By Hillary Chaney, LMHP

I recently read a book about Mr. Rogers (the “Won’t you be my neighbor?” guy).  While there were several takeaways amidst the charming anecdotes, I was most deeply moved by the description of Fred Rogers creating his “neighborhood” show to provide a safe place for kids and families that might not have a safe space to turn to when they felt overwhelmed.  His words continue to echo in my thoughts, because there is so much simple wisdom in them for us as parents, and as people.

“The roots of a child’s ability to cope and thrive, regardless of circumstance, lie in that child’s having had at least a small safe place (an apartment, a room, a lap) in which, in the companionship of a loving person, that child could discover that he or she was lovable and capable of loving in return.” – Fred Rogers, Many Ways to Say I Love You.

This is so brilliant! This is one emotionally intelligent guy.  He just simply got kids. But why would kids need a safe space?  Don’t they understand how lovable they are naturally?  Sadly, not always.  Life is hard for kids.  They are always falling, spilling, questioning, and in turn, getting certain reactions from bigger humans that they so longingly look up to.  Sometimes, that reaction is out of empathy, sometimes it is out of frustration, and sometimes it is out of caretakers’ own experiences of being small.

“How we dealt with our own earliest experiences has a lot to do with how we cope with the ones that come later—and with how we help our children encounter their first challenges…Feelings from childhood—both the pleasant and the tough—never go away. They may get hidden, but they’re always part of who we are.” – Fred Rogers, Many Ways to Say I Love You.

The reactions kids get from their caretakers influence their understanding and experience of being lovable.  Children learn to predict their caretakers’ reactions by 11 months old.  11 MONTHS!  From not even 1 year old and on, kids are able to predict and avoid certain reactions from caretakers, and other people with whom they come in contact.  They also create beliefs and definitions for themselves as humans.

I am lovable.
I am cherished.
I am important.
I am an inconvenience.
I am a disappointment.
I am unlovable. 

These definitions or beliefs about themselves go with them into adulthood and impact EVERYTHING.  The confidence to try out for a major role in the school play.  The ability to speak in front of a group of people.  The strength to mend a broken relationship.  The determination to put all their effort into graduating college.

“Even though, as empathetic parents, we try our best to ‘remember,’ we can’t understand the world exactly the way we once did as little children, or see the world the way our children are seeing it now. We have all been children and have had children’s feelings, but many of us have forgotten. We’ve forgotten what it’s like not to be able to reach the light switch. We’ve forgotten a lot of the monsters that seemed to live in our room at night. Nevertheless, those memories are still there, somewhere inside us.” – Fred Rogers, Many Ways to Say I Love You.

The environment that our kids grow up in will not be perfect.  We can’t protect them from everything negative and avoid everything that could hurt their feelings. We can’t control ourselves completely with regard to overreacting, getting angry, or feeling uncomfortable.  Circle of Security Parenting™ would teach that we only have to meet these emotional needs 30% of the time in order for our children to be securely attached.  That’s less than half the time, so you’re likely doing great as far as growing a secure child!

“In thinking about family times together, I realize that I have come back to the very best reason parents are so special. It is because we parents are the holders of a priceless gift, a gift we received from countless generations we never knew, a gift that only we now possess and only we can give to our children.  That unique gift, of course, is the gift of ourselves. Whatever we can do to give that gift, and to help others receive it, is worth the challenge of all our human endeavors.” – Fred Rogers, Many Ways to Say I Love You.

You are special, and you have A LOT to offer as your child’s parent. AND your kids are special and have a lot to offer you. It’s a beautiful thing.


To talk to a therapist about childhood patterns that you see playing out in your parenting or to attend one of Hillary’s “Circle of Security Parenting™” classes, please call our office at (402) 639-2901.


Photo by Leo Rivas-Micoud on Unsplash

By Hillary Chaney, LMHP


New Years resolutions bring me a lot of hope and excitement.  I make resolutions as a launching pad, so to speak, to ensure a GREAT New Year! Start the year with the bar raised a bit. But why do resolutions also bring me anxiety and rarely get accomplished?

Albert Ellis, the psychologist most known for cognitive behavioral therapy, coined the terms, “shoulding” and “musterbating”, as funny ways to discourage saying, “I should have…” and “I must be more like…”, etc.  When we use this kind of language, we are in danger of creating a failure mindset and “awfulizing” situations that are, in fact, not awful. When my New Years resolutions cause me to “should” on myself and others, my good intentions have taken a turn for the worse.

I should have awakened earlier to workout.
I should have prepped healthy meals to keep me on track.
I must get that promotion this year.

Would those phrases pump you up to go be the best you?  Uh, no.  They just make me feel like I have failed and usually de-rail me from my original goals, because who likes to fail?

Better to not even try than to fail again and again.  NOT TRUE!!! But in order to be motivated to succeed, I need to see the “failures” a little differently.

Notice this. If I remove the “should” and the “must” from those sentences there is a completely different feel.

I am going to wake up earlier tomorrow to workout.
I am going to hit the gym tonight since I didn’t work out this morning.
I am going to prepare meals today for the rest of the week.


