Category Archives: Parenting

Connecting with loved ones at bedtime: It is good for your health

A healthy bedtime routine with the people we love can be a smart way to close off the day. To let go of stress, and rest peacefully.

Whether it is cuddles with a child, a bedtime kiss, laughing and talking with a spouse, feeling physically or emotionally connected to those we love can decrease cortisone levels and stress-related health risks. It is a routine that everyone in the home can look forward to, and it is a nice way to put some finality into the day…to know you are not alone in this busy life, and tomorrow is a new day. 

A psychological scientist at Wayne State University explored the link between cortisol levels—also known as the stress hormone—and physical health. Cortisol is present in nearly every cell of the body, impacting learning, memory, and emotion. It also helps to regulate the immune system. The scientist Richard Slatcher found the more connected to their relationships people felt, the healthier cortisol levels they had. 

A Healthy Bedtime Routine

Some ideas for a healthy bedtime routine may include:

1.) Exchanging “I love you’s.” This is a good habit to get into because as much as we feel we don’t need to always say it, it helps to hear it and know your children or spouse mean it. It is healthy for everyone. 

2.) Go to bed at the same time as your spouse. This provides time to reconnect, even if only for a few minutes. It is time where it is just the two of you. Even if it is a few exchanges about your day or some more intimate cuddle time, maybe a laugh or two, it is a good healthy habit and keeps you both on the same page. 

3.)Unplug. Bed is not the place for your phone or laptop. Leave that stuff at the door. This is time for your marriage, for your children. 

4.) Prioritize getting a good nights rest. Try to go to bed at an early enough time to get ample sleep. Better sleep means better mental and physical health, and better handling of stressful situations. 

5.) Don’t try to settle arguments. The old saying “don’t go to bed angry” is not always true. Not everything has to be fixed before getting some shut-eye. In some cases, it can be better to get some good rest and then reassess in the morning when you are refreshed and focused. 

6.) Take a few minutes to practice gratitude. Think about one good thing that happened in your day and share it with your spouse or your kids. It will leave the day on a happy note and improve overall mental health. 

‘Just one child’

The other day I overheard someone asking a mom “Do you have just one child?” and it stopped me in my tracks — “JUST?” as if one child is not enough. As if your legitimacy as a mother is measured in how many children you have. That is just absurd.  

This post is for you moms— all of you. Whether you have one child or ten, whether you carried your children in your womb or you adopted them, whether you are a step-mom, whatever your status is you are still a mom. You are still in the business of raising child, you still understand the worry, the struggle, the loneliness, the unconditional love, the passion, the devotion, the satisfaction, and pure joy you get from seeing your children happy. 

No measure of motherhood

There is no measure that determines “how mom you are.” Having a child is a huge life change, it turns life as you have previously known it upside down. Whether you have chosen to stop at one or are unable for other reasons, you do you. You need to do what is best for your family, for yourself, for your sanity, and forget what the social pressure around you is saying. You need to take care of you, and you don’t need to explain your reasoning to anyone. 

As mother’s day approaches and puts into perspective just how hard our moms work, and how much we should honor and respect them, hold your head high — feel proud no matter what being a mom looks like to you. You deserve a pat on the back. You are the cook, teacher, maid, nurse, therapist, coach, and leader your kids need. They would not be who they are today without you. Relish in that accomplishment for a while. Take a deep breath, treat yourself to a massage, and count your blessings. Being a mom is hard work and it is also so incredibly beautiful. 

Tantrum Tips: Maintaining healthy boundaries and trust for happier kids and parents

The other day I was at the supermarket and I saw a mom who was having a hard time cajoling her five-year-old son to leave. She said, “we can get a toy next time.” Her son, unamused, continued to cry and wouldn’t leave. What I saw this mom do is something I also did early on in my parenting career. I said “next time” and then the next time I also said “next time.” By doing that I had set the stage for my kids to not trust what I was saying. They stopped believing me. 

As parents, we want to end the tantrums as swiftly and smoothly as possible, but we have to be careful of what we are doing and saying and what these things are teaching our children. Rather than trying to talk a child down by using special treats or privileges as a means of persuasion, and thus rewarding them for bad behavior, we need to take a different approach. After all, tantrums are a normal part of being a child. It is their way of expressing their emotions, and there are things we can do to help them process.

Maintaining boundaries and trust

Here are some things that can help to maintain healthy boundaries and trust between you and your child during tantrum moments:

1.)Set expectations: Before you go into the store calmly explain to your child that you will be picking up a few things for dinner and that will be all. That way they are not going into the store expecting to leave with a treat.

2.)Speak calmly: Look at your child and talk to them as calmly as you can (I know this can be very hard when you are frustrated). Explain to them that you understand they are upset, but this is not the way to get what they want. Offer to take a moment to sit down with them and calm down.

3.)Avoid rewards: Rewarding your child for leaving the store, or doing tasks they should be doing anyway is only encouraging more tantrums. It seems like an easy fix but they realize if they act this way they might eventually get what they want. Let them know this is not acceptable. Set a healthy boundary.

4.)Keep your word: Don’t promise things you can’t produce. You need to keep trust with your child in order to maintain a healthy relationship. If you have no intention of getting them a toy next time, then don’t promise it. If you can’t stick to your wills about taking away screen time for a day, then don’t make it a punishment. They will learn to not trust what you say.

5.)Quality time: Kids need quality together time. They don’t need rooms of toys or plate fulls of candy. They need game night, or books before bed. They need time with you to get 100 percent of the attention. Quality over quantity. It only has to be a few minutes a day, but make it meaningful. Chances are if your child has a mutual respect for you, they won’t feel the need for all the tantrums. 

Teaching our kids healthy compassion

The other day I came across a blog post on the popular parenting website Scary Mommy. The post titled “Why I no longer tell my child to be inclusive and kind” is written by a mom who taught her child to always be inclusive especially to the child that was disruptive, had problems at home and was the child no one else wanted to include. The mother instructed the child to be “compassionate” because you don’t know what other people might be going through. In the end, the mother got a call from the school counselor who informed her that same child that her daughter was trying to have compassion for was now stalking her. The mother, as any mother would be, was upset by this news and decided to no longer tell her child to be all-inclusive. 

As a counselor, this post stopped me in my tracks. It raised some good questions and presented a topic I feel needs to be discussed. Rather than instructing our children to stay away or avoid compassion and empathy for others because of fear that the person might be a danger, or might not be a good person to associate with, we need to practice healthy compassion. 

Healthy Compassion

There is a difference between practicing discernment and boundaries with compassion. Being kind and having compassion for another does not mean letting that person do whatever they want. It does not mean condoning the bad or uncomfortable behavior. There is what we call blind compassion, which establishes no boundaries, and healthy compassion with boundaries. It is important that we teach our children to have an open mind about others and practice compassion because as the mom wrote: “we don’t know what other people are going through.” However, we need to make sure our children learn how to establish healthy boundaries with others. 

Being kind to others does not give them a free pass to walk all over us, or to treat us in ways that make us feel wrong or bad in some way. We can be kind but also let that person know that they can’t treat us that way. Teach your children it is ok to say “no,” and walk away or to tell an adult if an uncomfortable situation is present. Teach your children rules go both ways, it is not ok for them to hit or push or for them to be hit or pushed. These are important life lessons for all.

Finding YOU after pregnancy

You went through the whole nine (really 10) months of pregnancy and were excited, scared, anxious, elated about the new little human entering your life. Now the baby is here and you are consumed with sleepless nights, overwhelming days, and a profound loss of who you once were.

Having a child is a major life change—we all know this—but what can be shocking is that feeling that you don’t recognize yourself. You don’t know who you are anymore. It is important that you reconnect with your old self, embrace your new normal, and not lose sight of what is meaningful to you. Yes, of course, that new bundle of joy is your world and he/she is at the top of the list all day every day but you also need to care for yourself. By failing to take time for you—even if it is a short coffee outing with a friend or a solo trip to the gym—you are hurting yourself. If you don’t take care of you, it is a lot harder to take care of the others in your life.

It is common for moms to feel like that is all they are— “I am a mom, but what
else?” It is the new mom identity crisis and it can be rough. So what can you do to reconnect with yourself after pregnancy?

Reconnecting with YOU

1.) Connect with friends in new ways—Instead of late nights at bars or concerts,
meet your friends for book clubs, coffee dates, or playdates at the park. You need
to continue to have adult conversations and adult time, and support from others
who understand your challenges.

2.) Embrace a hobby—Maybe it is going for a run, hiking, knitting, painting, or writing…whatever it is that makes you feel alive and gives you a sense of accomplishment make time for it. It can be daunting to think about adding another thing to your list, but this stuff is important for you, your happiness, and the happiness of your family.

3.) Don’t compare— You are your own person. It does you no good to compare yourself to others. The mom guilt is there, we all have it but it is not necessary. You need to care for yourself, and you should not feel guilty that you are doing something for you rather than staring at your sleeping child for hours on end. It just hurts your soul.

4.) Ask for help — Don’t be afraid to ask a grandparent or a friend, or hire a part-time babysitter so you aren’t doing it all, all the time. If you are feeling like you could really use an hour away then take it. Losing your cool and your sanity isn’t going to be helpful for you or baby.

5.) Take care of you—Find time for that shower, or to get that haircut. Take naps when you are tired. Forget about the laundry, it will get done eventually. Take a deep breath. You will get through.

If you are struggling with feelings of being overwhelmed, depressed, sad, alone, or you just feel like you could use someone to talk to seek out a qualified counselor. And, know you will find yourself again.

Anxiety as a mom: Turns out, its part of evolution

I have always struggled with a small degree of anxiety, but I was not prepared for what happened after I had kids. Now my anxiety is full blown. I worry a lot, nit-pick at my spouse for not doing the dishes fast enough or right (aka the way I would have done them). I have feelings of my heart racing and my head overflowing with worry all too often, but why? Why is my anxiety so much worse as a mom than it was before?

It turns out a lot of it has to do with the brain, and the love hormone: oxytocin. 

Oxytocin first surges during pregnancy and continues to surge to promote bonding after the child has arrived, according to researchers. The hormone increases with a simple look from a mom to a child, a snuggle, or tears from a “boo-boo.” And moms aren’t alone, researchers have found similar changes in the brains of dads who provide a lot of caregiving (source: theatlantic.com). 

The Oxytocin Effect

The same hormone that creates those feelings of unconditional love, strengthens bad memories. Research by Northwestern University suggests oxytocin could be the reason why events that cause emotional pain, such as being bullied at school or tormented by a boss, can have effects that linger long after the event is over and can trigger anxiety in the future. The hormone has been shown to strengthen the social memory of the brain.

Researchers found when a negative or stressful social experience takes place, the hormone activates the part of the brain that intensifies the memory. Oxytocin also increased feelings of being fearful and anxious during stressful events occurring long after the original event. 

So, yes the same hormone that is increasing feelings of love and making you drool over your child. The same one that makes you want to pick up and cuddle your child—even when they are keeping you up all night, or getting snot all over your shoulder —is the same one that is increasing fear and worry of bad things happening. Is it really the worst thing if the dishes aren’t done the way you want them? 

The good news is now that we know about the double-edged sword of oxytocin, we can use the power of other parts of our brain to reign it in. To stop and assess the situation before immediately getting to high-anxiety level. To be mindful. While you are in the midst of imagining the worst that could possibly happen to your child, your child is playing quietly next to you. Rather than sending yourself into a tizzy, stop, breathe, and talk to yourself about what is happening at the moment, right here, right now. Find out if there is immediate evidence that makes you feel this way, if there is no evidence and you still feel overwhelmed by anxiety then it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional. Call a qualified counselor, such as the Women’s Therapy Institute, where we can help.

Are you having a pigeon day or a statue day?

Sitting in a restaurant one day with my five-year-old, I noticed a sign that said: “some days you are the pigeon and some days you are a statue.” I had a little giggle about it and thought this might be a fun way to teach my children about the ups and downs of life. 

The truth is some days you will be the pigeon, going about your business and living a carefree existence, and other days you will be the statue getting pooped on by the pigeon—metaphorically, of course (unless it is really one of “those days”). So now when they are having a tough day, I ask my children in a humorous tone “are you having a pigeon day or a statue day?” It helps my children to identify the ups and downs of their life, talk about it, laugh about it, let it go, and understand that life is not all good all the time. 

All in the way we think about it

Life is not easy, we all know this, but we have control over the way we process life’s ups and downs. It is all in the way we think about it. Some days don’t go as planned—you overslept, the hot water in the shower was used up, your toast was burnt, you were late to work, it can go on and on and on… and these moments have the ability, if you let them, to disrupt the rest of your day and rub off on the people around you. Rather than sulk about how much your life sucks, at that point in time, laugh it off. Except that today you are the statue, and maybe tomorrow you will be the pigeon. 

Let it go, take a deep breath, and look for the positive in the situation. Maybe you missed some early morning drama at work because you were late, maybe you had a couple extra minutes to spend with your kids, maybe you treated yourself to a special coffee or a chocolate bar, or maybe you just need to accept that tomorrow is a new day. 

The way we react to the ups and downs of our days can teach our children a lot. It is important that we set good examples and help them process their feelings. Maybe they forgot their gym shoes or didn’t get the seat they wanted on the bus, or the cafeteria ran out of pizza before it was their turn —teach your kids to reassess, to look for the positive, to understand they will have pigeon days and they will have statue days. Little moments don’t need to lead to a pile-up of unhealthy emotions, they need to be let go.

No Really, You Should’ve Asked!

My eyes wide open 2 minutes before my 6AM alarm goes off, and I swear my brain has already been churning out agenda of the day throughout the night – get breakfast ready, get the kids and their lunches ready, client appointments, review client progress notes, call the contractor, sign kids up for swim class, send expense to accountant, donate kids clothes, buy grocery and kids clothes from Costco, turn in kids school forms, talk to that web guy about SEO, make doctor appointment for kids booster shots, fix that scheduling bug on my website, get a sitter for Saturday night thingy, dinner, screw dinner, etc.

“Ok, it’s 5:58 AM! Wakey wakey,” says my brain. I turn around to see my snoring husband, I give him a stink eye and mutter, “You have no idea what I am going through!”

This is what feminists called, “mental load”. It is when a woman keeps mental track of all these things she has to do, the tasks that men do not think about and anticipate, and therefore do not help with unless they are being asked. This creates stress for many women, and tension for many couples. French comic artist Emma succinctly illustrated how women bear this “mental load” and that men should be more in tuned with women’s needs in her post “You Should Have Asked”.

I Agree To Disagree

In Emma’s comic, the wife is busy feeding kids and food boils over. The husband said, “you should’ve asked”. Emma stresses that men need to anticipate the household needs and women shouldn’t have to ask because when a woman asks, it puts her as manager and the man as subordinate. While I find Emma’s comic entertaining, I do not agree with that message.

I agree that men should not be passive bystanders when it comes to shared duties, but I don’t think men should anticipate all the needs without women communicating because some tasks are very obvious that the women need help and some are not obvious at all.

Once, I put all the clean clothes in a hamper and placed it near my husband’s side of the bed without instructions. He knew those are clean because he participated in the folding and yet he did nothing. After 3 days I asked him why he didn’t put the clean clothes away. He said he would have if I had asked. I asked why he needed me to ask and he simply said, “I don’t know what your plan is. Maybe you are putting the winter clothes away; maybe you plan to donate some of them. I can’t read your mind.” I then asked him, “Couldn’t you ask me what I want to do with it?” He replied, “I could. I suppose we both can step it up on this communication game when things are not so cut and dry.”

Touché.

Things Aren’t So Obvious

In the case of Emma’s comic, there’s no way for the husband to know if she is intending for the pot to boil until it’s too late. Only obvious or routine needs can be anticipated. If the family is leaving the house and he notices something is boiling on the stove, it makes sense for him to turn off the stove without asking. That’s obvious because it’s basic safety.

If Tuesday night is garbage day and she is not home in time to take care of it, it makes sense for him to take out the garbage without prompt because garbage day is routine and predictable.

For things that are not obvious or routine, two-way communication is essential. We really shouldn’t expect our partners to be mind readers and we need to communicate with each other.

It’s Not The What But The How

Communicating needs does not make one a manager and the other a subordinate but how you communicate those needs sets the tone of roles. If you bark your orders with your arms crossed, it might look like manager-subordinate roles and does not convey equilateral relationship. In communications, it’s not what you communicate but it’s how you communicate, verbally and non-verbally. There’s are always effective ways to communicate your needs without leaving a sour taste in everyone’s mouth.

If she finds a pile of dishes in the sink that she wishes he had done, she has three options: 1) yell at him about why he hasn’t done the dishes; 2) begrudgingly do the dishes while building resentment; 3) ask him to do the dishes while you do the things you intended on doing if he had done the dishes, and ask him to do it next time if he is the first on the scene of the dirty dishes.  Some communications, verbal, text, even a post-it note is better than no communication. Chances are he will need to be reminded a few times before he makes this into a habit but it might be a better option than 1 and 2.

In the case of the husband in Emma’s comic, he could use a better communication tactic as well. Instead of asking his wife, “What did you do?” in an accusatory tone when the pot boiled over which aggravated his wife, he could say, “What happened? How can I help?” Remember, it’s not what you communicate, it’s how you communicate.

It’s 6:01 AM, my therapist brain finally wakes up. I look at my snoring husband again and remind myself that I shouldn’t expect him to be a mind reader. I walk over to his side, gave him a gentle kiss, and put a hamper of fresh clean clothes on the floor next to him with a note “Please put us away”, and go about my day.

Mabel Yiu is a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in girls’ and women’s mental health at the Women’s Therapy Institute in Palo Alto, CA. You can reach her at mabel@womenstherapyinstitute.com for more tips or tools, or schedule an online appointment.

Image Source: Emma

“Maternal Gatekeeping” Can Destroy Our Relationships

Maternal Gatekeeping Sandra gets home from work and finds her husband bathing their toddler. She marches up to him and said, “You’ve got water all over the floor! Stop! Let me do this!” Her husband fires back, “Fine!”

