Parent Coaching is a Lifesaver When You Feel Out of Your Depth

Everyone thinks they’re an expert on parenting until they become a parent. Maybe you once believed that parenting would be a breeze. But now that you have a child or children of your own, you feel confused and overwhelmed. You may even find yourself wishing that kids came with an instruction manual.

While no such manual exists, there is something else that can help you become the best parent you can be: parent coaching.

What is parent coaching?

The goal of parent coaching is to identify opportunities for improvement in your childrearing methods, to improve your relationship with your child, and to put things back into perspective when your parental responsibilities become overwhelming.

Typically, a parent coach will meet with the parent or parents for a one-on-one consultation. During this session, you can share your general concerns with the counselor. Be sure to let the coach know whether the issues in your parent-child connection started at a specific time.

Most likely, most of your sessions will involve both parents, or you and the child’s stepparent. Together, you will learn how to best communicate with your child, help your child learn to communicate well with you, and how to communicate your feelings to each other . The important thing is to learn to work together as a team and find productive solutions to your family problems.

When to seek help

If you and your family are dealing with any of the following situations, parent coaching can help.


When children’s parents split up, many issues can come to the surface. Your children may feel forced to choose a favorite parent. Some children feel obligated to be the parent. The stress and confusion of your divorce can negatively impact them in ways you may not be able to see. With the help of a parent coach, you can learn to meet your child’s needs while also taking care of your own.

A sudden change in your child’s attitude

Does your child seem quieter and more reserved than usual? Did their grades in school take a nose dive? Do you find yourselves fighting often over small things? Did your positive relationship suddenly, and without warning, turn bitter and resentful? A parent coach can assess the situation from an objective place and help you uncover the cause of your child’s sudden attitude change.

Behavioral issues

If your child is disrespectful? Do you suspect that your child is engaging in reckless or illegal behavior, a parent coach can help you communicate your concerns, set firm boundaries, and work to correct the behavior.

Sudden life change

Are you moving to a new city? Is your child starting a new school? Did you or your child recently experience the death of a loved one? Whatever life throws at you, a parent coach can help you withstand the impact of a sudden life change – so you can continue to provide your child with the emotional support and security they need.

There’s no shame in seeking help

There’s a common myth that good parents know how to raise children instinctively – as if everything you need to know about parenting suddenly becomes clear the moment your child is born. This misconception is why many parents feel embarrassed, ashamed and reluctant to ask for help. But there’s no shame in reaching out for guidance, especially because today’s generation lives in a culture saturated with new forms of technology. The techniques we learned from observing our own parents growing up simply aren’t relevant to today’s children.

As the world changes from generation to generation, so should our parenting methods. A good parent coach remains up-to-date with the latest in child psychology, research on family dynamics, and the impact of cultural trends on families.

So, if anything on the list above resonates with you or if you just want to be a better parent for your child, reach out to a parent coach. You’ll be glad you did.

Counseling Questions? What You Need to Know About Professional Help

It’s important to get your basic counseling questions answered if you’ve never seen a mental health professional before. After all, the more you understand, the better the counseling experience will be for you.

Let’s shed some light on the topic and consider a few different counseling questions.

How Does Counseling Work?

Most counseling sessions take place once a week for approximately one hour. Sessions are completely confidential and may continue as long as you and your counselor feel they’re helpful.

Counseling requires hard work in the form of self-exploration, personal insight, and honesty with yourself and with your therapist. Counseling is a partnership between you and your therapist.

The therapist assimilates what you tell them and determines how the pieces come together. Your counselor will be objective and help you to identify areas of your life to focus on in therapy, and the right therapeutic approach to help you. During your appointments, your counselor may teach you coping and problem-solving skills to utilize outside your appointment times. While they’re often very candid, your therapist will never make any decisions for you.

You must be completely open and honest about your feelings, experiences, thoughts, and actions with your therapist. Commitment to the counseling process and trust in your therapist are important keys for progress and recovery. It’s imperative that you consider your counselor’s feedback carefully and practice what you’ve learned in your sessions in your daily life.

What Types of Therapies Are Common?

Individual Therapy – Sessions are held with one individual at a time. They normally focus on exploring negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and making positive changes.

Couples Therapy/Marriage Counseling – Sessions are held with two people who are in a committed relationship. It often focuses on teaching how to handle challenges, improve communication, overcome an incident of infidelity, parent cooperatively and effectively, and have a happier and more satisfying relationship.

Family Therapy – Sessions are held with more than one member of a family at the same time. It usually focuses on resolving conflict and improving interactions between individuals.