Feel the optimism.  No guilt, no shame. Just goals, plans, and motivation.  I want to be the best me I can, and that comes from making goals, not getting stuck in a corner focusing on what I didn’t do, and should have done.  The truth of the matter is I didn’t do it (yesterday, last year), and now my options are to dwell on what I should have done, or make plan to do something different now.

Note: If your shoulds look more like: “I must (fill in the blank) to be worthy of love”, or “I should (fill in the blank) so I am not a failure”, then this is likely a deeper negative belief you have about yourself.  This would be something that a therapist could help you work through so you can begin to have more positive messages you tell yourself.  Positive messages create happier people.

Now, let’s talk about not letting others “should” on us either!  How dare they?  How could they possibly be the expert on what I should be doing?  I am the expert on my life. Heck, I’m the one who is living it everyday!  “You should parent this way.” “You should live how I live.” In the words of Cartman, “I DO WHAT I WANT!” (Yes, I am quoting a cartoon character. Only judge me a little.)

It doesn’t feel good to be told what I should do.  If someone is “shoulding” on me, there are a number of ways I can respond to it.  To quote Brene Brown, I can “puff up, shrink down, or stand my sacred ground.”  This is a mantra she claims to live by to handle stressful situations.  I can puff up and tell someone how they SHOULD be living their life.  I can shrink down and admit they are right…I should do what they say.  OR I can say, “Thanks for the suggestion, I AM/AM NOT going to do that.” Whoa. Empowering.  I can take control over the messages I allow myself to own or receive from others. Turns out we have more control than we may have realized!

And lastly, I will commit to not “should” on other people.  I don’t want to be the “shouldy” friend.   This happens when others don’t meet my expectations and I think (sometime say), “you should have…” or “you should be…” The truth is, that is likely to increase their shameful defenses, and not bring about the results I am looking for.  This is especially hard on our kids and spouses.  We put an awful lot of “should’s” on them.

If you would like to resolve to quit “shoulding” with me, try asking yourself these three questions when you encounter one of those old thoughts:

  • Why should I/they?
  • Says who?
  • Will it be ok if I/they don’t?

Chances are, things will be OK without that action a lot of the time. Most of the things we “should” about are not life and death matters, but rather minor annoyances that seem big in the moment. If the answers seem to point to the conclusion that what hasn’t happened needs to happen, then we can use vocabulary like “I need to…” “I would like you to…”, “I am going to…” This is more finite and forward focused, and less likely to bring shame to you or others.  Less likely to create anxiety if the expectation is not met in the future. More likely to encourage and empower.

This year I choose to make a New Years resolution to set goals and leave out the “should’s.”  Join me? One day at a time. We can do this.

Today I will not should on myself or anyone else.


Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

By Hillary Chaney, LMHP

When you are in an airplane, the flight attendants give multiple instructions for what to do in case of an emergency by demonstrating multiple life-saving resources. These resources include an oxygen mask that will automatically drop from the overhead console for the passenger to put over their nose and mouth to ensure clean oxygen inhalation. The instruction given by the attendants is to put your own mask on BEFORE attending to a child or person in need of assistance. Any well-versed therapist will use a metaphor much like this one to encourage an individual to “take care of yourself first before trying to meet all of the needs of others.” After all, you can’t very well fill someone else’s cup if your cup is empty! This is such an important truth that it’s no longer just therapists pushing this idea of self-care…it’s our culture.

McDonalds continues to remind me to take “Me Time” with a McCafe.

LINDOR truffles encourage me to take the extra moment for myself to enjoy a bite of chocolate.

Things like massage therapy, floating (huh?), and getting a facial exist to encourage us to take time to pamper ourselves and feel better.

These are GREAT ways to avoid burnout and build resiliency. But what happens when they aren’t working? “I DRANK the dang McCafe and I am still STRESSED!!” Are we destined to an eternity of overwhelming, I-just-want-to-curl-up-in-a-ball, messy days? Well, let’s hope not!!!

Sometimes self-care doesn’t work because the stress monster still lingers overhead after the frothy beverage has been consumed and the knots have been kneaded out of our bodies. We recognize that we are stressed and overwhelmed, but we don’t necessarily identify the stress culprits.

Here are a couple of ideas that are likely to help your self-care efforts be more successful and worth your time and effort:

  1. Identify that there is an issue. You are feeling ready to snap. If you are ready to ankle-butt someone with your grocery cart for going too slow down the isle, want to literally cry over some spilled milk, or have said recently, “Oh, I just punched the door twice in the past week, everything is fine” (trust me, you are NOT fine.), your plane is going down and you need to put on your mask!!! It is self-care time. But, good for you! The first step in making anything better is identifying there is a problem.
  2. Write down all that is burdening your heart. Make a visible list. This is a two-for-the-price-of-one benefit. A list will sometimes ease the sense of stress immediately as we see that our burdens are not as drastic as they felt. The list also puts a label or name to the things you are trying to care for yourself through. I like to then put the list “away” somewhere. It is a mental note for me that I don’t have to deal with this right now. I can go get it when I am ready to tackle it. Then, when you are practicing your self-care and these thoughts or triggers pop into your head trying to sabotage the “me time” you are taking, you can consciously tell the thought to, “Go away, please.” Always be polite, even to your thoughts. Your mom will be proud. 🙂
  3. Figure out what gives you a DEEP sense of satisfaction. There is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all way to care for YOU. For me, laughter is a great stress reliever. Take away the warm bubble bath and give me a silly comedy or time with my light-hearted friends and I will be a happy camper. Others deeply need their bubble bath, glass of wine, and People magazine! Is it art or music? Helping people? Reading? Petting a fuzzy animal? Time walking in the outdoors, away from city noises? If you aren’t sure, experiment! Your body will tell you.
  4. Put it into action. Once you have this great mystery solved (what gives you satisfaction) then it is time to PRACTICE!!! Who, growing up, practiced the piano only on the day of the recital? NO ONE! We practiced everyday leading up to the big performance. Why on earth would we wait until we are pulling our hair out to care for ourselves? Perhaps because society tells us we SHOULD NOT need extra time for ourselves, we SHOULD be able to do it all, or perhaps other responsibilities appear more urgent? Nothing could be further from the truth! Remember, put your mask on first, and then help those around you, because you are no good to anyone if you’re passed out.


