Points of Connection…

Pit stops, give way signs, stop signs, intersections…all moments of pause as you move down a road, a path, a track…pulling you towards a destination.

Think of this as a metaphor for parenting…the road entails the daily tasks, movements, duties, roles and responsibilities it takes to raise a child (the feeding, the toileting, the changing, the playing, the talking, the cleaning, the tidying…and the list goes on).

The pit stops, the stop signs, the traffic lights, the intersections, the giveaway signs…these are the pauses, the critical points of a path that are essential. These are the parts I am referring to as ‘points of connection’.

 

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For our children, these ‘points of connection’ are the moments that matter, the moments that determine, how they feel, and therefore how they behave.

For us, parents and carers, these are the opportunities, gifted to us, to connect with our children. The natural pauses of the day, the ones that we often zoom through without truly even looking up.

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Following a recent blog post titled ‘majic wand of parenting’ I received some feedback, which aligns with feedback often received when the same idea is presented during therapy. Questions around how on earth, in an already jam packed day, a parent could be expected to squeeze in another ten minutes, per child, of uninterrupted PLAY.

Its true, the logistics of this is hard. All adjustments to routine can be hard. But, in this case, when it comes to fuelling connection, are ever so worth it.

Anyhoo… this post is to compliment the post mentioned above. This post sends the same message ‘connection is the key to parenting’. But offers a different way of finding opportunity to be present, to connect, to nurture our relationships with our children.

 

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A recent article (The Dangers of Distracted Parenting by Erika Christakis, The Atlantic, July/August 2018) suggested that due to phenomenems such as busy modern life and use of devices, adults often suffer from a condition called ‘continuous partial attention’. Meaning, parents are constantly present in their children’s lives physically, but they are less emotionally attuned. I guess suggesting that a lot of the time, we aren’t looking up, engaging with our environment and the people in it, our children.

A child’s development is relational, and reliant on what is known as a ‘cuing system’ between child and adult, one in which is often interrupted and non existent due to…. distraction.   It’s important to reflect that it is not often parents intentions to parent in a way that takes away from the quality of parent child connection, but is it pertinent to know its impacts, nonetheless. Or at the very least to redefine, remind, highlight ways to ‘up the ante’ so to speak…

Of course, its reasonable to expect that parents cannot be fully present 100% of the time, and it may be so that occasional parental inattention is ok, and may open opportunity for children to build resilience and independence.  But chronic distraction, can impede a child’s development significantly.

 

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Here in lies…‘points of connection’.

These are the moments which naturally open up wonderful opportunities for connection, relation and interaction…they don’t require you to change your routine, introduce new strategies, or trial a different way of parenting…all they do is offer you a moment to pause, to look up, to connect. A moment of intentionality.

Often these ‘points of connection’ are the moments we move through quickly, absent mindedly, busily…I find myself pushing back against the urge to get busy engaging in adult focused tasks during some of these moments…because well, let’s face it, when your child is still/busy occupied, its an easy exit.

 

The moments that I’m talking about are…

  • Meal Time …are you washing the dishes? or have you taken the opportunity to stop, to sit at your child’s level, engaging in eye contact, talking about the day ahead, or the day past.
  • Bath Time…are you frantically tidying the bathroom, running in and out? or are you sitting by the bath, singing songs and reflecting on the play that is being engaged in.
  • Dress Time…are you dressing in a hurry, thinking ten steps ahead, hurrying your child along? or are you talking mindfully as you move, engaging your child in the process.
  • Travel Time…do you mindlessly and automatically put your child in their seat as they resist and oppose, or do you look them in the eye, talking them through what is going to happen next. Do you use the drive time to make calls, listen to pod casts, think about the shopping list that needs to be attended too? or engage in sing alongs.
  • Play Time…when your child is happily playing, independently (say what?!?!), do you get busy…tackle the washing, open up the lap top, scroll through social media? or do you sit close by and watch reflecting on what you are seeing, request to join the play, or offer reflections of delight and encouragement.

 

Of course, it would be unrealistic to think that we parents take up every opportunity to connect with our child, over, other adult demands placed upon us…what I’m merely suggesting is, sometimes, making it a conscious decision, and intentional action, not an automatic way of being could help us steer away from falling into a world of distraction and disconnection.

