Touting Diversity Also Means Recognizing Value of Introverts

Shy child
By Jacob Jewell, Courier & Press, April 26, 2016 –
When I was younger, I used to think of diversity in wide brush strokes. To my young mind, diversity was obvious and categorical, involving things like race, religion and culture. It has taken time for me to realize certain types of diversity are more nuanced.
As a youth, I felt just a little bit left out at times. I spent most of my elementary school recesses in the classroom with my teacher, just the two of us occupying the room. I devoured whatever book I was reading, sitting at my desk while my teacher worked on her lesson plans.
I actually enjoyed this and really got a lot out of those breaks from the rest of my school day. Still, to some extent, I hated that I was so quiet in a culture with the motto, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
It was only later on, after reading a book by Susan Cain in high school, that I really understood what it meant to be “introverted,” which can largely be defined as a way of thinking.
What I mean by this is that extroverts tend to think aloud, whereas introverts, like me, largely benefit from a type of private, reserved thought. These tendencies are not categorically exclusive or etched in stone, but I do think they rely on different thought patterns.
I’ve also come to realize the differences between introversion and extroversion have a lot to do with ways of getting energy. I’m not shy at all, but do find that my extroverted counterparts tend to gain more energy in groups than I do. After a long day out with friends, I really start looking forward to time alone to recharge my batteries.
Nowadays, I see this minority identification as a mark of intelligence. Spending a bit of time in one’s own head can be a pretty productive enterprise.
I’ve also heard it said that we each have two ears but only one mouth and should use them in that proportion. After all, we have to listen to learn.
I really wish I had thought this way as an elementary school student. It would have made it a bit easier to recognize and understand the subtle differences and benefits that come with being a little outside of what is ostensibly “normal.”
As a child, I missed the “normal” mark by a long shot. I was slapped with the “nerdy stick” when it came to good books or Saturday morning projects like building marshmallow guns. If I could give a bit of advice to a youngster who is in a similar situation, I would tell him to rock this minority status.
When I was young, I never liked watching televised sports at all, even if I stuck out like a sore thumb. I’ve turned around a bit and really think LeBron James is a genius in his own right. I’d still encourage kids to enjoy other forms of genius that may not be so readily digestible.
Looking back on my middle school experience, I really don’t care that my lack of understanding basketball or video games limited my sixth grade talking points. I’ve also seen that one can be a great cross country runner without joining theteam. There is something sacred in solitude.
I’ve learned it’s OK to have hobbies that may take a little work to enjoy. It’s OK to be quiet and alone with your thoughts sometimes. It may take being different to be your best, but you’ll stand out for it in the end.

Parenting Grandchildren Can Be a Challenge

Grandparent and child

By Parri O. Black, Courier & Press, April 19, 2016 –

Now that I am a grandparent, I have joined “the club” of proud Grannies, Nanas, Mimis, and more, who would no doubt go to the ends of the earth on behalf of a grandchild. Thankfully, most grandparents have the privilege of doting, spoiling and cuddling without the worries of educating, disciplining and providing.

My husband and I get all the joy without the hassles, happily returning the “perfect grandsons” to their parents, who have the real responsibility of child-rearing. As many grandparents are fond of saying, “Had we known how much fun grandchildren would be, we would have had them first.”

However, it’s not that simple when parents can no longer take care of their children and the responsibility falls to grandparents. It may be because of a parent’s death, child abuse or neglect, military deployment, incarceration or deportation. Whatever the reason, these children need a safe, stable and loving family environment.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, more than 2.5 million children in America were raised by grandparents or other relatives at some time in their lives.

When family members or close friends take on this parental responsibility, it’s called “kinship care,” which sounds much sweeter than the often harsh reality. Many times the need arises when grandparents are living on limited or low incomes, and now they must also struggle to meet the basic needs of grandchildren.

The Casey Foundation released a report calling on governments and communities to improve the availability of benefits and resources for kinship families, so that their children can thrive and succeed. The report found that these families need extra help to handle a variety of challenges, including:

Emotional and behavioral issues tied to the trauma of things such as child abuse and neglect or simply parental separation.

Legal hassles obtaining the necessary authority to enroll a child in school, access basic medical care, give consent for services or become a licensed foster parent to qualify for more assistance.

Financial burdens accessing government supports and paying for food, clothing, child care, health insurance and more.

No matter the circumstance, parenting has never been easy or cheap. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the average monthly cost of raising a child is $1,135.

As a grandmother, there is nothing I would trade for the joy of having a grandchild, but then again, I’m not shouldering the primary responsibility of parenting. Grandparents and other relatives who step up to care for children in need are truly priceless and deserve our support and gratitude.

