How to Be a Resilient Parent after Experiencing Abuse

I’ve been a trauma therapist for over 12 years, and working in the Violence against Women field for 20 years. Over this time, I’ve seen women, families and children work on their healing and move on with their lives. It’s not always easy, and they don’t do it alone. I have been reflecting on what helps them be better parents than some of them had, or more present in their day to day life even with the flashbacks that still catch them off guard. Here are some things I’ve learned.

When we become a parent, we go into the role wanting to provide our children with all the love and security in the world. Sometimes, when that wasn’t available to us as children, it’s hard to be able to do that for someone else. When that wee baby cries for hours, when our children fight with each other, and when those little ones keep demanding from us, it makes it hard to be calm and joyful, when it’s our children that are triggering our own pain and abuse experiences.

The experience of abuse and violence can vary, as can its impact on us. For some of us, we have survivors of family intergenerational trauma that can stem back years, and other survivors have experienced sexual violence or intimate partner violence that continues to impact today. Sometimes, the onset of preparing for and becoming parents can open wounds that we thought were otherwise healed. Being a parent is such a raw, vulnerable, and exhausting role in our life. Having tools and a clearer understanding of this connection is so important.

Post-traumatic growth (after trauma) is a process and sometimes we become parents before our own healing from trauma is complete. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a great parent to your little one! Be kind and gentle on yourself.and know that healing is a journey. Notice if you catch yourself with self-judgement and instead choose radical acceptance and self-compassion.

Here are some helpful tips and strategies to help you get there (in no particular order).

Develop your Own Parenting Style
The only real model of what parenting looks like are our own parents,so when that is not a model that you want to follow, we may need to be more intentional with how we learn to do better. When we want to change that pattern and style, we need to learn something new to replace it. So get some books, read, take a course and connect with other parents that you see or know. You know your child best and also your own story. Trust your instincts, establish your own family values and house rules and don’t set unrealistic parenting goals. Make intentional time as a family. You can do this in big ways (i.e. birthday party, host a BBQ, go on a family vacation) or smaller daily acts of fun – play games, do a family craft, eat a meal together. It’s also helpful to allow time in each day for some 1 on 1 bonding time like reading, a morning cuddle.

Attachment Work
There is a lot of talk about needing to create a bond with your new baby. Sometimes this is not possible, as our baby may be one of the triggers to our own trauma. Also, we don’t become mindful and present parents as soon as we meet our baby – for some of us it can take a few days and others it can take months, or longer. We are all on our own journey with parenthood. Whether you breastfeed, use formula or cloth diapers, use a stroller or baby carrier wrap, it is not what we do with our child, but rather how safe and attached they feel with us after receiving our regular and daily presence. Just as in adult relationships, trust is something that is earned. That can take time, and this work of building a bond and connection is the most important step to create a healthy relationship with our children. Once our child is attached to us, there is a decrease in power plays, increase in quality time, and it allows children to come to you as their anchor and home base. Make a point to share love and affection to your children EVERY day: hugs, words of encouragement and signs of love are so important to break away our own feelings of unworthiness, and it also builds on the bond with our own children.

Practice Self-Care and Balance
We are more than a parent so we NEED to get a break from that role sometimes. That doesn’t make us a bad mom, the opposite in fact. What are some things you do to help you after a hard day? What helps you unwind. This is a good time to building on your Wellness Toolkit. Things that are important to put in it include activities that have a body connection – do some work to connect with your body and what it is trying to tell you – yoga, a jog, stretches, body scan, massage. The body-mind connection has been studied and shows it’s really a important part of healing from abuse. How we sit, our posture, and what we notice in our bodies are necessary to help us be resilient. Other things include something that is relaxing like a long bath with a good book, time with friends, time to laugh, putting your feet up instead of doing that last load of dishes. The chores can wait – you can’t give from an empty cup.

Build a Village
In Brene Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness, she talks about how important it is to feel more confident in ourselves, without relying on others. As a parent, that is a crucial step in feeling in tune with the choices you make for your family. And then, it’s even more helpful to build on that and then build a village around you with like-minded friends and parents. We really can’t do it all and do it by all by yourself. So, it’s not enough to have a network of mom friends if they don’t share your values or realities of parenting – it can be hard to feel supported as a nursing or cloth diaper family if your friends don’t share this same practice, for instance. Create your own village – join a group or programs that make you feel safe, included and respected. As a therapist myself, I may have a slight bias but i do feel like having a therapist or someone else in your life that is a neutral person that you can share anything with, who is there for you with unconditional support is also a life saver. We all need someone to vent to and get support from.

