Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Full Motherhood Has Moved!

Hi readers! I have moved my blog to
Please visit to keep reading my weekly posts. I'm also starting to add some humor :)
Thanks for your support.

Friday, April 1, 2016

When Things Don't Go as Planned- Be a Resilient Mama

From the moment we know we're pregnant (and maybe even before then) we start forming expectations of parenthood. What kind of birth do we want to have? What kind of parenting style will we adopt? Will be breastfeed or formula feed? Co-sleep? Cry it out? Babywear? It starts to feel like a really long cafeteria line of choices.

We feel the more we plan the more we are prepared and that gives us a sense of security. We get excited as we think about how beautiful a natural birth will be or how proud we will feel when we start breastfeeding/co-sleeping/making our own purees, etc.

And then for any multitude of reasons........things don't work out. We couldn't anticipate how it would feel when things went awry but here we are and for some us, we are devastated.

I remember telling others when they asked if I planned on breastfeeding, "I plan on it as long as I can do it"-- I even approached breastfeeding with a "no serious expectations" approach. Or at least I thought I did. But things didn't work out I was emotionally gutted.

Over a year after breastfeeding concluded for me I am finally feeling a sense of acceptance and growth from the experience. But in the beginning all I felt was an utter failure of a mother. Whether or not my lack of success with breastfeeding was in or out of my control I felt a profound sense of unwarranted guilt and shame that overshadowed the first year of my sons life. I dwelled in a dark place for far too long. I chose to hold on instead of letting go and I wasn't fully present to soak in the many other beautiful aspects of what I did as a mother.

I have become more resilient from my challenges as a mother. I am grateful for them because they have taught me important lessons about my sense of self-worth, my identity as a mom, and how I want my son to handle challenges in his own life. I have learned that perspective goes a long way when we start to obsess when things don't work out. Not breastfeeding was one small portion of my sons life and although it mattered to me in the moment I have learned that nothing deserves as much weight as the love I show my child. My concerns over my son knowing that I love him should be the largest portion of my thoughts. When I reflect on how much love I have showed him I feel I have accomplished something amazing no matter how many ounces of breastmilk or formula he received.

So how do we foster resilience in ourselves as moms? How do we overcome the disappointment we feel when things don't work out as we planned for our child or our motherhood journey? Here are a few tips to improving your resilience.

Respect your healing process. Its not going to be an overnight process to just "get over" what you expected to happen. Know that time will play a huge role  in you developing a healthier perspective and demonstrating acceptance. And remember that true acceptance is not the same as saying something is "okay." You had a lack of support or resources in making a parenting decision? Not okay. You didn't get the birth experience you expected because of medical complications? Not okay either. But you can practice acceptance by just simply stating to yourself: "This is what happened. I don't  have to like it or approve it but this happened. I will choose to not let this define me or cause me an unhealthy amount of distress."

Reject Unwarranted Guilt. Unwarranted guilt may be a daily challenge for you. One of the first steps in getting rid of it is recognizing when you have those thoughts. Then you can challenge yourself to  find a healthier replacement thought and distract yourself with something constructive.

Here is an example: You think-"I'm such a bad mother because I let her cry in her crib last night. I never planned on crying it out." Catch yourself and recognize this as an unhelpful, judgmental thought. Replace with a helpful and nonjudgemental thought. "I made the decision to let her cry in her crib. I can think more about how I want to respond tonight and make a plan. This does not make me a bad mother. I am doing the best I can with what I know and I am trying different things." Then distract yourself with something positive like a self-care task, a conversation with a friend, or tickles and songs with your little one. The hardest part is deciding to move past the thought and not letting it rob you of your energy and positive attitude. If you feel yourself giving into obsessing over these thoughts try to limit your time when you catch yourself thinking about it (i.e. "I will give myself 5 minutes to mull this over and then I am moving on.")

Stop asking questions and explaining yourself. A big part of letting go of failed expectations is realizing that there is not a need for answers for ambiguous questions. I became obsessive over why breastfeeding didn't work out and I have now accepted that I may never know why and that it isn't of great value to me when it doesn't change anything that happened in the past. A lack of certainty in life is inevitable and one of the most difficult things with which to cope. Simply said-we just have to let go and find something more constructive to lend our energy too. We also don't need to hold on to the explanations as to why things did not work as planned. Whenever I took out a bottle of formula in front of other moms I felt compelled to tell them why (cue long boring story about a baby asleep at the breast, fruitless pumping, and enough herbal supplements to open my own natural pharmacy). I realized over time it wasn't really because I needed to have an excuse for them to understand but because I needed to believe that the excuses were enough. We can spend some time analzying our efforts or where we could have made different choices but this only helps to benefit us in the future and when we obsess or carry guilt associated with these explanations we are held down and remain disillusioned with our experience instead of seeing the lessons we can learn so we can move on.

Remember that modeling resilience fosters resilience in your child. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from challenges. We tend to believe that a person's ability to work through a challenge is determined by how difficult the challenge or stressor may be (i.e. a chronic illness is way tougher to deal with than moving to a new home). However, research shows that a person's ability to overcome a stressor is related more to the person's perspective and response to it rather than the actual stressor itself (Center for the Study on Social Policy, "Parental Resilience") So this basically means its not the challenge itself that matters--it's the way we perceive and respond to it. We practice resilience by demonstrating a healthy perspective of the problem, having confidence in our ability to overcome it, taking responsibility for our response, and focusing on solutions. It can be easy to overanalyse a problem, find something or someone to blame, believe that you have no power over the problem (including your response to it) and stay focused on potential barriers. But when we practice resilience we are modeling it to our children and thus fostering them to be resilient towards the many challenges of life. Sometimes remembering that can help us stay strong for our children.

