Precious Moments

Tonight, I had the joy of laying down with Sebellah at bedtime and laying with her until she fell asleep. We are spending the weekend with Allene’s dad and his wife, helping them move into their new winter home. Sebellah has her own little interesting spot to sleep that she has already claimed as “her room”. Since it is a new spot for her and since we did not bring her Unicorn night light, I have been laying down with her until she falls asleep. As I turned to look at her tonight after she had fallen asleep, her precious little face looked so innocent and so angelic. It was a great reminder of why we do what we do. We do what we do, as grandparents raising grandchildren, because these precious little ones deserve to fall asleep in a safe place with people who they can trust to care for them and provide a nurturing home that will give them the best opportunity to grow up and to discover all that they can become and be in life. It really is that simple!

My encouragement tonight is to take the time to look into the faces of your precious ones and to be thankful that you get to be one that has the opportunity to provide that safe place for them. Cherish such “Precious Moments”.

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (Better know as “Pops”)

Lessons from: Who Moved My Cheese?

Blog Leadership Leadership Lessons from Who Moved My Cheese?

I just read a short (only 94 pages), yet powerful little book full of leadership lessonsWho Moved My Cheese?. It is a good parable using two mice and two men who are in a maze and struggling to find enough cheese to survive.

Of course, cheese is not just cheese is this story. Rather, in this story it stands for anything you aspire for in your life. This includes your career, success, money, love, etc. Essentially, anything that you need to survive.

Leadership Lessons from Who Moved My Cheese?

The essence of Who Moved My Cheese? is about how people handle (or do not handle) change. It is a part of life and knowing how to cope is a necessary life and leadership skill.

The key to successful leadership is realizing that change is inevitable and actually a good thing. Employees will come and go, clients will come and go, and projects will come and go. The only way to ensure that a company survives is a leader who adheres to a clearly formulated and consistent vision. As it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day as a leader it is important to ensure that everyone is moving towards a long-term goal – no matter what change is thrown at you on the way towards it.

The sooner a leader understands that positivity and not anxiety is the key to dealing with change the sooner he can instill this belief in his employees.

Here are my notes from the book in the form of some cheese bites:

  1. Remember that old beliefs do not lead you to new cheese:  Being complacent leads to extinction. Embracing change and being flexible as a boss leads to survival.
  2. Don’t over-analyze or over-complicate things: Keep the true and tried mantra of K.I.S.S. in mind. Too many leaders take too long to convey a simple message.
  3. Go past fear and enjoy the journey of finding new cheese: Embrace the thrill of the hunt, be curious, and push the envelope. This is your job as a leader.
  4. Let go of old behavior instead of letting go of the situation: A different viewpoint can often help a situation more than a change of scenery.
  5. If you don’t change you’ll become extinct: It’s ok to Pivot as needed, or else you’ll be caught without any options.
  6. Consider what you might do if you weren’t afraid: This is a key takeaway as fear holds you back and prevents you from moving forward.
  7. Smell the cheese often so you know when it’s getting old: In life and in business timing is everything.
  8. Move beyond the fear and feel free: Don’t be afraid to be leader and take the first step.
  9. Imagine yourself enjoying the new cheese even before you find it: It’s important to visualize an end goal as it will speed up reality.
  10. Let go of old cheese quicker so you can find new cheese sooner: When it’s time to let go, be sure to let go.
  11. Notice little changes early and help yourself adapt to bigger changes later: While practice really can make things perfect , it is even more important to keep an eye out for early signs of change.

Bottom line:
This book offers some of the lessons about leadership:

  • Let go of the past
  • Get over the things you cannot change
  • Keep moving forward
  • There is no reason to fear the unknown because the unknown may be better than anything you could have ever imagined
  • Change (for an organization) has unlimited potential, but it all depends on how you deal with it

If you haven’t read the book, I recommend that you do. It’s a quick read and nothing beats good cheese!

Retreived from: https://helloericritter.com/leadership-lessons-from-who-moved-my-cheese

(Rich speaking)

I read this book by Spencer Johnson, M.D., many years ago when I worked in a leadership position at Remuda Ranch. I believe these principles relate to our “work” as grandparents raising grandchildren. Following these principles can make our journey so much more productive and life changing for all involved. We will often find ourselves asking, “Who moved my cheese?” We might ask, “What happened to the life I once had?” Those are human questions that we will find ourselves asking, and yet, they are not productive questions. The bottom line is, we have to let go of our past, and find a new future. Our future can be enjoyable, meaningful, fulfilling and full of new adventures. Embrace It!

Sharing the Cheese and the Journey!