Reframe, Forgive Yourself and Move on
How to rebuild after a conflict and role model this for our children is a great reminder that our nurturing is what guides them. So, we need to work on nurturing and be a healthy role model for feelings. Most of us were not taught that all feelings are okay, and to instead hide the hard feelings from our parents. We were also taught to say sorry, but it was not common for our parents to say that to us. That’s why it’s imperative to accept ourselves as parents and the Perfectly Imperfect days of it all. Start the next day with a Do-Over and don’t blame yourself, provide yourself with that same (self) compassion you give others and forgive yourself. Ask for forgiveness and have those hard chats with your kids. Ask that they also apologize and work on their mistakes. That is one of the best ways to learn how to be empathic and respectful people.

Self-Compassion and Accept Love
Self-esteem is a part of self-compassion, but it’s not all of it. It’s important, especially as a trauma survivor, to work on including self-compassion in your daily life. It’s definitely a big help when we feel good about ourselves, but if we don’t incorporate behaviour of self-compassion into our daily rhythm, it’s easy for it to get lost or left behind. Find ways to share love with yourself, your child, and your partner or family. Accept all of you as you are. Donald Winnicott talks about the Good Enough Parent – a way to be present both emotionally and physically, and provide for our child. We need to be gentle also with them and accept mistakes. Keep trying: It’s not a race. We need to nurture the relationship now for long-term gain.

Catch your Feelings
Most often than not, people are not taught healthy ways to experience their range of emotions or feelings, and typically feel shy around the big hard feelings of anger, sadness, disgust. This is especially true for the adults that have become parents in recent years. If only movies like Inside Out were around when i was a kid! The tool Window of Tolerance can help you see how your mood can impact others and us for longer than it needs. It may also help to see what your primary emotion is so that you can take care of it, before the iceberg effect of all the other feelings that come raising in. While it’s not absolutely necessary to go to therapy, it is crucial that you learn that the abuse or violence your experienced is NOT your fault, you deserve better, and the abuse we experience is due to patriarchal beliefs and power and control. There is a lot to unpack here I know. This is an important part of becoming resilient whether you are a parent or not. This is hard work, and necessary in order to break any residual intergenerational trauma that stems from our disconnect to feelings. In order to be present parents, we need to do our own work in unpacking the pain and trauma we experienced in our life.

Find Joy in the Present and Every Day
For you to be in present and here and now, it helps to learn some strategies, tips, and tools to stay in the moment that is in front of you. As parents, especially to young kids, it can be hard to actually find time with them truly fun. Give yourself permission to know that it is not all joy but rather can actually be no fun. It may not be your cup of tea to have a teddy bear tea party, and Lego can be more harm than good. Find ways to allow yourself pleasure and play in your role as a parent. So, focus on the present, don’t multitask – put your phone down, get your hands away from the dirty dishes, and check if your autopilot monkey brain of thoughts is on. Mindfulness work is so helpful to stay in the present. A helpful tip to stay present when with kids is to do a sensory exercise – notice 5 things in the room that you see, 4 things you can touch with your hands, 3 sounds in the space, 2 smells you can locate, and do 1 action with your body. Add fun to your family rhythm. Remember the past is in past, future is not here yet…\ past is sailing off to see, the future is ours to keep.

Hold on to Hope
Take some time each day to journal, reflect, or otherwise hold on to good things that happened in your day, and times that you did something you are proud of. It is a helpful way to minimize or challenge any of the negative self-talk moments that creep in. Notice the monkey brain and inner critic, and instead choose to say hi to the voice that reminds you of something to be grateful for or proud of. Be a cheerleader for yourself, just as you are for your kids and other important people in your life. Find ways to hold on to hope as a family – it can be a weekly Rose Thorn Bud exercise at the dinner table, or a communal gratitude journal entry.

Reach out and Support Others
This may seem like a hard and time-consuming task, especially after the above-mentioned suggestions to be present and gentle with yourself. As a process of healing and becoming resilient, it is also key to provide similar support to others who may not be as further along in their healing. It is not necessary to self-disclose your trauma story, but it working from a trauma-informed place as a parent to another family can be just enough loving kindness and respect another mom needs to know that she is also not alone. You can subtly pass on a resource to her, have a coffee date with another parent, or reach out after a parent and tot program. While different than building your own village of support, it can be so good for our own healing to support someone else too.

