Harbor

Six women, crying.
All moms or grandmothers, and all worried about a kid.
One kid is gay and her parents are rejecting her.  One’s being fed junk food and left alone all day with tv.  One (a big one) is a germophobe whose marriage is in jeopardy.  One (another big one) drinks too much.  And the last flies into rages when he can’t get his way.
Anxiety, frustration, guilt and helplessness slowly fill the group room like a swimming pool.
And behind each story is one question: What can I do about this?  And the same frightened answer: I can’t do anything.
“Okay,” I say finally.  “Ready for some good news?”
They look at me.
“Not the answer you’re looking for, probably.  And not where you’re looking for it.  Not out there, among the people you love and want to rescue and the problems you hate and want to solve.”
I get up from my chair and go to a mobile hanging in one corner.  It’s my Seafood Mobile, all fish, crabs and starfish.  I flick a tuna with my finger. The whole mobile bounces.
“This is a family,” I say.  “See what happens when one member’s in trouble?  The trouble migrates throughout the system.  Affects everyone.  Got that?”
They nod.
“Now watch.”  I hold the tuna between my thumb and forefinger.  The mobile calms down.  “This is what happens when one member stabilizes or heals.  That healing migrates throughout the system too.”
I sit down again.
“You’ve no control over these problems.  But you also have more power than you know.   You can be the calm fish.  You can help stabilize the system.
“Remember when you were kids?  Remember the adults that helped you the most?  They weren’t the anxious, angry or desperate ones. Not the ones who scolded or punished or rescued.
“They were the ones who reassured you, encouraged you, praised you, helped you feel good about yourselves.  Who modeled calmness, acceptance, or faith.  Who helped convince you – because they really believed it – that Everything Will Be Okay.”
“That’s what you can bring to your families.
“Your kids and grandkids are each in their own little rowboat.  You can’t row it for them.  Can’t stop the storm or calm the waters.  You don’t have that kind of control.
“But if you learn how to calm yourselves without controlling, you can offer them a safe harbor.  Model faith that Everything Will Be Okay.  And provide an emotional space where they can pull in, drop oars, catch their breath, regain hope.
“Not a small thing.”
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4 responses to “Harbor

  • Caitlin C. Trahan

    Not a small thing indeed, rather the biggest. Another great one. Nailed it.

  • Steve Hauptman

    …..(..)===
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    Tanks, Cait. 🙂

  • Simona

    So true!! As a therapist and a mother of a recovering heroin addict I’ve learned that you have to let go.. Be that stabilizing force all the while knowing attempts at controlling anyone are futile..

    • Steve Hauptman

      Thanks, Simona. I began professional life as an alcoholism counselor who believed it was my job to stop people from drinking. Took me about twenty minutes to burn out. After that I knew my job was to wait until they were ready. Still forget it occasionally, though.

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