Macaroni necklaces, handprint art, brunch and the day with family are classic associations with Mother’s Day. But these associations don’t belong to everyone.
For some women, Mother’s Day is a poignant reminder of loss…
Here are some self-care tips if Mother’s Day is a challenging day for you:
Notice how your body feels as well as your mood in the days surrounding Mother’s Day. Some women may notice headaches, stomachaches, or other messages of distress from your body. Irritability, detachment, or feeling lethargic might be other indicators that you are struggling.
Give yourself permission to spend the day how and where you want
If you anticipate Mother’s Day itself will be a difficult day for you, be purposeful about how, where, and with whom you want to spend the day. Though be careful to not isolate, as that potentially can exacerbate grief or sadness.
Communicate to loved ones
Give them a window into how you are feeling and how they can support you. Depending on your specific situation, people who care about you might not know what this day means for you.
Avoid social media
It will be overflowing with images of Mother’s Day celebrations (but please also remember, those are just snapshots of a single moment in time! Many of those photographs do not tell the whole story as to what is happening inside those families). Instead, consider what be enriching for you: music, art, reading, or other!
If I can help you with additional strategies or ongoing support, contact me here: 732-977-0375
Mental health is not defined simply as the absence of mental illness. Can you verbalize what mental health means to you? How do you feel? What are you capable and what are you doing? The main key here in defining your mental health is what IS happening. Try this:
How will your monitor your mental health?
A thermometer takes your temperature to tell you you’re ill. A blood pressure cuff gives you an indication of your heart health. There are many devices available to inform us about our physical health.
What about your mental health? How do you know if your health is suffering? This might have some individual variation, so I encourage you to think about what you can be mindful of for your health. What are your indicators that you are in a place of health?
How do you support your mental health?
When your blood pressure is too high, you’re likely to make diet or lifestyle changes. A fever might warrant a day off from work. When our physical health is out of balance, we do something to care for it. Hopefully, you’re doing things on a daily basis to support your physical health, including eating nutritiously, engaging in regular physical activity, and getting the sleep your brain and body need.
Do you have daily activities to support your mental health?
These will also be personal and specific to you, but here are some ideas to get you started in considering what has value for you:
I help my clients create their personal definition and image (yes, image! This means pictures, art, and visualizing) of what their mental health looks like. Here are some snippets of client’s creations:
Mental health means having the confidence that when I feel anxious, I have the ability to handle it. Anxiety is not a red light, stopping me from what I need to do. I can handle feeling anxious; I understand it is my body’s way of making sure I am safe. I will notice the anxiety, respond to it how I need to, so that I have a green light to continue with what I choose to do.
My mental health is recognizing that I have a choice. No one “makes” me feel anyway or do anything. I have choice in how I respond to the people in my life and can hold on to what is valuable from my time with them and let go of the rest.
I have let go of past hurts and wrongs. I am lighter since learning how to carry the story of my past with me in a way that is productive, accurate, and empowering. I am focused on the future and feel confident in creating the relationships and experiences I deserve and desire.
If you need help, I would welcome the opportunity to support you in defining your mental health and then experiencing it.
Divorce is not easy. While it is a decision that is made in hopes of bringing a better future, divorce in a family where there are children also brings many worries and concerns.
Children from divorced families find themselves at a higher risk for a multitude of childhood and adolescent problems, including behavior problems, anxiety, depression, and academic problems. However, it is important to know that it is not the divorce that has the impact on child development- it’s the parenting after divorce that affects children.
A strong parent-child relationship can help ameliorate the negative affects of divorce. When parents have the tools for communicating effectively with their children, they are better able to manage their children’s behavior problems. And when children feel comfortable communicating with their parents regarding the divorce, they are able to cope more effectively.
Some valuable things to consider:
While your spouse may no longer be your partner, he/she will always be your child’s parent. Referring to him/her as your child’s parent (as opposed to calling him/her your “ex”) respects that relationship.
What happened in the marital relationship is separate from what happens in the parenting relationship.
Don’t impose your feelings about your former spouse on your child. Your son or daughter may feel very differently about his/her parent than how you feel about that person.
The kind of spouse your husband/wife was is not the same as the kind of parent they are.
