How do you overcome the “speed bumps” in life?

Jan Kwiatkowski, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and mental health consultant for Aurora Family Service in Milwaukee, WI.

Jan Kwiatkowski, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and mental health consultant for Aurora Family Service in Milwaukee, WI.

I’ve been thinking a lot about speed bumps and other road hazards lately.

There are speed bumps and speed humps, which are wider and higher than speed bumps. There are pot holes of all shapes and sizes. Some we drive over or around, and barely notice.

If it’s a hard winter in Wisconsin,  some can really do serious damage to our cars if we don’t slow down, go around or avoid them completely. Winter also brings the challenge of driving on ice and in snow.

In summer, the combination of heat and rain increases the likelihood of huge sinkholes, which suck in people, cars, buildings and whatever is around. Sinkholes are emergencies and can be life-threatening.

Short of staying in our homes and never going anywhere, we will definitely encounter speed bumps, humps and pot holes in life.  We accept that as part of the risk of driving and being out in the world. We learn how to spot and whenever possible avoid these road hazards or drive carefully so as to lessen any damage they might cause. When a sink hole does happen, it happens very quickly and emergency responders are called. Anyone, close by, does whatever they can to give aid or even just stay with those in the sink hole till help can arrives.

speedbumpsThere is one other thing about all these road hazards. Whether you encounter one of these hazards as the driver or passenger, you have some degree of choice in how you will respond, get over, around, through or out of the hazard.

You can blame yourself. You call yell at the driver. You can stop, check out any damage and decide on next steps. You might decide that until the road is fixed, you won’t drive this road again. Or perhaps you won’t get in the car with the same driver until a different road is taken. You might decide that you will never drive again or someone may make that decision for you.

By now, you can probably guess where I am going with this. Every one of us will encounter road hazards in our lives…road hazards that have to do with relationships, children, illness, loss, finances, violence, sudden change, depression, domestic violence…the list goes on.

Like the driver and passengers of a car, we all have choices about how and whether we will respond to the speed bumps, humps and other road hazards life will present.  We can choose to build up or tear down relationships. We can choose to power ahead like nothing really happened, or we can stop and check out what happened and what we need to do next. We can give up.  We can work to climb out of a sink hole in life with help, or we can decide to stay. We can allow others to help plow the way with us and for us.

Whether life brings a speed bump or sink holes for your family this year, know that at Aurora Family Service, roadside assistance is always available.

Aurora Family Service helps families overcome challenges, changes and crisis to live well again.

We achieve stability and strength for families through counseling, parenting, elder care, financial, career, health and community services.  For more information, visit our website, follow us on Facebook, or call 1-414-342-4560.

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What should you do if you’re being stalked?

This week’s blog has a decidedly serious tone and topic.

Jan Kwiatkowski, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and mental health consultant for Aurora Family Service in Milwaukee, WI.

Jan Kwiatkowski, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and mental health consultant for Aurora Family Service in Milwaukee, WI.

Stalking.

Stalking is a very real problem, a crime,  and now, easier than ever to achieve through digital, social and mobile technology.  Stalking in not a joke. It is not romantic. It is not OK in any way, shape or form.

Stalking is a crime that is pervasive, dangerous and potentially lethal.  Over six million people are stalked each year.  One in 4 women will be victims of stalking during their lifetime.  However, stalking is not limited to women: 1 in 13 men will be stalked in their lives. Stalking rates are highest among college students.

Stalking behavior can start as early as middle and high school. Most victims know their stalker. The Hollywood version, where a person is stalked by an unknown admirer or fan, rarely happens in real life. Intimate partner stalking, particularly when there is a history of intimate partner violence (domestic violence) is the most common and most dangerous.

Because they know their victims, stalkers know how to make their victim feel afraid. Behaviors that may seem insignificant to another person or professionals may be terrifying to the victim. It can be as simple as a card, a symbol, a song, a gift that may contain meaning known only between the stalker and victim.

Phones, computers, GPS and cameras are the most common forms of technology used by stalkers. If you Google “track girlfriend,” you might be amazed at how many sites there are telling someone how to stalk. A person’s children can also, unknowingly be used through the use of technology as “agents” of the stalker.

Stalking affects victims’ lives, not only emotionally, but also physically and financially due to stress and related health issues, and lost time from work.  Victims of stalking are encouraged to keep a log, take screen shots of texts, emails and phone messages. Keep a log of uninvited contacts or appearances of stalker at any time or place.