Rich (Better known as “Pops”)

Thankful for Night

Thankful for the Night

I am thankful for the Night

 The Night is followed by the Morning

I am thankful for Tears

 Tears gently stream to a place of Peace

I am thankful for seasons of Poverty

 Poverty produces the fruit of Humility

I am thankful for Dark Days

Dark Days are pierced with memories of the Light

I am thankful for Failures

Failures create a longing for Success

I am thankful for Pain

Pain relieved is Healing

I am thankful for Loss

Loss births appreciation for Gains

I am thankful for Sadness

Sadness seeds expectancy of coming Joy

I am thankful for moments of Vulnerability

Vulnerability invites genuine Intimacy

I am thankful for Brokenness

Brokenness beckons a new Wholeness

I am thankful for Goodbyes

Goodbyes leave room for new Hello’s

I am thankful for the Night

The Night is followed by the Morning

I wrote this poem in 2005 and shared it with my family at the Thanksgiving dinner table that year. Little did I know how much of the truth and reality of this poem was yet to be experienced. As I have shared several times already in these blogs, Success in life is all about how we face and handle Life’s Paradoxes. Sitting around the table that Thanksgiving was Allene, myself, Ryan, our youngest son, and Beth, our oldest and Sebellah’s future mom. Beth had already been struggling with her addictions and mental illness for years, and Ryan would soon start down the dark road that addiction offers and struggle for years himself. Ryan was able to make it out of that dark path, Beth was not. Hence, Life’s Paradoxes!

I am thankful for all of my children and my grandchildren, those who are with us, and the ones who are not. I am thankful for the one who left us way too soon. Even in her tragedy, she offered a precious gift that we cherish every day! Her spirit lives on! Yes, another Paradox.

We can find and experience Joy, Happiness and Fulfillment but not without the price of Sadness, Pain and Disappointment. My hope is that in the coming days our lives will be more about Joy, Happiness and Fulfillment and Yet…

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (“Pops”)

Acknowledging the beautiful spaces

Sometimes in the business of the “grands life” the beautiful spaces sneak by unnoticed and not appreciated. I am not a morning person, I do not wake up with pixie dust and rainbows. My preference is no conversation until I’m mostly done with my cup of coffee. Rich wakes with his brain in full fast forward mode ready to share all his thoughts, dreams, and insights that he has had since his eyes opened…and they are typically deep and meaningful which is to say we experience mornings completely differently. Sebellah is just like me in her view and feelings about mornings. Usually on school days she hears her alarm, turns it off and comes to the livingroom toting her unicorn pillow and favorite blanket. She then proceeds to toss her pillow on the couch between us , lays down and completely covers her head and body with the blanket complaining “it’s too bright”
This morning she came in, crawled up in my lap, pillow and all….. snuggled up with her face peeking out and smiled sleepily at me. In that beautiful space everything paused. I wasn’t thinking of everything we needed to do to get her ready and out the door to school. This time I was able to sink into that place, that right now and soon to be gone beautiful space and really feel the warmth and sweetness of it.
I believe these beautiful spaces help define who our grands become, how they connect with their world and us. Sink into the beauty and enjoy the wonder..you know, the pixie dust and rainbows!

Walking alongside you

Allene

From “GW Camp” to the “Mountain Top”

From “GW Camp” to the “Top of the Mountain”

I would like to share with you two of my life adventures, with two very different outcomes.  The first took place when I was in the eighth grade.  I had had a somewhat successful flag football career in elementary school, with the highlight being my pick six interception return for touchdown on the very first play of the season in the first game of the Huntington Beach Parks and Recreation season.  I kept my jersey from that game, as well as most of my others, until recently.  I kept thinking that the Flag Football Hall of Fame would call for it one day, but amazingly, they never called.  So, as I entered the eighth, I decided to go out for my school’s football team, all 110 pounds of me.  You see, when I was a kid, I was diagnosed with a special childhood disorder, it was a very serious disorder for a young boy who loved sports.  I had the infamous, “SS Disorder”.  I was “Slow” and “Skinny”.  In fact, my friends, especially Kelly, “you know who you are”, dubbed me, “Twig” as my childhood nickname.  In case you are not familiar with how sports work, being “Slow” and “Skinny”, are not great attributes in the game of football.  Another important fact about my junior high football debut was that I was not aware that we had to provide our own football cleats.  I assumed that since the Pine Street Junior High football program was such a high-profile program, that they provided the “all” of the necessary equipment.  Well, they didn’t.  So, on the first day of school and football practice, I wore penny loafers.  Penny loafers, if you are unfamiliar with them, were slip on dress shoes that you could literally put a penny in the front part of the shoe’s design, to of course look really cool, in the late sixties.  The other important thing you need to know is that penny loafers have very slick soles.  They are not recommended as an athletic shoe.  So, I started my first day of Eighth grade football practice with football pants that were too big, shoulder pads with one of the underarm straps that was broken, and penny loafers for athletic shoes.  I am sure that the video of my running wind sprints, holding up my football pants as I ran in my penny loafers, should be in the Junior High Football Hall of Fame. 

