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AT HOME WITH MY EMOTIONS, PART 7
HOW COME I NEVER FEEL FULL?
BEING AT HOME WITH: HOW COME I NEVER FEEL FULL?
Welcome to the series, AT HOME WITH MY EMOTIONS. This is number 7, the final in the series. These blogs are part of a continuing education class for foster parents which I am presenting at San Bernardino Valley College on Tuesday and Friday mornings through September 24. If you live nearby and are interested in attending, email me.
You might want to check out the previous blogs, and here are the links
Today we zero in on the phenomenon of never feeling full.
There’s an old song from the sixties, by Peggy Lee, "Is That All There Is?" No matter how much we achieve, no matter how much money we make, no matter how much pleasure we may experience at a given moment, no matter how much romance we experience, no matter how much fun we have on a vacation, it seems that we keep hitting some kind of wall or void, and whatever life experiences we are having, it never seems to fill our cup. We are always wanting more. We can never get enough of whatever it is.
So today, we want to look at this phenomenon.
We all have basic needs. Our basic needs are described in detail in Part 2. See link above.
When we are little people, from birth to about six years old, but particularly from birth to two years old, getting our needs met is very much a survival issue. Especially as an infant, our bodies cannot tolerate not getting our needs met, and we will pay a very high price physically. A four month old, sitting in a high chair, who is unable to gain his parent’s attention, will begin to decompensate. The muscles in the infant’s face will lose tone, the infant will turn away and stare and begin to drool. These experiences set off a whole series of biochemical and neurochemical reactions in the body and the brain. Growth hormone production ceases and the immune system begins to shut down. It is pretty scary stuff.
So as an infant, we are totally totally dependent upon the big people to meet our needs. In other words, we are totally dependent upon the big people for survival. As an infant, we literally need our cup full ALL THE TIME. There should not be any existential issues for the infant. The infant should not have to sing Peggy Lee’s song, "Is That All There Is?"
NEVER WORRY ABOUT SPOILING AN INFANT. In a sense, infants need and deserve spoiling. Yes, when an infant cries, find out what the infant needs. Pick up the infant to soothe the infant. Research has found that infants who are left to cry become the whiners during the terrible two’s. So do yourself and your child a favor here!
LEGS AND FRUSTRATION TOLERANCE
Life begins to change as the legs develop and grow and have the capacity to walk, move away from parents, run, and climb. So from eighteen to thirty six months, the child will learn a lot about frustration tolerance, and this is the time to teach frustration tolerance, but not before hand. Infancy needs to be bliss as much as possible. No empty cups.
So from about eighteen months on, the child begins to learn, almost naturally, that his or her cup is not always full, and so they have temper tantrums when they don’t get their way. Temper tantrums are part of learning healthy frustration tolerance. And it is important as parents and foster parents that we respond in a way that allows the child to learn frustration tolerance.
"I said you cannot have a cookie now....Now what is it about no cookie that you do not understand.....Okay, that’s it. You ask for a cookie one more time and your little behind is going to be getting a swat and besides that you won’t get a cookie for the rest of your life." I can’t believe this child. He just keeps asking for a cookie no matter how I punish him or what I threaten him with. What is wrong with him?
"No cookie till after dinner."
No verbal response from you.
Kid continues to tantrum
No verbal response from you. Watch, without any verbal response, if or how the tantrum begins to dissipate. If it begins to dissipate, continue to ignore. If you absolutely need to respond, do not do so verbally. Simply pick up the child up and hold them till they settle down. Obviously do not give them a cookie.
When it is time for a cookie, give him or her the cookie.
DO NOT PUNISH THE ANTRUM
STAND YOUR GROUND, KEEP YOUR WORD, cookie after dinner.
So you create a pattern. When I say No, it is No, no matter how much you tantrum. And I keep my word.
Whatever you give energy to persists, so if you give verbal energy to the tantrum, it will keep right on going.
So give this a try. You will like it. This way the child learns frustration tolerance without an abundance of nonsensical verbiage from you, for example, "You ought to be lucky we even buy cookies for you....My family was so poor we didn’t have cookies.....Do you know there are little brats like you in China and they don’t even get a fortune cookie.....Look at you, little baby, crying, and carrying on. What is the matter with you? You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
None of that is helpful or necessary. It is just you venting your frustration and giving energy to the tantrum.