Group Therapy – Sessions are guided by a professional therapist and are held with a group of peers that work on the same problem, such as anxiety, depression, or substance abuse.

What Types of Mental Health Professionals Are There?

All mental health professionals are licensed, regulated, and governed by a professional licensing board, and they must abide by and adhere to a strict code of ethics for their profession. The terms “counselor,” “therapist,” and “psychotherapist,” may be used interchangeably in most mental health professions. Here is a brief description of the most common mental health professional designations:

Counselor/Therapist – An LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist), and an LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), are individuals who have completed a minimum of a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, or a related field. They provide professional counseling, psychotherapy, and mental health services to individuals, couples, families, and groups.

Social worker – A person who has a minimum of a master’s degree in social work or a related field. An LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) is trained to help families dealing with various social issues, but they are also skilled and trained in providing mental health and counseling services to individuals and couples. 

Psychologist – A person with a graduate degree in psychology who is licensed to work with patients who need mental health therapy. Most psychologists hold a doctorate (PhD) in their professional discipline. A psychologist may hold a master’s degree, and work under the supervision of a psychologist holding a PhD. Like LPCs, LMFTs, and LCSWs, psychologists provide counseling and psychotherapy to individuals, couples, families, and groups. Many psychologists are trained to provide specific mental health testing that they deem necessary to help diagnose specific conditions. They often work cooperatively with other mental health professionals (LPCs, LMFTs, and LCSWs) to provide needed testing for their clients.

Psychiatrist – A medical doctor (MD) whose medical specialty and training focuses on mental and emotional disorders. They are licensed to prescribe medication, and they also may provide psychotherapy. Often, psychiatrists will provide medication management for a patient, and work in coordination with the LPC, LMFT, LCSW, or psychologist who is providing counseling for the patient. Psychologists, LPCs, LMFTs, and LCSWs often refer their clients to a psychiatrist if they determine the client needs medication for their condition.

How Do You Choose Which Mental Health Professional to See?

Choosing the right mental health professional for you is a lot like finding a primary care physician, or other professional. You may know someone who can refer you to a therapist they really like. If not, search online for therapists in your area who work with your particular concern or mental health diagnosis, or ask your insurance provider for a list of therapists they work with. Contact the therapist and ask questions about their areas of specialty and training, how much they charge per session, do they accept your insurance, and other questions you have. Many therapists will offer a free consultation over the phone or in their office. A consultation gives you the opportunity to see how comfortable you are talking to them. Once you see them in person, or have a phone conversation, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about choosing a therapist that is a good fit for you.

Keep in mind that not all therapists and patients match up. You may have to find someone else if the first therapist you talk to doesn’t fit your needs, for whatever the reason. But don’t give up. Your mental and emotional health is worth finding the right fit just for you.

Baby Temperament: Carved in Stone or Flexible?

Generally, there are three categories for baby temperament: difficult/active, easy, and slow-to-warm. Each includes very different natural inclinations and personality traits.

What are these traits and how do they manifest themselves in a child’s personality or behavior?

Difficult/Active Child: Intense and Passionate

Children with this type of personality have a lot of energy and need a lot of space. They are intense, determined, and can be very vocal when interrupted in whatever they’re doing.

Busy environments and new things stimulate their passion and mood – in positive and negative ways. External sensory stimuli, like smells, sounds, or bright lights, can bother and distract them. For that reason, they can have difficulty adapting to changes and new situations.

Often, their attention span seems short. But, when they find an activity they like, they can get so absorbed that they engage in it for hours. You may find it difficult to get their attention or have them transition to another activity.

Easy Child: Happy and Responsive

Children with this type of personality have a moderate activity level and easily adapt to routines. They usually go with the flow and transition to new situations quickly, even when it’s at odds with what they need.

Sensory issues don’t bother or distract them very much. They will stay on task, able to play alone for a long time. Should a problem come up, they normally react mildly and with tempered emotions.

Slow-to-Warm Child: Careful and Passive

Children with this type of personality are often inactive, quiet, and shy, but they may get fidgety now and then. They are cautious and concerned about new situations, even frightened at times. Though, their expression of fear is normally mild. Instead of reacting aggressively, they often simply withdraw.

Their mood depends on their comfort level, and external sensory stimuli may play into that mood. If they perceive a situation as dangerous, they usually don’t engage in it. They need a lot of time to adjust to new situations and often stay to the side, watching.

Once they do warm up, they typically engage at a slow pace, needing time to feel secure enough to try out an activity. They like routines and predictability and tend to get easily distracted by new things.

Is Baby Temperament Carved in Stone or Flexible?