28 Days of Self-Love

The card i pulled from my deck in January was Brigid – she came a month early for me as she’s the Goddess connected to Imbolc in February. She is a Goddess of healing, and brings fertility to the land and its people. She is also closely connected to midwives and newborn babies. She sits at my alter all month to remind me of her energy so i’m sharing her with you now.

February is a tricky month for a lot of us. If you are like me and you live where Winter really visits, then February is cold and full of snow. It makes it hard to go out and do things, to be spontaneous and have fun. I’m not opposed to getting cozy at home, in fact i kind of treasure it. But it can lead to a bit of Cabin Fever.

Another pitfall of February is that Valentine’s Day is in the middle of it. This holiday carries with it a love-hate feeling, whether you are single or not, as it pushes a lot of us to DO and GET and BE so much more than we typically are. The pressure is on for sure. A few years ago, i heard about a reclaiming of the day, a way to re-connect with our own selves, as to focus on self-love more than an arbitrary outpouring of love that is dictated by stores telling us how to show love.

So, since my word of the year is LOVE, i thought it was a good time to create this helpful tool to intentionally provide myself with some gifts of self-love. Each day has a simple and gentle suggestion for you to practice. Some take a few minutes, and others are a bit longer. I also made sure to connect it to key dates in the month – February 2 is Candlemas/Imbolc so a good time to plant seeds or get fresh flowers, February 14 of course, February 15 is the New Moon of the month (did you know there is NO Full Moon? So interesting…). Feel free to change up the days, but do try to give yourself these moments of self-love. Click HERE for a full size copy of this guide.

I see a lot of connection between self-love and self-compassion, and also the need to steal time as a working mom of two young kids. I may not have the abundance of time to leisurely eat brunch as i once did, but i do have the right to eat the best chocolate i can get my hands on, and to take a break from self-judgement and critique.

Please join me this month!

Trust Them

My son broke his elbow recently. It was a big learning moment for us, and not just because we now know how to heal a broken elbow, and to not dance with slippery socks on a coffee table, but because i absolutely trusted him when he said that it was bad and he needed to go to the hospital.

This is bone #4 that he has broken in 4 years – yes, one every school year so far. The first one he was in shock and it was the school secretary who had to gently urge us to check it out. By now, and after stitches as well as those above-mentioned bone breaks, he knows to tell me “I’m okay” immediately after a fall or injury. Or “mom, i need help” – this time was the first time that he said it and i knew that he meant it was serious. I didn’t have to stop and question what happened or convince ourselves that going to emerg on a Sunday night at 8pm was not necessary.

I’m not one to think so well on an instinct. When it usually comes to fight or flight mode, i’m a Freezer (is that a word in this context?) but this time – oh i was Mama on Fire. I tended to him, got him ready, packed a bag with snacks, books, and water, got his health card ready and told my partner that it was time to take him to the hospital no. questions. asked.

All because i trusted that my son knew what his body was telling him.

I’ve been reading the book Whole Brain Child again. It’s a great book – small and full of info about how brain development impacts how children connect to their world. As a young child who has now had a fair share (more than their fair share in fact) of injuries and trauma that connects to it, my son is struggling with how to feel safe and still have joy in the things he loves. A part of me wants to cover him in bubble wrap, but what i really want is to push him to keep taking risks and feeling confident that i will there when he falls. And to trust himself first. Notice how i didn’t say, i will catch him when he falls? Because i know that’s not possible now, and he still calls for me.

The time since the latest cast, and i’m sure not the last, we have snuggled more, talked more about feelings and fears, and we are still a work in progress when it comes to being on top of our feelings. But my son knows i have his back (and elbow, ankle and collarbone), and that’s what matters most.

A New Year, A New Word

Happy New Year! I’m not one for resolutions as i worry about the pressure and unrealistic goals. But i do like traditions and ways to stay motivated. I benefit from having goals that guide me and keep me accountable to myself.

Each year, we chronicle our days and weeks. I usually write in a journal – it can be a quick note of gratitude or an exercise aligned with the moon cycle. As a family, we mark each week with a Memory Jar. I know there are a lot of traditions and rituals. So it helps to find ones that work for you.

If you have been thinking of something to do to chronicle your year, it’s not too late! I compiled a list of my favourites. Most of them are free apps or worksheets you can print and do to you heart’s content.

Here are some of them:

Practice You
This is my current journal and i am Loving it. It is beautiful, special and a great guide. I am using it daily, as a way to close my day. The writer also created a free Mapping workplan for 2018, that is based on this journal.

