Category Archives: Parenting

The Superwoman crisis…

Do you ever feel like you’re fighting the snot wars? I do. All the time.

It’s winter in Africa and the little one I raise has had three colds in five weeks. Of course, I’ve had most of those colds too. Single parenthood, toppled with colds and oh, winter holidays. Because crèche here closes for three weeks?! And parents are meant to…pay even more for childcare? During COVID?

So you work from home, while blowing the little one’s nose. Over and over again.

The other night, I had the pleasure of being awoken in the middle of the night and then peed down. Literally. I was peed down. Ever tried to night potty train? Oh yeah, that.

In the middle of the night, I swore. I said a long line of unsuitable words only a Londoner would know. Then, of course, I felt ashamed of myself. So I swore at myself instead.

Some days, I feel like we’re fighting poverty, world hunger, the education crisis (on a micro scale) and a few other things at Little Angels. Some days, I feel like my movies will entertain, enlighten and make the world a better place. Some days, I feel like all the work I do in the personal development field is turning me into the next Dale Carnegie. And some days, I’m fighting the snot wars and learning how not to swear at midnight.

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What’s going on in that beautiful mind…

It’s hard, isn’t it? Getting to the bottom of an issue. We all have these defense mechanisms. We start thinking certain thoughts as if by default. Thoughts that have nothing to do with what the real issue is. 

Personally, in personal relationships, my personality goes wacko (you see what I did there? Couldn’t resist. Apologies…). I micromanage. I manipulate. I demand. I provoke. I tease. I do everything but facing the fear that I might get hurt. This can be with the kids I raise, the men I date, the people I work with, or close friendships. 

First, I think I’m doing the right thing. I’m planning. I’m thinking ahead. I’m setting boundaries. I’m enforcing rules. I’m managing. Call it what you like. I’m caught up in solving one problem, or another, using one tactic or another, refusing to face my main fear: that I’m not good enough. That I’ll lose all the people I love, or projects I care about, because I’m not good enough. 

Yesterday (now the day before yesterday), I said something so incredibly stupid to one of the kids I raise I’ve spent 24-hours beating myself up about it. She wanted to stay with her grandmother, like her brother, just coming home here and there when she feels like it. I told her that was not acceptable and she needed to come home to do homework. Of all the idiotic things I could say. Homework. Really? 

I’m worried about her attitude, her friends, that the township has done a number on her, but as my head has been stuck in “if I only had the money to get her out of there…or hadn’t spent all my money on her brother, we wouldn’t have these problems as we’d live a nice life in a nice house and she’d be in a nice school.” In short, had I at least gotten her into a better school, she’d be better off and we wouldn’t have half the problems we now have. 

In my mind, the future scenario of her tanking school and ending up miserable using drugs, played out. The scenario everyone around her have been fretting about. In my head another scenario was playing out as well: the past couple of years of visa problems and issues with her brother and feeling inept as a mother because of it. 

She wants to be loved, not lectured. She has over and over again said she wants to stay with me, but I’m “too strict.” And hearing those words on the phone yesterday I flipped. Fear. Panic. A sense of failure. 

I understand she wants to be with her biological family too. I have never prevented that. She has always been allowed to stay in Hangberg for that reason, but in the past I didn’t like it because of her carer’s adult sons being drug addicts and she never having any rules, resulting in hanging out with the wrong people in the middle of the night. So I enforced rules. 

Staying with her gran is different. There are no crazy drug addicts there. They still live in the thick of gangsters, addicts and thieves, but the house is relatively safe. And as there are so many of them, her brother can’t cause much harm. 

Parenting kids born into a drug den, one of them being on the autism spectrum with severe behavioral problems and aggression, without the financial structure to support it has been hell, frankly. I’ve done everything I can and usually it hasn’t felt like enough. I’ve been stuck in other countries swearing and panicking about losing the children. I’ve awoken at night hearing them scream my name. I’ve cursed the fact that I couldn’t afford enough therapists and special needs schools/better schools. I’ve cursed not having enough money to take them on stunning adventures. I’ve cursed the fact that I have to work twelve hour days to survive instead of spending time with them. I’ve cursed the fact that I couldn’t afford investing five million rand straight away to get a permanent residency. I think I cursed the whole of South Africa in the process. But somewhere along that road I woke up. I decided to take charge of my life and do what I can. And ever since that day it’s been a journey up a mountain instead of falling down a mountain. It’s been hard. It’s been so fucking hard I’ve wanted to kick down walls and sometimes I’ve felt so overwhelmed I didn’t want to live. Not like I wanted to kill myself, I just didn’t want to keep going. I didn’t know how to find the power. But every time I did. And life changed. 