Scientific research into our genetic makeup has expanded a lot. Behavioral molecular genetics are even examining how our genes connect to our individual traits and personalities. It’s certain that we inherit different temperaments and aptitudes from our parents, but these inborn tendencies are not carved in stone. Our experiences, training, and personal efforts add to what we start with at birth.

As any caring and sensible parent, you surely want to give your baby the best in life. While you probably don’t want to arbitrarily put your child into a “baby temperament box,” it is good to know what their natural inclinations are. But don’t imagine your child can’t grow beyond that. As a matter of fact, you can be one of the biggest influences in their lives.

To begin with, you can make sure your baby’s environment is in harmony with their temperament to maximize psychological growth and healthy development. Knowing their personality will also help you teach and encourage your child in a way that will work best with their temperament.

So, instead of labeling them or pressing them into a fixed mold, help them to learn, expand, and adapt their personality. However, be ever cautious how your own temperament may affect how you view your child. Guide them to become the best version of themselves, not just a better version of you.

Regulate Emotions and Control Impulses: Activities to Help Your Child

Emotional self-control is an essential skill for daily living and interaction with others.

Children with poor emotional-regulating skills are more likely to have problems with aggressive behavior, anxiety, and even depression. As a matter of fact, research has found that how much self-control a person has as a preschooler can predict how well they will regulate emotions later in life.

Clearly, learning self-control must begin in early childhood.

For your child to be able to regulate emotions, you must teach them how to control impulses. How can you accomplish that? What activities can help your child to regulate their emotions?

Daily Activities That Require Your Child to Regulate Emotions

These are activities that you and your child probably do on a daily, or almost daily, basis. There’s no need to go out of your way. But if you realize you’re not doing them very often, make a consistent effort to consciously include them in your daily routine.

Consistent repetition is important for your child to truly learn. Every time they control impulses successfully, they’re learning strategies to regulate their emotions in other situations as well.

Children learn to regulate emotions and control impulses when:

  • waiting – in a line at the store or food place, for meals while sitting at a table, for food to cool down before eating it, or for a person’s attention or assistance
  • playing – side-by-side with others without touching or interfering with their project, cooperating with a playmate, play independently for a limited time while a parent attends something or someone else, or waiting for their turn
  • doing one thing before doing another thing – put away toys before taking out new ones, or wash their hands before eating
  • practicing doing only one of something – take only one cookie out of the jar, push the elevator button or the doorbell only one time
  • reading together – wait to turn the page, sit calm, or pay attention
  • having a specific place for something – a chair for reading and coloring, a spot by the door when ready to leave, or walk on the sidewalk for safety reasons
  • cooking, baking, or gardening – wait for the results, like a cake or meal be finished, or the plant to grow and bloom

Games That Help Teach Your Child to Control Impulses

Any time you ask your child to play by rules, you’re encouraging them to learn self-control and emotional regulation. Focus specifically on games that teach careful listening, paying attention, following directions, waiting, and taking turns.

Consider playing such games as Red Light/Green Light, Simon Says, Musical Chairs, Hide and Seek, or Freeze Tag. Many of these games are old-time favorites and you may remember playing them as a child. For the most part, they’re better played in groups, but you can adapt some of them for when it’s just you and your child.

There are also a lot of games that require moving to music at a certain pace – fast or slow – or games that incorporate doing something to a specific count – like hopping or clapping hands. Plus, for older children, games such as Charades, Slap Jack, Pictionary, and other board games present impulse control challenges. Consider your child’s age when selecting what to play.

To make it even more challenging, mix it up by putting a twist on a game. For example, when playing Red Light/Green Light you can change up what the commands mean. “Red light!” becomes go and “Green light!” becomes stop. It will encourage your child to go against habit and to inhibit their impulses. Similar things can be done with other games.

Every time you make a change, your child has to regulate their response anew – helping them to work out their brain muscle. So, practice, practice, practice! And have a ton of fun!

New Parents: Coping with Sleepless Nights and Fatigue

Newborns like to sleep. Newborns need sleep. New parents might be surprised how much their baby sleeps.

If babies sleep so much in the early weeks, why do new parents feel so sleep-deprived and exhausted after bringing their baby home?

Newborns typically sleep between 16-18 hours a day. That’s a lot of sleep! Babies, however, have different sleep patterns from their parents. A newborn baby sleeps for two to four hours at a time, and then wants to be fed, changed, and comforted. That’s quite a change in an adult’s sleep cycle of a consecutive six to eight hours of sleep each night. No wonder new parents are so tired!

New parents of babies also need sleep to be able to function throughout the day and to care for their little one.

