Parenting: Skeletons in the wardrobe
I am a counsellor working primarily to support parents, and I am often asked to explain how I work. In truth, the way in which I practice will differ from client to client, but I often describe the process as akin, in many ways, to clearing out your wardrobe.
I don’t know about you, but my wardrobe often becomes a bit of a mess. Over time, I accrue items that I don’t need – ill-advised purchases linger on the rails and outfits that suited versions of me that existed long ago take up space and prevent the wardrobe from functioning in the way it should. Our brains can be a little like this, full up with all sorts of things that prevent us from thinking and feeling clearly, and every so often, a good clear out can be just the thing to make us feel better and more able to cope with the challenges that life can throw at us.
In counselling sessions, we will get out the 'items' that have been stored away. Together, we will explore them and decide what to do with them. You may find that there are things you have been hoarding that you just want to throw away. You may uncover some painful memories that hurt, but are precious and need to be stored in a way that will allow you improved mental health. Often, clients will find out something brilliant about themselves – something that had been hidden under all the 'stuff' and 'clutter' – that we can actively choose to make more accessible.
The counselling process, much like sorting through a wardrobe can be hard work, and, at times, uncomfortable. But, if you choose someone good and supportive to help you with the experience, while still challenging, can be very comforting and rewarding. Be mindful of this when choosing a counsellor.
Often, I tell clients to approach finding the right person a little like you would dating. Meet a few counsellors and understand that if a certain person is not for you then that is fine, it may take you a while to find ‘the one’.
In my work, I have found that parents, in particular, benefit from the time and support offered in counselling because out in the world, they have little time to prioritise their needs. Their children are growing at such a rate that they are constantly needing to reassess what is required of them, and yet, the nature of their lives gives them no time to do so. They find themselves playing catch up and facing new, and sometimes triggering, challenges daily, with incredibly high stakes.
As a parent, is it important to be able to recognise your own 'stuff'. So have a good look and decide what to do with it, before deciding how to support your child with their own challenges. A parent who was bullied at school and has not fully processed the impact will respond very differently to a parent who has not had this experience when helping their child navigate social issues. It is not that the parent with the experience of being bullied is any less able to support the child, in fact probably quite the opposite, but awareness, as always, is key.
Prioritising well-being as a parent can feel indulgent. But taking the time to get the support you need and sort through whatever struggles you might have allows you to function as the very best wardrobe – I mean parent – that you can be.