When looking at relationships, I view struggle as part of the relational process that can lead to immense growth. Staying together, and working through the hard times when you really want to leave, is part of what can make a beautiful and lasting love.
As a general philosophy, this is an optimistic view, and one that holds both partners in a positive light regardless of what difficulties they are facing. It also contains three important premises:
Despite my optimism, there are deal breakers. In some situations, leaving the relationship will be the healthiest choice a person can make. I would not suggest those who are experiencing physical and emotional abuse, for example, to stay for the sake of love and growth. If you are in this situation, seek professional help immediately.
Other situations, however, are not as black and white. Those who have experienced infidelity, will likely grapple in deciding whether to stay or go.
Infidelity is a complex subject. And the decision about whether or not to stay in a marriage is even more complex. When considering vows, children, finances, extended family, religion, community involvement, social status and all the other factors involved in a decision like this, we can quickly see why this is a decision that can only be made by those going through it.
People who have been cheated on will say they feel a combination of hurt, anger, betrayal, and jealousy. The intensity can range from being moderately painful to becoming full blown despair, rage, and grief. Some have symptoms that we usually see in individuals suffering with depression or trauma. The latter is more likely to be true if the one being cheated on has a history of being cheated on, or had a parent stray from the marriage.
Infidelity chips away at, or breaks apart entirely, the foundation of commitment, trust, respect, and life long partnership. It tests the ability to feel safe and secure within self and the relationship.
The circumstances surrounding the infidelity matter. A partner caught with no intention of ending the affair is an entirely different situation than a partner ending the affair and wanting to work hard to save the marriage. A single one night stand, that is an isolated incident, is likely to land differently than affairs that lasted months or years. Other details are important too. Multiple hidden affairs tend to be devastating to the relationship. And if the stepping out spouse still has contact with his/her lover, repair will be excruciatingly difficult (if not impossible).
Healing after infidelity is a slow and challenging process best done with the guidance of a couple therapist who specializes in couple therapy.
Yet there is hope.
As painful as it is, infidelity can draw both partners into a space that begs them to dive deep into the discovery of what they both need and want, as individuals and as partners.
As easy as it is to point the finger and blame at the person who had the affair, it will be important to explore,
What led the person to step out?
Boredom? Sexual desire? Lack of self-discipline? Low moral compass?
Perhaps there are all sorts of reasons why people have affairs. But, I am going to focus on one possible reason:
Bonding and connection are missing from from the relationship.
We are wired to partner up and create a secure bond with another person. The bond itself becomes a safe haven and a foundation from which to venture through life. Many have never learned how to create a secure bond in their relationship. They long for it, but fumble in their attempts to get it.
We need connection as much as we need food, water, and shelter. But connection can easily be trumped by stressful careers, financial responsibilities, multiple children, demanding schedules, and all the activities and aspects of modern family life.
Years can go by in a marriage without much laughter, touch, attention, presence, eye contact, deep conversation, vulnerable expression, intimacy, or sex. These moves tend to happen with frequency in the beginning of a relationship but sometimes fade away.
If the need for connection is not met within the love relationship, or in another healthy way that respects the relationship, many find connection through food, alcohol, video games, porn, or masturbation.
For others, connection happens through an affair.
Am I excusing infidelity?
Personal responsibility, ideally, will guide one to take action and do what it takes to get his or her needs met in a way that is healthy and honoring of their relationship. Yet, I know this is not as easy as it sounds. All sorts of people are yearning for more connection but do not know how to get it.
In situations in which affairs have already occurred, it is normal and appropriate to be consumed with analyzing, “do I stay in this relationship or is infidelity a dealbreaker?”.
For those who want to stay together after infidelity there is immense hope.
For those who decide to walk away from each other after infidelity there is immense hope.
Yet, I will end with offering a third option. This decision does not need to be made right away. Do the work first, within yourself and with your spouse. Learn what it means to create a secure bond and deep connection. Then decide. No matter how dark it gets, positive transformation within the relationship can occur. Many couples never get to experience a deeply fulfilling relationship because they leave each other when it gets really hard.
Adversity creates the perfect opportunity to connect, come together, expand awareness, open hearts, and slow down. To learn more about how to create secure bonding and connection within your marriage, read the books “Hold me Tight” or “Love Sense” written by Dr. Sue Johnson or visit http://iceeft.com/.
Cristina Trette is the Co-Founder of Elevating Connection which brings relationship education and experiences to couples. To learn more visit www.cristinatrette.com and www.elevatingconnection.com.
At the start of a relationship, most couples show up with their best self forward. During the infatuation phase, we rarely see flaws in our partner. Happy brain chemical release has us buzzing around in a minor state of bliss for the first one to two years of being in a new relationship.
Over time, a more realistic way and sustainable way of being together emerges, complete with bad days and bad moods.
This is healthy and normal. Who doesn’t want a relationship where pretense dissolves and we can be real?
We want to be able to tell it like it is! Home is where we can let it all hang out, right?
Well, that depends.
Many couples have a difficult time accessing relationship basics - such as kindness, respect, care, and compassion - when feeling angry. There are all sorts reasons for this. Most couples, when arguing, have moved into a true state of fight or flight and the autonomic nervous system turns on and takes over.
It can be difficult to slow this process down and stay attuned when in a disagreement. One of the overarching goals of couple therapy is to assist couples in exploring their feelings and maintain connection even during conflict.
I am no stranger to this. I have a tendency to keep small frustrations inside until the pressure builds to a point where it comes out messy. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist but I have my rocky moments too.
Having acceptance of our challenge points is important. But this does not get us off the hook for striving to be better after each and every setback.
Most of us, probably, could do better. We could all strive to develop our character, engage in growth work, and become the highest version of ourselves particularly with the person in life that we love the most.
Recently, Jeff and I were in a tough spot. We were stuck in bad days and bad moods. This is the subject of a different blog post! For now, all you need to know is that in the midst of all that negativity, Jeff and I decided to take part in a “Zero Negativity Pledge”.
The inspiration for the pledge came about after a colleague, Joe Whitcomb, LMFT, told me about the Safe Conversations program that he facilitates. I geek out on all things related to couples work and relationships, so I went to the Relationships First website to learn more. It was there that I came across the "Zero Negativity Pledge", that goes like this:
“We understand that “negativity” is any transaction that ruptures our connection – whether intentional or accidental.
We pledge to make our relationship a Zone of Zero Negativity for the next 30 days by omitting from all our interactions with each other any words, tones, or body language that could be experienced as a “put-down,” thus rupturing our connection.
We will make requests when we have a problem and ask for what we want in a way that does not put our partner down.
If we experience a rupture, we will send a gentle signal (bing, ouch, wow, oops!) immediately to communicate that we have experienced a “put-down,” and then use the repair process to restore safety and connecting
We pledge to give three appreciations daily to each other, no matter what!”.
In a casual way, Jeff and I decided to give the pledge a whirl.
Jeff and I have a loving and healthy relationship. We do not put each other down! Yet, much to my surprise sticking to this pledge was harder than I expected.
When I became committed to avoiding words, tones, or body language that could be interpreted as a put down, I started to realize the unconscious and subtle negative moves that were happening between us. They were infrequent, but alas, they had impact.
Something kind of amazing has happened in our relationship since taking the pledge.
Our interactions and conversations are more meaningful. There is less chit chat and more depth. Instead of keeping my frustrations in, I am pausing while becoming clear about what I need and want. I speak up in a way that is direct and respectful rather than holding on and unleashing at an inopportune time. I have extended the pledge to how I interact with my kids as well.
Our thirty days is up, but I continue the pledge.
Cristina Trette works with couples, parents, and individuals who want to improve relationships and personal well-being. You can learn more at www.cristinatrette.com or www.elevatingconnection.com.
By: Cristina Trette
When researching the subjects of failure and success, the importance of having a growth mindset is echoed by CEO executives, entrepreneurs, professional athletes, psychologists, and personal development coaches.
They all same the same thing…
It seems it is critical to grasp that every single one of us will struggle or find ourselves starting at the bottom (again and again). After a setback, some will crumble and never find their way back up. Others, propel themselves forward, and dedicated themselves to learning and growth after the struggle.
What we believe about ourselves when we fail matters. Do we believe we are inherently skilled and capable, so we get back up, and keep going? Or do we believe that we don’t have what it takes, that we are innately flawed in some way, so we give up?
Having a growth mindset, a term coined by Dr. Carol Dweck, may be the most important factor in predicting an individual’s future achievement and success.
Those who have a growth mindset believe they will rebound from setbacks and failures. They also believe that continuous application of effort, focus, and dedication will bring results. Growth mindset individuals believe they can become skilled in any endeavor, no matter what it may be.
Fixed mindset individuals, on the other hand, believe that they were born with skills, aptitudes, traits, and intelligence that are set “as is”. They think, “I either have it or I don’t” and do not believe that hard work and effort will make much of a difference. These underlying beliefs lead many fixed mindset individuals to quit or give up on tasks, projects, or goals when they discover that they are not good at it.
Our measures of fixed-ness and growth-ness fall on a spectrum. And many individuals have a fixed mindset with some tasks and a growth mindset with others.
For some high achieving individuals, growth mindset is old news. Afterall, Carol Dweck's book Mindset was published in 2007. Yet, I work in the field of marriage and family therapy. I have plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that many accomplished couples do not have a growth mindset when it comes to love.
For example, I have had conversations with people who have been highly successful in career. They credit growth mindset surrounding all aspects of work. Yet, when it comes to marriage, they admit they are not good at it, announcing their fixedness, or that they will never be good in love.
If we take the growth mindset theory and apply it to love and marriage, it becomes clear that all of us can get really good at relationships. It also becomes clear that all of us will have setbacks, struggles, challenges, and downturns.
Perhaps the ones who find themselves deeply satisfied in relationships, maintain a belief that they will learn how to be better and do better after each fight or walking out or any time they find themselves in that place.
But just like the countless entrepreneurs who esteem their financial and career success to their ability to learn and grow after failure, what if the people who are successful in love know that with effort, focus, determination, and grit they can make their current relationship work better and better?
Could it be that the key to deeply loving the person you are with, and having a relationship that brings joy, great sex, brilliant conversation, adventure, fun, and someone solid to count on for the rest of your life starts with the dedication of both partners to develop a growth mindset in love?
On an existential level, it is quite possible that the whole point of life long partnership is to choose someone who will push you to become better, hold you to a higher standard, question you when you stop being yourself, and extend unconditional love throughout all if it. Contrast this to the fairy tale ending we have all been sold on.
Carol Dweck explains love relationship mindset in this way:
“In the fixed mindset, the ideal is instant, perfect, and perpetual compatibility. Like it was meant to be. Like riding off into the sunset. Like, “they lived happily ever after”.
Happily ever after assumes love does not need to be worked at.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
I used to have a fixed mindset in love. I will never forget the conversation that changed this.
I had taken an inventory of all the mistakes I was making in my current relationship, as well as all prior love relationships. This was a humbling experience (that I recommend you with do the support of a therapist or coach). After this exercise, I concluded there was something wrong with me, I don't know how to do relationships, and maybe I was better off putting everything into career and children and forgetting about love.
Luckily my coach, Pam Dunn, snapped me out of my fixed mindset and negative thinking.
With a fixed mindset, the moment you face big challenges, is also the moment you will quit, writing something off as "not meant to be".
Dunn reminded me that my relationship will work when I decide to make it work, and when I let go of the false notion of a fairy tale ending.
Growth mindset couples focus on developing the qualities that are important for the relationship to flourish long term.
According to Dweck, “The growth mindset says all of these things can be developed. All – you, your partner, and the relationship – are capable of growth and change”.
Yes riding off into the sunset with my prince still sounds dreamy. Yet, knowing that I am an agent of change, and empowered to create the development and outcome of my relationship, that is something to fall in love with.
By: Cristina Trette
How many times have you heard the story about someone embarking on a total life change upon the heels of illness, injury, divorce, or death?
The great motivator, Brendon Burchard, talks publicly about how a tragic car accident served as a catalyst for him to start living a life that mattered with love. The inspirational speaker, Klyn Elsbury, goes big towards dreams every single day, while simultaneously fighting Cystic Fibrosis.
