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Step-Parent Like a Pro: Grow your skillset

Step-Parent Like a Pro: Grow your skillset

Ask most any step-parent and they’ll tell you, “parenting my step-kids is harder than parenting my own kids.” What’s the reason for that? Well, in my opinion there are several variations of that answer but it all seems to come back to one thing: Fear.

Fear about judgement or criticism from the other birth parent. Fear about damaging the relationship with your step-child or with your significant other. Basically, fear about doing something wrong or rocking the boat in some way. (This idea of fear comes up a LOT with coparenting as well, which we will eventually get to in this series.)

Combining our awareness of how being a step-parent challenges us emotionally with the idea that households operate the best when they look as much like gracious families as possible, we will be able to unpack some concepts of how to handle step-parenting in a way that promotes a culture of grace and love in the house.

Last time, we examined the role of step-parent and why it’s such an awesome and unique role. This week, we’ll look at how to skillfully proceed in your role as step-parent. How do you not just survive the job but knock it out of the park? We’ll look at hot to skillfully proceed in your role as step-parent and I’ll share some easy tips you can start today.

Considerations of Age

If you are a step-parent to older kids (I’ll call this 9th grade and above), your lane is to basically be the auxiliary adult. You just need to back up your spouse, and basically add peace, joy and stability to the household. You need to be WD-40! The fun uncle. If you have a different perspective on rules, routines, structure, you should absolutely express that…in private with your significant other. Your biggest opportunity for blessing is to encourage, support, champion, and provide positive stability. This is not the opportunity to strut your stuff and completely re-invent the rules.

If you’re a step-parent to younger kids, you will be a more integral part of developing the child’s story arc. Step-parents of younger kids intrinsically feel this weight. It shouldn’t be surprising if the child takes their (pre-verbal) angst out on the step-parent, as the symbol of all that is new and different in the family unit. A wise step-parent will understand that this is not personal, and use this as an opportunity to connect rather than recoil.

Considerations in Training

As a birth parent, it may be difficult to not get territorial, possessive or defensive about your kids and your parenting decisions. Feelings can easily get hurt in this context. Counseling support can absolutely be helpful if you’re in this predicament. The solution to this is often structural, and a trained eye can reshape and rebalance the household dynamic like only a non-emotionally invested outsider can.

As a step-parent, it may be confusing as to what your defined role is in terms of promoting a healthy family life and encouraging the kids to be his/her best “self” possible. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • Be the type of partner who would never make your significant other feel like they have to make a lose/lose choice of partner vs. kids.
    • Cut down on the fear of there not being “enough” to go around.
    • There is plenty of room for both/and solutions in step-parenting. There is enough time in the day. There is enough love to go around. Open wide your heart and engage in your creative problem solving skills. Setting up the family for success in this way is a MAJOR win, and you can excel in this area by going out of your way to be the furthest thing from petty, needy and territorial. Be generous. Be patient. Just be cool! If you’re open handed, it’ll come back to you ten-fold.
  • Stay in your lane.
    • Clarity in the bounds of your role reduces fear of overstepping.
    • Don’t over-estimate your skill set in bringing peace and civility to a situation. Whatever the current dynamic of the family is when you arrive on scene, there are a lot of factors and causes for it. You’re not the chaos whisperer. You’re not Mary Poppins. You are not bringing healing to decades-long conflicts with your banana nut muffins!
    • Know your role. Observe. Keep your thoughts to yourself unless you’re asked. You’re here to make things easier in real, tangible ways.
  • You didn’t start the fire, but you can pick up a fire extinguisher.
    • You didn’t create these kids. You can’t re-create these kids. Put simply: Your step-kids are not your kinfolk. They have different aptitudes and attributes than your kinfolk have. You don’t need to walk around with the pressure that you have something to prove to the world through them.
    • Get to know their strengths and weaknesses, their potential and what really motivates them.
    • Work within the framework that has already been established before you arrived on scene.
    • Surely, you can teach helpful lessons and model positive character attributes. But you’re not going to remake your step-kids in your own image just because they’re at your house 50% of the time. Accept this and have reasonable expectations that everyone can agree to.
    • They are who they are. They will be who they will be. You can expect things from them like a respectful attitude, chores, honesty, etc. But you can’t expect straight A’s in math just because you were on math team.

