Thursday, March 27, 2014

Reframing: Changing Your Life Context Can Help and Hurt

Looking back over history we can see how our perspectives on things have changed, sometimes quite drastically.  Children over the centuries have been viewed as nothing more than little dysfunctional adults, as evil and reckless, and as innocent and angelic (worthy of many an Anne Geddes calendar).  Mental illness has been viewed as the result of demonic possession, as an imbalance in the humors (too much blood, bile, or phlegm), or as the result of chemical imbalances and difficult life experiences.

And yet to some degree children have remained children throughout the ages and mental illness has remained mental illness throughout the ages.  So how could a child go from being unquestionably evil to adorably angelic?  Or how could mental illness go from being treated with blood-letting to medication and counseling? 

When an object, person, experience, etc remains the same, but how we define its role in the universe changes, this is the process of reframing.  It is choosing a new framework through which to interpret what we see before us or what we are experiencing.  Imagine looking at a framed photo on a coffee table or looking in someone's scrapbook and seeing a picture of two people together.  If the frame had the words "Best Friends" inscribed on it that would provide one context for their interaction.  If the frame said "My True Love" that would change the context and your interpretation of the image in front of you.  If the frame were labelled "Family" it would change your context and interpretation yet again.

Some reframing happens naturally and subconsciously, with little or no thought.  A child may subconsciously move from being afraid of puppies because they jump up and knock the child over, to becoming quite fond of puppies because they have grown enough to no longer be intimidated by their size.  Other reframing happens consciously as we are presented with new ideas for consideration.  A scientific discovery may give us new insight in to how part of our world functions and why things happen the way they do.  A new philosophy or psychology theory may be presented which causes us to look at life or people differently.  Or a parent may correct us and give us an explanation that forces us to rethink our actions.

There are many articles and books that highlight the benefits of becoming more conscious of our frameworks, being aware and taking ownership of how we see ourselves and the world.  Recognized benefits that we can enjoy and celebrate include the following:

1)  Improved mental health.  When we identify destructive frameworks we are operating within (ex. I'm stupid, I'm an idiot, I'm a failure) and replace them with constructive frameworks (ex. I'm learning, I'm human, I can try again tomorrow) we end up with improved moods, lightened spirits, and more hope which protect us from a whole host of mental ills and improves our recovery from them.

2)  Improved physical health.  If we identify destructive frameworks (ex. I'm fine, I can eat whatever I want, I don't have time to be healthy) with constructive frameworks (ex. I'm an athlete so eat and train like one, I am valuable and worth taking care of, I have time to do this healthy thing today) then we experience higher levels of energy, sleep better, have higher self-confidence, and reduced chances of cardiovascular emergencies and diabetes.

3)  Improved social health.  People who are convinced they are helpless or who believe their situations are hopeless are very difficult and unpleasant to be around.  The conversations, actions, or lack of action that comes from people who see no way out or zero opportunity for improvement of their situation often feed further in to their problems creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that others find draining.  By making even the slightest shift from "I can't do anything about it" to "Here's something I'm doing to make things better", or from "Nothing is ever going to change" to "Something can change because I'm changing this...", a person can have the effect of repelling or attracting people.  Our framework can affect our social networks including the quality of our friendships, whether we get a job, whether we keep our job, and if a support network is available to us when tragedy strikes.  In the midst of our despair our framework can alter what help we receive or don't receive, whether people continue to reach out to us or begin to pull away.

How wonderful to know that we have control over even the most difficult of life circumstances because we have the ability to control our way of thinking about them.  Even more wonderful is that by shedding frameworks such as helplessness and hopelessness we are more likely to take constructive steps that in fact do improve our situations.  Things start to get better outside of ourselves and not just in our heads.  Reframing is powerful stuff!

However there is a downside.  Sometimes the loss or exchanging of a framework means that something needs to be mourned instead of celebrated.  Changing a framework can sometimes result in great loss instead of great gain, and if we are aware of this we are much more likely to help the person navigate the challenge rather than judge them because we more clearly understand what we are looking at.