A friend of mine once told me that she looked upon her children and realized they weren’t hers. They belonged to themselves. And that’s what I’ve tried to remember, while also remembering that children, as much as they kick and scream, sometimes shouldn’t get their way. Because what they want isn’t good for them. Being a parent is sometimes not about being loved, but about doing the right thing. 

What this journey has taught me is that you can’t allow circumstance to dictate how you feel. I often get stuck in my head (I mean I’ve been berating myself for twenty-four hours by now — see the post about Your inner dominatrix…), but I’ve learned that if I pay enough attention, I can unstick myself. 

Today I wasn’t feeling happy. So I decided, instead of running around thinking manic thoughts about things to distract myself, or simply feeling miserable, to sit down and ask myself what’s truly going on. This is going on. This and a sinus infection.

Every day is an opportunity to grow. To face our fears. To face our pain. To grow beyond them. 

Still, when I came home yesterday, after writing this, I was sad. I was tired. I felt depleted. The toddler was gorgeous. He wanted to fall asleep on the kitchen sofa, so we were both lying under a blanket there, on one end each, so my toes faced him. He decided to play dog and bite my toes. He was hilarious. And so goddamn cute. And I just felt sad. Because I was worried about his siblings. I felt lonely without them. I was worried about his mother who sometimes thinks she can handle raising children, until she forgets to pick them up at daycare within two days. We’ve been discussing adoption. I’ll be able to soon. Six years late, but still. 

And I’m scared man. I’m fucking petrified of losing the kids. For six years my life has been about finding solutions to get a visa. To find a way to launch my career and be with the kids. Permanent residency. Adoption rights. Movies. Magique. From time to time I’ve also decided to approach topics like men and friends. Sorting out my dating life and social life. And I’ve made every fucking mistake under the sun during this time. If only I’d known back then what I know now. If only…

But I didn’t. And as the post Your inner dominatrix… explains, there’s no point with regret. The best we can do is from now on live as we want to. To honor the people we fucked up along the way by making the mistakes we did. Honoring them by being better people. Honoring ourselves. Making the world a better place by doing better. 

That’s the best we can do. And as I’ve barely had time to breathe in the past six months, maybe I also need to honor the fact that now that things have finally calmed down a bit, I’ll feel the stress. I’ve been sick twice in two weeks. Four times in three months. And throughout it I’ve been pulling 10-12-hour days six days a week. Sometimes I’ve been in the office with a fever. 

The past two weeks I’ve allowed myself to blog. Just that gives me feelings of guilt. Time to process emotions instead of work. I always try to teach the whole world my learnings through this blog. Teach myself. And it’s only when I write that I truly process things. And by writing down my learnings I avoid lecturing everyone in sight. Because people need love and encouragement, not lectures.  

I feel like a big ass failure at the moment, while also feeling like I’ve come a hundred miles since last year this time. But as the story goes, I never stopped fighting because I was bleeding. If there was one thing my father taught me is that you get up, and you go. You keep going. Till you get there.

I’ll go see my kids. I’ll talk to them. I’ll explain. I’ll live. I’ll learn. And the truth is, just because something doesn’t pan out the way you wanted it to, doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. Maybe there’s a better plan. For one, I’m putting resources in place in the township to help the kids. Maybe this will work better. Maybe we will spend time together in a more functional way. And I finally have time to spend time with all the other kids I mentor too, as I’ll spend more time in the township. That’s where my heart is.

Plus, I’m gonna take dance classes again, because the mentor I’ve put in place for the kids is a dance teacher. That alone is worth celebrating. Seriously. There’s nothing much that makes me happier than dancing. I’ll be the fool with a big grin on my face. I’ll be happy.