I don't mean this flippantly. Klyn walks her talk. She eats, breathes, and sleeps authentic positiveness and love, combined with a relentless go for it attitude, which is magnetic.
I had dinner with Klyn last night, where I was able to dip into inspiration. I left feeling excited and ready to do life and love differently.
At the same time, I wondered, why, is it so hard for so many of us to live fully while we are alive? And do we need to experience tragedy in order to wake up? Or can we tap into our passion and purpose at any time, moving us from mundane to magnificent?
I watched a video the other day as I was researching substance use disorders. A gentleman spoke about how his addiction broke up his marriage. For years his wife had begged him to quit drinking but the more she pushed, the more he drank. Eventually, she left him and took the kids.
During the divorce process his world collapsed. He almost drank himself to death. He was in serious dept and was fired from him job.
The divorced finalized and his wife got 100 percent custody.
This was what woke him up. It took losing everything for him to do the hard work and make the change.
Eventually, he was catapulted into sobriety. Today he is enjoying great health and has a girlfriend he likes. He has become wildly successful in career and is enjoying the fruits of his labor.
But his wife has remarried and he only sees his children on Sundays. He misses his family like crazy. Not a day goes by where he does not wonder what would have happened if he had quit drinking ten years ago.
Why did it take losing all that he loved in order for him to wake up?
Researchers in the field of Positive Psychology have coined the term Post-traumatic Growth which refers to the phenomena that living through adversity can ignite people to positively transform their life, sometimes in radical ways.
And yes I find it to be brilliant that we can harness all of our power to recreate and tune into our vibrancy after life has us dropped down hard or after we willingly take the plunge. This is particularly true when trauma and devastation impact those who have no control over the situation such as with illness, death, abuse, natural disasters, and other tragedies.
But many of us do not experience terminal illness, devastating storms, war, or famine in the literal sense.
Instead our tragic-ness is self imposed.
How many of us have lives, relationships, careers, and families - that in reality - are pretty darn good but we don't see it or we are not grateful for it?
How many of us numb ourselves through indulgence in affairs, sweets, alcohol, drugs, porn, or work?
How many of us yell at or tear down our spouses and children and the people we love the most?
And how many more of us trudge through life, in a mild state of miserable, not depressed but not happy either. Yes, perhaps we have moments of joy but for the most part, live pay check to pay check, literally and figuratively, just to get by.
Does tragedy have to happen in order for us to climb out of the ditch? Do we need to lose our family or experience terminal illness in order to take the reins on our lives - and make it worth living - and then some?
Do we have to get knocked around hard before we can wake up?
While I do not have the answer to this question in any firm sense. My personal answer to this question, is "no".
Big tragedy can ignite transformation. Tiny tragedy can too. All the moments that we struggle in our relationships, career setbacks, or weeks of sadness or mild depression can become invitations to turn inward, to connect with what makes us feel alive.
Perhaps its time we stop waiting for a crisis to occur to begin living. We can take the reigns, do the work, and see what happens next.
By: Cristina Trette
What happens when one partner wants sex and his wife or long term lover is rarely in the mood? A healthy sex life is part of what makes up a thriving relationship and general feelings of well-being. When one or both partners are feeling unsatisfied in this area, this can trigger the beginning of a downward spiral that does not end up very well.
As I researched this subject, I had a difficult time finding a current and reliable source that offers statistics on low sex or sexless marriages. If you come across the current research, email me. A 2003 Newsweek article stated that 15% to 20% of couples who are married with kids have sex less than 10 times a year, which translates to around 20 million couples not having much sex. If you talk to marriage and family therapists, or even your friends for that matter, most will share anecdotal evidence that this number is probably much higher.
Many couples report wanting a better sex life. But with children, careers, lack of sleep, endless household duties, financial pressures, and all of the other energy drainers that come with modern family life, sexual desire can begin to fade away. This is normal. But normal does not necessarily mean acceptable. Alas, problems arise when one wants it more or the other wants it less. And if you become complacent, not much is likely to change.
It is more common to hear men complaining about not getting enough sex, which is why this article is for men. But don't worry guys, I have another article on its way that offers ideas for the ladies too! Since you are in a partnership, the ideal situation is that you and your lady work together to spice things up. Yet, there are plenty of things you can do now to get your wife back in bed soon. Keep reading!
1. No more keeping score
Outside of role play, feeling pressured or obligated to have sex with a man because he bought dinner, because he supports her while she stays home to care for the baby, or because he is suddenly showering her with attention, is a turn off. The moment a woman feels manipulated or coerced into sex, she will feel used and lose interest. Instead of expecting sex in return for providing or "good behavior" shift your focus towards wanting to strengthen the bond and times of joy you have with your wife. The actions below are great ways to reconnect at an emotional and relational level, and by doing this, you are highly likely to spice up your sex life too.
2. Get real about what you really want and need
Sex feels good and its fun. You want it. Heck, you might even need it. The sensations that comes from build up and orgasm are highly pleasurable and rewarding in the brain. But it's not just about the sex. The underlying needs (for connection, attention, and touch) are likely screaming to be tended to. There is deep comfort that comes from being physically close and emotionally bonded to your woman. Sex is just one of the ways we get these needs met.
3. Building security allows you to take risks
The excitement and passion that comes with new love ensures the survival of our species. When falling in love, our brain pumps out high amounts of the feel good brain chemical serotonin and the bonding brain chemical oxytocin which translates to new couples loving every single moment together for about 18 months. This is just long enough to conceive and birth a baby. Once the brain chemicals dip back to baseline many couples report missing the exhilaration they experienced when they were first together. The key to getting some of these feelings back around your sex life is to take risks, create novelty, and seek out variety with your woman. If you use your imagination, I am sure you can think of some fun things to do! But here is the kicker! Your wife probably won't be up for being naughty with you if she is not feeling deeply loved, cherished, and cared for. Start now with building a secure bond and create a foundation of deep respect, love and connection.
4. Be vulnerable
Nothing is sexier to a woman than seeing a strong and masculine man open up about soft feelings. Share some of your frustrations and fears with her. Allow her to be there for you. Most woman are very attracted to men who are vulnerable, who have an appreciation of their inner world, and put forth ongoing effort toward self growth.
5. Hear her
She wants to be vulnerable too. Hold the space for her to talk about her feelings and really listen to what she has to say. Most of the time she does not want fixing or problem solving. She wants to know that her feelings are important to you, that you care about what she is going through, and that you are there for her - no matter what.
6. Flirt with her
Like you did when you first met. Give her a hug and kiss when you walk in the door after work, be playful, dance with her, give her a love swat on her bum, get her to laugh, look into her eyes and smile, or send naughty texts when you are at work. This is the woman you decided to partner with. Give her lots and lots of love and attention.
7. Tease her
Throw in some moves here and there. Not all the time and not too much. Just enough to be playful and create excitement. When she walks past you in the hallway, on her way to put the kids to sleep, push her up against the wall, move in close, and tell her how great she looks tonight or how much you love her. When you hear the kids call out "mom", which they will because they seem to have a radar on adult enjoyment, pull away with smile and a look that lets her know how much she turns you on. Or, when she is taking off her clothes to get in the shower, come up behind her for a moment, move her hair to the side, and kiss the back of her neck. Most women love to be taken by their man and get very turned on when he is assertive and masculine. And, a little bit of push and pull now mimics the intensity you felt when you first started dating.
8. Ravish her when you can and take the lead
Yep, its true, sometimes women just want to taken by their man man. These days, with schedules drummed in, kids waking you up in the middle of the night, and a to-do list that never ends, spontaneity has likely been swapped with bone numbing routine and the grind. It's time to bring back spontaneity. Remember, the more connected you are on an emotional level, the riskier, naughtier, and more playful you can be. Ravish her when she is not expecting it or sneak in a quicky when you can. Take the lead and suggest you try out some role plays. Or, ask her to share some of her fantasies, and you can decide together as couple, whether or not you want to play them out.
9. Massage her
Quick shoulder rubs are fantastic. To take it up a notch put the kids to sleep, light some candles, bring out the oil, and give her a full body massage. Do this with the genuine intention of wanting her to feel good and relax. Do not try to have sex with her! Just let her relax. This will allow her to open up to you even more. She might fall asleep, and if she does, be ok with it. What goes around comes around, but do not expect anything in return! The moment you expect something in return is the moment that her desire will diminish.
10. Help more with kids or housework
Lighten her load. If she is telling you she is too tired to have sex, she means it! With work and babies and all the day-to-day obligations of motherhood she probably needs a break. One day, when you get home from work, send her to the tub with a glass of wine while you cook dinner. Or, figure out another way to get your family more support through babysitters, grandparents, teenager mothers helpers, etc. Do not make the mistake of expecting sex in the return for this (see number 1)! Remember all of these actions are attempts to strengthen your bond and relationship which tends to equal more sex.
11. If she continues to refuse, stop pursuing for awhile
If the more you try to get her to have sex, the more uninterested she becomes, then stop trying. You may have to spend weeks or months re-building your bond and friendship. Give it time and see what happens if you drop the sex agenda for awhile. Some couples get stuck in a pursue - distance pattern. And often, all it takes to stop the pattern is for the pursuing to stop pursing.
12. Talk to her, and if all else fails, get support
If you have never talked about your feelings around sex, now is a good time to start. Talking may be enough to turn things around. If you try all of these tips, and nothing changes, consider receiving support from a coach or psychotherapist. To learn more about the couples workshop I teach, email me now.
If you try this, and it is helpful, I want to hear from you! Please leave comments below or email me anytime.
Cristina Trette is a Life Coach who specializes in working with busy professionals who want to experience more success, joy, and fulfillment in the areas of relationships, parenting, career, and overall health and well-being.
By: Cristina Trette
Recently I was chatting with some friends. They are brilliant and talented ladies who are successful and satisfied with their life. As we talked, what emerged was a strikingly simple theme: we want it all. We want thriving careers, joyful family lives, connected love relationships, nice bodies, and great boobs (yes, I just said that). If our work life is off the charts booming we look forward to the one night a month where we just get to be a wife. If most days consist of supporting our husbands and kids then we fantasize about building our own business from the ground up. If we are not married, or don't have kids, we want to be. No matter what the situation and circumstance, we want it all - and we want it all right now.
I am going to generalize and go out on a limb and state that most women want a family). From an pure evolutionary perspective, we are biologically wired and driven to attach to a partner, procreate, and ensure the survival of our offspring and species. At the exact same time, on an existential level, we are driven to engage in meaningful work, contribute to society, and have a sense of personal fulfillment.
So how on earth do we do it all?
I am remembering a quote from Oprah that impacted me when I first read it several years ago:
"You can have it all. You just can't have it all at once."
Maybe as women, this is a wise rule to live by. There was a time in my life when being a mother and wife was everything I wanted to be. When I made the transition from stay at home mom to working mom, I experienced immense inner angst. I felt guilty that I wanted to go back to work.
Perhaps, the way I went about this transition was off point. It is possible that we take on numerous roles and identities throughout our life, and whatever we are doing contains immense value and meaning, as long as we actually believe that. Sometimes, what we have put our hearts and souls into for years no longer serves us. But instead of fighting to hang on, we are better off if we gracefully let go, accept, allow, and move forward.
Such as with Klyn Elsberry. Klyn is a motivational speaker, CEO of Landmark Makers, and best selling author of the book I AM___: The Untold Story of Success. Klyn loves the role of "wifey" as much as she loves running her company. Her life is working so well that sometimes she needs to pinch herself just to know it is real. Yet, she talked about her current achievements and state of affairs with immense grace and humility. There was an ease about her and an acceptance surrounding the concept that we all have changing identities and matrices that we live from throughout our lives. Today her matrix is that of CEO. In a few years it may be something else. All of it is within her. And it is all good.
I felt comfort in knowing that as women we will dance in the paradoxes and extremes and that we can bring it no matter where we are. There will be times we slow down, take care of our health, nurture our families, and bask in the essence of our femininity as it rises to the surface. Other times we will be out slaying dragons, knowing our partners and children are loved even though we are not there. Inside all of us lives both the teddy bear and the mama bear, the barbie doll and the CEO.