If you unfortunately needed to share with someone that their spouse was responsible for sexually assaulting your child, it is clearly understandable that this would be a very difficult new framework to accept.  The person is being asked to accept that someone they thought was trustworthy has been hurting children, to accept that someone they thought was faithful to them has been engaging sexually with someone else and with someone who was vulnerable and unwilling.  Difficulty accepting this news is understandable and yet if the person reacts poorly, particularly if they go in to denial, it is not uncommon for the person to be labelled as 'unwilling to face reality'.

Let's explore something that has even more layers.  People who sincerely follow Jesus Christ, commonly referred to as Christians, often share their faith with others with a genuine desire to share something wonderful.  Forgiveness of sins.  Reconnection with a loving and faithful God.  Peace that on the day you die it won't be Death that comes for you, but your heavenly Father.  That's pretty amazing stuff.  And yet many people don't react well to these ideas.  Taking in to consideration deep frustration with hypocrisy amongst many who say they follow Jesus, and deep frustration with people who are confused and focused on following laws/traditions/rules/institutions instead of following Jesus, there is another reason why many people do not enjoy discussions about faith.  The new framework being presented is frightening or it hurts.  Because the same framework that would reveal to a person that they can go to heaven may be the same framework that confirms some of their loved ones are in Hell.  Because the same framework that identifies that we can be forgiven of our sins may be the same framework that confirms that it doesn't matter how good you are, that good isn't good enough and you are in fact accountable to Someone much bigger than you.  Because the same framework that confirms there are boundaries in place for our well-being and blessing may be the same framework that confirms that the break you took from your spouse to see if you would be happier with someone else was in fact adultery.  Because the framework that says there is a loving God who is in control of the universe may be the same framework that shattered years ago when something bad happened and there was no sign of God anywhere.  The person is possibly being asked to reconsider a framework that they feel failed them in the past.  Many conversations have gone horribly awry because a person of faith wanting to share something that can bring great peace didn't understand that what they were sharing was at the time in fact causing a great deal of anger or pain that needed to be processed, and with patience.

If you have ever presented an idea or a thought that was not well received and you were left wondering why the person couldn't or wouldn't accept it, refusing to 'face reality' or consider a new way of thinking, understanding the connection between reframing and the mourning process may help to shed some light and lend some wisdom to how you proceed.  The following can help us to identify when patience will be needed and a willingness to engage in an ongoing conversation, living life side-by-side being needed so much more desperately than an argument or 'knocking some sense' in to someone.

Shock.  Our bodies are wonderfully designed to protect us from all sorts of things, with natural physical and emotional first aid responses built in to our shell and wiring.  When something surprising or traumatic happens our minds and bodies can actually try to protect us for a time, shutting off thoughts, feelings or certain functions until we can sort out what to do next.  Shock is common with a new framework that is, well, shocking or very painful.

Denial.  When the shock protecting us wears off energy must be consciously diverted to protecting ourselves.  Denial is the act of trying to keep something away from us, out of us, fighting against accepting the event or idea as part of our life story.  No, no, please God, no.  'No' becomes a shield, whether it is a mental thought or an argument fired back at someone whose information feels like a threat of more pain.

Anger.  Poke a bear with a sharp stick and it gets angry.  Hurt a person and they get angry.  Why did this happen?  Why didn't I see that?  How could things be like this?  I don't deserve this.  How could they?  Where were you?  Legitimate questions are being processed here.  Questions that need to be asked.  Thoughts that need room to breathe, to be turned over, to be weighed and evaluated.  Thoughts that need to be said out loud so they aren't just burning holes in our brains.  Answers need to be tried on, questioned again, accepted or rejected.  Like someone working a piece of metal in a fiery forge, there is a great deal of framework crafting that is happening here.  And as a general rule the greater the pain the greater the anger.  If you are thinking the person in front of you has some serious anger problems, it would be worth re-evaluating that more likely you have a very hurting person in front of you.  The anger isn't something to overcome and rule, it is something to work through and heal from.