 

Daily habits to strengthen connection with your child (Motherly, Dr Laura Markham) is another wonderfully practical article that offers suggestions on how to build on connection between child and parent. She mentions a formula which I try to remain mindful of….and it recommends that for every interaction that is tense or conflictual in nature…it has to be balanced with five positive interactions…to remain emotionally connected to children. She also outlines ten ‘habits’ that can really shape your relationship with your child…enhancing and nurturing connection…

  1. Aim for 12 hugs or physical connections a day
  2. Play
  3. Turn of technology and interact with your child
  4. Connect before transitions
  5. Make time for one on one time
  6. Welcome emotion
  7. Listen and empathize
  8. Slow down and savor the moment
  9. Bedtime snuggle and chat
  10. Show Up

 

Parenting is a tough gig, the toughest of all if you ask me…and there is no realistic expectation which states we should be getting it right all of the time. Some days, meeting the basic physical and emotional needs of our children is ‘good enough’. But, if we are going to make conscious effort, this is where our attention needs to be streamed…connection.

 

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Loss.

Loss…

 

I’ve been holding onto this piece for a little while now, partly written, disjointed words on a screen, expressions of thought and feeling.  A mixed state of wanting to speak out to share, to connect, to be a voice for others, and also wanting to hold closely to this very private journey.

 

But for me, at this time, this is a step forward towards my grief, towards my loss, acknowledging it, nurturing it, holding it with gentle strength.

 

After being blessed with two healthy and risk free pregnancies, labors and deliveries, and being mama to now two healthy, strong spirited, kind hearted little girls…loss during pregnancy was not something that my partner and I had even really thought about going into our third pregnancy.

 

We fell quickly, we found out early, and with full hearts we shared our exciting news with our nearest and dearest.  Blessed.

 

So, when I begun bleeding towards the end of our first trimester, it was…shocking…confronting…confusing…upsetting….hard.

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As a professional who has worked, and does work in the field of perinatal mental health, I have supported others through part of this journey.  Offering a safe space to talk, to connect with the loss, to journey through the loss…to heal from the loss. 

 

I knew the kinds of things that can be helpful during loss, to aid with grief.   I was aware of the tricky things that parents, who have lost a baby come up against.  Its all there, stored away.

 

       The belief that a women with healthy happy children should bounce back quicker from the loss of a child

The message that first trimester loss is in someway ‘less than’ loss later in pregnancy

The assumption that the loss is ‘for the best’

 The message that the loss was a medical solution for an unviable pregnancy

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But the reality of the experience was, well different, to say the least.   There may be truth to some of these messages, but to a mother grieving a loss…they are and always will be utter BS!!!!!!!!!

 

It’s shocking really, that in a society that is so progressed in so many ways, pregnancy in the first trimester still holds its original beliefs and rituals…secrecy, safety, protection.  But from what I ask??

 

From support, from acknowledgement, from validation, from connection…

 

Technology and early detection of pregnancy has excelled forward, so much so that families are discovering pregnancy so very early in the first trimester.  There is certainty beyond any doubt that there is a life being nurtured inside of the mother.  Surely that calls for a shift in how society nurtures women through the first trimester.

 

First trimester loss is complicated.  You see for everyone, typically outside of the family unit, there is no loss, no sign, no indication, no representation of tangible loss.  There are even statistics which suggest that loss is expected, normal, ok….insignificant??

 

For the family, there is the loss of what should have been… We lost the baby that we had already made space for in our minds, in our hearts and in our family.  We lost the baby we had begun planning and prepping for…where will he or she sleep, how old will his or hers sisters and brother be…when will he or she be here to meet us…

 

 

For the mother…it is a loss in every sense of the word.  Physical, tangible, emotional, relational.  Third time around, when we fell pregnant, our minds and our hearts went straight to the little person who was joining our family.  Third time around, my body changed quickly, the familiarity of the changes the body makes as it grows a life were evident and real.  Third time around the significance of the adjustment felt when a new baby enters the life of a family were being sensitively considered and thought about.  The impact on self (relationship with partner relationship with children, work role and goals) was real.  The realness of the loss was also something I was not anticipating.  The traumatic reminder of loss as you listen to the absence of a heart beat, are recited the dropping hormone levels of blood tests, try to manage your bodies response to removing the life you were meant to be growing.

 

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Loss, Grief, Death, Miscarriage is an individual journey, no path the same, often resulting in it also being a lonely journey. Even when surrounded by people who love and care, how do you navigate loss in a way where you know what it is you need, and how then to you communicate that to the well-meaning people offering their help.  More so, when experiencing first trimester loss, how do you seek the support, the time, the condolences you need for a loss that for others, is unknown, unsignified, untangible???

