Category Archives: Family

healthy relationships after chaos

Having healthy relationships after growing up in chaos

When you are a child raised in an emotionally chaotic environment you learn how to survive in that situation. I am talking about children who are raised in untrustworthy situations where they have become accustomed to the fact that even when things don’t feel right nothing they say or do is going to make things better. 

In many cases, these children have learned that expressing discourse of any kind is a bad thing. They learn to shut their feelings down and ignore the bad they might be feeling inside. This is because as children we know that we need our parents or other caregivers to survive. They give us what we need, so we have to keep things as livable as possible. 

Stuck in Old Patterns

Now, this sort of behavior might work for a child but as an adult keeping your feelings buried and not listening to them, leaves us stuck. As an adult you can’t keep silent, it doesn’t allow us to grow or develop any real intimacy with others. It also doesn’t keep us safe as it did as children. 

By not acting on our own self-protective instincts we end up in harm’s way, consumed by fear, obsessively thinking about what we dislike about our world, and carrying overwhelming feelings of resentment. We become mad at ourselves for not being able to change our situation. 

Rediscover Healthy Relationships

When you have spent your whole life ignoring your nervous system, how do you then recover and allow yourself to develop healthy relationships? 

The first step to any change is to recognize what is happening inside of you. How are you feeling when? What causes you to react in a certain way? Then confront those feelings. Instead of pushing them down, react. Stand up for yourself. Speak your thoughts. Remind yourself that this behavior no longer takes care of you, and allow yourself compassion and gratitude for the fact that you once did exactly what you needed to survive. 

Let Go of Toxic People

Then, ask yourself what you need to know and hear from others in your life. If those people can’t provide what you need, then understand it is ok to let them go. You don’t need to hold on to another out of fear. Find the courage inside of you to speak your truth and to acknowledge what you need. You may not have gotten what you needed as a child, but you don’t have to live like that anymore. The time is NOW to take care of you. 

You can make changes for the better. The power is within you. Seeking help from a licensed professional can help you to identify these feelings within and confront them head-on. A mental health professional can guide you and help to give you the tools to make positive changes. 

after baby

How To Keep Your Marriage Healthy After Baby

Adjusting to parenthood is hard work and it can put a lot of strain on a marriage. We all have ideas of what it will be like to have a child, to add an infant to our lives, but nobody truly knows what they are in for until they experience being new parents themselves. Not to mention every baby is different and every relationship has its strong and weak points. 

In the first few months after having a child, it is important to let go of any expectations. Right now is about survival. It is about keeping your child (and yourself) healthy and adjusting to your new life as parents. Give each other some grace. You are both going through a lot of changes right now, and you are likely dealing with them in different ways. 

Time To Connect

Allow yourself, and your spouse, time for yourself to connect with your new title as a parent and to rest. Breaks are important for both of you. Take turns. 

It is also important that you make time to be together, just the two of you. That is difficult after having a child because that child relies on you for everything but it is also important that you recognize it is important to keep your marriage healthy. And, alone time is key to keeping your relationship strong. Leave baby with a grandparent or a trusted friend, even if only for an hour, and take a walk with your spouse or grab a coffee or a meal. Whatever your heart desires. 

So often I hear new moms making the excuse that they just can’t leave their baby. Not even for an hour but the truth is even a short time alone with your spouse can do wonders for rekindling the spark. 

Talk It Out

Communicate with your family, your friends. Lean on others. This adjustment is going to be hard for everyone in your household. You will have to figure out a new normal. Talk to each other. Figure out what struggles others are having and brainstorm what might work best.

Share the load. You likely have heard the phrase before “it takes a village.” There is a reason that is so popular. It is true. We all have babies and think we can do it all alone. And yes, I am sure you could do it all alone but would you be happy and healthy? Let others step in and help you out. Let your mother clean your house or hold your baby while you take a much-needed shower. Let your husband do the grocery shopping so you can take a nap. Let a friend fold your laundry if he/she/they desire.

The more you and your spouse can work together during this time of adjustment, the stronger you will be in the end. It can be so easy to get angry and frustrated with each other during this time of change. Understandably so, you are both exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed. Allow each of you to make mistakes, to learn, grow, and to adjust as a team. 

