On Prioritizing Parenthood

Over the years, I’ve been moved by those adults who’ve chosen parenthood from out of a place of truly loving that complex life role, experiencing it as a natural number one priority for them and, hence, seeing their child/ren directly benefitting from this. I grew up witnessing this informed kind of parenting here and there but not experiencing it myself as a child. Many of us did not. Those who did are most fortunate.

I’m aware that people choose to be parents from out of a number of reasons, some often not very clear. We humans make decisions all the time, often from murky, not fully examined places. There are still societal pressures to become parents in order to be viewed as a whole, fully successful person. Some choose to be parents in response to this outside pressure. Others choose to do so to somehow complete something unfinished from their own childhoods. The reasons go on, and people often make this enormous life-impacting choice from a mix of motivations. But, when a person, or two people, choose to be a parent or parents from out of genuine love and enthusiasm to nurture and witness the growth of a unique individual and can maintain these energies far more often than not, it’s wonderful to see and gives me hope in this world.

Not everyone loves being a parent. It’s not a number one priority for many, which is fine. We each have different life priorities and they are subject to change. But, I think it’s crucial to really think and work through one’s priorities before choosing parenthood. All children need to be prioritized first in their parent’/s’ lives, at least for their first eighteen years or so. When they’re not put first, needless suffering (to varying degrees of intensity) so often results all around, not just for the children.

I will add one caveat. Forced birth for women due to lack of abortion access, which just became a bigger reality, is an exception I make here. A choice foisted onto someone is not much of a choice at all, and everyone involved suffers somehow. It is a privilege for those who have the resources to make a choice to be parents or terminate pregnancies they did not willingly decide upon or changed their minds about due to circumstances or whatever. So, yes, we need accessible birth control and abortion access, for sure.

It’s been interesting and wonderful to assist a client of mine in determining their priority around becoming a parent and how to go about it. I wish everyone would do whatever they could to fully think through, including talking with others and moving through old, intrusive psychological pain, before they make such an enormous choice in their own and others’ lives.

A Brief Reflection About Discrimination

In the fall of 1995, freshly out of grad. school, I got a case management job at an Adult Foster Care program, funded by Medicaid, within an elder services agency in the Greater Boston area. An evangelical Christian nurse coworker was allowed to not work with people we served who had HIV, almost all of them being gay men. After so many years since then, it still appalls me that administration and her immediate supervisor allowed her to be so blatantly discriminatory. I’m not at all an expert in legal matters, but I imagine both state and federal law may have been violated, since Medicaid is a federal program administered by each state. And the agency was a quasi public/state organization, under the auspices of the Department of Elder Affairs.

Upon further reflection and reading, I remembered that the Employment Nondiscrimination Act and, later, the broader Equality Act, languished in the U.S. Congress for years. I just read (which reminded me about the ruling when I’d initially heard about it) that not until 2020 did the U.S. Supreme Court rule that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Then, there is another major area of civil rights, which is more pertinent to this situation with my long ago coworker: the right for customers/clients of a business, or in this case, an agency, to not be denied services based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, let alone their health status. From what I can tell, there continue to be no blanket federal protections in America for these large groups. Some states provide these protections while others don’t. However, in regards to people with HIV receiving health care services, a diligent researcher I know informed me that the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) from 1990 requires any federal-based program, or one receiving federal funding, to provide treatment to people with HIV. Hence, from what I can gather, my coworker was enabled by her supervisors to skirt around this law, in order to avoid confrontation and conflict, by assigning only non-HIV cases to her. The clients with HIV didn’t know the difference, since they were always assigned the other nurse who had no issue with them. Still, what a “skirt around” nonetheless, in which a worker’s discrimination was allowed, quietly validated, wrongly and sadly.

My Own Attempts at Art: A Fiery Image with a Self Affirmation (felt tip pens on paper)

I drew this fiery image and wrote out the self affirming statement back in 1989, possibly 1990. I vaguely remember the psychotherapist I was working with at the time suggesting I draw something as an exercise in creativity and affirmation. This was the result. These days, I actually do visualize my inner power more, which is my higher Self, connected with the great light source of the universe.

Flexing and Mixing Treatment Models

In my work as a psychotherapist, I find myself mindfully, organically mixing Internal Family Systems (IFS), EMDR, and Brainspotting (BSP) with clients. This is parallel to how artists learn certain styles and techniques to then eventually intuitively draw from any and all of them, thereby creating something uniquely their own. This flexing and mixing of treatment models results in my more effectively meeting clients where they are at.

Stronger/More Confident After Having Covid-19

Being ill recently with Covid-19 and then recovering from it completely has boosted my confidence in my (over fifty years old) body’s strength, and my sense of confidence overall. I have long been a believer in Nietzsche’s axiom that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, even if this may not be immediate or takes a while to become evident. I had some scary moments around thinking I was not going to get well anytime soon, that I may be left somehow medically weakened. If that had been the case, I would have committed myself to finding the strengthening of my spirit somehow. Learning while living is a route towards strength, since knowledge, whether gained from books and/or life experience, is power.

