Friday, March 21, 2014

World Down Syndrome Day

Today is World Down Syndrome Awareness Day- 3/21, in honor of the 3 replications of the 21st chromosome. 

The idea of today is to educate people about Down Syndrome. In my six and a half years of active learning about Down Syndrome and its impact on my life and others, there are a few truths I’ve come to: 
  • We can never truly know a person’s gifts and challenges at any one point in their life. 
  • Labels and diagnoses may help guide us, but they never offer the full and complete picture of any of our loved ones. 
  • There is never just one path, or just one answer. 
  • There is such relief, after such struggle, when we learn the above. 

-Ellen Lonnquist, MS, LMFT

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Mother's Survival Guide

Imagine a college sophomore, a young woman with Ugg boots, shiny ponytail, friends, and plans to study Wednesday night. Hearing that she plans to go to a frat party Saturday night might quickly bring to mind some of the dangers around sexual violence that college campuses hold for young women. You might imagine the incredible difficulty this young woman, violated on campus, would face going forward walking through her world.

Now imagine a mother pushing her daughter on a swing at the park. What might come to your mind this time might be laughing, singing, and a shoulder bag at her feet bulging with sippy cups, apple slices, and a change of clothes in case her daughter has a run-in with a mud puddle.

Image Credit
But, what rarely comes to mind in our collective consciousness, the popular images we hold, what we rarely discuss, is that this is the same woman separated by just a few years.  Focus on survivors of abuse and assault, usually centers on the major disruptions that follow the event or disclosure of the perpetration. We rarely connect that one in three females are survivors of sexual abuse, and that 81% of women become mothers. One guess, then, is that one in four mothers is a survivor.

We don't often discuss that this mother carries with her confusing worries, that her daughter could have a run-in far more damaging than with a mud puddle. How terrifying, how complicated it is to walk through the world as a parent - and as a survivor of sexual violence.

While media images of women overwhelmingly include the identity of motherhood, and might also include women as survivors of abuse and sexual violence, we seem to forget as a nation that women don't get to stop being survivors once they're picking out onesies and painting the nursery. Memories, guilt, fear, shame, confusion often come along to the delivery room and to parenthood beyond. What happens when the mother we imagine on the playground sees her daughter run off to the slide with a few of the neighbor kids? She might find herself in a panic that she's not following closely enough, that she shouldn't trust the kids...or their parents.  Or, that not following is natural - maybe no one watched where she was going at that age.

Let's imagine a mother sending her nine year old off on the bus to 4th grade. She's wondering if she maybe said "NO" too harshly when her daughter asked if she could go to the carnival with her friend, Amber. Doesn't Amber have an older brother who's always around? Or, maybe she didn't say "no" loudly enough?  That same mother, almost ten years later, breaks out in a sweat when it's time to go shopping to send her daughter off to college.  A time that should be filled with joy and pride, instead brings memories she can't stop from coming. She is afraid for her daughter, for herself.

The Motherhood Survival Guide aims to gives voice to a dialogue long muted, how to begin to manage parenting as a survivor who may walk through the world with upsetting triggers for difficult feelings. Being a mother is difficult; being a survivor who is a mother can be even more difficult and deserves attention. We seek to offer hope, tools, support, and dialogue to courageous women exploring these worlds together.

-Jennifer Cutilletta, LCSW

If you or someone you know is interested in learning more on this topic, Jennifer Cutilletta will be co-facilitating a workshop with Amy Chandler on Sunday, April 6th. Click here for more information.
Date: April 6, 2014
Time: 10:00am-4:00pm
Event: Mother's Survival Guide: A Workshop for Survivors Navigating Parenting

**Do you have some insights to add to this article? We would love for you to leave us a comment below! You are now able to comment completely anonymously if you would like to share your wisdom but aren't comfortable with your identity being shared. Just type your comments in the box below and then click on the box next to "Comment as" and choose "Anonymous!"**

Monday, March 10, 2014

Social Media for Teens: "It's Complicated!"