Now as we continue to grow, especially as we begin to move into our teenage and young adult years, and again as we move into older adult years, we begin having more and more experiences of life not working out quite the way we expected. Our cup is perhaps empty more times than we want to admit.
We can go through any number of life traumas, life losses, and feel the emptiness from those experiences, the hopelessness, the why me? We can go through an abundance of successes but never feel satisfied or complete. We can have the most beautiful or handsome and lovable spouse on the face of the earth, but still feel unlovable ourselves or still have affairs even though seemingly there is no reason to.
We can go after great accomplishments, and even succeed, but still feel like something is missing, and so we go after a more challenging accomplishment. Some people keep going up the ladder of risky endeavors until they try the one endeavor that kills them. At their funeral, people will talk about the way they lived their life with such spirit and gusto and with no fear of death. That may be true, and it is too bad the person is not alive to confirm it or not, but it may also be just plain stupid because the person did not know how to address that void in their life, the lack of completeness or the boredom in their life, the sense of Is that all there is?
Sometimes, in our attempt to reconcile with ourselves our lack of fulfillment, we split off from the pain of it and take on an attitude of suck it up, that’s just how life is. We give up on our juicy dreams, so to speak. We become indifferent, we lack emotional energy for life in general, and we just go through the paces, never wishing for anything too exciting or too special or too anything. We become stoic.
So I want us to take a few moments to look at our own lives.
1. Where in my life do I feel complete?
2. Where in my life do I feel incomplete, empty, a void, a cup half full.
3. Where in my life do I think and feel why me?
4. Have I given up on my juicy dreams. Do I see myself, now that I am older, as a realist and no longer a dreamer? Why?
5. Do I have a just suck-it-up attitude?
6. What is my own explanation for the sense of emptiness or lack of fulfillment in my life?
LET’S START SORTING IT OUT
There are actually two phenomenons going on here.
#1 One is really basic. I will feel empty when one or more of my basic needs are not getting met. For children and infants, in particular, not getting needs met can be very problematic. It can sometimes be a survival issue.
For adults, theoretically, we have the capacity to forgo getting our needs met. Our frustration tolerance is well developed! Ha! So we will not die if our needs are not met. But it is still painful, and no amount of addictive behavior is going to lessen the pain of not getting our needs met.
Often times, there are actually steps we can take to get our needs met, but for whatever reason we choose not to. Sometimes, it feels better to be a victim and to be able to blame everyone for not meeting our needs, rather than having the courage to let people know we need something from them and risk the rejection. But that is probably the only way to get our needs met. And the better we get at it, the more often our needs will get met. And we won’t have a reason for playing the victim..
Many of us go through emotional experiences growing up that result in our being emotionally disconnected. So every night, I watch my Dad come home drunk and beat up my Mom. I am terrified and ashamed that I cannot stop him. And then I grow up to be a paramedic, a policeman, a combat soldier, a surgeon, and because I learned how to disconnect as a kid, I am prepared to disconnect as an adult on my job. We become so emotionally disconnected that we have no conscious awareness of how empty we feel and learn to live with the emptiness except for those momentary escapes into our addiction. We also have kind of a suck it up approach to life, but since we don’t feel much, we don’t see that that is what it is. So there is an emptiness that we feel, an is-that-all-there-is experience from having a long history of not getting our needs met and living life emotionally disconnected so we don't have to feel any of the emptiness.
#2 There is also another kind of emptiness. It is a spiritual or existential kind of emptiness. Nothing to do here with religion. But there is a place inside of each of us where we can become aware that we are but a small speck in the universe, and that no matter how much we accumulate or possess, we will never be completely happy. St. Augustine describes it as "restless will I be until I rest in thee." Whether or not we believe in God, whether or not we practice any kind of religion, the living of life will teach us that there is something bigger than ourselves and finding a way to rest in the "biggerness" is where we find both humility and peace.
SO THE ON-GOING QUESTION. CAN I BE AT HOME WITH FEELING LESS THAN FULL?
Can I be at home with the frustration of my loved ones not meeting my needs? Can I be at home with realizing that life will never give me everything? Can I learn to enter into that spiritual realm where I can find peace rather than everything else I crave and want?
