parents.
Once again, it will be a learning experience for all of us, parents and kids alike. A beautiful and brilliant woman reminded me “one day he will be a parent and he will know that you yelled at him out of fear. Until then – just think about how we felt when we were 18 and so desperate to prove that we could manage by ourselves, and how galling it was to find out that we couldn’t”.
Happy and healthy Thanksgiving to all of the new freshman, their loving parents and everyone else that happens to still be reading.
This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Herndon High School production of Seussical the Musical. The show was great; the actors, the set, the costumes and the choreography were brilliant. It was a really happy show and the teens looked like they were having as much fun performing for us as we, the audience, were watching them on stage.
While donning my “therapist hat” for a moment during the performance I thought about all the talent and confidence, as well as the insecurity and anxiety, inhabiting the teens before me. Of course, I was unable to detect any blatant weakness. The kids were well prepared, beautifully made-up and top-notch performers. But, I know teenagers and I know that underneath all of the make-up and costumes on stage or behind the North Face jackets and Uggs in class breed a host of anxieties and fears.
Am I good enough? Smart enough? Thin enough? Cool enough? Popular enough? Rich enough? Athletic enough? Talented enough?……
My therapist observations felt bittersweet. I loved the fact that these kids were putting themselves out there on stage, I loved that they danced and sang and wore fun and silly costumes for all to see. I loved that they seemed really happy and excited about the performance.
I worry about their own self-criticism. I feel for the kids that were disappointed for not getting the part they wanted, and even more so for the kids that aren’t confident enough to even try-out for a show.
Being a teenager is such a mixed bag – as if putting all the highs and lows of life in a blender and blasting them together in a full speed whirl.
I want to praise the cast and crew for a fabulous show and hope you all know how wonderful you are both with and without the makeup and glitz.
Disclaimer: Each of my client cases are fictional. They are compilations of hundreds of client situations I have encountered throughout my career. This is to protect the confidentiality of my clients. Anything that may resemble a real person or family is simply a coincidence.
I once had this angry teenage client (well, I’ve had many angry teenage clients). This particular teenage client was angry at his family, at being forced to come to therapy and at life in general.
Early on in our work together, his mom brought him to my office and he refused to get out of the car. I eventually made my way down to the car and proceeded to do therapy in the parking lot; I stood in the hot summer sun and sweated through my work outfit showing him that I was not the enemy and I wanted to be a source of support. (Years later the by-then-less-angry teenage client and I joked about that hot summer day and how I was standing on the parking lot pavement trying to convince him that therapy wasn’t that bad).
Week after week his mom dragged him into my office, he plopped down on the couch and gave one word answers to my very interesting and probing questions: how was school?, what did you do this weekend? how are things with your parents? You can only imagine how loudly my clock ticked during those very quiet sessions.
I consulted with his psychiatrist who was my colleague and would regularly seek his advice; the kid doesn’t want to be here, he doesn’t talk, I feel like I am wasting his parents money, am I making any difference? This wise mentor, a thoughtful man of few words, repeatedly told me that I was helping the client; by just being present for this kid, I was providing a calm and stable place for him, a safe place so that when he was ready, he would have someone to talk to, a place free from pressure or anxiety that he experienced at home.
I worked with this kid for years, I feel like I prepped for the SAT’s and got ready for graduation along side him. The hours and hours of drudgery in my office eventually turned into moments of laughter, silliness and connection. The laughter came at a snail’s pace, often after months of my patience, his yelling and even throwing things (not necessarily at me, just towards me, primarily due to the very small square footage of my office). Over time he began to share things in session, confide in me, and actually hear me. There were moments he even paused to consider and actually acknowledged that perhaps something I said had merit.
I later contacted the psychiatrist to tell him that he had been “right”. The kid had, in fact, opened up and really used the therapy time to his benefit. My presence, in the beginning, was enough to build a foundation for trust so that when he was ready he could utilize the connection, the safety and the comfort we had created in this therapeutic relationship.
I know my mentor was smiling at my shift as I was smiling at my client’s shift; both of us had learned to trust the process and each other. If we are patient enough, yes, progress happens.