Do you love me? : Every child’s question

Almost a year ago, our family was in a state of desperation. The arrival of our sweetest little bundle of joy, Judah, had apparently upset the balance of our happy home. Four months later, Ryan and I were sleep deprived and Jeremiah was having daily temper tantrums. (I started writing this when Jeremiah was still 4; He is now 5)

I knew something HAD to change after Jeremiah punched Ryan in the face and stomped on my IPad.

After I recovered from my initial shock and disbelief, I geared myself up and flew into action. I spoke with trusted people and asked others for prayer.

Eventually, I remembered a book that a few CHA moms had been raving about… “How to Really Love your Child” by Dr. Ross Campbell. When I looked it up on Amazon, I realized THIS was the book that Park Community Church had gifted to us at Jeremiah’s baby dedication!!

And then sheepishly I also remembered I actually had tossed the book aside and thinking, “Why would I ever need this?? I know how to love my child!”

Oh the pride of a new parent!

Parenting has a way of humbling the most stubborn pride.

The truth is: I need this book (probably to re-read it often!); we all need this book.

While I strongly encourage you to read this book (whether or not you have children), I will share the journey God lead me on through this book. And I do believe this book was an answer to prayer and a God-send. It is true that within a week of reading this book, Jeremiah’s temper tantrums not only stopped, but he was answering us, “Yes, Mom”, and “Yes, Dad”, all on his own! It felt like a miracle! I can’t even describe the relief it brought my heart to have peace and joy return to our home!

  1. The Wrong Question

First, I realized I had been asking the wrong question: “How can I correct Jeremiah’s behavior?”

I’ll admit I was sick and tired of the tantrums. I simply wanted them to stop. And I was angry. I was fed up and ticked off about the disruption in our home. I felt like I was being robbed of peaceful mornings and enjoyable dinners.

Dr. Campbell writes (p. 104): “The tendency is for parents to ask, “What can I do to correct this child’s behavior? Unfortunately, all too often this question leads initially to punishment. It is then difficult to consider the real needs of children, and we may end up spanking or sending children off to their rooms. Children will not feel loved if we approach handling misbehavior this way.

“We should always begin by asking ourselves, “What does this child need?” 

In other words, where is there a breakdown in the experience of love? Has the child been receiving loving eye contact, loving touch, focused attention and loving instruction?

The basic tenant of Dr. Campbell’s book is that children are constantly asking, “Do you love me?”

They don’t ask directly with words, but instead with their behavior. The more rebellious and disruptive their behavior is, the more desperate the question: “Do You Love Me?”

  1. The Essential Needs of a Child

Dr. Campbell opens the book with the story of “Tommy”, a 14 year old who had been a “good kid” and whose parents are now bewildered by the troubled road he’s traveling. Tommy’s parents feel like they’ve loved him and given their best into raising him the right way. However, when Dr. Campbell talks to the boy one –on-one, he finds that Tommy’s experience is quite different. He does not experience the love of his parents, and doesn’t feel like they’re concerned about him either.

“Tom Smith’s parents do love him deeply. They have done their best in rearing him, but something is missing. Did you notice what it was? No, not love; his parents do love him. The basic problem is that Tom does not feel loved… Like most parents they believed they were meeting Tom’s needs: food, shelter, clothes, education, guidance, etc. In the process of meeting all those needs, they overlooked his need for love- unconditional love. Although love is within the heart of almost all parents, the challenge is to convey this love.”

The thought shattered my anger and broke my heart: When Jeremiah was having a temper tantrum he was actually pleading with me, “Do you love me??”

The hard truth is that we often unwittingly answer with a “no” through OUR behavior…. And consequently our children feel unloved.

In his book, Dr. Campbell has a chapter on each of 4 essentials children need from their parents in order to experience love: 1) Eye contact; 2) Physical Touch; 3) Focused Attention, and 4) Loving Discipline or guidance.

Once I had the insight that Jeremiah’s outbursts were an understandable reaction of anger to his experience of feeling unloved, I had to determine where the gaps were. How had I changed since Judah was born?

