We don’t need more Good Sorts Jacinda

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Today was a good day. Someone had my back.

Twenty minutes into a couples session I realized that there were some details that sounded familiar.

I paused and looked at the young man in the room. He smiled and said warmly,

“I called you two months ago on a dark day”.

I re-ran the call in my mind a little; his story had overflowed into the phone; his confusion and sadness palpable. I had answered his call just five minutes before my next client appointment and felt out of time but I had done my best. I told him things would get better and that there would be a way through and then I gave him a number. I told him that if they didn’t answer or couldn’t help him today he needed to call me back and I would find someone for him. I told him I trusted him to do that.

I knew I had to hand it on; the ‘it’ he was dealing with: the confusion and fear. Because I am not a super human. I have limits. But my heart sank as I did because the truth is our mental health system is in severe trouble. And people in real need get answering machines or get told the next appointment available is in 3 weeks. Real people. Sitting in the corner of their room clutching the phone and struggling to breathe.

So I said a little prayer. I prayed that the people at the end of that number would step in; that they would do their job and do it well. I prayed that they would have my back.

And my prayer was answered.

They answered the phone. They made it a priority to see him. And within a few hours he was sitting in front of someone who steadied the ground beneath his feet, normalized his fear and helped him plan his next move.

So here he was some weeks later, in my room, with his wife; seeking the specialty I offer (relationship counselling). They had some work to do to pull things together but they were on their way to better days; days filled with more certainty, trust and connection.

I’m not sure how it has become acceptable for Doctors to refer a patient for counselling – and 2 months later it still hasn’t been ‘processed’. I don’t know how these delays have become accepted as the norm with seemingly little fight to change it.

We don’t need 100 Good Sorts going above and beyond and burning themselves out to patch up the few people they can reach. We need a few thousand professionals (and more); Trained, confident, equipped, paid and receiving decent professional supervision. We need to get face to face with the people who need us within hours not months.

Today was a good day. Someone had my back. That’s what we mental health professional need.

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Glue for your relationship

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glue  /noun  /   
An adhesive substance used for sticking objects or materials together.
If I could manufacture relationship glue and sell it online, I’m sure I would be an overnight success story. I may even get to retire my imaginary magic wand!
And here’s the thing…….there is a glue for relationships. It’s not available in supermarkets or health food stores. Nor is it available in your favorite hardware outlet. But it is readily available wherever a human being exists.  And here are some examples of that glue in action:
Crossing the divide in a tense discussion and rubbing your partners neck (because he had complained about it earlier)
Or
Saying the cheese toast ‘just hit the spot’ even though it was soggy.
or
Stopping and listening to your partners complaints about the traffic and his boss – even though your day was pretty horrendous too.
Or
Getting up silently and loading the dishwasher, even though it’s not your turn (because she looks tired tonight)
or
Telling him you appreciate him putting the kids to bed (even though he didn’t do it quite the way you would have liked)
or
Saying she looks beautiful (even though she is running 20 minutes late for a night out)
Have you worked out what the glue is called yet?
Its called kindness.

 

It’s so underrated isn’t it? Being kind? But being kind can fix a host of ills. Being kind can build a bridge. Being kind can foster a connection that will weather irritations and ill matched values.

Being kind can turn tense discussions into resolutions just because you reached out – touched her hand/rubbed his neck/ told him he was appreciated/gave her a loving look etc

Kindness is communication. It says ‘I care’. I may not agree. But I care. And in the end. Isn’t that the thing we most want to hear?

When we are treated with kindness it fills us with warmth and gratitude and we feel blessed and we want to give some of that back……………and hey presto……..glue invisibly but with certainty pulls us closer together and tells us there is no other place we would rather be; we see the relationship as a soft place to fall.

Create some glue.

 

Good cop – Bad cop – Wanna swap?

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So the kids know right? They know it’s Dad they ask when they want to have a sleep out, in a mouldy tent, on the back lawn, with weather forecasts of 5 degrees and steady rain. And they know it’s Mum they ask at 6pm on Sunday night when they need help with their social studies assignment which is due on Monday morning.

The kids have got you sussed! Whether it’s through ‘personality analysis’ (!) or smart timing our kids are pretty on the ball when it comes to asking for things that they want.