Sleep deprivation and extreme fatigue are tough, and can even be dangerous to your health. Symptoms of sleep deprivation include headaches, hot flashes (caused by stress, emotions, and anxiety), cognitive impairment, irritability, and in extreme cases, even hallucinations. Sleep deprivation slows down your metabolism, can make you feel depressed, and make you feel like you’re on the verge of getting sick, like you’re coming down with a cold or flu.

So what can you do to cope with the sleepless nights and extreme fatigue during the early weeks of being new parents? Here are some tips:

Understand that sleep deprivation is normal for new parents 

Sleep deprivation is to be expected. You are not doing anything wrong. Your baby is not doing anything wrong. Needless worrying leads to even more sleep deprivation. Try to relax and be kind to yourself as much as you can.

Focus on teamwork as new parents

Now is the time for you and your partner to shine as a parenting team.

Discuss your teamwork strategies BEFORE the birth – ask more experienced friends and relatives for advice if this is your first child. Find a class or workshop for new parents, such as the Bringing Baby Home Workshop, to help prepare you and your relationship for welcoming your baby to your family.

Partners can help in many ways:

  • Create a comfortable and relaxing environment for mother and baby
  • Look after the mother’s physical and emotional needs
  • Take turn feeding your baby, when you can. Even when mom is breast feeding, breast milk can be expressed and your partner can feed baby from a bottle when needed.
  • Bond with your baby by ‘wearing’ the newborn in a close body sling
  • Take care of the baby’s non-feeding activities, such as diapering, changing clothes, bath time, and play time.
  • Be supportive and have a positive attitude!

Be compassionate toward each other when either of you get irritated or upset. If you are sleep-deprived, you will lose some of your ability to self-regulate emotions.

You are both only human – and so is your baby. A sense of humor always helps. You will make it through this sleep-deprived phase of parenting your newborn.


Yes, that’s right. Although it may be the last thing you feel like doing, exercise (with your doctor’s approval) can boost your metabolism and circulation, speed up digestion and elimination of toxins in the body, counteract depression, and make your sleep more efficient, once you get the time.

Remember, you don’t have to go to the gym to get exercise. Even a short walk in your neighborhood, with your baby in a stroller or carried close to you in a baby sling, will help. If you can’t get out of the house, do some gentle stretching or yoga on a matt in your living room.  

Sleep when the baby sleeps

There is so much to do when you have a newborn. When you bring your baby home you might feel that you need to accomplish household tasks while your baby sleeps during the day.

Take care of yourself while your baby sleeps. Use the time to catch up on your sleep. It’s not selfish. It’s self-care. Your baby needs you to be as rested as possible when he or she is awake.

Try to avoid the mindset that you need to keep the house clean, cook wonderful meals, and be “super mom.” Parenting a newborn is hard work and it’s exhausting. Take the time to sleep when your baby sleeps. It’s important for you and your family.


One of the problems with getting enough sleep while caring for a newborn is that adults don’t slip in and out of sleep as easily and quickly as babies do. Studies have shown that rest is the next best thing to sleep – so, just lie down when you get the chance, close your eyes, elevate your feet slightly, and let your mind rest as well as your body.

Drink enough water

If you don’t get enough sleep, it is even more important to stay hydrated. Some of the symptoms of dehydration overlap with those of exhaustion. Avoid excessive caffeine consumption and sugar-laden drinks.

Don’t skip meals

Keep your metabolism going, and don’t let hunger make you even more irritable. Good nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep healthy, quick meal options on hand. Keep healthy snacks on hand, as well, for the times you need a little something more between regular meals. Meal planning before your baby arrives can help you maintain a healthy diet in the early weeks of being new parents.

Stay connected with your network of support

You may think you don’t have the time, but visits, phone calls, and video calls with supportive friends and family can refresh your spirit. You may have gotten to know other new parents in preparation for your baby’s arrival. Reach out to them and support each other on your parenting journey. A whole new world of connections opens up to you once you have children. Embrace it!

It’s only temporary

You will not be sleep-deprived forever.

Babies vary enormously in their sleep patterns during the first few months of their lives. They do become toddlers eventually, and then school children, and then teenagers. (Then you will be struggling to wake them up in the morning!)

Having a baby and creating your family is one of the most exciting and joyous adventures you will have in your life. Enjoy every moment you can!

Baby Emotions: What Is Your Newborn Telling You?

Babies are born with the full range of human feelings. Baby emotions range from joy to fear to anger to sadness, and babies express these emotions through body language, a seemingly universal language of short and clearly distinguished sounds, various forms of crying, and attempts to make eye and body contact.

