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Unpacking the Mental Load

I recently sent out an email to a working mother group I am a part of asking women to share their thoughts about Mental Load. My sister who runs the podcast Marriage and Martinis sent out a similar request to her 117,000 followers on Instagram. And wow, we hit a nerve!

Mental Load is defined as the invisible work that, in most cases, mothers have that is involved with running a family. It often includes the emotional caretaking, the day-to-day management of running a family and the burden of making sure nothing falls through the cracks. The women who responded were very emotional–and many were angry. This feeling of exhaustion and stress seems to be accepted as inevitable.

But now that we have a name for this phenomenon, perhaps we can tackle it.

So what contributes to mental load? It includes all the tasks that typically fall on the mother:

-Researching tutors, camps, activities, schools

-Scheduling playdates

-Schlepping to extracurriculars

-Dealing with all aspects of clothing: buying, laundering, switching over seasonally

-Last minute shopping for unexpected school projects, bake sales, etc.

-Making a house into a home

-Constantly  thinking about where kids are and who is taking care of them (and advance planning to ensure coverage)

-FILLING out forms…. Endlessly

But mental load is more than a list of tasks. It is the oversight of these tasks, it is the emotional pressure of getting things right for our family. It is listening to your child who you love with your whole heart share a difficult experience and not falling down crying alongside them. It’s staying strong and helping find solutions while still empowering our kids. It’s worrying about our kids while they are sleeping, while they are at school, when they are travelling from place to place… just. constantly. worrying.

It is also a feeling of frustration that this load goes unnoticed and unappreciated. It is the feeling of exhaustion and overwhelm and our spouses not understanding why.

This is not necessarily any one person’s fault, it is societal and passed down from generation to generation. But just like the “Me Too” movement, if we give it a name, perhaps there can be movement towards a solution.

What is the solution?

I don’t have one solution, but I have some ideas to get us started. I hope to do a follow up blog with more suggestion based on the responses I receive here. Below is just a start…

-Talk with your spouse about what Mental Load is. Listen together to my sister and brother-in-law’s podcast about Mental Load together if you need a jumping off point

-Share your worries, your fears, those thoughts that you experience with your spouse. Perhaps the old adage ‘never worry alone’ could be appropriate here.

-Invest time where it is appreciated. Don’t go the extra mile for an ungrateful person. Spend that energy and time elsewhere.

-Find efficiencies. This can sometimes mean letting go of perfection. Learning from our spouse who may have a more efficient way to do things. Use technology. Delegate to others, including our children, as they get older.

-Don’t enable. Let people learn how to do things themselves which may require letting go and letting them learn from their mistakes.

-Take note of Home Control Disease (HCD) as defined by Tiffany Dufu in her amazing book Drop the Ball. Perfectionistic standards can result in your holding onto that responsibility for the rest of your life.

-Think about your role modeling. Is this the life you want for you kids when they become parents?

-See a marriage therapist if this is draining your relationship. The best time to see a therapist is when things aren’t dire.

-Encourage your spouse to take parental leave so that you can figure out parenting together. The earlier the non-primary parent gets their hands dirty and you figure things out together the better.

– If you have a leadership role in a company, create a generous parental leave policy and encourage employees to take it.

-Figure out if there is any roles and responsibilities you can trade with your spouse to change things up. Think about a Halloween candy trade – “I’ll give you my snickers for your Reeses”–or “I will take out the trash if you do the late night party pick-ups”.

-Don’t make assumptions about parental roles. Reach out to both parents when organizing carpools, responding to party RSVPs and participation in school activities.

-Focus on what’s working. Are there ways you are dividing and conquering well? Why do you think that is working? First, give yourself credit for your successes! Second, see if there is anything you can draw from what is working to inform areas that need help.

Let’s start talking about mental load and how it affects us personally. Think about how we can engage our spouse and work towards creating a healthier distribution of labor as well as making an effort to make the invisible visible. Everyone’s marriage is different, so think about the particulars of your arrangements and how you can share the wealth with your spouse and work as a team. We owe it to ourselves, our partner and our kids.

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18 Things I Have Learned in 18 Years of Parenting

My daughter just turned 18  and it reminded me of all of the growth I have had these last 18 years. We are all confused and innocent at the start of our parenting journey and there is so much to learn. For me, the list below reflects things I learned along the way that worked for my family. Maybe some of these will resonate with you. I hope my experience will be beneficial to someone else figuring things out and trying to learn and grow as a parent.

1. Save your money for important things like education, experiences and health.

2. Be generous with your time, knowledge, stuff and money. Be generous with your friends, your family and your kids. Let your kids see the joy you feel giving to others. Whether it is offering to drive their kids when a parent is sick, baking for their birthday, paying for dinner or watching a friend’s pet, be the family that people can count on.