Depression.  When a fire burns out you're left with ashes.  There is no more fuel.  Deep exhaustion can settle in.  Everything in life can feel more difficult.  Things that brought relief before may not provide the same sense of restoration they once did.  Deep sadness can permeate even the happiest circumstances, dulling and wearing the person down.  Other frameworks we had in place before facing this challenge can contribute to how much time we spend in this phase, how deep we go, and how easy or difficult it is to come out of.  It is important to note that the strain of the challenge may in fact have altered the person's internal chemistry and they may therefore also require the assistance of chemical medication prescribed by a doctor for a time to restore balance and support healing while a new framework is being processed.

Acceptance.  Acceptance is not simply deciding, "It's okay" or accepting that what happened or what we learned was alright.  Instead it is the point at which we have stopped fighting the framework, actively keeping it away from and outside of ourselves, and instead allow it to be incorporated in to our understanding of our life story and the world we operate within.  It is a willingness to operate within a framework we better understand than when it was first presented to us, that we feel we have greater ability to navigate now.  It is acknowledgement that this framework contributed to where we are now in life and that it will impact how we move forward, but with full knowledge that we can in fact move forward.

Anything you share can have further reaching implications than you imagined.  Your thoughts on any subject can either support someone's confidence in their current way of navigating the world, or cause them to question whether they may in fact have made a horrible decision or mistake.  To ask someone to let go of their confidence that they're doing okay or that the world makes sense is no small thing.  Frameworks come in so many shapes and sizes, so when you share a thought that isn't received well consider entering in to a long-term conversation rather than an argument.  And be willing to ask questions.  People learn best when given questions rather than answers.  Allow the person to think out loud and share with you what's on their mind or on their heart.  You may have just triggered a process that has much more going on under the surface than you can see.

And if the mourning process is what was triggered, please remember that it is exactly that, a process.  To share a new idea, a new philosophy, a new discovery, a new framework of any kind and expect that people will simply accept it, deal with it, face it, or roll with it flies directly in the face of how we are wired as human beings.  New frameworks can be exciting and life-giving, but sometimes they can tear our lives apart for a time, and if we are willing to have patience with each other, being willing to walk alongside each other much longer than one conversation, we have greater ability to survive, to heal, to learn, to explore, to grow, and to live together.

Open Door Development's facilitators are skilled in creating training environments and experiences through which participants have the opportunity to constructively reframe how they fit in to their teams and communities.  Visit our website to learn more about our team building, conflict resolution, leadership development, bullying response training, facilitation training, and first aid training.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What The Heck Is A Samaritan, Let Alone A "Good Samaritan"?

What the heck is a Samaritan, let alone a "Good Samaritan"?  We hear the term used frequently when discussing the Good Samaritan laws that protect first aiders who have stopped to provide care for a fellow human being in need, but many people don't know where the term came from or what it actually means.  Grab yourself a warm beverage and prop up your feet for a history lesson, because when you know the context of the Good Samaritan story not only will your eyes be opened to the depth of the concept, but you will also have learned the trick, the foundational principle, that will help you to meet the requirements of the local Good Samaritan laws, no matter where in the world you travel.

The story of the Good Samaritan is recorded in the bible (the book of Luke, chapter 10, verses 25-37) and was told by Jesus.  When Jesus walked from town to town he was followed incessantly by large crowds of people.  These crowds were generally made up of two groups of people.  The first group was made up of people who wanted to know Jesus, spend time with him, be near him, learn from him, be healed by him, and have their children blessed by him.  The second group was made of up of individuals known as pharasees, saducees, and teachers of the law.  These indivdiduals followed Jesus primarily to look for opportunities to humilliate him in public and make him look stupid or show he was a fake.  The people who were following Jesus had once gone to the pharisees, saducees and teachers of the law for insight and now they were following Jesus.  The religious leaders of the community weren't happy because they'd lost their posse of adoring fans and wanted them back!  So they would pick at Jesus, asking him questions to try and expose a weakness that would make the people abandon him.