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. My husband uses this phrase frequently and its an unofficial slogan for the Marines. But the reason I like it is because it snaps me into action. One of the things I wish I could have understood before becoming a parent is just how much I will have to figure out as I go because there isn't any amount of research or experience that will prepare you for everything when you are a parent. A large part of resolving problems is using your strengths and creativity to find what works for you (improvise). Then you have to demonstrate flexibility in being able to accept that And finally you allow yourself to work through the problem and let it go. Look to the future and if its in regards to making a mistake because of a lack of knowledge of experience remember- when you know better, you do better.

Remember that motherhood is so much more than your expectations whether failed or succeeded. Oftentimes our identity and relationships are defined by the challenges and growth we experience from them. So stay strong Mamas, you can get through this.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Mom Tools: Tapping Into Your Mom Strengths

 In the field of social work we choose to adopt what is called a strengths based perspective when working with clients. This means our treatment focus is on the individuals strengths in helping them solve problems. This is a radical change from other psychological discipline approaches in focusing on symptoms and dysfunction. If we choose to focus on weaknesses and problems that becomes our sense of reality and our worldview. This may lead to thoughts such as "Things will never get easier," or "I'm a failure," or "What is wrong with me that I can't be better at this?" Then those thoughts lead to a sense of being defeated, lower motivation, and lower personal satisfaction.

Being aware of our strengths can help us in many ways. Strengths can be something we reflect on after we've made mistakes or start to feel insecure about our weaknesses in order to boost our self-confidence and self-esteem. Awareness of strengths can help us reframe our perspective of a problem or of a negative judgement to help us see the positive. We can also utilize our strengths as tools to creatively resolve challenges. When we start viewing ourselves with a strengths based perspective we can start viewing our children in that way raising them with a healthy self-esteem and helping them maximize their own personal strengths.

Here's an example. I once worked with a young girl who had a lower than average IQ and had autism spectrum traits. She had no friends at school and had difficulites initiating conversations with others. When working with her in therapy I struggled to help her practice social skills we were reviewing because she often changed the subject or went on off-topic tangents in conversation that all led back to the television show, My Little Pony. She could literally recite an entire episode to me and enjoyed acting them out for me, even switching voices for the different characters. Initially it was a power struggle for me to limit her time "acting" for me in session because I considered it off task but I began to realize what a strength this was for her. I started to utilize this as a springboard for our sessions. I let her act at length in sessions and asked her how the characters felt and related and helped her reflect on the social skills that ponies demonstrated in the episode. Slowly I helped her switch from acting as a My Little Pony character to her own self and she began to master conversational skills and conflict management skills. I watched her develop more and more insight into the feelings and experiences of others. She made a lot of progress in the year and a half we worked together because she had an amazing imagination and acting ability that she was able to finally utilize to overcome some of her shyness and social skill deficits.

So how do you start being aware of your strengths to overcome your challenges as a mother? You need to become more aware of how truly awesome you are.

1) Start with what you enjoy and what gives you energy. 
    We usually are good at the things we enjoy doing. What are the things you like doing as a mom? Do you relish in the daily routines you engage in with your child? Do you love engaging them in new activities and exposing them to new concepts? Maybe you take joy in providing a cozy and organized home. Perhaps you really enjoy play with your child and love engaging in imaginative play or creating things with your child. There are no wrong answers here. What you see as a strength lies in your own perspective. Write down 2-3 of your favorite tasks or activities that you enjoy as a mom.

2) Think of the times you feel at your best that reflect your strengths.
         Reflect on when you feel at your best as a mom--what are you doing at that time? Watching them master a new skill? Nurturing them when they need you? Making their favorite meal? Consoling them after a meltdown? Write down 2-3 of the moments or times when you feel at your best as a mom and see how that reflects your own personal strengths.
      Try to remember that even tasks that seem small and mindless in our mind have a big impact on our kids. Let's take an example. I have a difficult time keeping up a lot of energy when I play with my toddler and staying engaged. But I am very animated when I read to him and do lots of funny voices. This may seem to me sometimes as not a big deal but not only am I instilling a love of reading in my child I am bringing that book to life to him, helping him increase his imagination, and his delight and giggles in my performances are something he looks forward to before bedtime. That is a big deal and I don't need to minimize it.

3) Look for past examples of success or overcoming challenges.
Another way of seeing strengths is looking at past successes. What have been some great "mom wins" for you? Surviving a 16 hour flight with a 22-month old was something I never thought I could do and I'm happy to say I did it without losing my temper or my son having a serious tantrum. How about ways you have overcome difficult challenges during motherhood? Maybe you experienced postpartum depression and sought out help-that is being resourceful. Maybe you found a way to laugh about it-that's utilizing a sense of humor. Maybe you researched different methods of handling the problem and tried different approaches-that's using knowledge as a strength. These past successes and challenges are building blocks of your identity as a mom and can continue to be referenced for future problems. Write down 2-3 past of your biggest motherhood successes and think about your impact on that success.

4) Think about the strengths of your resources and environment.
      Part of what we also assess as social workers is the person's environmental strengths. These include the support systems and quality of our relationships, environmental situation (living environment, financial situation) and resources that are available or the person utilizes. This can give a person new ideas when thinking of how to utilize their environmental strengths to address needs or problems. How is your support system? Who can you turn to for help? Who or what are you biggest assets that support you in being the best mom you can? Do you utilize community or internet resources for information or support? Write down 2-3 environmental strengths.