January is National Stalking Awareness Month.   Join the conversation at the National Stalking Awareness Month Facebook page.  Your supportive words could inspire someone to take action against a stalker.

If you suspect you are being stalked or are not sure, or if you are in a difficult or violent relationship that you want to end, call us at Aurora Family Service. Our number is 414-342-4560.

If you need immediate assistance, call 911 or seek shelter through Sojourner Family Peace Center. Their 24 hour number is 1- 414-933-2722.

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Reflections, not resolutions, can lead to lasting positive change

Jan Kwiatkowski, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and mental health consultant for Aurora Family Service in Milwaukee, WI.

Jan Kwiatkowski, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and mental health consultant for Aurora Family Service in Milwaukee, WI.

Do you participate in the annual New Year’s ritual of making resolutions?

According to various internet dictionaries, the definition of resolve is: a firm decision to do or not do something. Some years I’ve made resolutions. Some years, not. Some years, I’ve had the energy to keep my resolve and follow though for a few weeks. Some years I’ve even made it a few months.

I had good intentions. The resolutions were intended for positive change. So what stopped me?

Like everyone, I have things to improve, relationships to work on and areas I want to develop. Like many, these seem to be consistent from year to year. I may small progress year by year. When I look back over a lifetime, I realize there has been some substantial change. As I reflect on the year passed and the year to come, I’m thinking not so much about resolution, but more about practice.

As a licensed marriage and family therapist (and human being), my fundamental stance is that every human being is fundamentally good and somewhere inside is the knowledge we need to engage and continue the lifelong process of become the persons we want to become. It’s also really clear that life circumstances can really overwhelm individuals and families.

Making any kind of resolution, much less gathering the energy to turn it into reality, is just not going to happen.

I wondering if our approach to changing something in our lives, whether in the form of a New Year’s resolution or a necessity of life,  is what gets on our way.

Do we desire improvement because we are somehow bad and need to be fixed? Do we take on resolutions knowing that wellness in body, mind and spirit supports the energy we need to work on developing at every stage of our individuals and family life? I suspect many of us are operating under the first assumption, rather than the second, which is strength-based.

As the New Year begins, I offer a different approach. Reflect on your overall growth and development for the past 5-10 years and ask yourself these eight questions about you and your relationships:

  • What do I value most about myself and my relationships?
  • What has brought me joy and sorrow?
  • What was my contribution to that joy or sorrow?
  • What strengths and what areas of growth do I observe?
  • Do I love myself and relationships enough to be glad for and celebrate what is strong?
  • Do I value myself and relationships enough to be honest about what needs to change?
  • Can I be kind to myself with both the  healthy and that which needs growth or healing?
  • What am I willing to practice doing or not doing?

I believe practice is the key word. In reality, we are all practicing at becoming the kind of reason we want to be. My mom used to tell me that “practice makes perfect.” I would modify that by saying “practice is a lifelong process”. None of us is or can be perfect. All of us can practice.

After you reflect on the questions above, decide what you want to practice this year. Decide what supports you need in place to support your practice. It might be a physician, therapist, exercise coach, a family member, more sleep, joining with practicing others of like mind, etc. do what you can to get those supports in place.

Even if we don’t succeed at huge changes, the fact that we are resolute in practice changes us. My suspicion is that if we  trust the “process of practice”, the changes we seek in ourselves and our relationships will evolve and remain over time, because they have become natural part of lifelong practice, rather then enforced admonitions from inside ourselves.

At Aurora Family Service, we are able to help with lifelong practice in almost any area of life. Give us a call at 1-414-345-4560,  so we can assist you developing your practice in the coming year.

Aurora Family Service helps families overcome challenges, changes and crisis to live well again.

We achieve stability and strength for families through counseling, parenting, elder care, financial, career, health and community services.  For more information, visit our website, follow us on Facebook, or call 1-414-342-4560.

 

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Aurora Family Service celebrates milestone moments of 2012

afs-130On September 19, 2012, the Aurora Family Service Board of Directors met for its 130th consecutive annual meeting.

When the organization formed as Associated Charities in 1882, there were no “horseless carriages,” no airplanes overhead, and no electric lighting to illuminate the streets.

Times have changed over 130 years, but the importance of families persists.

This week, we’ll be celebrating 10 milestone moments from 2012 — and looking forward to serving Milwaukee’s families in the New Year and beyond!

