Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW, MSW
One of the best things about being a therapist is also one of the best things about being a mom. This year my teenagers were surprisingly enthusiastic about decorating for Halloween. After several years of their steadily diminishing interest in holiday decor, I had given away the moaning zombie head, the black foam tombstones, the light up snowman, the plywood Santa, and pared down our vast and tacky collection to our favorite things.
But I was wrong because October first, my sons were completely excited about decorating for Halloween. We set about putting up the giant bat, the blinking bat lights, the sparkly spider, the witch, the Frankenstein treat holder, the rubber rats. The boys put things in weird places: The “eye of newt potion” bottle was stuck in the door of the fridge, with the condiments. One of them put a giant rubber rat in the linen closet, just far back enough in the shadows to actually freak me out.
This is one thing I love about both parenting and therapy. It’s the delightful surprise of how people think differently. I think of decorations like art. I put them out where they are easy to see and enjoy. Meanwhile, the boys think of them as thematic: eye of newt would be a witch’s condiment, so it goes in the fridge with condiments. Seeing a rat in a closet is scary, and Halloween is a holiday to scare people.
Years ago, when running a social skills group, participants were developing ground rules for group safety and cohesion. One of the women requested no swear words. She grew up in a religious household and felt uncomfortable with swearing. It was a revelation to me that someone might feel unsafe from salty language. As a result, I had to think about conveying enthusiasm and intensity and spontaneity without swearing which made me a more palatable public speaker.
These separations between how we interpret reality and how others do the same can be incredibly fertile growth areas. Which is therapist-code for “or it can really freakin’ suck.” (See how I didn’t swear there?) As we move into the holiday season my wish for you, dear reader is that you can notice and communicate those differences with compassion both for yourself (we are all works in progress) and others (because ditto).