It Is All About Perspective

Parenting is one of the hardest things a person can do in a lifetime, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. All will come with time. For now, snuggle that baby (or babies) and do your best to keep things in perspective. 

If you find you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or adjusting, in general, it can help to seek the help of a licensed mental health professional. They can help to provide you with healthy coping mechanisms and support during this transition.

Meal Prep

Ways to Get Your Kids Involved in Meal Prep

Mealtime can be hectic, but there is no reason you have to do it all yourself. Getting your kids involved in meal preparation can have a lot of benefits for both you and your children. 

When children feel invested in the meal they tend to be more willing to eat it. They get excited that they were able to help. They feel accomplished and more confident. Children also tend to be more willing to try new things, expand their pallets, and eat healthier when they are involved in the preparation process. Not to mention it is a good bonding moment for parents and children and helps to create healthy habits.

Everyone Can Be Involved

It is also important to note that this task is appropriate for both male and female parents and their male and female children. Everyone can be involved in the cooking and meal prep process. It is important we show our children that time in the kitchen is for the whole family, not just females. 

What are some ways to get the kids into the kitchen without adding to the chaos?

1.) Ask their opinion on what they want to eat for a couple of meals during the week — Get the cookbooks out and let your kids look through them and decide on one or two meals they want to eat during the week. Encourage them to switch it up so they aren’t picking the same meals every week. 

2.)Take them grocery shopping — After your kids pick out the meals they want for the week, take them to the store to get the stuff you will need. Let them help pick out the produce and get the boxes off the shelves.

3.)Allow them to use their hands — When prepping the meal give your kids a couple of tasks, it could be washing fruits or vegetables, putting salad greens on a plate, pouring ingredients into a bowl, measuring, stirring, etc. 

4.)Have them set the table— Not only can your kids help with the meal prep, but they can also help set the table. Allow them to get the drinks out, put the silverware on the table, and arrange things the way they choose. 

5.)Get them cleaning — They can also help to clear the table, load dishes in the dishwasher, and wipe down countertops or eating spaces. 

And, lastly, you can have them choose the music for dinner one or two days a week. It doesn’t take much to make your children feel like they were part of the creating of the all-important family dinner, and the benefits can be huge. 

family dinner

Meals as a family have many benefits

Life can be hectic. Between shuffling the kids around, getting your work done, and taking care of life’s many chores it is easy to let family dinner time fall by the wayside — but that is exactly why it is so important. 

Research shows family dinners are among the most important things you can do as a family. Children who eat family dinners do better in school, eat healthier, and make better life choices; and parents who have family dinners report lower levels of stress, according to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

Of course, skipping family dinner is going to happen and that is ok. But, next time you are thinking about “just going through the drive-thru,” think about this:

1.) It is good for yours, and your child’s, waistline — A study by the Obesity Prevention Program at Harvard Medical School found that children ages 9 to 14 who ate dinner with their families ate more fruits and vegetables and consumed less soda and fried foods. Their diets were also found to be more complete with essential nutrients. Not to mention a homemade meal packs more nutritional punch than the fast food, or pre-packaged version, and you control the portions. 

2.) Family meals are good for your child’s mental health — Children who eat with their families are less likely to get depressed, consider suicide, or develop an eating disorder. They are also more likely to feel their parents are proud of them, and delay sex, according to a study by the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. It reinforces the child-parent connection and grows that bond.

3.) Your kids are less likely to abuse drugs — Having mealtime together at least five times a week leads to lower instances of drug and alcohol abuse, according to a CASA report. The study found that teens who have fewer than three family dinners a week are 3.5 times more likely to abuse prescription drugs and try illegal drugs other than marijuana.  

4.) Your kids will do better in school — Teens who have family dinners regularly report higher grades. The time at the table allows children to have face-time with adults to ask questions, and also allows children to pick up on vocabulary and learn more about world events.

5.) It is a time to relax — Sitting down for a meal and being in the moment as a family can be a huge stress reliever. It is a time for adults to forget about the craziness of the day and be one with their family. It is a good reminder of what matters in your life.

6.)It is cheaper — A family dinner at home can cost half as much as eating out, and you usually have leftovers. While eating out can also be family time, it is frequently filled with more distractions making conversation a little more difficult.

Making family dinners more frequent in your home is a small change that can have a big impact. It is important to remember to also keep the TV off to minimize outside distraction and allow more conversation. Check out the Family Dinner Project for conversation starters, allow your child or teen to have a say in the meal, and put on a little dinner music to make the experience something everyone looks forward to. 

distressed teen

Ask Mabel: How do I help my distressed teen post-divorce?

Dear Mabel, 

I have been struggling with some issues my children are having and was wondering if you had any ideas. I got divorced 11 years ago after my ex-wife was derailed. After much struggle, I did finally get full custody of our two children, with visitation rights granted to their mother. The children have continued to be with me ever since.

Several years after the divorce, we found out that my ex was selling the property that should belong to my children and thus began a lawsuit. During the legal process, we found out that my ex and her husband had abused the children. The court ruled that she could no longer bring the children back to her house and could only meet outside a few hours a week. Shortly after, their mother decided to forfeit her right to visit.

Since their mother has stopped visiting, my youngest daughter who is now a teenager has become more withdrawn. She doesn’t say much to her sister and me, is very impatient and shows resistance. I don’t understand why. She does play games and laugh with friends and has good grades in school so I don’t put a lot of pressure on her. After all, I feel like personal safety is the most important and she is now safe.

Lately, I have been thinking about how they were in the years after the divorce. There was one time when she was about eight years old that I went to pick her up from her mother’s house. She was very timid at this time, cared a lot for others, but was also afraid and confused and would take my hand anywhere we went. I have tried for a while to understand why she might be like this. I think her character is very delicate, and these family incidences have really hurt her.

Now she is shutting down. She is pretending she no longer cares and refuses to communicate with us about her pain and frustrations. I have talked to her sister about it and she agrees that she is in a lot of pain. I want to help but I don’t know what to do. What do you think — (1) Should I go to their mother and ask for her to resume visits? (2) Is this just part of adolescence?

Thank you for your help.

 Sincerely, 

Mike from Wyoming 

Mabel: 

Hi Mike, This sounds like a tough situation. I am glad you are reaching out for help. Your daughter may or may not be going through pain from her mother’s abandonment. Only by talking to her, then you would know. I’m wondering if you and your daughter have any one-on-one time together to foster a father-daughter relationship. If not, it may be a good time to start. She probably won’t immediately open her heart to you. It takes a few tries. Be consistent. Talk about fun stuff first to build trust and relationship.

I wouldn’t recommend forcing visitation from the mother. The mother is an adult. If she wants to visit, she has her own free will to initiate contact. If a parent doesn’t want visitation, she may treat the children negatively. She might not want to be involved and in turn may resent the child. 

Moreover, because there is a history of abuse, we don’t know whether the children want contact with their mother. The children are older now, they have a mind of their own about how they feel towards each parent. If the mother initiates contact, ask the children first to see what they want to do. Don’t force the process on the kids. Your daughter may have mixed feelings about seeing her mother. Keep the conversation open-ended and avoid saying “it would be better if you see your mom.”

Also, I would consider getting your daughter help from a licensed counselor. She could greatly benefit from having someone outside the family to talk to who might be able to help her sort through things and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Sincerely, 

Mabel

coparenting with ex

How Do You Coparent When You Don’t Get Along?

Divorced parents, who don’t get along, are always asking me how they are supposed to coparent when they are always fighting? The truth is, they can’t. If you can’t get along and are always being harsh or disgruntled with each other, you can’t successfully co-parent. 

You have to make a choice. One parent can take primary custody of the kids and end the co-parenting relationship altogether, or you can decide to make a change. Together the two of you can make the decision to be civil with each other, to be kind, to communicate effectively and calmly because you have to. You have kids that need their parents. Constantly putting them in a toxic environment or bad-mouthing each other in front of your kids, is not helping them. In fact, it is doing the very opposite.

Shift In Dynamics

Someone in the relationship has to start this shift in dynamics. One of you has to make the choice to keep your mouth shut for the sake of your children. Ok, so you don’t agree with your ex’s behaviors, personal choices, or whatever it is that irks you but I am sure you can agree on one all-important thing: You love your kids. You want the best for your kids. 

