An Eternal Flame – How to Say Hello to Mom Burn-Out

I’m a mom. I’m a feminist. I’m a therapist for women. I am a feminist mom wholeheartedly. And yet i am faced with that beautiful vulnerability of being flawed like anyone else: I am burning out.

My little flame is wavering a bit.

It is not lost on me that i am a therapist who supports new parents, especially mothers, with the transition into parenthood. And i can’t help but feel the grasp of imposter syndrome that I too am immersed in the impact of Impossible Parenting. I do all the things i suggest to others. That’s not the point – in fact, it’s much bigger than me and what i can do for myself. As i grapple with parenting my children in real life, and in public, i feel a self-imposed burn of pressure to be Mary Poppins perfect – what kind of model am i to others if i too am struggling to keep my kids’ (and my) shit together at the Grocery store? Ugh – the pressure can be too much, and then i seek out my self-compassionate voice and breathe a bit better. I love the lists of ways to heal from mom burn-out, but those are band-aid solutions and not touching on the root of the problem.

I chose to be a parent, i wanted kids and i love the idea of the matrescence rite of passage. And yet, part of me wonders if this is all it is?

I love my life. I really do. This isn’t a passive aggressive way to try to get a message to my partner. (though this open letter to dads is great!). I also recognize my vast privilege as a white cis gendered woman who is able-bodied and partnered to a cis man who i love and have a healthy relationship with, where both of us have permanent work.

And yet…

I’m so tired. And irritable. And cranky. For a while, I thought it was work overload then I wondering if I’m not practicing what i preach with work/life balance. So i read some books, slowed down some evenings, met up with friends here and there, did less work after-work hours. And still…i was crabby.

I love the work of Esther Perel that reminds us how we put on our good work pants for work, only to take them off when we get home. Then proceed to show our own family our more authentic and messy side. Like I should still be wearing my nice pants all day, or at least notice how i present my good side only at work.

At first, i thought ‘oh oh’ I’m not being so kind to my family and felt self-critical of my own internalized want to have it all at the same time. I was sad with myself for putting work first, and being tired by the end of the day, when my kids needed me. And then i realized, “huh, what is playing a role in me feeling this way.’ Surely it’s not just my own doing.

I think I’m more right about that side of the coin.

A few weeks ago, i had to point out to my beloved dependents that people come to see me on purpose to help them when they are sad or stuck with a hard feeling and decision. And yet, my kids will yell over me to keep arguing with each other. For a while, i would be ashamed that I could not be able to help them de-escalate or regulate their feelings – that’s what i do ALL DAY long at work after all. I realized then and there that maybe i am better at helping others who want to be supported, and that my kids need me in a different way.

Sure, i know they need me to model self-soothing behaviour and emotion regulation. Sure I have the tools – i even make a real toolbox for them.

I’ve begun to resent weekends. Sure, i practice what i preach – i take time for myself in the evening and don’t always do the dishes, unpack lunch bags, put stuff away. Sometimes i watch a show by myself or write articles like this one… And feel guilty about it. The idea of a mini mom vacation sounds decadent and yet i know it’s just a band-aid solution.

I do live from a family-centred place and attachment theory is my jam. I get hugs and love from my family, even a thank-you and I’m sorry sometimes. I don’t want to be worshipped per say, but to be more appreciated and noticed would be great. What i need is less work and chores and tasks and requests and and and..

I love all the articles on social media that remind us of the mental load of mother’s work (and yes it’s quite gendered still, and also still seen under the umbrella of women’s work). I’m glad we are acknowledging this burden and current iteration of sexist division of labour. Motherhood is still tasked by the same glass ceiling that we feminists fought for some many years ago. I wish i could turn off the brain thinking part of the mental load of mothering. Yes, it’s a verb now too.

For instance, here’s a run-down of some things that i carry in a given week:

* I once woke up in middle of night to pack a swimsuit for my kid’s class – i went to bed knowing i forgot something!
* I keep the health cards even though I now hate the sight of blood (and I learned that after my son fell off a tree into a river on a vacation and needed stitches – that i wanted to get him but my partner’s didn’t think were necessary)
* On that note, i wake up through the night whenever my kids move, or cough, or cry out
* i am a sous-chef that knows my son only likes raw veggies and tomato soup and my daughter hates the idea of sandwiches
* I have to get the rascals out of bed while he makes lunches – yes I’m grateful he makes lunches because it’s a yucky job, but what’s easier?
* I know exactly how to pour their juice in the morning so that one is not jealous that the other got more to juice (not to drink it mind you, but you know “fairness”)
* I coordinate playdates for the weekends that I work or it’s not my turn to take a day off for a PA Day
* I know what their favourite socks are and where to find them
* I know when they have homework, or class trips, or birthday parties and send in the forms and RSVPs
* I book childcare for the 4-times-a-year date nights
* I know when the birthdays are of their friends!
* I feel guilty when i am at work on a Saturday or can’t make it to them if the school calls mid-day
* I know when the tooth fairy is going to visit and save the coin for that night
* I have forgotten twice and felt so shitty