Good self-care grows our emotional resilience. defines resilience two ways: 1) The power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity; and 2) The ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy. Once you have practiced and mastered self-care, the things in life that appear to be consuming you will not feel as monstrous. They may drag you down momentarily, but you’ll be able to find your way back to a place of hope and joy. You’ll have renewed energy. You’ll find that you have more patience and compassion for others. You will be more RESILIENT!

Lastly, if you try all of this and are still finding that the stress continues to grow and you’re experiencing symptoms that keep you from functioning well on a daily basis, reach out via the Hope and Wellness website to someone to talk to and help you through it. That’s what therapists are here for!


Photos by Jonas Jacobsson, Jennifer Pallian, Tim Gouw, & Jonathan Fink on Unsplash

By Sarah Dabney, PLMHP

Christmas and New Year’s are days that most of us look forward to all year round, and they can provide an amazing shot-in-the-arm reminder that joy, peace, love, faith and family are the beating heart of life. But statistically, they are also the time of year when depression and suicidal ideation rise, when stress levels are high for emotional, physical and financial reasons, and when sicknesses like colds and flu get passed around, as well.

While no one is immune to pressure around this time of year, families with younger children can be particularly susceptible to the fever pitch surround the attempt to create magical, wonderful memories, have the perfect, glittering Christmas morning, survive on a diet of turkey, egg nog and fruit cake, and balance big changes in eating and sleeping schedules, not to mention time off from work and school.  Life can seem like it’s just bulldozing on, and mental health issues are no respecter of holidays.

Some common thoughts are:

I’m too stressed out to really enjoy anything this year…which makes me more stressed.
The holidays just seem like more work instead of rest.
I’m actually dreading spending time with my family.
I’m not where I want to be in life, so it’s painful to go to these parties…I leave feeling like I didn’t really connect, like I was vague and fake.
I just want things to be like they used to.

Self-care can fall by the wayside during the holidays, to their detriment…not because we meant to let it go, but because the different demands on time and energy can simply derail what we usually do to take care of our mind, heart, and body. Maintaining a loving connection with our hearts and bodies is the way to maximize what we give and receive, and to let the season be what it is meant to be—one of a renewal of hope.

Some practical ways to do that this year might include the following:

  • Listen—Ask your body (and your family) what it really needs this Christmas. Not every holiday season has to honor the same traditions. Do you need time to grieve, to leave the decorations in storage? Or is it a year to start new traditions, welcome new family members? Are you more hungry for connection or peace and quiet…and in what ratio? What is the gift you would love to receive this year?
  • Simplify and Prioritize—Sit and down and assess which of the usual Christmas social functions are life-giving, and which ones are life-sucking. Do you love making Christmas cookies for the church program…or do you just feel you should? You only have a certain amount of energy to spend, and you have to care for your body by identifying where you would really prefer to spend it. If you’ve already said “yes” to too many things (or the wrong ones) this year, consider setting a boundary with yourself and calling them back to say “no” graciously, or make a plan around limiting your “yeses” next year.
  • Check Out Your Options—Some individuals have the opposite challenge around the holidays: loneliness. Call around to your local churches, community centers and soup kitchens or homeless shelters, and see what activities you could be involved in and connect with new relationships. You are not the only one with these feelings. Someone needs your gift of presence and conversation this year just as much as you need theirs.
  • Monitor Alcohol and Sugar Intake—Remember that alcohol is a depressant, and can increase feelings of depression and grief. A glass of wine with Christmas dinner is a wonderful thing, but consider leaning toward extra glasses of water instead of a refill for the sake of your emotions and your energy level, and to help flush out the extra salt and sugar holiday foods usually contain. A daily serving of leafy greens will also help balance the holiday diet, particularly if you are sensitive to certain kinds of carbs and sugars or dairy, and tend to feel that fog and malaise the day after eating a lot of dessert.
  • Keep Exercising—As the weather gets colder, it gets harder to go for a jog in the neighborhood or even get to the gym. But this is precisely the time of year when you need to do so. Maintain good sleep and energy/mood levels by being faithful to do at least some light cardio every other day, or Pilates in front of the TV. It’s also a good way to work off the adrenaline of tense conversations or misunderstandings.
  • Schedule in Blank Space—In the midst of increased social activity, the need for down time can be overlooked, but quiet intervals during the holidays (an hour or two between coming home from work and going out to a party, twenty minutes here and there to creep away to your room in the packed house and have a quiet moment, or a whole day a week to regroup, heat up leftovers and take naps) go a long way toward ensuring that we can actually enjoy the holiday cheer, rather than just enduring it. Unless this blank space makes it into your planner/Google calendar, you set yourself up to go non-stop until after New Year’s…because there is always something else to say “yes” to!
  • Allow for Lower Expectations—It’s OK for this year to be a little less magical. It’s OK for it to be hard. It won’t always be, but for now, it just is. The important thing is to be gentle with yourself, with where you are. To both sit and breathe with the hard moments, and to catch the great moments in your hands and enjoy them while they last. To be aware of both.