Happiness is a choice. A damn hard choice. A choice to be the master of your thoughts. To make the most out of what you’ve been given. To let go of guilt and regret. To learn. To move forward. To flow with life. To constantly grow. It’s not always easy, but it sure as hell is worth it.

And remember, you are beautiful. We all are. We just get a little bit lost sometimes.

Dizzy blonde, over and out.

What’s going on in that beautiful mind…

Image Source: https://za.pinterest.com/pin/507780926736019731/

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Getting naked with Socrates…

I’ve been working on copy related to researching ancient history and wisdom lately. This spurs thoughts. Thoughts and I are like a runaway train — once I get going, I keep moving. Which is why I’m spewing out blogs at an unnatural rate for someone who really doesn’t have much time for blogging. It’s also due to a lot of events, trauma and emotional upheaval in the past couple of months, as well as meetings spurring thought. You can’t always spew your thoughts out at the poor people who instigated them. But I tend to chew over what people say. Particularly if it relates to a problem. And I have to unload somewhere. This is my unloading place. The place where I dump my thoughts. Sometimes unceremoniously, sometimes with a lot of bravado. I like entertainment, after all. Which is why I apply outrageous headlines and a lot of humor from time to time.

So this time it’s about Socrates. He asked questions. I’ve been thinking about that lately as someone told me they don’t like taking direction. Good philosophers, psychologists, coaches and leaders ask questions. They let people reach their own conclusions. Often they may guide them towards answers, rather than asking questions they have no clue where they will lead, but still: they ask questions.

Since I was a kid, I’d analyze people. Whether intuitively, intellectually, or both. Then I’d randomly blurt out my conclusions: often a pain point and its potential solution.

Then I studied acting and directing: I learned to break down scripts so as to figure out the thoughts behind the characters’ actions. From there I learned to break down the characters so as to be able to recreate their pasts that had led to these thoughts.

Through all of this I learned not just to understand others, but to understand myself. I understood the thoughts we think, where they come from and why we think them. Hence, I came to understand why I have the emotions I have. It’s due to my thoughts. However, it did not teach me how to change them. Not really.

While awareness tends to lead to a level of change, it doesn’t change everything. Being aware of a destructive pattern AND why you formed it, isn’t necessarily enough to change it.

You have to be willing to face yourself and the pain that comes with that to create change, but while that may help you let go of some things, it doesn’t change everything. Until you face something, you keep it bottled up. That means it’s still there. People are scared of facing pain, but by suppressing it they actually cause so much more pain, because they don’t let it go.

I always imagine this as a house: if something bad happens you let in a storm wind. You can try and contain that wind in one room by locking it in. Preferably far away from you, so maybe in the basement. But the wind is still rattling around in there. If you open the door to the basement and then to the garden, you’ll face the wind, you’ll feel its destructive force, but then it is released. It’s gone.

On the flip side of the coin, some people get stuck and revel in their own past/pain and, thus, also get stuck in it.

The thing is, releasing pain isn’t always enough. Because it’s usually attached to a coping mechanism that causes havoc. For example, when I get stressed I read, or binge watch netflix to escape from my own thoughts, but when I wake up the next day I have even more stress because instead of dealing with my to-do list, I was lost in a story.

If I’d taken ten minutes to meditate, or go for a walk, to deal with my stress and then tackled the to-do list, I’d been much further along and had LESS stress the next day.

In other words, you have to replace a dysfunctioning pattern with a functioning one. Let’s say someone overeats. They face the pain that is causing them to choose unhealthy and too much food to numb their pain. They’re willing to let go of their pain. But if they have no idea of what healthy foods are, or how to eat healthily (such as eating before your blood sugar tanks), they may very well not function properly anyway.

Plus, even if you let go of pain, stress, or whatever else is causing you inner turmoil, you’ll always face it again. And either you’ll relapse into the dysfunctional pattern to relieve your anguish, or you’ll use another one.

As Russell Brand said in his book Recovery: someone told him heroin saved his life. It was his coping mechanism. But it was a coping mechanism that was killing him, as well as destroying his social life, finances and work. Dealing with whatever made him use heroin in the first place AND finding better coping mechanisms led to him becoming clean. And as he also said: if a heroin addict can do it, so can you. That gave me hope. Because we all have unhealthy patterns, be it around finances, eating, drinking, work, exercise, relationships, or whatever else it may be.