So, I did convince my parents that I needed my own football cleats before the second practice.  Well, after a few days of not convincing the Pine Street Junior High Football Coaching Staff, led by Coach Reeder, that I was a rising star, I decided to go along with a group of friends of mine who had decided that we didn’t have a chance of getting any playing time and chose early football retirement.  I wanted to talk to my dad first, but they convinced me that announcing our retirement could not wait and we must act immediately.  So, instead of calling a news conference, we decided to march into the school office and demand that they allow us to transfer out of sixth period football practice into regular Phys Ed class.  The lady behind the counter told us that was not an option and that we had to remain in sixth period football practice for the remainder of the semester, which was about 3 and ½ months.  So, every day we went to the football practice area and watched the football team practice.  We did have our own little area, where we would play our own pick-up football or sometimes use the time to do homework.  One day one of the coaches looked over at our group and said, “What a bunch of Gutless Wonders!”  We heard his comment.  Even though we laughed it off and even started calling our place where we hung out, “GW Camp”, similar to “POW Camp”, maybe there were some mild similarities.  Only in the way that we were viewed by those in charge.  The reality is that those comments by that coach, stung and had a major impact on my life.  From that point on, really until the event of my follow up story, I forever saw myself as a “Gutless Wonder” and “A Quitter”!  Any time throughout my adolescent years and early adulthood when I would struggle to finish something, which was often due to my impulsive nature, I would hear that coach’s words, “What a Gutless Wonder”!

Now, let’s fast forward to my early thirties.  I am married, with a young son under the age of one.  I had finished college, which was a major accomplishment, but I had dropped out of seminary, which of course reinforced the “I am a Quitter” message.  I am now in my early thirties considering going to graduate school to get a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, so I can become a therapist.  But how could I consider going to graduate school after my seminar fiasco, especially now that I had a family to consider.  I lived in Washington state at the time and one of my favorite landmarks was Mount Rainier.  Mount Rainier is a 14,410-foot mountain that dominates the Puget Sound skies, when it is not cloudy.  I have always loved the mountains and camping in the mountains and had done my share of hiking and backpacking.  I had spent 15 months in my twenties in the Grand Teton National Park working at a lodge there.  I remember thinking that I needed to do something to fight that internal life message that I was a “Quitter” and a “Gutless Wonder”.  “I know”, I said to myself, I will climb Mount Rainier.  Now, I was smart enough to know that I could not just go out and climb Mount Rainier.  So, I signed up for a mountaineering class at Tacoma Community College.  The class was a month-long summer course which included a summit trek at the end of the class.  The class included in-class instruction on mountaineering skills and weekend trips to Mount Rainier to practice what we learned, especially how to work as a “Rope Team Member” and how to use your ice ax and the rescue procedures in case a team member fell in a crevasse. The in-class instruction also included a fitness run.  I remember during one of those runs, stopping and thinking to myself, “I can’t do this, Oh No, it’s true, I am a Quitter, and I am going to quit this too!”  Fortunately, that thought was follow up with, “No, I can do this, I have to do this, I am Not a Quitter”, If I can’t finish the run, I can walk the rest of the way, I can do this!”  So, I walked the rest of the way.  I did finish that run/walk and I did finish the course.  The climb up Mount Rainier took place in July and was a three-day adventure.  The first day we met at noon and did a short hike and made a camp for the night.  On day two, we hike up to 10,000 feet and made our base camp and retired early, because our ascent to the summit would start shortly after midnight, with our headlamps.  The reason for the nighttime ascent is that you want to do as much of the ascent in the cool of the night when the ice pack, glacier, is the firmest.  You do have to cross quite a few ice bridges across crevasses.  So, shortly after midnight, off we go.  The final ascent to the summit is done in rope teams.  In our case, we had four people on each rope team.  The rule was the entire rope team either made it to the summit or it did not make it to the summit.  If one member could not make it, the whole rope team could not make it.  Climbing Mount Rainier is more of an endurance climb that a technical climb.  Actually, only about 50% of people who attempt the climb actually make it to the summit, often due to weather issues, but sometimes due to a lack of the endurance necessary.  It was an incredible experience that I will never forget.  The views along the way, both during the pitch blackness and as the sun started to come up were spectacular.  There were many times when I started to think, “I can’t take another step” and then I would feel the tug of the rope and I would take the next step.  Clearly, I do not believe that I would have endured the climb with out the tug at that rope and the support of my rope team members.  I did experience altitude sickness at 12,000 feet and threw up on the snow.  But, after that, I felt so much better and had a new sense of adrenaline that allowed me to make it to the summit with my rope team.  We made it to the summit just after the sun came up, around 8 am.  The exhilaration of the moment that we reached the summit is indescribable.  For me, it was more so, because of what this climb meant to me and about me.  “Yes, I made it, I did it!”  “It’s not true, I am Not a Quitter!”  “If I can climb this mountain, stand on top of this 14,410-foot mountain, I can do anything!”  As we sat there on the summit, a fellow climber, offered me a Twizzler.  That Twizzler tasted Amazing!  Still this day, Twizzlers are my favorite snack food.