Yes, your newborn is telling you precisely how she feels and what he wants. All you need to do is learn how to understand.

Body language

Newborns kick and wave their arms and legs, turn their heads, start to look around, and make a whole range of facial expressions.

Babies who are only a few hours old already prefer adults who make eye contact and they recognize voices familiar from before birth. Watch their movements and identify what interests them, what they like and what they don’t like. Your baby is at the beginning of a lifelong learning journey and all he wants is to get through to you.

Don’t be afraid of trial and error–your baby will let you know if your response meets his needs.

Baby sounds

Every sound a baby makes, gurgling, whimpering, cooing, crying, and smaller, more specific sounds, expresses emotions and conveys needs. Nothing is random.

The “Dunstan Baby Language,” a concept created by Australian mother Priscilla Dunstan, is an innovative attempt to categorize certain sounds that newborns and babies up to three months make when they try to communicate specific needs.

Recent research has suggested that these seemingly universal sounds are probably more like stand-alone signals of baby emotions than a complex, combinable language, but listening closely to the sounds your baby makes and noticing her attempts to tell you what concerns her is the best way to establish communication.

Try to respond to the needs your baby expresses as soon as you can, so that the need doesn’t grow into distress. If you respond–and respond correctly–your baby will trust you and feel less need to cry.


Crying is one of the main ways to communicate baby emotions. Crying is a stronger, more intense language and evokes an emotional response from you. Experts have distinguished different kinds of crying for different needs. “I am hungry,” “I am tired,” and “I am in pain” all have their own specific cries, intended to elicit a specific reaction from you. Again, close observation and immediate, positive response will both help you to understand your baby’s language and bond with him. Babies cry because they need you to respond, not because they want to annoy you!

Body contact and eye contact

Hugging and cuddling your baby is another way to communicate directly through the sense of touch. Your newborn has spent the previous nine months in a world of constant skin contact. Touch is also a very sensitive way of picking up emotions and connecting in non-visual ways. Your baby absorbs whatever you feel. She can feel your heartbeat and will tune in to your breathing patterns which have a profound effect on her baby emotions.

Eye contact is important to babies even while their eye sight is still developing, but after a few weeks babies also feel a need to break eye contact and turn their heads away when the connection becomes too intense for them. This is the beginning of the complex dance of closeness and privacy boundaries in human relationships.

Babies Can Be Overstimulated, Too

Your baby may get overstimulated sometimes and need a little break from all the interaction. Dr. John Gottman offers the following tips for recognizing an overstimulated baby in his book And Baby Makes Three: Is your baby looking away? Shielding her face? Pushing away? Wrinkling his brow? Arching his back? Fussing? Crying? If so, your baby may be overstimulated, rather than asking to have a need met. In this situation, your baby may be trying to self-soothe by looking away. Well-meaning parents may make efforts to play more and engage in eye contact with their baby in an effort to make him "happy," further stimulating the baby and increasing the fussiness and crying.

Notice if your baby gets fussier, not calmer or quieter, when you do any of the following: move your face in front of his face, move your baby's body to keep her looking at you, increase the pace of play when she is upset, switch back and forth between activities in an effort to keep your baby happy, repeatedly pat his back or leg or repeatedly wipe her face or move her hair out of her eyes, compete with your partner for your baby's attention.

Just like mom and dad, baby sometimes needs a very short break from all the activity, too. Your attunement to baby emotions will help you to determine if your baby needs you to do something for him, or if he just needs a little rest from play, sights, and sounds.


Whatever your baby is trying to tell you via body language, touch, and sounds, he needs your response to it. Communication is a two-way street, right from the start. Quick and flexible response makes this communication effective and your baby will be less distressed. But sometimes babies are sad and angry for their own personal reasons, just like adults. Try to find out what is going on.

Your baby also starts to mimic tones of voice, hand movements, and moods right from birth. Even newborns start to cry when they hear other babies crying. Studies have found evidence for babies’ basic empathy with the feelings of others.

Baby emotions and baby bonding

Bonding between parents and baby is the foundation of a good relationship that facilitates child development and will last a lifetime.

Classes and workshops for expectant and new parents, like the Gottman Bringing Baby Home Program, can make the whole process of transitioning into parenthood more enjoyable and effective for parents. In addition to keeping your marital and parent-child relationships strong,  you might even bond with other parents and care-givers while you are learning how to communicate with your baby.

Every minute you spend trying to understand and respond to baby emotions will deepen your bond and create a rich and fulfilling family life.


