Category Archives: Philosophy

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.

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?

Boy Meets Girl

Boy Meets GirlLast night, my partner and I watched Boy Meets Girl, a touching, funny film  about transgender love and friendship.

No, we didn’t pick the title because of the hubbub around Caitlyn Jenner (though I’m sure Netflix moved it to the top of their list due to recent controversy and publicity).

I’m glad we had the chance to view the film. Powerful and witty, it offers insight into the world of a transgender woman, her friends, family and lovers. I don’t want to spoil the plot so I won’t give away too much information but, if you want to experience life from someone else’s perspective (unless of course you’re a trans person), I suggest you give this sweet, simple and funny film a try.

It was refreshingly honest without being cloy, depressing or one-sided. And, Michelle Hendley is a force to be reckoned with. Check out Michelle and her gorgeous web site. I’m simply in awe of people who are willing to “put themselves out there” and truly be, well, themselves.

A Trip Down Bipolar Road…

Barry Shainbaum

Barry Shainbaum

I was recently introduced to Barry Shainbaum through a colleague. Creative leader, entrepreneur, broadcaster, mentor, counselor and “bipolar survivor”, Barry shares his history of mental illness and advice with us.

Q:  What advice do you have for children currently living with mental illness?    

A: You are possibly at the very beginning of a long journey — “a journey into yourself.”  The road to living with and possibly even overcoming mental illness can be multifaceted and one encompassing medication, psychotherapy and spiritual exploration.

Q: How has your struggle shaped who you are today?

A: My struggle of overcoming bipolar disorder was a tortuous winding road encompassing twenty years.   From an illness that came close to taking my life, today life is rich and full, both personally and professionally, with many creative ventures.  I have evolved to become a person who finds joy in each and every day, and in the smallest things in life.  I have also become aware of the power of persistence, hope, meditation, visualization, nature, love and synchronicity.

Q: Do you think mental illness (in adults and children) invokes creativity? Do you think people who haven’t “suffered” or felt pain can be truly creative?

A: The creative urge is often greater in those facing mental health problems, as there is a need to express the pain, confusion, and to search for meaning and joy amidst darkness.  Why has it been said countless times that there is a fine line between genius and insanity?   Perhaps, those with the most pain have to work so much harder on their lives, and often that means transcending boundaries.  I have also read that [people feel] joy to the same extent that they have suffered. I agree with that statement.

Q: Do you think society will ever be free of stigma or will people living with mental health always be stigmatized?

A: Stigma against those with mental illness is slowly being eroded.   The more that mental illness and mental health issues are discussed and the more that well-known figures come forward and talk about their challenges, the more stigma will be reduced. I see a future where, those diagnosed with mental illness are told, “In time your diagnosis will unlock the door to a life grander than it had been, had you never [been] ill.”

Q: What tools, tips, or resources helped you most as a youth struggling with bipolar disorder?

A: When I “fell ill” in 1970, there were not the resources that there are today.   As a volunteer, I currently run a men’s group at the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario and at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. I recommend that a person receiving a diagnosis of mental illness  begin [their journey] in the library. Read about the numerous aspects of mental illness: psychiatric, psychological, genetic, relationship, environmental and spiritual.   It can be overwhelming so read a little bit at a time. And remember: Life is full of problems. And by facing our problems, we evolve and grow.


Barry Shainbaum overcame bipolar disorder 24 years ago.   He works in 5 disciplines:  professional speaker, photographer, radio broadcaster, singer/musician in senior homes and as a mental health consultant.  He is also a juggler!  Barry is the author of two books:  Hope and Heroes, and Dancing in the Rain.  His website is: barryshainbaum.com

Damned if We Do, Damned if We Don’t…

Parent Trap

Parent Trap

As a freelance writer, I regularly receive articles, books, gadgets and expert opinions pertaining to parenting and health.

Usually I’m happy to discover new philosophies and content but, sometimes, it can be too much.

For instance, this Huffington Post article Anxiety in Children: Are We to Blame was shared by friends on Facebook yesterday.

The article is certainly valid, focused on the increase in “helicopter parenting” and our apparent inability to lay off kids and give them the independence they require. “…Seligman also identifies learning independence as a major source of growth. Kids need the opportunity to learn for themselves, the chance to make their own decisions and to see how the consequences work out.”

It’s a tough call. After hearing about an eight-year-old girl who was almost snatched on her way to school this week, parents have every right to be concerned about children’s safety.

Is it possible to encourage independence and learning while still maintaining a safe vigil? Where is that illusive line between hovering and respect, loving and awareness?

What’s your take?

Virtual Sunshine

Blue Skies, Nothin' But Blue Skies...

Blue Skies, Nothin’ But Blue Skies…

After a fun and fruitful winter break with kids, friends and family, the January blahs are setting in. Sure, it’s sunny and relatively mild in my city today but, still, it is January.

With school back in session, extracurricular activities beginning, and work deadlines looming, feelings of warm sun and spring air are still well beyond my grasp.

So, I figure, if we can’t enjoy the real thing, please allow me bring you a  little bit of virtual sunshine:

Kind Over Matter — A beautifully-designed blog about kindness, gentleness and love.

An Invisible Thread — An absolutely heartwarming true story about a woman’s “chance” meeting with a hungry, poor child and the relationship that followed.

Call Me Hannah — A relatively new (but very popular) blog created by a 9-year-old girl who wants to inspire others to be generous and open-hearted.

The Dancing Egg — Written by journalist Caren Chesler, this engaging blog (also featured on Huffington Post), features the musings of a woman who had a baby at the age of 47.

Character Community — A volunteer-driven foundation dedicated to “nurturing positive character attributes and enhancing York Region as a desirable place to live, learn, work, and play.”

Please let me know if you have other stories, blogs or sites that might balance out January’s mental malaise – and Happy New Year!