Reframing Mindset with Christy Maher
September 6, 2023
A Blue Orchard Bee Resource (Winter 2023 Series)
A long-standing goal at the Blue Orchard Bee is to improve the accessibility of our resources for all of our listeners and readers. Much of our work this year will be spent working toward this goal. To celebrate, we are republishing some of your favorite episodes with new, fully edited transcripts. This video was originally published as part of our Winter 2023 Series and features a conversation with Dr. Christy Maher.
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In this session, Danielle speaks with her colleague, Dr. Christy Maher. Dr. Maher is a licensed psychologist and homeschooling parent. She speaks with Danielle about her own journey to better understand and respond to neurodivergences and offers her knowledge and experience on the question of dealing with ‘heart issues.’
Danielle: The most common challenge that we tend to hear from caregivers is in figuring out what's going on with their child and what to do about it. A lot of times they'll write in and they'll say, ‘I believe that my child can do such-and-such,’ whatever that thing is, they just don't want to. Or 'I think that this child just has a heart issue.’ So, what do you think about that? What do you say to parents when they're struggling through that discernment of trying to figure out how to respond appropriately.
We have to get some of the stereotypes and the preconceived ideas out of our mind of what is normal.
Christy: When you sent me this question. I thought okay, how am I going to answer this? I spent a lot of time really thinking about it and I thought, you know, there's not a quick answer to that one. There's not, you know, here are the five handy tips to give to parents. It just doesn't seem to work that way. You know as a therapist and a mom who has two neuroatypical kids, and we also homeschool, I kind of eat, sleep, breathe all of it. And I thought okay, what what would I really want to know as Mom? What would I say to a client? To a parent? And I think at the end of the day, it's less of a strategies question and more of a philosophical-type question or discussion. First, my therapeutic answer would be let's reframe how we actually view our child. That may mean that we need to re-educate ourselves.
The world thinks kids should be a certain way. They should act this way and they’re supposed to be doing this and this and this and we encounter that even if we have neurotypical kids. There's this expectation that they're supposed to be a certain way. They're supposed to do all the sports things; they're supposed to do all these things and everything. You always hear, 'Oh you homeschool? Oh, are you kind of weird? Do you walk around with bonnets and long dresses or something like that?’ It's like no, we're just regular schooling people. So, I think we have to kind of get some of the stereotypes and the preconceived ideas out of our mind of what is normal. Normal’s relative. And so, educating ourselves. Okay, my child may not fit into this particular square that the world thinks that they should fit into. And that's okay. But you actually have to be okay. So, it's less of a ‘What about my kid. How can I help my kid do this? And how can I help them be this, so that way they can fit into this preconceived idea?’ and rather, as a parent, ‘How can I be okay with not fitting into the cookie cutter, you know, not fitting into all of that.’
It’s a heart issue with us. And I think when our hearts are in the right place, our child's heart will be in a better place.
So, when I'm reframing my children, you know, my concept of how they're supposed to be, for myself what I've done as a parent is I’ve re-educated myself. You know, and I've read books. And I've done those things of like, okay, I really want to try to understand some of the struggles that they do have because they do have struggles. And I want to respect them as persons and understand as best as I can what their particular struggles are. Because I would want someone to do the same thing for me. So, there's kind of that empathy piece. When the question of ‘I believe my child can do such-and-such’ or if they have a ‘heart issue,’ well, so they might not want to do something. I mean, we all - there are times when I don't want to do something and I might just be like I'm tired or I'm still lazy that day. So, we have to acknowledge that that does happen. And that's okay because we have those same types of experiences. But then we also need to think well, is there something else going on? Is there is there actually something else, like, I think feeling overwhelmed. Does this seem really difficult beyond what they they believe that they're capable of doing? And me just saying, ‘Well you can do it. Come on you can do it.’ You know, someone tells me that and if I believe I can't do it, I still am not gonna do it. My kid, my nine year old is definitely not going to do it. But she is much more likely to try if I treat her with kindness, if I have that reframed idea of, you know, this might be hard, but I do believe that she's capable of some of it. So, let me try to help her achieve it and so coming alongside her and trying to connect with her with that maybe being a little bit curious with her. And so, I think that's a part of it. But they might also just be resistant. No, I’m not going to do it. Might just throw a fit. They might have a temper tantrum. They might stomp out of the room. They might completely shut down and so recognizing that there's something else that still might be going on - that the fear may be too much and so they may have this learned behavior. Either I've allowed them to have the learned behavior or it's just something within them. They’ve decided that they're going to do that - this is what I need to do to avoid. And I don't even know that this is specific to just neuroatypical kids. I think it's probably for all of us. So again, it goes back to, as a parent, me reframing the concept of who they are and what they need.
There's also this other piece that, when I first discovered, like it clicked, like okay, there's something more going on here. Determining, discovering, figuring out, okay that they've got to be sensory issues - maybe they're not and I think that I became overly compassionate, overly empathizing like, oh, they can't do that. Let me just, you know, and I I think I started to create this environment of this learned helplessness for them. And then I was like, yeah, I’m getting tired of doing everything for them. This is exhausting for me. I can't do this. And I just think it had to be the Holy Spirit that said to me, ‘They’re more capable than you allow them to be.’ It may not be what I think that they should be with the world things that they should be but they are more capable and so, I had to just be like I'm not respecting them as a person. It’s really easy to either be overly compassionate or under compassionate to them and so, you know, there’s always just kind of this balance of what are you capable of doing? Sometimes I push them too far and I get the meltdown because I've push them too far. Or there's like, I don't feel like doing this and there’s all this other stuff that, you know, you've got to deal with. But ultimately it came back to me and what did I need to do as a parent?