Divorce is a time of many changes for children. Recognize the stress each change creates and the support needed.
Need motivation to resolve conflicts with your former spouse? Remember: lower levels of inter-parental conflict predict better psychological well-being and academic achievement for children.
If you’re a mom, you are likely carrying mom guilt. What does your mom guilt sound like?
Are you the mom whose work takes her away from her children and thinks, “I should be spending more time with my kids”? Or maybe you are the mom who has chosen to pause her career to be home with your children and thinks, “I should be working to contribute to my family’s finances.”
Or maybe your guilt is that your children’s birthday parties don’t compare to those you see on social media. Or that your house or your body does not look like they belong in a magazine. (Unless those magazines are “Decorating with Colorful Plastic” and “Perfectly Round”).
Maybe your version of guilt kicks in when you hear moms talking about the home cooked, organic, non-GMO meals they prepare for their children while your child will only eat buttered noodles?
Whatever your version of mom guilt is, here are some strategies to help you shed it.
Evaluate your measuring tape
Guilt can have a place if we have truly done something wrong, if it motivates us to do better, or to help us learn from mistakes. But let’s be clear – most of the mom guilt we carry is not because we’ve hurt someone or committed a wrong against our children. It’s generally because we have some arbitrary, unreachable, or rigid set of expectations for ourselves as a parent.
What are your expectations of yourself as a mother? And whose ruler are you using to judge your parenting? If you think “I let my kids watch too much TV.” How much is too much? How much is okay? Sometimes we have arbitrary or unclear expectations. When this is the case, it’s impossible to fulfill them. Let’s be clear on what our goals are and why we have them. By doing so, we will be more likely to reach them when they are our own, as opposed to borrowed from social media, our cousin, or our mother’s neighbor’s daughter. You get the idea.
Can you differentiate between a specific situation and not make a character judgment of yourself? For example, the day you forget to pack your kids lunch – it doesn’t make you a bad mom. Maybe you were preoccupied, hurrying, or distracted tending to one of your child’s other needs. Maybe it means it’s time for your child to start packing his own lunch! Whatever it means, it does not mean you’re a bad mom, or even a forgetful mom. It just means you forgot that time. Let’s extend ourselves a little grace and forgiveness.
Be clear on your parenting priorities
What matters to you as a parent? What is truly important to you as a mother? Get clear and specific on what matters. We all only have so many resources: time, energy, and money. We need to be purposeful about how we allocate those resources. And not everything can or should have equal importance. And let’s make sure what we allocate our resources to is truly important to us, not because it’s a priority to a neighbor, family member, or someone in the media.
Once we have clarity on what is truly important, it serves as a reference point to let the rest go. If it doesn’t meet the short list, it’s not worth our resources. Because investing our resources one place means we are taking it away from something else.
Focus on what you are doing
It seems very easy to inventory our days with the things that did not get done. Or the things we feel we didn’t do well, or well enough. Try to flip that on it’s head. Focus on what you did do, what you did accomplish.
For the mom who feels guilty that she “only” nursed her baby for 3 months: feel proud that you made that commitment to your baby for that time.
For the mom who feels guilty that she said “no” when her toddler asked her to read the fifth bedtime book: recognize the priority you’ve made to make reading a part of bed time, that you did read four books, and that children need boundaries, and you both need sleep!
So back to that example of forgetting to pack your child’s lunch. Do you congratulate yourself every time you do it? Do you focus your thoughts throughout the day on what a great mom you are because you did pack his lunch? I doubt it. But maybe it is a good idea to stop periodically and inventory all the many things you do regularly and consistently.
Monitor your thinking
Catch yourself when you hear thoughts ridden with guilt. “Should” is a hot button word to pay attention to. Once you notice those thoughts, try to apply the previous approaches:
Ask your partner, spouse, or a trusted loved one to talk it through with you. Often we gain greatest change in our thinking when we talk it out loud and when someone else’s voice changes the conversation. A counselor can help with this, too, if you feel really stuck.