There is no such thing about a maternal instinct. You read that right – there is NOT one but rather we are taught and learn how to be moms. Who reading this has babysat at a young age, or was taught how to mend socks and buttons, or what is best for a sore tummy since you were a child yourself? Yes i do know that men of my generation may have learned this too, but are they doing all the other things too? Do they stay up thinking about all this too? When we list what we do and thing about, especially during that 3rd shift of labour in a day, do our partners say “i took out the trash, or changed the litter box.” Yes thank you sweet lover, but do you also wake up worrying about your kid’s strained friendships or start planning their birthday party 2 months ahead of time?

Just look at all the books dedicated to this – they all are geared to mommy blog readers, or mommy mojo sex fullfillment, or mama rage. And guess who reads these books and articles? Yup, moms and women. So, while I’m a glass half-full gal at the best of times, I’m not so sure this will change.

Don’t get me wrong, i read all those books and enjoy most of them. This photo is just some of the books i am reading right now, in fact. My partner has yet to finish one parenting book – but he chose a good one so I’m glad he has that under his belt. And i do love my self-identified label of mom. I even loved it was the first word of both my babies. And yes, i identify as a mother, not a parent. Go figure. I even loved it was the first word of both my babies.

And again, i will remind you that i love my partner dearly, our relationship is absolutely solid, and he is a very hands-on, active, and available dad to my our children. This is about him nor needing to change our roles, gendered or not. It is bigger than just us. I am so grateful for all my partner does. The homemade bookcases and winter tires and …

And yet…

(( written by a tired and grumpy Middle Ages perimenopausal woman ))

How to Have a Dialogue with Your Inner Critic

Have your ever noticed what you say to yourself after doing something wrong? Is it mean or extra critical? Is it offering advice without you asking for it? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have an inner critic at times. There are definitely ways to put the voice to rest, or at least have a more balanced conversation with it. Hare some some tips that work for me. And yes, i am my own client!

As much as i know that my inner critic is trying to help me, i also have learned that i can choose not to listen to you, and even tell it to go away. Just like learning any new language, being able to talk BACK to your inner critic takes practice. Here are some tips that can help you be fluent in this process.

1) Somatic Sense of Inner Critic
First, it’s important to recognize what your inner critic voice is. What do they say? What is their voice like? Do they blame your or push you down? How do they undermine you.

When your inner critic shows up, see where they live in your body – is it a loud dull pain in your chest, or a sharp scratch on your shoulders. A tool that can help is PATH – notice the pressure, air, tension, heat that may rise in your body. Where is it located? Spend some time noticing this. This mindfulness is a great tool to help you notice your inner critic more quickly. If you can locate the felt sense in your body, you can tend to it more quickly.

You can also do the great tool by Tara Brach called RAIN – recognize what is going on in the given moment allow the experience to be there, investigate with kindness and be open to Nurturing the new awareness with self-compassion. Click here for a lovely guided meditation that Tara has created using this tool.

Be really clear about when the inner critic shows up. They are not your only voice so notice if there is a pattern or consistency when they come up. Notice what your physical reaction is – is there a knot in your stomach, does our throat feel tight, is there a heaviness in your legs? This is the inner critic speaking.

2) Name them
I call mine Pam. She was someone that bullied me when i was in grade 6. I also love these meme: “My inner critic is An Asshole” and find it inspiring.

Acknowledge it is here, but like a vampire, you can tell it to leave. It’s an emotional vampire after all! Say hello to them, and then tell them they are not wanted. Externalizing the voice helps keep it separate from you. As a tool of Narrative Therapy, it is so helpful to externalize this voice as it helps you not take all the blame or responsibility on your shoulders.

The inner critic is an external voice that has been internalized. Spend some time hearing the voice – what does it sound like? Is it your voice or someone else’s? Can you remember when the inner critic was born? Our inner critic is usually related to not allowing ourselves to be proud of our accomplishments. Can you recall what it was like for you as a child? I know that at times, my inner critic has a Serbian accent that is similar to my mom’s. I definitely hear her (now helpful) voice at times, if only when i’m cooking or doing laundry at this point. It now carries a tone of guidance.