3. Minimize or eliminate talk about appearance and weight. My biggest accomplishment is that my daughter did not know what a calorie was until she was in a Middle School health class (thanks a lot!). This world over emphasizes the importance of appearance, make your home a safe place where that simply does not matter.

4. Adopt a pet. We have bonded as a family around our pet more times than I can count. And all of us relish the fact that we saved her. We cannot believe our good fortune that we literally found the perfect dog for our family.

5. Watch TV together. We have always had a show that we watched together as a family. There is nothing I love more than all of us sitting down together and sharing the experience of watching a show. It is also a nice way to reconnect during the week when everyone is in different directions.

6. Go on vacations with your immediate family only (at least some of the time). When the four of us vacation together, we can figure out what it is that we like to do. What defines us? What do we agree on? How can we compromise? Introducing other family members or friends makes things more complicated and reduces the intimacy of just being the immediate family.

7. Give your kids the gift of time. Don’t overschedule them. For me this was easy because my kids don’t like being too busy and happily obliged, but even if your child loves being busy, I would recommend facilitating downtime.

8. Prioritize physical and mental health. Give your kids a mental health day (my kids have had more than their share!). Don’t insist they go to a game or practice or rehearsal if they are not feeling well. Insist that they get sleep. Keep your doctor appointments and find a doctor that puts you and your child at ease.

9. Let your kids develop their own study habits. Don’t force them to “do homework as soon as you get home” if you can help it. Every kid (just like every adult) has different approaches to their work. Encourage your child to figure out theirs.

10. Have family meals so often that they don’t have to be a big deal. Let your kid leave the table when they are done. Conversation can be organic because there is no pressure. We eat together often, but our meals are far from formal. And I am fairly confident my kids will remember this time together fondly.

11. Don’t overvalue a clean house. Mess means that people live and love in the home and for me that was always way more important (my husband may have a different take on this :).

12. Get the help you need: therapists, parenting books, friends, medicine, eating out at chipotle every single night. Do what you need to stay sane. A sane parent is much more important than an unhappy super-parent.

13. Encourage your teens to get a job. There is nothing like babysitting for 3 hours and realizing you can barely pay for gas with that money. I believe that kids learn the value of a dollar when they work hard to earn that dollar.

14. Foster relationships with Grandparents/Older Relatives. My kids were very lucky to have all four grandparents for most of their childhood and I know that is not common. My kids benefit so much from their time with their grandparents, whether it is watching movies, playing scrabble or going to meals, there is great conversation and time slows down a bit. Grandparents give unconditional love that fuels self-love in your children.

15. Cultivate relations with cousins or close family friends: Whenever my kids were struggling socially, I always knew they had their cousins to rely on. I have schlepped many times to my brother’s house in DC so my son could see his cousins and even though my sister is an hour away, we see each other like we are neighbors. Again, unconditional love is a gift.

16. Create traditions. I am not Martha Stewart by any stretch so our family traditions fall short of pinterest–worthy, but we do have routines that work for us. When we go to the same place in Florida every Christmas, we eat at the same restaurants and have a very predictable time. And we love it. We don’t have to think too much. There is very little need to negotiate or compromise and we can put our brains on hold for a bit and just follow the path we set out for ourselves from years of tradition.

17. Create an environment that supports authenticity. Allowing your kids to figure out who they are is the first step in creating a safe place to be authentic. One of the best gifts we can give our kids is the opportunity to know themselves and love themselves because of their eccentricities.

18. Laugh. Laugh at yourself in front of your kids, laugh at the dog, laugh at the ridiculous.  There is nothing like laughter to bring things into perspective and reduce the stress. Diffuse a fight with laughter. Life can get so serious, bring in the fun whenever possible.

I know I am far from done on my parenting journey and things will continue to change and shift. I hope I bring an open mind to the process and learn and grow as time marches on.

For more information about my coaching practice, visit my website or to schedule a free consultation email me at amyalpertlifecoach@gmail.com.

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Difficult Conversations: The Key To Connection

The first hard conversation I can remember initiating was in third grade when I was new to my elementary school. I walked up to another 3rd grader who to me was cool in every way. We were lined up to leave music class and she was in line with me. I did not practice what I was going to say, I just launched into “Hi Suzy, I like the games you play. Do you want to be friends?” She ended up my BFF.

The second hard conversation I can remember having was not hard in the traditional sense but was very important. My sister Danielle and I are 7 years apart, which made our relationship complicated for a while. However, when I was in my early 20s and out of college, we went to Hilton Head Island on a vacation with my parents. Danielle was still in high school and we were not really connected, as I was an adult and in my mind she was still a kid. But we ended up in the ocean together resting on rafts just talking. We met each other where we were at. We did not worry about what our relationship had been. While we did not openly discuss or evaluate our relationship, we allowed ourselves to reveal our true selves to each other and, most importantly for me, I allowed myself to see her in a different light; as a mature, smart and kind person who was awesome and who I needed in my life. I cannot imagine my life without my sister and I am so glad I was able to reveal my vulnerabilities to her rather than maintain a distant older sister/younger sister relationship.