On Sobriety and How Less Is Often More

I started abusing alcohol on a steady basis late in life, a few months after turning fifty, to be precise. This coincided with finally “making it.” My husband and I had just bought our own condo. and I was a few years into having my own successful private psychotherapy practice. It all came together, including living near a vibrant town center with a lovely bar and restaurant where I’d hang out with some colleagues and even made a few new friends. For almost five years, I was riding this gravy train of “making it,” lubricated along with wine and mixed drinks, especially on weekends but on my one day off during the week too. In my own way, I was luxuriating after years of having less, believing, a lot of that time, that I didn’t deserve much. I’ve since learned, after letting go of drinking (now over a year ago), that, often in many instances, less is actually more. No alcohol has meant more health and well-being for me and my husband. And there are so many other ways to meet each day in celebration of having “made it.”

Here’s to everyone who’s alive and meeting each day. You’re here. You made it this far and, to those I actually know and like, I’m so glad we’re friends, family, and/or somehow associates in life. Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!

On Loyalty Binds

From the MERRIAM-WEBSTER DICTIONARY, this is what is said about the word “loyalty”: “Loyalty implies a faithfulness that is steadfast in the face of any temptation to renounce, desert, or betray.”

The quality of loyalty can be expressed towards another person, a country, a team of some sort, a product brand, etc. The relational context I am particularly concerned with here is between people. An individual can find themself in a bind of loyalty between two other parties whereby they feel somehow pressured to be less connected to one party than the other. Inner feeling states of anxiety and, often, guilt, arise over the sense that they will be somehow betraying one person over another by being also in positive connection with that other. A common example is when a child feels they are betraying their biological parent if they develop a close bond with their other bio. parent’s new spouse/life partner. And that bio. parent may or may not indeed be putting external pressure, however subtle/nuanced, on their child to not become close to the stepparent. Unprompted, children, in their bond with each of their birth parents, tend to already feel internally like they are somehow abandoning their parent(s) by developing closeness with their new stepparent(s). As a young child, I was in a loyalty bind between my bio. mother and former step/foster mother, then, much later as an adult, for a while between my former step/foster mom and current stepmother. Loyalty binds in blended/step families can and do occur for adult children as well.

That all said, loyalty binds can show up between friendships and coworkers, among other social contexts. Some people can be possessive and expect loyalty to them to mean loyalty to another/others has to be less or non-existent. The factors and situations where these binds arise are hard to quantify. Some people can carry around an internalized sense of loyalty binds where none exist, particularly if they grew up experiencing a loyalty bind within their family of origin and/or with a very close friend.

Try and be aware of loyalty binds that arise for people, both actual ones and for people who have an internalized sense of them as automatically accompanying any efforts to be close to more than one person within a social context. As discussed above, these commonly, likely inevitably, occur within blended/step families, such as within my own family of origin. But, these challenges can and do happen in other types of relationships as well. Patience, compassion, and curiosity are good to practice with ourselves and others in these situations.

Internal Family Systems trained family therapist Patricia Papernow is a compassionate and eloquent expert on loyalty binds within step/blended families and on other unique dynamics that arise within these types of family systems. To inform and deepen my work with individuals coping with an array of family histories and challenges, I will be reading her book Surviving And Thriving In Stepfamily Relationships: What Works And What Doesn’t.

“Healing Happens in Relationship.”

My undergrad. clinical and humanistic psychology professor at UC Santa Cruz, Ralph Quinn, said on more than one occasion, “Healing happens in relationship.” He included here a relationship with a higher power besides with another person or people. By extension, I think this certainly can and does apply to a connection one has with a pet, a wild animal, or with all or part of nature for that matter.

(Photo accompanying this post by Sebastian Arie Voortman.)

On Outgrowing Relationships and Experiencing Unconditional Love

A little earlier, over on Facebook, I wrote about how, sometimes, one outgrows a relationship, be it romantic, familial, a friendship, whichever. It isn’t healthy to try and remain in it out of guilt and obligation and/or fear. (I am excluding here those people who are in tenuous circumstances where leaving a problematic relationship is not an immediate option. Privilege and power differentials within and between parties are so often major factors.)

In response, a certain friend replied: “Life is not like a Hallmark movie. Most of the time we spend a ‘moment’ in time with someone. It does not diminish that relationship if it was not FOREVER. Unconditional love is a misnomer.”

I found this response of his interesting and thought-provoking. I replied by saying how I try my best to practice holding and sending compassion for others, including those I have moved on from and them from me. I went on to explain that I think unconditional love can be selectively practiced over those closest to us who we do not grow apart from.

I myself never experienced unconditional love growing up or into most of my adulthood, until I met my husband. Now, I’m experiencing what feels like that between him and myself, though it has definitely had to develop. It’s not about the romantic, passionate “fireworks” feeling, sensation, and thought states. Unconditional love for someone is a comparatively calmer, deeper emotional-sensory inner experience arising from having a sustained, safe outer connection with another, who congruently shares a similar inner emotional-sensory experience with the other. All of this phenomena goes beyond words.

This kind of love comes from one’s core, true Self. For most if not all of us, accessing our own Self takes a steady practice over time, informed by our own personal histories.