My point though, is that my sterile approach in the past of serving people uncomfortable truths doesn’t work, beyond a possible wakeup call. You have to direct them towards something else. And love is the bridge to that.

Alan Kazdin, of the Yale Parenting Center, has, through studies around the world, come to the conclusion that punishment does little to facilitate change. Disregarding bad behavior, or giving someone a small consequence, while paying a lot of attention to and encouraging good behavior, leads to the biggest changes in a child. He even does things like workshopping tantrums. If a child throws severe tantrums, hitting adults, etc. he workshops the child through tantrums where it doesn’t hit, then praises that. He replaces one behavior with another and the bridge is love and encouragement from the parent. Once you’ve locked down having a “normal” tantrum, you can move onto having less of a tantrum, no tantrum and doing really well.

You replace one dysfunctional coping mechanism with a less dysfunctional coping mechanism until you can get to a great coping mechanism. One that actually helps you face the real problem. Such as how to handle distress.

Positive reenforcement has been used with great results on addicts, as well as in the workplace. It makes sense. When people resent you, they’re not very willing to do something that pleases you. The more you nag, punish and degrade, the less they will be willing to do what you want them to do. Also, the more you look down on them and punish them, the more you encourage their self-hatred and destructive patterns.

Actions have consequences. That needs to be shown. But giving attention to negative behavior and punishing it does not change the behavior.

Knowing this doesn’t always mean you can implement it. I failed in my own home. I raise a child on the autism spectrum who has PDA. He’s violent. He’s abusive. I was at the point where I was spending money I didn’t have to have nannies 24/7 as it wasn’t possible to be alone with him. And I was furious with myself because I reacted to his behavior, but imagine waking up to a child who is verbally and physically abusive 50% of the time and you never know when you’ll be hit next. And I didn’t have a controlled environment. He started attaching the neighbors children, his siblings, the dogs, the furniture and me.

When my child’s anxiety kicks in, and it’s been high lately, he tries to control his environment with violence. This is a destructive coping mechanism. PDA lends itself to this kind of aggressive behavior, but he was further raised in a house with his biological family where there was domestic violence and so his behavior is on another level.

I’ve now had to temporarily place him with his grandmother and a number of other people living in that household, and put professionals in place on top of the psychologists to try to help him to the point where it’s possible to have him at home again. This isn’t ideal, but neither I, nor his siblings, could live in fear anymore. Understanding and therefore loving someone doesn’t mean you can handle their abuse, or control your own emotions when subjected to it. And I’ve been all over looking for help from social services, schools, therapists…the list goes on. I wanted a controlled environment for him where Kazdin’s methods could be implemented but I can’t find one. And I’m out of money for having nannies 24/7 and even with that in place the situation was horrible. When I had a stomach bug and fever last weekend the toddler concerned asked me if his brother had “broken my head,” because of the violence. He had already moved to his grandmother at this point, but that alone was a horrifying thing to hear a toddler say.

I’ve had hell with the situation at home and I’ve felt ashamed about it too. I was caught in a catch 22 where we I couldn’t give up on the child, nor expose myself or his siblings to abuse. Plus not having the finances to, you know, ship Alan Kazdin over. In the end myself, his nannies and psychologist worked out a plan forward. I do think it’s important to talk about these things. Because what I experienced at home with a child, some experience with an adult.

This kind of coping mechanism (trying to control your environment using violence) is different from coping mechanisms to deal with inner pain from past trauma, current emotional stress, etc. in that it is a form of manipulation. This person isn’t just trying to handle their inner distress, but the distress they feel relating to people. Other coping mechanisms related to controlling relationships might be anger, extreme helplessness, crying hysterically, bullying, hiding away, pleasing, or threats to leave or stop loving someone. None is healthy. Expressing how you feel and learning to also see past your emotions, is a lot healthier. For example, my child fears not being loved to the point where he can’t handle any attention given to any other child. But he is loved. His emotions, based on his interpretations of past and present experiences, are telling him he isn’t though. And he acts on those emotions. They aren’t real, but he thinks they are. He’s created a world where he thinks he’s unloved and does anything to prove it to be true. 