Now, there is one more significant aspect of my Mount Rainier story.  The descent down the mountain we did in one long day.  There were times closer to the bottom when we literally and intentionally slid on our bottoms on the ice.  It was quite the ride.  Unfortunately, as we were descending, still near the summit, I took a step and the next thing I knew, I was hanging on the edge of a huge crevasse.  Fortunately, one foot caught the edge and even more importantly, my rope team did their job.  They all immediately fell on their ice axes, preventing me from actually fully falling into the crevasse.  One of the course leaders came over and pulled me out of the top of the crevasse.  It was a scary experience, although I was totally fine and uninjured, mostly feeling a little embarrassed, although I had done nothing wrong, but my rope team had done everything right.  I was grateful for their quick actions.  I made it down the rest of the mountain uneventfully.

So, I was able to challenge and change that message that I was a quitter.  I did go on to graduate school and graduated with a 3.8 grade point and I did become a therapist.  All throughout my graduate work, I kept a picture of myself on the top of Mount Rainier on my desk, and when I struggled to write a paper or complete an assignment, I would look at that picture and say to myself, “If I could climb that mountain, I can finish this paper, after all, I am not a Quitter!”

So, I would like to use these two stories from my life experience to remind us of some important life lessons.

  1.  Recognize any old Life Messages that may still be impacting or hindering your own success and happiness in life.  Years ago, I developed a technique that I used when working with adolescent girls who were struggling with an eating disorder and the “Stinking Thinking” that goes with an eating disorder.  The technique is: Catch, Challenge and Change.  We need to catch those negative thoughts that hinder us and rob us of experiencing life to the fullest and hinders our opportunities to use our individual unique gifts and talents.  Recognizing our own “Stinking Thinking” messages is the first step.  I cannot challenge what I cannot see.  Secondly, once we have caught and identified the negative message, we need to “challenge” it.  Sometimes it can be as simple as, “Stop It!”  We can challenge it by asking, “Is there any tangible, indisputable evidence that supports that message?”  In most cases, there is none.  We can also challenge it by giving the message back to the person who sold it to us, like my junior high football coach.  Sometimes, we may need to do something to prove to ourselves that the message is not true.  You don’t have to go out and climb Mount Rainier, but there may be a step that you can take to demonstrate the falseness of the negative message.  The third step is to change the message to an honest but positive message that will be an encouraging and motivating message.  Catch, Challenge and Change!
  2. Similarly, I believe that it is important that we not allow any one event or serious of events to define who we are.  I like to say that our “Life is a Story in Progress!”  Life is a series of adjustments and learning opportunities.  There is no greater time in which we must adjust or reinvent ourselves, than when we take on the role of being a grandparent raising grandchildren.  We are a Story in Progress!
  3. Thirdly, hopefully my story of climbing Mount Rainer can remind us of the value of “Rope Teams”.  As I stated earlier, my rope team, which was made up of myself, another man and two women, made all the difference in my positive experience of climbing Mount Rainier.  Not only did they literally save me from following deeper into a crevasse, but they provided the needed support and motivation during those moments when it felt like I could not take another step.  The need for a rope team is one of the main reasons that Allene and I have started our support group.  We want to be the people ahead of you who are willing to pull on the rope and say, “Come on, you can make it, just take the next step.  The view from on top is worth all the struggles of these steps.  Come on, we can do it together!”
  4. In addition to recognizing the value of a rope team, my story also reminds me of the value of having a guide when we are starting a new adventure.  We had two experienced guides that led us up the mountain.  They had climbed the mountain many times and new the paths to consider and which paths to avoid.  They also knew the skills and resources that would be essential for the journey.  They were not perfect, but they were experienced and had travelled the path previously.  Allene and I see ourselves in similar roles.  We are not finished with our journey, and we recognize that.  We have many years in front of us in caring for Sebellah.  Yet, we have walked the early stages of the journey, which I believe are the most challenging and overwhelming.  Hopefully, we can simply share our experiences and share what resources have been most helpful to us.  This is another benefit of a support group.   A support group offers the opportunity to be with other people who are sharing your journey, as well as people who are further along on the journey and can offer some guidance on the paths ahead of where you currently are.
  5. When I share my junior high football story, I can laugh about it now, although at the time and for many years to follow, it was a painful story.  Even now, I do still feel a sense of vulnerability in sharing that story, especially as a man.  Yet, I believe recognizing our vulnerability, as the author and educator, Brene Brown often talks about in her writings, is key to inviting and experiencing connection in our lives.  Our moments and points of vulnerability can become invitations and open doors to connecting with others who have similar moments and experiences of vulnerability.  In our venture of raising grandchildren, we will often feel vulnerable and powerless, and we will often question, “Our we really the best option for these precious children?”   The answer to that question is, “Yes, we are”, and we are a gift to them, just as they are a gift to us.  So, I encourage you to not hide or shy away from your vulnerability.  Instead, embrace it, move toward it and accept it.  It simply means that you are part of the human experience and accepting our vulnerability, invites connections with others who are sharing the human experience.