Did you find at any time that you were leaning into thinking about the potential negatives of your strengths? I did. I thought, "I know I keep him social but maybe I never give him enough security at home? Maybe I don't keep his schedule predictable enough?" That's when its time to STOP that thought in its track and discard. Go back to strengths based focus.

So now that you have a list of 8 strengths keep it around as reference. When you're having a difficult day look at them and challenge yourself to think creatively of ways to address these problems. Or when you've had a day where you felt like a "bad mom" go back to this list before bed and remember all of your redeeming qualities that help you realize that you aren't one. Your strengths are your own unique set of tools that can help you fix problems, enhance your confidence, and be the best mom you can be. Be proud Mamas.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Not A Manicure, A Mindset: 5 Truths for Moms about Self-Care

As a therapist I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the term "self-care." The term has become so synonymous with indulging oneself and particularly for women in very stereotypical feminine rituals such as a facial, bubble bath, or manicures. It has become a term that means "special" me time and become synonymous with indulgence, pampering, luxury.

However, in my opinion there should be nothing "special" about it in terms of it being out of the ordinary. Self-care is a necessity, not a luxury.  Brushing your teeth, eating, doing daily hygiene...these are all self-care rituals that we make the time for out of necessity. However we fail to stick to daily rituals like this that care for our emotional selves. What is emotional self-care? It is simply the act of engaging in some reflection or activity that positively impacts your mood, improves your thinking patterns, and enhances your ability to manage stressors. Think of a suit of armor that a person wears to protect themselves from attack. In a way emotional self-care practices are like armor that protects us from outside stressors, negativity, and distressing thoughts that invade our minds. We need to keep engaging in routinely in order to increase our armor's strength.

Why do so many moms seem to struggle with self-care? We can blame it on lack of time, juggling too many responsibilities, and having too many people rely on us. But its pretty simple what the biggest barrier to self-care is: our thinking. If we acknowledge its importance we simply find a way to make it a priority. So here are 5 truths  and thinking patterns you can adopt in order to commit to taking care of yourself. Pick one or two that mean something to you and use them as daily reminders to care for yourself in any way you choose.

1) Your perceptions on self-care have been impacted by your own personal experiences and may need to change. Take time to reflect on how you really perceive self-care. You may nod your head and quickly acknowledge that mothers need to take care of themselves but if you find you are never taking time for yourself then you probably have some thoughts or beliefs that are holding you back. What messages did you receive growing up or as you became a mom about self-care? Did your mom do things for herself? Do you believe that engaging in self-care impacts your abilities as a mother and in what ways (positive or negative)? Do you have others in your life that have healthy beliefs about self-care? Answering these questions may give you some insight into why routine self-care may be difficult and put you on a path to correcting your thinking.

2) You deserve time for yourself.  This isn't because your a mom and work hard to take care of others, this is simply because you are a human being. Moms are great at guilt and most of it is unwarranted. But we tend to use guilt to hide behind our discomfort with taking care of ourselves. As with most skills in life the more you do something the better you become at it. If you have a difficult time engaging in self-care try spending a lot more time than you ever would doing things for yourself. Be what you may deem as "selfish" for a period of time and see how it actually impacts your environment. You may find that your world doesn't come crashing down when you take time for yourself. As you become more comfortable with it you can start to alter your thinking about it and find the balance that is best for you.

3) Modeling self-care for your children helps them learn important concepts about relationships. Always being present for your children at their every desire makes it difficult for them to see you as a separate individual with needs and wants. Your relationship with your child is the first relationship they have had and one of the most central to their lives. Although the parent-child relationship will be different from others in their life you must remember that this is the model they will be building upon their perceptions of what constitutes a healthy relationship. By modeling to your children that you have needs and need time away you are teaching them the ability to see other people's needs and recognize them. When you tell your child that you are frustrated or tired and ask politely for some space you are teaching them empathy and also the importance of having time for ourselves and independence from others.

4) True self-care is intentional and mindful. We engage in self-care for a purpose. Just as when we brush our teeth we are trying to prevent cavities and achieve good oral health self-care our self-care methods have a purpose of providing an enhancement in mood, positive thinking, and decrease in stress and irritability. This means we must be careful in how we select our self-care practices to ensure that they achieve these purposes. This is where I tend to struggle most. Television and being on the internet is usually my daily go to as soon as I get time for myself but it often does not alleviate my irritability. That isn't to say that I don't think these methods can work for some people but I find that they don't achieve my self-care goals. A long walk alone with my thoughts, taking time by myself in nature, listening to an inspirational podcast, journaling, and reading are self-care practices I have found to have a more profound impact on achieving balance and maintaining positive thinking. So choose whatever method you desire but make sure it has an actual impact on your emotional health. Self-care must also be mindful in that you are fully aware of the present moment. Challenge yourself to let go of any thoughts or concerns about your children that arise while you are engaging in self-care. Simply acknowledge the thought and allow it to drift away. Be fully aware of the moment and do not try to multitask while you are engaged in self-care.

5) Self-care is a prevention tool. I think what often happens with our failure to consistently engage in self-care is that we engage in a self-care practice and it may have a positive effect for a few days making us believe that we do not need it daily. Soon after, however, we start to wear down our resolve and become frustrated and irritable. This signals that it is a time for self-care practice but can often come after we have been yelling at our kids, been snippy with our partners, and engaged in lots of negative thinking patterns. It is important to remember that self-care must be daily in order to prevent irritability and negativity. So when you are planning your day ensure that you are making time for a self-care practice whether or not you feel happy and capable because you are preventing the creeping in of negative thoughts that can exacerbate distressing emotions.