I realized that eye contact had taken a sharp decline and so had focused attention. I was letting him watch quite a bit of TV or movies while I was caring for Judah.

Dr. Campbell defines focused attention as “giving a child full, undivided attention in such a way that the child feels without doubt completely loved; that the child is valuable enough in his or her own right to warrant the parent’s undistracted watchfulness, appreciation, and uncompromising regard. In short, focused attention makes a child feel like the most important person in the world in his or her parents’ eyes.” (pg 57)

He goes on to give the example of the priority that Jesus gave to children: “And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; and [He] said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; … for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’… And He took them in his arms and began to bless them, laying His hands upon them,” (Mark 10:13-16, NASB)

  1. Hollow Substitutes for Real Love

Dr. Campbell says that in his experience, “focused attention is the most demanding need a child has, because we parents have extreme difficulty in recognizing it, much less fulfilling it. We do not recognize this particular need for many reasons. One of the main reasons is that other things we do for a child seem to suffice. For example, special favors (ice cream or candy), gifts and granting unusual requests seem to substitute for focused attention at the time. These kindnesses are good, but it is a serious mistake to use them as a stand-in for genuine focused attention… Focused attention is not something that is nice to give children only if time permits; it is a critical need each child has. How children view themselves and how they are accepted by their world is determined by the way in which this need is met. Without focused attention, a child experiences increased anxiety… He or she is consequently less secure and is impaired in emotional and psychological growth. Such a child can be identified in the nursery or classroom.”

  1. We must answer with our Presence

Dr. Campbell asks hard questions of parents in his book:

“What are the priorities in your life? Where does your child fit in? Does your child take first priority? Second? Third? Fourth? You must determine this! … No one else can do this for you. A spouse cannot determine your child’s priority in your life… Only you can do this. So what is it fellow parent? What and who gets priority in your life? Job? Church? Spouse? House? Hobby? Children? Television? Social life? Career?”

As I read these words, I recalled that after Judah was born I had bought Jeremiah new toys and a batman shirt… I would let him watch batman shows on TV… or how I had continually pass Jeremiah off to Ryan while I cared for Judah. I was dismayed as I evaluated the sum picture.

Even though I am a stay at home mom, I realized that with the little time I had when I wasn’t caring for a newborn baby, I was not actually making Jeremiah a priority. I was exercising to lose weight. I was cooking healthy meals. I was organizing our home. All good things. But I wasn’t face to face with Jeremiah, simply enjoying his presence with me.

I decided to make changes… immediately. In the chapter on focused attention, Dr. Campbell instructs that “Careful Planning Pays Off.” I considered and planned how I could rework my days and weeks to have one-on-one time with Jeremiah. I know that Jeremiah loves to bake or work with food, loves his Boys Life and Ranger Rick magazines, and doing our Bible devotional book. So I made sure they were available and ready for when Judah was napping or content with tummy time. Instead of seizing this time to exercise or clean, I would seize these moments for Jeremiah.

  1. God is the ONLY Perfect Parent

The idea that your child might not feel and actually experience your love may cause an initial guttural reaction of defensiveness… “Of course my child knows that I love him (or her)! I tell him that I love him every day!”

We must realize that our *unspoken* language actually speaks louder than our words. Words are meaningless if we do not show love FIRST by our presence.

Think this through with me: how does a child learn the meaning of language? Of a word? It is by an embodied experience of the word… such as “hot” or “cold. They must feel it with their bodies to know the meaning of the word. Similarly, how does a child even come to understand the meaning of the word “love”? It is not through hearing the words “I love you” only… but through delighted eye contact, gentle touches and holding, and it is through the time spent enjoying each other.

This is the model given to us by God- the Father of His people. God shows love for his children time and time again *through his Presence*.  His very purpose in the creation of mankind was for intimate fellowship with them. Before the entrance of Evil, God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day… enjoying each other’s presence. And now God is working all of history toward the supreme goal of restoring His intimate presence with us… The highest desire of God’s heart is to be *with us*.