Many Moons
Another great journal and moon book. It comes in 6-month books and documents the major moon cycles of each month. The author did a wonderful job putting together some journal prompts and guides. The book covers things in your personal life, things from your past, goals for the future as well as things that are bigger than you – and connects us together.

The Desire Map and Core Desired Feelings
This is a great tool that helps you unpack some dreams and wishes you have, to make your life the way you would really like. I do the annual Core Desired Feelings/Word. Last year it was Breathe and i worked hard on it. It came in handy when my kids were testing my patience, and when i knew i needed time to myself to catch my breath. It’s still a work in progress, so it was a great intention to set for myself.

This year, my word is LOVE for myself, for my children (especially when they are testing my patience), quality time with my love, giving love to my village, and doing things i love. I am working on choosing love when my kids are getting me frustrated, and being more intentional with giving myself the love i give to others.

Unravel Your Year
I have down this workbook for 4 years now. It’s great, and time consuming. So commit to some time to yourself – a long bath, at a coffee shop, after kids’ bedtime for instance. It’s a nice lesson in giving ourselves the time we give others, and to slow down and reflect, pause and be mindful.

Permission Slip
We of course need to work on giving ourselves the same permission we give others – to be less then perfect and to be human. I love how Brene Brown speaks about this. You can actually write a permission slip as we got in school, and put it in your pocket as a reminder.

Mothering Arts has a great list of ideas to help your family reflect on the year that just finished. You can download the template and discuss your highlights some day this week. There are others online for sure, but i really appreciate the gentle approach of this one.

And here is a further great list of 11 things you can do as a family. It’s never too late to start a new tradition and to be intentional with your plans each year. It’s a mindful way of living your life as close to how you want to. Nothing is perfect, and we can still aim to have the life we want.

The 12 Days of Getting Through the Holidays in a Mindful Way

As parents we have a love-hate relationship with the holidays. December is a full month of visits, errands, chores, schedules, and to-do lists. Let alone the fun and joy we are supposed to be having. It can be hard pressed to find time to relax and truly have fun over the holidays.

This year, i plan to be a bit more gentle to myself. Most of the presents are done, i’m eating chocolate every night, and my partner and i are busy elves in the our workshop from 8:30 – 11:00 each night. I actually like that part of my day as it’s a guaranteed time where i get to be crafty and creative, and not thinking about ANYthing else. I’m reminded that sewing and knitting are activities that i do for myself as much as for my kids – the act of sewing is so methodical and meditative. And i’m sure any readers who are knitters can agree to this as well.

In our family we do an Advent calendar where we fill each day with a fun or meaningful activity. Today, for example we are reading some new Winter and holiday books we picked up at the library. Yesterday was our kids’ Winter Concert at school so that was the Advent activity. Sounds easy enough, right? Since we are literally incorporating what we are doing in real life, i made the decision to make our Advent activities a bit more simple and streamlined. And still festive, so it’s a win-win.

I’ve been thinking about how to take pause each day so i can allow the holidays to linger. Similarly to how i wanted the summer to never end back in August. Since my Donut Donut is a seasonal thing, i noticed that my love for Hygge is a close second in the Winter months.

In honour of the 12 days tradition, i’m sharing something with you each day to help you bring some joy, laughter, happiness, fun and rest in a mindful way – to yourselves and not just the rascals we love so dearly. Make sure to look at my FACEBOOK PAGE for daily tips related to this. Here is also a cheat sheet that covers each day for you. Feel free to print it and use it as a guide or reference.

To get us started, today, for DAY ONE here are some sensual ways i bring hygge mindfully into my home for the holidays. Being mindful and incorporating hygge (Danish word for cozy) are great ways to slow down and take a moment to pause, and to breathe in what is literally right in front of you in the here and now.

Scent

We keep the Solstice tree up as long as possible – the smell of pine is such a relaxing and visceral response for me. The photo of the horses above is from the tree farm we got our tree farm at. While my kids were screaming in the car to go because we were NOT EXPECTING snow, i took a serene self-ful moment to myself. I also added 4 new candles to my evening ritual. I especially love these ones as there is a gift at the end of the candle. We also bake cookies for our neighbours each year for Solstice, and the smell of baked goods lingers for a few days.