Your kids need to be in a positive environment. They need to be raised in a place where they feel loved, safe, and comfortable turning to either parent in times of need. As a parent, you need to help guide your children in making the best decisions and you need to set an example. If your children are always seeing you and their father and/or mother arguing, name calling, being verbally abusive, or talking bad about each other behind the others back, you are teaching them that this behavior is ok. And, your child is likely going to experience more feelings of anxiety, depression, and unhealthy coping mechanisms. They will likely withdraw from both of you because they don’t feel safe and secure with you. 

Best for your Child(ren)

You decide. But, the answer is simple. You have to get along with your ex in some capacity in order to raise your children in a healthy environment. To do what is best for them, you need to get past your differences. If you can’t, then it is time to decide who your children should be with. 

Seeking help from a licensed counselor can also help you to determine the best course of action for you and your kids. 

undermining

Ask Mabel: How do I communicate with my husband in front of our kids without undermining him?

Dear Mabel, 

I am reaching out to you again for your guidance and support. I have an issue with my husband and the way he addresses our children when he is angry. He can get to the point where he looks and speaks very terrifyingly at them, and my heart just breaks. They are fearful and he drowns himself in shame afterward. This morning he was yelling at my six-year-old daughter and she was dysregulating in all kinds of ways as a result, which was pushing him even further into his anger. I felt compelled to jump in and protect her, which often results in him feeling betrayed by me and upset that I am making him a “monster” in front of the kids. 

Today we were able to talk afterward and I told him that I feel like I need to protect them and his feelings when I intervene because I am in flight-or-fight mode myself. It is usually very hard. I am stuck. What language can I use in these moments to communicate that he needs to stop without undermining him in front of the kids? This is a heavy day for our family. 

Sincerely, Amy from Florida

Mabel: Hi Amy, I am so sorry to hear of your struggles. There are a few ways you can approach this situation. You can have a family meeting when calm, where you all make an agreement that when things escalate you each are empowered to call a time out and take a break. Make a plan that you can all follow. If you are all following the same plan together that would take the shame out of it. I also suggest you look at the Zones of Regulation curriculum for some help on the language for self-regulation and emotional control. 

Together, you two can come up with a plan, or code word, for timing out and determine how long the timeout should last. Come up with something you can both agree on. Determine what you can do when he is in that state to deescalate the situation. 

This is a quick bandaid. Long term, you need to have a discussion about what he wants to do about this and go from there. Seeking some help from a licensed mental health professional could also help the two of you to work together as a team in these situations.

Ask Mabel: I am torn between an important work training and a request from my child, what do I do?

Dear Mabel, 

I am having a mom/work dilemma and I am so very torn. Tomorrow is my daughter’s last day of kindergarten. We recently moved out of the area to a new school district, but we were able to allow my daughter to finish the year at her old school. She is struggling because tomorrow will be her last day at her current school and she will have to say goodbye to all her friends. Normally it wouldn’t be a problem for me to be there with her for this, but tomorrow I am signed up for a special training. This free training workshop is something I have waited for years to take, it is usually very expensive. 

My daughter is normally a very happy, easy-going kid, but tonight she was a wreck. She was so emotional about her last day tomorrow. I told her that her grandparents will be picking her up from school and taking her out for a celebratory lunch and that I will be home as soon as I can. She just cried and cried and asked if there was some way I could be with her. She is so sad.

I am so torn! If it were anything else, I would move mountains to be there for her. But, this opportunity is truly rare, one I have inquired and waited for years. I am so sad about the timing of everything. What should I do? How do I handle this? 

Sincerely, Jenny from Alabama

Mabel: Thank you for reaching out. I am sorry that you feel torn between your daughter needing you and participating in training you’ve waited years for due to cost. I have a few questions:  1) What’s the most difficult thing about this?   2) Is this training offered every year or regularly?  3) Assuming it is offered every year or regularly, would you be able to put some money away each month to save for it? How much will you need to save per month?  4) Is the answer to question three do-able? 5) If it is not do-able within a year, can you spread it out? How long will you need to save monthly to attend the training? 

I am asking these questions about the training and money because training workshops and money are objects. They don’t have feelings. They don’t care if we move them around or tend to them later. I don’t know your daughter, so I don’t want to assume or say that she will be ok without you being there. But, I am 100% sure that training and money are ok with whatever you decide. 