 

My answer…Frankly…. is, I don’t know.  And the reason for that is…it’s your journey.  Listen to yourself, and say ‘ok’.  If you need support, seek it.  If you need space, seek it.  If you need time to grieve, take it.  If you need to dive back into ‘normal’, do it.  But whatever you do, treat yourself kindly as you go.  Let go of the ‘should’.

 

 

So, Mama Being Frank…if you are a women, a family, holding the treasured secret of a baby in the first trimester…ask yourself…what is holding you back from sharing with those around you.  Is it expectation, habit, social rules?  Or is it choice…an empowered decision to do so.

 

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A message for all those who have lost, I see your loss, I feel you loss, I know your loss.

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My Achilles Heel…

“You need a nicer mum” “I hope one day you  get a nicer mum” “I raised four kids and never had to deal with that”…

The words echo through my mind, my stomach churns and my heart leaps towards my mouth.

These are the words of a stranger.  A by passer. An unknown human.  A member of the public.  And this is what he said to me and my children.  Witness to a moment of struggle, a moment of high stress.  These are the words that he chose to say, in a moment where kindness, support, or absence would have been much more helpful.

And here I am, left wondering, questioning, doubting, second guessing, sick with mama guilt about ‘what went wrong’…

Wondering what  it was that this stranger saw that led him to say what he said.

Wondering, why a strangers words, seem to mean so much.

Wondering why this interaction felt different.  Why his words didn’t bounce back like a strangers normally would.  Why my normally mama bear self didn’t respond in the moment as I normally would.

And then it dawned on me, this is my archives heel.

Second guessing, questioning, reflecting…constantly on ‘what could I be doing better’ in my role as a Mum is a constant theme.  And one that comes with acceptance (mostly) because I know that it comes from a place of love, care, commitment and determination to be the best mum I can for the little humans we bought into this world.  Gosh, its even part of my life vision to help other parents be their best parenting selves.  Rationally, when mistakes happen, when moments happen where ‘I wish I had done different’, I can meet these with compassion, kindness and movement forward.

But to hear from another, perceived evidence for the fear that lies deep within, is hard.  Really hard.  It left me feeling shocked, confused, defeated and sad.

But what this man doesn’t see, doesn’t know, is that outside of what he thinks he saw, was a Mum who did her best.  A mum who woke feeling tired.  A mum who chose to push through the tired and take her three children out for a morning of fun.  A roof top brunch, a treat from the toy shop, cupcakes, play and time together.

What this man didn’t see was that ten minutes before he stepped into our world as a witness, an observer, he would have seen a mum who was bent down, level with her children, calmly and intentionally giving comfort too two little people who were overwhelmed by big emotions.  All whilst offering thanks and reassurance to the bigger little person who was making attempts to help.

What this man didn’t see was the moment where this mum collected herself, braced herself to do what she needed to do to get her little people to their car and home to rest.

What this man didn’t see, was the moment where she hoisted more than a few shopping bags out of the stroller and over her shoulder, to enable her four year old to rest comfortably.  Bags filled with dinner that she would go home to prepare, all whilst balancing her two year old on her hip, and pushing the stroller with her second half free arm.

What he witnessed was not a mum who is unkind, mean, or ‘not nice’…but a mum who was doing her best.

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Mama Being Frank…to all the people standing by watching a parent in a moment of struggle.  DONT JUDGE.  For your judgement does not reflect poorly on the person you are judging.  What it does do, is reflect poorly on you.

And to all the mamas, and dads who had a moment of struggle today…know that its ok.

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Mental Vacation…

A Reminder To Myself…

Days, weeks, months awaiting a much-needed little break for our family. Time, together, as a family, away from routine, schedules, and time pressures.

And wonderful it was…no need to be anywhere. Space to be, space to play, space to be still, space to slow down.

We stayed in a beautiful house, on property, with minimal phone service. Simple and paired back. Our idea of paradise. The kids played, outside, chasing animals and doing what kids do best.

farm field

It felt great. It also had been wondering (as my mind often does…). We aren’t being pampered, we aren’t having fancy dinners out, we aren’t in a luxury hotel on some tropical island having massage after massage and sipping on cocktails…so what feels so different…

I mean, the funny thing is, the kids needs are the same (if not more, being in a new place), the washing, cooking and general tidying and cleaning still needed to be done. So I was left wondering, what was it that felt so different???

Yes there was no work, no school, no schedules…and yes being in a new place is refreshing but surely it was about more than this.

And for me it was this, permission, to myself, to let go. Let go of urgency, let go of expectation and let go of pressure on self.