So that is our challenge, because as foster parents, we are going to be nurturing foster children who will be one age chronologically but another age in terms of their emotional development. And so, a fourteen year old may in fact still be stuck back in infancy never having had the experience of bliss, never having had the experience of being spoiled, so to speak.
And remember when a child comes into your home, that is day one for them. They will, in a sense, be starting over emotionally in infancy. After they are there for about eighteen months, they weill move into the emtional terrible two’s even though they might be eight years old or seventeen years old.
So if you are not at home with where you are in your life in terms of learning how to get your needs met, if you are not at home with where you are existentially (where do you find meaning in your life?), then dealing with foster children with an abundance of unmet needs is going to be extremely TUFF!
I’m going to give you an abundance of "scripts" for many different occasions where you can, if you want, respond to a foster child’s or teen’s needs in a way that will bring them a sense of life is worth living. I will also leave you a list of things NOT to say, that probably come from your own bitterness of having given up on getting your needs met and finding some kind of meaning or purpose for your live.
WHAT TO SAY TO INFANTS
Obviously, an infant will not carry on a verbal conversation with you as we know it, but they will carry on a non verbal conversation with you and even make sounds and noises. Infants understand and take in the emotion in your voice. So fill up their cup with lots of soothing, loving, reassuring, emotions and actually say the following sample scripts to them or make up your own.
*I am so glad you have come to our house.
*You are so welcomed here."
*(While gently touching tummy) Your tummy will never feel empty here."
*Every day, you are going to know that you are loved loved loved."
*Your little heart is going to be filled to the brim.".
*No more hunger pains for you, kid"
*I enjoy all those little sounds you make (stroke cheeks). YOu are such a beautiful cutie pie."
*You are such a beautiful and lovable (boy) (girl)."
NOW WITH TODDLERS, PRESCHOOLERS, AND SCHOOL AGE CHILDREN
There are a variety of messages we want to weave together with children these ages.
I get what you need....you deserve it.....I know how much you want this.....this is how much I have at the moment.....I know you want this right now and I can give it to you later.....I know you have been looking forward to.....and we are going to have to wait....
So at the same time we acknowledge that they, like all of us, want to feel full and complete all the time, we want to support them learning that life sometimes frustrates us and it will be perfectly okay.
Because a child has a difficult time, tantruming, for example, with not being able to have right now what they need or want, IS NOT a reason to tell them that now they do not deserve what they need or want or now they are being naughty and have to be punished by NOT getting what they want and need. We’re not here to punish their frustration, but to support them in learning through their frustration that it is okay to learn to delay gratification.
*I hear you sweetie. I know how much you want that toy. And it belongs to Billy. So you have to give it back to him."
*I know you want me to hold you...rock you...tuck you in....read you a story....and I am so looking forward to doing that, and I will be there just as soon as I can."
*I know how much you look forward to me reading you a story and tonight I won’t be able to, but I will sit with you for a few minutes. I don’t feel very good this evening."
*I know you wanted jelly on your toast this morning, and we are out of jelly. We’ll get some more when I go shopping."
*I know you want a pair of shoes like Susie and I just don’t have the money today. Maybe another day, sweetie, and it’s okay to be upset. I get upset too when I can’t get the things I want."
*I know you want me to drive you to school rather than taking the school bus, and I just am not able to do it. So let’s talk about how to make this work for you."
*I know how much fun we have when we play .......together, and tonight, I just am not able to. I know you’re bummed just like I get when this happens to me."
*I know you want that toy and you know what, I think you deserve the toy, and Mom/Dad we just don’t have the money tonight. Maybe another time."
*I really here you. You want pizza tonight for dinner. I just love Pizza myself. But tonight we cooked chicken and noodles. We’ll have pizza again. Just not tonight, sweetie."
AND WITH ALL THESE STATEMENTS, YOU STAND YOUR GROUND, NO MATTER HOW MUCH THE CHILD PLEADS OR TANTRUMS.
ARE YOU GETTING THE DRIFT?
WITH PRETEENS AND TEENAGERS
*I know all the other kid’s parents are letting them go. You deserve to go too, and I am just not comfortable saying yes to that right now. Give me time to talk to some of the other parents and I’ll get back to you."
*Yes, I did promise we would get you a cool car, and at the same time I have issues around price and safety."