Janie McMahan is a therapist in Austin, Texas. She works with expectant and new parents as they transition into their new roles as mom and dad. She is a Gottman Bringing Baby Home Educator and offers BBH workshops, small groups, and individual sessions for couples. For more information and scheduling, call Janie at 512-739-2494.

New Baby? Don't Sit on the Sidelines, Dad. Baby Needs You, Too!

Who else comes to your mind when you hear the words ‘new baby’?

Obviously, the mother of that new baby.

Traditionally, and for a long time, fathers didn’t really enter the picture, and when they did they were peripheral figures sitting on the sidelines. Babies were firmly inside the world of women–and really, what could a man do besides providing external security and financial resources?

Your grandfather was probably such a man. Even your father might have been.

But times have changed, and so have dads: fathers, your new baby needs you, too.

Your baby needs an intrepid adventurer.

“But I don’t know anything about babies!”

True. Maybe your wife doesn't either.

You can learn, starting with attending prenatal and parenting classes together, and supporting your wife through labor and childbirth.

And then you can go on learning it together. Together, as a couple and together, with the baby. Your baby will probably make its needs known in the ways babies do. The fun is in figuring out what your baby is trying to tell you.

Yes, fun. Your baby is not a burden. Parenting is a completely new adventure for you and your partner to explore. As with any journey of discovery, your life will be transformed.

Access resources and information–your new baby needs a geek!

There will be plenty of people who have experience with new babies and can guide you. Don’t forget to ask other men what it was like for them. If you have a good relationship with your own father, it’s a great opportunity for another bond.

And there are also many sources of information (offline and online) where you can do your geeky best. Don’t forget to share it all with your partner and ask her opinion. This is team work and your baby needs both of you working together.

Bonding with your baby–your baby needs you close.

Holding your baby is not just a practical way to get her to places. (Since she can’t walk yet!) Physical contact, close embraces, and contact skin-to-skin are essential to the mental and physical health of newborns. Just imagine you grew for nine months inside another human body where you could hear your mother’s heartbeat. And now you’ve lost your womb! Close holding reassures your new baby, and skin contact conveys a lot of information that the baby’s new brain can process.

Caregiving–your baby needs a strong, soft man.

There is nothing to prevent a man from being a good caregiver. Your natural abilities weren’t eliminated by the Y chromosome.

Basic caregiving duties like changing diapers, cleaning, bathing and dressing the baby, and creating a calming atmosphere can be performed by most adults adequately, even if some people are a little squeamish at first. And providing emotional support–well, by this stage you’re probably an expert!

“But I can’t breastfeed…”

No, you can’t. You can’t do everything. But you can do everything else.

24/7 management–your new baby needs you on the night shift.

New babies have no idea how we like to structure our day. They follow their own rhythm and even that changes all the time as they develop.

Think of the night shift as a test of your strength. For a long time, industrial night shift work was reserved for men since women’s constitutions were thought to be too delicate for it. Your baby will reward you by trusting dad when the darkness falls, and falling asleep on your chest when you are both calm. (And think about the many many episodes of your favorite TV series you can catch up on while there is nobody there to criticize your taste…)

Traditional roles still matter–your baby needs a protector.

New babies can’t do anything for themselves.

They need a house, food, warmth, clothing, and 24/7 care.

All that costs money and maybe the mother of your baby is taking a little time out from work. So, yes, it may well be up to you to provide the foundations of your lives, at least for a while.

Support your wife–your baby needs a happy mother.

Help your partner without being asked to (failure to do so is the main complaint from new mothers), support her emotionally and show your own emotions, and don’t stop talking to her as an adult.

From couple to family–your baby needs a dad who can grow.

Take an active and positive part in reshaping the dynamics at home.

After your baby is born, your relationship will never be the same.

That’s very true.

It will grow in size and in love, if you let it.

You and your partner now have a common project of the most urgent and most fulfilling kind. A helpless small human who depends on both of you for his or her survival, development, and shaping himself or herself into a full person.

Don’t experience your own life and family from the sidelines. Go right in there and embrace the love.

Parenting With Mindfulness

Mindful Parenting Sillhouette with attribution.jpg

A few days ago I read an article by a blogger confessing to being one of “those” parents. She was admitting to the world, or at least to the readers of The Huffington Post, that she was guilty of being a less-than-perfect parent. You know the scenario: parent is tired, overwhelmed, emotionally triggered in some way and doesn’t respond to the child in a way that would win an award for Parent of the Year. Sound familiar? It certainly did to me! As the mother of three now-adult sons (the oldest biological and the two younger ones adopted from Russia), I have certainly had my moments of not exactly stellar parenting. Being a parent is a tough job, and as Daniel Hughes wrote in his book, Brain-Based Parenting: The Neuroscience of Caregiving for Healthy Attachment, "Although the process of becoming a parent may seem like a ‘no brainer,’ the process of parenting taps all the brain power we can muster.”