Like Oprah said, whether we are building businesses or caring for our ailing parents, supporting our husband with his business or traveling the world, going after a promotion during maternity leave or quitting our jobs to be at home with babies, we can have it all, as long as we are putting all of our self into it. Instead of trying to do all of it at the exact same time, maybe we just need to jump into where we are with passion and gusto while maintaining a belief that our other desires and dreams will eventually unfold too.
As far as having nice bodies and great boobs, well, it may be that no matter how fantastic we look we always want to look a tiny bit better! We can blame that on unrealistic society pressure and fashion magazines! And we can laugh about it, do yoga, eat a nutritious meal, then drink a glass of wine along with our cheese and chocolate and relax in knowing that true beauty comes from pursuing our passions and living out our dreams - all of them - just not all at once.
By: Cristina Trette
During the very early years of mothering, I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. I chose to stay home with my children. Although it was not easy, I cherished the time we had for nursing, bonding, and being together.
I felt connected to my purpose. Until I didn’t. I do not believe that we have one purpose in life. We have multiple passions and interests, and there are many missions that we align ourselves to throughout our lifespan. When my oldest two children we were babies, my calling was to stay home with them and pour all my love into mothering. Eventually, however, the joy of being a stay at home mom faded away. With the joy, went my sense of purpose too.
I struggled with this for some time. I told myself that I was fortunate to be able to stay home and even felt guilty when I began to resent my daily routine. I knew that deep inside of me, was a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, that would only come by pursuing my career aspirations and through connecting with other adults. I ignored this calling for some time and stuck with the status quo.
When my oldest child was four, I remember being excited about the fact that she would begin pre-kindergarten. For the first time, she would be in school Monday to Friday from 8:00 – 3:00. I was looking forward to the break and the chance to find myself again. But in reality, my days continued to consist of laundry and dishes, with my baby wrapped around me, and my toddler hanging to my leg. I appreciated the time I had with them as I knew I was giving them a strong foundation and a great start at life. Yet, my own life was becoming dull.
Meanwhile, other mothers were kissing kids goodbye wearing heels, skirts, lipstick, and earrings. Some were stressed, yes, but they had a skip in their step that I had not felt in sometime. Others, stay at home moms like me, moved about with calm contemplation and expressed contentment in their eyes. They were fulfilled and knew that mothering was the most important job on earth for them to be doing and would continue to put all of their energy into parenting with joy.
Whether they were working or stayed home, these mothers met their duties with satisfaction and gusto, most of the time.
I wanted what they had. They had purpose.
After drop off, I typically headed to the playground so I could chat with other moms and so my toddler could play with other children.
Most mothers were happy and alive.
Other mothers we like me. Mothers that were working, wanted to be home. Mothers that stayed home, wanted to be at work. Some stopped sleeping with their husbands, others quit exercising, many let go of female friendships, and others had not been on a real date in years. No matter what the situation and circumstances were, something was not quite right. They had veered off course. They were stuck, they knew it, but did not know what to do about it. I suppose I found comfort in hearing such a familiar plight.
If we don’t acknowledge the voice inside urging us to break out of confines we have created for our self, sometimes crisis or hardship comes about and forces us to listen. For me, life unraveled completely. Everything was shaken up. Eventually the parts and pieces settled back down, this time in new places. When life settled, I came out, more grounded and deeply connected to my mission.
This was not some magic discovery. Instead, I decided to generate meaning and passion in my life. I made changes, put forth effort, began the life long journey of inner work, and took action. I did not find purpose as much as I created purpose.
If there is something inside of you, that is begging you to bring meaning back into your life – listen - and act. A great place to start, is to journal all your hopes and dreams. Assess your levels of joy and satisfaction around career, love relationships, friendships, health, mothering, finances, and spirituality. Next jot down what it is you would like to create in all aspects of your life. Having this awareness alone can be enough to create shifts and transformation.
As mothers, we raise children, have careers, cook, clean, drive, host, organize playdates, attend school events, and volunteer. We do it all and will continue to do so.
I believe wholeheartedly that the key to retaining sparkle and serenity through all the mundane tasks of motherhood is to stay connected to purpose. Today, when I am mothering, I am aligned with purpose, when I am working with clients, I am also aligned with purpose.
Sometimes I notice that the depth and meaning and purpose are missing. This is a signal to me that it is time for new challenges, growth, and expansion.
I encourage you to explore your mission. This may be something that brings you income or it may not. What makes you feel alive? How do you connect to your highest self? Is purpose infused into your daily life as a woman, mother, lover, and professional? And if purpose is missing, what can you do to re-discover it? I would love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments box below!
By: Cristina Trette
According to relationship expert and research psychologist, John Gottman, trust in a relationship are like the walls in a house. The house stands strong when the walls are solid. But what exactly does trust mean? Does it mean that you know your partner won’t cheat on you? Or that you believe your partner will always tell the truth. Well, yes, it encompasses these examples, but true trust entails far more than this. True trust means that you know that your partner will be there for you. If the level of trust in your relationship is lower than you would like, read on for some trust building tips.
I love John Gottman's definition of trust:
“Trust refers to each partner knowing that the other partner will be there for them in a host of ways: when they are sad, angry, frightened, humiliated, overweight, underweight, triumphant, defeated, joyous, despairing, sick, broken, helpless, hopeful, dream filled, and so on. Trust is erected by each individual choosing to show up for the other – not perfectly, not every time, but as much as one can.”
Trust, along with commitment, is a key aspect of any meaningful, happy, long-term relationship. Therefore, if you discover that trust is lacking in your relationship, you will want you to spend time working to improving this aspect of your partnership. How exactly is that done? It may not be easy, it may take time, but it will be worth it. Read on for 8 tips to increase your ability to trust and be trusted. It may help to grab your journal and start writing down some of your insights.
1. Stop blaming
It only takes one person in the partnership to create a shift and improvement in the relationship. That person can be you. Rather then focus on all the things he has done to dampen trust, commit to taking responsibility for being the person to build trust in the relationship. If you are focused on blaming him it will be very difficult for you to move forward. Begin the shift by taking an inventory of where you, too, have contributed to the low trust dynamic. Take full ownership of all the ways you have contributed to your dance.
2. Scale your trust
On a scale of 1-10 how much trust do you have in your partner? Your answer may vary depending on different situations you are in. For example, let’s suppose you would typically score your trust in him at an 8, which is fairly high. But when he leaves you to go on a business trip with a flirty female colleague of his, your trust may dip down to a 6. In addition, your trust may jump up to a 10 when you spend a weekend together on a romantic getaway. Get a general idea of your typical score and what number it can drop to and jump up to. Generally speaking the higher and more consistent the level of trust is, the greater indicator that you have a mutually trusting relationship.
3. List encounters that lead to jumps on the scale
Make a list of situations and actions that increase your feelings of trust. Some trust enhancers may include vulnerable and open conversations, a fun night of dancing together, a quiet night in of sipping wine and talking after the kids have gone to sleep, trying something new together like rock climbing, or a particularly adventurous night of love making. Once you have this list, share it with your partner and make a commitment to bring more trust building encounters into your relationship.
4. Speak up and take action
If he is clearly engaging in hurtful behaviors that undermine trust, accept reality as it is. Lets suppose he is consistently late for dinner, flirts with almost every women he sees, or you have a intuitive feeling that he is not being faithful. Although I recommend that assume the best as a general rule, I do not recommend that you remain passive in a situation that is increasingly destructive or unhealthy for you. If trust has been an ongoing issue in your relationship, speak up and take action! It does not mean your relationship is doomed to fail but it does mean that it is time to have a conversation. Using “I-statements” is a great way to be assertive while remaining respectful. For example, instead of saying “How can I trust you when you are always flirting with other women?” you might try “When I see you flirting with other women, I feel scared and hurt. I would like to have a conversation about this”. One way to build trust is to engage in difficult conversations such as these and allow the opportunity for each person to take turns expressing their feelings, needs, and requests. Move slow in these types of conversations and monitor your tone and feelings. It is possible that your partner never realized the impact that his behavior was having on you. It is also possible that you can come to a compromise together such as, you feel comfortable with flirting when he is out with the guys, but when he is with you, you want him to keep his adoration and charisma focused on you.
5. Engage in inner work
If you find it very difficult to trust, without any evidence that he is not to be trusted, this may signal the need for you to heal past wounds. One woman, a divorcee, reported having a strong relationship with her new husband but lacked trust, as she had been cheated on by her previous husband. This woman found all sorts of ways to confirm that her new partner would betray her too, and this was interfering with satisfaction in the new relationship for both of them. Yet, once she healed the hurt from the former relationship, she was able to relax in her current relationship and the partnership grew even stronger. So if you discover that past betrayals are making it difficult for you to trust in your current relationship, do the necessary inner work with the help of a coach or therapist.
6. You will feel hurt
Part of loving means that you will feel hurt from time to time. It also means that your partner will feel hurt. It is up to you whether or not you want to use these hurts as reasons to not trust. No one is perfect. Everyone brings into current love relationships the ghosts of their past (family of origin as well as former lovers/partners/husbands) that impact current behavior. You have the choice to use these hurts to further destroy trust or you can see them as signals that something in your relationship needs attention and care. If you can nurture each other during these hurtful moments, it will be an opportunity to increase trust. As mentioned, if you find yourself feeling hurt with frequency this may be sign that you could use some extra support from a coach or therapist.
7. Check each other
It can be very helpful to ask your partner to share specific examples of encounters, situations, or behaviors that have decreased his trust in you. Next, share with him which behaviors make it hard for you to trust him, If you are going to do this, it is imperative that you respond to each other with shares grace, open-mindedness, and respect. If this exercise leads to a fight, you may miss out on a trust building opportunity.
8. Accept that some behaviors won't change, at least not right now
Once your partner tells you the various actions and situations that tend to decrease trust, make a list of what you are willing to work on as well actions you may never change. Be honest about what you are willing to address at this time and remember that you can always re-evaluate in the future.
To learn more about building trust in love relationships, I highly recommend John Gottman's work, which is where much of the above information comes from. I would love to hear what you have done to increase trust in your relationship. Tell me about it in the comments box below!
By: Cristina Trette
Dr. John Gottman is a well know psychologist and relationship expert who has conducted extensive research on what the happiest and healthiest couples do to create lasting, loving, meaningful, and committed relationships. In his book, "What Makes Love Last", Gottman teaches a concept known as turning towards each other. Taking on a general mindset of turning towards your partner or spouse can increase connection and reduce conflict. And the great thing is that is easy to do and can be fun to implement. To learn more, keep reading!
1. Examine the way you and your partner reach out to each other
Gottman suggests that on a daily basis, you and your partner will make numerous bids for support, attention, and connection. Some examples of bids could include your husband asking you to help him fill out paperwork, wanting to tell you how a phone call went with a client, or telling you a joke. Bids can be seemingly minor or unimportant. But the need behind the bids (for support, connection, and attention) are very meaningful and highly important. For example, one woman explained that while experiencing some conflict with her boyfriend, he offered her some yogurt. Unfortunately, the woman did not notice at the time that yogurt offering was a bid to re-connect. The woman dismissed him and remained stuck in conflict. She sees now that if she had smiled, made loving eye contact, and kindly thanked him for the offering (even while declining the yogurt) this could have been a moment for the couple to re-connect, turn down the intensity, and move into meaningful conversation.
2. Pay attention to bids
Bids can easily go unnoticed! Busy parents in particular are consumed with careers, household duties, and children. It is common to overlook all of the small ways that partners reach out for connection. If you do not notice most of your partners bids, then you can see how your partner may end up feeling unsupported, not heard, not seen, not valued, etc. So, start today by noticing all the ways, big and small, your husband makes a bid for your support, attention, and connection. Gottman found that the happiest couples are the ones that are highly attuned to each other, and one way to be attuned, is to notice bids.
