Call Us: 630-832-6155
The Case Against Perfection

The Case Against Perfection

We all enter parenthood with the hope that we’ll do it right. As our kids don’t come with instruction manuals, we read blogs, buy books, ask questions, and take notes about others’ successes. We catalog the wins and losses from our own childhoods. With a blend of confidence and trepidation, we imagine cheerful, happy children and a joyful family.

Then life happens.

Our babies grow. They challenge us. We make mistakes. We lose our temper. We yell. We worry, feel frustration, and maybe even rage. We’re embarrassed to imagine what others might think if they knew the truth about what happens behind closed doors. We lay awake feeling guilty and wonder where it all went wrong, and why we’re so bad at this.

And yet… what if the point isn’t blissful perfection?

Compassion and hope live in the mending process that occurs whenever we’ve messed up. With each misstep, we have an opportunity to model for our children that we can grow from the stumble. Kids develop a healthier sense of themselves every time they see us fix our mistakes and give ourselves grace. A connection broken and mended is often stronger than a connection never broken.

Not only is the goal of perfection a setup for failure, but its pursuit prevents growth. Our kids yearn to see how we navigate adversity and solve problems. For them, it’s like watching a compelling sitcom. The plot toggles between conflict and resolution in each episode.

Kids only get to witness this when we give ourselves permission to struggle. They learn as we learn. We become authentically human in their eyes. They discover that not knowing what to do is okay because it leads to exploration. They come to see that mistakes are opportunities.

Parenting is hard. There is not a parent alive who hasn’t been overwhelmed by the process. But in the end, when repair occurs, everyone benefits from the growth and closeness that comes from shared experience and understanding.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at Elmhurst Counseling. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning.

The Meaning of Repair

The Meaning of Repair

Not much turns out the same after being torn, bent, or broken. No matter how carefully something’s been straightened out or stuck back together, there are usually some telltale signs of the repair. It’s simply a matter of degree. Sometimes the mark is obvious while other times obscured. Either way, there’s always evidence after a trauma.

There’s not much to be done about that. We can choose to embrace the scars or not. Wabi sabi, or “flawed beauty” in Japanese philosophy, teaches us that that there is loveliness to be found in every aspect of imperfection in nature. Many find greater beauty when there’s a flaw – the scar tells a story and the attraction becomes more real.

Beyond the philosophy’s notions of beauty being found in natural inconsistencies, it reminds us that there are unavoidable cycles in life. All things – including you, me, and all of our relationships – are impermanent, incomplete, and imperfect. And we can’t escape the fundamental truth that everything eventually grows, ages, and decays.

What we often get wrong is thinking that this process is one of decline only. The truth is that while one thing is coming apart, there is always another thing being directly strengthened by its breakdown. Taking an example from nature, the vital last third of a tree’s lifecycle is actually in its decomposition when it plays a crucial role in nourishing, strengthening and supporting all the life around it.

How does this relate to our daily lives? As we age and as our families move from generation to generation, the presence of grace accompanies decline. While our bodies weaken, our connections and spirit strengthen. The parent-child bond is a prime illustration. From day-to-day and over the course of decades, repair and renewal shapes the way we raise our kids.

Right now I have the privilege of experiencing multiple phases of the parent-child relationship each day with a grade schooler, preteen, and teenager in my home. Relational dynamics, power differentials, physical needs, and emotional connection with each one of my children is in constant flux. Inevitably, someone misreads the expectations or norms and as a result, conflict and breakage occurs.

What follows can be an all-out fight, a quiet pout, a calm conversation, or a combination thereof. But however the repair occurs, it ultimately results in an important shift within the relationship. Rips, bends and breaks are fixed and what’s left behind is a direct outcome of both wisdom and strength developed in their wake.

Steady states are transient, both in the physical world and within relationships. So rather than thinking of the changes in terms of deterioration or loss, maybe we can think of them as opportunities to experience a new kind of beauty. Each phase of existence offers us something wonderfully fresh – if  we stay open-minded enough to see it.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at Elmhurst Counseling. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning.

Become Your Own Drummer

Become Your Own Drummer

Let’s do a quick exercise. First, read the following sentence and think about the person it could be describing:

“She really marches to the beat of her own drummer!”

Got an image, or maybe even a specific person in mind? Great. Read it again. But this time focus on the person you imagined speaking the phrase. We all have someone in our lives who marches to the beat of a different drummer.

Now spend a couple of seconds considering how you portrayed this person in your mind – did you see them in a flattering or unflattering light? Add to that whatever narrative unfolded in your mind as you thought about this person. Was your private story told with a tinge of admiration or scorn?

Marching to the beat of a different drummer is a cliché that has probably been part of at least a few conversations in your life. The phrase is so well-worn that when it’s uttered, people often just nod and move on with little pause. It can be a convenient way to characterize a surprising observation or to dismiss something/someone we don’t care to take the time to understand.

It’s possibly even spoken with some disdain when gossiping about an outlier: someone who inexplicably isn’t following the expected norms of the community. It’s an offensive defiance that can make us uncomfortable without fully knowing why. Face it, following the crowd is more societally acceptable than charting your own path.

But let’s think about the phrase for just a moment. If we’re not marching to our own drummer, then we must be marching to somebody else’s. Is that really what we want? Perhaps if it’s the drumbeat of a mentor or coach. Usually, though, we’re challenged to find our own voice.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember what our own drumbeat sounds like. When we’re surrounded by a cacophony of other sounds, or if there’s a persistent group rhythm drowning out our instinctual beat, we eventually learn to override it.

So, I have a gentle suggestion. As you move through your normal routine today, think about which specific drummers might be compelling you to march. Do they include the “Joneses,” popular media, or any others who might be feeding a subconscious desire for acceptance, admiration, or conformity? You may discover a need to become reacquainted with your own rhythm.