Another techniques for replacing those guilt driven thoughts is to replace “should” with another word, such as “want,” “need,” or whatever else feels true:
For example, instead of “I shouldn’t yell so much.” Is it more helpful and more accurate to say “I want to be more patient with my children. Or “I need to find a better way to communicate with my kids.” Do the need and want statements feel different than the “should” statement? I hope so. And hopefully you also see, the latter two give you a path to success, a plan for the future and an invitation to do differently.
Make a course correction if needed
Sometimes when we pay attention to our guilt related thoughts, it highlights the need to shift our resources. By changing the thought pattern from “shoulds” to wants and needs (like you learned above), it not only sounds different, but if feels different and we drop the guilt and gain motivation.
Let’s take a common mom guilt that sounds like, “I should spend more time with my kids playing.” Is it more helpful and accurate to say “I WANT to spend more time with my kids playing”? Hopefully that sounds like a choice and feels empowering, which is very different than guilt. Then the next question becomes, how are you going to shift your resources to make that possible? What can you let go of so that you have the time to spend where you truly value.
If you’re doing all these things, you clearly care about your children, and that is reason to feel proud.
Moms of newborns need as much sleep as they can possibly get. Just the recovery from delivery requires a significant amount of rest in order to heal and recuperate. But she’s immediately thrust into arguably the most demanding job there is, in caring for a newborn. The physical and emotional energy needed to care for a baby must be replenished, and sleep is the key ingredient in that.
Moms need extended periods of time where they can shut down, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Everyone understands this and agrees with it. However, many moms experience real obstacles (beyond caring for the baby) that interfere with getting the rest they need. Sleep when the baby sleeps? Here we look at the two most common factors that interfere with mom’s ability to do that:
Obstacle #1: But I need to…
Bottles need to be washed, laundry needs to be done, I have to pump...
Any mom’s “to-do” list can go on and on, filled with many important items. The requirements of keeping a family and a house running are numerous and exhausting in and of itself. These necessary chores frequently compete with a mom’s ability to rest, and too often, they win.
Strategy #1: Ask for and accept help.
Many new moms have a difficulty accepting the help that is offered to them. Women who have been self-sufficient and adept at handling all of their obligations and responsibilities, expect the same of themselves in motherhood. Some moms are worried about being a burden to others. Some moms feel the need to prove to themselves, or others, that they can do it on their own.
People want to help. Family, friends, and neighbors take joy in the arrival of a new baby. Or think about where you can cut corners…ala disposable plates?
Strategy #2: Break the busy habit
Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” Motherhood may be better approached with “why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?”
The shift from career to mommyhood can be a drastic shock to the system in many ways. One of those is losing work as a source of accomplishment, fulfillment and satisfaction that comes from performance and achievement. Consequently, new moms may find an indescribable void that they don’t realize they are even trying to fill. Moms may use the busyness of housework to attempt to scratch that itch.
The problem is: it never will satiate that need. There will always be dirty laundry. The kitchen floor that was just swept will immediately be littered with crumbs following the next meal. It’s a hamster wheel that has no finish line of completion.
Instead, look for ways to find that fulfillment elsewhere. If you need help in determining where those sources are, take the time to do so. Just know, it won't be found in the washing of baby bottles.
Additionally, distress tolerance goes a long way. Learn to live with crumbs. I think that might be the key variable to happiness in motherhood: the ability to lay on the floor with your child, hearing only her laugh and not notice the clutter and chaos surrounding you.
Obstacle #2: I can’t relax. Even if I try to, my mind is so busy.
Many mom’s say that when they lie down to try to relax, their mind starts racing, their thoughts keep them awake and feeling restless. They end up getting up to either escape or chase those thoughts.
Strategy #1: Pay attention to those thoughts
Being occupied in the activity of caring for a baby can occupy your thoughts, keeping your brain as busy as your body is. Lying down might be the first opportunity your mind has to give attention to these pressing matters.
Take a notebook or journal (yes, paper and pen) and write down the thoughts that come in those quiet moments. They are important and need attention; we just want to give them attention at the right time. Once identified, give it attention during your wakeful time. Determine when in the day and with whom these thoughts will get the attention they need and deserve. We are telling our thoughts where to go. We are putting boundaries on when we give them attention, but making sure that we do in fact give them attention.