One day while Jesus was speaking to the crowd an expert in the religious laws and traditions asked Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"  Jesus asked him how he understood the scriptures, or in other words, what is your understanding of what God has to say on the matter?  The expert replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself".  Jesus replied, "Do this and you will live."

You can just imagine all the other pharisees, sadducees and teachers of the law slowly turning their heads in this gentleman's direction with their mouths hanging open looking at him like he was an idiot.  Dude.  That was your question?  The reason it would have been so strange for him to ask that is because as an expert in the law, someone who had the religious texts memorized, he should have known that one!  The text says that the expert in the law felt the need to justify himself and so he shot out another question, "Who is my neighbor?"  Instead of pointing to someone in the crowd and saying, "They are your neighbor," Jesus instead told a story, and the story was this.

One day a man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked and beaten by robbers.  Stripped of his clothing and dying, he was helpless.

In the distance a priest could be seen walking towards him.  People at that time wore clothing that reflected their profession and the priest would likely have been wearing clothing that identified him as a priest from quite a distance.  If anyone would stop to help an injured man it would be a priest, right?  But the priest not only walked by, he crossed to the other side of the road to get away from the injured man and continued on his way.

The second person to come walking down the road was a Levite.  The nation of Israel was broken down in to multiple tribes, and the tribe of Levi was designated as the priestly tribe who directly ministered before God.  If anyone would stop to help an injured man it would be a Levite, right?  But the Levite not only walked by, he crossed to the other side of the road to get away from the injured man and continued on his way.

The third person to come walking down the road was a Samaritan.  And at this point the crowd listening to Jesus would have suddenly perked up like a pack of gophers.  A Samaritan?  Plot twist!  Where is this going?  The reason for the intrigue was because the Jews and the Samaritans had critical differences in their faith beliefs.  When the Israelites were defeated in battle and many taken during the Babylonian exile, the Samaritans were made up of the Israelites who had stayed in the Land of Israel and who believed they had held to the true faith, as opposed to the Jews who returned later from exile and whose faith, they claimed, had been altered.  As a result there was great tension between the two groups.  Hatred ran deep and went back for generations.  At the time this story was being told there was actually a saying, "You don't even want to spit on a Samaritan, because you don't even want that much of you touching them!

The dying man lying on the ground seeing a Samaritan walking towards him would have had every reason to believe that the Samaritan might even kick him on the way by.  But that is not what happened.  The Samaritan stopped.  Not only did he stop, but he provided first aid care and then loaded the injured man on to his donkey, giving up his ride and walking the man to town on foot.  Not only did he bring him to a nearby town, but he brought him to an inn.

The historical significance of this act lies in the etiquette laws of that time.  If you were a traveler looking for lodging you would sit in the town's courtyard, and anyone passing by who had a spare room would be required by etiquette to offer it to you.  The Samaritan would have known that and could have dumped the injured man in the courtyard so that his own people could deal with him.  But that's not what he did.  He took the injured man to an inn where he knew he would receive immediate attention.  And he wasn't finished.

After providing further care for the injured man, the Samaritan needed to continue on his journey, but before leaving he approached the innkeeper, giving him money and requesting that he continue to care for the injured man until he returned, at which time he would pay for any additional expenses incurred.

At this point the crowd listening to Jesus would likely have been sitting in absolute silence as they processed the story that Jesus has just shared.  When questioned about what it meant to love your neighbor as yourself, Jesus had answered the question, "who is my neighbor," by telling a story where one of their most hated enemies had taken good care of one of their own people when he was at his weakest.  Processing.  Processing.  Processing.

When our forefathers were creating laws to govern our countries, many leaders looked to the story of the Good Samaritan for inspiration, hoping that their citizens would have the same heart, looking at what made each other the same rather than what them different, stopping to help a fellow human being in need instead of seeing an enemy and passing them by.

