Category Archives: Facts

Transitions

Canadian Mental Health Week 2013Day Two of the Vanier Institute’s Families in Canada 2015 conference is now complete and my head is swimming with facts, figures, ideas and connections.

My wallet is swimming with business cards.

I’ve never felt choked up at a conference before: beyond those stats, facts and figures were real emotions, revelations, secrets, personal journeys and testimonials, connections. All of the panelists shared personal insights into the state of families today – why some are broken and why some are successful.

Everyone was touched by the candid portrayals of life as a Canadian family. Whether it was the lawyer speaking about her transition to becoming female, to immigrants talking about their own transition into Canadian life, to dads talking about transitioning into loving, caring role models (sometimes primary role models) for their children; one of the conference themes centred around moving and changing and growing.

We can all relate I’m sure. What transition are you presently going through? New parent? New grad? New diagnosis? New relationship? Please feel free to share.

On Not Judging Covers

Heart PuzzleToday I had the good fortune of attending day one of The Vanier Institute’s Families in Canada conference.

As one of the only writers in attendance, I met and listened to fascinating attendees and speakers. They included Andrew Solomon, Ann Douglas, Mary Gordon, university professors, and executive directors of family-related non-profit organizations.

So many facets of family were covered: law and incarceration, youth justice, gender roles, work and family balance (or integration), mental health and stress, domestic violence, millennials in the workplace, and childcare.

I took copious notes and can’t wait to digest all of the information and hopefully use much of it for this blog and for pitching story ideas to magazine editors.

However, one of the best and possibly most ironic (or iconic) aspects of my day happened on the bus ride back from the conference. The bus was packed as it was rush hour and I was heading to suburbia. After about three stops, a man in his mid-thirties with a mohawk, earrings, tattoos, white tank and shorts got on the bus with a stroller – an adorable one year old boy was inside.

On first blush, one might think of the situation: Oh, poor kid. That man probably isn’t a strong role model/father/caregiver. 

But, that wasn’t the case at all: The man was obviously loving and devoted to his baby; carefully putting a blanket on him and encouraging him to suck his pacifier to go to sleep. He appreciated all of the coos coming from fellow passengers and bragged about his little boy’s accomplishments.

It was a sweet scenario and reminded me of why I came to this conference and why I enjoy writing about families, relationships, parenting and children: Even families who look perfect from the outside usually aren’t, and families who appear imperfect are often loving, caring, and whole.

Don’t Cry Out Loud

3738_98280902386_5922513_nYears ago, my cousin told me a story about her friends and their new baby.

She and her husband were visiting the couple and their newborn. The adults were downstairs in the living room and the baby was crying upstairs in her crib or bassinette. The child’s father wanted to go soothe the baby. However, the mother “forbid” the father from going to the baby because they were “putting her on a schedule“.

My cousin explained how uncomfortable and emotionally difficult it was to hear the little baby crying and how the father desperately wanted to go soothe the child (his instinct I’m sure).

Even though that situation has nothing to do with me, I still think about it from time to time. Newborn human babies only have crying, laughing, and other basic sounds as their communication tools. They need their parents or other adults to respond to their needs as they’re basically helpless without support.

Further, avoiding your baby because he’s crying or distressed can be emotionally draining for parents and especially damaging for the child. In fact, studies now show that not coming to your baby’s aid when he or she is crying, may cause brain damage and severe distress. While that news may be hard to hear, it’s very important to be attentive to your baby.

Excessive crying can be extremely stressful and I’m not one for guilt-tripping parents; we  all have enough on our minds and  often feel conflicted trying to decipher whether we’re making the right decisions for our children. However, instincts and common sense should always dictate.

You’re Getting Sleepy

sunsetEarlier today, I posted a status update on Facebook about feeling like “a zombie in the sunshine” after experiencing a terrible night’s sleep. (Full disclosure: I was sleeping with my daughter who was tossing and turning though really I’m not a great sleeper at the best of times.)

As we all know, sleep can be a challenge for adults and children alike. According to the Better Sleep Council, toddlers, children and teens need a minimum of 10 hours of sleep to stay healthy, babies need 16 and adults require 8. Lack of sleep can cause disturbances in mood, behaviour, learning ability, friendships, processing, relationships and work.

My status update received about a dozen replies and lots of advice. Suggestions included everything from taking magnesium (which I do) to using essential oils (wild orange on the big toes – who knew?!) to listening to relaxing, sleep-inducing music.