Holidays aren’t meant for burnout. The wonderful thing about practicing our own self-care is that it gives others permission to do the same! Allow your children, your roommate, your in-laws to notice you choosing to make the most of the season by not trying to consume it indiscriminately. It’s possible that your example might bring them the same relief.


Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash


By Sarah Dabney, PLMHP

November is an incredibly bittersweet time for many individuals and families, as they savor the changing of seasons and the anticipation of holidays…and at the same time, wonder inside how they can possibly celebrate this year. For some, the loss of a relationship or the death of someone dearly loved will leave an empty spot at the table. The loss of a job or the loss of health can cast a film of anxiety or depression that threatens to smother the joy this time of year might otherwise hold.

With loss comes grief.

Grief is hard. We don’t choose it…it chooses us. It follows its own schedule. Many of us grievers wrestle with a sort of helplessness or floundering that comes from being out of the normal rhythm of emotion, habit, and reality—a feeling that is compounded by the fact that losses are rarely singular. They tend to come in layered in bunches. For example, the loss of a job is often not just the loss of a job. Most times, it means loss of income (perhaps the loss of the ability to buy holiday gifts for loved ones!), loss of routine, loss of a work community where you regularly see coworkers and friends, loss of a sense of stability and control over the future, and sometimes even loss of an important identity—how we perceive who we are and what we contribute to the world. This type of compound loss can be difficult to verbalize and grieve, especially if we don’t feel like we have permission in our social networks to talk about some of these less obvious losses.

One of the best things we can do to facilitate our grief, whatever the cause, is to simply allow it to be what it is. We gain a lot from learning to accept the presence of grief, rather than fight it or ignore it…from learning to make space for it, both emotionally and physically (in our bodies and in our schedules). It is OK to grieve. More than OK. It’s not something we have to fix or change, get over, or hurry through to the other side. Our bodies are biologically engineered for the experience of grief…we are actually made for it, as a part of being human.

This acceptance as a practice often starts with a list of permissions we grant ourselves; with writing down what we need to allow ourselves in order to grieve well and fully and then repeating these statements verbally and in action. An excellent example of a list of permissions can be found in Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s “Mourner’s Bill of Rights.” Rights three through five read as follows:

  1. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.

Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don’t take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.

  1. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.

Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don’t allow others to push you into doing things you don’t feel ready to do.

  1. You have the right to experience “griefbursts.”

Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening, but is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.

Feel free to borrow these permissions, and to write out and add your own. Take the time to feel out what it looks like for you to grieve safely this holiday season, in a healthy way. Care for and speak to yourself during this time with patience and empathy, as you would do for a friend who had experienced a similar loss. Whatever your loss has been, you have the right to grieve for as long as you need. You have a right to be heard, and seen. You have a right to your own journey toward healing.


If you would like some help writing your own Grief Permissions, please click this Hope and Wellness Center download as a place to start:

Grief Permission Slips


Photo credit: Tom Pumford on Unsplash

By Hillary Chaney, LMHP


Most of us have heard it said that “behavior has meaning.” What??? Could someone please explain that? Especially when our two year old is throwing a complete tantrum on the floor at Walmart…please, tell me what it means. What is that behavior telling us? That is the million-dollar question.

One of my areas of expertise is in Circle of Security Parenting, a training which is part of an international organization for moms and dads who would like to increase their understanding of and capacity to meet their children’s needs in the home. According to the Circle of Security, there are 7 emotional needs our kids (or really any human in our lives) are asking us to meet:

Watch over me, delight in me, help me, enjoy with me, protect me, comfort me, or organize my feelings.

So, what do these emotional needs mean? I am glad you asked! I will bullet point them for you with a quick example of each.