And in the end that is what the Good Samaritan laws come down to, however they are worded in the various countries, provinces and states where they are applied.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Provide the care that you hope would be provided for you if you were in the same position.  And if you fulfill this act of love towards your neighbor you will have made things better.  However the story turns out, if the person survives or passes away, you know you made it better because you stopped and you did something to care for them the same way you would hope to be cared for yourself.

The great thing is that loving your neighbor also helps to keep you from doing silly things that would cause more harm because if you asked yourself, "Would I want someone to stab me in the throat with a pen to try doing an emergency tracheotomy?" the answer is probably no, and so you don't do it to the other person because you'd be rather unhappy if someone did it to you.  Remembering to love your neighbor as yourself helps you to achieve positive and constructive action and stops you from taking destructive action.  It's simple and powerful and helps us to make sure that no one is left alone in a time of need.

How can you follow the example of the Good Samaritan?  How can you love your neighbor as yourself today?  And do you have an enemy who could benefit from being treated the way that you would hope to be treated yourself?  Go do it.  And watch amazing things happen.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

5 Indicators That You Are Causing Social Destruction

Short of dropping a nuclear bomb on your social circle and simply obliterating it, the second most destructive thing that you can do to the people around you and to yourself is to gossip.

And while we all like to think that gossiping is someone else's problem, chances are you are just as guilty.  Why?  Because, as a biblical proverb notes, "The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts."  Hearing hints of gossip is like having somebody dangle your favorite food in front of you when you're hungry and want satisfaction.  Anyone who has ever been on a diet and seen their favorite food staring at them from the fridge or from a storefront window knows the powerful gravitational pull that gossip has.

Think about it.  You're hanging out with a group of friends when you hear behind you, "whisper whisper Steve whisper whisper whisper."  Some part of you wonders, what about Steve?  What are they talking about?  What's going on with him?  Some part of you wants to turn around and ask for the details. 

Or you're sitting in your workplace cubicle when you hear, "whisper whisper getting fired whisper whisper whisper."  Some part of you wants to know who is getting fired.  And why?  What happened?  Some part of you wants to listen in closer or join the conversation to learn more.

Here are some early warning flags that may be showing up regarding your gossip tendencies.  Did you just have any of the following thoughts:

"Well of course I would ask what's going on.  I just want to know that the person is okay."

"Well it's not like I would tell other people what I heard."

Or, "I would just want to make sure that they're not saying anything bad about that person."

If the answer is yes to any of the above then the chances of you being a destructive force in your social surroundings is significantly higher and, even worse, you've got a sugar-coating of icing sitting on top.

Let's look at the dirt so we can deal with it.  How do you know if you are engaging in gossip and therefor acting as a source of social destruction?  Here are 5 factors to assess:

1) Are you personally involved in the story you are telling?  Do you appear in it at all?  If you are not a character in this play, this plot is likely not yours to be sharing with others.

2)  Have you been specifically asked to not repeat the information by the person who told you?  If you are asked to keep information private and you share it with someone else, even someone who you know would never tell anyone else, you have crossed a line.

3)  By telling this story will you uphold the reputation of the people involved or will you negatively impact it?  Pay close attention to this one because now it's becoming a legal matter.  If what you say causes a chain reaction that ruins someone's reputation you are at risk of being sued for slander.

4)  If you are in conflict with someone, have you talked to them about the problem first?  If you are 'just blowing off some steam' or 'just need to talk about something' and it's because you have a problem with someone else, does the other person even know?  Have you given them a chance to fix the problem or did you start by telling other people what they did to screw up?

5)  Are you listening to someone else who is gossiping without asking them to stop?  If you do not shut gossip down before the juicy details start spilling out you are actively a part of the problem because you are encouraging the other person, showing them that what they are doing is okay and that you are open to hearing the destructive information they are passing around.

When people gossip facts get twisted, details get blown out of proportion, emotions swell, more people get involved, and you get left with a problem that is infinitely more difficult to navigate when it could have had a much simpler solution.  Stop making your problems worse.  Stop making other people's problems worse! 