3. Turn towards him
Hopefully you are already beginning to see the many ways in which your husband or partner reaches out to you for connection. Some bids are subtle, others are obvious. The next time he makes a bid, all you have to do is respond with interest and care. This is what is known as turning towards him. You do not need to comply with a request, drop everything, or even get into a discussion. Rather, you show him that you are there, that you see him, that you care about him, and that he matters to you. At the minimum you can stop what you are doing for a moment, make eye contact, and smile. If you have time and availability you can offer deeper support, connection, and conversation. Some great ways to turn towards him are by offering humor, laughter, physical touch, and nurturing.
3. Catch yourself when you have turned away
Maybe you are busy with the kids. Perhaps you are stressed with work or caught up in your own problems of the day. Whatever the reason, there will be times that you don't notice a bid for connection. Or, maybe you notice it, but you are unavailable for some reason. This will happen! Perhaps your partner reached out and you ignored him, withdrew, or said something to shut down communication. On the more extreme end, and more difficult to repair, turning away can includes criticism and contempt (which is a topic for another blog post). Be encouraged to know that once you have noticed that you just turned away, all you have to do is turn towards him again. If for some reason you genuinely need space, then I recommend that you be lovingly direct and explain this to him. For example, tell him that you need some time to yourself but that you will be be back later. Being clear and direct, while expressing what you need and want, even if it means wanting some space, is a wonderful way to turn towards him.
4. Have fun filling up your joint emotional back account
Many couples find that it is exciting and enjoyable to take on a mindset of noticing bids and turning towards each other. Couples quickly see how easy it is to create more joy and connection with this simple shift in increasing awareness around bid and responses. When responding to bids with interest, you will be filling up your "joint emotional bank account". So if he asks you what you ate for lunch, respond with warmth. If you have time, go ahead and ask him about his day too. Even if you are busy you can pause for a brief moment to connect with a sense of love or touch. If you make a habit of consistently responding to the small bids with care then you will create a foundation of connection and support for your relationship to thrive on. Being there for each other in all the small ways will make it far more likely that you will be there for each other when something significant happens, and the need for genuine support is big. Enjoy!
I would love to hear how this works for you! If you try this out and get great results, I would like to hear about it in the comments box below!
By: Cristina Trette
I was speaking with a colleague the other day about becoming a mother. She is 25 years old and pregnant with her first child. She wanted some parenting tips. I was tempted to hand her my Joy of Parenting Parent Handbook, suggest she read it, then come to me with any questions! Yet, I took it upon myself to explore her question fully. After reflecting on what I wish I had known when I was a brand new mother, I came up with just two insights that I want to share with mothers:
1. I wish I had kept dating my husband
Yes, we were busy. Yes, every ounce of energy went into ensuring that our baby was surviving and thriving. However, we absolutely could have carved out time for each other. If I could go back in time, I would have set up weekly dates with my husband to go dance, hit the movies, or simply enjoy each other without the distractions of children. I used to think that being a "good mom" meant that I put my kids first. Now, I know that family structure can get out of alignment when parents do not devote time and energy to their love relationship and partnership. Dates make it more likely that parents will work as a team, communicate effectively, solve problems, and work through conflict more peacefully. Really, there should be no excuses! Call up the grandparents, find a sitter, or set up a weekly childcare swap with friends (no cost!) and prioritize your marriage and partnership now!
2. I wish I had spent more time taking care of myself
Whether you want to call it self-care or alone time taking time to care for your own physical and psychological well-being is vital. In the early years of parenting I neglected myself. I was not eating well, not sleeping well, and I very rarely took the time to enjoy myself away from my kids. In fact, when I took my first parenting class, I remember rejecting the notion that self-care was even important. After all, I was proud of the fact that I was able to put my child's needs before my own. After years of this, however, it caught up with me. Eventually I became very overwhelmed and all my relationships suffered because my life was out of balance. Now, I make it a priority to take care of me first and I dropped the guilt. I do this in many ways such as eating well, exercising, practicing mindfulness, going on dates, taking interesting courses, and going out and having fun with friends. I promise you that the time you spend caring for yourself will make it more likely that every other aspect of your life will improve. If you are not taking time for self-care, I encourage you to figure out a way to schedule it in right away!
What do you wish you had known when you were a new mom? I would love to hear your pearls of wisdom that we can add to this list! Please leave your comments in the box below!
By: Cristina Trette
I was teaching a Joy of Parenting course to a vibrant and well-educated group of parents. When I asked the group to introduce themselves, I requested that they briefly share individual parenting strengths and struggles. One by one, names and parenting struggles were offered with great ease. Yet, almost every parent had difficulty with recalling their strengths. I shared their sentiments and we had a good laugh about this! However, this common phenomena is worthy of exploration.
Enter in the negativity bias.
The negativity bias is a psychological term that describes the tendency for individuals to focus on negative events and situations in life, while simultaneously, being unaware of or less focused on neutral or positive events. Our bias towards the negative happens automatically. This is because our brains are hardwired for survival.
Our ancestors had to be able to fight or flee from threatening situations. Therefore, they also had to be on high alert for any situation or person that could potentially do harm. Back in the day, our biggest agenda was to stay alive by avoiding or warding off possible threats. This is why the one negative event of the day tends to stay with us but we ignore the hundred positive or neutral events. For our ancestors, the hundred positive or neutral situations were useless for survival! Yet we had to be on the lookout for the one tiger that may attack and kill us.
It appears that some individuals have a stronger negativity bias than others. Those who lean towards depression and anxiety, for example, tend to have a heightened negativity bias. Parents that tend to become very overwhelmed with parenting may fall into this category as well. At times, our brains misinterpret our own children as being threats to survival!
The great news is that there are well-researched strategies that we can utilize to overcome our negativity bias. This makes it more likely that we will be able to relish in happiness and bring more joy and satisfaction to relationships within our family unit. Read on for some tips.
1. Three good things
Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, offers a quick and easy exercise that can train your brain to focus on the good. In your journal, at bedtime, make a list of three good things that went well during your day. If you want to improve the experience of parenting, make a list of what went well between you and your child. If you want more joy within your marriage, make a list recording the positive aspects of your relationship with your husband. Being the overachiever that I am, I like to spend a few minutes every night writing down every great thing I can think of, no matter how big or small. Another way to do this exercise, is to ask your children at to tell you three things that went well during the day as a common practice. This exercise has evidence supporting its effectiveness in lowering depression.
2. Relish in the good
In addition to recalling uplifting events at the end of the day, take some time to relish in your positive experiences as they happen throughout the day. Perhaps your children worked through an intense conflict, peacefully, and without your guidance. I encourage you to soak up the goodness of these kinds of moments by becoming mindful of the joy you are feeling as they happen. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist, suggests that if we spend at least 30 second relishing in the good experience, that this has a powerful impact on your brain. Since many positive experiences are under-recorded by our brains, you actually have to put forth effort in raising your awareness of the good. Neurons that fire together, wire together so the more practice you put towards appreciating the good, the more automatic this process will become overtime.
3. Increase positive interactions
John Gottman, a research psychologist and relationship expert, has discovered that when couples have a 5 to 1 ratio, of positive interactions to negative interactions, they are more likely to stay together and avoid divorce. This finding implies that if we can increase the positive interactions between parent and children we will have more satisfying family lives and parenting experiences. The truth is, in relationships between family members, negative interactions will happen. Yet, our relationships are more likely to satisfying and long lasting if we focus more on increasing our positive interactions rather than decreasing our negative interactions. This should come as good news, and possibly even relief! Let’s say you yell at your children or your spouse. Yes, this is a negative interaction. However, the relationship itself will be buffered against these kinds of injuries if there is a high amount of positive interaction to balance things out. So, it will be worthwhile to start creating a multitude of positive acts of kindness, generosity, love, and affection.
4. Caring Days
Caring Days is a technique developed by therapist Richard Stuart that is clinically demonstrated to strengthen relationships. The following exercise has been adapted to be beneficial in raising warmth within families whom have children ages 6 and older. To do this exercise, sit down with your family at a time when everyone is balanced and content. Give everyone a piece of paper. On the paper write down behaviors, actions, activities, or events that you would like to see occur within the family. It will be important to request that the items are reasonable and attainable. The emphasis should be on experiences and actions that increase joy within the family. Some examples are getting a hug every morning, weekly game night, going out for ice cream, or getting a backrub. Make sure that everyone has around five items on their list. Then place the list in an area that everyone can see. Over the next month, do what you can to start fulfilling items on the list. Every time you do something on someone’s list you can think of it as a “caring day”.
5. Practice mindfulness
I asked a well-respected marriage and family therapist, whose long-standing practice is dedicated to working with children with behavior disorders, to recommend some parenting tips to me. He told me that if parents want to transform the parent-child relationship, the one action they can take that offers the greatest hope for lasting change is that the parents start a mindfulness and/or meditation practice and teach the concepts to their children. This therapist has hefty anecdotal evidence illustrating that families can shift from conflict and chaos just by bringing mindfulness and meditation practices to all family members. Research supports the many benefits of mindfulness which includes lowered stress response, increased emotional regulation, and enhanced feelings of well-being. As parents, we could all use a big dose of these!
To learn more about the research behind positive psychology go to https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/.
To learn more about the work of relationship expert and research psychologist John Gottman, go to www.gottman.com
To learn more about Rick Hanson and his work on confronting the negativity bias, go to his website, www.rickhanson.net.
I read a great article the other day that briefly discusses the value of meditation, to read it go to https://www.rickhanson.net/meditation/.
Do you have any suggestions for how to raise the level of well-being in your family and parenting? Have you been able to override your negativity bias? I would love to hear about it. Please leave comments in the box below.
By: Cristina Trette
Some parenting moments can be intense. When we are become emotionally dysregulated, our logical brain shuts down making it almost impossible to connect with or discipline our children. We tend to become harsh and punitive at times like this. So, as a means to prevent hostility, I recommend that parents take a break by walking out of the room or stepping outside. Sometime a parent needs 30 seconds in another room to regain composure. Other times a parent may need twenty minutes or more to get back to a space of responsiveness. Breaks are not to be used a punishment. Rather they are wonderful tool for keeping all family members level-headed.
My daughter was in a difficult mood last night. I wanted to offer support but I was wiped out too. Everything I said or did seemed to make her more upset. Once I became angry I knew it was time to get some space from the dynamic.
I told my daughter that I was going to take a break and walked towards my room. Not only did she follow me, but she became loud and disruptive. I tried to reason with her in my bedroom and calmly explained why I needed some space. I walked outside. Again, she followed. Before going back inside, I tried to convince her to stay outside and jump on the trampoline with her brother. This led her to escalate even more.
She would not let me take a break!
I felt so frustrated. Yet, this experience helped me to see that there is a lot to a making a "parent break" work. As much as we would love to say hear our children respond with "ok mom, enjoy your break, I will be right here when you get back", this is unlikely to happen unless you set yourselves up for success before you go. Read on to learn more!
1. Teach the value and importance of breaks
During a time that you and your child are balanced and centered, explain to him that on occasion you feel upset or angry, and that during these times, it is helpful to walk outside or relax in your room. Explain that while you are away you are feeling your feelings, focusing on your breath, and relaxing. Tell your child that that he can take breaks too. It is important that you request that he let you take your break, when you need one, and explain that you are a better mother, more fun, happier, etc. when you take some time for yourself.
2. We all need space
If the only time you take a break is during conflict, or when your child is acting out, she may begin to associate breaks with punishment. Really, we all need breaks on occasion in order to remain present, loving, and engaged. If you are an introvert, you may find that you need alone time more often than others. Yet, extroverts value solitude too. So, start taking breaks even when everything is going good. Move into a place where everyone in the family begins to honor, respect, and value an individuals need for space.
2. During conflict, break before you reach your breaking point
Don't wait until you have smoke coming out of your ears! Think of it as a prevention. If you notice your body becoming tight and your heart rate increasing, these are signals that you are under significant stress. Take care of yourself, and your child, by announcing that you will be taking a break.
3. Connect with your child before you go
Pay attention to your tone. You will want to exude kindness as well as respect for self and child. Get down on his level, look in his eyes, and maybe offer a hug or spend a minute snuggling. Then explain that you are going to your room for a little bit and that you will be back. It may help to set a timer that stays near your child so that he or she can come get you when the timer goes off.
