To Bethany, With Love: Coping with a Child’s Death

“I need to excuse myself to make a quick phone call to the hotel. I’ll be right back” I excitedly told the group. I was in paradise, aka Sicily, leading my most recent Transformational Journey to Italy. We were in the middle of one of the best days we had had yet: an extraordinary cooking class with a Countess in her majestic Palazzo when I suddenly remembered I had to call my hotel and make some arrangements. Alone in one of the rooms, I picked up my phone and saw a Facebook notification pop-up; my husband had just updated his Facebook status and it read, “The Heavens opened-up today and took back one of its sweetest Angels. Took her way too early. Did not get enough time to play with her, to see her run, or to call me uncle. I hope to one day get that chance, LOVE YOU Bethany.” My heart immediately sank; I threw the phone on the bed. I could not believe it. My baby niece, Bethany, had passed away at only 9 months old from a rare disease called “Biliary Atresia” just two days shy from her liver transplant. I went into the room where the cooking class was being held and called my colleague, Dr. Sarah Larsen. “She’s gone!” I told her and I threw myself in her arms, tears streaming down my face. For the next several hours, I cried, screamed, or simply sat in silence. My heart was broken.
Having grown up in Sicily, Italy, I learned that family was everything. I watched as all of my cousins marry their childhood sweethearts, have exquisite weddings, buy gorgeous homes and start beautiful families. Their entire lives revolved around good food and family. Every weekend, we would hang out with our close and extended families. I knew that when I grew up, I wanted the exact thing. So I attracted just that: a man with an amazing family (The Gomez) and with the same set of values I have. The Gomez family is very tight. All of our kids are growing up together and we love to hang out almost every weekend. The death of one of our own was something that none of us expected, or knew how to deal with.
This led me to ask deeper questions about death. These days I’ve been reading Alan Cohen, Leo Buscaglia and talking a lot to Dr. Sarah Larsen. As a Spiritual person, I know that our soul never dies. Alan Cohen says, “There is no death. What was never born can never die. That which is truly alive lives eternally.” Our physical bodies are simply vessels, but that is not the essence of who we truly are. We have a beautiful spirit that lives on for eternity. Cohen continues, “Death has no power over the spirit. Nothing has power over the spirit. We are spiritual beings, and no matter what seems to be happening in the physical world, who we truly are is always very much alive, whole, and in love.” The sacred book, A Course in Miracles, states “Death is the central dream from which all illusions stem. Is it not madness to think of life as being born, aging, losing vitality, and dying in the end?…it is one fixed, unchangeable belief of the world, that all things in it are born only to die…and no one asks if a benign Creator could will this.”
Bethany lit up every room she was in. Even in her discomfort due to the disease, she was constantly laughing at everything. Her smile made everyone’s heart melt. Her energy and essence were beautiful.
And the best part of all: she is STILL all of that and more! She is now happier and healthier than ever, and we are blessed that she is now watching over all of us. We are fortunate to have the extraordinary medium, Dr. Sarah Larsen, in our life who was able to have Bethany communicate with her parents. They talked for close to two hours, and in those two hours, Bethany’s parents truly got that their child was alive more than ever. This brought them an enormous amount of peace and happiness. Recently at a wedding, I overheard a mother complain that her daughter was crying too much. I immediately thought of my sister-in-law, and how she would give anything to hear Bethany cry again. If anything, death should teach us to not take each other for granted. Any of us can go at anytime. Think of all the petty arguments we get into with our loved ones. At whom are you currently mad and not on speaking terms? What if you knew it was that person’s last day on this earth? What if this was your last day on earth? We often ignore this fact, thinking it won’t happen to us but guess what? It happens to all of us. It’s just not worth it. If anything, this experience teaches me to be kinder toward those I love. How many times are we too hard on our own kids? Yelling, screaming, belittling, judging them and loving them only conditionally (if they do what we say). What if today was the day we stopped all of that? What if today we accepted everyone as they are, truly forgave, and learned to love everyone unconditionally? American author, Leo Buscaglia, puts it beautifully, “Death is a challenge. It tells us not to waste time… It tells us to tell each other right now that we love each other.”
Are you ready to love – today?
Sending you lots of love & positive energy,
Connie Costa