If you hear the hints of gossip, gather your self-control and march right past that tasty morsel or turn your music up and drown it out.  If someone approaches you with a tasty treat of news about Karin in the accounting department, let the person gossiping know that you're not really interested in hearing about other people, but you'd love to know what they have been up to recently.  And if you know something about someone else, respect that person enough to know it's their story to share as they see fit, not yours.

Be intentional about cutting gossip out of your life and you'll see the difference.  People will know they can trust you with their stories when they need to talk.  Your relationships will improve as people grow more confident that if you have a problem with them you'll talk to them first.  Your workplace will likely trust you with more confidential information which can mean pay raises and promotions.  Your significant other will grow closer to you when they know you're not sharing embarrassing details about them with your friends.  In our Conflict Resolution training participants make connections all the time where they can see how removing gossip could improve multiple situations they are trying to navigate.  There is no area of your life that doesn't have the ability to improve if you cut gossip out of your life.  You will gain so much more than you are giving up.  Try it!

What are your thoughts?

Do you think gossip is destructive or is that too strong of a word?

Are there any other clues that could help you catch yourself and identify if you are gossiping?

Share your thoughts and comments!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

How To Support A Teen Or Young Adult Through An Unexpected Pregnancy

ImageDiscovering that you are going to have a baby requires some processing no matter what the circumstances, but when a teen or young adult discovers they are going to be a parent when they had no intention of having a child at this time or with this partner, some additional support is needed.  Here are some key points to remember as you walk with someone going through this particular life challenge.

1)  When a teen or young adult tells you they are going to have a baby, please do everything in your power to make sure the first word that crosses your lips is, “Congratulations.”  Babies are sometimes a surprise, unexpected, or unplanned, but they are never a mistake.  A human being is incapable of being, in and of themselves, a mistake.  The creation of a new human being will always be something worth celebrating and the mom or dad-to-be desperately needs to hear that positive reinforcement.  Think about the traditional things said in response to an announced unexpected pregnancy:  “What?  Oh my God, really?  With that guy/girl?  What are you going to do?”, or, “Oh no.  Are you sure?  What are you going to do? “  While you might think you’re being sympathetic you are in fact dishing out crushing amounts of discouragement.  As the parents work to answer the question, what am I going to do, they need to know that there is something good in the midst of this difficult circumstance.  A life being created is good.  Capital G ‘Good’ in fact.  Please reflect on this idea now so that when somebody shares the unexpected you are mentally prepared and that much more likely to speak words of encouragement rather than discouragement.

Image2)  Remove the word ‘should’ from your vocabulary.  You should do this and you should do that are not allowed in your interactions with the new parent.  Quit it.  As the parents, the genetic founders of this child’s DNA and new team tied together as family by blood, they will need to make decisions and preparations for how they move forward.  Your job is to support the process even if you are not in full support of each individual decision made along the way.  Supporting the process does not mean that you can’t share insight, concerns, resources, disagreement, etc.  But it does mean that you have zero permission to make decisions on another person's behalf.  If you have control issues, start focusing on getting help for yourself before you focus on how to fix somebody else’s life.  You will cause more damage than anything else if you march in to somebody’s pregnancy thinking you know best.  You will be particularly susceptible to trying to control things if you are the parent or close family of the new parent.  Keep yourself in check and make sure you are using phrases such as, “have you considered…”, “did you know about…”, and “what questions do you have right now”, as opposed to,  “you should…”, “what you need to do is…” or “you’re going to have to…”.  Give the parents hope by sharing useful information, as well as helping them know their options and the resources available to them.  Help them explore the long-term implications of the choices they are considering.  Support them by helping them understand the paths they have open to them.  Do not ever choose the path for them.