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (“Pops”)

The grief of unspeakable choices

When we decided to step in and become Sebellah’s safe place, we had no idea the choices we would have continue to make. For years our daughter battled with addiction and severe mental health issues. This dual diagnosis made it virtually impossible to be the stable nurturing parent that Sebellah needed. I have no question that she longed to be a good parent, but in her agony and brokenness she was incapable of this. We supported her through multiple treatment centers and medication changes, but she kept returning to her addictions like her favorite pair of sweats. Finally we had to make the heart-wrenching decision to separate from the chaos and choose Sebellah, because we were the only ones that would. So in the midst of our complete life upheaval caring for an infant, we were living in a hurricane of anger, grief and loss.
The anger at our daughter and of the unfairness of the situation because at this point we knew this was forever.
The grief of knowing that even this separation and untangling of our lives would most likely not change Beth’s trajectory. Understanding that the agonizing pain she would feel due to our choices could send her over the edge. She never came back from this or the death of her 6 month old daughter Haven…..she eventually overdosed and passed away.
The loss of the dream of a healthy loving relationship with our daughter. The loss of the beautiful parts of her. She was passionate, creative, and so funny.

In your decision to keep your grands safe, you may have to make an impossible choice. To let your child go, giving them to your higher power to care for, because you realize you are unable to do so yourself.
Every story is different, I hope your’s has an outcome of healing and restoration.
Our choices ache, but I would make them again for this sweet girl..

Walking alongside you

Allene

Part II – Helping Our Grandchildren Find Their “Calm During Stormy Moments”.

I will be honest and say that Allene is much better at staying calm and helping Sebellah calm down during stormy moments than I am.  I tend to be too emotional in the moment.  There are a lot of resources that can help us in our attempt to help our grandchildren experience “calmness” during their stormy moments. 

So, what can we do to help our children “calm” down during their stormy moments?  Here are a few things to consider:

  1.  Don’t use, “You need to calm down!”  I am very guilty of this and in most cases, it is not effective.
  2. Consider creating a “Safe Zone” or a “Calm Corner” in your house or their bedroom where they can go to calm down.  Create a comfortable space that also has some comforting items such as stuffed animals or stress balls that will help them deescalate their intense emotions.
  3. Practice taking a breath and slowly counting to ten or four, and maybe do it with them.
  4. Separate inappropriate behavior from appropriate emotions.  It is okay to be angry, it is not okay to throw or damage toys or objects.
  5. Take a moment yourself and practice your own calming techniques so that you as the adult, can remain calm and objective.

So, once again, this is an area in which I struggle at times and these tips are good reminders for me as well.  I am also attaching a few links to articles that I found online that might be helpful.

7 Tried and True Calming Techniques for Kids – Moshi (moshikids.com)

6 Relaxation Activities That Can Help to Calm Kids During Times of Anxiety | Save the Children

Creating a Calm Down Area for Your Child | Helping with Self-Regulation (raisinglifelonglearners.com)

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (“Pops”)

Find “Calmness” In the Midst of the Storm – “Lessons from Hurricanes”

During my adult life, I have twice lived on the southern Gulf Coast, once along the Florida Gulf Coast and once along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  During each of those periods of time, I had the interesting experience of being in the direct path of a hurricane.  If you have ever experienced being in the direct path of a hurricane, you know that there are three phases of the experience.  The front side of the hurricane, the eye of the hurricane and then the back side of the hurricane.  In the early hours of a hurricane, as the front side approaches, you experience intense wind, sideways rain, and the unique experience of watching some items in your yard blow away and maybe, depending on the level of the hurricane, some property damage.  After about 45 minutes to an hour, the wind subsides, the rain stops and the skies clear.  A hurricane novice might think, “whew, I am glad that is over”.  The reality is that it is not over.  After about 45 minutes to an hour of calmness, the back side of the hurricane approaches, and the wind picks up, the rain starts again, and you are in for another 45 minutes to an hour of intense wind, sideways rain and watching things blow away.