Even if you’re not hearing your own drumbeat clearly, I promise it’s there. You’ll recognize it deep within, behind all of the distracting noise. It’s the one that feels the most steady, the most comfortable, and the most satisfying. The more you practice listening for it, the louder it will become.

It’s an act of courage to try to filter out the other drummers in life. It may require a fair amount of work and vulnerability. You might be judged or criticized. You may pay a heavy price. You may need to confront some deep-seated fears. And, along with these risks, it’s also amazingly worthwhile.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at Elmhurst Counseling. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning.

Don’t Stop Time

Don’t Stop Time

I recently had a golden opportunity to sit quietly on my porch while my kids were busy outside. I watched the leaves quake in the trees with each breeze. I listened to the cheerful summer bird chatter. I observed all the neighborhood kids shout and play as they zoomed up and down the sidewalk. The perfect everyday ordinariness of the domestic scene was dazzling in both its complexity and simplicity, striking in its quiet pauses and in its bursts of noise and motion.

Like many moms at one time or another, I felt a strong, nearly frantic desire to stop time in its tracks. I wanted things to stay exactly that way forever. I found myself trying to preserve a picture in my mind to revisit on a dark, cold winter day or when my kids are grown and have flown the nest.

Then I realized my mistake.

It was precisely the sweet fleetingness that mattered. The stillness of a freeze-frame could never capture why I was enjoying the afternoon. Accepting its impermanence was the very thing that imparted it with so much meaning. The mental image I was trying to make permanent would never measure up to the magic of the moment. Stopping time only ends the magic.

Knowing that my hiatus on the porch had a time limit, that my kids won’t be running up and down the block in just a few short years, and that the trees will soon be bare after autumn was what made it special. It helped me to pay better attention. It put me in a calm state of mindfulness.

The act of living is a constant exercise in transformation. Choosing to accept the reality of change, and even loss, makes everything shine a little brighter. Appreciating the “glimmer” of our everyday moments requires welcoming movement with open arms – the polar opposite of trying to stop it.

Accepting change is often a retrospective decision after something we value has left. Appreciating the gift of movement makes us a participant rather than an observer during these transitions. All the resistance disappears.

The same is true with our relationships, but most poignantly, the ones we have with our kids. When we remember that tomorrow’s version of our child will be different from today’s, we also remember to stay more connected to the child we have right in front of us. As paradoxical as it seems, embracing their endless growth is the secret ingredient that’s guaranteed to make our present moments with them burn brighter, grow bigger and last longer.

Life is always in motion – and that’s a big part of what makes parenthood so wonderful.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at Elmhurst Counseling. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning.

Knowing When It’s Time to Zoom

Knowing When It’s Time to Zoom

Grace under pressure is a gift. Those who can stay poised under adverse circumstances have the ability to step back and see the bigger picture. They widen the lens, get perspective, and fend off the body’s efforts to move into fight-flight-freeze mode. They can be thoughtful and decisive when it matters most. Sometimes, however, the crisis is bigger than even the most mature adult in the room.

When life gets disrupted by a traumatic event, a calm state of mind can disable the ability to act with urgency. Our bodies move into fight-flight-freeze for a reason. Health and safety become paramount. Zooming out lessens the stress that gives us our fuel to perform.

It’s a delicate balance. Not enough stress subtracts from engagement, while too much stress causes anxiety or even a total meltdown. Finding the sweet spot is the key.

Both detached calm and intense focus are valuable in a crisis and there’s an ideal time for both. Knowing when to narrow or widen the lens is the key. Zoom in when all other input must be blocked out in order to attend to the top priority on the triage list. Zoom out when you need to see the bigger picture and develop a strategy.

Families need both skill sets every day. It doesn’t require a trauma for our grace or our focus to get activated. It simply takes a diagnostic appraisal of the challenge, followed by a decision about which self to bring to the moment. Engagement or distance? Zoom in or zoom out?

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at Elmhurst Counseling. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning.

Distraction

Distraction

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, there are distractions. That’s obvious. What isn’t obvious is that they often don’t reveal themselves. In fact, you’re likely to be convinced that the things competing for your attention deserve top priority. Perhaps you’ve been conditioned to think so. Or sometimes it’s simply because of an irresistible environmental appeal to our senses: the brightest, the shiniest, the closest, the loudest, the most noxious. The result is that, in the moment, you don’t realize you’re being distracted. It just happens.

There are two ways distractions succeed in doing their jobs. They either flip on your central nervous system responses through a reward pathway, or they hijack your attention by lighting up the flight-fight-freeze system. In either case, they’ve succeeded in creating tunnel vision.

Some people – kids and adults alike – are naturally good at overriding this. They’re able to step back, take stock and assess what’s actually going on around them and how it’s making them feel. For the rest of us, it takes practice.

And as if it weren’t hard enough, parents and caregivers have to master double-duty with this skill. Whenever a situation is begging for a reset – your toddler isn’t listening, your grade-schooler can’t focus on schoolwork – there are inevitably two parts to the puzzle.

We first need to try to figure out what’s commanding the child’s attention and causing their behavior. That’s the clear one. Then we need to figure out which blinders we ourselves are wearing. Our own competing priorities always color our responses to our children’s needs. Of course, then we have to decide which distraction to manage first.

Is your to-do list weighing on you? Do you have a backlog of texts, emails and phone calls? Are you making unconscious yet frustrated comparisons to your neighbor who never seems to have any problems? Or maybe your own flight-fight-freeze system has been triggered by the noise, the frustration and the stress?

It might seem counterintuitive, but it’s always most effective to address our own distractions first. No one serves from an empty vessel. Those who take good care of themselves are always better equipped to take care of others.

 

 

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at Elmhurst Counseling. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning.