Tag Archives: family

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.

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?

Health and Wellness Scholarship

Go nuts! Image courtesy of NutsforLife.com

Go nuts! Image courtesy of NutsforLife.com

It’s a well known fact that nutrition (or lack thereof) is linked to mental health.

If a child is eating sugar-laden chemical-filled donuts and additive-filled juices dyed a creepy blue colour, behaviour and mood can be affected.

I thought I knew a lot about additives and dyes until I researched an article for KIWI magazine on Food Choices for Kids with ADHD. Some parents remove all dyes (blue and red are said to be the worst) from their children’s diet – often with dramatic results. I do my best to avoid artificial dyes which are added to cake icing, juice, sports’ drinks, candy, vitamins and cough syrup. It’s a slippery slope.

In related news: In January I was notified that I won a scholarship to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s Health Coach Training Program. I’m pleased to be chosen and am seriously considering taking this course. Learning more about the foods, vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to develop and thrive is fascinating. I’d love to help myself, my family and others flourish as a result.

Tell Me!

Tell Me!

Recently, I received two non-fiction children’s books written by Leanne Matlow – a counselor and workshop facilitator based in Toronto. Her two books are: Thinking About Thoughts and Tell Me!

Tell Me!, illustrated by Tamar Tal-El, focuses on the worry, anxiety and concern that sometimes consumes children and teens.

In this short colourful book, a pre-teen is worried about her twin sister, Kim. Kim is dealing with an anxiety disorder and the book cleverly and clearly illustrates how one family member’s health concerns can radiate out to affect family and friends. Kim’s sister is frustrated because although she can see that  Kim is suffering and her personality has changed, no one explains what’s going on. She herself feels anxious and alone.

After speaking with her parents, our protagonist understands that Kim is having a difficult time. She begins to see a “coach” named Dr. Simon who later explains to her whole family what’s happening with Kim and how they too can help her out. “Finally, the truth!” says our protagonist.

Dr. Simon goes on to outline the four “superheroes” whom Kim uses to help stay calm and focused. They are:

1) Do-It Guy who tells us it’s best not to avoid; just give it a try.

2) Distraction Dude helps us focus on something else instead of our anxious thoughts.

3) Whoa! Man reminds us how to stop unreal, unwanted or unhelpful thoughts.

4) The Reflector assists us by reminding us of our past successes.

If your child is dealing with anxiety you may want to pick up Tell Me! and use it as a tool for meaningful discussion. Let me know if you do.

Leanne Matlow is a Professional Colleague of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy and an Associate member of the Association for Behavior and Cognitive Therapies. Leanne’s blog for parents can be found at http://lmatlow.blogspot.ca.

Stress and the Working Mother – Q&A with Author Erin Flynn Jay

Erin Flynn Jay, author of Mastering the Mommy Track

Today I am pleased to post a Q&A with Erin Flynn Jay, author of Mastering the Mommy Track, which is hot off the presses! This interview gets at the (sometimes overlooked) aspect of mothers’ and kids’ mental health during difficult economic times.

Please note: some of the stats included in this interview (and in the book) pertain to American women only. However, much of the material – and sentiment – is universal.

Q) Chapter 1 is entitled Mental Health: I Am Overwhelmed – How Can I Cope? What surprised you most about the mental health of working mothers today?

A)  Many working moms are under tremendous pressure and are too stressed. Some have felt guilty for being employed while colleagues, friends or family members were laid off. Many of them are the primary breadwinners while their spouse or partner is unemployed, vying to get back in the workforce. They may carry guilt for not being able to spend more time with their children yet realize they need to work for financial reasons.

Q) How do you feel and/or what did you uncover about the impact of mothers’ stress on their children?

A) When we’re stressed, we have less patience and fewer emotional resources. This can render any mom vulnerable to using parenting strategies they might not normally employ. Child abuse increases during economic downturns. Moms and dads must pay attention to their emotional responses to their children. When you are stressed, your children will know it and will act out more often and more extremely. Children know when you feel guilt because you give in more easily and are less consistent. If you don’t want these challenging behaviours, you need to spend more time with their children.

Q) What’s the number one thing you can suggest for stressed out families?

A)  Keep your cool at home! Based on my interviews with psychologists, here are some tips to help you:

  • Slow down after work. Spend some time with your children, even if it is just 20 minutes before you get dinner prepared and cooked. Appreciate the small moments you have.
  • Set the proper example. Children look up to parents and follow their role. Make sure you aren’t yelling at your kids over spilling snacks or drawing on the wall.
  • Give yourself some credit. Commend yourself for getting through each hectic day. No one is perfect. You won’t get every project finished on time. Do your best each day and realize the rest will have to wait until tomorrow. Don’t be too tough on yourself – it’s okay to make mistakes. Let your children know it’s okay for them to also make mistakes.

Q) How has researching and writing this book changed your perspective on today’s working mother?

A)  I did an interview with AdvisorOne recently and spoke about how working moms are feeling the pressure from their roles of breadwinner and caregiver. It’s this pressure on moms nationwide–and the economic downturn–that motivated me to write this book… [In a recent study it was noted that] Employers will choose a dad over a mom because they fear that moms won’t be as available or committed to the job, said study co-author Michelle Moroto, an assistant professor in the sociology department at the University of Alberta. This is so unfortunate.

Q) Does the old adage, “it’s not quantity, it’s quality” in regard to time spent with children still hold true?

A) Yes, quality is paramount. Moms, don’t be so preoccupied with work or your career that you miss out on quality time with your kids. Ditch the smart phone for an hour or two each weekday so you can play with your kids or read to them. Limit the amount of TV they watch, and strive for quality interactions. Make the weekends extra special—take them on family outings to local parks, museums or excursions. Ask them what is going on at school, and they will tell you. Evaluate their current daycare or preschool program to make sure it’s the best fit for them and they are happy.

Q) Anything else you’d like to add in regard to your book and the topic of children’s mental health?

A) My research turned up a disturbing fact. With such intense pressure on career moms, many are turning to alcohol or drugs to calm frayed nerves. A November 2010 article in Working Mother magazine cites statistics that stress may drive more mothers to drink or abuse drugs. The article profiles women who suffer from alcohol and other addictions. Of those responding to the magazine survey, 40 percent say they drink to cope with stress, and 57 percent say they’ve misused prescription drugs.

Moms need to seek professional help or express concerns about a person they care about before it’s too late.

Erin Flynn Jay is a writer and publicity expert. She received a B.A. in Communication from the University of Scranton in PA and lives in Philadelphia with her family. You can order Mastering the Mommy Track at Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/PWThUb .