Saving Your Children from a Painful and Traumatizing Divorce

“I take thee, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; and I promise to be faithful to you until death do us part.” Or until divorce do us part. With divorce rate being close to 50% in the United States (divorcestatistics.info), these romantic wedding vows seem harder and harder to achieve. Divorce can be amicable and easy-breezy. It can also be extremely challenging, confusing and gut-wrenching. This is especially true when children are involved. However, we are adults, and as adults we make choices. We must face our choices and live with the consequences. When it comes to divorce, our children are not the ones making the choices, and yet, must live with the cost, which more-times-than-not affects them for the rest of their life.

Throughout the years, I have asked several divorcees, psychotherapists, child-experts and lawyers what is the best advice for couples with kids who are getting a divorce and here are the top three:

Don’t bad mouth your ex-spouse to your kids

You are hurt. You are angry. And you might even feel justified for feeling this way.   For example, “she cheated on me” or “he took all my money” or “he was abusive.” Understood. My suggestion is definitely to go and process this with a life-coach, spiritual advisor or to whomever you are drawn. But no matter how “horrible” you believe your ex is, never, ever, ever tell your kids how awful their parent is. Think about it: your children are half you and half your ex. On a psychological level, your kids will grow up believing that half of them is bad and rotten. Besides, they love their parent and the last thing they want to hear you saying are really nasty things about someone they love.

Stop using your kids as tools to get back at your ex. Your kids have feelings and these types of actions affect them for the rest of their life. If your ex is a good parent, then be happy about that and let him/her be a good parent. Being a good parent has nothing to do with being a good partner. Perhaps s/he was awful to you, but that has nothing to do with your child. Treat the relationship between your child and your ex as sacred.

Make the transition as easy as possible for your kids

A teacher of mine once pointed out that prior to divorce kids say, “this is my house.”  After divorce, kids say either “I am going to mom’s house” or “I am going to dad’s house.” Suddenly, they no longer have a house of their own. The most ideal situation I have ever seen was that the kids never moved out of their home; mom and dad would move in and out when it was their turn. Naturally, most are unable to carry out this type of arrangement. The best family law attorney I know is my dearest friend, Araceli Lerma, and she suggests that each parent work on creating the best home environment possible for their children. This does not mean the biggest or most luxurious home, but a loving environment, where meals are cooked together and children have a space, even if it’s a bookshelf or a play area, all for themselves. In that way, they will have two homes that they equally enjoy and in which they thrive.  Whatever you decided to do, please keep this in mind. It really does take a toll on children.

Do not force your children to take sides. You are the one getting divorced, not them. Your children should never have to choose between mommy and daddy. Put yourself in their shoes:  it’s simply not fair. Healer Achaessa James says, “let them know that they can love both of you and that your feelings won’t get hurt.”

Don’t make your children feel guilty about liking their parent’s new partner. So your kid likes their parent’s new partner, be happy about that! Yes, that new partner may even be the one for whom your spouse left you, but that has nothing to do with your child. Your child just wants peace, and quite frankly, deserves peace. They have nothing to do with your battles, so don’t involve them. If your kids want the new partners to be at special events, honor your child’s feelings.

More importantly, if you are the one with the new partner, pay very close attention to the way your new partner interacts with your child. As a life-coach, I have had many clients tell me they were abused both physically and sexually by their step-parent. They are not your child’s parent; they already have a set of parents. I am all for the step-parents providing extra love and attention, but not to act as the disciplinarian. Many parents get so excited that they have found a new partner that they quickly want to “force” the relationship onto their kids. Give your children some space and respect their feelings. Don’t force your child to spend “alone time” with their new step-parent. This is often when my clients suffered the abuse. Finally, if your new partner is nagging you about spending too much time with your child and is asking you to choose between your child and him/her, you should definitely reconsider your choice in partner.