So I'm sorry this wasn't a list of trendy ways to take care of yourself and photos of a woman in a tub on the beach. I don't think self-care needs to be trendy, have a high price tag, or involve an exotic location. What's most important is the thinking that motivates your action to take care of yourself in any way you choose. So remember to take care mamas and keep your armor strong.

What gets in the way of you taking care of yourself? What self-care methods have you found that leave you feeling stronger emotionally?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Mama-You Got Something Done Today

Last night I had a splitting headache and wanted to head to bed early. As I sat down on my bed a load of clean folded clothes looked at me with disdain. "I barely got anything done today. I'll never keep up with the cleaning." These thoughts were automatic and took no effort on my behalf but their effect was strong and quickly sent me into self-loathing and disappointment.

I thought to myself, "I'm just going to put 5 pieces of clothing away." I started and got through about 75% of the pile. When I reached having to hang my partner's work shirts I stopped and decided I had accomplished something. I laid in bed with those defeating thoughts gone and a sense that I conquered something.

It can be very easy to feel defeated as a mom when it comes to getting things done.  Accomplishment is hard to see day to day when tantrums erupt that throw off your morning plans, potty training seems to be going nowhere, clean spaces are messy again within a mind-boggling short period from when you cleaned them. I got myself into the habit of going to bed at night telling myself "I got nothing done today."

But our expectations are our eyeglasses-the way we see the things we do everyday. A sense of accomplishment comes not from the content of what we achieve but rather from the lens in which we view it. A load of laundry can be your Mt. Everest if you choose to see it that way.

Our productivity feels as if it changes drastically after children. We always seem to be complaining about how children get in the way of us getting things done. It feels that way. And maybe its just me but I feel as if a lot of us moms only see our accomplishments for the day as something that can only be physically seen-paid bills, folded laundry, clean dishes. If you really could see all that we do in a day we may be suprised to see that we do so much more than we ever did before! Tickles and snuggles, changed diapers, cut up carrots, popsicle stick crafts, songs, imaginative play, the "I love you"s and "good job"s and "wow that dinosaur is really big!" ...why do these tasks not feed our sense of accomplishment as much as household chores? These are the really important tasks but they are never on our to do list so somehow we don't categorize them in our accomplishments at the end of the day.

So how do we go to bed feeling accomplished? First by remembering all those tasks above mentioned, the important ones that help our child go to bed feeling loved. Second by remembering that our sense of accomplishment comes from our perspective and sometimes expecting less can actually help us feel capable of producing more.

Most days I start my morning by writing down 5-7 tasks. But within this list I include 2 tasks from two very important categories for me: identity and self-care. An identity task is anything I can do related to my identity outside of motherhood. It could be catching up with an old friend through text, working on a hobby, or doing something related to my career since I'm not currently working. It may be as simple as reading an article or researching continuing education classes but it keeps me in the know. I find following a blog or liking pages on Facebook related to my career are simple ways that I can still feel connected to my work. Self-care is the other important task on my to-do list. This is so important to put on my list because it is easy to not get to and it is so essential to my abilities as a mom. I try to engage in a mindful self-care task each day, something that actually refreshes my energy and lifts my mood. I'll have a post on mindful self-care activities next week.

Our expectations may change each day and that's okay. I personally like to take my own mental health temperature in the morning. On a scale of 1-10 how positive and capable do I feel today? On days where I would rate myself in a higher mood (7 or above) I may have a to-do list of about 7-10 items. On days were I'm okay (4-7) I may only have 5 items. On a really bad day (3 or below) where I "just can't even" that list may be only 1-2 items. I also try to make sure the number of items on my list increases or decreases depending on the projected time each task will take.

The object here for me is to not necessarily to do more. Its about feeling good at the end of the day about what I've done so I go into the next day feeling capable and confident. When you start to change your thinking and your perspective your mood and attitude shifts. A byproduct of a more positive mood? Productivity.

So try altering your expectations this week and remember to take your mood into account. And before you shut your eyes at night ask yourself what the really important tasks were and hold on tight to the memories of them because one day those are the ones we will really miss.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Your Feelings Matter Too

I've started about 6 blog posts this week and had difficulties finishing any of them. To be honest I've been having a down and lonely week and its been difficult for me to be inspired or feeling like writing something inspirational and encouraging. Everyday I am increasingly aware of my irritability and anxiety but for some reason I've been afraid to stop and really reflect on my feelings.

So I started thinking of the importance of the first step of any healing process when you struggle emotionally: naming your feelings. We often read many articles and blog posts about how moms are feeling and some of them are simply sharing their experiences and others are writing helpful tips on how to cope. However I'm not sure if there is a lot out there to actually help moms generate insight into what they feel or why. How did you come to the awareness of what exactly you are struggling with especially when it seems as if everyday life in general is a struggle? It seems like a simple process to say how you feel but it can be more complex and filled with more questions than answers.

Repressing feelings can seem like the best solution especially when you are a mom. We may fear that slowing down to fall apart or really confront what is bothering us will somehow lead to our world crashing down. We may think "I'm busy running a household, taking care of my child, trying to stay above water at work, etc. I don't have time to think about my feelings." Another reason we may repress feelings is our avoidance of what we would then have to do to address them. Once we confront a problem or a struggle we then can not run away from the fact that we may have to take action to resolve it. This can be confronting our partners, asking for help, or changing our own habits.

Our emotional struggles can come with many layers. Usually once we start asking ourselves some questions it takes some digging to get to the bottom. I often tell my clients that there are "cover-up" feelings that mask the feelings we have inside. Anger often covers up hurt and disappointment. Anxiety can cover up insecurities. Even positive emotions can be a mask to hide sadness.

