United Parenting writes about “Who’s yer one?”

 

This is a transcript of the presentation that I gave recently at the Parenting 2.0 Conference in Dublin. It’s my story (well, a little of it as I only had 10 minutes to share it!) My mantra when I wrote it was ‘name it and claim it!’ because I believe that if I cannot have the courage to be vulnerable and name my experiences then I’ve no business asking a client to do so in a session with me.

 

 

There’s a saying here in Ireland: Who’s yer one? It means’ who do you think you are to tell me what to do?!’ Well, my name is Niki Williams. I’m a Psychiatric Nurse, Counsellor, Parent Mentor and Trauma Therapist by training. However my main qualification is what I’ve learned through personal experience as a survivor and a divorced mother of three.
My parents separated, my father moved abroad, and I was raised from the age of three by a single mum for nine years. We lived in a council house on welfare benefits. I remember life as simple and carefree. Then my mum got married to a man whom she really didn’t know. I believe she was in love with the idea of being ‘a proper family’ and she fell for his potential rather than his reality.
He was a very sick man. He was a whisky drinking alcoholic who made irresponsible financial decisions. My mother went to work to feed us. He systematically sexually abused and raped me. My mother was too terrified and ashamed to leave him. All this had a hugely damaging effect on our family relationships.
Consequently I was left with a legacy of shame. I felt like it was my fault, there was something bad in me and if people actually knew me they wouldn’t like me.

 

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More positively it gave me a thirst for learning. I had a God given unshakable belief that there were better things out there for me. I wanted to learn how to do things differently. I needed practical, workable alternatives. I became a self-help book junkie!
After some chaotic years of living independently; learning the hard way that hurt people hurt people, I found a man who was willing to marry me. Having read an abundance of literature about relationships, healing and creating a better life; I’d engaged in therapy and felt ready to create my own family. I was clear with him that divorce was not an option for me. In fact, what I told him was “I‘ll kill you before I divorce you so you better be sure this is what you want!”

You can imagine my devastation when five years into forever I discovered my husband’s affair with a married friend. All the things I believed would protect me from this had failed. The bottom fell out of my world.
We had two children at this stage. My daughter was three. When I looked into her eyes I was unable to separate her pain from my own at losing a father. I had long ago vowed that my children would grow up with a mum and dad who loved each other and stayed together. So we reconciled. We honestly tried, we even had another child, but the trust was gone.
By the time we agreed to go our separate ways and I relocated from England to Ireland, two out of three of our children were acting out with daily antisocial behaviours. Because I had worked so much on myself I understood the process. They were drawing attention to what needed to be resolved. I sought help for them. I researched and tried every solution I could come up with and yet, the behaviours continued.
Only now I faced it as a single parent, where I knew no-one and had no support network. On the outside I appeared bravely confident, relying on my old survival skills. On the inside I felt isolated, ashamed, angry and guilty. There were days when I lost sight of anything positive. I woke in the morning thinking “This is not my life”, feeling “I just can’t do this anymore”, before dragging myself out of bed to do what had to be done. I was living a life of quiet desperation.

 

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However, just as in my childhood, my spirit kept telling me there were better things ahead and I could not give up hope. I read about Dr Tony Humphreys, an Irish psychologist and author who seemed to speak my language about raising children with healthy self-esteem. I thought to myself “This is it. If he can’t help me no-one can!” Whilst at U.C.C. for a year. I grew and matured, as a person and a parent.
I learnt, among many other things, the simple yet profound truth that I want to share with you today.
I call it the 100% rule. It goes like this…

Everything that someone else says or does is 100% about them.
Everything I say and do is 100% about me.

Think about that for a moment.

Everything that someone else says or does is 100% about them.
Everything I say and do is 100% about me.

It’s about personal accountability. It was a revelation to me, taking complete responsibility for one’s own actions. Something my parents had not learned and so were unable to teach me. By applying this rule I was able to stop personalising other people’s behaviour. It’s what finally moved me out of a victim mentality where I felt powerless over my life.

For example; my children were not punishing me for being a bad mother. They were telling me the only way they knew how that life was difficult and painful for them too.
My husband didn’t leave because I failed as a wife. He left because he chose to solve his problems that way. He could have chosen differently. I couldn’t have forced him to leave any more than I could make him stay. The only person I can control is myself.
How other people act usually has very little to do with me and more to do with what’s going on inside of them. Fear, anger, hurt, frustration, disappointment, illness, you just don’t know what battles someone else may be fighting in their lives and projecting onto you.

With the compassionate, non judging mentorship I received I learnt how to hold, not control, my children’s pain over the loss of their Dad, or their upset at witnessing my grief. I chose to forgive myself rather than beat myself up. Acknowledging my pain I began taking better care of my own needs and reached out for support to people who were actually able to offer it. I learnt how to parent myself with the same loving compassion that I was endeavouring to parent my children.