My third hard conversation was with my boyfriend at the time (now husband) Gideon. The timing was off as he was way hungover from the night before. But there was no stopping me as I had just come directly from Barnes and Noble where I had read books encouraging me to assert myself. Self-help books are like bibles for me, and I was suddenly emboldened to get answers about our relationship. I knew he really liked me, and I was annoyed (especially after reading the books) that he was “playing it cool”. WTF, I said to myself. I encouraged him to reveal what he was really feeling and we both opened up to our vulnerabilities. His playing it cool was silly and my waiting for him to determine our future was equally silly. He still teases me about the timing of the conversation, but I just pat myself on the back for pushing us to do the hard stuff.

My relationship with him was what propelled me into having hard conversations more regularly. The safety of our relationship and the importance of it, urged me to put the hard stuff on the table and as Brené Brown says, “rumble with vulnerability.”  I continue to have to put the hard conversations on the table with Gideon and he is never happy about it. He is often “shocked” and “caught off guard”, but I guess that is the point. He can’t know what I am thinking, so I have to tell him, no matter how difficult it is. As everyone who is married knows, marriage goes through ebbs and flows. I can often attribute an ebb to our avoidance of the hard conversations or our inability to rumble maturely. But our marriage is guaranteed to strengthen if the conversation is productive.

I have also had several tough conversations with my best friend Nealy over the last 16 years. I had never “worked on” a friendship until I met Nealy and I really think being married has helped. If having tough conversations and being vulnerable is a skill, then my husband has helped me develop that skill and I now try to use it in relationships that are important to me. Luckily, Nealy is equally invested in our friendship and we both feel safe having hard conversations. We have learned that avoiding the conversation does not make the problem go away and having the conversation — while incredibly difficult at the time– is what keeps our relationship real, reciprocal and strong.

For any long-term relationship, there is no way to avoid hard conversations and expect to grow and remain authentic. Life throws too many curve balls and if all is going well, we are growing and changing and evolving too. It reminds me of the solar system, not only is the earth turning on its axis but it is also circling the sun. Relationships do not occur in a vacuum, so if you are not having hard conversations, you are probably not responding to your reality. It is really amazing that we can maintain any long relationships at all.

As a coach, I need to have hard conversations with clients as well. Of course they are different, and don’t involve quite as much emotion, but I need to sometimes say what I see and push my client to question things they have not considered before. It is also reciprocal where sometimes I am not on the right track and my client needs to shake his or her head and say, ” no, that’s not it.” The client/coach relationship can be vulnerable, and it also needs to be safe. We both need to be able to throw things out there, rumble with them, and then figure out next steps.

Having the courage to work on my relationships, reveal vulnerabilities and open up to what happens is one of the skills I am most proud of. I am so grateful that I have found people in my life brave enough and invested enough to figure things out and share this journey with me.

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The Joys Of Traveling with Teenagers (Seriously)

We have just returned from our most recent trip to Europe and my kids are both in high school. My son will be a freshman and my daughter will be a senior. We went for two weeks and and visited three cities—Paris, Amsterdam and London. While our family trip included many frustrating moments including arguments over what to do next or where to eat, schlepping around suitcases, lost luggage, a heat wave, lack of alone time and the inability to make everyone happy at the same time, traveling with teenagers was incredibly special and a wonderful opportunity to grow and bond as a family. Below are the reasons I recommend everyone travel with their teenagers:

Traveling can be humbling

For teenagers who think they know everything, we learned that there is still much to learn. First of all, we Americans are incredibly lame when it comes to languages. Almost all of the Europeans we encountered knew English even though we were in their country. Our knowledge of French and Dutch was pathetically limited. Paying for things was complicated too because we did not know the currency and once we figured out Euros, we moved onto London where we had to learn pounds.

Bikes are king

In both Amsterdam and Paris, the bike lane was heavily used. You had to walk on the sidewalk or fear being run over. With the narrow and curvy roads, biking just made a lot of sense. It was a nice change of perspective since cars are clearly king in the US.

Air conditioning is used sparingly

Overall, being in Europe taught us that we Americans overdo everything. We were in Europe during a heat wave and never got to experience the intoxicating feel of freezing cold air whenever we walked into a store. Usually it was actually better to sit outside of a restaurant rather than inside because the inside the heat was actually worse. We walked around with a constant layer of sweat.  Amazingly, we all survived and even, I dare say, got used to the lack of air conditioning, although my husband may have some PTSD.