I remember a young boy I had as a client. On the surface it didn't appear he needed counseling. He was successful in school, kind to his classmates, and enjoyed making everyone laugh. He was one of the funniest and wittiest kids I have had the pleasure of knowing. Underneath it all was a lot of pain from family problems and from that an intense fear of making anyone upset and avoidance of interpersonal conflicts. I discussed this with him often and he would change the subject and begin to make jokes or slowly walk backwards out of the office jokingly. At first I would laugh but then provide it as an example of him repressing his feelings. However as our relationship progressed I began to address this more firmly and he began to use humor even more or would begin to withdraw. Eventually we discussed with his mother whether he would continue counseling and transfer to a new therapist as I would be leaving the agency and we all agreed that he had reached a plateau in therapy and he simply wasn't ready to confront his anxiety surrounding conflict. I sometimes wonder if I will see him on stage someday doing stand up and although I will be happy for him I wonder if he will still be keeping the pain all inside.

Naming your feelings is usually the first step to seeing solutions. This morning I confronted myself about my feelings of irritability and anxiety. Underneath these feelings for me is loneliness while I am adjusting here. Why do I feel so lonely? Because I don't know many people here. Why am I not confronting the problem? I feel insecure. I had found a core group of mom friends back home that support me, that I feel secure around and don't second guess my own decisions. These are women that I know I can share my darkest feelings around motherhood with and there will not be judgement. I'm afraid I won't find that here. I'm afraid I will be judged. I thought about this and took a deep breath. I went to my meetup page and messaged a mom who lives nearby asking if she wants to meetup next week. I asked the entire group if anyone wants to get a few drinks next week. These are small steps but I felt a little lighter after having done so.

So when you are having an emotional struggle take some time for yourself at the end of the day to answer some questions whether in your mind or your journal:

-What are all the feelings I am experiencing that are distressing me? Name as many of the feelings as you can. Which feeling is causing you the most distress?

-If you are feeling creative you can draw you feeling or compare your feeling to visual imagery. (i.e. "My anxiety is like being on the edge of a cliff, constantly afraid that I will fall.")

-What are some of the recurring or distressing thoughts that keep making these emotions surface?
How am I reacting to these thoughts? Am I obsessing over them, trying to push them away, or finding ways to disprove them?

-Am I trying to avoid potential solutions? What am I afraid of if I try to resolve this?

-How can addressing this help be feel better? Help me be a better mother and/or partner?

The answers to all these questions may not help you come with the perfect solution but they will help you peel back the layers and get closer to healing. And if its hard to start the process remember that if you want to teach your child that their feelings matter you have to start with believing that yours matter too. Let it out Mamas.

Do you feel you hold your feelings inside? What holds you back from thinking about them? What ways do you try to express them in a healthy way?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Maternal Instincts...or not.

Recently a video came across my newsfeed that made me literally laugh out loud. It was from the The BreakWomb, a collection of funny shorts from some comedienne moms. You can check it out here:

The basic gist of the video is poking fun at impressionable nature we have as moms when reading blog posts, articles, and books on parenting and child development that analyse every single tiny decision when it comes to parenting. We become so obsessed with finding the "right" way we second guess every decision we make.

Now I am not here to downplay the importance of being an informed parent. It is important to do some research on child development and open yourself to different philosophies that are evidence based and align with your own value system when it comes to making decisions about the physical and emotional health of your child. However when information overload and fear and insecurity of somehow damaging our children "for life" zaps our own "maternal instincts" its time to take a step back.

But I must begin by saying I've never really liked the term "maternal instincts." This term always makes me feel a little squirmy mostly because I've never felt I had them. I at least don't have the romanticized version of them that society perceives. The term suggests that once we've become mothers we just "know" and have automatic responses to what our children need. Please show me one mom who has always known AT ALL TIMES exactly why her baby was crying. My personal belief is that although there are some underlying biological connections we may have to our child (especially in the newborn stage) our maternal abilities are something we gain over time rather than something we are magically bestowed with the minute after child birth. These abilities are shaped by many things- our own childhood, culture, current trends and research, other mothers, our own sense of self and most importantly, our relationship to our child.

 I've always been a person that has approached making decisions on what I think I "should" do. I've tried to approach life by the book. I went to college, then grad school, found a career, married my college sweetheart, we waited until we had a solid financial foundation, bought a house, and then decided to have a child. Everything has been logical and practical. This approach has given me a lot- security, a strong work ethic, solid foundation, and self-pride in my ability to think things through. But on the flip side when things don't have much a by the book approach I tend to struggle to find my own way. So when it comes to the many murky choices I can make as a mother I still have the overwhelming feeling that I have no idea what I am doing.

So I compare myself to other moms, research, read judgmental blogs that come across my Facebook newsfeed and feel more insecure than ever. Then I remember that often times life isn't practical or black and white and doesn't come with a step by step manual. I try to think of some life principles that can help me cope with this ambiguity. I challenge myself to remember a few things:

Children are resilient. It can be quite a dangerous thought process if we believe children are so fragile and impressionable  that any small interaction can "damage" them for life.  Firstly, because it undercuts our ability to believe in their independence and treat them as human beings capable of making their own decisions and forming their own perceptions of situations. Secondly, it can create hopelessness in the parent that the "damage' is done  when there is so much opportunity in modeling to your child that people can change and improve and grow. If there is one truth I know from my career as a social worker is that children are amazingly resilient. Many children have gone through things you can't even imagine and yet still demonstrate a type of strength and sense of positivity I envy. So when you've realized that maybe the way you have been parenting hasn't produced the best results don't fret that there is irreversible damage. Your child is strong and better than the sum of all your actions and you have many opportunities to make it right.