The Bible talks about how we need to die to self. And to me that piece of that when we become a parent, we quit being the selfish individual person and trying to meet the needs of our kids, trying to help them to grow and I think as we go along with the journey when we homeschool or not, we try to help meet those needs in the best way that we we can, but that requires a lot from us. And there is a lot of that dying to the self. And so it fluctuates day to day and I think parents having some Grace for themselves while also having Grace for their kids, but being being aware that some things are just not going to get done today. And that's okay. And being pleasantly surprised when all the things get done or maybe even a little bit extra gets done, which doesn't usually happen very often, but being okay with where we are in the moment instead of me having the expectations that we need to do more, be more to meet some preconceived worldly ideation of how our kids are supposed to be and who I'm supposed to be as a parent. So, I don't know if it's so much of the heart issue with the child as it’s a heart issue with us. And I think when our hearts are in the right place our child's heart will be in a better place. So that's kind of my thoughts on that.
Okay, I’m gonna throw your ball because you just made me think of something. Okay?
All right. I'm totally unprepared for this.
We talk a lot about, in science, how we have to be comfortable with a certain amount of uncertainty. And so I wonder if some of this is the process that we need to go through as parents of being comfortable with a certain amount of uncertainty and needing to be okay with figuring things out. And that relationships can be messy and that kind of thing. Do you see that? Have you experienced that? What are your what are your thoughts there? Am I on left field here?
No, okay, so you semi cut out on me for a minute. So, I want to make sure, I think I know what you’re asking. Are we basically at the end of the day - tell me if I'm wrong from, if I'm misinterpreting - being okay with the uncertainty that kind of just pops up and how to handle that or?
A big piece to helping regulate our kids is making sure that we're able to regulate our own selves.
Yeah, well, I'm wondering if some of the some of the struggle that we have as parents, right, and that what you were just talking about having or wanting things to be certain way. If things were that way then we would be confident and certain about how things are going to go. And so, it’s like some of that is this, oh no wait - that’s not the way it's really going to be. I have to be okay being uncertain and I have to be -
Yes, you struggle through. Yes, 100%, you're right. Yes, that's what it is. Okay, because that's the dying to self piece for me. You know, I mean I like to joke and say, ‘well, if everybody would just listen to me things would go really smoothly, but no one listens to me. That's why everything is crazy right now, you know.’ I say it to my clients sometimes and they're like, yeah, you know. And my kids have about the same kind of response. And they really taught me - my kids have really taught me that life is really really messy. And living that and being okay with it.
I think one of the biggest things for me in all of this was when I was reading - I couldn't tell you, I assume it’s maybe in the first volume of Charlotte Mason’s books - and she said that the Holy Spirit was the greatest teacher or something to that effect. And I was like ‘Yeah, okay. Cognitively, that sounds really great, you know.’ And then also working with trying to change my mindset: This is how school is supposed to work and we're supposed to do these worksheets and we're supposed to drill these maps; we’re supposed to do these things and my kids are supposed to be this way by this time. And realizing that none of that is what they need and that at the end of the day I can do only what I can do. And the Holy Spirit's going to take over the rest of it and that he's there even in the messy pieces, especially in the messy pieces. He's there. So that gives me a little bit of comfort. Again, it’s a moment by moment challenge. Because somedays we're all on and then some days were all off. And I might get five minutes into something and then something happens - I don't even know what happened, but something happened and there's no returning from it for the rest of the day and so my school day is, it’s done. And it used to really bother me and I’d have to go and take a few minutes to myself and regroup, but I think that was God sorting it out in me. I think that was again that dying to self piece and having to kind of work through some of that and be like no, it’s okay. I'm just gonna reframe our day instead. We're going to go outside and we're just going to have one long really great day of nature study and I'm gonna count this as science and it's going to be great and we're gonna have fun and they’re gonna get some physical movement in and the dysregulation is going to decrease and we’re going to connect and we're going to be outside - get some vitamin D and some fresh air - and we're going to have a great sensory experience and that's usually what happens. And so just gotta try it again the next day and so hopefully we have a better day the next day - I don't know that I'd say a better day because that outside time was actually really wonderful, but have a day where I can follow along with my lesson plans. So, I know I kind of really condensed all of that, but that has taken me years of getting to that and it’s still really messy. It's still really hard. And just being a therapist doesn’t it mean that my house runs smoothly and then I do all these really great interventions because at the end of the day I'm a parent. I'm a mom. I get tired and exhausted and fatigued by all the things and so that's why I say we have to have some Grace for ourselves - make sure that as a parent we have our downtime because I get sensory overloaded. We get a lot of questions and there's a lot of noise and there's a lot of emotions to deal with on a regular basis, not just from one kid, but two kids at the same time sometimes. So, acknowledging my own sensory overload in the moment - Okay, it’s gotten too bright in here. It's gotten too loud in here. Mom needs a break. You guys can go outside and play. Go play Legos. Go do something. Just don't burn down the house. And I just need my time when I turn the lights out or I have some sunlight or I might maybe go for a walk or something else like that. So, I think a big piece to helping regulate our kids is making sure that we're able to regulate our own selves. That's probably first and foremost because if we're not regulated our kids aren't going to be regulated whatsoever.
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