Moment #10:  On October 12, Dr. Bryant Marks of Morehouse College challenged 200+ attendees at the 6th Annual Race, Families, & Milwaukee Summit, including City of Milwaukee Mayor Barrett,  to make diverse youth leadership a priority in Milwaukee’s future.

annstarr

Ann Marie Starr, exiting director of the Family Therapy Training Institute, poses with Jane Pirsig, executive director of Aurora Family Service

Moment #9:  Former students and colleagues gathered in June to celebrate Ann Starr’s amazing career as teacher, therapist, and friend.  Ann served as the director of the Family Therapy Training Institute from 1999 to 2012.  Hear Ann’s philosophies about the changing nature of families at our July 16 feature story.

Moment #8: Volunteers from Caterpillar, Inc. gathered supplies for over 300 backpacks distributed to children at our United Way Day of Caring neighborhood celebration.

300 BackpacksMoment #7: Volunteeers from Miller Coors spent a full morning scrubbing  chairs, cleaning conference tables, and preparing over 700 books insuring that every child visiting the agency can go home with their own book to read.

Moment #6: Aurora Family Service caregiver Linda Kasun becomes part of the onsite health team at Aurora Sinai Medical Center’s Women’s Health Center.

As a parenting nurse educator, Linda reinforces our commitment to providing strong prenatal care to “at risk” pregnant women at the doctor’s office and in their home.

Our Family Enrichment Program now serves almost 1,000 local mothers with prenatal care, child care coordination and parenting education every year.

“We meet with people to provide information, encouragement and support,“ said Linda. “I love doing home visits, because you’re with the family. You serve as an important resource, a sounding board. Together, we’re working for a common goal: to save babies.”

AFS in Aurora's Women's Health Clinic

Linda Kasun, parenting nurse educator, is a critical bridge between the Aurora Sinai Women’s Center team and new mothers in the community.

Moment #5:  On November 19, the Pabst Mansion hosted a fundraising dinner for AFS Family to Family.

The event honored the century-old relationship between the Pabst family and the agency, dating back to 1914 when Gustav Pabst was on the Board of Directors of Associated Charities.

John Eastberg, senior historian of the Pabst Mansion, shared the history of the grand home and the generous nature of the Pabst family.

IMG_7058 (1)“Now that AFS is continuing the work of providing holiday meals to families facing hardship, a partnership between the Pabst Mansion and Aurora Family Service is a natural thing. I know that Captain Pabst would be very pleased to see everyone here in his home tonight.”

Moment #4: On June 17, Jan Kwiatkowski launches our wellness blog, reflecting on the challenges, conflicts and celebrations of family relationships.

Jan Kwiatkowski

Jan Kwiatkowski

The weekly blog connects readers with insightful dialogue, inspiring caregivers, and even qualified support services when needed.

Throughout three episodes of shocking and senseless gun violence, Jan’s blog encouraged open, honest and healthy dialogue between parents and children about these local and national incidents.

We encourage everyone to subscribe to the blog and join the conversation!

Moment #3:  For Mother’s Day, families in the Family Enrichment Program gathered together to celebrate their connections and successful completion of the program.

With support, information and guidance, the Family Enrichment Program offers a full range of services for new parents, babies and families.  The staff teaches families to build on their own strengths in order to help set a healthy pattern for their baby’s future.

FEP Graduation FamilyParents are encouraged to seek support from family, friends, other parents, community centers and Family Enrichment Program staff to fully utilize the benefits available to them. Our innovative approach  teaches families to build on their strengths and their home environment. We apply this approach equally across all Aurora Family Service programs.

We are privileged to help families achieve their goals and build a healthier community for us all.

Moment #2:   Gathering around a holiday meal is a tradition that every family should experience. Aurora Family Service Family to Family Thanksgiving, now celebrating its 16th year, preserves these sacred family traditions in times of economic or emotional crisis.

2012 Small Boy Big Turkey RevisedF2F basket fixinsOn November 19, over 150 volunteers delivered 3,100 turkeys and the “fixins” to families who otherwise would have had liittle for Thanksgiving, making the holiday tradition special for all.

Learn more about our program at our website  — and consider a secure online donation today!

And presenting our proudest moment of 2012…

Moment #1: Aurora Family Service achieved a perfect “10” on all national standards from COA (Council on Accreditation,) attesting to the quality services the organization brings to its families and the community.

In our current outcomes-oriented environment, organizations are increasingly called upon to demonstrate the impact of their services.  Earning accreditation reinforces an organization’s strengths and helps it achieve better results in the community. COA currently accredits over 45 different service areas, including substance abuse treatment, adult day care, services for the homeless, foster care, and inter-country adoption.

ph23otoWe are proud to receive such high honors from this organization, and look forward to serving Milwaukee families, now and forever, with the highest level of care!