Our experience of raising a grandchild at times, may feel like a natural disaster, maybe better termed, a “Unnatural Disaster”.  Our experience can feel very intense and very chaotic at times.  Just as in the experience of a hurricane, when the time frame of the eye of the storm moves over you, providing a time of respite from the intensity and chaos of the storm, we need times of “respite” from our stormy experiences of raising a grandchild.  The storms that we may experience may be the aggressive and unpredictable behaviors exhibited by children, our grandchildren, who have experienced their own storms of chaos in their own lives.  Their own unpredictable and aggressive behaviors are direct results of those chaotic experiences that were thrust upon them in their young lives unexpectedly and undeserved.  Our times of storms may be the challenging experiences of dealing with our adult children, the parents of our grandchildren, who are still dealing with their addictions and chaotic choices that affect not only our grandchildren but our lives as well.

My encouragement is that during those times of storminess, we look for the respite of the “eye of the storm”.   In the real-life experience of surviving a hurricane, you have no control over when and how long you will experience the eye of the hurricane.  In our experience of raising our grandchildren, I believe that we do have some control and can “choose” to find the “Calm” during the storm.

So, how do you find calm during the storm?  Here are my thoughts:

  1. Give yourself “permission” to seek the calm.  We need to give ourselves permission to be human and to need a time of respite.  We do not need to be and cannot be, “superhuman”.  We have our limits, and it is wise to be able to be aware of them, recognize them and act when we reach them or are approaching those limits.
  2. Ask for help, when possible.  I realize that for some, this can be challenging.  If you are a single grandparent, help may not be as available, as it may be for those who have a partner.  If you have a partner, let them know you need a break, and ask them to step in.  If you don’t have a partner, it might be wise to make a list of people that you can call during stormy times.  I would encourage your asking a few friends that you trust, if they would be willing to help from time to time, as far as maybe taking your grandchild for an afternoon or something like that, at least be willing to take a phone call from you when you need someone to talk to.  It is worth a shot.  This is also another reason to consider being involved in a support group of some kind.
  3. Schedule activities that provide you a sense of respite and enjoyment.  You can consider taking regular walks, with a friend if possible, so you can express yourself as well as get good physical exercise.  You can journal on a regular basis.  You could write poetry or try your hand at art or some type of craft.  You can pick a new book and schedule a time for reading that book.  You can schedule time with friends to do the things you enjoy doing.
  4. Use your “Six Senses”.  I believe that using our five senses plus breathing, making six, can be very helpful in bringing “calmness” into our lives.  During the storm, sometimes simply stopping and taking a breath can allow us to refocus and react calmly, instead of acting emotionally or too intensely.  Practice regular breathing exercises, such as counting your breaths, exaggerating your breathing, or extending your breathing.  There are a lot of interesting breathing techniques you can try.  We can also use our five senses to calm ourselves.  Choose a sight that is calming by stepping outside to look at the trees or watch the birds, or even looking at a picture that we enjoy.  We can listen to soothing music to calm ourselves.  We can choose calming touch by hugging a pillow, wearing comfortable clothing or by asking for a real hug.  We can use candles or diffusers to produce smells that help us experience calmness.  We can also use taste, although we must be careful with this one, to give us moments of calmness.  Take time to have a cup of coffee or tea or a favorite snack.  The beauty of these six senses is that they are always available.
  5. Finally, although I have already mentioned it previously, seek connection.  We do not and cannot do this by ourselves.  Seek to invest in meaningful relationships with your partner, friends, and other family members.  Research has clearly demonstrated that people who have significant and meaningful relationships live longer, literally.  It is easy to become isolated in our venture of raising our grandchildren.  Yes, our connection with our grandchildren does count, but it is not enough.  You need adult connections that provide enjoyment and support, to have the energy that your role as a grandparent raising grandchildren requires of you.  I would also encourage that you seek connection in your spiritual life and seek time of solitude and contemplation.

This list is not comprehensive and there are many other ways to find calmness.  Be creative and discover your own.  You deserve the respite and moments of calmness and you and your grandchildren will benefit from it!

Also, we need to be able to help our grandchildren learn calming techniques to help them during the times of “storminess”.  I will do a Part II later, to discuss that topic.

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (“Pops”)

Applying The Stages of Grief to the experience of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Sometimes understanding the process of raising a grandchild can be very challenging. Often, especially early on in the journey, it feels overwhelming and often it is easy to feel like we won’t survive the experience.  Survive we can, and I believe that we can even move to the stage of “Thriving”. 

One perspective that can help us gain a helpful perspective is Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ Stages of Grief.  Our journey of raising a grandchild is definitely one that is dominated by emotions of grief.