It was this desire that lead him to come to earth as a Man (equally God and equally man) to reconcile mankind to Himself. As the God-man he became “Emmanuel” meaning “God with us.”  And as Emmanuel, He could fully empathize with us (Hebrews 5:2). To empathize is to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)  This is empathy: what you see and hear and feel in your body reverberates in mine. It is to see another fully; to see with body, emotions and mind.

How can this happen between two people without undistracted, face-to-face, eye-to-eye presence? This is essential to love. Sadly, I fear that many people have never experienced this… instead only a hollow, empty shell of what we call “love.”  Because we can never give away what we haven’t received.

The good news is that regardless of the failings of our earthly father and mother, God always stands with his arms open for the prodigal child, wanting to be our Perfect Parent. We can receive His perfect love, and His Presence.

God receives his first personal name in the Bible by a woman who has been abused and traumatized… she runs away, isolated… only to find she is not alone. God meets her and says: “I see you.” … Therefore, the woman names Him: “The God who sees”; which is “El Roi.”  (Genesis 16:13)

Through receiving the perfect love of “El Roi” in more fullness day by day, we can in turn continually grow in loving others including our children.

We must meet our children with our full presence and see them with the eyes of our heart and soul.  Yet, you cannot give away what you have not received. Therefore, go to God… continually. Each day we must make the journey from being “elder brother” to become the “prodigal son”… Is it ONLY the prodigal child that can *receive* the Father’s unconditional love (the only TRUE unconditional love in the world).

(for more on the Prodigal Son: https://delightofmylife.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/dangerous-waters/ )

(for more on Face to Face with God: https://delightofmylife.wordpress.com/2017/02/02/a-slap-in-the-face/ )

6. Know Your Own Story: Personal road blocks to Love

Have you ever seen the “self-awareness” grid? It’s called the Johari Window. (click below)

johariwindowmodeldiagram

I still remember my bewildered feeling when my first counselor, Cyndi Mesmer, showed me this diagram. It was frightening to realize there were things about me that others could see that I couldn’t see. The point is we need to be open to others in order to grow. Without their feedback we will never enlarge the “open and free” window.

Part of this willingness to receive feedback is the humility to admit that we don’t love our children perfectly. There is room to grow.

The journey goes like this:

  1. We realize that we don’t love our children perfectly. We have road blocks.
  2. We consider our particular road blocks- do you struggle with focused attention? With eye contact? With physical touch? or with loving discipline? (discussed more in the book than in this blog post)
  3. Consider how these roadblocks fit into your childhood story? How did your parents give (or not give) these essential love ingredients?
  4. Seek healing and growth by bringing these struggles into relationship- with a counselor, your spouse, and even your children. Most importantly, bring your struggles to Jesus- ask Him for insight, healing, and growth.

For Mother’s Day this year I asked Jeremiah for feedback. I asked, “What makes Mommy a good mommy?” Jeremiah said, “You give hugs and kisses.” I asked further, “Do I give enough hugs, or do I need to do it more?”  He replied, “You need to do it more.”

I was glad I asked! I never would have considered myself to be a parent that struggled with physical contact… never in a million years!! But in Jeremiah’s experience he needed more.

A wonderful resource for this journey is the “How We Love” book series by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. As professional counselors, they look attachment styles that they call “love imprints.” We all have “love wounds” from our primary relationships that cause us to give and receive love out of insecurity. The five types they look at are “Avoiders”; “Pleasers”; “Vascilators”; “Controllers” and “Victims.”

In their book “How we Love Our Kids” they look at how a parent’s love style impacts their children. For example, how does a child experience a parent who is a “Pleaser” or an “Avoider”?  They also look at children: How does a child become a “Vascilator” or a “Controller?

Perhaps this will be my next book review!

 

an enemy within: OCD

I will NEVER stop fighting for you”… these are the words that have started my journey against the enemy: OCD.

First of all, I believe that OCD is a very little understood mental illness. Most people think of someone who can’t stop washing their hands. That may be true in some cases, but for many people with OCD you might never see any symptoms.  Instead, the obsessions and compulsions occur within their minds. This is actually the most severe form of OCD, in my opinion.