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Mama Being Frank…the results were the same, without the added anxiety, and without the added stress. The kids were fed and clean. The house stayed tidy and clean. The washing was done…eventually. And all the rest, happened. The only thing that didn’t arise, was the mental clutter of it all…the mental load of what next, what next, what next.

So, this is a reminder to me, to give myself permission, when I need it. Kind of like giving myself a mini vacation. To breathe deep through the mental exhaustion of ‘what if’ ‘I should’ and ‘should have’. To make an intentional stance to slow down, when my mind is telling me to move faster.

tired mum

And if not for me, than for my family. Because the roll on effects are pretty wonderful. Children are so sensitive to pressure and expectation, just as we are. To allow them the space to freely be, who they are, through unstructured, play, is amazing. Their imagination sparks, their attention and engagement is enhanced, and their emotional resilience is nurtured.

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Parenting!?! Magic Wand Anyone???

How many times have you thought, (maybe said out aloud) ‘if only I had a magic wand’….the power too, have your child listen more, cooperate, follow your instructions, tidy up after themselves, stop talking back, quit shopping centre tantrums, eat more of the stuff that’s healthy…

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Well, if you’re anything like me, its argh…let’s just say more than a few times.

 

After obtaining my degree in Psychology, and journeying down a path focusing on child and family, surely I would be equipped with all the understanding and strategies I would need to shape the behavior of children, including my own…

 

Yup, some may say that’s totally naïve…theory does not equal practice, others may say…well yeh shouldn’t you?!? (I share a little more about this on my previous blog post).

 

You see what we were taught as the basic but critical steps to managing behavior are stimulus and response; you know…behavior charts, rewards, boundaries, consequences. And as parents, we are often given a very simplified message about what should/shouldn’t drive our children’s behaviour.

 

A few years of practice as a child therapist later, and raising three children of my own, I now know, without a doubt, question or inkling of uncertainty…the way we shape a child’s behavior is much more complex than the reward and consequence, two step instructions, and 123 magic.

 

I can hear your virtual shouts from where I’m sitting…’GIVE US THE MAGIC WAND’…

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Mama Being Frank….this little piece of insight may not be magic….but it certainly is powerful.

 

It helps us as parents understand what our child is trying to communicate through their behaviour, and helps to foster the cooperation we hope to seek from them. Win Win?!?!?!?!?!

 

This thing that I’m referring to is CONNECTION.

 

More and more research is being released which gives evidence to the often viewed ‘fad’ of attachment parenting. Research, as well as experience, shows us that by focusing our parenting on building, fostering and supporting a strong connection with our children, magic really does happen.

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One of the well-respected guru’s of child psychology, Dr Daniel Siegal educates us on the neuroscience behind this idea. With the take home message, before trying to correct or ‘manage’ a child’s behaviour, we first need to CONNECT with where they are at emotionally. And the rational isn’t because this is the most nurturing and empathetic way to relate to children (even though it is), its because that’s how our brain is wired. If we are emotionally in a place where we are not ok (upset, angry, annoyed, frustrated, worried…) our brain’a physiology is not in the right space to ‘think’ clearly, make good decisions, or compromise, or do any of those other high order functions.

 

So, if children feel safe within a trusting, warm, predictable, care giver relationship, they are likely to reach a state of calm, more quickly, knowing that there parent can respond with understanding and kindness, helping them to work through their big feelings.

 

If they feel a strong connection with their parent, if they know they are loved, if they know they are important, if they know their parent ‘gets them’ or is at least doing their best to understand them, they are more likely to cooperate, communicate and learn.

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So, the magic lies in the relationship between you and your little love.

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Follow the link below for a tip sheet on an achievable and powerful way to ‘super charge’ the connection between you and your child.

 

https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/d40d28_1f0257edfa0a49d6a6c3e71ff1613893.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘Child Specialist’ with the Tantruming Child…

The shopping center, the work visit, the family dinner, the dress time struggle, the dinner time debate, the bath time hustle….you name it, we have done it. And by done it, I mean, been met with behaviour that’s frustrating, upsetting, and seemingly impossible to manage.

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Embarrassment, guilt, frustration, shame, exhaustion….you name it, the feeling has been there.

 

When I started this whole blogging thing, it was to mend a gap between what one learns in practice, and what one experiences in reality.

 

I started by writing about the internal experiences of adjusting to becoming a parent, the role change, the relationship change, the life change. I shared my experiences in order to normalize that the emotional, physical, relationship adjustments of becoming a mama, are not immune to anyone. Not even a professional who has learnt, taught and supported others through exactly this.

