Our Blog


Kids need to develop in your sustaining presence. As they experience you they try you on and learn how they want to do things. This give kids a sense of belonging.

Richard Geist in his paper, Empathic Understanding, gives the following examples:

  • The 5year old that cooks side by side with a parent
  • The 8year old that shaves next to dad
  • The 12year old that takes on the same hobbies as his parents

Including your kids in your world will give them a place to feel like they belong, a sense of group identity. They will use that to become confident and mature.

Tuning into our kids and responding becomes their own ability to nurture themselves. Both Heinz Kohut and Richard Geist remind us that: more


Kids need strong adults in their life to look up to. They learn to use the strength of the adults, to borrow their power, and in doing so they eventually learn they too can be strong and the adult’s strength becomes their own. Often we can become worried that if we help our kids they will become dependent. This is true if we impose our help, but if we are responding to their request this does not need to be a worry. This can be a hard task if we as parents don’t feel “heroic” on the inside ourself. It can feel un-genuine when our child holds as “superhuman” at moments. Which can lead us to dismiss our child’s move towards maturity. Understanding that they need us to be strong can move us to accept their bid for assurance as well as it can spur us to work on our own stuff.

Richard Geist gives the following examples in his paper, Empathic Understanding:

  • The 4year old who is scared about going to pre-school for the first time and asks their parent to stay with them is asking the parent to borrow their strength so that they can make a big step towards the maturity of handling school on their own.
  • The 9year old that comes downstairs to ask how to spell a word is asking to borrow a parent’s superior knowledge.
  • The 12 year old who puts up sports posters on their wall is idealizing sports heroes in order to develop their own inner ideals and values. (I would also add the teen who becomes obsessed with certain bands, artists or other older adolescents)

We want to love our kids. We want to be there for them in the way they need and help them grow into healthy and whole people. Yet in the messiness of normal life this can be so hard to do. Add to that all the pressures we feel to give our kids the perfect birthday party, sports experiences, clothes, bedrooms, etc. and pretty soon parenting can feel like a no-win situation.

This blog series is about stripping away the pressures and the confusion. It’s goal is to say perfect is not the goal and to help us remember that all our children need from us in order to survive and thrive (outside of basic needs like: food, shelter, clothing, etc.) is an attuned (though not perfect) environment where our kiddos can be empathically understood and responded to with love.

What is Empathy??

The child therapist Richard Geist helps us understand that empathy is not sympathy or compassion it is the avenue we travel to get into the minds and hearts of our kids. It is what informs us of how to love them. However this is easier said than done, yes? Now, lest you think this is being written by some disconnected voice it should be said that ,I too am a parent, an imperfect one at that, and these next words are written just as much for myself as for others. Over the course of this post and the next two I will present three big needs kids have growing up. In fact we have these needs our whole lives but they are most important for growing our self esteem and ability to love early on.

In his new book Do Over, Jon Acuff points out that as kids we believed we had the power to declare a “Do Over” when we wanted to start again.  http://acuff.me/do-over/  

When we missed the mark, we’d just start over.  If we miss-hit the ball, we’d yell out “Do Over” and try again. When the drawing wasn’t quite right, we’d crumple up the paper, throw it away, grab a new sheet and start again.  We didn’t give a second thought to making a second attempt.

Jon points out that somewhere along the way we stopped believing in the power to declare a “Do Over.”  He describes so eloquently what happens — We feel stuck. We stop opening doors. We start to think we already know where they all lead.

That describes so many couples who come to counseling. They have stopped reaching toward one another and asking for what they need from each other because they believe they already know what the response will be.  And the fear of being ignored or rejected again is more painful than simply suffering in silence.  more

“What’s the reason most relationships fail?  Is it affairs, boredom, lack of sex, lack of communication?”  That’s the question I’m asked most often.

As any experienced therapist can tell you, couples come to therapy for a multitude of reasons.  The list will not surprise you – conflict over finances, sex, and in-laws; challenges with roles in marriage, work-life balance, parenting, and the transition to being empty-nesters.  Sometimes, it’s in preparation for marriage and sometimes it’s to make one last attempt “at saving our relationship.”

Zach Brittle who is a therapist and contributor to the Gottman Blog writes that the thing he hears most often is, “We’re having trouble communicating.”  I hear that often as well. And one thing is certain, when couples have trouble communicating – when you don’t feel heard or understood it quickly leads to a lack of connection.  And being disconnected makes even the simplest issues difficult.

The Hollywood version of connection, passion and romance is based on grand gestures — meeting at the top of the Empire State building to gaze into each other’s eyes, a whirlwind trip to a private island, renting out a restaurant for a private dinner, (add your own favorite movie scene here).  But in reality we know that connection is built in the more mundane moments of life.


The tension
This is the bind: we all have parts of our lives that are messy and yet we live in a culture that places a lot of pressure on us to pretend that we have it all together. The following scene, from the movie This is 40, gives a great picture of this. Larry (Debbie’s father-in-law) has been struggling with finances and depression. Debbie is encouraging him to open up to his wife (Claire) instead of dumping it on his son all the time.

DEBBIE He worries about you. It puts a lot of pressure on him.
LARRY I know. I just don’t have anyone else to talk to about it.
DEBBIE You can talk to Claire.
LARRY No. If I open up to her she’ll leave me.
DEBBIE No, she won’t, Larry, she loves you.
LARRY I know, but there’s a certain point at which you just can’t stay.

Do you see the bind? Pretend everything is perfect but feel alone or go with transparency and risk rejection.