The way I experienced my friend’s OCD was as an Enemy that took her completely away. She was present physically, but at the same time completely absent.  When the Monster was at its worst we couldn’t have a normal conversation for weeks.

She saw several professionals over a 3 year span, including a counselor, a psychologist, and a psychiatrist. There seemed to be a general consensus: It’s a genetic condition in which the wiring of the brain has a malfunction and thoughts get stuck in a highly anxious, obsessive pattern. The person has to perform various compulsions in an attempt to escape the unimaginably high levels of anxiety.  The two treatment options were a medication like Zoloft, or CBT therapy (cognitive behavioral therapy).

She tried both… long story short: neither was very helpful for her. At some level she gave up, and tried to find a comfortable way to live with this unwanted companion in her life. However, it made life hard for her and all who loved her. It was excruciating for her loved ones to watch her suffer. My new approach was to research natural supplements that could help her brain function. I read and researched and made endless phone calls. I told her again and again, “I will NEVER stop fighting for you.”

In 2014 I went to a “Trauma Care” Conference. This changed my entire perspective on OCD.

I was sitting at the conference listening to Gina White speak on “Dissociation”… and I felt like I was hit by a ton of bricks… ***OCD is a very sophisticated, rather ingenious way of dissociating*** is what I realized. Everything she was saying clicked. She said that people who are highly dissociative will say things like “I don’t feel human.” My eyes must have just about popped out of my head. My friend had said that countless times!!

Again, this was a conference about *Trauma.* I began to make connections between events in my friend’s childhood, that now with Dr. Dan Allender’s definition of trauma I could name as *Trauma* and see the connection with her OCD.

In all of her experiences seeking professional help, not one of them had suggested childhood trauma as the fertile ground for the seed of OCD to rise.  I don’t fault them because this is not what is taught.

It is a *FACT* that people with childhood trauma below the age of 4 years old have a hippocampus (the calming center that balances or overrides the amygdala- the danger center) that is 17-20% smaller than the general population. This is supporting evidence for my theory.

If infant and childhood trauma can change the brain in one way that researches have detected, and the intricacy of the brain is akin to the cosmos, doesn’t it make sense that other things about the brain’s networking are also affected?

Here is another premise about childhood trauma: Whether it occurs through childhood sexual abuse, parental divorce, addiction or violence in the home (verbal or physical) there is a common denominator of a severe deficit of attachment for the child.

The child, who has no ability to find resources outside of himself, will find internal mechanisms to bring down cortisol and increase dopamine and serotonin.

The book, How We Love our Kids, discusses 5 insecure attachment types in parents (Pleaser, Avoider, Vacillator, Controller and Victim Parents), the effect it has upon the children, and also how these attachment types will develop in growing children.

The chapter entitled, “Controller and Victim Children” opens with an example of a chaotic home in which there is alcohol addiction, verbal violence and fear. In this scenario there are two children, Clare and Caleb. Clare has a more timid disposition and becomes a “victim” in response to the trauma:

She grabbed her bear and wrapped herself in her bedspread, organizing all her other stuffed animals in a protective circle around her. The rest of the evening depended on Dad’s mood. Most likely her parents would fight, and her dad would yell at her mom. Clare’s stomach hurt. She wondered how bad it would be this time. She whispered to her bear, “If Daddy yells, we can put our heads under the pillow and sing. Nobody will find us.” She began to count her animals over and over to distract herself from the ticking time bomb beyond her bedroom door…”

The authors Milan and Kay Yerkovich explain:

This is a chaotic home. {Parents} Leon and Candi attend church, but their difficult upbringings have left scars. Behind their closed door, Mom and Dad switch back and forth between roles of victim and controller…

Since Clare’s personality is more timid, she deals by trying to comply, retreating, numbing her emotions, and creating an imaginary world. She’s learning to surrender, avoid conflict, and dissociate: the traits of a victim. 

Victims deal with high levels of anxiety by freezing and moving into an internal world to escape.

Kids reenact their trauma in play, trying to master and make sense of their experiences. Sometimes they assume the role of powerful perpetrator to feel some sense of relief over their helplessness.

