Parallel process is a clinical term used to describe the common occurrence in therapy when the therapist’s own experience is reflected in the client’s. It is when a client comes in grieving over the loss of a loved one while the therapist has only just experienced his or her own loss as well. It is a therapist helping a client through feelings of anger and hurt that the therapist has also just recently confronted.
But, here’s the thing: we are all in parallel process. Too often in life it goes unsaid.
Here is where I say it.***
When we moved back from Prague (as in the Czech Republic and not as in New Prague, Minnesota), after it had become prayerfully clear that moving back home was what we were supposed to do, after Jon and I had already started processing what our missions work had meant and would mean, after Jon’s job came like a miracle, like manna from the sky even if it was working in a middle school, which he had never done in his life…after all of this it became clear that I was going to have to go back to work…if we wanted things like a house, food, or toilet paper. It became clear that one salary was not going to make our ends meet and at the end of a date night with Jon, I sat in the parking lot of Barnes and Noble in Chattanooga and cried.
I cried because I had already gone through this once, this giving over to change when I surrendered as a stay at home mother, and then began to relish the experience of being at home with my babies. I cried because I remembered how anxious I was being away from them for even the few hours it took to finish school before we had moved to Europe. I cried because I did not know if I could handle that anxiety again. I cried because I was angry…angry over a lot about our transition back to Cleveland even though I knew it was what God had for us, knew it even if I didn’t understand it, knew it even though many people close to us did not understand it. I cried because what had become my idea and identity of motherhood was being challenged…again.
Stability and routine are all very good things. It is this kind of security and knowing what to expect that promotes growth and healthy development. Too often we do not have enough of it. We need things like breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. We need to know that we will always brush our teeth and that we go to bed at about the same time after the same cup of tea and a bedtime story. Rituals and routines keep us grounded and are so very important because the rest of life is…more often than not…anything but ritual and routine.
Life is full of changes. You used to see these bumper stickers on cars and they would say things like: “Whoever dies with the most toys wins” or something like that. If I could create a bumper sticker, I would make one that says: “Whoever is the most flexible in life wins.”
Ironically, it is the routine and rituals that we grow accustomed to as children and teenagers that make room for flexibility in life. Our little bodies and minds learn that they can count on so many things like supper around the table, church every Sunday…so that, sure, why not be ok when the unexpected does happen. We can deal with that. Because I still know that I will eat three meals a day, brush my teeth, can count on mommy or daddy coming home, and going to bed at about the same time after the same story. Bumps in the road can be tolerated in this kind of environment.
The less routine and ritual a child has growing up, the more rigid they actually become as adults. It is as though our not so little bodies say I don’t know what to count on so I am going to hold on for dear life to any thing I can grasp and not be willing to let it go because who knows what is coming next. I don’t know that I can count on three meals a day, mommy coming home for supper, or on church every Sunday so when something good comes along I will grab it, strangling it to death or until I am tired and exhausted and have worn out everyone around me. I might even be a little obsessive about details and perfection and bite your head off if you do something not quite right…because I have learned that you have to fight for any good thing to last very long… and even then it usually doesn’t. Bumps in the road are not so tolerated in this kind of context…where routine and stability were not the foundation.
Flexibility. Being able to go with the flow while still making your way. Having the ability to adjust and adapt. Not demanding that life look a certain way every day every month every year.
I cried that night in the parking lot. Then, I got up the next morning and got to it. If I was going to have to work then I was going to do what I knew I was supposed to do, what I was trained to do. I was going to be a therapist, a good one.
God was in the crying in the parking lot of Barnes and Noble. He was in that bump in the road. He knew that I could count on so many things…like that He would provide for me, that He would take care of my family and children because He always had.
He knows that motherhood looks a variety of ways in a variety of seasons, different with each child, with each new place of residence. There is no real box, even the SAHM box is usually filled with work that mothers do on the side. Mothers are mothers. Mothers do what needs to be done. And, somewhere in all of that He creates the mother he wants me to be, the mother He wants my children to have and see.
We get into trouble when we demand that life look a certain way, when we hold on to rigid ideas and identities. We get into trouble and do damage to ourselves and to the loved ones around us because when I say that life has to look a certain way and that I have to look a certain way I am also saying that you do, too. Or else.
I love Nora Jones. Jon and I were listening to her as we drove into California for the first time less than a year after we got married. I will always associate her with California and driving with the top down, wind in my hair…exploring the west. In her first album she sings these lyrics in her song Cold, Cold Heart:
“my heart is paying now for things I didn’t do.”
Sometimes when we refuse or find it difficult to be flexible, to see God working in the undoing that needs to be done…perhaps due to things we went through as children or teenagers…we make those around us today pay for things they didn’t do.
Our inflexibility makes others pay.
I cried that night. Then, I got up the next morning and got to it.
That’s how I do things. I get it all out. Jon and I learned a lot about ourselves when we moved to Prague. We learned that I get the grieving over with fast and furious. I cry. I get angry. I face culture shock and stare it down. Jon’s comes, too…a few months later. Thank God we don’t go through it at the same time.
I knew that with my education I was blessed to have choices in going back to work. As soon as word got out, a former colleague of mine who was the director of counseling at a local clinic called and offered me a job. 40 hours a week, 9-5 of seeing clients. While my brother is doing excellent work in this context, I knew there was no way that as a mother I would do a good job with clients in that kind of schedule. I would get burned out within weeks. I needed no time to give him an answer…thank you, I am honored, but no.
My head clearing from the cascade of tears just nights before, I knew that there was a very good chance God was in this change, that God was calling out gifts I had been content to lay down forever. Before children, I had always dreamed of having my own private practice. So, with a fire lit inside me, I made the difficult choice to do the hard work of digging out a private practice where I could set my own hours and create an environment that was healthy for me, and therefore, healthy for my clients.
My husband helped me design my first website and fliers. I sat up at night and created mailing lists from the phone book. I did it the old fashioned way and licked all of my own envelopes, writing out the addresses, until my tongue was raw and my hands were tired. I read books on starting a practice. I was blessed to have watched my father do this for almost 30 years. I knew that there would be very, very hard times. I had a colleague who had her own medical practice in town. She had told me that the first two years would be tough. Expect it. So, I did. I expected a slow, steady growth.
I was able to get some adjunct teaching to help make ends meet and did some writing for my church’s International Girls’ Ministry office. I wanted to support two things: my family and doing good therapy for my clients. I would settle for nothing else. I was on fire for my work and it got me through the anxiety of change.
That was well over four years ago. I can hardly believe it. My practice has seen changes and growth. I have developed some wonderful professional relationships. I love what I do.
God was in the crying in the parking lot of Barnes and Noble. He was pushing me out of a nest. He knows that motherhood looks a variety of ways in a variety of seasons, different with each child, with each new place of residence. There is no real box, even the SAHM box is usually filled with work that mothers do on the side. Mothers are mothers. Mothers do what needs to be done. And, somewhere in all of that He creates the mother he wants me to be, wants my children to have and see.