Set an example of love and forgiveness

You say you love your kids, prove it! Actions speak louder than words. Do you want them to be healthy adults? Do you want them to enjoy a healthy loving relationship? Children learn by example. Consider this: Karen’s parents get a divorce. But her parents never fight in front of her, and never bad mouth the other parent. They are amicable and very cordial to one another. Visitations are never an issue; they are both respectful of each other’s time and understand the importance of their child spending time with both parents. Now, let’s look at Jensen’s situation. Jensen’s parents are constantly yelling at each other in front of him. The parents are repeatedly telling Jensen what a loser the other parent is. His parents are always fighting about who gets to spend what weekend with him, holidays are always a nightmare, so he starts to feel like he is in the middle of a tug of war. Now tell me, who do you think will grow up more balanced, stable and with a positive view on relationships? Despite her parents getting a divorce, Karen will see it’s possible to not be in a relationship, but to stay friends.  

The most important issue here is: do you want your children to grow up with love in their hearts or anger and bitterness? Do you want them to be able to forgive quickly, or have so much resentment that they are unable to have long-lasting, healthy relationships? What are we teaching our kids? Consider the long-term effect we are having on our kids. It’s simple: the more unhappy we are as parents, the more unhappy our kids will be. Would you rather be right or happy?

Araceli Lerma’s rules when getting a divorce are simple. She calls them the 3 C’s: common sense, civility and cooperation. Araceli & I will be leading a workshop on this very subject. For more information please contact me.

Are you willing to teach by example?

Sending you lots of love and positive energy,

Connie

Connie Costa is a Writer, International Speaker & Transformational Coach

She leads transformational events and retreats in Beverly Hills, Ojai & Italy www.ConnieCosta.comConnie@ConnieCosta.com

 

 

 

The Joy of Parenting: A Happier YOU, A Happier Child

Happy

Awww the joys of parenting! Don’t we all wish children came with manuals? Life would be so much easier. But they sure don’t, so what do we do? Well, most people don’t do anything. They simply raise their kids however they see fit, usually mirroring the way their parents raised them. Most people take more time researching the perfect car to purchase and don’t bother to research how to raise happy and healthy kids. There is TONS of research out there, but most prefer to play games on Facebook than take the time to educate themselves on perhaps the most significant job they will ever have: parenting.

We never stop learning. I have been taking child development classes since community college and through my Master’s program in Clinical Psychology. Despite that and the fact that my daughter is now 13 years old, I am still learning. By no means do I consider myself a perfect parent, there is no such thing since we are human and have our own issues. However, it is my goal to improve my parenting skills on a daily basis.

Every parent can relate when I say that it can be very stressful when a child misbehaves. Many respond by yelling, punishing, or even spanking. But how effective are these techniques? In his brilliant book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey candidly discusses the mistakes he makes as a parent, “I pull out my ammunition-my superior size, my position of authority- and I yell or intimidate or I threaten or punish. And I win. I stand there, victorious in the middle of the debris of a shattered relationship while my children are outwardly submissive and inwardly rebellious, suppressing feelings that will come out later in uglier ways.” We believe we have won, when in reality we have lost. We are damaging our children and our relationship with them. Dr. Covey continues by saying “It’s easy to take advantage to manipulate, to get what you want the way you want it-right now! You’re bigger, you’re smarter, and you’re right! So why not just tell them what to do? If necessary, yell at them, intimidate them, insist on your way.” According to one of my mentors, Dr. Sarah Larsen, how we act as adults depends on how much love we felt we received as children. We as adults learned our view of the world in those early years of childhood and development. If our needs were met, we learned to trust the world around us and grew from that stability into self-loving and confident individuals. Being yelled at, punished and hit does not promote love; it only promotes violence.

I observe parents on a daily basis. Throughout the years, I have noticed that most children get in trouble for things they cannot help or that is considered normal behavior for their age. One of the most common issues is “sharing”.  Parents get very upset when their children refuse to share and usually punish or yank the object out of the child’s hand. Basic child development explains how being unwilling to share is normal behavior for kids; you simply cannot expect them to even understand the concept of sharing before the age of three. Forcing our children to share is definitely not the answer. As Dr. Covey explains, “It builds weakness in the person forced to acquiesce, stunting the development of independent reasoning, growth, and internal discipline. And finally, it builds weakness in the relationship. Fear replaces cooperation, and both people involved become more arbitrary and defensive.” Understanding where they are coming from goes a long way.  