My theory is that for many people, OCD was birthed through childhood trauma. A vast dissociative internal world was created, in which the child could feel safe and in control. Repetitive thoughts or actions became a way of alleviating anxiety. Later in adulthood, there is an aspect of recreating trauma within their mind, so that they can reenact the control and alleviation. OCD becomes an addiction that takes on a life of its own… the drug is the good feeling of mastering the obsession or fear and the alleviation of intense anxiety. It is an addiction to an interplay of control and victimization where roles are played out and conquered all in the individual’s mind.

The “intrusive” thoughts that are talked about in the professional and treatment realms are really not an “Outside Monster” as I once considered OCD to be. Instead, I believe the voice of OCD is an enemy within, akin to DID (dissociative identity disorder). A fragmented “self” that sabotages and becomes the “Controller”, allowing the person to have a target of self-contempt, a source of fear, for reenactment purposes, that can be escaped thus alleviating the fear and giving a sense of power to the previously powerless child within.

How can this addiction of OCD be treated? (Again, it is our theory that OCD is actually an addiction)

I believe that it can be treated through trauma resolution counseling… In which the underlying goal or purpose of the counselor is to create an attachment relationship for the person. In a sense, to re-parent the person through healthy attunement and containment (the two components of attachment).

It has been proven that the hippocampus will actually *grow* in the presence of a long term (3-4 years) relationship of healthy attunement.

I believe that CBT therapy doesn’t actually work. If it gives results for a time, I believe it’s because of the attunement of the therapist… if therapy only lasts a year or so, when it is over, I suspect the OCD will return.

Disclaimer: These are my thoughts that come from my experience with a loved one with OCD… I don’t claim to be a professional expert… These thoughts are my humble perspective, and I wanted to at least offer my ideas that are counter to main-stream approaches to OCD.

 

 

 

 

Listening to our children

RECAP:

The last post covered the reality that we do (mostly unwittingly) harm our own children. I emphasized the responsibility of knowing your own story and woundedness so you can begin to see where you are living out of brokenness that will impact your children. And then secondly, how we really do need the wisdom and insight from others to point us to see truths about ourselves that we truly are powerless to see on our own.

LISTENING TO OUR CHILDREN:

When it comes to the reality of harming our children, there is a second responsibility we as parents have: *Listening to our children*.  If you are thinking “okay, I got that one!”, let me suggest that it’s not as easy as it sounds!  Sure, we can listen to our children as they talk about school, or friends, or even being bullied on the bus… being involved makes us feel like “good parents”!  But what if your child is telling you: “Your anxiety (or anger) consumes our home. I often feel like it’s swallowing up my whole childhood. I don’t feel safe and happy at home.” 

Most families have an unspoken code (that children pick up on even before language develops), that such honesty and truth is unacceptable… They know that with such truth their parents would become completely unglued, and the whole family system would collapse. Since children depend on their caregivers for survival, they would rather loose their voice and keep their family intact.

If you want a family culture where your children can freely speak their thoughts and feelings, and be seen and heard (not just when it makes you feel good, but ALSO when you feel like you might actually become unglued!) it will take an immense amount of intention (and probably outside support!!)

Your children will start by observing your communication, honesty, and ability to repair in your marriages. Is that a scary thought? ;o)  If they see that “negative” thoughts and feelings are met with defensive attack  (instead of listening curiosity) they will assume that their thoughts and feelings will be met with the same.

Curiousity is a key concept here. *Listen with curiousity*  If you child ventures out to share a negative emotion (in any context), for example, they express anxiety about the families finances, if you immediately try to take away their anxiety and say “Oh honey, you don’t need to feel anxious, that’s for mom and dad to take care of… blah blah blah”, the child won’t feel heard, or validated, or safe in sharing. A *curious* response could be as simple as, “I’m so glad you shared with me that you feel that way, tell me more about that feeling. When does that feeling come over you? Where do you feel that anxiety in your body?”

This is a resource that Ryan and I really enjoy using: “Comfort Circle for the Listener”

Click to access ComfortCircleGuideForTheListener.pdf

NEXT post, I’ll get to categories of actually how we harm our children.