Strategy #2: Think the thoughts you want to think
Be purposeful with your thinking; direct your attention to the thoughts that create the mood you desire. Emotions and memory are very closely connected. When we think about memories of calm experiences, we will generate a current calm experience.
This means we also need to pay attention to when we are having moments of calm and other valuable experiences. We need to give attention to every sensory detail to establish and cement the memory strongly in our brains. This makes it easier to access in the future when we need it. When we become more adept at directing our thoughts throughout the day, it’s easier to do so when we need to quiet our minds to lay down and take a nap.
Instead of letting our thoughts run wherever they choose – like a toddler given no direction – it will be a mess. Give your thoughts guidance and they will (be more likely to) behave as you desire.
Stop asking your daughter, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" Instead, try these helpful habits to promote her adult and career development
It’s commonplace to ask our daughters, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” This simple question can be fun as children begin to envision ideas of their adult selves. Young girls like to play teacher, or doctor, or other grown up roles they see in their own lives.
When we ask this question, we are generally creating space to think about future careers. However, when you pose a different version of the same question to parents, “what do you want your daughter to be when she grows up?” the nearly universal answer isn’t a job title, but rather an overall state: “happy.”
In thinking of how complex this question and reality actually are, how do we change the conversation in order to encourage young girls to achieve fulfilling adult roles?
My earliest memory of what I wanted to be when I grew up was of becoming a lion tamer. This was clearly inspired by a trip to the circus, by the awe and wonder of the greatest show on earth.
I also cherish childhood memories of visiting my mom, a psychologist, at work and playing “Dr.” I would ask to sit behind her desk and say, “tell me your problems.” I remember my mother playing along, answering with “I never know what to cook my family for dinner.” And I, the all knowing, replied, “just ask them what they want.”
Those childhood experiences may have forecasted my career journey to become a counselor, an advocate for all things mental health related. Though as a mom of 4 young children, I could arguably also include “lion tamer” on my resume.
Career is absolutely a valuable component of adult identity, self-worth, and happiness. But other pursuits and experiences also contribute to our satisfaction during the many decades of adulthood.
Help her understand career as an experience, not a destination
Gone are the days of retiring after 25 years in the same job. On average, people now have 7 different careers over their working years. And because of the continuous growth of technology, many of the jobs our children will occupy in future decades don’t even exist today.
When she is daydreaming and planning future visions of herself, introduce the idea of "BOTH" and "AND". Planning a career doesn’t have to be an "OR" decision. Rather than “I might be an engineer or an artist” help her understand she can be both. That might mean time spent on one career and then another. Or it might be integrating both into the same job. Or it might be one interest as a primary avocation and the other as a secondary job or even a recreational hobby. Ultimately, confidently envision herself in many occupations will provide a strong foundation to launch her into her career journey and everything she pursues.
Help her understand that multiple roles (not just career) build her identity
If when we ask the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” we are only referring to career, we are creating a very narrow image of her future self. Who she is and who she is becoming is not an easy label taken from one activity. A rich sense of self is fed by many sources, including relationships, leisure activities, and daily habits.
This is important not just for her future self-worth and value, but immediately applicable to her self-confidence and esteem today. When she has a sense of her worth attached to multiple activities, domains, and contributions, she’s more likely to weather a storm that comes and disrupts one of them. The high school student who doesn’t get the role she wanted in the school play, but is actively involved in community service through her religious organization, is likely to bounce back from the disappointment faster than if she didn’t have multiple areas for a positive sense of self. The child or adult who has a clear sense of her values and beliefs will stand strong during times she is challenged.
Let’s ask questions that help her clarify her values, her multiple roles, and the various experiences she wants to pursue. Create conversation that considers how these multiple roles will be integrated together and how life satisfaction will come from many pursuits, not just work. Just as her childhood and adolescent identity is found in many roles, so will be true in adulthood. Encourage her to pursue activities and interests that may be lifelong passions and the idea that even if the specific activities change, personal avocations always have an important place in her life.
Expose her to a wide range of occupations and fulfilling adult roles
Young girls begin building their future visions of themselves based on adults they admire and see as like themselves in some way. Our daughters will emulate these role models when they believe they can attain success in those roles. Encourage caring and trusted friends and family to share in developmentally appropriate ways about their career paths and experiences.