Vision

Besides the aforementioned tree, we also add other festive decorations all over the house. The only rooms that are spared are the bedrooms. For me, i like the sacredness of my bedroom being grounded in itself. But, otherwise, i have fresh flowers, garlands, Nutcrackers, and other decorations all over. And i take pause to intentionally notice them, so that i’m not just rushing by each day.

My kids and i play a version of I Spy when we are out. I do it to help them understand mindfulness a bit better. When we are going to school, we look at the neighbourhood decorations. Our favourite version now is looking for 5 Santas, 4 pine trees, 3 holiday lights, 2 wreaths and 1 winter bird.

Sound

It could go without saying that holiday music can be the worst genre ever, but it also can bring up some sentimental and warm feelings. I did not grow up singing carols with my family, but music has always been a big part of my life. Now as an adult, there are definitely songs and artists that i can hear (and sing along with) daily. For me, Joni Mitchell’s River is a standard on my playlist.

Touch

I’m all about the fuzzy sweaters, warm beds, cozy blankets and scarves that this time of year calls for. Since i don’t have a fireplace at home, i jump at the chance when i can to feel the warm fire on my face. I guess that’s why i’m constantly knitting – i like that feeling in my hands too.

Taste

I have a rule to eat at least 1 chocolate each day, and this time of you the selection is bountiful, or limitless, depending on if you are a glass half-full gal like me. My kids live for hot cocoa, and we always add a few new teas to our repertoire. And stock up on warm adult drinks like port and hot toddies.

So, take a moment sometime today to see if you can connect with your 5 senses in a fun, festive and mindful way. Enjoy and take a moment to pause for yourself.

I Write This Post for December 6

This week marks the anniversary of the the Montreal Massacre. On December 6, 1989 14 women were killed because they were attending school to be engineers. A lone gunman felt threatened by their presence and his misogyny lead to his decision to kill them and himself.

I write this after reading about a few more women and trans folk in Toronto who have been killed this year, this month even, or have gone missing. While we have made great strides to create change and lessen violence against women, it is still something that we are faced with on a regular basis.

I write this as someone who has worked in this field for 20 years, as a shelter worker, helpline staff, and now as a therapist for women who have experienced violence.

I write this as someone who sees so many forms of violence and unhealthy relationships in my own personal life. My own relationship with my partner is solid and happy, but like so many of us i have experienced harassment, abuse and unhealthy relationships in my past. Friends of mine still do.

I write this because some of the women i support are working on leaving their abusive partners, people that they have small children with and know that they deserve better. It’s such a complicated and courageous step to make – putting our own needs on the list means sometimes that we have to make a hard decision.

I write this because while we hope to change and help others, we cannot do it unless that is wanted. We can love ourselves more and trust that we when we fall, we will do so standing up with others around us for support.

I write this because we deserve to be safe, and happy, and feel valued.

I write this because i don’t think someone can be a good dad or parent if they are using violence on someone else. I also know that it’s ok to be angry and show all our emotions, but it’s never ok to have others afraid of us when doing so.

I write this because i support people who were raped and sexually violated in their lives, and that trauma impacts their life now. It’s hard to think about giving birth without connecting it to the pain and suffering of something that was taken from us.

I write this because there are communities of us that are disproportionately targeted – women of colour, Indigenous women, women with dis/abilities, and trans people. This is not okay. If violence is about feeling like you have power over someone, the intersections that we are labeled with seem to have even further oppressions.

I write this because sometimes abuse starts or escalates when we are pregnant. When we are already more vulnerable, and needing more support, love and understanding. This form of abuse happens when someone else is feeling or low or unneeded, and in order to make up for these feelings, they target their partner to feel more in control.

I write this because i’m angry that someone would be jealous of something that i feel like a Goddess for – being privileged to grow another being inside me. That someone would be jealous of this connection and feel like it means they don’t get the same attention.

I write this because i want to not have to write this again.

A Hallow’s Eve Exercise in Mindfulness

All Hallow’s Eve is my favourite holiday. I love it for more than the sweet little chocolates we get (though that counts a bit too). I love it because it honours community and being part of a village. What other day do we get to go to neighbours and get sweets from them? I also love it as we get to dress up and role play being a character that we admire or wish to become even for a day. I also love it as it celebrates magic, being brave, and has roots in Pagan spirituality and witchcraft – times before the patriarchy and medical model of care took over. But i digress.

What i really love is that kids teach us important lessons in mindfulness. Being able to see life through their eyes is a good reminder that staying in the present, being in the here and now moment is how we can take care of ourselves. It is also a great way to enjoy life and not let it slip away from us.