 

This was challenging yes, but I have to say, being a parent, doing the day-to-day raising of tiny little humans, in a society who often misjudges parents, is so much harder.

 

Behaviour is outward, its there, for everyone to see, for everyone to witness.

 

I found myself falling into a trap. A trap that I have explored with parents, normlaised for parents, validated for parents. The trap where, society uses a child’s behaviour to judge not only them, as good or bad, naughty or well behaved, but also their parents. A well behaved child means they are being raised by a well equipped parent. A badly behaved child means they are being raised by, well, a not so well equipped parent, and so on…

 

So you can imagine, the questions and doubts that have made a visit when sinking under this emotional trap myself.

 

You do this for a living, you should know what to do?

 

You’re a parenting expert, your child shouldn’t be misbehaving like this!!

 

You know that wasent the best way to respond to her…you should have dealt with that differently!!

 

Well, I call BULL!!!!!!

 

Behaviour is a form of communication, not an indicator of good or bad. Behaviour is our children’s way of expressing their emotions, their needs and their wants. Behaviour opens an opportunity for parents to connect, to support, to guide. Behaviour invites us to help children learn a new way, of managing the situation they are in, the emotion they are feeling. The little people we are raising, have developing brains. Which means there capacity to think and act in a way that we or society expects of them, is often limited when there are things like emotions, tiredness, hunger, unpredictable changes, overstimulation involved.

 

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Behavioural challenges are normal. Of course there are cases where behaviour is indicative of other underlying difficulties. But, that doesn’t take away from the fact that, behavioural challenges are normal.

 

Mama Being Frank…
Children are people too. They have good days, and bad days, emotions and thoughts, needs and wants, goals and priorities, just as we do. They are also little humans whose brains are in the early stages of growth, meaning their actual physiological capacity to e.g. think before responding, is actually not developed until much later than what most of us would expect from our little ones.

 

Dan J Siegel, Neuropsychiatrst and bestselling author of Whole Brain Child, says ‘The upstairs part of our brain, which makes decisions and balances emotions, is under construction until the mid 20’s. And especially in young children, the right brain and its emotions tend to rule over the logic of the left brain’.

 

 

Mama Being Frank…

 

Parents are human too. No matter, if you are a first time mum, with no experience with babies or children, or the parent who is third baby in, with a degree and practicings experience in the most effective and helpful ways of responding to a child’s behaviour….when are resources are diminished, or our emotional button is pressed…the rational, thinking part of our brain dims down, and the emotional reactive part of our brain fires up. Which sometimes results with us reacting in the moment, rather than responding, in the way we would have hoped.

 

So, as parents, all we can do is try our best to manage our own emotions, so that we are able to respond to our children’s communications in a way that promotes their emotional development and strengthens our relationship with them.

 

Ill leave you with this quote…

 

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Follow the link below to read more on my website about how we can foster communication through behaviour.

 

https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/d40d28_22906b08159b46068abfb542fb212dda.pdf

 

 

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I Got It From My Mama…

I got it from my Mama,

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Last week, during a therapeutic group program, one of the exercises we did was one of reflection…it was the first session of five for a group of parents wanting to discover a new lense for the way in which they parent. The activity was used to identify and explore what kind of parent, our clients hope and aspire to be.

 

We asked them to think about….when their children (who are currently young) reach early adulthood, how would they want to be described as a parent. E.g. if we interviewed your child in their twenties, and asked them the question ‘what was your mum like?’ ‘how would you describe you mum?’…what would they say…or what would you hope them to say…

 

How would you hope they respond…what kinds of qualities do you hope they use to describe you as a mum, as a person.

 

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I found myself reflecting on this myself.

 

In the demands of every day parenting life, moments for reflection are few and far between. Which is a shame because reflection can remind us and reconnect us with where we are and where we want to be. And these things are the anchor to everyday storms we often face as parents. In this moment…who do I want to be, how do I want my children to see me?

 

Do we always measure up?? Probably not… But if we are reminded of the parent we hope to be…then surely this gets us closer.

 

Caring, fun, available, loving, committed, patient, kind, passionate, determined, honest, selfless, hard working, creative, affectionate, brave, clever…

 

So my wish for you this mothers day is to ask yourself, how do I want my children to describe me? What values and qualities do I want to instill in my children?

 

Maybe tag your own mum, and fulfill this in reality for her.

 

i got it from my mama

 

And then give yourself a giant hug, for showing up, for loving, for caring, each and every day.

 

Xx

 

Mama Be Frank

 

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