What I have learned through the years, from my sons as well as in my role as counseling professional, is that consciously tapping into our mental processes, and working at mindful parenting, can go a long way towards helping to allay the reactivity we all have with our children from time to time. In fact, it has been argued that the practice of mindfulness could be the single most effective way to improve your parenting skills.

What is mindful parenting? I’ve seen a number of definitions, and what they have in common is an emphasis on the practice of moment-to-moment awareness from a non-judgmental stance.  My favorite description of mindful parenting is this one offered by Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book, Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting:
Mindful Parenting involves keeping in mind what is truly important as we go about the activities of daily living with our children. Much of the time, we may find we need to remind ourselves of what that is, or even admit that we may have no idea at the moment, for the thread of meaning and direction in our lives is easily lost. But even in our most trying, sometimes horrible moments as parents, we can deliberately step back and begin afresh, asking ourselves as if for the first time, and with fresh eyes, “What is truly important here?"

How do we become more mindful parents? First, it is important to accept our own imperfection as parents. None of us will ever be perfect in our role as Mom or Dad. As the Huffington Post blogger pointed out, it’s impossible to remain attuned and empathic with our children at every moment. We do our best, but we are human. After acknowledging and accepting our imperfection as parents, it is a day-to-day, moment-to-moment endeavor to practice mindful parenting. It begins with each of us as individuals.

The benefits to the parent of parenting in a mindful way include a decrease in parental stress as well as increased pleasure in parenting. It also brings profound benefits to your child.  There are a number of ways to practice mindfulness, from simple breathing exercises to formal religious practices. If all of this mindfulness talk is new to you, here are a couple of simple things you might try to help you become more mindful in your role as a parent and in every aspect of your life:

  • Breathing exercise. Find a quiet place and sit comfortably in a chair, or on the floor, if you prefer. Close your eyes and notice your breath as you inhale and exhale. Focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale. If you find your focus and thoughts have wandered away, simply go back to noticing your breath as you inhale and exhale. That’s it!
  • Listening exercise. Find a place to sit or relax comfortably, where you will have few distractions, and notice any sounds you might hear. You might be surprised at what you notice when you focus your attention in the moment and listen. A barking dog outside in the distance, the silent whir of the refrigerator motor as it clicks on at the opposite end of the house. It’s amazing what we can hear when we listen with mindfulness. Again, if you find your thoughts have wandered, simply return to focused listening.

Pick one of these and try it out once a day for five minutes. Expect that from time to time you will have to bring your attention and focus back to the moment during the exercises. That’s all. Even five minutes each day of one of the exercises described above can pay off in significant ways for you, your children, and your entire family. My guess is that after a while, you may want to increase your mindfulness exercise time to ten or twenty minutes once each day. It’s a small investment of time with the potential for big rewards.

5 Common Symptoms of Postpartum Depression & What To Do About Them

Having a baby is a joyful and precious gift of life. But, when you find yourself incapable of enjoying your baby or when your life takes a turn for the worse, when you know you should be happy but you’re not, postpartum depression might be to blame.

Unlike the common ‘baby blues’ that last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks after childbirth, postpartum depression will usually not go away on its own if left untreated. They both have very similar symptoms, but depression will go far beyond the normal emotional overload of sudden hormonal changes; it is a medical illness that needs to be treated early.

Trust your instinct. If you feel that things are not as they should be, chances are they aren’t. Here are some common symptoms of postpartum depression and ways to handle them.

1. Overwhelming fatigue

Exhaustion is part of motherhood; those sweet little beings have the tendency to keep us up all night, and demand all of our attention and energy. With postpartum depression, even a good night's sleep will not make you feel better and you might lose interest in your baby and other important aspects of your life.

To prevent this lethargy from consuming you, take every opportunity your baby gives you to rest. You also need to stay active. Go for a walk* with your baby and get some fresh air; it will rejuvenate you.

2. Loss of appetite

Depression can affect your interest in your most basic needs, such as eating. Instead of skipping meals altogether, push yourself to take very small meals throughout the day. Eat as healthy as you can in small portions. You can snack all day on celery and carrots or fruit. Try to eat healthy foods until your appetite returns to normal. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages as much as possible.

If someone offers you prepared meals or help in the kitchen, say yes. Let others help you.