Well…there you go! Step-parenting is the easiest job on the planet, eh? 😉 I sincerely hope you have found a tool or two to add to your toolbox of step-parenting skills! It’s a tricky role but you’ve got what it takes. I believe in you!

If you’d like to set up a time and work together to come up with a more specific plan for your household, just let me know! I have offices in Walker, Louisiana and Baton Rouge.

Next we’ll look at achieving equality among step-siblings without the pitfall of comparison.

Step-Parent Like a Pro

Step-parent Like a Pro!

We all know this story. It’s a tale as old as time!

Boy meets girl. They fall in love. All is right in the world. Then thy abruptly and awkwardly figure out how to parent the children they bring with them from previous relationships.

Ok, ok…it may not be the stuff of Disney movies, but this is real life, people!

Most people enter into the realm of step-parent with confidence and excitement. The assumption is that your love for your significant other will bleed over to their kids without much intention or effort. People think, “I already have kids, so I know how to do this! I’ll just do the same I’m already doing.” Or, “I love kids so this will be no sweat…fun even!” Yet in reality, nothing will test the limits of your maturity, patience and resolve quite like learning to be a step-parent.

Conventional wisdom encourages us to prepare to have a healthy marriage and not just focus your efforts on having an awesome wedding. In the same vein, wise step-parents will focus on how to enter into this role like a pro and not just assume that the honeymoon phase will encompass the whole family.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a handful of blogs on the topic of step-parenting and eventually on coparenting. Step-parenting is definitely not a “one size fits all” topic. What you’ll find in these posts are items to consider and make your own in the context of your family.

The two biggest factors that change your particular approach to step-parenting seem to be: 1) How old were your bonus children when you entered the scene? 2) Is there another biological parent in the mix? We will unpack how each factor requires a specific approach, and discuss a variety of considerations that will help you step-parent like a pro!

Tiny Pay, Huge Value

Although there are always special characteristics, needs and nuances to consider, I believe families are meant to look and operate like families, whether members be related by blood, marriage or adoption. While over the next few posts we will unpack concepts specific to step-families, these practical out-workings will simply be variations on this central concept.

I am a big fan of step-parents! It’s such a tough and often thankless job! I see so clearly a deep power and potency in the role of step-parent: to offer corrective relational experiences, to offer a fresh narrative to address past wounds or mis-beliefs about self or one’s place in the world, and to offer a less defensive, more objective, adult voice in the life of a child/teen.

It’s very, very difficult to get a child (or adult, for that matter) whose parents are divorced to articulate how that rift has affected them emotionally. This is in part because they are often taught to minimize the impact by well-intentioned family members, it’s normalized by society, or they don’t want to make their parents feel guilty. Another big reason why kids/adults don’t typically articulate the loss of the parental unit as “mom + dad together = family” (by means of break-up, never actually “together” or divorce) is because it may have happened when the child was pre-verbal. So in a sense, the grief is stuck in the brain in a place where it’s hard for language to get to. And it can be expressed in anxiety, anger, depression, or other attachment-based manifestations.

Now, I realize that a lot of people may not like to talk or think about that. But it is necessary to acknowledge this point because it highlights the importance of step-parenting skillfully and coparenting graciously.

These are fairly complex ideas to address concisely, since there are a number of presentations and points to consider.  So if you have specific questions or concerns, I’d love to sit down with you and come up with a game plan, whether from a parenting stand-point or a family therapy model.

Check back next week as we dive further in to the topic. You can even sign-up on the top right margin of this blog page to get the next blog emailed to you so you can make sure to not miss what’s next!