Striving For Work/Life Balance

Work life balance

By Deena Bodine, LCSW, Courier & Press, April 12, 2016 –

I recently read a headline that challenged the notion of work/life balance. I didn’t make it very far into the article because, frankly, it isn’t something I want to believe.

Many of us wear multiple hats as parents, significant others, sons or daughters, colleagues, employees, etc. There must be a way to find balance within these roles.

This concept of homeostasis, a relatively stable equilibrium, has proved even more important as my husband and I welcomed our fourth child. Her arrival has allowed me to give some thought to giving my best at home and work while keeping sacrifices minimal.

Let go of perfection. The pressure we put on ourselves to meet expectations that don’t fall in line with reality can be unbearable. Unrealistic expectations can weigh on our relationships with our significant others and children. Prioritize what is most important to you and strive for that while keeping expectations in check. And don’t forget to cut yourself some slack.

Embrace your village. If you have family or a dependable baby sitter available to help with your children, having caregivers that truly care for your child can put your mind at ease when at work or taking time for yourself. Ask for and accept offers of help.

Plan ahead. It seems simple enough, but taking a few minutes the evening before can save a lot of frustration and rush in the morning. Prepare lunches, lay out clothes and pack up school or diaper bags. Place items near the door alongside keys for a quick departure. Use Sunday evening to prepare for the week, discussing the school lunch menu, extracurricular activities and logistics, and planning meals for the week.

Implement a family calendar. We have recently developed a family calendar to compliment what is in my personal planner. Our calendar includes after school activities, weekend events and the school lunch menu. Yours can be catered to the needs of your family. My kids have enjoyed the ownership of having their activities included. We can direct them to the calendar when they have questions about what will be served for lunch at school or who will pick them up.

Develop family rituals. Make family time rich in quality in the event there is limited quantity. This doesn’t have to be intensive. For example, encourage each family member to share one thing they are thankful for each day. Write these items on a slip of paper and collect in a jar or write them in a notebook to review together later. Take turns allowing each family member to plan an activity. Limit television or checking your phone so that you can focus on interactions with one another. Ultimately, it is less about what you do as long as you do it together.

Carve out time for yourself. Whether you spend time recharging with a book before bed or prefer to get up a few minutes early to enjoy the quiet with a cup of coffee, setting time aside for self-care helps us to be more effective in all our roles. It isn’t selfish or a luxury.

Emotions Run High When Relocating

open-house-1163353_960_720

By Elizabeth Christmas, LCSW, LCAC – Courier & Press – April 5, 2016 –

In July 2015 I took my children to see a movie. All I knew about the plot was that it centered around the emotions of a young girl.

As a therapist who works with children daily, I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to see this social/emotional brain activity play out on the big screen.

I had no idea just how much my own children and I needed to experience “Inside Out,” as our lives were about to turn upside down.

We had known for several months that our small family would likely be relocating. Like any good mother/therapist, I made sure we talked about what it would be like when the big day came.

My children were familiar with the new community and had visited. I had done some networking to find a few girls my daughter’s age and scheduled some play dates.

We kept our most special toys and stuffed animals with us during the transition. But I don’t think the reality of starting our lives over in a new place really hit my daughter and me until that summer afternoon we moved to our new town.

If you haven’t seen the movie, you truly are missing out on an opportunity to grow. Most of this movie is set inside the brain of an 11-year old girl named Riley who’s depressed about her parents’ decision to move, separating her from her friends.

In the master control room of her mind, five major emotions jostle for control: joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust. The story kicks into gear when Riley attends her first day of fifth grade and has a flashback to a “joy-colored” memory from Minnesota. Sadness is somehow compelled to touch this core memory, prompting Riley to cry in front of her new peers.

For the rest of the movie “Joy” and “Sadness” battle for control, until these personified emotions eventually learn Riley cannot thrive without them working together.

At the end of the movie, Riley finally confessed to her parents how sad she truly was about the move. She had tried to wear a happy face, but that only caused her to become angry on the inside.

As Riley and her parents embraced, I heard a sniffle next to me. I looked over and saw a big tear running down my daughter’s cheek as she watched Riley’s story play out and related it to her own.

Over the last eight months my daughter and I have often come back to the lessons we learned that day. Every time she gets sad about missing her friends, her school, our house, our church … we cry together about all that we miss. I try to be open with her about my own feelings of sadness.

And then we talk about all that we love about our new friends and new school. We make sure to visit the pieces of our past while we enjoy our present. What we learned from “Inside Out” is that life will be sad at times. Children need to hear that parents struggle too and that sadness is acceptable.

When facing a difficult transition such as a move, embrace and press on together — always looking for the joy. God has a way of tying it all together and bringing us full circle. My daughter celebrated her 9th birthday this week … at our new home in our new town on Riley Street.