Thursday, October 15, 2015

Overt Assumptions

“What makes earth feel like hell is our expectation that it should feel like heaven.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Damned
 
     For nearly 5 years, I grew up in Hendersonville, TN. Then, in my 4th grade year we moved to High Point, NC. Both states had many similarities. Food, family, and freedom were important to everyone. A few outsider, like ourselves, shared some insights into living in North Carolina: 1) "Yankees" are like hemorrhoids: If we come down and go back up, we're alright. If we come down and stay down, we're a real pain. And 2) Southern people are the nicest people you'll never get to know. This isn't to imply they're inhospitable. Traditionally, and culturally, Southerners tend to have large and close-knit family systems. It can be difficult to get into the culture without a blood relative.
     Another slight difference was sports. When I lived in Tennessee, soccer was not even on the radar. If it was popular, I missed it. In North Carolina, it was unavoidable. Everyone played, watched, and lived soccer. Because the last 5 years had provided me very little exposure to soccer, I was not adequately prepared for this cultural shock. Still, I wanted to fit in, so I jumped in and tried to play whenever I could. I was awful.
     Part of my awfulness was due to the fact that I'm just not gifted in coordination. Some people are kinesthetically brilliant. I was kinesthetically blinded by that brilliance. To that, add a lack of general exposure to the sport. I never practiced the mechanics and fundamentals of the game. The physical act of kicking a soccer ball was a mystery to me! The ball may as well have been made out of cement. It didn't seem to matter to anyone else that I was also completely unfamiliar with the rules of soccer! A game would be mid-half and suddenly, WHISTLE! Everyone, nearly in unison, would turn to look at me. Even the kids who didn't know me looked! Took me three seasons to figure out what off-sides was.
     There had been a break down in communications. The other players began learning these things they were very young. The rules were taught alongside the mechanics. As they developed their mechanical skills through kinesthetic repetition, they strengthened their overall knowledge of the game. I missed these developmental milestones and was thrown into a game where nearly everyone knew all the rules; and they assumed I did, too.

     Blended (and blending) families often present to therapy seeking assistance in how to make two families into one. I've seen families adopt or foster children when they have had no children of their own. That's one of the nice things about having kids: They (somewhat) ease you into the process of parenting. Slowly, they learn to roll, then crawl, then walk, then run like wild animals! It's fine when we've been with them for literally every step of the way because our parenting skills have grown with them. Imagine having a 2 year old dropped off at your house if you've never had children before! What's normal? Are their noses supposed to make so much snot? Do they really have no volume control? Do they really have no sense of privacy when I'm going to the bathroom?
     Sudden baptisms into parenting are incredibly difficult. A healthy response is to cut ourselves some slack and realize we're going to be playing catch-up for a little while. But what happens when there are sudden shifts in family functioning? Isn't that what therapy is supposed to provide? New insights, awareness, and skills which a family will implement and change their pattern of relating.
     Sometimes, therapists can make the mistake of assuming the family understands the rules of relationship. Instead, we need to make the new rules (and they ARE new) overt. This can be done through verbal or written contracts, reflecting current changes in the process, modeling/coaching, and even through paradoxical injunctions. Regardless of the means, we have to take time and make the assumptions clear. This way, we prepare the family for change and mistakes, accidents, and regression becomes part of the learning process instead of demoralizing failures. Communicating this can relieve a great deal of anxiety associated with change and encourage open discussion among struggling families.
     Have any suggestions on how your therapy or therapist has helped people adjust to change? Leave a comment below!
Fragile Soccer
Nathan D. Croy, (c) 2015