  1. Watch over me: This need means “keep an eye on me in case I do something cool so you can cheer me on, or if I hurt myself I know you will be aware and come help.”
    For example: If I am playing on the playground, sit on the bench and watch me, so when I get hurt, you will see the sadness on my face and you will come help.
  2. Delight in me: I LOVE THIS ONE! Who doesn’t love it when you make eye contact with someone and they give you the biggest, most proud smile because they think you are neat?
    For example: You kiddo has been playing in the living room while you are doing dishes, and you think how lucky you are to have such a neat kid, and at that moment they look at you and you both smile. Not because your kid just did something amazing, but because your kid IS amazing. Let’s just take a moment and think back to that time grandma, teacher, friend, or parent gave you that look. Bask in it. You! You are neat! Feels good, right?
  3. Help me: How obvious can we get here? This is when someone is obviously struggling with something and you give them just enough assistance to be successful.
    For example: if I fall, come rushing over to help me up!
  4. Enjoy with me: Doesn’t it feel good to share what we love with someone we love?
    For example: If your kid just LOVES playing with Legos, get on the floor with them and build something too! Play. Laugh. Smile. ENJOY!
  5. Protect me: We all get scared sometimes, whether physically or emotionally, and it gives us peace of mind when we realize someone will protect us from any harm.
    For example: UMMM, there is a boogie man in the closet and I need you to Karate chop him so I can sleep because you are bigger and stronger than me.
  6. Comfort me: My feelings are confusing and overwhelming, and I need to not feel alone.
    For example: You interview for a job that you do not get, and you feel like you are not good enough, you have been rejected. A hug from a loved one eases the very natural, unavoidable pain.
  7. Organize my feelings: Here it is folks, the Grand Torino of needs. The most confusing of them all. This is when I am acting out, and I have NO IDEA WHY. We see it in tired toddlers, hungry teens, or “tough” guys who don’t show emotion. This is an opportunity to ask, “Do you need a nap?”, “are you hungry?”, or “Was it a rough day at the office?”
    For example: You pick up your kid from school and they say things like, “Why do you drive so slow?” “Nothing ever goes right!” “You forgot to put an apple in my lunch!” “My math teacher just hates me!” on your way home. And, instead of commenting on your child’s bad attitude, you say, “Did you have a hard day?” and then the most beautiful thing happens, your child feels a connection. Like you get them. And sometimes, I repeat sometimes, they open up to you about their day and all of the difficult things they faced.

When these emotional needs are not met, behaviors escalate. It’s like when you are hungry and you go out to eat, but the waiter totally ignores you or takes your order and never delivers. You might start to get agitated, and then flat out HANGRY! Your behavior is likely to escalate, right? I know mine does. But when the need is met, and the food comes, you can rest easy and cool down. All you needed was a little bread.

Imagine for a moment if these 7 basic emotional needs NEVER get met. This is what we professionals like to call trauma. Trauma is a confusing topic because much of the population thinks of trauma as PTSD in war veterans or abuse victims. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder absolutely is trauma (it is in the name, after all). However, there is also acute trauma, or “little ‘t’ trauma,” which resides in most human beings, in those that have ever had a moment in their life that was scary or confusing, during which their emotional (or physical) needs were not met. That is pretty much everyone, myself included.

When I was in 3rd grade I walked up to Joanna (my best friend since pre-school) at the playground to swing, and she told me that she was no longer my friend because she had found “cooler” friends. My emotional need was NOT met, and I realized that people could leave me. They could ditch me for something better. (Go ahead, wipe the tear from your eye.) Joanna did NOT delight in me. She did NOT enjoy with me. And no one was there to comfort me or organize my feelings on the playground that day.

Ever since, I have been afraid of losing friends. Still to this day that feeling manifests in me when I keep my distance for a while before letting someone in. Sometimes it looks more like being a people pleaser so that people don’t leave me. Trauma. I was “little ‘t’” traumatized, and I know this because it affected the way I behaved and STILL behave. My behavior has meaning!! I am asking people, “please don’t leave me” by being a people pleaser. Or, “show me you are invested so that I can open up to you” when I am keeping my distance. BEHAVIOR HAS MEANING!!!!

When our emotional needs are met, we are secure in who we are and in the people around us. When these needs are not met, we start to question ourselves and the people who are supposed to care for us. And although we may originally have a hard time feeling loving toward the toddler throwing a tantrum in Walmart, if we look at behaviors through the “trauma lens,” we start to have empathy for the behaviors we are seeing. We create space to realize that somewhere along the line, a need was not met, and that person became scared, confused, or traumatized.

This just scratches the surface of what Circle of Security Parenting curriculum has to offer, and does not even touch how complex trauma can be—but these principles can be applied in any type of relationship at any stage of life! If you are interested in learning more about the Circle of Security (in an individual or group setting), I encourage you to contact us.

Finally, if by reading this you felt that, in fact, you experienced some trauma that you have not yet worked through, reach out! Trauma is so common, and we at Hope and Wellness are here to help.

To make an appointment at the Hope and Wellness Center, call our office at 402-639-2901 or email


Photo by Senjuti Kundu on Unsplash


By Becky Smith, PLMHP

Becky Smith lives in the Omaha area with her husband Eric and their four beautiful children. She is a graduate of Grace University with a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health, and now practices therapy at CityCare Counseling with a focus in adoption issues. We are thrilled to share her perspectives as an adoptee and a professional who specializes in adoption issues with you in this guest post on the intersection between adoption and mental health.


The very beginning of my life involved a lot of life changing people, I think. As a kid I sometimes imagined ninjas and princesses involved in my adoption…who knows? Maybe I was an heir to some Korean throne?