I’m a big fan of essential oils. We’ve used them in the diffuser; mixed with coconut oil for stomach aches, headaches and cramps; and I even ingested a tiny dollop of oregano oil when I had a cold. (It worked but it was one of the worst tastes I’ve ever experienced.)

For years, I (and sometimes my children) have used a white noise machine to block out extraneous noises and mimic sounds from the womb. It works like a charm, especially for those who are light sleepers.

Still, no matter what tips and tricks make for decent slumber, I’d love to have consistently good restful sleep. It makes life so much easier.

What’s your experience with sleep? Are you and your kids naturally good sleepers? If not, what’s your best tip? Please share. I’d be ever so grateful.

Sensitive much?

First off, some “housekeeping” as the corporate folks like to say. The reason I’m posting like crazy all of a sudden is because I’ve joined a “blogathon”. This special virtual event has all members posting once a day for the month of June. So far I’m on track. However, I hope those of you who are following my blog won’t get overwhelmed; after the blogathon, I plan to post weekly or bi-weekly.

emotional brainToday’s topic? Sensitivity. These days, there’s a lot of buzz around “highly sensitive people”.

Said to feel things more deeply than others, HSP can use their gifts to accelerate life but need to be aware of their limits, too.

According to Dr. Elaine Aron’s Highly Sensitive People web site, highly sensitive children and adults:

  • Are easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby
  • Notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art
  • Have a rich and complex inner life
  • Were seen as particularly sensitive or shy by parents and teachers

Does this sound like you or your child? I know I can relate. While I am sociable and love concerts and parties, I can also get overwhelmed and stressed out by loud noises such as sirens, fireworks, dogs barking, or loud children.

Do you think you or your children might be highly sensitive too? Do you want specific tools to help your children feel more comfortable in their own skin? In addition to Aron’s child-focused sensitivity quiz, another amazing resource is author and speaker Maureen Healy. Give their sites, books and blogs a quick tour; I’m sure you’ll find many valuable tips.

What have you learned from your highly sensitive child? Do you see this as an affliction or a blessing?

We Are Family

A Clear Path

Next week I’ll be attending the Vanier Institute’s Families in Canada conference. As a freelance writer  focused on subjects relating to children, parenting, mental health and social development, this is the perfect learning event.

How I’ll attend the myriad sessions in only two short days, I do not know. Themes include everything from LGBT issues to divorce, poverty, gender, northern families, volunteering, education, violence and love;  obviously there aren’t many topics that can’t be intertwined into the concept of “family”.

One of my favourite reflections on family is written by my writer colleague Christina Frank. The Half-Life of the Divorced Parent,posted on the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, is not only brilliantly written but poignant, clever and sad. I often think of Christina’s words as I go through my own parenting journey.

No one expert or speaker can define the complex topic of family as it means different things to different people. Trust, honesty, loyalty, friendship, secrets, ties, heritage, culture, blood relations, laughter, tears, journey, protection…

What does family mean to you?

You, Me + Toxic Beauty

Opening disclaimer: Trusted blog readers, fear not; I have not forsaken you. I’ve begun a new job and still freelance on the side. So, needless to say: life is busy. Thank you for understanding.

ToxicBanner_0

Toxic banner from ED web site

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of attending Environmental Defence Canada’s “eco-beauty” event in downtown Toronto.

Now, what does eco-beauty and toxic cosmetics have to do with kids’ mental health? Stay with me…

Environmental Defence puts on an eco-beauty event about once every six months. Open to the public, certified members share their wares for education and profit. And, boy were the products enticing. Vendors offered organic, non-toxic cosmetic and beauty items such as:

  • Bath and hair oil and baby oil
  • Body lotion
  • Lipsticks, lip balms, face lotions
  • Natural deodorants, hemorrhoid creams and sore throat remedies

Bloggers were also treated to a short presentation about the “toxic ten”: These are “cancer-causing, hormone-disrupting, and allergy-inducing substances that have been banned or restricted in European products that can still be found in Canadian products.”

The toxic ten ingredients include: triclosan, artificial musk, parabens, phthalates, petrolatum, BHA and BHT. Find out more by visiting the ED’s page on toxins in personal care products.

Now the link between mental health and toxins? Beyond obvious concerns and links between ingesting toxins and the physical and mental health of adults, babies and children, researchers have found that triclosan is an endocrine disruptor: “substances that interfere with the body’s hormones…suppress[ing] the activity of mast cells, which are important to the functioning of the immune system.”

Evaluating all of this data leads me to re-read ingredients included not only in food and drink but also in my and my children’s shampoos, conditioners, body wash, body lotion, medicines, etc.

What about you?