Years back after visiting a friend my son spoke candidly about what he thought she should have done when her child mis-behaved! I remember sitting in silence the rest of the journey a little ‘freaked out’. If he so clearly saw the dynamics of my friends parenting skills – what did he think of mine!

Have you ever wondered how it is that your child ‘sees you’?

We all have a uniqueness that influences the roles we play. Dad might be ‘the emotive perfectionist’ while Mum is ‘the laid back stabilizer’. Mum might be ‘the  soft touch negotiator’ whilst Dad is ‘the firm layer down of the law‘. In all relationships we make space and find our niche. Generally, when this is respectfully done between parents, the push and pull, light and shade of their roles weaves the unique dynamic that makes up their family. Sometimes though we can find ourselves cornered into a role that we no longer want.

The expression ‘he was angry enough for both of us’ explains well how a partner might influence our behaviour. When one person is so proudly the organiser it might not leave anyone else (including their partner) room to be this. Feelings of frustration or inadequacy can step in. Even, as a single parent we have a certain ways we see ourselves – a certain ‘parental identity’ that can disallow us ways of being we might prefer.

How might it be to step away from ‘planned and organised’ and into ‘we’ll go where the breeze takes us’ – even just for an afternoon? Or how might it be for ‘the timekeeper’ to take a break sometimes and be able to hand her watch over to Dad? Likewise it might be good for Dad to come home and find that consequences have already been metered out and he is free to cuddle by the fire with the kids and be ‘just loving’ tonight.

Is there a part of your parenting role you would like to play more often?

Good cop -Bad cop….wanna swap?

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This article was originally written for The Guardian newspaper and Parentline.

Case Study – Space to feel again

ryan-franco-263029As they walked in the room and hesitated; deciding where to sit, Jason and Sheila appeared awkward and disconnected. Sheila chose the single chair closest to the door. Jason waited for her to choose her seat before sitting himself alone on the double sofa. They created a picture that was to match their story.

Two months  prior, Sheila had asked Jason to move out of the home they had lived in for some 15 years. This had been a shock to him. Tears still welled in his eyes when he remembered  the afternoon of that conversation. As the tears welled Sheila sat unmoved as if she didn’t notice.

After some 15 years of marriage Sheila had had enough. Enough of Jasons refusal to get a better job, a better group of friends or better life goals. She was tired of being the breadwinner, the organiser and the dreamer.

Since he had moved out Jason had joined the gym and lost 6 kgs. He had applied for several new jobs and was short listed for two. He had started paying into the retirement fund at work and had sold the old car cluttering up their garage which had been waiting for some 5 years for him to ‘fix  it up’. It was clear Jason wanted Sheila back.

“I just can’t feel the way you want me to feel Jason”, said Sheila.

“I’m not asking you to. I’m just asking for a chance”, he woefully replied.

At the end of the first session I suggested they come separately to see me.

In our one on one session Sheila told me that she was not sure whether she wanted their marriage back or not and she was not sure what she needed in order to make the decision.

“He is pushing me away with all his want”, she exclaimed.

When I saw Jason he said he was confused by Sheila’s indifference. He wondered what that indifference really meant. He wasn’t sure he could hold out hope much longer. I could also see that Jason was sabotaging any chance of a relationship repair by incessantly texting Sheila and turning up unannounced with flowers or her favourite custard slice. He was growing desperate and frustrated and had started to get angry with her for ‘stringing him along’.

At the end of my session with Jason I asked him how he was showing Sheila his commitment.

“The flowers the calls, the lawn mowing, the changes I am making, the declarations I am making………..what more can she possibly want?”

“Have you asked ?” I replied.

I think that it is easy to show commitment when things are certain. When the ground beneath our feet is secure and when we know we are loved. It is so much more difficult to show it when we are not certain of the end result.

I was thinking that this was the perfect opportunity – a golden gift of an opportunity, for Jason to prove his commitment.

In the next session together Jason gathered his courage and asked Sheila what it was she really needed from him right now. And like magic – she told him.

In a session some 2 months later Sheila was able to tell Jason that she wanted their marriage back and that she missed him. It had been a long road for them both. Pure joy and relief radiated around the room. Jason had been able to deliver what she needed most; the space to feel again. 

Giving what feels almost impossible to give when your partner needs it is the most powerful statement of commitment we can give.

NB This is a fictional adaptation.