Helping Kids, Families, Adults & LGBTQ with Care for Over 25 Years

Michelle Topal MSW, LCSW

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Please Join me in Being Hopeful

It has been a long time since I've posted something & I feel compelled to do so, to communicate something of hope & acceptance in light of the passing of Amendment One. It's not easy to be hopeful when fear & intolerance shape people's decision making.  It's not easy to assure those in the LGBT community who are struggling with self-acceptance & are now faced with an outcome that says you are not equal.  But I am reminded that no fight for civil rights has ever been fought without backlash & steps forward & steps back.  I know this is a sad step back, but is not surprising in a movement that has made many steps forward.  I am old enough to have been an observer & participant of these steps.  I know we will continue to help people who are fearful, uncomfortable, intolerant, & blaming to find a way to a more accepting position.

I believe that their is & should be room on this planet for people of diverse & conflicting views & values.  I think everyone is allowed their feelings about individuals & groups of people, whether on the right or the left.  As difficult as it is, I try to accept & leave room for beliefs that are not in concert with my own.  But when those beliefs are used to control others & cause harm & it allows some people to wield power over others, it becomes more like injustice, inequality & tyranny.  I don't think we have the right to tell or dictate to others how to live, so long as how others live does not stand in the way of how we live.  We do not have the right to refuse equality to people because we don't like them or how they live their lives, when how they live their lives does not interfere with how we live ours.  This means if you think that homosexuality is a sin, I think you have the right to those beliefs & feelings, regardless of how much I may see it differently.  However, I do not think you have the right to tell me I should feel or live the same way as you do.  This also means that I do not tell people who may be homophobic that they have to think & feel as I do, let alone that they have to live or love as I do.

Yes, I think homophobia, as with other bigotry, on it's face does harm, especially to family members.  I see the pain these struggles cause to people I see in my office.  It is more than just harmful when those we love tell us we are not okay as we are.  We humans need to belong & feel connected.  It is a biological imperative & rejection triggers primal feelings of abandonment & fear.  But I confront the dissonance that causes homophobia with compassion & understanding.  It is difficult when someone we love, especially a child, is not who we thought they were or wanted them to be.  It is doubly difficult when who they are challenges some of our deepest held beliefs & values.  These struggles are real, valid & deserve care.  They are painful & hurtful to all involved & sadly increases the struggles of their LGBT family member.  It is my hope that in this painful struggle of loved ones of LGBT people, they do not wish or actively seek that their family member have less rights & be treated badly.  It is my hope that the "momma [or papa] lion" steps in & says that they will not let anyone hurt their child or grandchild, etc.

I draw a distinction between this & the lives of those who may be in the neighborhood, community, state, planet, etc.  For example, whether my neighbor lives as I do or I like them or not, I don't want to take their rights away from them or deprive them of the rights that I have access to, no matter how angry I get at them or how abhorrent I think their behavior is.  There are quite a few ways I can think of in which someone's behavior offends me & I wish it would stop.  But I don't feel entitled to dictate my values on to them (no matter how much I may want to).  This is because, I believe, it is not my place to say they are better than me or lesser than me.  And quite frankly, it is likely, that they are equal to me, as all people are.

But, let me get back to what prompted this article: Amendment One.  I was listening to a national talk show (okay, I confess it was the View) & they talked about the passing of this amendment in NC.  The consensus was that we in NC are "so far behind...". Progress is scary to many & some see it as allowing more room for immorality.  I fundamentally disagree that some people's definition of immorality shape politics & policy & how people are able to safely live their lives & prosper.  We are a country that values the separation of church & state.  We are also a country founded on all men (inclusive of women) being created equal. Our country has struggled & continues to struggle with these patriotic values.  I look forward to the continued struggle, as we allow room for equality & each person to believe the religious views they hold dear without it being used to dictate people's behavior & rights.  Though this is a time to grieve this outcome, I remain hopeful that our country's values will prevail, as history of other civil rights shows us.  I also want to share my awe & appreciation to those who worked so tirelessly to ensure our rights.  I hope you are proud of your accomplishments & remain encouraged by all the progress you have made.  It matters!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

M Club Discussion

I recently had the privilege of being invited to talk to the M Club about some of the challenges we all face & healthy ways to approach these challenges. The M Club is a group for gay/bisexual men ages 18-29 years old.  It is there for support, fun, education, a sense of community & friendship.  And what an impressive group of guys!

If you are a young gay or bisexual man looking for a fun, supportive & welcoming group to feel a sense of community, connection & acceptance, then this is the place to go.  They have several events during the month to check out.  

To learn more about it you can go to:  Alex, who is a great guy, runs the group & cares deeply about making sure the group is there for the community.  At the risk of being redundant, very impressive indeed!  I highly recommend you check it out!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Are Women More Emotionally Intelligent Than Men?