We were constantly curious

We were incessantly asking questions of each other and wondered about everything. Google was our best friend and our dinner conversations were often spent trying to learn more about the city we were in. Natural curiosity and questioning allowed for intelligent and engaging conversations. There was never a lack of something to talk about which is a true gift when you are sharing every meal together.

Different strengths emerged as we were challenged as a family

When we lived on the fourth floor of a walk up in Amsterdam, my daughter flexed her muscles and helped carry the suitcases down the stairs so my husband did not have to make two trips. When we were walking in circles in Paris, my son took over the GPS on the phone and taught me how to tell when we were going the wrong way. My husband and I happily shared the responsibilities with our newly capable kids and enjoyed the trip that much more because of it.

Getting lost is half the fun

We often made mistakes. We ended up on the wrong bus in Amsterdam, could not find a metro station in Paris (turned out it was under construction), we couldn’t figure out how to work the key at our airbnb and many other moments. But these moments taught us that we could figure things out if we just took a moment to breathe and put our heads together. And sometimes getting lost took us to different neighborhoods that we would not have discovered otherwise. I hope we all were reminded that mistakes can sometimes open new opportunities and help us discover more about the world and about ourselves.

We appreciated the kindness of strangers

There were several people in each country that went out of their way to help us. The warm feeling of gratitude you feel when someone goes out of the way to help you is intoxicating. I hope my kids will remember what it was like to be confused and lost and will feel compassion towards others who are need of their help in the future.

Overall, our trip taught us that we can rely on each other and gave us an opportunity to meet challenges together. As our teenagers move towards adulthood I hope they always seek out our support and know that we have each other’s back. At the same time, I hope they appreciate their role as global citizens and help those in need beyond our family as well.

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Flexibility and Rigidity: Finding the Right Balance

Ok, I am not sure if this is something others struggle with, but this is a top struggle for me.  How do I find a balance between flexibility and rigidity? Let me explain. I struggle with how much structure to have in my life, when to say yes and when to say no, when to be spontaneous and when to stick to the plan. Like in yoga and other exercise, there needs to be balance between a flexibility and strength (rigidity). If it is too flexible then it is hard to control movements and if it is too strong, it can be hard to move. As a coach, I try to help my clients create structure but also allow for fun and opportunities to go with the flow. But for me personally, I can be overly rigid or overly flexible, the magic is in the balance and I constantly struggle to find that magic.

I was just listening to a TED talk on the radio where the speaker was talking about the benefits of daydreaming. Daydreaming is the epitome of flexibility. It allows for the opportunity to be creative and let our mind wander. But we can’t daydream all day. Do we need to create a structure for daydreaming? Is that the answer, combining rigidity and flexibility?

My junior year of college I let rigidity get out of control and it has haunted me ever since.  I will do anything to avoid falling into that pit again. One could say I have rigidity PTSD. My eating bordered on disordered where I counted everything I put in my mouth and my weight was phenomenal! I had a strict studying schedule and I had my highest GPA ever! But I was no fun to be with and I was a walking stress case. I may have had great numbers on the scale and on my report card, but the reality is that was one of the worst years of my life.

But I also can go the other way where I am so flexible I lose my sense of self. As a middle child, I am used to being the diplomat. Balancing the extremes of my siblings out. My parents are balanced when they are combined. My dad is rigid and my mom is flexible and together they are balanced. But how do you find the balance in one person at one time?

I really don’t know, but I have put a few systems in place that are helping me work towards that balance. Please, if you see me being too rigid or too flexible do not throw this blog in my face. I am not claiming to have conquered this. I am a work in progress just like the rest of you.

Find a program that matches your personality

My husband and I are in the midst of our third round of the Whole30. If left to my own devices I would gain 20 pounds a year. Now that my metabolism has slowed, I need to be more rigid, but I have to be careful not be disordered. I have a daughter and my goal in life is to role model healthy eating without focusing on calories and the scale or the size of my clothes. Doing the Whole30, where you are not allowed to weigh yourself or count calories, is the perfect balance for me and I can do it whenever I need to be more mindful. And even better, my husband and I do it together, so it has been great for our relationship. Whenever I go too far on the “rigid” side, my husband reminds me that the founders of the Whole30 are divorced, so I should chill out for our marriage’s sake.

Create a balanced schedule

When I was studying positive psychology we learned about the idea of SPIRE. It stands for: Spirituality, Physical, Intelligence, Relational and Emotional. The idea is to make sure each of these five areas is accounted for in your life and to notice if they are out of balance. I use the color coding in my Google calendar to help me manage this: Yellow for workouts, green for work, blue for social, light purple for business development/learning, and then each of my kids have a color as well so I can keep track of their schedules. If I am in balance, my calendar should look like a rainbow. But here I must be flexible too—some weeks are more devoted to one area than another. I guess the goal is balance in these areas over the course of a month rather than over a day or a week.