3. Intense irritability or anger

Mood swings are common after childbirth, but if you have constant and intense bursts of anger and you are unable to control them, this is depression talking.

Try to take some time to yourself, several times a day, to decompress and regain control. This is your system telling you to ask for support.

4. Not bonding with your child

The mother-child bond is a natural and very strong connection. Postpartum depression can take away your desire to bond with your child, as if you were unconsciously blaming your baby for the constant crying, diaper changing, and sleep deprivation.

In order to truly enjoy your baby, you need rest and support. Let your husband, partner, family, or trusted friend take care of your baby a for brief period of time while you attend to your self-care.

5. Insomnia

Just like fatigue and loss of appetite, the best cure for insomnia is to be more physically active*. Cardio exercises are especially effective for getting the stagnant and negative energy out of your system. Depression drains your emotions and your mind, but your body accumulates all the negative stress. You can also try guided meditations at bedtime to induce sleep.

When to contact your doctor or counselor

  • Your symptoms last for more than two weeks without any signs of improvement
  • Your symptoms prevent you from taking care of your baby or yourself
  • If you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • Your symptoms keep getting worse

Your doctor may prescribe antidepressants, therapy sessions, and even hormone therapy as needed. Make sure to tell your doctor if you are breastfeeding.

Don’t let postpartum depression ruin this magical moment for you and your baby. Catch it early, complete treatments recommended by your doctor or therapist, and go on enjoying your family life as you should.

*Always remember to follow your doctor's instructions regarding exercise after childbirth.

Returning to Work After Maternity Leave? 7 Steps to Ease the Transition

Whether you are returning to work by choice or by obligation, mixing motherhood and career will surely bring its share of challenges, sacrifices, and adjustments. But as long as you do your best, set realistic expectations, and keep the “mother’s guilt” at bay, you will make it work.

Here are 7 steps to ensure a smooth and successful transition when returning to work:

1. Make a plan

There are many important things to think about and consider before going back to work, for example:
- Finding suitable childcare for your baby.
- Making sure you have the flexibility with your work schedule, your partner, or your baby’s daycare to cover for unforeseen events (sick baby, delayed commute, extended work hours, etc.).
- Coordinating work and daycare schedules.
- If nursing, you will need a breast-pump. You can freeze milk in advance, but unless you plan to discontinue breastfeeding, you will need to pump at work. Things to consider: Will you have access to a private room when you need to pump milk? Will there be a refrigerator at work to store your milk until you leave for home at the end of the work day?

2. Prepare Meals

Both work and baby will demand your undivided attention and energy. Ease-up the transition by preparing and freezing as many meals ahead of time as possible. It will be a lifesaver, especially for the first few days.

3. Practice

In order to minimize stress and anxiety, start practicing your new lifestyle and schedule:
- Start spending time away from your baby to reduce separation anxiety, allowing for a gradual adjustment.
- If using childcare, have your baby attend a few days ahead of time for him or her to get accustomed, and to iron-out the details.
- Try out your new work schedule; get ready early in the morning, head out the door, and come back a little later. See how it feels and how it impacts the baby’s routine then adjust as needed.
- Have someone else bottle-feed your baby before resuming work.

4. Work Schedule Options

Discuss with your employer the possibility of a gradual return to work. For example, you could work half days for a couple of weeks, or only a few days a week at first. This could help everyone ease into the change.

5. Look Professional

Prepare your office wardrobe in advance. Make sure the clothes feel great and look good on you. If you are not completely back to your pre-baby figure, shop for clothes that make you feel your best at this time. This doesn’t need to be an expensive shopping outing. Check out resale shops, store and online sales, or even borrow some items from a friend or relative until you are back into your pre-baby clothing.  Feeling and looking professional will boost your self-confidence during the transition from home to work.

6. Pre-Visit

If possible, plan an office visit before your scheduled return; get project updates, meeting summaries, latest changes in resources and procedures — anything to help you get back into the game with a sharp mind.

7. Delegate

Being a working mother will test your delegation and organizational skills. Be realistic before you say "yes" to requests at home or at work and learn to say "no" when possible. Get creative, offer other solutions and, most importantly, become a master at delegating!

Thankfully, more and more employers are becoming advocates of healthy work-life balance options for their employees. But whether or not your company offers you that flexibility and understanding, as a successful working mother you will learn to readjust priorities and expectations and find even better, more efficient ways to get things done.

The most important thing, during all of these changes, is to not lose track of yourself and what’s truly important in your life. Make time for yourself, spend quality time with your spouse and your baby, minimize unnecessary distractions, and make the best of every moment.