*Hey, it’s okay you’re getting a little smart mouthed with me. I can handle that. At the same time, we have to figure out a way for you to deal with our decision."
*I know you want a school jacket, and I know most of your other friends already have one. I just don’t know how we can afford it right now. Work with me on this and help me figure out a way. Of course, you deserve a school jacket....class ring...."
*I know how important it is that you can wear the kind of clothes your friends do. You deserve to be stylish and hip. We just need to do some more talking about this, because for right now, I do have some limits about what I am comfortable with you wearing. Yes, I am an old fogie or whatever the current term is for someone my age, and I admit it straight up, and I really don’t know what to do about that."
*I know you have to use the car tonight, and yea, you’re seventeen and deserve to have use of a car. And I don’t know what to do about the fact you were driving under the influence the other night and broke our rule, knowing full well what the consequences are. You tell me how to deal with that in an honest way."
*I know you want more allowance....stay up later....have more freedom....go to parties....And you know, I have to recognize that you are getting older, you have a good head on your shoulder, perhaps I need to trust you more or maybe even allow you to make some mistakes. All that is true, and I hate to tell you, I’m just not ready to budge on this. Maybe I can talk to some of your friends’ parents and maybe they can help me with this, or maybe you can help me with this."
*Yes, you deserve to be trusted, and unfortunately, I have this very uncomfortable feeling in my gut and I’m just not there yet. You gotta help me with this one. Convince me, help me to look beyond all that has been happening lately."
ARE YOU GETTING THE DRIFT? AGAIN, STAND YOUR GROUND WITH THESE SCRIPTS. MAKES NO SENSE TO TAKE A STAND AND THEN GIVE IN.
WHAT NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER TO SAY
You gotta to be kidding me. You want what? Take a hard look at your immature, childish behavior and get it through your childish head that you don’t deserve any such thing....What you deserve is food, shelter, and clothing, and the rest are privileges, get that through your head.....This is not a democracy. You have no voting power here. Parents rule, Tough......I don’t give a rat’s %&* what your friends have or don’t have. You are not your friends.....One more cry out of you and you won’t get anything.....Complain one more time and it’s over, totally.....Sas me one more time, and you get nothing for the rest of the week. I mean nothing. O let me take that back. You get exactly what you deserve, and again, that is nothing....You don’t deserve nice clothes....you don’t deserve a birthday gift, Christmas presents.....You don’t deserve any affection from me. I mean come on, you tried to hit me....kick me....spit at me....cuss at me....and now all of a sudden, I’m suppose to be nice to you? Get a grip. Real life doesn’t work that way.....Get it through your head, you don’t deserve anything. In life you earn and you haven’t earn anything but restriction.....I have no time for you right now and why should I give you any time. You never have time for me, never want to listen, always rolling your eyes, always calling me dumb, so now you get a taste of your own medicine.......
PLEASE do not say you never say such things. WE ALL SAY SUCH THINGS. IT IS OUR HERITAGE. IT IS WHERE WE COME FROM. MAYBE YOU SAY IT IN A NICER WAY, BUT THE BASIC MESSAGE IS STILL THE SAME. YOU DON’T DESERVE.
NOW ONE MORE PIECE. Especially older kids and teens. You have an opportunity to begin giving some messages that can open the door to their souls and to spirituality. I am not talking religion here or memorizing Scripture. I am talking soul work, supporting them getting in touch with that place we all arrive at some day, namely that ultimately, we will never be complete in terms of this life alone.
*You know, I have watched you work on this project with your friends and I saw you giving it your all, and now that it is over, what’s it like? How do you feel about it? You look a little down or disappointed. What’s going on?"
*So now you got that new back pack, you got all the classes you wanted, you’re on the football team, so how does it feel? Pretty good? No? So what’s up?.....Well, you know sometimes we find out that when we get exactly everything we want, there still seems to be something missing. What do you make of that?"
*Wow, you had the (prettiest girl) (cutest guy) in the school and what the heck happened? How do you feel about that? Hey, it’s okay to feel bad. It might not get better for a few days, but keep talking to me about it, and I will walk you to that place where it will get better. I guarantee it."
*So do you think there is more to your life than having all the things you want? You know, it’s been a tough journey for me. It has taken me.......years, and I’m still trying to figure out what life is all about. It’‘s definitely kind of mysterious at times "
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