Is it You or is it Me? Finding Your Best Therapeutic Fit

Is it You or is it Me? Finding Your Best Therapeutic Fit.

Whether it’s while we are scheduling our initial visit or during our intake session, I frequently get asked this question: How will I know if you’re the right counselor for me?

That is a FANTASTIC Question. The simple fact that you’re even asking that question is a good sign that you’re ready to do great therapeutic work!

RAPPORT

In an ideal world, you would strike gold on your first therapy appointment and have awesome rapport from “hello.” In reality, it may end up being more like test driving cars before deciding which make/model you actually want to end up with for the therapeutic journey.

Beginning therapy can be nerve-racking enough already. The last thing you need is to commit to counseling with someone who makes you feel like the therapeutic equivalent of buying a compact car when what you really need is enough leg room to stretch out.

So how can you tell that you’re on the right path with picking a therapist?

There are two questions you’ll want to keep in mind during your first session:

  1. Does your therapist give you the impression that she knows what she is talking about?
  2. Can you see yourself being comfortable sharing the ins and outs of your life with them?

If the answer to either of those questions is “no,” it may be an indicator that you haven’t quite found the right fit, therapeutically speaking. And that’s totally ok. There is someone for everyone. It’s not really even personal. Stay loyal to your goals and instincts and keep looking.

I truly want you to be with someone who feels “right” to you, and if something in your gut is telling you that it’s not me, I’d be more than happy to give you some great referrals who may better fit your needs and goals!

If the answer to both of the above questions is “yes,” it’s a good sign that you’re on the right path in finding a good therapeutic fit. You probably won’t be leaving the first session feeling like you’re 100% sure about your therapist. But you should have a good sense that you could see it working out well.

Other Considerations:

  • You shouldn’t leave your first session feeling judged, preached to, or confused.
  • You should have a good idea of how the therapy process works and an estimation of how long the process usually takes for goals similar to yours.
  • You should feel like your questions were answered and that you’ve found your way into the office of a person who isn’t shocked by what you’re saying.
  • You want to feel like you’re sitting with someone who has been down this road before.
  • Within a few sessions, you should understand what therapeutic framework your therapist uses and how your goals may be met through that framework.
  • Before too long, you’ll start to get a feel for the therapist’s personality and communication style.

For me, I like to be very collaborative in the therapeutic process. I want to hear how you respond to things. You’re a full partner in this process.

I like to be goal-directed in therapy. We will have a clear understanding of what you’d like to address in your past or change about your current life before we really begin the work of therapy. I’m going to want to know where exactly you want to go before we put the car in drive.

I tend to be very plain speaking and cut to the chase. And I shoot for discussing really difficult topics in really accessible ways.

With most people, I’m not exceedingly maternal. And no one has ever accused me of coddling.

Not every therapist is like me, and not every client wants my style. Stylistic preferences may be dealbreakers for some clients. And that’s 100% okay. Stay true to your gut and preferences!

Therapy Models:

Other people may care less about personality/style, but instead are looking for a specific therapeutic framework. Within a few sessions, you ought to be able to understand what therapeutic framework your therapist primarily uses and how it will fit with your goals.

For individual work, I typically use EMDR and CBT. For couples work, I tend to use more of an EFT approach (though I am less model driven with couple work than individual work). To me, the lack of a strong therapeutic framework can lead to an endless string of putting out fires in your personal life, instead of addressing root causes. I find these therapeutic models to be the best fit both for my strengths as a therapist and for the types of clients that I see in my practice.

The bottom line is: the therapy process should work for YOU. You owe it to yourself to find the right person for you, your personality and your needs. Trust your gut and your instincts. You know what “yes” feels like to you, and a good therapist will always support that, even if it means you end up in someone else’s office.

Check out this article for additional FAQ’s about my practice and therapy in general. If you have any specific questions for me regarding therapy or my practice, please contact me here! I have offices in Baton Rouge and Walker, Louisiana.

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