This does not mean that we should not discipline our children. Dr. Covey says that “to take the child alone, quietly, when the relationship is good and to discuss the teaching or the value seems to have much greater impact.” Explaining to children why certain behaviors are not appropriate is far more effective than getting angry and lashing out. We are our children’s role models. We must remember this at all times. If we become so upset at our children’s behavior that we punish them, hit them or stop talking to them we are teaching our children that we love them conditionally, or in other words, only if they behave the way we want them to. We must set boundaries and discipline our children and at the same time love them throughout the process. Dr. Covey explains “we counsel, we plead, we set limits and consequences. But we love, regardless.” The most important lesson I have learned as a parent has been that all that children really want is unconditional love; to feel heard and accepted for who they are. The more loving I am toward my daughter, the less issues we have. Dr. Covey says that “when we truly love others without condition, without strings, we help them feel secure and safe and validated and affirmed in their essential worth, identity, and integrity. Their natural growth process is encouraged. We make it easier for them to live the laws of life- cooperation, contribution, self-discipline, integrity- and to discover and live true to the highest and best within them.”

According to Dr. Larsen, yelling may be an effective way to vent frustration, but most children see their parents as giants. Have your partner stand on a chair and yell at you so you can experience what it feels like for your child. When Dr. Larsen’s husband, Greg, (who is over six feet tall) stood on a chair at a louder than normal volume, it terrified her. Dr. Larsen says that as a parent she wants to stay connected to her child. If she yells frequently, she will raise children that are anxious or soon learn to tune out what she says. Instead, Dr. Larsen says that when she feels she might begin yelling, she takes a time out in the bathroom to wash her hands or her face. She then comes back and tries to connect with her child and feels what they are experiencing. She shares with them what she needs to in order to stay connected to them in a loving way. Dr. Covey explains the dangers of parents losing their temper: “They become upset, guided by the emotions of the moment, spontaneously reacting to the immediate concern rather than the long-term growth and development of the child. They may yell or scream. They may overreact and punish out of bad temper. They tend to love their children conditionally, making them emotionally dependent or counterdependent and rebellious.” Remember, everything you do to your child today, will affect them in one way or another in the future.

Dr. Larsen says that some other ways in which we disconnect from our children is demanding immediate compliance, nagging, lecturing, advising, shaming, belittling, imposing excessive guilt, physical punishment and coercion. Dr. Sarah Larsen says that ending all forms of violence against children will be the beginning of the end of violence in society. However we treat our child, the child will treat our world. Parents hitting their children has been accepted as discipline in our society and 80% of parents do it. In several decades’ worth of research, we found that it is impossible to discipline children by hitting them. Making children feel worse does not make them behave better. Dr. Daniel F. Whiteside, former Assistant Surgeon General, reported that, “Corporal punishment of children actually interferes with the process of learning and with their optimal development as socially responsible adults.”

Child Psychotherapist, Jorge Gomez, MA says that his number one advice to parents is to never take their child’s behavior personal. Most parents get very upset and feel as if their children are doing something deliberately to upset them.  If we can reframe that and simply see that this is the way our children are communicating their needs to us. It is up to us to teach them how to appropriately communicate with us how they are feeling. Teach them, in a loving way, to use their words “I am upset” or “I am hurt”. The more you teach them as kids how to appropriately communicate their feelings, the more they will know how to appropriately communicate their feelings as adults.

It is no coincidence that the parents that I admire the most are extremely loving parents who never yell, punish or hit their children. In turn, the children are extremely confident, happy, independent, well-behaved and extremely loving children. Dr. Sarah Larsen’s children, for example, are beyond extraordinary and have the sweetest souls. This goes to show that she knows what she is talking about. On the other hand, the angriest and most bitter people I know are frightening as parents. They are always defending their motives as to why it’s necessary to hit, punish and yell. But I see right through that. They are simply unhappy people and unconsciously punishing their children for it.