Aurora Family Service achieves stability and strength for families through counseling, parenting, elder care, financial, career, health and community services. 

For more information, visit our website, follow us on Facebook, or call 1-414-342-4560.

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How should you talk to children about death and dying?

Jan Kwiatkowski, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and mental health consultant for Aurora Family Service in Milwaukee, WI.

Jan Kwiatkowski, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and mental health consultant for Aurora Family Service in Milwaukee, WI.

On the day I am writing this , two Connecticut families have buried their young children. By the time you read this, more young children and the adults who gave their lives will have been laid to rest.

Countless tears will be cried, burst forth, or silently roll down the cheeks of countless people today, and for a very long time.

There has been all kinds of information in various media outlets on how to talk with children about the unimaginably, brutal school massacre in CT. We know from research and practice that children and families are resilient and that while, changed forever from trauma, they can recover with treatment and support.

One piece, I find missing, though, is talking to children about death, particularly the death of other children. We cannot hide the fact that 20 little children died from our children. In the normal scheme of things, we don’t plan to ever have to have these conversations with children. These are hardly normal times and I believe it’s important that we do. If our children ask about death, we need to be prepared to answer.  But how? But how?

Death is a fact of life and if we want to help our children, we need to let them know it’s ok to talk about it, ask questions and express feelings.

By talking about it, at an age appropriate level, we find out what they know or don’t know. We may even be surprised at how much our children already know. They see dead animals by the side of the road. They’ve probably swatted a mosquito and seen us do it. They’ve seen it on TV, movies a and video games. The reality is that many children have also seen death due to violence in their homes and neighborhoods. They know more than we think they do, but they often do not have language to talk about it.

If and when your child asks about the children who’ve died, welcome their question in whatever way they ask it. Take a breath. Stop, put all other distractions aside. Let them talk or ask in the way they need to do it. Often, children are not looking for a detailed explanation about death. They are looking for reassurance.

Using concrete and  accurate language, rather than euphemisms, helps children process what death means. Using phrases like, they went away, God took or needed them or are sleeping forever often increase anxiety and might be seen in new sleep problems and separation anxiety. If someone died and went away  does that mean when my mom or dad leaves me at day care, they might go away for ever?  What if I go to sleep and never wake up? Is God like a kidnapper? Children are very literal creatures.

One concrete way to explain death is by what stops happening with the human body:  we stop breathing, thinking, eating, moving around. We don’t have feelings and don’t laugh or cry. Between the ages of 6-10, children begin to realize that death is permanent. By the time they are adolescents, the permanence of death is more clearly understood. Tell children that people cry and that it’s OK. Adults and children, men and women cry when they are really sad.

Children also know when the adults they count on are dodging the questions or are uncomfortable. If you aren’t comfortable, seek out someone you trust who can support you. It might be a doctor, clergy person or therapist. There are many wonderful books out on how to talk about death with children. Hospices have good resources.

Follow your child’s lead. They will let you know when the conversation is open and when it ends. Have them tell you in their words what they understood about what you said. Keep it honest and concrete. Children understand and can integrate a lot more than we often give them credit for. And as always, we at Aurora Family Service are here to support you and your family. Our number is 1-414-345-4560.

Best wishes for the holidays from all of us at Aurora Family Service.

Aurora Family Service helps families overcome challenges, changes and crisis to live well again. We achieve stability and strength for families through counseling, parenting, elder care, financial, career, health and community services.  For more information, visit our website, follow us on Facebook, or call 1-414-342-4560.

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How to cope with a not-so-merry holiday season

Jan Kwiatkowski, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and mental health consultant for Aurora Family Service in Milwaukee, WI.

Jan Kwiatkowski, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and mental health consultant for Aurora Family Service in Milwaukee, WI.

The holiday season is emotionally charged. The emphasis on joyous family times, fond memories and togetherness can amplify the pain of those hurting from depression, broken relationships, grief, unemployment, illness, loneliness and any kind of loss.

We live in a world that tries to deny or squelch these very human feelings. Society encourages us to spend, drink or somehow numb ourselves to what is very real inside of us. Many families replay unhealthy behaviors or the behaviors intensify. Many are simply relieved when the holidays are over.