Everyday life provides the opportunity to notice and consider valuable work. Tap into children’s natural curiosity. Even watching television is a moment to ponder “who helped this show get to our house?” From the creative to the technology to the logistics, your daughter can think about all the people involved in making anything possible.
All of these ongoing conversations will help her understand that life satisfaction and sense of self is rooted in multiple adult experiences over many decades. Each role can bolster career success and contribute to her overall wellbeing. And at that heart of it, I think that’s what we hope for our daughters when they grow up.
As a child, I loved reading the “choose your own adventure” books. The reader gets to make choices that determine the main character’s action and the story’s outcome. I have always liked the idea that we have choice in any given situation. It is a concept that I utilize regularly in my counseling sessions.
Recognizing the choices that we have is incredibly empowering. When plagued by unwanted thoughts and distressing moods, people may have difficulty seeing the options they do have. Sometimes people feel stuck, or turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms and behaviors to mitigate their experience.
Here is a foundation of habits to help promote the mindset and mood state you desire, to choose your own emotions and shape your own adventure!
Be purposeful: choose your thoughts
The “choose your own adventure” stories always present a reader with a choice. It lets you know what may happen based on which path you choose on your journey.
Our thoughts are just the same – they determine the path we take. The problem becomes when we are passive in our thinking, when we allow our thoughts to run free without purposeful supervision; then they get into trouble, much like an unsupervised toddler!
Let’s choose our thoughts carefully so we determine where we end up. Calm thoughts create calm states. Think the thoughts you want to think, to generate the mood you seek. At this point, you may be thinking, “but that’s hard!” And if you are thinking that, I understand why. Anything we first approach is hardest in the beginning. But I would also offer that staying with unpleasant thoughts and emotions is even harder. And if you’re thinking, “it’s not that easy,” here is your first place to purposefully try a different thought.
Worrying can become a habit. Often when we resolve one worry, our mind just jumps to the next thing to worry about. Our brain has a negative bias and will gravitate towards our worries when not otherwise directed. We can compensate for this bias by purposefully choosing that what we want to reflect on and give attention to. Think about thoughts like a garden. The ones you nurture are the ones that will grow strongest and tallest.
Being purposefully with our thoughts can be as simple as, “what do I want to give my attention to?” The thoughts you give the most time, will have the greatest contribution to your mood and emotional state.
Acknowledge and give attention to the distressing thoughts and emotions
A knee jerk reaction to something that causes us distress is to make it go away. When a thought is bothering us, we may choose a form of distraction to try to not think about it. People who love us may give us exactly that advice, “just don’t think about it!” We all know how effective (not!) that is.
For starters, while it generally is impossible to forget about it for long, it also does nothing to address the problem. Nothing changes. We need to give attention – not ignore – the thoughts that cause us distress. We just have to be purposeful in this attention.
We are going to set some boundaries and parameters for our worries. One, we choose when it get’s attention (hint, the answer is NOT BEDTIME!). If worries plague you at bedtime – or another inopportune point of the day - keep a notepad at your bedside (side note, that means paper, not your phone! We don’t want you getting distracted by your phone at bedtime). Write down the thought that comes to you. Bedtime is often the first quiet we have of the day; the first time when we are not distracted from our thoughts by our busyness. In the light of day, decide what attention that thought needs. For example, who are you going to share it with? Does it need concrete action taken to alleviate it? Who can help you problem solve?
Be aware of how you are feeling
Try this simple habit. Ask yourself throughout the day:
How does my body feel physically?
How am I feeling emotionally?
Where are my thoughts today?
And based on those answers, what do I need?
Stress and anxiety are uncomfortable emotions most people try to avoid. However, we need to recognize them as important alarm bells to which we must respond. When we are feeling stressed physically or anxious mentally, it’s our way of calling attention to a need. The problem occurs when we ignore the alarms. It is like staying put in a burning building. When these alarm bells go off, recognize the choices you have and what you can do to take care of yourself.
Like anything new, these new habits might be hard in the beginning. But you want a change, right? So it’s more difficult to keep doing the same thing. Practice. Try again. You’re tapping into the neuroplasticity of your brain (it’s ability to rewire itself). The more you do it, the more established these habits will become.