Traditionally childrearing is considered a woman’s job but the world is changing. Today women are excelling in education, succeeding in careers and entering into relationships holding their own weight. Men are also stepping outside of their social gender role, and are 3x more involved in their children’s lives compared to their father’s generation. Most mothers rejoice over this trend, yet a good 21% consciously or unconsciously engage in “maternal gatekeeping” that may dissuade fathers from taking on more childcare tasks.

Whether due to natural instinct or societal expectations, many mothers identify themselves as the primary caretaker of their children and hold this value dearly. Maternal gatekeeping happens when mothers believe fathers are not as competent in the caretaking tasks due to the same set of societal expectations, and behave in a way that discourages the fathers’ effort, thereby obstructing collaborative parenting.

It is understandable that mothers want to do what’s best for the children. We need a small dose of maternal gatekeeping to keep us parents organized and get things done, but too much of it can hinder father-child bonding and affect couples relationships. Having it keeps mothers overwhelmed and experience maternal burnout. Raising children is a tough job and mothers need support, especially those who are working outside of home.  More men are willing to step in nowadays so moms, you can allow yourself some rest. You deserve less stress.

How to prevent yourself from being a “Maternal Gatekeeper”?

  • Notice it – Sometimes our maternal instinct is so ingrained that we don’t even notice we are being the “gatekeeper.” Having an awareness of our behavior can help us make conscious decisions as parents.
  • Let go of high standards – Your partner has his own style of parenting. It’s unrealistic to expect your partner to do everything within your standards.
  • Focus on the big picture – Your kids will not remember the water splashing on the floor, but they will remember the fun times when their daddy made silly soapy hairstyles for them. (If the kids are old enough, you can coach daddy to have them clean up the mess together.)
  • Communication sandwich — If you need to communicate with your partner on how he can do things differently, consider talking to him after the fact when you two are in a good mood, and use two compliments to buffer one criticism.
  • Talk to a professional — Therapy can help you gain some relaxation skills so you can be happy even with soapy water on the floor.

Mabel Yiu is a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in girls’ and women’s mental health at the Women’s Therapy Institute in Palo Alto, CA. You can reach her at mabel@womenstherapyinstitute.com for more tips or tools, or schedule an online appointment.

(Image source: GettyImage)

Blog Response: Should You Teach Your Kids to Share

Children SharingI recently came across an article on PopSugar called “Should You Teach Your Kids to Share”. In the article, author Beth W articulates that she doesn’t teach her son to share because the act of sharing teaches children 1) that they can have something that belongs to someone else, and 2) that they can act without regards of others.  While I think Beth W has some good points, her article only shows one side of the story…Let me show the other side.

The Evolution of Sharing

From an evolutionary standpoint, the prosocial act of sharing and cooperation has helped various species survive throughout times. Human beings are social animals; we share food, resources, and knowledge for support and protection. If the caveperson who discovered fire didn’t share the knowledge, the human race would probably have died from cold weather or food-borne diseases.

Sharing in the Modern Times

In our modern world, sharing is equally important. Until we solve the problem of inequality and poverty, many charities and activists still need donations from the “haves” to help the “have nots”.   When we teach kids not to share, teaching them that helping those in need is not important.

Sharing is also crucial to our cultural growth. For centuries, we have been sharing ideas and knowledge so that our arts can be more vibrant and our technology can be more advanced. If our kids guard their ideas so tightly, they will inadvertently limit their own world.

Sharing in the Work Place

On a micro-level standpoint, sharing is an essential part of our day-to-day work life. I am a therapist in a community health agency, and everyday my colleagues and I rely on each other’s support to provide good care to our clients. Often times I need to leverage resources from another department to help my clients. I don’t speak Spanish, and it would be difficult for me to work with a Spanish-speaking client if I cannot “borrow” a Spanish translator from another department.

What to Teach Kids About Sharing

I agree with Beth W’s article that there are downsides to sharing, but teaching kids not to share has its pitfalls. So how should we teach our kids about sharing? I believe the process needs to be fluid because I don’t think the all-or-nothing approach works well in our dynamic world. We will need to set some guidelines about sharing when it comes to our own belongings and public belongings (ie. school, parks and rec centers). We can teach our kids the positive aspect of sharing and encourage this prosocial behavior, while teaching them that they have a choice whether to share or not.

I believe we can teach our kids about coping with disappointment and making good choices in sharing at the same time.

Mabel Yiu is a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in girls and women’s mental health at the Women’s Therapy Institute in Palo Alto, CA. You can reach her at mabel@womenstherapyinstitute.com for more tips or tools, or schedule an online appointment.

Image Source: Babysitting Academy