I hold no judgment over your decision. This is my personal opinion. If I may, I would advocate for your daughter because she asked you to be there. I know her grandparents will be there to give her lots of love but she wants you. This is not her asking for a toy where you are saying “no.” This is her asking for emotional comfort during a very difficult time (in her six-year-old mind). She is young, so her mood may also change when tomorrow rolls around. I would say play it by ear and listen to your gut. 

Help yourself and your kids by managing anxiety

Anxiety is a very real thing that many of us face. It can be so easy to get overcome with emotions, feel overwhelmed by the day’s events, and get frustrated. Next thing you know you are lashing out at your children. Yelling at them for things that aren’t really their fault. We have all done it. But for those with anxiety, these occurrences can get more and more frequent, passing on your anxiety to your children. 

If this sounds like you, first of all — take a breath. You are not alone. There are healthy ways to deal with your anxiety so that you aren’t passing it on to your children.

Healthy Coping

Here are some things to get you started:

1.) Take notice — Before you can make any changes you have to recognize where changes need to be made. Pay attention to the way you are reacting to things. How are you speaking to your kids? What do their faces look like when you talk to them this way? How are you feeling internally? What led up to this instance? Recognize it, so you can alter your behavior. 

2.)Take a break — When you realize you are feeling overwhelmed, stop what you are doing. Take a moment to look around and examine what you are doing, what is making you feel overwhelmed? Remind yourself of your reality. Bring yourself back to earth. If it is an ongoing thing, then take the time for yourself to get done what you need so that you can regain calm. 

3.) Alter Your Schedule — If you are seeing a pattern of anxious feelings, maybe it’s during deadline week at work or maybe it is during a certain time of the day, then make the necessary changes in order to feel relaxed. Get up a few hours early to get things done. Go to bed earlier. Plan ahead of time. Whatever works best for you in order to feel like you are in control of your time. 

4.) Learn Stress Management — Healthy stress management is not always known. Instead, we tend to turn to things like alcohol or eating which can increase our anxious feelings. Instead try breathing techniques, meditation, exercise, reducing your workload, etc. 

A licensed professional can help you to recognize and conquer these anxious feelings so that you are not passing them on to your children. Your children are hyperaware. They turn to you for guidance. Be a good example. Learn healthy coping mechanisms. 

How to Keep Your Relationship Healthy After Baby

Let’s be realistic. Having a baby can be a wonderful thing for a relationship but it does not leave any relationship unchanged. Babies are a huge life transition for anyone, which comes with a lot of challenges (and joys). 

In order to keep your relationship healthy post-baby:

1.) Change your expectations — Don’t try to go back to the way your relationship was before you had a child. It is not going to be the same because now you have another to care for, another to share your time with, and another to support. Your relationship will change and in many cases grow even deeper than it was before. 

2.) Communicate — As with any relationship, communication is key. But even more so during times of big transitions, you need to be honest and open. Talk to your partner about your needs, your desires, your struggles, etc. You can’t help each other through these times if you don’t know what each other is dealing with. 

3.) Schedule alone time — Yes, you have this new life to care for but don’t forget about your need to bond with your spouse. Even more so now date nights (even if they are at home on your couch while your child sleeps in the next room) are of crucial importance. You need time together.

4.) Give each other a break — Support each other during this transition time. There will be ups and downs and you both will need breaks. For mom, that might mean a good nights sleep, some girl time, or a massage. For dad, that might mean time for hobbies that they love and no longer have as many hours to give to them. 

5.) Have Patience — This time is going to be hard for you both, in different ways. There will be days when you feel angry or frustrated with each other. There will be days when you are so exhausted you can’t even think straight. Cut each other some slack. It won’t be like this forever. Recognize this is a rough patch and you will figure it out. 

Having a baby is a beautiful thing but few couples realize the complete life-altering impact of creating a family until they are in it. It is ok to not be ok. It is ok to struggle a bit with this transition. The best thing you can do for your relationship is to not lose sight of what really matters. You love each other and this new addition to your family, and your child needs parents who care for each other and support each other. Talk it out and remember you are on the same team.