“This is hard. We must be doing something wrong.” That’s what my husband and I thought soon after becoming parents.
The only other explanation was that no one had been candid enough with us as to what having a baby (or two) was really like. Fortunately, we at least realized this was a possibility.
So this is for any new parents who are finding it hard and wondering if it’s just them - please know you are not alone in this crazy adventure!
1. Nothing will ever be the same. Nothing. Ever. But you will find your new normal. For now, until everything changes again. But that’s not a bad thing. Anything that stays the same is stagnant (think, yucky, stagnant water). Living life is about growing and change. Life with kids is full of change and full of surprise.
2. Your heart will forever walk around outside your body. It's scary.
3. Sleep deprivation is a bitch. No wonder it's used as a torture technique.
4. Going to the bathroom alone will become a luxury you are rarely afforded. Unless that's happening to you at work - then that's weird and you should talk to HR about it.
5. Breastfeeding can be really hard in the beginning. It can also get easier.
6. Post partum depression and anxiety are real and they suck and help is available. Don't suffer.
7. You will learn all sorts of new things about yourself. Some you'll like, some you won't.
8. You will learn all sorts of new things about your partner. Some you'll like, some you won't.
9. More times than you know, you will leave the house with some baby body fluid on you without even realizing. My husband had been at work for hours before someone pointed out the spit up on his shoulder. When my kids were toddlers, I'd get to work, sit down, and note the mid-thigh stains on my pants, nose high from my snot-nosed kids. Awesome.
10. You will find yourself doing things you swore you would never do. The things you previously saw parents do and said, "I will never do that when I'm a parent." Yup, it happens. Hopefully no one will judge you, so don't judge yourself. It's survival.
11. Momnesia. You will forget things.
12. Don’t buy new furniture. This needs no explanation.
13. If you have a husband, you will likely be amazed by what he can sleep through. I found this incredibly frustrating and also enviable.
14. Baby #2 or #3 isn't necessarily any easier. But it generally is less scary as you know that both the baby and you can survive. The biggest change is from zero babies to one (or so I think as we skipped that and went from zero to two). After that, its just smaller degrees of increased chaos.
15. Really nice outfits are more likely to get stains on them. This applies to the baby's outfits and your clothing, too. The more you like it, the more likely the baby is to have a poop explosion.
16. If you want the baby to take a long nap, make afternoon plans to go somewhere. Having plans to go out is a surefire way to be stuck at home, just waiting for the baby to wake up. Days where you have no plans, the baby will take a short nap and you’ll look at him thinking “now what are we going to do?” (Baby #2, 3, 4….will be woken up from naps as it’s always time to go somewhere and you can’t wait for the baby to wake up!)
17. Things change all the time. For the good and the bad. As soon as the baby starts sleeping through the night she will start teething and wake up during the night. It has helped me tremendously when we are in bad patches to remember that things always change.
18. If your baby attaches to a favorite blanket, lovie, stuffed animal or anything essential for his sleep: go to the store and buy multiples of them before they no longer sell them. Stock up! Because that favorite will get lost, left behind, or fall behind the couch and you'll have no idea where it is. Then you're screwed. Bonus points for rotating versions of the same favorite object. That way they all become equally "loved" (beat up) and a new one isn't noticed and rejected.
19. Take care of yourself. Being a mom is a new identity and takes a lot of energy. Try to find time to connect with parts of your identity you've always valued and that help restore your energy. Taking care of yourself is one of the ways you take care of your baby. And remember, it's all temporary, so things that get put on the back burner won't always be.
20. Momnesia. You will forget things. Did I say that already?
I'm a mom of four children, a wife, and a Licensed Professional Counselor. My parenting life helps me be a better counselor, and my professional experience helps me be a better mom. Both allow me to be creative, to learn and grow, to make mistakes, and to rarely sleep. I love the beach and gardening, reading if I can stay awake, running (which these days is after my kids and not much else), and using humor through it all!
DISCLAIMER: This site is designed for educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice, legal advice, or professional services. If you feel that you have a medical problem, you should seek the advice of your physician or health care practitioner.