Are Women More Emotionally Intelligent Than Men?
Yes, and Yes and No.  For more information go to Psychology Today article:

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Brain & Temptation

Teaching Your Brain to Say No!

This is an interesting article to help people understand the brain & how our behavior reinforces the cravings/temptation.  It also provides some ideas on how to essentially change our brain to reduce temptation/cravings.

The link for this on Psychology Today:

Published on June 12, 2011 by Rebecca Gladding, M.D. in Use Your Mind to Change Your Brain

Monday, May 30, 2011

I Went to the Out Raleigh Event & I Wish I Got a T-Shirt

So, I went to the OutRaleigh Event with the theme being "We're All Family Here" to support the LGBT community to which I have been a part for most of my years in NC (about 25 years).  And it was inspiring to see people out and "out".  I hope many of you had a chance to attend.  Whether you are LGBTQ or an ally, I think it's important that we all support the LGBT community.  These are our brothers, our sisters, our parents, our growing children and our grown children, our friends, co workers, neighbors, and church community.  We owe it to them to make the world a safe place.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Parenting Challenge: Clear Boundaries & Roles

The tasks of parents are endless and overwhelming and it’s understandable that you would welcome help wherever you could get it.  And, well, you’ve managed to raise a very mature and responsible child, even one eager to be helpful and thriving in this role.  This is wonderful and a credit to you as a parent.  You may be tempted, based on this, to allow your child to play an active role in those numerous tasks of adulthood and parenthood.  If your child is good at math, why wouldn’t you allow her to handle your finances, especially when she’s adept at using the computer and she is all to eager to help?  Or, why wouldn’t you let your son help take care of his younger siblings and remind you of their needs, or monitor your drinking, since he’s offered, fits easily into these roles and seems to really care and be concerned?  It’s a win-win, right?  You get help and your child feels good about their contribution and a sense of competence and power.  However, this is exactly the double edged sword.

The more parents blur the lines between child responsibilities and parental responsibilities, the more parents lose their authority and the more kids are left to flounder feeling they are without the protective safety net of parental oversight.  After all, from their perspective, who’s in charge and who can they count on, if you are counting on them?  In my experience, when pressed into service, kids will always rise to the challenge.  They will do so because their survival impulses kick in, they love you and want your approval.   This is an all or nothing proposition, and I’ve seen kids be capable of amazing things when parents relinquished their roles.  But don’t let this fool you.  It doesn’t mean the child is capable, especially developmentally, and kids and the parent-child relationship pay an irreparable price for this trade off. 

“Parentified/adultified” kids are often depressed as kids and continue on to be depressed, sometimes suicidal, adults.  They feel robbed of their childhoods, and lost and angry over the lack of parental modeling and investment; after all if their parents couldn’t love them enough to step up to the plate and provide all the requisite parental care, who would.  As a result there are often questions for them about their worthiness and the role they have to others and others to them.  Just remember that our earliest significant relationships form how we see ourselves and all our future relationships. 

What about if there are other children in the household?  Parents lose authority when they share responsibility with their kids, which may work just fine with this responsible child, but will cost them in their relationship to any other children in the household who are likely to see this as weakness.  This creates a dynamic of the “good child” and leaving the other child(ren) to be the bad ones, since the role of good, parent aligned child is already taken.  Seeing their parents as having delegated their parental authority out to a sibling who has settled into this exclusive role, it leaves them to perceive themselves as alone with no one really in charge or willing to be (and let’s face it, they are not going to listen to a peer, be it a sibling or parents they perceive as peers).

So, what do you do and where do you draw the line?  You always let kids know that their skills and competence are valued and valuable, but that adult/parent responsibilities are always that, no matter how mature the child is.  You reinforce that they are allowed and expected to be kids (which in these times, is stressful enough).  You also model responsibility and competence to your child, so they know that though you are not perfect, they can count on you to be the parent.  Whether they acknowledge it or not, they need you in this role.  
This is not to say that it is not part of the parenting role to assist children in developing responsibility and skills.  It is a vital part of parenting.  However, the appropriate arena for this involves the tasks associated with the child themselves.  These tasks should always be primarily motivated by an attempt to teach, rather than those that are related to your needs as a parent.   For example, you help teach them to take responsibility for their homework, waking up on time for school, grades, their friendships/relationships, their behavior at home, school and other environments in which they interact, their finances and employment.  

There are many more examples, but do you see a pattern?  It is incumbent on parents to allow kids to gradually learn to be responsible for their worlds and leave the parents world to the parents.  This also means that the child’s world is theirs, not the parents, and as such is the child’s to navigate, especially as they grow through adolescence.  [However, this is a topic for another article].  Suffice it to say, children should not be pulled into adult/parent roles/world and parents should not insert themselves into the child’s world/roles.  I know this is not easy because you care, but because you care, this is why it is essential.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

"If the day ever came when we were able to accept ourselves and our children exactly as we are and they are, I believe we would have come to an understanding of what "good parenting" means."
-Fred Rogers