Create spontaneous rituals

My daydreaming time is every morning. I wake up at 5:45 every single morning (even weekends) to sit with a cup of coffee and do my writing pages (see The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron to learn more). During these 45 minutes, I am free to write or not write whatever I want. Sometimes I write To Do lists. Sometimes I contemplate life. Sometimes I remember my dreams from the night before or I write my dreams for the future. THERE ARE NO RULES.  The only rule is that I sit and write. To me this is the perfect balance of flexibility and rigidity and it has been a life changing ritual for me. Not everyone likes the morning, not everyone likes to write. Find a spontaneous ritual that works for you.

Cater to your introversion/extroversion to a point

 Over my 47 years of life, I have become more and more aware of my introversion and it has made me so much happier. I know that I cannot have too much social in one week. In contrast, my husband, an extravert, needs a certain amount of social for his mental health. Determine what is right for you and figure out how rigid or flexible you need to be. Saying no to social engagements has been hugely empowering for me, but sometimes I need to chill out and go with the flow here. Again the magical balance sometimes eludes me, but I keep trying and improving.

Saying yes or no

A lot of people and animals rely on me. Sometimes I have planned to take the dog on a long walk and she is not in the mood. Or she wants to go for a long walk and I have only allotted time for a 15-minute walk. This can turn into an existential crisis for me. Do I force the dog to do my bidding or do I accommodate her? I am obsessed with my dog so this is not an easy decision.  I was recently asked to be on a committee that seemed interesting. Do I participate? Is now the time? What do I have to give up to participate? Will I feel FOMO (fear of missing out) if I say no?  I have got to think others don’t agonize like I do in these circumstances.  But if you do, I feel your pain. Life is determined by our choices and sometimes I find choices fraught with competing demands. I try to help my clients have self-compassion in these situations where there is no right answer but you have to just make the best choice for you in that moment.

Overall, I feel I am working towards finding my balance. I have started my own business and I have designed a schedule that works for my personality, energy and availability. I love having the balance between being a mom, a coach, a business owner and a writer. I make time for naps, exercise, volunteerism and reading as well as for my family. Finding balance is WORK.  But for me it is worth it. I would love to hear tricks you use to achieve balance in your life!

 

 

 

 

 

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Listening to my Pain

The new book Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – And The Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari, has had a strong impact on me. As someone who suffers from anxiety, I am always looking for solutions. This book took a different approach from what I usually read and is a worthy companion to the multitude of other books addressing anxiety and depression. One area he writes about is how our pain is important. Our pain tells us something and we should listen to it rather than stifle it.

The book opens up with a story about when the author was in Vietnam.  He had eaten a toxic apple and begins violently vomiting. When he gets to a doctor, the doctor tells him   that the vomiting saved him. Had he stopped the vomiting, he would have died. The doctor told him, “You need your nausea. It is a message. It will tell us what is wrong with you.” This thesis continues throughout the book. How can we allow the pain to last long enough to diagnose the problem? Often stifling the pain merely masks the symptom and does not allow us to dig deeper.

Hari argues that depression and anxiety may be very appropriate reactions to what we are experiencing in our life and changing our circumstances might be exactly what we need to address our feelings. He identifies seven Reconnections we need in our society to help heal the rising number of people suffering from depression and anxiety. “Reconnecting with Other People” is number one on his list. As an introvert, I struggle with this. I happily take advantage of all technology that allows me to live in my quiet space—amazon instead of shopping, texting instead of talking, social media instead of group events. So I was concerned. Were all introverts doomed?

But an experience I had last week clarified things for me. I realized how I could maintain my introversion and still enhance my reconnection with other people. Last week I had horrible cramps. During that time of the month, I usually try to slow down and be extra kind to myself, but that day was just a busy day and there was nothing I could about it.  I was making dinner and was about to grab an Advil to deal with the pain. At that same moment, my husband walked into the house. I thought about the book and decided to listen to my pain. Sure I could take an Advil and keep moving at a crazy pace, but what I really needed was to lie down on the couch and give myself a break. Then, I thought about the idea of reconnecting with other people. I asked my husband, who had literally just walked in from a long day at work, to please jump in and take over making dinner so I could put my feet up. He did and I was able to relax  knowing that dinner was now in his capable hands. My pain alerted me to what my body needed. I needed rest. And it also allowed me to reconnect with my husband. I revealed my vulnerability and he did not dismiss it instead he validated my need and helped me.  I don’t have to go to parties or shopping malls to connect. I just need to reach out when I need it and feel heard.