Mistakes are opportunities. More than likely you have or will yell at your child someday or make some other natural parenting mistake. Maybe its because you are sleep deprived or because they've simply got on your last nerve. It most likely will come and that's okay. Don't be ashamed. Instead bounce back by taking responsibility, apologizing, making efforts to handle things differently the next time, and most importantly, talking this all through  with your child. The shame that these articles and books sometimes put down on parents for the way they handle things I think makes it more difficult for parents to be open to changing their approaches. Your mistakes become your child's learning opportunities as well as yours. Teach them its normal to make mistakes, that you don't have to fall apart in shame when you make them, and the importance of taking responsibility for them in moving on.

My relationship with my child will evolve. This is one I challenge myself to remember every day. Somedays when I can't figure out why my son is acting a particular way I remember that we will only become closer in understanding each other as time goes on. Remember being on first dates?  You aren't sure how to act or what to say because you don't know the other person and how they will respond. That is similar to our children. We've only just met our children and yet we've known them their whole life. Its a strange paradox that holds a beautiful truth within it: our understanding and connection will grow deeper with time and you don't need to understand everything about them just yet as they are doing the critical learning of even understanding themselves. Its a process and the only instinct we must follow is to listen and observe.

In a lost of cases I'll have no ability to know if I made the right decision and that's okay. Not one single approach in parenting is a guarantee that your child won't develop any challenges. And there is significance in modeling for your child a integral motto of life navigation: "I'm not sure this is going to work but I'm going to try it anyway." Parenting isn't a maze where there is only one way through. Its an deep forest with many paths and twists and turns. You and your child have to find your own unique path. Most of the time you won't know where it will lead you and that's okay. The most important thing is that love and respect are guiding both your way.

Trends change. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if the next generation of psychologists come out with studies on the dangers of Attachment Parenting and my son comes home from his Psych 101 class on holiday break to tell me that our many nights of co-sleeping could have severely damaged his sense of independence. We all love to tell the stories of what our parents did to us as children that would be considered absolutely horrific parenting now. Remember that your are living through a tiny snapshot of what the experts says constitutes "good" parents. Research trends and philosophies will change over time. Choose one that represents your personal values over what you feel is trendy because at least you are modelling to your children that you are making decisions on something you believe passionately about not something Dr. Whatshername said.

So with all that said know when turn off Facebook or put that parenting book down and take a minute to think about what you want for your child and what your child wants for themselves. Sort out the noise. Reflect on your feelings, your partner or co-parent's feelings, and the feelings of your child. Choose a path and see where it leads. What matters most to your child more than anything is that you're holding their hand along the way.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Control Freak

I almost lost my mind over a bath toy the other day. You see, I had just finally got my son to bed almost 2 hours past his bedtime and was cleaning up his bath toys. He has this Daniel Tiger bath toy where Daniel Tiger sits on top of this boat. The problem was that Daniel Tiger doesn't fit on top of the boat in his little crevice so he continues to fall off the boat when you put him on top of it. Why would they make a toy where Daniel Tiger can't stay on the frickin' boat?!? What's the point of having a Daniel Tiger boat if Daniel can't even drive the boat?!?! After the fifth time of placing the boat on the side of the tub and the little Daniel figurine falling off AGAIN I threw the toy across the room.

If you haven't already guessed, this post isn't about a bath toy or the makers of Daniel Tiger bath toys. Although to be honest if I had an extra minute in my day I might write them a letter.

I stopped for a minute and laughed at myself when the boat crashed into the corner of the bathroom. I was being utterly ridiculous. And my therapist self began to take over and I began to analyze. What is the real problem here? Often when we are losing our rational selves over inconsequential problems they are symbols that the larger problems underneath are unresolved and taking their toll.

For me the bath toy incident was about losing control. I needed to have some control and when this simple bath toy wasn't cooperating I couldn't handle it. But it represented the larger issues out of my control that I have been managing lately. I can't seem to get my son on a decent schedule after our move across the world. I don't have control in my sense of what the next year would bring. Will I make friends? Will I feel comfortable here? What will happen to my career while I take a year off? I wasn't slowing down to think and resolve my fears and insecurities. And it all came crashing down on poor little Daniel Tiger.

People have a difficult time with balancing control. There is the camp of people who must have control all the time and have many emotional difficulties when they lose it. Then there is the camp of people who have mantras like "It is what it is" and "Let go and let God" and go through life believing that things happen to them and exercising any control is futile. But even for these people I believe they still are exercising some control-just control in they way they perceive a situation or problem.

As with most things in life its about balance. Control is a very human need. Having control usually helps us feel safe and secure because there is so much in this world that is out of our control. The world keeps turning without our say. The minutes tick by and there is nothing we can do to stop them. Bad things happen. People get sick, people die, disasters occur without anyway of preventing them. It makes sense that some people stay up late into the night organizing books alphabetically or scrubbing the grout on their tile floors until its spotless. We all have ways of coping with uncertainty of the future and having little to no control over it. Its up to us to figure out if that is a healthy way of coping or not. Here are a couple of tips for keeping your inner control freak in check.

1) Remember what is in your control-the list is short. It's pretty simple actually. What can you control? Your thoughts, your words, your actions. You'll notice I didn't include feelings. Emotions are natural responses and you can not control how you feel but you can control how you deal with them. Another big one that we often attempt to control that doesn't belong? Other people. And that includes our children. We can give them positive modeling, emotional support, and life skills to succeed but ultimately their choices and behaviors are their own and not something we can control. This is helpful to remember when a sibling continues to act irresponsibly and you want to lecture them for the 63rd time or when your toddler is in the throes of a temper tantrum and you feel it must reflect on your parenting and therefore you must do something to fix it. Liberate yourself by putting responsibility back on other people and being there for support not to step in and fix things.