Till this day I still have a hard time not telling people what their thoughts are, why they’re acting the way they’re doing, and to sort their shit out. Or what their patterns and coping mechanisms are and to sort their shit out. But it doesn’t work beyond the initial wakeup call. For some that might be enough, just as being thrown in a prison cell may be enough to wake someone up. But as Socrates discovered so long ago, you often get further by asking questions than spelling things out. And as Kazdin discovered, behavior isn’t changed by telling someone what’s wrong, but by showing them what’s right. By encouraging them and making them feel good doing the right thing. This, in turn, will help them love themselves, which I think, really, is the cornerstone of great behavioral patterns. Because once you love yourself, you act in ways that serve you and others. 

Speaking of which: most forms of depression spring from an obsession with self; an obsession with some dysfunctional, or painful part of self. Once we stop thinking about ourselves and only focus on serving others, we forget to be depressed, because we aren’t obsessing about what we should achieve, or what others think about us. We’re too busy helping someone else. That’s another way, I suppose, of changing behavior. 

For that matter, this blog is a coping mechanism for me to deal with my thoughts and emotions and I think it’s distracted me enough from work this week. It’s starting to move towards being dysfunctional. 

On that note my darlings, it’s time to stop writing. 

Image Source: https://za.pinterest.com/pin/507780926735953727/

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Filed under addiction, addictions, autism, autism spectrum, Behavior, drug addiction, Parenting, pathological demand avoidance disorder, pda, positive reenforcement, Psychology, Self-confidence, Self-esteem, Self-help, self-worth, Uncategorized

Dirty nappies and jalapeño sauce…

There are things in life that we all experience, but don’t necessarily speak about. Take dirty nappies for example — they’re part of every parent’s life. That doesn’t necessarily mean we start a conversation at the next cocktail party saying: “You know last night, I got poop all over myself when changing my toddler’s nappy.” Or: “My toddler peed all over me when changing a nappy the other day.” (True story.)

It’s natural not talking about poop at a cocktail party. After all, we go there to forget about it. The poop I mean. We have enough of it at home and it wouldn’t look good with our little black dress and high heels.

There are other things we don’t speak of for fear of what others would think, or because of our own sense of shame, guilt, or whatever it may be. Personally, I’ve been avoiding the topic of one of the children I raise for ages. I have mentioned it sure — my kid with behavioral issues. But did I speak about the day he took a bottle from a car guard and peed in it? Or when he last assaulted me? Or broke a window in a fit of anger? Or when I called a friend in exasperation saying she had to come round because even if there was me and the neighbor working to hold him down, I was about to have a breakdown myself.

You have a child who swears at you, attacks you, doesn’t want the kindness you give (every time you say something positive, they turn it around)…and in the end you end up feeling like a horrible person because your nerves are frazzled, you’re grumpy, you bark at the slightest irritation and you have no idea of how to get out of bed the next day.

My situation may be fairly unique in that I raise three kids that were practically born into drug dens. Their first few words were likely unsavory. Their idea of manners just as unsavory. But I’m not alone in raising a kid on the autism spectrum who is suffering from PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance Disorder). I’m not alone in dealing with someone who doesn’t understand emotions the way the rest of the world does. I’m not alone in fighting a furious fight to find help for a child I love. A child I know can be wonderful, but who has, as of late had anxiety attacks coming out as aggression so much so that I’d almost lost hope.

I didn’t know what to say about it, because I was unclear about it. I was told he had symptoms of ODD, ADHD and PDA. I was also told I needed to be firmer. Fiercer. Set boundaries. And the fiercer I became, the more I held him down during outbursts, the more I started seeing it as a behavioral problem, the worse he got.

As the situation derailed I spoke to therapists, psychiatrists, the ER, the parenting centre, social development…the list goes on. I was lost looking for solutions until last week when the Neurodiversity Centre in Cape Town told me that my child isn’t lost forever — he’s suffering from PDA gone awry and he can get better. After speaking with the psychologist there I felt like I could breathe properly for the first time in months. I went and sat down in my favorite coffee shop and as I looked out the door I could see the sun. I wasn’t stuck in a bubble. I was there. Because for the first time I saw a way out of the hell that had been going on where it seemed the only options were to detain my child somewhere or keep him at home dealing with aggressive meltdowns at all odd hours of the day. Neither option was one I wanted to pursue.