We want our children to come to us when they need us. We wonder why our teens do not talk to us, but how did we treat them as kids? Did they feel 100% safe with us? Or did we criticize and shame them? Let us be that loving force that guides our kids. As Dr. Covey says, “Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem…Rebellion is a knot of the heart, not of the mind.” The best thing you can do for your kids is to work on yourself. Many parents carry a lot of personal anger and they take it out on their children. They claim that they hit their kids to teach them how to behave, when in reality it is simply to let out their frustration. If you find yourself screaming often or getting enraged by your children’s behavior ask yourself this question “is this truly about my kid, or could it be about something else?” Most people lead very stressful lives, but it’s time we stop punishing our children for it. Read books on personal development, attend a Spiritual seminar, get a massage, retreat into nature, get help. Our children need us to be stable, happy and healthy adults. Let’s love them unconditionally, that’s all they really want from us.

Are you ready to truly love?

Stephen Covey Affirmation: “It is deeply satisfying that I respond with wisdom, love, firmness, and self-control when my children misbehave.”

 

 Tips for Extraordinary Parenting: by Connie Costa & Dr. Sarah Larsen

-When your children talk to you, make eye contact. Don’t keep your eyes on the TV or your phone. Make them feel that they are more important than anything else. This is crucial for their self-esteem.

-Put aside a minimum of 20 minutes a day and give your child your undivided attention. Do something they like such as color or play with crafts. Make sure that time is sacred and just for your child. No TV and no phone.

-Limit T.V, video games, etc. Go to the park, play with arts and crafts or board games.

-Do not address your children as a bad boy/girl when they misbehave.

-Avoid taking your young children to boring activities such as shopping, appointments, etc. Young children are full of energy and have a short attention span. They will most likely become fussy and might throw tantrums. THIS IS NORMAL and not their fault. 

-Your older children are NOT the parents of their younger siblings. Do not give them that responsibility for it is not theirs. They are your kids. Let your kids be kids and not have to have that responsibility until they have kids of their own.

-Stop the rumor about the terrible two’s or the terrible teenage years. It is not necessarily true. Be positive and give your child the benefit of the doubt.

-When disciplining them, do it privately. Never do it in front of others, especially in front of their friends.

– Remember that every time your child acts in a way you don’t like, it means they have some need they are trying to communicate to you.

– Get curious and try to understand their need. This will help them experience care and trust that they matter, and help both of you find ways to attend to both your needs.

-Make it your goal to have dinner with your child on a daily basis. Turn off the T.V during dinner and encourage your family to have meaningful conversations.

-Tell your child what you want, instead of what you don’t want. Be as specific as possible.

– If they say “No”, try to find out what they need instead of using consequences or rewards. There is always a need that is in the way when a human being says “no”.

-Tell your children you love them everyday. Shower them with love and affection. Point out all of their wonderful qualities every single day.

– Look for a way to meet both your needs, instead of focusing on getting your child to do what you want.

– “Spend time with your children now, one on one. Listen to them; understand them. Look at your home, at school life, at the challenges and the problems they’re facing, through their eyes.” – Dr. Stephen Covey

-MOST IMPORTANTLY: Your children do not learn by what you say, but by what you do. Remember the saying “monkey see, monkey do”. Lead by example.

I love what Dr. Stephen Covey’s wished for his own funeral:

“Now if I were sitting at that funeral…and one of my children was about to speak, I would want his life to represent the victory of teaching, training, and disciplining with love over a period of years rather than the battle scars of quick fix skirmishes. I would want his heart and mind to be filled with the pleasant memories of deep, meaningful times together. I would want him to remember me as a loving father who shared the fun and the pain of growing up. I would want him to remember the times he came to me with his problems and concerns. I would want to have listened and loved and helped. I would want him to know I wasn’t perfect, but I had tried with everything I had. And that perhaps more than anybody in the world, I loved him. The reason I would want those things is because, deep down, I value my children. I love them, I want to help them. I value my role as their father.”

Sending you lots of love and positive energy,

Connie

Connie Costa is a Writer, Inspirational Speaker & Life-Coach

She leads transformational events and retreats in Beverly Hills, Ojai & Italy

www.ConnieCosta.comConnie@ConnieCosta.com