2). Scaling. I'm a big fan of the technique of scaling in my work. Using a scale of 1-10 for a variety of different things in life can give you a little bit more of an objective perspective on your feelings and problems. So when you feel a little out of control ask yourself, "On a scale of 1-10 how important is it to me that I have control in this situation?" You might find you are trying to control a situation or problem that isn't that important to you and you can take a step back.  You can also ask yourself "On a scale of 1-10 how likely is it that I can actually exercise control in this situation?" Your answer may give you some rational thinking and perspective to pull back or figure out a way that you can exercise some control in a practical and rational way.

3.) Take stock of your coping skills. When things are out of our control we tend to compensate with finding ways to control elsewhere. Sometimes this can be a healthy control like cleaning our house  or organizing something. Other times we can get obsessive to the point that our daily lives are impacted negatively or we attempt to control something that we cannot. Make sure you have a go-to list of some healthy coping skills you can use when you are having trouble letting go. My own personal favorites are making sure my dishes are done and having something to pour my nervous energy into like a blog or a personal project.

4.) Take a deep breath and focus on the moment. When you realize that you only have control of yourself in this particular moment it can be liberating to realize that there may be nothing you can do but notice what is going on around you at the time. You have no control of future moments, just this one. Try to notice minute details of the moment that will help draw your mind to what is going on in the present. What do you see, hear, touch, taste, and smell right now? What details can you notice about your current environment? Take notice of your breaths in and out. All you have control over right now is this particular moment--what can you do with it to help yourself feel calm and empowered?

Becoming a parent is a huge loss of control. We lose control over our schedules, some of our privileges, and over having a good understanding of what we are doing in life because let's face it-parenting includes a huge amount of uncertainty. Why is he crying? Why is he off schedule?Why isn't she walking yet? We are responsible for a human being but we can not fully control them. So when parenting is uncertain and you feel you've lost all control keep perspective and be brave for your child. Help them see that in a world of uncertainty you can take a deep breath and summon up courage to continue to try and achieve goals and enjoy your life. Uncertainty is the certainty. And remember, sometimes there are amazing things waiting in the unknown.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Because Sometimes We're Toddlers Too

I recently re-located to Melbourne, Australia from Cleveland, Ohio. It has been a big move and adjustment although we are only here for a year. It has been a challenge to cope with my son’s toddler tantrums and barrage of different emotions while handling my own stress associated with this major life change. I feel my patience wearing thinner at times and my frustration become more apparent to my son through my tone and facial expressions. At times I even check out and disappear into Facebook and feel guilty that I can’t be in the moment with him.

Recently we were out as a family walking and exploring the city. It was hot and the streets were very crowded. I was still coping with jet lag and a little homesick and overstimulated. We entered a Target and I was so excited because Target back home is such a haven for me. It was completely different than what I am used to and there were so many people it was hard to manoeuvre around with the stroller (or pram as they call it here). All of a sudden I felt this wave of emotion overcome me and wanted desperately to sit on the floor and cry. I imagined this in my head and thought of what I would say if anyone approached me. “I’m from the States. I just moved here. Everything is different and I don’t know anyone here” I would choke out amongst my sobs. I wanted someone to hear me, understand, and tell me it was going to be okay. In reality I just continued to push the pram amongst the crowded section of baby goods. “They don’t sell Pampers, how could they not sell Pampers?!” I screamed aloud in my head bothered by this at a very irrational level. My husband must of saw something in my face and asked me what was wrong. I just stated. “I’m just tired” and moved along. We left Target and eventually made our way to the river boardwalk near our apartment. The crowds thinned and I watched the river and imagined kayaking down the river into the ocean and how beautiful it would be. The wave of emotion passed over me and I felt calm again. This is often something I find helpful to remind myself of when I am overwhelmed by emotions: a wave. Emotions don’t last forever and are fleeting. They can come crashing down upon you but they eventually settle before another one comes and you can catch a breath.

Reflecting on this incident inspired a renewed empathy with my son. I understand what it feels like to have a wave of emotion overtake you and not really know why it’s there or what to do. I felt such a primal instinct to fall apart in that moment but as an adult I am armed with so much more than my son has at his disposal: logic, perspective, coping skills, language and communication, and insight. And it is so easy to forget this empathy when I am trying to get the dishes done and my son is crying after I take away some small household item that could be a choking hazard or when he has said “Mommy” for the 43rd time to show me again that he removed all of the wipes from the wipes container and spread them across the floor.

We have a right to our frustrations as mothers. But we don’t have a right to use these frustrations as a mean to invalidate our child’s feelings. We can challenge ourselves as moms to relate and empathize with our children in the most trying times instead of sending the message that their feelings are frustrating to us. Imagine you are having a drink with your friend and after venting about your frustrations with your partner, your job, or your kids she rolls her eyes, takes a frustrated sigh, or says “Can you just calm down?!” I doubt you’d be calling her for drinks after that. We all have times where feelings overcomes us, when we can’t articulate what we’re feeling, or we can’t see any solutions. And for our children this may happen even more often because of many factors, a change in environment, a new insecurity they aren’t sure how to cope with, physical changes, or some stressor they haven’t been able to articulate or feel comfortable about talking with us about.