Also, it’s totally okay to be rude and interrupt this voice! By doing so, you are establishing a new habit and helping your poor brain make the changes it needs too.

3) Reflect
Spend some time at the end of a day and see how you often your inner critic showed up – we don’t always notice it in the moment. Stay with the feeling to help move through it. You might want to start a journal that helps you record when your inner critic shows up. Is it daily or after a certain thing – like going to the gym, or scrolling through Instagram. Make a point to recall how it felt in your body when your Inner Critic was crashing your party. Then spend some time writing a list of positive things about yourself – work on self-compassion and witnessing your own gains to balance out the judgement. Take a look at Kristin Neff’s work and the helpful journal prompts and exercises that help you reflect. One of my favourite questions form her workbook with Christopher Germer is “Is your Inner Critic tiring to protect you in some way, to keep you safe form danger, to help you, even if the result has been unproductive?”

While it doesn’t always seem like it, but your Inner Critic is a part of us that is trying to help. It is always loudest right before the breakthrough. The inner critic can be a protector for you, as a part of you that helps soothe your worries. It lives in our sympathetic nervous system, that part of the brain that is ready for flight or fight response to a threat or scary challenge. It truly is trying it help, if only in the all the wrong ways.

When you are reflecting, make sure to make a point to also allow space for self-love and acceptance. Talk to yourself like someone you love. Self-affirmation work can be a direct OFFset to the inner critic. Developing a compassionate inner voice can counter the critic. Ask yourself what you can say with love back to the critic. Acceptance is about being good enough or good-ish, very perfect. It is about being okay with what is.


4) From Inner Critic to Inner Guide
Your inner citric needs love. It is trying to help you. It is usually there to protect you from potential shame or failure. Explore what it is trying to tell you. And put it to work. If it’s telling you that what you did is not good enough, as it to do better.

We need a bridge to get to positive so work on being neutral first. It is about being both/and – both a critical lens to help you make sure you got it right AND a compassionate lovely voice that encourages you to try. Bring in a dialogue – add your cheerleader, warrior, nurturer, or wise future self – like Toni or Frida and bring in some self-compassion – remind yourself that your thoughts are not always right so add more to the conversation. When you feel sad about being hard on yourself, give yourself time to feel this and then move on.

For instance, instead of saying…
I am a terrible cook BUT RATHER i am learning to cook
I am a bad mom BUT INSTEAD i am good at taking care of boo boos
I can’t do this TRY I’m going to try my best for today

Sometimes that inner critic is trying to be a guide or reminding you of something hard, but instead of being supportive, it is keeping you stuck. You can thank the critic for supporting you and then say it’s job is no longer needed – the writer Donna Tart has said that she uses criticism as a guide to getting stronger because she treats it like a vaccine. It makes you stronger. Put your Inner Critic to work with something useful! Laura Markham of Aha Parenting speaks further to this idea here.

This might be a tricky question so bear with me, but try and see what part of your houses your Inner Critic? I am not referring the body now, but rather the part of that is wounded. Is it your Inner Child, work-in-progress Goddess, protector, Adult Self, or your Worker Bee? I’m not suggesting we have multiple personalities persay but we are made up of parts that are shaped by the experiences in our life – both the good and the challenging ones. So, this is a chance to re-parent yourself. This Inner Guide may have a calm and warm voice. It cherishes you and accepts you as you are. In time, this voice will become your own and will be more present. Channel this voice as much as you can – it is a practice after all. You truly are learning a new language and what better way to do so than to practice it in a dialogue with someone else!

5) The Four Agreements
This book is to help us be more intentional and loving citizens of the world. So, why not use the 4 principles and apply them to your own self? The book itself is a small book, but it’s quite powerful. The photo here captures the essence of the 4 agreements and I especially like the one “don’t take it personally.”

Speaking of good books to read, here are some great ones that help you become even more fluent! Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, Your Resonant Self by Sarah Peyton and
Healing your Emotional Self: A Powerful Program to Help you Raise your Self-Esteem, Quiet your Inner Critic and Overcome Your Shame Beverly Engel

As you start to practice this new intentional relationship with your inner dialogue, be kind and gentle with yourself. Notice the criticism or impatience and send it the kindness you would anyone else that is learning a new language for the first time.