One of the rituals we do for All Hallow’s Eve is to carve the pumpkin a few days ahead of time. We brainstorm our ideas and we typically pick scenes or an image that resonates with us. It changes each year. This year, as my eldest is a diehard Harry Potter fan, that of course had to make an entry.

What i forgot was all the mess it makes. I was ready to see if my kids could carve their own pumpkins – thank goodness for child-friendly knives. So in my head i pictured we would all scoop out the seeds and insides of our own pumpkins and then work as a harmonious little team carving alongside each other. You can imagine where this is going.

Lesson One
Of course my son was disgusted by the mess of his pumpkin; he hates the feeling of slime and goo on him. Unless it’s fart sounding play doh and pretend slime of course. I noticed i had to bite back my anger for him not doing his work, and notice instead that i know that he doesn’t like this texture. I visited my Wise Mind and reminded myself that the point of this supposedly fun activity was to have Jack o Lanterns as a result. And that each of us play our part. My daughter, for instance, doesn’t mind getting dirty and her pumpkin in fact had hardly any insides to scoop out. My son kept us busy with a song and dance routine, and Harry Potter commentary.

Lesson Two
We typically take turns as parents to go out for the door-to-door aspect of the night. This year, it was my turn to, and in fact i love it more than giving out candies (as a side note, we give out these amazing local cookies and i just love them). Our street is a small side street that most people forget about. But we know our neighbours and our children are loved by them. The lesson here is to follow the kid’s lead wit where they want to go – follow their map. I realized there was a reason behind the madness of zig-zagging around the street. My kids want to visit all the neighbours they know first. Sweet gesture, and the reason escapes me. I tried to reason that we can just go up one side of the street and down the other. But at one point i had to remind myself that this night, and the tradition of Trick or Treating is about and for children, not this party pooper mom.

Lesson Three
Speaking of party poopers, we decided to treat (pun intended) the kids to a walk to a much busier and more fun street. So, we put our cookies in a bowl and all 4 of us went. It was already pushing close to bedtime for our youngest. So my partner started to remind them after every house that we had to go quickly and get back home. How do you rush a kid who is getting free candy, and walking on a street after dark? You don’t. My partner and i quickly bickered debated on the street that we had to remember that this one night is about the children. And yes bedtime would be messy, and probably the next day. But it is a wonderful reminder that staying in the present and witnessing the kids’ joy and excitement (over candy, being out after dark, costumes, being with neighbours) is a great lesson.

Bonus Lesson
And yes, we did pay for it the next day – a Halloween Hangover was surely felt at our place. How about yours? Even the Good Witch couldn’t help the kid’s sluggishness. I take that back, my son was happy as a clam to get a much hoped for book and Harry Potter Lego figures – he just took forever to get ready. My daughter (the younger of the two) was a beast. Was it worth it, yes oh yes it was. Case in point – here she is later that day with her new unicorn stuff the Good Witch got her. The lesson here is to notice your sleeping babe, enjoy the silence and beauty in the cuddles. And know that you played a role in that.

(the sunflower pumpkin at the top of this post is from my friend’s porch – i love everything to do with sunflowers as the represent resiliency, strength and beauty)

Why Date Night is an Important Part of Postpartum Mental Health

(an earlier version of this article appears on the Date Night app blog). Lucky readers of my blog get 2 bonus tips shared below!

As the fog of new parenthood begins to lift, we are faced with the new reality of everyday life as parents. It may take longer than we expected (or want to admit) to get a good night’s sleep or a long bubble bath—let alone have a date night… without our babe in tow.

It may give you some comfort to know that having a date night with your partner is actually important – imperative even – for our mental healthAs a parent of 2 young kids myself, I’ve noticed that my once sacred weekly night out with my partner has been sacrificed for nights in, Netflix, and the occasional cuddle. We may be missing out on all the new movie releases and restaurants, but at least we are relaxed and well-rested, and taking some intentional time together. And that’s what really matters.

As social creatures that thrive off of connection and belonging, experiencing some intimate connections with our partners and friends is key to our mental health and resiliency. Brene Brown, a therapist and social scientist, writes in her latest book, Braving the Wilderness, about the importance of feeling a sense of belonging—with ourselves and then with others that help us feel connected, attached and valued. With this in mind, it may give you some comfort to know that having a date night with your partner is actually important—imperative even—for your mental health.