4. Reassure him that you will resume your discussion later
We all get into arguments with our kids. If you and your child are very angry during a discussion you are unlikely to resolve anything until you have moved through your anger. So, if you need to take a break due to tension surrounding an important topic, assure your child that you will be able to discuss later when everyone is calm. Do not walk away without making an agreement about this!
5. Don't just walk away
If you leave your child without explaining what is happening for you, this can trigger an intense fear of abandonment. Be authentic and honest while explaining to your child where you are going, what you will do there, and when you will be back. I know we are only talking about a short period of time but this is very important!
6. Consider taking a break with your child
Sometimes our kids don't want to let us go. They are only young for a short period of time. Sometimes the best way to get a break is to use the tension as an opportunity to connect and relax with your child. So, remember that you always have the option of saying, "I do not like what is happening between us right now. Let's go hang out on the couch and snuggle or watch a movie together". Breaks may look different with older children but may include taking a walk, cooking, or doing some sort of activity together.
7. With babies and toddlers sometimes you just have to go
My kids are all school aged and older now so it is easier for me to seperate from them. But when my kids were younger, sometimes just walking into another room would set off tears. So if this is the situation you are in, sometimes you just have to lovingly and confidently tell your little one that you are leaving and will be back. Give a hug and kiss, leave him in the loving arms of a trusted adult, and go. This is tough to do, I know. But when we communicate our need to break with simplicity, strength, and swiftness, it is much easier on our little ones than dragging out painful goodbyes. This phase will pass, I promise.
Have you ever found it difficult to get space when you feel as if you really need it? What strategies have you utilized to take a break with grace? Let me know about it in the comments box below!
By: Cristina Trette
After having a baby, 67 percent of couples see their marital satisfaction plummet, according to research by John Gottman, PhD. The arrival of the first baby can throw parents into a total life change overnight. Many individuals, used to life with flexibility and autonomy, have a difficult time adjusting to the demands of a newborn, despite the fact that they love their new child. Some moms, who had been very successful in careers, find themselves overwhelmed with the daily tasks of newborn care which includes nursing or bottle feeding round the clock, middle of the night diaper changes, and periods of holding baby while he or she cries that can last hours.
There was a time when new mothers were showered with support from grandmothers, aunts, and sisters after a baby arrived. But today, many modern moms are caring for newborns at home in isolation. Unfortunately, the isolation is contributing to a host of problems, including marital distress. Learning how to care for a newborn, without any support, can feel a marathon that just won’t end.
Although the birth of a baby is exciting and joyful, a new baby can create significant stress. Many couples who would describe themselves as having a happy and loving relationship before the birth of the first child, may find themselves fighting after baby arrives. It is common for couples to experience conflict around finances, careers, division of household duties, sex, in-laws and extended family, and how each partner spends free time.
This news is discouraging. Yet, it leads to a very important question. Is there anything that couples can do to ensure that their relationship will remain strong and connected even after the birth of their first child? Mindfulness-Based Relationship Enhancement (MBRE) may be one answer. In a study done at The University of North Carolina (Carsen et all, 2004), it was found that couples who committed to an 8 session MBRE program found significantly positive benefits. Some of the results included increased: relationship satisfaction, relatedness, closeness, and acceptance of one another. It appears that mindfulness practices being actively applied once the baby arrives, or even before, can prevent a marital satisfaction from plummeting once the baby comes.
New parents may not have time to participate in a lot of extra activtiesoutside the home when they have a newborn. Therefore it may be difficult to commit to mindfulness-based course together. Yet, many of these practices are simple to add to a daily routine. If the couple can set aside even 15 - 30 minutes a day for mindfulness practice together, perhaps while baby sleeps, they will reap the benefits of having a more connected relationship while becoming more responsive parents. Below is a short list of mindfulness practices to help you get started:
Do you practice mindfulness with your partner or spouse? If you do, please tell me about the practice and how it has impacted your relationship in the comment box below!
Sometimes everything is as good as it gets. The kids are getting along beautifully, they are cooperative, and home life is blissful. Then we go through periods where the kids are fighting, family life is chaotic, and parenting well feels impossible.
My friend and colleague, Wendy Snyder, summed this up perfectly in a Facebook post towards the end of her Spring Break with her kids. Wendy wrote, "Ebb and flow of spring break. Insanity to complete bliss... multiple times...all in a days work..."
Wendy is a fantastic mother to two as well as a Redirecting Children's Behavior Instructor and founder of Fresh Start Parenting. Let's face it, family life is hard for ALL of us at times. It can feel like a roller coaster. One minute its all smiles and laughter and the next minute tears and rage.
When things go haywire, many parents tend to think that the kids need more discipline, consequences, firmness and control. Sometimes this is true! Yet more discipline, when everything is already going haywire, will simply add more fuel to the fire.
Instead of coming down hard, consider focusing on family foundations. Keep reading to learn about how to restore harmony in your home without ramping up your discipline.
Focus on secure attachment
Attachment Theory, developed by John Bowly and Mary Ainsworth, proposes that children are wired to develop emotional bonds with their caregivers for both survival and optimal development. Creating a secure attachment is not something that only happens during the infant and baby years. In fact, current research suggests that parents can focus on setting the stage for secure attachment at any point during their child's childhood. Securely attached children exhibit fewer behavior problems, greater emotional regulation, and lowered stress response throughout their life. When kids feel connected, loved, and nurtured, they behave better.
Focus on responsiveness
The way to create secure attachment aside from a lot of affection and warmth, is to be responsive to your child. This is going to look differently depending on the age. This means PAUSE when you feel angry or triggered. Things between ourselves and our children rarely become better when we take action while upset! Do whatever you need to bring space to the situation so that you can respond from a sense of kindness, respect, and empathy.
Where can you reduce stress?
Children are often over-scheduled and pressured to excel in academics, athletics, and extracurricular. Low to moderate levels of stress are healthy. Yet high levels of stress carry serious health implications. If you are noticing a lot of acting out behavior at home, it will be helpful to take an inventory of your families overall stress levels. Stress shows up in youngsters in all sorts of ways - tantrums, defiance, troubles in school, conflict in friendships, and difficulties with sleep. There are many ways to lower stress from deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, exercise, seeking support from a coach or therapist, aromatherapy, massage, and various visualization techniques. If you believe that stress is unusually high in your home, commit to lowering your own stress as well as that of your children.
Consider the anchor analogy
In a balanced home the parents are like anchors of the boat. The child is like the boat. The boat will move all about, even thrash around if a storm comes, but the anchor ultimately keeps the boat safe and prevents the boat from getting lost at sea. Be the anchor - holding, rooted in the sand, solid, ensuring safety and guidance while also allowing freedom and the child to go through his own journey and experiences.
Routines are so important. This is true even with our preteens and adolescents. With behavior repetition, our brains develop neural pathways that predict future behavior. This is how habits form! Which can be fantastic (like brushing teeth, daily meditation, reading before bed). Sit down and write up what a perfect day in family life might look like. Focus on details around waking up, meals, getting ready, school, work, after school activity, homework, going to sleep. Then take action steps to instill what you think will work best for your family, allowing for changes and adjustments as needed. Use our brains tendency to form habits to your advantage by creating solid routines that will help shape the rhythm of your day towards more peace and less chaos.
What have you done to create more harmony in your home that was not discipline focused? I would love to hear about it in the comments box below!
By: Cristina Trette
Our thoughts are immensely powerful. I watched a video that describes work being done at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Johnny Matheny has a prosthetic arm and is able to control it through his thoughts. Think about this for a minute. Instead of moving his arm, he simply commands his arm to move with his thoughts. To watch the video, click here. This is just one example of how our thoughts can shape reality. For parents, this is good news. Your thoughts can influence the way you parent and how your children behave. If this is interesting to you, keep reading.
1. Stressful situations trigger negative thoughts
If you are like most parents, you will go through rough times with your kids. Kids have tantrums, become defiance, or fight with siblings. Let's suppose you are in the store and your five year old has a tantrum when you tell him that you will not buy him a treat at the check out line. After you pay he refuses to follow you out of the store. He proceeds to lay down on the floor and scream. In this situation the parent may think thoughts such as:
I cannot let him get away with this, he is a spoiled brat, how dare he do this, he is manipulating me, this behavior is intolerable, he has gone too far this time.
All parents think thoughts like this from time to time. Considering the child is having a tantrum in a public setting, which is stressful and embarrassing, it is normal to have thoughts like this. Yet, staying with these kind of negative thoughts will not bring you closer to your child nor will it enable you to elicit cooperation. So take some time to ponder what kind of automatic thoughts come up for you in the heat of the moment.
2. Thoughts lead to feelings
Thoughts such as he is manipulating me and I cannot let him get away with this are likely to create a feeling of anger. It is very difficult to do anything well when feeling angry. Our bodies are designed to move into fight, flight, or freeze when angry. Therefore, It will be important to recognize your feelings and feel them. Acknowledge your anger, breath, take care of yourself, and allow the feelings to move through you. There is nothing wrong with feeling anger. The tricky thing is that we tend to act out harshly when we are angry. So the key is to learn how to manage yourself and your anger.
3. Feelings lead to our actions
Lets suppose you end up taking action while you are feeling angry. When angry, you are likely to parent in a way that is forceful or punitive. When you are content, you are likely to parent in a way that is respectful, kind, and honoring of your child's dignity. Therefore, an important part of effective parenting will be to not take action with your child until you are back into a balanced state. Of course, there will be times that you cannot do this due to safety reasons or just because we are all human and react impulsively from time to time. For now, just notice how your actions are affected by your feelings.
4. To shift this, begin by catching your thoughts
Now that you have taken some time to notice the thoughts that trigger a downward negative cycle, be mindful to catch yourself the next time you get stuck in negative thinking. Sometimes you will catch it and sometimes you won't. Be patient with yourself!
5. Next, check your thoughts
After catching negative thoughts, spend a few moments to check them. Is your child really a spoiled brat? Or is she just having a really tough time right now. Gather up some evidence on both sides. Maybe 9 times out of 10 when he asks you for a treat, he accepts your "no" with grace. Most kids are well behaved kids. My assumption is that if you take the time to check your thoughts, you will conclude that your child is actually a pretty great kid most of the time but has bad days and moments like we all do.
6. Lastly, change your thoughts
Once you become well versed at noticing and choosing thoughts, you can pause and change your thoughts. To do this, you simply replace the negative thought with a thought that feels better.
He is manipulating me and I cannot let him get away with this is replaced with thoughts such as:
My child is really struggling right now. My child would act better if he could. She does not have the skills, brain development, or maturity to cope with her disappointment in this moment. I am the adult here, I do not like this, but I can handle it. I need to teach her how to handle her feelings in a way that is socially appropriate. I will take a moment to care for myself before interacting with her. Then I will take care of her and help her through this. So on and so forth.
Keep choosing thoughts that feel better to you. This will enable you to approach your child with love, acceptance, and grace while being an authority and guide.
By: Cristina Trette
Sometimes children act out in maddening ways - tantrums, explosive fighting with siblings, or an outright refusal to comply with requests. When these kinds of behaviors happen in homes with frequency, they tend to be met with strictness, tight control, or even force. It makes sense that parents would want to "lay down the law" on these types of behaviors! It is not pleasant to be around children when they are in this mode and many parents have been taught to eliminate these kinds of behaviors through punishment.
I punish from time to time. It is a reaction built in and passed down through generations. Yet, punishment-based parenting advice is out-dated. In fact, research suggests that punishment can make problem behavior even worse.
What we know today, and research supports this, is that children tend to act out when the level of stress they are experiencing exceeds their ability to cope. Unless mom and dad learn to look past behavior and consider the root causes of why their child is acting out, they are likely to overlook the possibility that their child is experiencing internal struggle and strife. For example, if a kid's tantrum is caused by mom and dads fighting, punishment will not stop the tantrums from happening.
Most young children do not have the brain capacity or sophistication to articulate what is happening in their inner world. Therefore, when having a really hard day or when going through challenging life events such as changing schools, moving, or divorce, most kids will act out their feelings which can show up as angry outbursts or defiance.