When reflecting back on my life, I realize some of the most beautiful memories are when I reached out and allowed people to help me with my pain. When my kids were little, I lived in a community where we all helped each other. We were a bunch of exhausted moms who had little help.  We created playgroups, watched each other’s kids and kept each other company. Being a new mom can be incredibly lonely. Somehow we were lucky enough to turn our pain into a wonderful and supportive community.

Listening to our pain rather than covering it up is a valuable tool to help direct our choices. What is your pain telling you and are there ways to dig deep and make changes to the root of the problem rather than covering the pain? Finding community that works for my personality is an effective way for me to address my anxiety and is a priority for me going forward. As I take another step towards my 50th birthday and adapt to parenting teenagers, my village needs have changed. But I plan to make an effort to reach out to others and get the help I need whenever I need to ease the pain.

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The Junior Year Journey

Being a parent of a junior in high school is not easy. As we know life seems to move faster with each year. But when junior year comes along, life pushes the pedal to the metal. As someone who always drives the speed limit and avoids all fast amusement park rides like the plague, I am holding on for dear life. Talking about college, visiting colleges, prepping for ACT/SAT, prepping for the drivers test, AP classes and the overarching awareness that life as I have known it for 17 years is about to change is tough and I need to figure out how to handle it.

I am not someone who avoids change. I have enjoyed watching my kids get older. I love seeing their independence grow. I did not cry when my kids marched off to kindergarten. I was so very excited for them. I embraced their bat/bar mitzvah year with joy and excitement. Therefore, I am a bit thrown for a loop with how much this year is toying with my emotions.

All I can do is try to control what I can control. If life is moving too fast in one domain, I can try to slow down in others. If I am feeling extra vulnerable, then I need to create a life that helps me feel secure. What can I do to help myself survive and maybe even thrive during this time?

This is my plan I am putting into place and I hope it helps others think about how they can adapt when times are tough.

Wake up earlier

If life is going to fast, I need more time to gently enter my day. By waking up 15 minutes earlier, writing in my journal and connecting to myself, I am stronger and better able to deal with the tornado of my day.

Go to bed earlier

I am diligent about getting into bed as early as possible. I am trying to honor my sleep cycle and if I am getting up earlier I must go to bed earlier. If I am overtired, I do not have the strength to deal with the topsy turvy emotions I feel.

Honor my introversion

One of the indicators of being an introvert is that we can feel depleted by social interactions while social interactions energize extroverts. To protect my energy, I have to say no to invitations. I feel uncomfortable about this sometimes, but it is what I need to do to protect my already vulnerable foundation at this time.

Meditate

Meditation teaches us how to notice what is going on without judgment. Having this more sophisticated awareness of my thoughts and emotions allows me to deal with them in a more reasonable way. I am learning to accept what I feel, challenge what is not true and treat myself more gently.

Spend time just the four of us

My sadness around our family changing is best addressed by appreciating what is here right now. We have prioritized being together as a family more than ever and my daughter, despite her busier schedule, has been game. Being together at a restaurant or watching sitcoms and movies or just laughing and teasing each other during car rides is grounding and seems to slow things down temporarily.

Imagine a fabulous future

Being around friends who have been through this is powerful. Reading blogs like Grown and Flown is life saving. Imagining our future with my husband can be exciting and freeing. Life will go on when my kids move on. I have a new business, a wonderful husband and the most amazing dog that is not going off to college luckily. I have friends and family and hobbies and goals and the next phase will be wonderful.

Adapting to change is a life skill that we must embrace since change is inevitable, but I can be kind to myself in the process.

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Master Memory Maker

In Chip and Dan Heath’s book The Power of Moments, they explore how moments can change our lives and how to be more intentional creating special moments in our lives. As I listened to an interview with Daniel Pink and Dan Heath discussing the book, I realized that my grandfather, whom I called Zeyda (yiddish for grandfather), was a master memory maker. Not only did he literally create our memories by always having a camera or video camera in his hand and singlehandedly capturing every single family moment—from birthdays to holidays to bar mitzvahs. But beyond that, he created memories in other ways as well. His creativity and zest for life benefited his eight grandchildren in ways that impact me to this day.

Embrace Silliness

Every Chanukah we would take a family picture with the grandchildren, grandparents and aunts and uncles. It was a whole crazy mess as we all tried to find our places by the fireplace and my Zeyda set up the timer so he could be in the picture (thank goodness because otherwise we would have even fewer pictures of him!). But he took these pictures a step further. With thoughtful planning, he would pick a theme each year. We would take a couple of classic pictures and then the fun would begin. One year we dressed up as clowns with full makeup and another year we wore Groucho Marx glasses. Laughter was the name of the game. There was no way to stay serious during this annual event.