October began with Mental Health Awareness Week, so let that be your excuse to be mindful of the connection that mental health has on our potential to experience postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD), like postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression. While the symptoms for PMAD can range, one of the key things to look out for is a lack of motivation or energy to do things socially or intimately. The risk is that this can lead to further isolation, while intentionally seeking out connection with others can alleviate these negative feelings. Of course, it’s important to talk to a healthcare professional if you notice that your mood and energy are even lower than expected or linger on for several days.

If you’re looking to give your mental health a boost, here are some helpful strategies to give yourself a break from being a parent for a few hours, get you out that door, and have some adult-friendly fun.

The Wheel of Life
This is a great tool that reminds us that we are more than just parents, but also individuals with interests, passions, and hobbies separate from the other roles we play. When I look at this tool, I see areas that have been lacking in my life—maybe it’s that I haven’t taken the time for a hobby, or regular exercise, or to meet up with friends. Whatever it happens to be, you can find worksheets on this ancient Buddhist tool that will help bring balance to your life.

2) Make a Date with Reflective Self-Care
I’m a big fan of self-care and wellness activities. I also know how hard it can be to actually practice self-care with small children around, and how guilty we can feel when we take time for ourselves. While having a decadent bath is amazing, and a fresh coat of paint on our nails is luxurious, making time to be playful and laugh with your partner is something that is so much more nurturing. Maybe go on a show together, or a couples massage. Too intense? What about a double date mini-putting with friends (where you make a deal to not (only) talk about the kids)? Our bodies shift when we are active, and the mind/body connection is a great way to help us stay on top of our mental health needs.

3) Stay Connected with your Partner
Being a new parent is a life-changing event. It can be stressful, surprise us, and throw us for a loop. While there are some precursors to being more vulnerable to PMAD, sometimes the reality of new parenthood is a stand-alone indicator. Another reality of new parenthood is that conflict between couples both related to parenting issues and not (e.g., financial stress, work-life balance, a shift in lifestyle and priorities) can also lead to new or increased tension in the relationship.
So, when you are discussing bills to pay or what food to order for dinner, also take a moment to pause and reflect with your partner about what you can both do to stay in tune with each other. Take time to align your priorities as a couple, find creative ways to stay connected, and make sure to go out and enjoy a date. It’s win-win after all—for you and your mental health!

4) Use Your Spidey Senses
This is a quick tool using your 5 senses that can help you come back to the present moment, and especially helpful for new parents who just started to venture out once babe is asleep. Don’t sacrifice your sacred time out by worrying about things at home. If you are going to a yummy restaurant, make a point to locate 5 things you see around you, 4 things you can hear, 3 things that you can touch with your hands, 2 things to taste, and 1 thing to smell. You can mix it up for sure. This can definitely help boost your self-esteem, positive feelings, and be mindful in the here-and-now moment.

5) Build a Village
You are not alone. Truly. It takes a village to be a parent and raise children. Know that it is hard being a parent to young kids, and we don’t need to sacrifice our own mental health and self-care in the process. Build a village of like-minded parents and friends with whom you can balance this whole parenting thing.

Whatever it is you do, remember that taking care of yourself in important. As the saying goes, we cannot give from an empty cup. Taking time off for ourselves makes us more attentive and active parents and happier in our lives as well. So what are you waiting for? Go book that date night!

Dancing the Polka

I recently did the polka with a room-ful of strangers. It was not what i expected to do on a Saturday morning, but it proved to be just what i needed.

It all started with my daughter’s dance class. She has a new teacher this year, and i had a vague memory that it was a special parent-come-to-class day. There is already one in December, but this new teacher added an extra opportunity to meet her and see the dancers in action.

I was not planning to stay as it’s my only Saturday off work for a few weeks and i had a Million Things to Do day. I literally had a list with subheadings that i needed to do while she was in class. You can imagine that is not what happened. Instead, my daughter came running out of class in tears as i was the ‘only mommy’ not in the class watching. While i don’t think for sure i was the only one, it sure looked and felt that way for her. So, we made a deal that i would stay for a bit. I have to admit that i first tried to get out of it. But when i saw her face, i knew it was better to put my to-do list and only free hour aside.

I don’t regret it in the least. I got to see her dance her butt off, her pride in knowing dance moves and routines, and all the special kisses and hugs i got during the class. She would run up to me and steal a kiss before going to the next sequence.