The Five Stages of Grief are:

            Denial

            Anger

            Bargaining

            Depression

            Acceptance

I purposely did not number the stages because believing that the stages happen in a sequential manner is one of the main myths related to the stages. There is a basic progressive manner to the experience of the stages and progressing through one stage does open the door to moving into and through the next stage.  That being said, it is also important to understand that the stages recycle randomly and unexpectedly.  So, more than a predictable sequential progression, we experience them more like the game of “Chutes and Ladders”.  We are moving forward thinking that we are making marvelous progress, and then out of the blue we slide down back to a previous stage and possibly even back to where we started our journey.  Often, we are not actually progressing but regressing.  We have periods and moments when we are moving backwards.  Yet, even with the backwards movement, overall, we are moving through the process of our grief journey, and are ahead of where we started.  Understanding the chaotic randomnous of our journey can help us not be surprised by the grief “chutes” that we fall into and hopefully allow us to find our way to next ladder and step up along the journey.

Another Important principle to understand is that everyone’s journey is unique.  No one’s grief journey is the same as another’s.  Our own time frame and tools and techniques that we find helpful will be different than anyone else’s.  We must give ourselves permission to walk our own path and not follow the exact path of anyone else.  We can learn from other’s journey experiences but we must avoid comparison and judgment, when our path differes and meanders in a new way or not the way someone else thinks that we should go.  Our permission to grieve in our own unique way will be the foundatoin to our healing and growth.

Now, let’s consider each of the stages of grief and apply them to our journey of raising a grandchild.  The first stage is “Denial”.  Denial may even be an important aspect of the stage that precedes our becoming a grandparent raising a grandchild.  Denial of the severity of the situation that creates the need for our stepping into the role may have kept us from becoming involved sooner.  One of the early perceptions that is common is that our caring for our grandchild is only temporary.  The need can be temporary but that tends to be the exceptional case and not the norm.  Of course, we cannot move to permanent solutions in the beginning, but we do need to start preparing for the possibility and maybe even, likelihood that our role will be a permanent role.  We need to consider what are our best options for custody and what will give us the most effective ability to make the necessary caretaking decisions that will be in the best interest of our grandchildren.  Another denial way of thinking that can be unproductive is the desire to help our adult child, especially if they are struggling with an addiction.  Of course, that is a natural desire, and yet, one that is out of our control.  In many cases, adult children do choose recovery and a new path in life.  Yet, unfortunately, many also are not able to find that new path and will continue in their addiction.  The bottom line is that they have to make that choice totally on their own.  When we allow ourselves to think that we can make that choice for them, it weakens our ability to set and maintain the healthy boundaries that will benefit our grandchildren and ourselves.  The opposite of “denial” is “reality”.  We must choose to live in the reality that will best protect our grandchildren and give them the best chance to grow and develop into the precious gifts that they are.

The second stage of grief is Anger.  Anger is a very common, and yet challenging emotion to experience and express during our journey.  Yet, experiencing and expressing anger is a key pivotal stage in our journey.  I would say that it may be the most important stage.  When we can give ourselves permission to be angry, and we can find healthy ways to express that anger, it allows us to move forward in our journey.  When we feel guilt about being angry, and we hold it inside, then we are stuck with it, and are not able to move forward.  Also, when we hold that anger inside, then it often finds a way come out side ways or backwards.  We may unintentionally allow it to come out towards our grandchildren or our spouse or partner.  It may come out backwards in that we turn the anger inward toward ourselves, shaming messages about ourselves as a person or as a parent.

It is common to feel angry about the choices that our adult child is making, or the situation that they have placed us in.  We may feel angry about the consequences of their choices and how those consequences are impacting our grandchildren and ourselves, and maybe other family members as well.  We may be angry about the things that we can no longer do or experience because of the need to care for our grandchild.  It is also important to realize that anger is a “covering” feeling.  There is always a deeper emotion underneath our anger.  It is often pain, fear, shame or guilt.  When we can allow ourselvs to experience and express their anger, then we can access those deeper emotions, and hopefully experience and express them as well.  We also need to recognize that our grandchildren will be experiencing their own grief process.  They too may experience periods of anger and have every right to their anger as well.  We will need to help them identify that anger and learn healthy ways to express it.  Otherwise, it will often come out through aggressive behavior.  Our facing and experiencing and expressing our own anger, will put us in a better permission to face their periods of anger.