For example, lets look into the world of Matt, age 9. Matt's parents are successful, well-educated, and hardworking adults that are loving and attentive. Matt lives in a family friendly community and attends a top-notch public school. Yet, his parents fight a lot after he goes to sleep. And, last night, when his parents thought he was sleeping, they were so angry with each other that they started yelling. The next morning he went to school as usual but his worries about his parents stayed with him, brewing below the surface.
On the way home from school, Matt was upbeat and did not mention a word to his mother about any of his troubles. On some level Matt knows that his parents difficulties are troubling him, but he does not know how to articulate this. When the mother-son pair arrived at home, Matt eats a wholesome snack and gets started on his homework. Suddenly, Matt becomes whiny. Whines quickly lead to screaming, a rude outburst, and refusal to do his homework. Matt yells at his mom, says he hates her, and goes to his room.
Mom is feeling angry and baffled. What-just-happened?
Her son had just become an angry and defiant little monster! Mom could raise her voice, lay down the law, and demand that Matt begin his homework RIGHT NOW. She could sternly remind Matt that he will not be allowed to play outside or enjoy screen time until all of homework is finished.
Perhaps mom starts here, but hopefully she does not stay here.
There is another approach is more likely to elicit cooperation while also keeping the relationship intact. Mom could look at Matt's outburst as a signal that something is going on inside of him that he is having difficulty with understanding, feeling, and expressing. Matt's mom would see that he is having a hard time coping - with an issue in his life - and she would seek to discover the root cause of his behavior. Mom will still set and hold limits, and maintain high expectations, but she will also allow space for Matt to feel and move through his feelings and make sense of what is going on. Until children learn how to feel feelings without acting them out, it can be messy. Part of the job of the parent is to help children move through this process.
Punishing poor behavior assumes that children act out on purpose and that they are choosing to be difficult. Although this may happen from time to time, my strong assumption is that most of the time children do not choose to act poorly. Instead, poor behavior is a sign, a symptom, a signal that the child is experiencing difficulty with some aspect of his life which could include the parents relationship, friendships, performance in school and sports, or the relationship with the parent. Looking at our children through this lens enables parents to get to the root cause of acting out behavior which is more likely to create long lasting positive changes in the way your child behaves and acts while also increasing closeness within the parent-child relationship.
With this realization, Matt's mom will slow down, move in for physical affection (assuming Johnny responds well to touch), tap into genuine compassion and empathy, and become curious. With this approach she is likely to get more tears and an earful about the situations and events that are troubling Matt. And once Matt has gotten his troubles of his chest, feels heard, and re-connects to his mother, it is likely he will regain composure and be ready to tackle homework.
This approach takes patience, time, and a willingness on the part of the parent to be open to exploring the child's inner world. Yet, it teaches children valuable skills such as emotional regulation and responsiveness, gives them the ability to go to adults for help and guidance, models conflict resolution and assertiveness, and creates a strong internal model of healthy relationships.
By: Cristina Trette
Visualization is a well researched therapeutic technique that has been shown to increase performance and lower stress response. This can entail visualizing oneself in a challenging or stressful situation as a way to practice. During the visualization the individual sees himself moving through the challenging or stressful situation successfully and having a positive outcome.
If one takes the time to do mental rehearsal, lets say every night over the course of a few weeks, she will train the brain to respond to stressful stimuli more effectively. Mental rehearsal can be used to prepare one self for a variety of situations include public speaking, job interviews, athletic pursuits (my son uses visualization to prepare himself for challenging and difficult skateboarding moves). Really, the list goes on and on.
What does this have to do with parenting?
Well, parenting can be stressful. Tantrums, homework battles, defiance, and power struggles can lead to challenging moments between adult and child. Some moments are so challenging that a true stress response can take place within the body. Signs that an individual is under stress include rapid and shallow breathing, tension and tightness in the body, difficulty swallowing, and increased thirst. Have you ever noticed these sensations in your body when your child has a tantrum or when you are rushing to get out the door in the morning and your child becomes defiant?
Wouldn't it be nice if you could train yourself to respond to the stressful stimuli differently so that no matter what your child does you remain emotionally regulated allowing you to engage in effective parenting?! To get specific tips on how to practice mental rehearsal so that you can become a more responsive parent read on.
1. Select one specific challenge that you are currently encountering with your child. If you can, choose a challenge that happens frequently.
2. Next, spend a little bit of time thinking about how you react to the challenge? Do you experience stress and overwhelm? Do you yell, threaten, or punish? Or do you become permissive?
3. Now, visualize the best version of yourself engaging with your child in this specific challenging situation. What does your best mothering look like, even your kid is being difficult? See every detail. Relish in the how good it feels to parent in such a positive and responsive manner. Make sure to take long, deep breaths while visualizing.
4. Repeat step 3 over and over as much as you are able to. A great time for visualization is when you lay in bed at night after your child have gone to sleep. You only need to practice for a few minutes at a time.
5. When the real life challenge presents itself, notice how much more responsive you are. This practice works because the brain has responded to the visualization as if it happened in real life. New neural pathways were formed in the brain creating new patterns in behavior. So by the time the real life situation presents itself, you will be seasoned at sailing through the challenge with grace and ease.
I would love to hear how this practice works for you. If you try it out, let me know your experience in the comments box below!
By: Cristina Trette
My days felt like marathons as I spent all of them doing the same energy sucking routine: wake up and make breakfast, change diapers, get my 5 year old to school, park with my toddler and baby, cook lunch, put babies down for nap, laundry, dishes, school pick up, park, soccer practice, play dates, dinner, bath, reading, put kids to bed. I was a stay at home mom and my kids were ages 1, 3, and 5. I did not want life to pass by and have them see me so unhappy. So I got my sh@t together and made some changes. I wanted to experience joy again. I realized it would not happen without effort and that I was going to have to generate it. Here is what I did to turn things around.
1. I sought out opportunities for peace and quiet
We are raising children in a world that is increasingly fast paced. Many parents today are stuck in a constant state of overwhelm. If you meditate or have a mindfulness practice, you already know the value in stillness. To get back to joy, I recommitted to the practices of mindfulness and meditation. Other times I soaked in the bath with a glass of wine when everyone else was sleeping. Most importantly I began to make breaks apart of my day and taught my kids to let me break when I needed it. When my kids played at the park, instead of hovering behind them, I sat on a bench and focused on breathing and allowed myself to relax. I made it a point to observe the beauty all around me and soaked up serenity in the small moments. Find what works for you to quiet your self and make it a priority.
2. I stopped complaining
As a species, we are consumed with the negative. Our brains are primed to pay attention to anything threatening while tuning out the good stuff. When we were cavewomen, even if most of our day was blissful, we had to be on the alert for the one tiger that may attack us. To read another article I wrote on this subject, click here. But here is the thing, the more we talk and think about the negative, the worse we feel. I had to work hard at ending the habit of complaining. It started with a challenge I was given to not complain for one week. This was inanely hard to do at first! But after the week was up, my mood has improved so dramatically that it became much easier to stay the course.
3. I practiced small acts of kindness
Every day I did one small kind act and still maintain this practice today. Sometimes this means texting a deserved compliment to a friend. Other times I place a nice letter on my son’s pillow thanking him for a way he has contributed recently. Once I picked flowers from the garden and put in a vase in my daughters room. If you can, extend gestures beyond the walls of family. Pay the parking fee for the man behind you in the garage. Offer to buy your friend a cup of coffee. Bring in a dozen bagels for the teacher’s lounge at your kid’s school. Kindness is contagious and can quickly turn a sour mood into a happy one.
4. I started a positive journal
Many people keep a journal as a space where they can express their negative emotions. This is valuable as it gets the thoughts out of your body-mind and onto paper, making it less likely that you will store it inside. I suggest that you also purchase a separate positive journal. Keep the positive journal as a space for writing down thoughts, dreams, goals, and actions that make you feel good. Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, refers to these journals as Blessings Journal. You can learn more about research and practices of positive psychology at www.authentichappiness.com.
5. I made it a point to talk about what went well with my kids
One positive psychology tool is the “What-Went-Well” exercise. This practice involves taking the time to reflect on the positive aspects of our experiences. Seligman suggests that the practice of writing in a journal every night about three experiences that went well and why, has been correlates with decreasing depression. Examples can be simple such as my daughter got in her bed tonight gracefully and went right to sleep or my husband surprised us all with our favorite treat when he came home from work.
6. I became habitually grateful
There are many ways to focus on gratitude. Some tape a gratitude list to their bathroom mirror. Others find that silently extending appreciation works best for them. In my family we like to start family dinners with everyone taking a turn to say what they are grateful for and why. My partner and I like to take gratitude walks. As we walk we take turns saying out loud what we appreciate. I love doing this.
7. I became more comfortable with my mistakes
No one is perfect. Acknowledge and accept that mistakes are a part of the human experience. If you make a mistake, instead of beating yourself up, ask yourself what you learned from the experience. Teach your children to look for the beautiful purpose in mistakes too. Encourage your child to see mistakes or perceived failures as learning opportunities. There is a fantastic children's book called Beautiful Oops that helps kids see that everything mistake is an opportunity to create something beautiful.
8. I caught myself when I wanted to blame others for my feelings
Your child is not in charge of your happiness. If you blame your frustration and anger on the behavior of your child (or anyone) you will never find the joy that you are seeking. Allow your happiness and fulfillment in life to come from inside of you. Everyone is at choice in how they feel in any given moment. Once you start acknowledging that you create your response to every situation and event, you will begin to feel more freedom and contentment from within. If you are stuck in a rut, hate your job, want to go back to work, want to exercise commit to making one big change taht you know will bring you more joy. Everyone is at choice in how they feel in any given moment. Once you start acknowledging that you create your response to every situation and event, you will begin to feel more freedom and contentment from within.
9. I built my tribe
It takes a village to raise a child. The research on this is solid, individuals with a strong support system in place are happier and healthier than those who isolate. If you are raising kids in isolation, make an effort to reach out. I had some lonely years where most of my days were spent with my three kids. I made it a point to connect with other moms and pushed myself past my comfort zone in order to do this. Join a parenting group, plan a moms night out, sign up for a workshop or volunteer at your kid’s school. Getting involved in your community provides a convenient source for making friends and being a part of something meaningful. Sign up for the local 5k or volunteer at your local animal shelter. The list of ways to contribute to your community are endless. Bring your kids with you!
Do you tips to offer? I would love to hear what they are in the comments box below!
By: Cristina Trette
No parent wants to blow up on their kids. Yet, it can happen. Being a conscious parent takes a considerable amount of self-discipline in developing awareness. Despite hectic and busy lives there are ways to enhance your state of well-being and become more responsive. It will take time and it will not happen overnight. But I promise, with some slight changes, you can experience less reactivity and more peace. Read on!
1. Your food affects your mood.
I was a teenager during the fat-free craze so there was a time in my life when I lived on candy, pretzels, and diet coke and thought I was healthy because there was no fat in my diet. Thankfully my knowledge of nutrition has changed and today I focus on eating organic whole foods as much as possible. Instead of avoiding or eliminating the foods you know you should not eat, such as processed foods and sugary sweets, it helps to focus on filling up with foods that you know are good for you. Eat a wide range of organic veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, and organic meats, while still allowing yourself to eat occasional treat if you want it. Highly restrictive diets set individuals up for a deprivation mentality making it more likely they will feel edgy and snap at their kids. Diets with high sugar and white flour do not give your brain the nutrition it needs and could make it more likely that you blow up on your kids.
One of the easiest ways to elevate your mood and become more relaxed overall is to exercise every single day. This can be as simple as putting on shoes and walking for 20 minutes. If you have to choose between doing 20 minutes of doing laundry and 20 minutes of walking - please - choose the walking! We have a fantastic Y near my house that offers free on-site child care, a great workout facility, and exercise class schedule. Check to see if something like this exists in your neighborhood. There are plenty of fun ways to bring exercise into your life too. Ride bikes with your kids or go to dance classes. Research solidly backs up many benefits of exercise: people who exercise moderately have lower rates of stress-response, depression. Lower overall stress response means it will be easier for you to keep your cool with your kids when things get hectic.