First, of all, it is OK to feel whatever it is you or your family are feeling. Sadness, frustration, grief, disappointment and anger are intense emotions. They are not good or bad. They are human. These emotions are also unpleasant and uncomfortable.

Naturally, we don’t want to experience the unpleasant and uncomfortable. Sometimes, we don’t want to admit that we feel the way we do. Naming what you are feeling to yourself or a trusted other can often relieve the greater tension of trying to keep them tucked inside.

It is OK to say no, take care of yourself and your family. This may mean not going to every work, church or family party. It may mean that you choose to do something that you’ve always done in a different way. It may mean that you choose to honor a family tradition even though it is very different this year. Whatever it is, being intentional about your choice honors the reality of your experience and is a way of taking good care of yourself and your loved ones.

Recognize that people experiencing the same event or loss will process it differently, which is very challenging for family members. Each of us tends to have a preferred way to cope with intense feelings. If we don’t know or understand how the people closest to us cope with feelings, it may seem they are callous or rude or inconsiderate.

As hard as it might be, try to talk with each other before the season goes any further about what you are feeling and what you need to get through the holidays. It might mean time to talk, more alone or together time, visiting a grave, less spending, setting an empty place at the dinner table, making an ornament in honor of a deceased family member.

It is OK to let your children know at an age appropriate level that the holidays are different this year. It is OK to tell they why. It is OK to tell children that you are experiencing strong emotions, also, assuring them that you are a grown-up and will take care of yourself. When children see you able to experience, express and regulate emotions in a healthy way, they learn to do this themselves.

If, for whatever reason, you find it hard to be merry, I invite you to be honest with yourself and your family or friends. Looks for healthy ways to honor the reality of your feelings within the context of your family traditions. Know that we, at Aurora Family Service are here to assist you and your family.

Aurora Family Service helps families overcome challenges, changes and crisis to live well again. We achieve stability and strength for families through counseling, parenting, elder care, financial, career, health and community services.  For more information, visit our website, follow us on Facebook, or call 1-414-342-4560

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How can you give the gift of life, love and understanding?

Jan Kwiatkowski, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and mental health consultant for Aurora Family Service in Milwaukee, WI.

A wise person once said, “Life is the first gift, love is the second, and understanding is the third.”

I am not one of the people who does Black Friday, but I certainly am thinking about Christmas gifts. When we had our 4 sons, within 5 ½ years, my husband and I had to make decisions about the holiday activities and gift giving.

I remember running from place to place trying to make sure no one was offended because we didn’t come for a family event. I also remember a time when we had three in diapers and it literally took half an hour to get them all in snowsuits and into the car.

At that time, I also worked on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning because I was a church organist, which meant doing all of this in the midst of 6 services between 4 pm on Christmas Eve and noon on Christmas Morning. The greatest Christmas gift for me was a nap on Christmas afternoon when the boys were asleep.

After a few years of this my husband and I decided to re-evaluate. Not because we didn’t like seeing our families. We enjoyed our times with them and the boys had fun with their cousins and grandparents. There was always good food to eat good conversation and laughter. We exchanged gifts and were lucky enough to have family events that didn’t turn into regrettable stories that would find a not-so-glorious place in the family history.

However, we decided that we needed to start our own family traditions, as well as integrate our family with siblings and multiple sets of in-laws. In some ways, it would have been really nice to have Excel spreadsheet so we could have plotted it all out. The reality is, that even if we could have put it all on a nice neat spreadsheet, it would not have been much help because growing and integrating a family can sometimes be a bumpy road.

Generations worked really hard to give us all space where we can set familiar boundaries. It took lots of love and understanding to let their adult children do something different. I know there was sadness and even a little hurt because things were changing. It took willingness on the part of all generations to extend love and generous understanding. It took sometimes being silent when something harsh might have been said. It took the courage to apologize and forgive so that important relationships were restored or smoothed.

When I look back at my expanding families now (another grandson on the way), I see the process continuing. One of the things I see is that the gifts of life, love and understanding are gifts we are entrusted with, passing on to our expanding family.  Ultimately, these truly are the best gifts we can give each other and the world around us, not only in the holiday season, but all year.

If you or your family are experiencing some bumps or stressed relationships at this time, consider giving us a call at Aurora Family Service. You might be the one to start the gift giving process of love, understanding, healing and joy.

Aurora Family Service helps families overcome challenges, changes and crisis to live well again. We achieve stability and strength for families through counseling, parenting, elder care, financial, career, health and community services.  For more information, visit our website, follow us on Facebook, or call 1-414-342-4560

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