3)  Support healthy relationships between the parents.  Communication, conflict resolution, problem-solving and other relationship skills are critical in the successful navigating of an unexpected pregnancy and in parenting.  When these skills suffer, stress levels skyrocket and drama rules the day.  To remove potential for drama, high stress, and the physical and emotional ills that result the parents will need to focus on growing in these areas and will need support from their friends and family along the way.  If you do not excel in these areas, keep your advice to yourself and focus on your own personal growth until you can be of better assistance and provide support through other means such as driving parents to appointments, cooking meals, or just being a listening ear.  Encouraging a confused and distraught parent to run with their emotions and tell their partner off, demand things, yell at them, refuse to talk to them, hit them, call them names, etc is never acceptable.  If the relationship is not healthy or is going through a difficult time support the couple in developing clear communication, addressing issues rather than name-calling, setting healthy boundaries, communicating needs and expectations, and other skills that will set them up for long-term success.  Whether you like the partner or not is not the question.  A baby has brought the parents together as a team and whether they choose to stay together or not they will need to figure out how to work together to raise a healthy child and stay healthy themselves.

Image4)  If the couple experiences a miscarriage, still-birth, or shares that they chose to have an abortion, please make sure the first words that cross your lips are, “I’m sorry for your loss”.  Think about some of the traditional responses to an unexpected pregnancy that has terminated: “Well, now you can get back to your life the way it was supposed to be”, “Thank God you don’t have to have a baby with that guy/girl”, or “Wow, you’re lucky.  You must be so happy.”  The person speaking thinks they are being sympathetic and encouraging when they have in fact verbally placed the teen or young adult in emotional bondage.  While there may be some sense of relief depending on the circumstances, no matter what you have to remember that for a time, however short, the teen or young adult was a Mom, or a Dad.  They have just lost a child and whatever other emotions need to be processed, I guarantee you that part of them will need to mourn that loss.  Please acknowledge to them that it is okay, healthy and normal for them to feel sad, depressed, confused, empty or any other number of emotions associated with loss.  Most teens and young adults who lose a child feel this way, but don’t share their feelings with people because they’ve been told so many times, “you should be happy” that they feel there is something wrong with them and they hide the fact that they’re breaking inside.  Don’t put people in emotional bondage by telling them this is a good thing that happened to them.  Treat the event with the same dignity, respect, and empathy given at the death of any child.  This opens doors to true healing and moving forward.

5)  Prepare unexpected parents with the knowledge that they may not instantly feel connected to or fall in love with their baby.  So many mothers in particular are told only the magical stories of love at first sight, and aren’t told that the majority of new moms look at the little blue alien that popped out of their body thinking, ‘are you sure that’s mine?’  Just like meeting somebody new at school or at work, you have to meet your baby!  You don’t know their personality and they don’t know you!  Prepare new parents for the fact that it will likely take a few weeks, sometimes a few months, before you will feel connected and bonded with your baby.  This is a particularly important fact to share if one parent sincerely dislikes the other parent.  It is difficult to look at a child that is genetically half you and half someone you hate right now.  Let new parents know that their child will have their own personality and regardless of who the mother/father is, investing in getting to know that child right from the beginning will pay off.  New fathers in particular struggle with bonding because they get easily discouraged with a crying baby that seems to hate them, but instantly stops crying for mom.  Mom simply has the unfair advantage of having a heartbeat that the baby recognizes, and a face they recognize from breastfeeding.  Their eyesight is limited to a short distance, the distance from the breast to the face in fact!  Baby does not like or hate mom any more than they like or hate dad.  Both parents have to get to know their baby.  With this simple knowledge new parents can feel a lot less stress when their new baby arrives in the world which will set them up for navigating all the other challenges of parenting with much more energy and confidence.

ImageStrong teams and healthy communities are always needed during pregnancies and in raising a child, but particularly when the pregnancy was unexpected.  The support they provide is critical to both the physical and emotional well-being of everyone involved.  And remember that time will pass.  New families can find their groove.  They can be healthy and strong even if they had an unexpected or rough start.  Be honest with yourself, take some time to self-reflect, and be sure that you are a constructive part of an unexpected parent’s support network and not another source of stress.  Be a part of seeing a new family experience success.