3. Ask your inner-critic to take it down a notch.
You inner critic can fuel thoughts and feelings making it more likely that you will become very angry and highly reactive. Is your inner-critic loud? I am a recovering self-critic. I used to be very critical of myself when my kids fought. For example, if one kid pushed another, I would quickly jump to thoughts that I was a terrible parent. Or, if I yelled, I would beat myself up, get stuck in a negative mood, making it more likely I would yell again! What a cycle! It took some inner work to unravel all of this, but these days I am much kind to myself when my kids start acting out or when I make a mistake. A fantastic book to read is to help you ease up with yourself is, "The Mindful Path to Self Compassion" by Christopher Germer.
4. Connect with your body
Do you grip the steering wheel when driving in traffic? Do your shoulders tighten when you are rushing to get out of the house ? Do you clench your jaw when your toddler has a tantrum? This kind of tension builds up in your body and can keep you in a state of stress. If you do not do anything to release the tension, you will eventually explode. Become aware of the areas in your body where you hold tension and actively release these areas through your breath or self massage. Or, make it a habit to relax your body at night before going to sleep. One great exercise is the progressive relaxation exercise. Starting with your toes, tighten your toes and then release. Next, tighten your whole foot and release. Continue moving all the way up through your body until you finish with your face and head. While moving through the body parts, allow your breath to flow through and relax each body part. This is a great exercise to teach your children before they go to sleep too. Not only will you be providing them with a stress-reducing skill but connecting with your children at bedtime can strengthen your relationship.
5. Examine your beliefs
What thoughts and beliefs kick-in when things get intense between you and your child? For many parents, the belief that they have to control their child and "be the boss" makes it more likely that the parent and child will engage in power-struggles. You will know if a limiting belief is affecting your relationship with your child if you tend to think thoughts such as: she is manipulating me, she is spoiled, I can’t let him get away with this, or I need to show him who is boss. The beliefs mentioned above fuel autocratic parenting that relies on fear-based discipline to control children. Conscious parents work hard to think thoughts that honor their role as leaders and loving authority figures rather than dictators demanding obedience. The next time you catch yourself thinking destructive thoughts that make it more likely you will punish, or in some other way tear down your child, remember to pause. Spend some time choosing better feeling thoughts and do not proceed with you child until you are moving from a place of respect. To learn more about how to change your thoughts, click here.
One of the most damaging myths that has circulated in parenting and early childhood education settings is the assumption that you have to take discipline action immediately in order for a child to learn a lesson. This concept may work well when we are training rats in a lab. But humans are complex and so many factors go into shaping behavior. The truth is, we do not tend to learn when in a state of fight-or-flight. To put this into perspective think about how you learn best. We can all recount experiences when true learning took place after having had time to think, reflect, and process. It is OK to save the discussion until you have both calmed down. Sometimes the very best form of discipline is to tell your child that you will discuss the poor behavior or disruptive incident later. In the case of handling a child that is in the midst of a tantrum or emotional overwhelm or there is never anything wrong with gently bringing your child into a private place or waiting until the storm has passed to address something.
7. The heart-connector
Susie Walton, the creator of Joy of Parenting, taught me an effective parenting tool called the heart-connector that I use on a daily basis when interacting with my children and loved ones. The next time you find yourself getting really upset with you kids, place your hand over your heart and breathe deeply. First acknowledge your own feelings. Are you angry? Are you sad? Your feelings are valid. It is important that you feel. Continue to keep your hand on your heart while you breathe and honor your feelings. It may help to name your feeling out-loud. Once feeling centered, and connected to your heart, take action with your child.
8. I-am statements
One of the most powerful tools I have learned from Pam Dunn, founder of Your Infinite Life Training and Coaching Company, is the use of I-am statements. In your journal, write down qualities and strengths that you already possess, as well as, qualities and strengths that you would like to cultivate. Here is an example of an I-am statement that could benefit my parenting: I am responsive, confident, thoughtful, and loving. Repeating this phrase in my mind before I engage in a challenging situation with my child makes it more likely that I will remain centered. It also makes it more likely that the outcome will be in my best interest and the best interest of my child too. Yesterday one child of mine was being disruptive at lunch. It took him ages to come sit and eat. Once he got to the table he would not sit still, refused to eat his salad, and dumped half the jar of cheese on his food. I was very hungry myself so I had a hard time handling the situation. Yet, I managed to say responsive and address the behaviors in a kind and firm way. I was able to do this because my inner self talk went like this: "I am loving, respectful, and firm". I said this in my head numerous times, while placing my hand over my heart, which enabled me to take action while staying connected.
9. Start meditating
It takes self-discipline to commit to a meditation practice. In my early twenties I meditated most days of the week. At some point I abandoned the practice because I thought that I did not have enough time. Recently started meditating again and it has had a profound effect on my parenting. I feel much more responsive overall. Start by finding a quiet place in your house that is free from distractions. Set your phone timer to let you know when 20 minutes ends. Sit up straight, crossed legged, resting your hands gently on your lap with palms up. Begin by focusing on your breathe. Allow yourself to breathe in the way that is most comfortable for you. Then, it helps to recite a mantra, or a phrase, over and over again. There are also many Sanskrit phrases you can use that will instantly bring about more peace. The phrase I have repeated since I was a child is "om sai ram". Or you can repeat, "I am love". When meditating, your mind will wander and various thoughts will come, this is normal. If you start to notice thoughts, gently bring yourself back to your breath or mantra. Having a daily silent meditation practice is the most effective way to become a more responsive parent overall.
10. Connect with nature
Nature is soothing. My personal opinion is that we all have a need for nature. Connecting with nature can be as simple as basking in the sun for a few minutes on the balcony, gardening, or watering the flowers. My love of nature mostly consists of being in the ocean and running on the beach. But I also find joy in listening to the birds sing and in being outdoors with my kids. The ways to connect with nature are endless. Find peace in hiking, swimming in a lake, or having a picnic at a grassy field. There has been evidence suggesting that the increase in ADHD symptoms is associated with more and more children lacking time in nature. Let your kids climb trees, get muddy, and roll around in the dirt as much as you possibly can!
Many children respond positively to being touched. A hand on the shoulder, a quick neck rub, or even picking your child up and holding him with love and strength are all wonderful ways to sooth your child and yourself. I used to be a massage therapist and had years of experience working with a variety of clients with a wide range of issues. Through this work I learned important and simple truths: touch is healing and humans have a lifelong need to touch others, to be touched, to hold others, and be held. If you are finding yourself moving into a place where you are about to lose with your child, try reach out and connecting through physical affection instead. Physical touch allows co-regulation to unfold.
Have you been able to transition from being highly reaction to responsive? What suggestions do you have to help you remain conscious and connected to your
Yelling, punitive timeouts, force, threats.
The more I punished, the more my kids misbehaved. I kept upping the ante thinking that I needed to be firmer or more consistent.
Finally, I realized that harsh consequences and punishment would not create positive behavior changes within my children. I had to ignore well-meaning but ill-informed advisers who suggested that children need punishment in order to learn good behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I love this Abraham-Hicks quote:
“…It is that feeling that you've done this to me, so I'll do this to you, then you'll do this to me, and then I'll do this to you. And what happens in that is: It just gets bigger and bigger, and bigger. And no one ever wins. There is no triumph that ever comes from any of that.”
So the cycle goes. The parent yells and the child yells louder. The parent spanks and the child becomes aggressive with the kids at school. Back and forth the swirl of pain gets larger and larger until eventually, the parent-child relationship lacks love, trust, and respect.
The act of inflicting pain and suffering upon your child is not the way to cultivate good behavior.
Yes, I know that most adults today were raised on punishment. Many adults today even credit their success to a good spanking. But as someone who works with individuals who grew up with trauma and abuse, I assure you that there is a better way.
Children need leadership, structure, guidelines, and limits. They also need safety, respect, and love.
I was assisting at The Remembrance Course, a personal development course that is offered through Your Infinite Life Training and Coaching Company. At one point, Jeff Everage, co-founder of Peace in Your Home, kindly and firmly proclaimed:
“It stops with you”.
He was referring to destructive behaviors that have been passed down from parent to child, generation after generation.
Jeff was not speaking to me. Yet, I took his demand to heart. If the old way stops with me, the new way starts with me too. I vowed that not only would I raise my children in environments free of harshness and punishment, but that I would work in my community to teach other parents about how to address challenging behavior in a peaceful, respectful, and effective manner.
Many parents repeat the actions of their own parents. Even if they set out to do things differently, when triggered, they find themselves speaking the words or acting out the behaviors of their own parents. All parents find themselves here at some point or other.
The truth is, it can be incredibly challenging to refrain from exhibiting our own poor behavior when our kids act in maddening ways! Yet, being able to master this skill will make it far more likely that you will see the behavior in your children that you have been wanting to see.
Meaning, that when you are able to be consistently well-behaved, it is likely that your children will be consistently well-behaved too. The best discipline you have to offer is the modeling of your own self-discipline.
It starts with you.
If you want to work with some amazing coaches who can teach you how to parent without punishment, I recommend Susie Walton, Todd Sarner, and Wendy Snyder.
By: Cristina Trette
What does effective parenting look like? Many would say that effective parents are those whom offer positive guidance, structure, and high expectations along with love, affection, and warmth. If this concept is explored more deeply, many would also argue that effective parents are parenting in a way that will lead their children to becoming self-actualized, well-adjusted, and contributing adults. Although opinions on what parents want for their kids will differ, hopefully we can all agree that, the way we parent matters.
The challenge is that many parents are too overwhelmed with life to get themselves in a place where they feel as if they can be effective. It could be that you are insanely busy between work and other obligations. Maybe you are single or divorced. Perhaps your own upbringing was abusive. Whatever the reason, if you are a perpetually overwhelmed parent, something is getting in the way. I know what the overwhelmed parent feels like. I have been there. Although I still get overwhelmed at times, for the most part, I have overcome it, and you can too.
1. Raise your self-acceptance and develop self-compassion
When intentions and expectations for behavior are high, but self-acceptance is low, you will be conflicted. You will beat yourself up if you make a mistake which makes it more likely that you will repeat the behavior that you want to avoid. If you are harboring self-criticism and judgment, resolve today to release it. Accept that making mistakes is part of the parenting journey! Keep in mind as you read this blog that you may have moments of awareness as you reflect on your parenting. But if possible, refrain from self-criticism. Begin now by committing to self-compassion as you continue reading. It is never too late to begin raising your children the way you really want to. Great learning comes from our mistakes as long as we view our mistakes as opportunities for growth and change.
2. Examine what your parents taught you about raising kids
Some adults today were raised with authoritative parenting that included healthy and balanced guidelines, structure, nurturing, love, and respect. Others grew up with autocratic parenting as their model in which coldness, strictness, and force was the norm. Whatever you were raised with will likely be the pattern you tend to follow. Or you may swing to the other end of the spectrum. There will be some things that you will want to repeat because your parents likely engaged in some fantastic parenting. There may also be some things that you will want to discard. Writing in a journal is a wonderful tool to assist you in parenting. In your journal, write down the things that you do really well already. Then focus on your areas of challenge and write down what you want your parenting to look like.
3. Forgive your parents
It will be very healing to forgive your parents for the mistakes they made. Many adults today were spanked when they were children and grew up with the message that they were to be seen and not heard. Yet, holding on to the pain of your past, no matter how deep it goes, will not lead you to effective parenting today. In fact, keeping your pain will make it more likely that you will repeat the behaviors that terrified you when you were a child. If you feel that your wounds from childhood are too deep to be forgiven, seek out the support of a therapist. Forgiveness is possible but you may need support to move into this state of being.
4. Find support using technology
When I first set out to parent in a gentle and mindful way, I had a baby and toddler at home with me 24/7 and my older child was in preschool. At that time in my life, I was not interested in attending classes. My initial introduction to compassionate parenting came from an online yahoo group called Positive Parenting Discipline. I cannot tell you how much support this groups offered me in the early years. As time went on, I found guidance in online parenting classes and videos such as those found at www.peaceinyourhome.com. With online groups and classes, podcasts and videos, there are endless ways to find support.