There were a lot of  “someone’s” involved in the first six months of my life in South Korea: Someone maybe helped to convince my biological mother not to get an abortion. She then did decide to abandon me somewhere, but someone had to have either taken me from her arms, or picked me up from the police station where I was found and taken me to an orphanage. Someone must have taken care of me in that orphanage. Then someone had to have picked me, for some reason, to go to foster care. Did I raise my baby arm in the crib? Who knows. Then somehow, someone picked me to become adopted. My adoptive mom and dad picked me to come home from Korea to Wisconsin. There were lots of hands in getting me home; I believe there was one giant, gentle, sovereign hand especially, the hand of my Father, my Savior. As for the other hands of “someones,” I will probably never know who they were, but I have a heart of thanks for them. After coming home, I grew up in Wisconsin, with parents who loved me and love me unconditionally, my older brother, dogs, music, teenage drama, ups, downs, and everything else in between.

When asked to write this blog about adoption and foster care, I excitedly sat down at my computer and started to think about from which perspective to write. I soon found myself staring at the blinking cursor as my mind wandered in so many different directions; so many choices of what to write about and from what angle to give voice. There is the birth mom perspective, foster parent perspective, adopting older kids, adopting internationally, adopting kids from places of abuse and neglect, the adoptive parents’ perspective, the kid adoptee perspective, the adult adoptee perspective, the list goes on.

I decided to go with the perspective of the role I have tried to take since getting my Master’s in Clinical and Mental Health: the “mom and a counseling professional who wants to support adoptive families” perspective.

First, I will say that as a mom of four biological kids who are all in their teen years, I think momhood can be one of the most difficult and isolating times of life. Or not. As new biological moms, we quickly realize that we have never “given of ourselves” like we have when babies come out of us and then literally use our bodies to stay alive. We can start to feel like a cow very easily. I know I did. It becomes our responsibility to find the support we need, and receive that support as best we can. As adoptive moms know very well, there is a similar yet different type of “giving” when your child first gets home to you; one that may not be through breast feeding, but that is just as loving, just as intimate. It often looks like compassion shown when tantrums are thrown because a small child does not know whom he or she can trust. You constantly work to show compassion, working your empathy skills, working to show love, working to understand a completely new person. Now do not get me wrong, sometimes there are no tantrums and connections are made easily. But sometimes that is not the case, and if that is not the case, the adjustment is a difficult road that requires support.

In my experience as a counselor, I have noticed the importance of time for connection. When committing to counseling, we commit ourselves to time. In the area of adoption, I think one of the biggest difficulties is also TIME. It takes time to create attachment opportunities, to show compassion through eye contact, to show support through words, to get to know one another. This time of parents building connection with their children, this is the place where I want to encourage something I have come to believe both as a professional and as a fellow mom: No parent was ever meant to be alone while navigating through the area of attachment. Get connected. Ask a professional therapist for help in finding resources, ask your local church, ask me. Connection to supports and educational groups is the best choice you can make while processing everything you are going through as an adoptive family. Connection for you as the mom or dad is vital, so that you can feel like you have capacity to connect with your child.

As an important side note to successful connection,  is so important to get educated about brain development when talking about adoption and foster care. Instead of me trying to summarize, please do yourself a favor and click this link! The book that this link mentions, The Whole Brain Child, is also worth the read, especially for those of you who have adopted children from a background of abuse or neglect. I also love the easy way that the author explains the complexity of the brain.

I want to finish with some good ol’ bullet points of great ways to spend your time with each other. One of the easiest and best ways to build connection is through play. They say that it takes about 300-400 repetitions to teach something, it takes about 20 repetitions to teach within the context of play. If you have a child who came to you later in life, after years in a different family or in an institution, there are certain building blocks of connection such as eye contact, healthy touch, soothing and comfort that were likely not present in their lives. Showing, modeling, and practicing these important building blocks through play can now help connection. The following games include ones I found online and ones I made up myself, which highlight healthy touch, eye contact, asking instead of telling, and accepting decisions:

  • Face paint with your kids. You face paint them, they face paint you. This is a great example of something that involves eye contact and healthy touch.
  • Play Hedbanz; let this game encourage eye contact.
  • Draw letters on each other’s backs and guess what letters they are; let this game highlight healthy touch, soothing voice. Maybe something to put into the bedtime routine to help calm them at night.
  • Get a “yes” jar. Everything about this jar is a “yes”. This helps to build trust. Here is a link to where I found this game: The Yes Jar.
  • Nerf-Shoot-Ask game:  Write down a bunch of questions, some silly, some fun, some serious. Put the questions on slips of paper and fold them into a grab jar or container. The child gets to pick a question out of the jar and read it to one of the parents. The other parent is standing somewhere with a cup or basket, waiting for the child to try to shoot the nerf gun dart at them and the parent will try to catch the dart. The child reads the question, then accepts the answer that the parent gives by saying, “ok.” Then the child asks. “May I shoot the gun, please?” And they try to make it in the basket. This game highlights ‘asking and accepting decisions.’
  • Brush hair while watching a movie, gently and with touch. This encourages healthy touch and feeling physically soothed.
  • Do each other’s nails.
  • The Progressive Picture: Each family member is allowed to draw on the same piece of paper  for 1 minute  (or whatever time fits your family). Go around the family twice, or an agreed upon number of times. This is a not a pre-planned picture, which can encourage creativity and laughter together. It is also something to display on a fridge that represents your family. Art is an amazing tool that helps externalize feelings.
  • Purposefully leave the dishes, leave the laundry. Snuggle on the couch under a soft blanket together and take turns reading a book together or read the book to your child.
  • Practicing re-do’s in life: have a family night that is sort of like charades, practice what it looks like to NOT show respect, then practice the opposite. Example: “I’m staying up later! I want to finish this game!” versus “Mom, can I stay up for 10 more minutes please? I would love to finish this level of this game!” Talk about the bravery and courage it takes to ask for something that you do not know you will receive.


