What Crisis Counseling Taught Me About Parenting
You may be wondering what qualifies me to write about parenting. Let me be upfront with you: I’m not qualified. I became a Licensed Social Worker shortly after graduating with my BSW, but that feels like a lifetime ago. I’m a mom of three. I work full time. I lose my cool way too often. I’m scattered and over-scheduled. I’m also a proud volunteer Crisis Counselor with Crisis Text Line.
Those early experiences as a social worker made me think I would be a great mom: supportive, empathetic, understanding, and patient. I would know exactly what signs of trouble to look for and tackle them head on. But when I did become a mom, I realized I wasn’t the social worker version I had always envisioned. I was more of a “shake it off” and “play it down” kind of mom. (My toddler fell down? “You’re fine.” “That mean girl took my toy!” “Shake it off.” “I want my yellow spoon!” “It’s no big deal, use your blue spoon.”) To be honest, the approach worked pretty well in those early years. After all, if they can get fouled in soccer without wailing like their arm has been severed from their body, that’s a win, right?
Thanks to my training with Crisis Text Line, I’m realizing this approach may not be the best for them now that they are getting older. I’m forced to remember a time in high school when someone took my change of clothes and left them in the toilet bowl for everyone to see. I was confused and highly embarrassed. I was devastated for weeks. Heartbroken, not only by what my friend did, but that no one else had stood up for me. I had broken out in a cold sweat and was nauseous from the personal attack. I felt completely lost and alone and I was too ashamed to tell my parents, who, like many parents, thought everyone at school loved me.
I see now that something that would be a minor blip on my radar today (at 43) would have been a major crisis for my younger self. I’ve realized that the types of problems my kids are beginning to have now are likely not going to be solved by me telling them to shake it off.
I think of the types of crisis situations that start with a seemingly “low-risk” issue, but have the potential to escalate. It’s imperative that we don’t belittle those emotions. To the young person experiencing unrequited love, for example, one of the worst things someone could say is, “You’re too young to even know what love is.” What they are feeling is real – it’s powerful and all-encompassing for them at this time in their life.
At Crisis Text Line we are trained to validate our texters’ feelings, and reflect them back so they know we are hearing them. Telling our texters that it’s OK to feel how they feel is an important first step to building rapport with them so that they can feel safe revealing more about their crisis.
It’s also extremely important for us to empower our texters to feel as though they have the strength, intelligence, and the ability to help themselves the next time they are in crisis. One way we do this is with strength identifiers. We let them know how brave they are to reach out for support. How strong they are to be handling their situation, often all on their own. Asking for help is often seen as a weakness, but it’s not easy. People deserve to be acknowledged for showing that courage.
Lastly, we do our very best to give our texters the opportunity to devise their own plan for getting better or for seeking the help they need. The plan to ask someone for help has come from them, not us - they are much more likely to follow through with that plan if it’s their own idea. And sometimes just knowing they’re able to come up with a plan is empowering.
For all of the reasons above, I try not to revert to my “shake it off” approach as soon as I log off of the platform. The empathetic approach I take with texters is the same approach I need to be taking with the young people in my own life.
We can’t be there for our children every minute of every day, even though we may wish to be. But we can let them know it’s OK to feel what they are feeling, that they are strong and resilient and can face anything head on. And lastly, that they are capable of finding solutions to any challenge that comes their way, even if that solution is to simply ask for help.
Maureen "Annie" Tarnuzzer
Mother of three amazing monsters, lucky wife, voracious reader, proud volunteer with Crisis Text Line, dreamer, Ally and believer in karma.