5. Reach out to an individual
If you are having a very difficult time parenting, I encourage you to reach out. Sometimes just talking about things and sharing the difficulties you are experiencing is enough to create change. Meet a friend for coffee and open up to her about how hard parenting can be. There is so much value in being heard and knowing that you are not alone! Set up weekly phone dates that are rooted in understanding and support with another parent. Or seek out the guidance of a coach or therapist.
6. Allow yourself to feel
It took me a very long time to understand that there is nothing wrong with feeling sad, angry, hurt, or afraid. If you want to parent more effectively it is important that you allow yourself to feel. There will be many parenting moments that put you to the test. The goal is not to avoid anger. Anger is a part of you and this is OK. The goal is to move yourself into a space where you can feel anger without expressing it in a way that will hurt yourself or another person. Regulating yourself is the greatest tool you have in offering your children guidance in being able to understand, and handle, feeling their feelings. It is also very helpful to name the feeling out loud. Not only will this help you return to a place of calmness, but it also teaches your children that feelings are a natural and healthy part of being alive.
7. Consider how you want your grandchildren to be raised
Every single day you are teaching your children what raising kids looks like. We cannot avoid or get around the impact of modelling. Know that when you choose to take on a philosophy of love, kindness, and respect you will be teaching all of these qualities to your children who will then teach these qualities to their own children. By instilling peace into your home now, you have the potential to impact the well-being of future generations to come.
Have you been able to move from a space of overwhelm to effectiveness as a parent? If so, I would love to hear what you did to create change in your family. Leave a comment in the box below!
By: Cristina Trette
Years ago, I attended a Mindful Parenting workshop at the UCSD Center for Mindfulness. Since that time, a large focus in my life has been that of cultivating mindfulness. Being around small children all the time creates beautiful opportunities to cultivate more presence, awareness, gentleness, and compassion.
So what exactly is mindfulness? Mindfulness is moment to moment, non-judgmental awareness. It is being present and noticing what is going on inside of you, and around you, rather than being stuck on autopilot. There are many benefits to mindfulness practice that have been backed by research such as less stress, improved relationships, and greater emotional responsiveness. Continue reading to learn about how you can apply aspects of mindfulness during your daily life and when parenting your children.
1. Develop a daily mindfulness practice
There are countless mindfulness practices and exercises that you can easily bring into daily life. I know you are busy! But please know that the most basic way to begin being mindful is to carve out moments in your day in which you pause briefly and pay attention to your breath. While breathing, notice your surroundings. If you notice tightness or tension in your body, take a long slow deep breath. With your breath, allow the tension to be released from your body. This is how simple mindfulness can be. From there, mindfulness exercises can be far more in depth and may include the practice of mantras, silent sitting meditation, journaling, experiencing mindfulness in nature, and silent walks.
2. Reverence for ones inner world
There is so much emphasis on our outer experience such as our appearance and behavior. Yet, it is becoming more and more common for individuals to discuss concepts such as feelings and emotions. Social/emotional curriculums are now being taught in many schools as researchers and educators know that ones inner world shapes their outer world (including their ability to learn and be successful in academics and relationships). The mindful parent is aware of her inner experiences including her thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. In addition, she learns to take let go of judgement while learning and growing. Parenting is one of the few life experiences that can bring about immense joy followed moments later by intense frustration or even anger. Parenting can also lead to some distressful thoughts! Learning to recognize, and have acceptance and compassion for what is happening on the inside, is a key aspect to mindful parenting.
3. Honoring of child's inner world
Similarly, the mindful parent is curious about his child's inner world. When a child exhibits behavior that is not socially appropriate, the parent seeks to find out what is happening inside the child that is leading him to act out. The parent also assists the child in recognizing his feelings and helps the younger child put the feelings into words. Many people mistakenly believe that respecting the child's inner world means that limits are not set. This is simply not true! Limits are set with more grace, respect, and ease when the parent allows the child to heard and express what he or she is feeling. For example, lets suppose a child is angry because he does not want to attend tutoring after school. In this situation, the parent will create the space for the child to express his feelings and discuss what is going on inside of him. But assuming the parent still believes that tutoring is a necessary, healthy, and positive experience for the child, the child will still go to tutoring. Yet, the parent, teacher, and child will come together to discuss what challenges the child and figure out a course of action that best serves everyone involved.
4. Awareness of sensations in the body
Notice changes in body temperature, tension and tightness in your body, and increases in heart rate. All of these are clues that something is going on for you that needs tending to. These clues are particularly helpful when parenting because noticing allows the parent to pause before reacting (or exploding!).
5. Celebration of all senses
Mindful parenting involves paying attention to and relishing in all senses. Some examples of this may be noticing the warmth of a morning cup of coffee, feeling the softness of a toddlers cheek when applying sunblock, or enjoying the sound of laughter when children are playing at the park. Using all senses is a lovely way to stay engaged in the present moment.
6. Cultivation of presence even during the mundane
Lets face it, there are many tasks associated with parenting that are dull and mundane! Diaper changes, driving children to activities, making lunches, or even that marathon after-nap time period when a parent has babies and toddlers at home. To change boredom into joy try bringing presence and gratitude to any task typically leads to boredom or frustration. I recently decided that I had to change my entire perspective on cooking. As a mother to three children, cooking is not going away any time soon! I realized that I could go through meal preparation kicking and screaming, or I could bring acceptance, love, and appreciation to all the nourishment that we receive and give during these times. So today, pick one dull task and choose to transform how you experience it by thinking about all its positive aspects.
Responsiveness naturally follows when we commit to a daily mindfulness practice. When bringing mindfulness into your life, you will notice that you begin with respond with thoughtfulness and care, rather than react blindly, to exciting, challenging, or otherwise intense situations and events. To read my blog post on developing responsiveness, click here.
8. Modeling to children
Parents can teach children basic concepts of mindfulness both through modelling and coaching. The parent also models deep breathing. Being stuck in traffic is stressful for me. Therefore, I often say out loud to my kids, "I am feeling stressed right now. I am going to be silent for a little while and focus on my breath". My kids have gotten so used to me speaking like this, that they will remind me to breath when they notice me getting upset. And they remind each other to breath as well! My daughter likes to say, "just imagine you are drinking a warm cup of tea" (which comes from a visualization exercise we have done together a lot). Children that grow up with mindfulness modeled in their home will have many numerous tools available to them that they can utilize during times of challenge or stress that will last their entire lifetime.
9. Open-hearted parenting
The mindful parent maintains a presence of open-heartedness when interacting with children. Warmth, love, compassion, responsiveness, and affection lead with one arm, while expectations, structure, limits, and boundaries wrap around with the other arm. Mindful parents remain the authority figure yet they strive to bring kindness and respect into the parent child relationship even while setting limits or while being firm. Open hearted parenting means that the parent extends courtesy and compassion to children ensuring that they are treated with dignity and respect.
At the same time, the mindful parent knows that there will be many parenting moments filled with challenge and struggle. Progress, not perfection, is the motto. The parent develops a sense of self-compassion and non-judgement around parenting. I practice mindfulness and I make plenty of mistakes! I accept that this will continue to happen. Mindful parenting drops the notion that perfect parenting exists. In fact, it is through imperfections that great growth and learning occur.
What other principles have you found to be important aspects of mindful parenting? I would love to learn from you! Please leave comments in the box below!
By: Cristina Trette
Some of us never yell. Others are habitual yellers. Most of us are somewhere in between. Yelling makes me feel bad. It might get temporary compliance but it does not produce good behavior or instill long term learning. But I will be honest with you, I want to yell at my kids I am triggered. I have to work hard to keep myself together. I have learned a lot of ways to keep my cool and I want to share them with you.
I love this quote by Haim G. Ginott:
“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”
1. Measure yourself
What is the quality of your yelling? Sometimes yelling serves as a protective response such as when a toddler runs into a busy street.There are times when yelling is reasonable and may prevent a child from harm. But the yelling I am referring to in this article is the I have had enough… quit your whining… knock it off… if you don’t stop crying I will give you something to cry about... kind of yelling. Even if you do not use this language, yelling is hurtful, unnecessary, and teaches children that yelling is acceptable behavior. It may be helpful to ask your spouse or partner to give you honest feedback on your yelling and what impact he thinks yelling is having on close relationships. If you bring in someone to help you assess yourself, assure them that their honesty is a gift that will assist you in your parenting.
2. What are your triggers?
Being in the car with my kids is a trigger for me. There is something about us all being crammed into a small space, and the noise level that tends to come with the small space, that is terribly stressful for me. I have to work very hard on to remain calm during long drives. What are your triggers? Siblings fighting, defiance, and hectic mornings can all set the stage for yelling. A fantastic tool for tracking your triggers can be found at The Orange Rhino. This website is filled with loads and loads of support to assist you in your journey towards becoming a scream-free household.
3. Create a code word
My daughter and I came up with a code word to remind each other of our goals to remain calm and respectful. The word my daughter chose is cuddle. This means that if either she or I say cuddle, the other agrees to pause and hug or at least pause and stop fighting. The word my youngest son chose is "hand". He likes to hold my hand when he gets upset. Either one of us can say the word any time it appears that the other is heading down the wrong path. Sometimes the announcement of the words means we break and stop the power struggle. Other times we a have a chat. Let your child pick the word that he likes and try it out frequently when you first begin the process of un-yelling. Upon choosing the word, you will both make an agreement that when either one of you says the code word you will take a break and calm down together or and agree to take a break and not re-engage until you are both calm.
4. Make a contract with older children
You may want to work with your child to write up a contract in which you both agree to respectful behavior, which includes not yelling. You can sit down together and list the actions that will lead to a mutually kind and cooperative household. Make certain to sign the paper and display it somewhere where you can both see it. If one of you veers off course, simply agree to have a discussion or make adjustments to the contract if necessary. I do not suggest using the contract as a tool for enforcing consequences. It is simply a reminder of positive actions that you are both striving towards. This is a tool that is helpful for children ages 8 and up.
5. Pay attention to your physical signals in your body
It is likely that stress is slowly building in your body but you are unaware. Start turning in to the early warning signs that you are getting ready to blow. Common symptoms include increased heart rate, rapid and shallow breathing, tightness in your chest, clenched jaw, etc. When you notice your body reacting, this is a sign to you to let you know that you are heading into the red zone. Tune in to yourself when you start to notice your tension building. Sometimes just taking some deep breathes or rubbing your shoulders is enough to bring you back to a state of calm.
6. Acknowledge that you feel powerless in the moment
Many people yell because it gives them a false sense of power right at the exact moment they feel powerless. When things become intense, go within and pay attention to what is going on for you. It is likely that some negative thoughts or beliefs come up for you right before you yell. Try to catch these thoughts as they happen. Then replace the thoughts with more positive thinking. If you are thinking, “I need to be in control or I must make them do as I say” change this to something such as, “I am a leader. I want to empower my children. Respecting my children will teach them to respect me. I am able to teach them without force".
7. Focus on yourself first
Ask yourself, what is the most loving thing I can do for myself right now? My guess is that your inner voice will not tell you to scream at the kids. Sometimes all that is needed to shift the dynamic is to take care of yourself so that you are able to be present with your child. Walk out of the room, go outside and breathe in fresh air, splash water on your face, or turn on music and start dancing. Last night, I started to get into a power struggle with my daughter. I was digging in my heels, insisting on my way as she was escalating her attempt to get what she wanted. I stopped, mid-sentence, told her I needed a break, and walked outside. I went and checked the mailbox and focused on re-gaining my center. By the time I came back, we were both ready to have a discussion. Then we came up with a solution that worked for both of us. If I had not taken care of myself, I would have forced her to back down. Yet it would have come at a cost to her dignity and respect. Taking care of myself allowed me to think more clearly and make a decisions that worked for both me and my child.
8. Take care of your child
Once you are calm, do what you need to do to take care of your child. Is he hungry, does he need a hug, is he tired, hungry or thirsty? Did he have a rough day at school and in need of support? Rather than just looking at behaviors, which tends to lead to yelling, get into your child's inner world. Children act out when their inner world is out of sorts. Look for what is going on inside your child's heart and mind and remember to see your child and not his behavior.
What other tools to you use to prevent yelling? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!
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