So next time your child is pitching a fit take a deep breath and hold them tight. Remember a wave is crashing down on them and although it won’t last forever, they need you. You are their lifejacket.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Motherhood is Not an Number

We are a people who like cold data and hard facts. We feel safe in the quantification of our success and failures. Insecurities about our performance can become less subjective and ambiguous because you can't argue with numbers. How much in sales? What percentage growth? How many hits/likes/stars, etc?

On an individual level many companies find a way to quantify employee performance even when tasks can't necessarily be quantified. As a social worker it was difficult to measure my success with clients but I was evaluated in several areas on a 5 point scale yearly my a direct supervisor. I loved performance evaluation time. My type A personality traits relished in the fact that I could receive quantified validation of my work. I always got 4s and 5s ratings and althought my inner 4th grade teacher's pet got a sense of pride from them it was more a relief that someone saw me trying my best. The other 364 days a year are spent wondering if I made the right decisions, said the right things, or did anything that affected change in a child or family. In my line of work you couldn't correlate a child's positive behaviors with what I said or did because it was too subjective and there were too many other factors involved. But my 4s and 5s said that at least someone saw what I did and was thinking I was on the right track.

Then my son comes along. I have no direct supervisor or evaluation on a 5 point scale. And even if I measured customer satisfaction-how do I measure it? Smiles? Giggles? Ounces of breastmilk or formula? Developmental milestones? Not only am I at a loss for how to measure my performance I have a new set of insecurities and am out of my comfort zone. So I did the only logical thing in my mind: compare to all other mothers. Only what that turned out to be was to find everything other mothers were and were not doing and obsess over whether or not was I was or was not doing them. It only led to more confusion and more insecurity. And even knowing this I still do it sometimes.

So how do we keep ourselves from putting unfair expectations on ourselves in order to have the validation we crave that we are mothering well? On my own journey I had several reflections on this:

1) Take stock of your strengths. What are your strengths as a mom? Are you the active mom that always gets your child out and about and exposed to new experiences? Maybe you're the mom that keeps a orderly and structured home which gives your little one a sense of security. Perhaps your the ultra-nurturer showering your child with affection and handling tantrums with patience and empathy. As a social worker I was taught the perspective of looking at the individual in terms of their strengths and aiding them in using strengths to solve problems rather than starting with the problem itself. Take time to relish your strengths and know that you are giving your child a unique experience that will foster a part of their physical, emotional, or social wellbeing. When the day has been tough and you start to let that inner critic tear you down go back to you strengths and use them to bring you back to a feeling of accomplishment. Your strengths are the unique tools that are innate within you and make you a special mom. Sit down and write a list of at leaste 5 of your strengths so you can see them all before you and stay tuned for a follow up post on how exactly to use your strengths to address the issues with which you may be struggling. Maybe you have strengths you haven't even thought about using as a mom. 

2) Set a specific and measurable goal. I will probably continue to bring up this skill a lot. The reason I am so passionate about measurable goals is because I am the queen of having the perspective of the glass being half empty at the end of the day. I never accomplished enough and there is always more to do than ever possible in my head.  Maybe, like me, you would love to challenge yourself to make healthier meals for your child. Set a goal for 2 new healthy recipes to try out each week. Maybe you're the impatient mom who yells more than you want to. Set a goal to use a particular skill daily and track your yelling to see your patterns (like making a tick mark in a notebook every time you yell). When you set measurable goals you not only begin with the end in mind but also set yourself up for success and a feeling of accomplishment. This will in turn effect your attitude, your self-esteem, and your drive to keep improving yourself. You will visually see progress instead of having an unclear view of how much or little you have improved.

3) Let go of what tears you down as a mom and hold on to the things that build you back up. Let go of unfair expectations whether by you, society, or significant others. Let go of the inner voice always pointing out what you didn't do. Let go of taking responsibility for things beyond your control (i.e. You are not responsible for your child's actions only for the way you respond to them).  Hold on to smiles, giggles, "I love yous", mumblings of "thanks" from your irritable teen. These are the 4s and the 5s. Remember them, journal them, and discard the negatives.

4) Ask for feedback. It can feel a little odd to ask "How am I doing?" to your partner or your children but it can open up a great conversation. Let down your defenses and be willing to listen. Most likely you will be surprised by what your family has to say and even the constructive feedback can give you a chance to strive for something you know your child feels they need. Host a family meeting for everyone to have the chance to offer feedback and state what they appreciate about one another and what they would like more of from each other. Simple sentence completions can be utilized such for younger children such as, "I like when mom _______", "I would like it if mom would _______ more or less."

To simply conclude remember that you are doing a job that is it beyond numbers. And you're doing better than you think you are. My apologies though, a raise is just not in the budget this year.

Welcome to Full Motherhood

"This is hard."

And it's true. It is really hard.

Once you're in the mom club life gets full of contradictions and confusion. Day to day pace picks up and trudges along at the same time. You can feel completely bored and overwhelmed by things to do at the same time. All you want is to be alone and when you are you can't help but miss that face, that smile, that giggle. It's easy to feel lost and find your own way in a sea of parenting decisions, online forums and pushy family members.

I'm not an mom expert. But I do have experience as a behavioral health therapist and my reflections on mental health have been a saving grace for me in my own motherhood journey. I inspire to have a full motherhood-one that invigorates me, challenges me, exhausts me, and ultimately fulfills me.

So welcome to Full Motherhood. I intend for this blog to be of encouragement for all you moms out there, drawing on mental and emotional wellness concepts to help you find your own fulfillment in motherhood. From coping with anxiety, frustration or anger and finding peace within the moment, rejecting judgment and societal expectations, and finding your own mom confidence, I hope my weekly posts leave you feeling a little bit lighter of the negative and fuller of self-awareness and joy in privilege of being a mother.