 

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Having read so often about loving myself now I was actually doing it. By recognising and honouring my needs, valuing my thoughts and expressing my feelings as being equally as valid as everyone else’s I moved from head knowledge to a heartfelt understanding. It’s not what you have that makes you a good parent, it’s who you are. Love is what my children will remember. I believe that because a lack of love is what I remember. After this shift from within, I moved on with renewed hope.

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I felt empowered to act for myself rather than against another. It’s called setting healthy boundaries which I had struggled with for such a long time. I found my voice and used it to communicate honestly and assertively, especially with my children. No means no because my rules are fair and are there to keep you safe.

It became ok to be vulnerable with them, to respond to their anger or tears with “I understand you feel angry” “It’s ok to be sad” and “I know I miss Daddy too.” I could admit to them “I’m really sorry I shouted, I’m having a tough day and that’s not your fault.” Children are naturally very forgiving.
Seeing my ex-husband through my children’s eyes was a huge step of emotional separation. It was more important to me for him to be their Dad than to punish him for hurting me. I was willing to forgive him and healing followed.
I discovered that I was actually unconditionally loving my children, cultivating a close, affectionate relationship with each of them, despite the difficult behaviours. I feel so passionately about sharing this learning with other parents that I founded United Parenting – Putting Children First. Sometimes getting help doesn’t mean solving the problems. It can mean maintaining a loving relationship even in the face of those problems.

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With a house of teenagers now it’s a bumpy road that we’re travelling together. As we know better we do better. So can you. I trust that sharing my story will inspire you to share your story with me. Thank you for listening.

United Parenting shares 3 things girls need from their fathers.

As a fatherless daughter and a single parent of a teenage girl this excellent blog touched my heart and I felt compelled to share it.

Thank you Joyce McFadden, Psychoanalyst and Author, writing for The Huffpost.      

“The last post I wrote highlighting for mothers the role sexual development plays in their daughters’ overall happiness was incredibly well received. But since it went viral, I’ve gotten many requests to write one for fathers. So here it is.

A little girl needs her father’s support in her unfolding sexual development because it helps secure three hugely important facets of how she’ll see herself in the world throughout her life. You’ll influence her level of personal confidence, her body comfort and pride, and you’ll set her expectations for the way she should be treated by boys and men.

Even though fathers only want the best for their daughters, when asked to contemplate the idea that they should play an active role in guiding their daughters as they transition from little girl, to girl, to young woman, they squirm. They wince. They slam their eyes shut in an effort to make it stop. They say, “Go ask your mother.”

This is exactly the kind of response I’m going to ask fathers to reconsider, because your daughters really do need you.

Whether we’re talking about the idea of teaching your toddler the accurate names for her body parts during bath time, educating your 8-year-old about menstruation or discussing sexual behaviour as your teenager is getting ready for a date, dodging, squirming and wincing aren’t reactions that are going to help your daughter feel comfortable in her own skin or confident about who she is.

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Parents don’t wince over things they’re proud of or happy about in their kids, and even our youngest daughters understand this. When we’re proud of them and happy for them, we beam. We smile. We tear up. So, when you reveal your discomfort with your daughter’s sexuality, you’re unintentionally teaching her it’s either something to be afraid of or something to be disdained. You’ll also be directly or indirectly teaching her you don’t want to be involved in knowing that part of her, and that will probably create distance in your relationship. None of this will enhance her self-esteem or her ability to believe you love her unconditionally.

In both my clinical practice and my private life, whenever men share their fears for their daughters’ sexuality, it tends to go something like this: “I’m going to put her in a convent because I know what guys are like.” But if the problem is that fathers know what guys are like, the solution isn’t to make our daughters pay the price by sequestering them. The solution is to raise our sons to respect girls and women.

On that note, we need to be more conscious of what we imply about kids’ sexuality from the time they’re little. We always think the sexual socialization of our sons and daughters begins in adolescence, when it actually starts so much earlier. Take the following typical scenarios and compare how differently we treat male and female sexuality.

Scene One: When my daughter was a toddler and we were at the playground, it would be very common to have an adult approach the mother of a toddler boy who, by society’s standards, would be considered beautiful, and say with a smile, “Oh… he’s going to be a heartbreaker when he grows up!”

Embedded in that comment lies the cultural message that there’s an expectation this little boy will leave a wake of female misery behind him as he moves through his adolescence and manhood. He’ll love them and leave them, breaking hearts right and left. And it isn’t said with contempt. It’s a celebration of his male sexuality — it will be a point of pride that he’s a heartbreaker.

Scene Two: It would be just as common on that same playground to have an adult approach the mother of a toddler girl who, by society’s standards, would be considered beautiful, and say with a smile, “Oh, what a beautiful girl! You better lock her away until she’s 30!”

Embedded in that statement is the cultural message that this little girl should basically resign herself to being seen as a sexualized victim — that she’ll be so ill-prepared to take care of herself, she should just be locked away. And this isn’t said with sadness. It’s a celebration of censure — a happy stealing away of her ownership of her female sexuality.