And then at the end of class, the teacher shared with us the polka they have been learning as per the ballet curriculum. The students performed it first and then the teacher asked all the parents and adults to join in. We were NOT expecting that. But you know what, we all did it. All the different body types, awkward feelings, embarrassment and surprise was no match for excited little 5 and 6 year-olds who wanted to share this experience with their families. And so we had to partner up with strangers, and keep moving from person to person. I ended up laughing and giggling, and smiling ear to ear. It was such a humble, authentic and vulnerable experience. I’m so happy i chose to be present with my daughter as it allowed me to dance, to smile with my whole body and to feel connected to this roomful of strangers. It created a lovely community feeling. Most of us have been going to this same school for a couple of years, and i bet we will remember this special class for years to come.

It’s no wonder that i love that my children are into dance – it isn’t just a great feeling for us and our bodies and emotions, but also a chance to connect with others over a shared experience. I carried this happy feeling for the remainder of the day, and it reminded me what dance therapy is such a great tool for me in my practice as well as everyday life.

When you are faced with this choice, i encourage you to also chose being present with your child instead of errands and to-do lists. It’s like that the saying after all – what children want is our presence not presents.

Oh and don’t worry, I got my list done. I did some of it with my daughter in tow and finished the rest when my son was in his dance class. And I think I already knew that was plan B.

Holding Space for Your Loss


Today is October 15. Besides being a windy, cool Fall day here in Toronto, it also marks a global day of remembrance for those families that have lost babies either during pregnancy or as a young infant. I’m sitting at home watching the evening sky come into view. After a day of rain, the hues outside are a very fitting shade of pink, blue and purple – the chosen colours of today.

I am one of those 1 in 4. And before i started this work, i didn’t share the info so openly. Now, it’s a part of life both as a quiet identity and one that knows i need not feel shame. In my own journey as someone who has lost a baby by miscarriage, and as a therapist now supporting families and women with their own loss, this past year is a very meaningful one for my own growth and healing. It seems fitting, then that i wanted to share with you some helpful ways we can hold space for others and companion them after experiencing a loss like this.

While i have found ways to heal from my own miscarriage, i still take time to acknowledge this loss. One thing that i do still is to keep this Desert Rose crystal near my bed. As my children who are alive Earthside sleep down the hall from me, this beautiful creation from nature is close to my bed. Desert Rose helps to support grief especially related to miscarriage. It is very grounding and i love how fragile and strong it is at the same time.

I took a course this past year that really confirmed for me what ‘holding space’ means. Amy Wright Glenn leads a very healing and comprehensive course that is open to anyone to participate in. She talks about how holding space means to deliberately check in with your friend, to not shy away from being direct and asking they are doing. Those of us that have lost do want you to ask about how we are coping with this loss, and to acknowledge our grief. This is a key tool as so many of us are afraid to go down that road, like asking may bring up feelings for the person experiencing grief that we ourselves are not sure how to support. It’s a good reminder that to truly companion someone, we may need to be a bit uncomfortable and step outside our small talk zone. it’s not about our comfort but rather their pain.

There are some amazing ways to hold space and heal, and still find a way to keep the baby we lost close to us. Molly Bears is a great example of this: you can order a teddy bear that is the exact same weight as your baby. To be able to feel and hold all over again, to be able to connect with this feeling in your body can be really healing and gratifying. You can plant a tree or garden, or have a special place in your home that your baby sits at. I know some women who have gotten a commemorative tattoo or beautiful necklace with their baby’s name on it. Carrrying something with you is a powerful way to feel connected.

We can hold space for others in so many ways too. For instance, i recently flew my favourite butterfly kite in honour of a couple i work with. They were acknowledging the anniversary of their child’s birth by flying kites with a group of family and friends. While i wasn’t there with them, i was definitely there in spirit. This can be done in so many ways – light a candle for someone else like the Wave of Light campaign, say hi to the sunrise, donate to a children’s charity of some kind in honour of a baby you never got to meet. Send your loved one a text or call them on an important anniversary or just to say you were thinking of their baby when you saw someone who would be the same age. The website October 15 has an amazing and thoughtful list of ways you can support someone who is grieving this devastating loss.

Finally, remember there are so many different ways to grieve, and it is not up to anyone else to decide when we have moved on or not. Grief and mourning are not as linear as the Stages of Loss proclaims. I like the idea of a river, that has ebb and flow and change. It can be quiet for a bit, but then a trigger (like a baby the same age yours would have been) can make the water turn into intense white rapids.

So, if you know someone who has lost a baby, take a moment for them today or this month to let them know you were thinking of them. You could send flowers, or a meal, or just hold space by being present with them and letting them know you were thinking of them.