Sunday Outings to I-Hop

Now that I am a parent, I appreciate even more how my Zeyda would throw all eight grandchildren into his enormous car and drive all of us to I-Hop for breakfast on Sundays. In would go the 8-track tape of Fiddler on the Roof or Cabaret and we would all sing along as he smoked his cigar out the window. My Zeyda loved the carefree nature of children and our laughter fueled him. I can still feel myself in the car surrounded by people I loved—elbows and knees banging into each other as we squeezed in.

The Shaky Bridge

I don’t know if the bridge was actually named that, but my Zeyda managed to find the shakiest bridge in Trenton and we would go and jump on it. I hesitate to imagine why it was shaky, but we weren’t scared at the time. It was our amusement park. Seriously this man knew how to find the fun in anything!

Once in Love with Amy

We would listen to the song Once In Love with Amy in the car, which of course I loved because my name is Amy. However, one day my cousin Micole asked if we could listen to Once in Love with Micole. Well, poor Micole did not have many songs named after her so my Zeyda was heartbroken. He did not want her feelings to be hurt. So he told us he had a song for her at his house and we all went back to his office and looked and looked and looked for the song. Of course we never found it, but Micole seemed satisfied. Crisis averted. Zeyda’s imagination knew no bounds.

Kindness Trumped all

My Zeyda was not a traditional grandfather.  He took us all to see the movie Animal House when we were too young; he had a subscription to Playboy “for the articles”, and he told dirty jokes constantly. He did not make rules or follow rules for the sake of rules. His only rule was kindness.  At I-Hop, all the waiters and waitresses loved him. He loved people and treated everyone with respect. The only time he ever lost his temper was if one of us was being unkind. That was completely unacceptable. A famous story of my Zeyda is when he hired a blind man to sweep his shop. Of course the blind man was not very effective at this task, but he needed a job and my Zeyda could not bring shame upon him. The consistency of his kindness sent a strong message to his grandchildren and I know kindness continues to be a guiding value for me.

As I think about these memories, I have perfection in my mind– we went to breakfast every Sunday and that we took crazy pictures every year. But I know that can’t be true in reality. But this imperfection is a beneficial reminder. We don’t have to be perfect in the traditions and memories we create for our kids. Some years we are more on top of things than others and that is ok. Making memories does not have to follow a strict pattern. My Zeyda did not make things difficult. He was inspired by what he enjoyed and was motivated by spending time together with the family he loved. My lesson learned from reflecting back on his life is to be intentional and authentic and the memory making will happen.

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Surviving a Tough Time With Your Adolescent

In all likelihood one or all of our kids will go through a tough time at some point during the adolescent years. They may have a hard adjustment to a new school, new teacher, a best friend may move on, a first love may break up or he or she may just feel unsettled. Hormones kick in and kids develop at very different rates, so puberty can be a time of much confusion and uncertainty. Parenting a child who is having a hard time can be a particularly lonely time even though we are in very good company. Privacy can feel paramount at this time due to your child’s preferences or your own feelings of embarrassment or insecurity. Below are things I have done personally to help myself and my child deal with a difficult time.

Find a cheerleader

Is there someone who thinks your kids are great no matter what? My mom serves this role for me. She reminds me of how awesome my kids are and having lived through it all before, she knows how short this window of time is in the scheme of things. A little perspective and unconditional love can go a long way.

What makes your child happy?

Now is the time to give your child a little extra TLC. Make sure you child has an opportunity to just be a kid. Does your child have a favorite restaurant, meal for dinner, can you watch a favorite movie as a family, bake together, play a family board game, go to skyzone and jump around? Get your kid away from social media and foster connection with people who accept them for who they are.

Get out of town

Sometimes you have to give your kid some real distance from the stress. Go visit his favorite cousin who lives in a different town, plan a quick getaway with the immediate family, or hang out with old friends who no longer live in town. Give your child an opportunity to disconnect from the challenges of every day life and refill his or her bucket. This builds resilience and coping skills.

Seek out grounded and sensitive friends

 This is not the time to talk to the exaggerators, over reactors or the completely clueless.  You need someone who will respond gently as you reveal this vulnerability. Find someone who won’t exacerbate the issue or ignore it. It is a really delicate balance, which is why it can be such a lonely time. This is an excellent time to rely on an already established relationship with a therapist or to start going to one.

Self-Care

Caring for an unhappy child can be emotionally draining. Be sure to fill your own bucket by taking some time to restore. What energizes you? Do you need time to sit and read, exercise, talk to a best friend, go for a walk, get a massage? Do what you need so you can be extra sensitive and patient for your child. And know in your heart that this too shall pass.