The third stage is bargaining. As I think of the bargaining stage of grief and how that relates to grandparents raising grandchildren, I think of the challenge of dealing with our adult children as we are raising their children.  Often, we find ourselves developing an adversarial relationship with our own children, and we enter a battle with them in order to protect our grandchildren.  Especially, if our adult children are dealing with an addiction, they are trying to bargain with them to have more time with the children or they still want to be the ones calling the shots as it relates to their children.  Unfortunately, some grandparents may still struggle in setting appropriate boundaries and may still found themselves thinking that if they can do this, or that, maybe their adult children will get it together and start making better choices.  As I mentioned earlier, that is an understandable desire, and you never really stop being their parents, but we have to let go of the myth that we have a role in their recovery process or in helping them make better choices.  They, being our adult children, are fully responsible for the choices that they are making and we have to allow them to sit with that responsibility.  Yes, we can be supportive when they are genuinely working at making positive choices, because we have primary care responsibilities for our grandchildren, we have to offer that support from a distance, maintaining the appropriate boundaries that will keep our grandchildren safe.

Depression is the fourth stage of the stages of grief.  Most grandparents raising grandchildren experience some level of depression, some of course more severe than others.  There can be many dynamics that can lead to depression, but I am going to keep it simple.  The word “depress” means to “push down”.  As children, we naturally knew how to experience and express our emotions.  We would experience pain when we got hurt physically, we would express that pain, and then we would go play.  When we got angry, we would experience the anger, express the anger, and then we would go play.  It is only later in childhood and adolescence that we started getting messages to not experience and not express our emotions, especially pain and anger.  The result was that we pushed those emotions down, and the result was, we don’t get to go play.  Often, depression can be seen as simply as keeping our emotions such as, anger, loneliness, shame, guilt, fear and pain pushed down and kept under lock and key.  This emotional lock down can lead to the experience of hopelessness and depression.  Grandparents raising grandchildren experience all of those emotions at some time or another.  The key is to find ways to experience and express our emotions, all of them.  We can express our emotions through talking with a family member, a friend or in a support group.  We can express our emotions through journaling or writing poetry or through painting.  The oppositie of “depression” is “expression”.  Healthy experiencing and expression of our emotions will keep us healthy and also be a great role model for our grandchildren.

The final stage of the grief process is acceptance.  The reality is that although acceptance is our destination, there are no short cuts.  We only come to a place of acceptance by experieincing the journey through, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then finally acceptance.  The paradox is that acceptance is actually more of a beginning than an ending.  When we recognize the things that we cannot control or influence, we actually only have two choices. The choices or anger/frustration or acceptance.  Coming to a place of acceptance frees us from the dead-end streets of comparison, “this isn’t fair”, or judgment, “what did I do wrong?”, bargaining, “maybe if I…, then things will be better”.  Acceptance means that we accept the reality in front of us, the reality that we did not create or choose, but in some ways has chosen us.  It has chosen us as the best people available with the best tools and resources to provide a safe and loving home for these precious loved ones, who are our grandchildren.  Acceptance allows us the opportunity to start anew with a new perspective and a new mantra, “Okay, Now What?”  Now, what are my options and what are my resources that will help me be successful in the venture of caring for my grandchildren.  Acceptance is not really the final stage at all, it is the true beginning stage that will allow me to move from “surviving as a grandparent raising a grandchild” to “thriving as a grandparent raising a grandchild”!  We as grands benefit, but so do our grandchildren, and I would also say that so do our adult children, if they are open to it.

WE CAN DO THIS!  WE MUST DO THIS! AND THIS IS WORTH THE CHALLENGE!

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (“Pops”)

“I Am a Young/Old, Grumpy/Joyful Man”

Tonight, I feel like an “old man”.  I am not sure why, but I do.  I am 65 years old and tonight, I feel every bit of that, and maybe even a little older.  Maybe it is partially due to the fact that keeping a seven-year-old entertained and needs met can be exhausting.  At the same time, one of the benefits of raising a vivacious seven-year-old is that I get the opportunity to “play” a lot.  I would say that playing keeps me “young”.  I actually still enjoy building things out of Legos.  There are many days when I feel much younger than 65.  Tonight’s experience of feeling “old”, reminded me of how much of a paradoxical experience raising a grandchild can be.  We often fluctuate between experiences and emotions. 

Tonight, there were moments when I might be called, a little “Grumpy”.  I do experience many moments of grumpiness and I experience many moments of “Joy” and “Excitement”.  I can experience moments of loss and grief, related to what I would like to be doing at this age and stage of life.  And then, I experience moments through the eyes of an inquisitive seven-year-old who very often throughout the day approaches me with, “Pops I have a question”.  Sometimes I have a good answer and feel very smart, and sometimes, I have no clue, and not so smart.  I really don’t know “how many cars are there in the whole word?”  I love Sebellah’s questions, and they do keep my mind wondering as well.

So, the truth is, “I am a Young/Old man, and I am a Grump/Joyful man”, whose life is truly blessed daily through the eyes and inquisitive mind of a precious seven-year-old.  I have for long said, “Maturity is accepting life’s Paradoxes!”  I will choose to accept paradoxes that come with raising a grandchild.

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (“Pops”)