Image Credits: "Study: What teens feel about social media and privacy." MSN

**This article, written by Beth Holzhauer, is in response to the article "Online, Researcher Says, Teens Do What They've Always Done" by Elizabeth Blair, originally posted on NPR. Read the original article here.**

Parents often find themselves negotiating a new and challenging terrain when their children become teenagers.  Good enough parenting requires relating, understanding, guiding, mentoring and teaching, which is quite a tall order when talking about today’s tech savvy teen.  How do parents increase the interpersonal IQ of adolescent children in the age of Facebook, texting, tweeting and snap chat?  Today’s parent is often crossing uncharted lands, trying to guide their teen child through the necessary communication and relational skills in the world of social networking. 

This piece on danah boyd’s research and book, It’s Complicated:  The Social Lives of Networked Teens, offers insight into the lives of teens and their use of social media.  It is a GPS of sorts to help parents navigate this new land of technology.  As a therapist to many teens and families, I share “the kids are alright” stance, and believe that the information danah shares helps parents understand and bridge a generational divide. 

Image Credits: "Online Bullying Rampant Among Teens, Survey Finds," Fox

I also believe that social media poses possible snares and dangers to teens.  Cyberbullying is a very real and damaging product of the misuse of social media.  Being able to reach an audience of thousands with cruel words, threats or gossip can produce traumatic results.  There are also the minor infractions and relational wounds of miscommunication, which occur more frequently when conversations are relayed via text.  When a teen’s online relationships substitute for more emotionally intimate friendships, the capacity to experience genuine connection and community may be compromised.

There are certainly both potentials and pitfalls for teens and their parents in the world of social networking.  As danah said, it’s complicated!

On March 16th, Beth will be presenting a workshop on supporting teenagers called Watch Me Soar. The workshop is designed for girls ages 13-18 who wish to learn how to actively build their self esteem. Please click here and then click on "Watch Me Soar: Resiliency and Self-Esteem Building for Teen Girls" for more information on that workshop.

**Do you agree? Disagree? Have some insights to add to this article? We would love for you to leave us a comment below! You are now able to comment completely anonymously if you would like to share your wisdom but aren't comfortable with your identity being shared. Just type your comments in the box below and then click on the box next to "Comment as" and choose "Anonymous!"**

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Words Have Power

Words have power. They do. They have the power to hurt and to heal. The words we choose- and those we don’t- can make the difference between an experience of denigration and an experience of love and being valued. 

John Franklin Stephens, author of "Using the word 'retard' to describe me hurts"

Today, March 5, 2014, is marked as the day to Spread the Word to End the Word- a campaign sponsored by Special Olympics to support people finding language to replace the word retard or retarded. Though I intended to write a post myself, I reconsidered after remembering a post written by John Franklin Stephens, in response to a controversy surrounding a popular movie. I decided to let a very articulate young man speak for himself.  Click on the link below to read a powerful and moving message about why this movement is gaining momentum and meaning.

"Using the word 'retard' to describe me hurts" by John Franklin Stephens

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Value of Community

We talk a lot about community at Womencare- we honor it, celebrate it, and use it to support ourselves and our clients.  We recently posted a blog about the power of groups... in all the thought and discussion, I became aware of a self-truth I’d never before acknowledged. As much as in my head I celebrate the power of groups, it isn’t a natural inclination. I had to truly learn the full value of community, by being embraced within a community I’d never intended to join.

Several years ago, when my son was born, and it became clear that he had special needs, my impulse was to bunker down within myself and my family until I figured it out and figured out how to name it to the world. Fortunately, other members of my family had a different wisdom they tapped, and called in the troops.  I resented the intrusion at the time, but the food and love the troops brought helped immensely.  And later I realized that the people who responded or showed up registered somewhere on my heart as family, regardless of where they had fit earlier.

Sometimes we need community in ways we could never have anticipated- for support, for information, for validation. After fighting my own discomfort, I got in my car one day and headed to a meeting of other families with kids with special needs.  I needed to- I just didn’t have access to the kind of wisdom I truly value above all others and so desperately needed- the wisdom of shared experience. Over time, I found my way to greater comfort and competence as the kind of mother I’d never imagined becoming, through sharing with and the active support of others. For a year, I drove over an hour each way to connect with people in similar circumstances. Just so we’re clear… I get bored driving long distances, but the train didn’t reach my destination, and I had come to realize how much I needed this support.

When presenting, I smile to find myself passionately advocating the importance of community and the power of groups- and I do so from the stance of someone who, rather reluctantly, was pushed into a place of needing it, had to learn it over time... and found more benefit than she’d ever imagined possible.  

-Ellen Lonnquist, MS, LMFT