That’s the G-Rated childhood version, but your daughter will swim in a sea of similar messages throughout her life. Just open a newspaper or go online to find a current example of the R-Rated version, like Soroya Chemaly’s article regarding an ongoing battle with Facebook to remove content that trivializes or encourages violence against girls and women.

From the impact of a seemingly innocuous playground comment to the violent extreme of rape culture, this is why your daughter needs to know you value her sexual worth. Locking her away until she’s 30 isn’t what will help her. Her internalization of your esteem for her is what will be useful to her in combating the pressures she’ll be up against. I do want to stress, however, that it isn’t all about safety. Her internalization of your esteem for her will also be one of the things that gives her the confidence to be true to herself so she can make decisions in pursuit of her personal happiness on all fronts.

So, on the road to raising a happy, confident woman, here are three things your daughter needs from you:

1. She needs you to respect her body and its capacities.

When she’s little, don’t avoid using the correct names for her body parts. I saw a discussion about this on “The View,” and one of the perspectives was that children are too young to know such “adult” terms. But they’re not adult terms. They’re anatomical terms. They contribute to self-knowledge, which contributes to a well-being. A study in the journal Gender and Psychoanalysis found that preschool-age girls were more likely to have been taught the word “penis” than any specific word for their own genitals. That isn’t fair and it isn’t right. If you don’t call her elbow her “Over There,” then don’t refer to her vulva as her “Down There.” When we do that, we only stigmatize those parts and make it even harder for our girls to feel pride and ownership over them. And if you’re uncertain about the anatomical terminology, invest in the two minutes it will take you to Google it. Your daughter’s body image is well worth those 120 seconds.

When she’s older, don’t shy away from discussions about menstruation, and if you don’t understand how it works, educate yourself years before she starts so you can respond to any questions that might pop up along the way. Let her know you’re proud of her reproductive functioning. Remember, if it weren’t for menstruation, you wouldn’t even have a daughter. If the two of you have talked about it from the time she was young, when she’s older, you’ll already have built a shared comfort level with it. Then, if she asks you to pick up some tampons for her while you’re out, rather than having it turn into an awkward moment that would have reflected negatively on her reproductive system, you can simply say “sure,” and ask her to write down what kind she’d like. The exchange will be as it should be: natural.

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2. She needs to feel close to you throughout your lives together.

Don’t go MIA or withdraw from her once she starts to sexually mature. I believe the psychology of this common paternal phenomenon is rooted in how basic it can feel to some men to view women primarily through a sexualized lens. (As Billy Crystal jokes, “Women need a reason to have sex. Men just need a place.”) It can be difficult for men to go from parenting a pre-adolescent girl to finding themselves the father of a young woman with curves.

Remember, that new body is the one your daughter will be living in the rest of her life. Let her know you’ll be by her side throughout it all. If you back away, there’s a danger she may think it’s her fault. She could feel she’s losing her closeness to you simply by virtue of being drawn into a biological process she has no power to stop. There’s absolutely no way she can stay your little girl just so you can remain comfortable. Sometimes, though, a girl feels caught in this bind and she may sub-consciously feel she has to choose between her human sexuality and your love for her. She may also fear you’ll judge her if she ventures into sexual activity. When this occurs, in addition to weakening her bond with you, it can later complicate her ability to have adult sexual relationships without experiencing guilt or shame; it’s hard to have a solid sense of personal confidence if you feel like you’re being judged or like you’re not enough for your parents, just the way you are. As her father, you have the power to make certain she knows your love is steadfast, and that she won’t have to choose between your love and her maturation.

3. She needs you as a role model for how she should be treated by boys and men.

No matter her sexual orientation, your daughter will live in a world with boys and men. Pay attention to the way you address her as well as to the way you talk about women. Be thoughtful in the way you speak to your sons about girls and women, and set limits on appropriate language. The tone you set in your home can either negatively complicate how she believes she deserves to be treated by the opposite sex, or it can ground her in her right to be treated respectfully.

Part of that respect needs to include your appreciation of the fact that her sexuality will be about far more than just the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancy and sexual violence. More importantly, it will be about desire, attraction, the complexities of romantic relationships and often, difficult choices. Offer her guidance, but as she experiences these things, healthy parenting will also sometimes involve affording her the same freedom you would want for yourself — the freedom to follow her own heart and mind.

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In my research, one of the most common things daughters said about their fathers was they wish they were more communicative. So, take the risk on behalf of your daughter, and open the door for the two of you to talk about sexual matters. Don’t worry if you’re nervous — in fact, cop to it. Tell her you weren’t raised to be comfortable talking about sexuality, but that you’re going to forge ahead because you never want her to ever question your regard for her wellness and happiness. She won’t care if you fumble through it at first. Let her know you understand her sexuality will be an important part of who she is throughout her life and that you want her to always be comfortable in, and proud of, her body.

Let her know she should be treated with the respect she deserves, and that it’s your honour, as the first man in her life, to set that bar high.”