Author’s note: Once a month, there is a group that meets at Waypoint Church at 1313 N 48th Ave, Omaha, NE 68132. We meet the THIRD FRIDAY of each month from 9:30am – 11am. This group is open to all. Please know that we share our stories with one another and pray for each other in this meeting. We are a small group at this point, usually about 5-10 moms. Our hope is that we would deeply know one another, our adoption and foster care struggles, and deeply love one another. Everything shared is expected to stay within the group, confidentiality is highlighted. The comments I have heard from this group are things like, “I felt so alone; it was so good to just hear others’ struggles in adoption.” “It is so nice to share with those who ‘get it.'” “I feel better. Nothing has changed in my circumstances, but I feel much better. I’m glad I came.”


Photo Credit: Daniela Rey on Unsplash

By Sarah Dabney, PLMHP


In the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s exposure and the outpouring of stories surrounding the sexual harassment and assault which is experienced by hundreds of thousands of children and adults on a daily basis, I’ve run the gamut of emotions from sick to my stomach, elated, furious, sorrowful, and even a little numb. I’ve been wrestling with #metoo over the past few days. Not because it hasn’t happened to me…it has, verbally, nonverbally and physically. Because of that, I applaud and support the women in my social media feeds who are raising their voices. Our stories matter. Breaking free from the fear of blame and shame always matters, too. We know in our heads that sexual abuse happens, but as we see dozens of our friends and family (our loved ones—for whom we would willingly put ourselves in harm’s way, for whom we would strike many blows) post about their personal, real life experiences, it comes home, deeply…hopefully also for some of those individuals who have perpetrated, and abused any type of power or authority. These stories should cause outrage. We are fortunate to live in a time when social media has made it possible to have a voice to raise against injustice in such a prevailing way.

But I’ve hesitated to join in, partly because of the women (and men) I know who don’t have a voice yet. Who are still in these situations or barely removed from them, and for whom a feed full of #metoo is NOT validating or relieving or empowering, but rather very literally re-traumatizing, full of triggers which they are not equipped to manage, yet.

I’ve paused in caution, because anger (my own) is a powerful beast to awaken, and while Awareness is crucial, social media doesn’t really empower us to reach the final steps of Acceptance and Action in order to bring change. This is the danger of this type of sharing—it arouses emotion without providing a path of action. And arousal without agency leads to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

I’ve wrestled because #metoo is profoundly cathartic and brings a sense of common humanity for so many women…and because it also opens old wounds and disturbs healing for others.

I’ve waited because #metoo is one of the most empathetic and connection-oriented statements I know, and before I use it, I want to make sure in myself that that’s what sharing my story is about.

In the end, I return to Brené Brown’s words recently concerning the Vegas shooting: “Step away from social media coverage and toward real people for support, action, conversation, and being with each other in collective pain.” Healing is experienced when we share our stories with real people who can hold space for them—when we can then feel safe in being who we are in the wake of our abuse. For this reason, turning toward real people (in the form of family, friends, spiritual community, therapy, and support groups) is irreplaceable in order for this wave of Awareness to become Acceptance and Action.

Out of my wrestling as a woman and as a therapist, these thoughts have emerged:

  1. If you have been sexually harassed or assaulted, you don’t owe your story to anyone. Honor your instincts, and don’t feel pressured to choose between unseen or unsafe—uncomfortable with sharing what your gut told you wasn’t safe to share. Your story and your experience are valid regardless of whether you ever choose to share them. You are a survivor, you are brave, and you are not to blame. You are not alone.
  2. To those who have embraced #metoo, perhaps sharing your story for the first time in two powerful words: We see you. We honor you. Rape culture is NOT OK, and you are taking a stand against it. You are courageous, and we thank you for speaking your truth and taking back your power. You are not alone.
  3. To those who feel stuck or trapped in a job or a relationship that is endangering you sexually or emotionally: If #metoo is only adding to your pain in any way, you don’t deny your truth by taking a break from social media. Know that there are many, many of us who would see you, and help you. This does not have to be the end. There is a way out, and lots of these stories are proof of that. You are not alone.
  4. To all of us: Let’s not let #metoo be the end of this movement. Let’s start groups in our communities where these stories can be heard and held safely. Let’s talk with our sons and daughters about our stories, and teach them how to stand up when they see something suspicious happening in a restaurant or a park or a neighbor’s home. Let’s be brave to report our offenses to the proper authorities, and go higher if need be, to protect those who come after us. Let’s breathe deep, rest for a moment in the pain, and learn to speak kindly to ourselves, to care for our bodies, in order to extinguish the cancer of shame. Let’s be driven to action out of the conviction that we are not alone.


Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

By Brandon Pedersen, PLMHP, PLDAC

In-laws are wonderful, aren’t they? Well, some people think so. Others plead the fifth. But often, in-laws really are good people with good hearts and good intentions for their family. The problem is that those intentions, though we may share them in theory, can look very different when applied practically.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s mother, Sara, provides a classic example of this.  She famously built her son and his bride, Eleanor, a lovely townhouse as a wedding present in 1905. Unfortunately, she forgot to mention that she also designed an adjacent domicile for herself…with entrances to every floor of their home! She continued to be a domineering presence until the Roosevelts moved to Albany after FDR was elected to the New York Senate. While most in-law stories are not as dramatic as this one, many of us struggle to balance closeness and healthy separation.

For those who relate to feeling at a loss when communicating with in-laws, there are several things one can do to help improve the relationship. However, it is important to remember that all relationships are a two-way street—and to be able to recognize when we have done all we can in a particular situation, and it is time to either move on, or set a clear boundary or expectation for interaction on that issue in the future. With that in mind, these are some top ways to invest a healthy relationship:

  1. Love. First things first. It is imperative to treat family members with patience, kindness and respect. When it comes to difficult family members, we do not need to like them to be loving toward them.
  2. Embrace similarities and celebrate common interests. This will allow for genuine interaction and relationship building. Having an established, positive relationship will go along way toward keeping the peace when you need to set boundaries, which leads me to my next tip.
  3. Set appropriate boundaries. This will look different for every family, as each family has their own set of preferences and customs. Communication and conflict resolution skills will be needed as you set up your “fences,” particularly in areas where there have been no boundaries in the past!  One great question to ask when setting new boundaries is: “Will this boundary allow the relationship to grow and blossom without feeling suffocated?” Great boundaries exist for the protection and facilitation of healthy interaction for both parties.
  4. Present a united front. It is crucial for you and your spouse to be on the same page with regard to important issues, including things like how much time to spend with each spouse’s family, and what input they are allowed to give in your child-rearing. Boundaries are very difficult to enforce unless both of you agree on what they should be. Work to educate your spouse on how you feel and what is causing any existing stress/tension. Listen when they do the same.
  5. Acceptance. You do not need to be best friends with your in-laws, but because you will likely be spending time with them, it is important to be able to let them be who they are (within safe limits for everyone). Try not to attempt to change them, as this is very different from asking for a change in behavior (boundaries). It is best to accept them as they are and adjust your own expectations accordingly. This is especially true when there may be cultural differences between your two families.
  6. Become your own family. Don’t be afraid to make new traditions. Growing up, you were likely programmed with a certain approach to the holidays. For many, that means that over Thanksgiving and Christmas, for example, the family gets together for meals and festivities. Naturally, you try and bring your spouse into the same meaningful traditions you enjoyed. There are times where this plan of melding families in tradition goes smoothly, and there are times when it does not! When it does not, do not be afraid to branch out and start your own traditions over the holidays and summers, even if it means sacrificing your old ones.

Family relationships can experience a lot of tension in this area, but by using these tips you can help save yourself some unnecessary stress. If family and marriage issues have prevailed for some years, give the friendly faces at Hope and Wellness Center a call for support in working through the tension.


Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash

By Christy Denne, LIMHP

“Like fireworks /
We pull apart the dark.”
In the Embers, by Sleeping at Last

Last week, one of my clients introduced me to their favorite band, Sleeping at Last. I have been listening to their album Atlas all week. The lyrics are so beautifully written and emotionally charged. As I listened to “In the Embers,” this specific line jumped out of the speakers and into my heart: “Like fireworks, we pull apart the dark.”

This line. This line is the definition of what it means to be a therapist. By nature, fireworks scare some, and excite others; they are beautiful, powerful, and dangerous. This is therapy.

In that space in time sitting across from my client, I seize the moment to pull apart the dark. This can be painful. This can be messy. It can, at times, blow up in our faces. But the process is beautiful and emotional, like a Fourth of July fireworks show.

As we know, there is a certain stigma about crossing the threshold into a therapist’s office. What will others think? I don’t want to be crazy! I don’t want to be labeled! Will they judge my story? Am I weak? Why can I not handle this on my own? These are all fluttering statements that flash through a lot of people’s minds when the word therapy is mentioned. Listen: these statements are far from the truth.

Like fireworks, we pull apart the dark. The almost divine moments of light which can occur within the safe context of therapy are comparable to fireworks. It is our honor to sit in moments of darkness with our clients, to shine light into some of the darkest recesses of the heart. Like bursting showers of color, the counseling relationship is meant to shed empathy, comfort, and insight to help the heart heal. Therapy is so much more than labeling illness…it is a place to gain clarity concerning what is hidden, causing the darkness. When the flame is lit, and the darkness is forced back, our monsters begin to flee.

The next time the words “therapy,” “therapist,” or “counseling” become  stigmatized, scary words within a conversation, I challenge you to rethink their definition. The sacred space of sitting with a safe counselor can be the spark that burns away the dark. You are more than than the embers of your story.

Do you have monsters crawling in your dark? Are your monsters named Depression, Anxiety, Trauma, or Addiction? Fight the stigma surrounding that one, all-important word: “Help”. Reach out to one of our therapists at Hope and Wellness center. We truly are like fireworks, we pull apart the dark.

Photo: Unsplash by Jamie Street