Follow to the Experts

I recommend any of the books below:

Wendy Mogel: Blessing of the B- and Blessing of the Skinned Knee

Julie Lythcott-Haims: How to Raise an Adult

Lisa Damour Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood

Get your child help

We all need to know our limitations. Sometimes our kids need to speak with someone besides us. There are many wonderful people who can help your child. Obviously a therapist is ideal as they have the experience and background to provide effective tools. Other options are other adults like aunts, uncles, other family members, older cousins or family friends. Really anyone who is mature and cares about your child can help. A school guidance counselor can sometimes be a helpful ally as well.

Home is where the heart is

Family can be a source of strength and support even while our kids seemingly want to move away from us. Creating a home that is supportive, welcoming and loving can go a long way to help. Taking life a little less seriously can remind our kids that everything is temporary and things will get better. A happy home can give the whole family strength, including you as you tackle this challenging time.

Adolescence is tough–we know because we have been there. It is challenging as kids grow emotionally and physically. And as the saying goes “we are only as happy as our most unhappy child”, it can be a very difficult time for you. The more we can do to help our children laugh and experience joy the better able they will be able to survive this time and the better you will be as well.

I know there are lots of creative ideas out there that resourceful parents have uncovered. Please share any tools you have used to survive this time in your life.

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Create Space in 2018

“Create the Space to Let Life Happen” is the motto on my 2018 planner designed by Ashley Staum, owner of “She Plans.” A planner, when used proactively, can be a tool for freedom. The freedom to grow, stretch and create is a goal for many of us and with a little planning we can create those opportunities in 2018. Growth requires empty space: time for spontaneity, time for rest, time for connection—to ourselves and to others. We cannot develop brilliant ideas without time. We cannot be true to ourselves without reflection. But we need to be intentional about these things. Before you fill your 2018 calendar with obligations, prioritize time to just daydream (remember the good ole days when we would do that?). Here are my tips:

 

Reserve time on your calendar

On my Google calendar I color code everything. I have a color for my work, for my play, for each child and for my workouts. This allows me to be sure I am making time for what is important to me and that no one color dominates my life. My daughter’s high school has a brilliant program. They reserve 2.5 hours for the students every Monday and they call it Genius Block. This is time students can pursue their dreams, take learning to the next level or just relax. We should all build Genius Blocks into our life and fill it however it makes sense. Pick a color and start to book time to do what you need/want and don’t even allow yourself to question it. You deserve it and our world can definitely use a few more geniuses.

Create space in your body

Lauren, my awesome personal trainer, has taught me that unless you have space in your body, you will not be able to build muscle safely. Stretching is an integral part of our sessions and is supposed to be an integral part of my daily schedule (I am working on that). Let me tell you, taking time to stretch and take care of my body has led to me being stronger than I have ever been. It turns out that not getting injured is an effective way to be healthier. Take time to develop space in your body through stretching, yoga, massage, whatever you can do to show your body some love. It will thank you for it.

Create Space in your mind:

  • David Allen, creator of Getting Things Done a work-life management system, says “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” Allen has a five step plan for getting things done and the very first one is called Capture, where you literally dump anything and everything out of your brain onto paper (or a computer organizing system). Once you have emptied everything out of your brain, you can begin to figure things out. Holding stuff in your brain to remember wastes precious resources and can cause unnecessary stress. So as you prep for 2018, begin to capture everything you hold in your brain into some sort of system either paper or digital.
  • Use mindfulness to single-task. The more we focus on one thing at a time the more space we have in our brain to dedicate to that one task. Think of a garden hose. When you spray the water in lots of directions, the pressure is distributed and diluted, but when you allow the hose to go in one direction only, it can be powerful. Our mind works the same way. When our mind is going into a million directions, it is diluted. Your life deserves your full attention. Engage your mindfulness skills to hone your attention on one thing and enhance the quality (and most probably the quantity) of your work.

Magically make more time appear

In the movie Sully about the Miracle on the Hudson, it is clear that one of the reasons the simulator could not accurately reflect what the human pilots did was because computer simulators do not need to take up time making decisions. Decision-making takes time and energy. One secret to creating extra time is to build in habits that you do without thinking. Imagine how much wasted time you would have if you had to decide to brush your teeth every day. If you create habits in your life, you gain that extra time to do things that actually make you happy. Just like you make your coffee without thinking (or at least I do), create other habits that keep you on track and free up some of that decision making time.

Create space in your physical environment

Rachel Jones, a joyful space specialist and founder of NourishingMinimalism.com, explains that clutter creates anxiety and wastes time. She offers a clearing clutter challenge to get rid of 2018 items in 2018 and she even offers a motivational chart to help us track. I plan to do this challenge. If it will help limit the amount of time I spend looking for my glasses every day, the happier everyone in my family will be!

These are just a few ideas about how to make space in 2018. Experiment and have fun with it. Simply being proactive rather than reactive is a great place to start. I would love to learn how you build more space into your life. Check out my worksheet to help you play with these ideas. To a happy, healthy and free 2018!