Being the perfect picture of mental health for our children sounds like a very tall order, believe me I know. That said, striving to take of ourselves is one of the biggest gifts we can give to our kids. Modeling healthy behaviors develops trust. Saying one thing while doing another does not.
By not practicing positive coping techniques when Courtney was a tween, my choices made a huge impact on her mental health and inability to communicate her emotions clearly. The stress of my day job, coupled with launching a startup in the wee hours, reopened the door of my eating disorder. My illness had rules on top of rules around my food, I worked out daily, and binged and purged on occasion dependent on my ability to “use my words,” all the while saying, “I am fine.” It’s no surprise that by the time Courtney was 16, she landed in UCLA’s psych unit due to her low weight and the desire to lose more.
Although my eating disorder was in remission when Courtney started her treatment journey, Clay and I desperately needed to develop new coping skills and resist the homeostasis of settling for “good enough.” We had built an immunity to the discomfort of our multigenerational family patterns, yet our kids had not. It became crystal clear that if we did not evolve in our own recovery and work to create a paradigm shift for our kids, there was a distinct possibility that Courtney may not live past 20.
Fast forward to the present, and we are all alive, well, and in a parallel process with our clients—practicing what we pay forward. Each member of our family, which includes our children’s mom, her husband, our son, grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, is making changes to strengthen the wellbeing and emotional safety for everyone. While it’s not without challenging moments, it’s worth it. Showing up for the holidays is a whole lot easier when we feel seen and heard for who we actually are. And P.S., everyone around the table knows your metaphorical “dirty laundry.”
Personally, I’ve had to make some drastic adjustments to my lifestyle in order to be present. My workday is cut in half, exercising looks like gardening, morning coffee’s at 7am vs. 3am, meals are shared with others, and the list of macro/micro changes continues to transform because good mental health is now a value of our family network. We’re resilient, present, funny, sarcastic, loving, supportive, sharp, and many other things. And rest assured, we are not perfect. No one is. Yet we can talk to each other, and this very skill alone got us through 2020!