I still don’t know how to speak about this. The reason I have gotten as far as I have is thanks to friends and even strangers telling me I was amazing, inspirational and generally wonderful. I didn’t feel wonderful. I felt like an awful person failing my family. I felt irritable and snappy, angry and sad. But those comments — and random prayers — kept me going. They made me believe I had a spark in me. They made me look at myself in a different light. They gave me hope.

When you’re walking through hell, keep walking. So they say. But it’s a hell of a lot easier when you can see paradise at the top of the mountain. When you’re lost in the fog, having no clue if you’ll ever find a way out, you don’t necessarily feel great.

Today is my birthday. Today I’m speaking about my life. The real life. Today I’m raising funds for my son for his much needed treatment.

Oh and tonight I’m eating jalapeños and chocolate cake, while drinking wine and laughing with my family, who isn’t perfect, nor always well-behaved, but whom I love very, very much. Probably, I’m also changing nappies.

GoFundMe Campaign: https://www.gofundme.com/f/tyreke039s-treatment

MY BIRTHDAY WISH! This year my birthday wish is a little bit different from other years — I’d like some help saving my son. He’s on the autism spectrum and suffers from what can only be described as acute PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance Disorder). That means that something as simple as having a shower can lead to a complete meltdown due to his anxiety. He says no to doing things he loves if he perceives them as demands, he can get angry with things like the rain thinking it’s against him, he can’t read or write, he has little concept of time and so forth. He doesn’t understand emotions the way most people do and the problem with that, is that it’s left him anxious and the anxiety has caused aggression. And recently, I was actually losing hope. I have been around the block with therapists, psychiatrists, the psych ER, social development and, even, in a bout of desperation: a police inspector I know. The psychiatrist literally told me I could prepare myself to give up my child and the truth was: I was no longer coping at home. Our family was falling apart. His baby brother having recently been diagnosed with a chronic illness put further pressure on the situation, especially as Tyreke does not necessarily know how to treat a two-year-old in all situations and was desperately jealous. To make matters worse, the only mental hospital for children in Cape Town has recently been demolished. For the past few months, I’ve basically been running around town knocking on doors and getting nowhere. However, a friend of mine mentioned the Neurodiversity Centre where psychologists work with children on the autism spectrum. I knew I couldn’t really afford them, but I called and emailed them anyway, because I was desperate. And even if social were to remove Tyreke from the family, I knew I’d need a long term plan where he got the help he needed — whatever that may be. I had my first consultation with them on Friday. After reviewing a lot of information and previous assessments of Tyreke that I provided them with, one of their psychologists explained to me that Tyreke has PDA that’s gotten way out of hand due to his background (the emotional trauma of being raised in what can only be described as a violent drug den and me having visa problems and coming and going). The good news? If I can stick it out for the next three months, he has a very good prognosis. We do need several consultations and help in the home to rebalance the family though as everyone, including his twin sister, have suffered from his meltdowns and aggression. When Tyreke isn’t having a meltdown, he’s one of the most caring kids I’ve ever met. He’s funny. He’s great with art. He’s a drama king. He’s an awesome chef. And he’s incredibly sweet and loving. On the phone the psychologist told me that’s the real Tyreke. And I can have him back. I cried for half an hour. If you’re a parent who has ever felt like you failed your child, or been so desperate you’ve called social services to beg them to do something, you know how painful it is. I can’t even put it in words. For the past few months, I’ve been a wreck. The reason I’m still standing is much thanks to friends and strangers alike — from nurses I’ve met to close family friends — having faith in me. And showing up to help me when I was falling. So please, if you want to give me a birthday present, help me raise funds to the child I love and desperately want to see happy again. In the past three days, just implementing some of the things the psychologist said, I can already see a change. It’s a long road ahead, but for now, I have faith. And that’s one of the best birthday presents I could ever get. In fact, I feel like I can breathe again for the first time in months. You can support his treatment here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/tyreke039s-treatment

My boys…

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