Resilience after the Punch

My youngest was hurt by another student recently. She was holding the door open and he sucker punched her. Because she said No to him. He had overheard her talking with friends about snails. She said she liked them but never wanted to be one. Then, at the door, he called her a snail and she said she didn’t like that and he needed to stop. Then, boom, she got punched in the gut.

The mama bear in me is fierce right now. The trauma therapist knows how this may sit in her body – she was intentionally punched in the stomach for saying no to someone. What does that say to her now? The parent in me knows that 6 year olds are still learning how to regulate their emotions so I am working on empathy for the other student. The therapist worries about the boy and where he learned to do this. And the feminist in me knows that boys that hit girls make me mad as hell.

I was at work when i got the call. I left pretty soon after to tend to her, and see how she was coping. And you know what, she is the definition of resilience. She was able to share how it made her feel, she was able to find ways to play regardless of the event, and she was able to rest that night and cuddle with me. Gordon Neufeld talks about what children need in order to be resilient. It is a sound foundation of attachment and then access to Rest, Play and Feelings. This helps them bounce back after adversity.

((This photo captures her making friends with another child at the beach where we camped this summer – she makes friends as easy as she breathes))

My daughter is also fierceless – be it an incident like this or when she fell on the train tracks this summer. She was going over a tricky train track on her bike. We were able to discuss it that night and help her prepare to go over it again. We were able to access her upstairs brain (thanks Dan Siegel) and know that she could get over the tracks again.

It’s no surprise that her dad and i helped her access her feelings – we made it clear that she did nothing wrong, and that we were proud of her for going to the teacher. She followed her instinct to bring in the support of the staff at school, and felt seen by them. My daughter was able to recognize that maybe the boy’s bucket was empty whereas her’s is full – she has a community of friends and he is new to the class. My daughter was also about to reflect that a sucker punch is different than a fight with her brother. The fact that it came from nowhere hurt her more than the punch itself.

Each year, there is an event called Take Back the Night. It’s for women-identified people and children to reclaim the street and fight for the right to feel safe at night. I have been going for years and love the energy that the group commands. I have also taken my kids since they were babies and toddlers. It feels like the timing is perfect this year, as it is this coming Friday in Toronto. I think my daughter needs to march and know what her right is to her body and saying NO. Check out this link to read more about it – there are events like this all over the world.

Don’t get me wrong – we are still working on co-regulation of her emotions too and she has her own struggle still with impulse control and the infamous 6-year change. Just this morning, she was so mad that her brother (who’s older) got a smidge more of juice in his cup. She refused to bike to school with him.

I told her this was emptying my cup, literally. I tried to remind her of bucket filling and she told me that it was a juice cup, not a bucket so it didn’t count. Go figure.

Let That Good Feeling Linger

Sunflowers are my absolute favourite flower – they are strong yet fragile, bend to the sun, and keep facing upwards. I also love their cheery colour and reminder of hot summer days. I went with my family recently to a sunflower farm, where we were about to walk among hundreds and hundreds of rows of them. I took in the felt sense of this experience and it lingers in my body in a happy way (kind of like that smiling flower in the photo here). I’ve been practicing this a lot lately.

Since summer break is coming to a close this week (for many of us it feels like the end of summer as a whole), I want to share this experience with you as it may come in handy when you need to hold on to the good feelings in your body.

It was my anniversary this summer and my partner and I were able to have an extra long date. While it happened over the course of a seven-day long therapy training for me, we were still able to stay present in the date. It might be because I am immersing myself in somatic-based therapy work but we were able to put our good feelings from the date in an imaginary jar.

We love bike riding in the city, both with our kids but definitely without them as well. After a delicious meal at one of our favourite places, we took a long bike ride along the harborfront. It’s such a gift that the city I live in has a great lake connected to it. As an ocean lover, i know that it may not be an ocean persay, but a Great Lake is a close second. As a water loving person, I know I never spend enough time in its presence. So, we decided to bike along a new path that is right beside the lake. It just opened recently – that itself was such a nice gift as we may not have done it with our children.

I was able to use the bike ride as a way to share with my partner more about Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP) and how it works. There are 5 core organizers that are the main base of how SP therapy helps connect the body to the mind both in healing trauma but also in everyday mindfulness. It’s a great way to help good feelings linger in an intentional way, like an imaginary jar of a good date you want to hold on to.

The 5 core organizers are body sensation, five senses, movement, emotion, and cognition, and in that order. So on our date, we decided to blend all of them and this is what we came up with:

1) Body Sensation: My body felt like a warm glow in my heart and my core, and a freedom in my shoulders that experienced the wind
2) The Five Senses: The feel of air touching my arms, the smell of the lake, the beautiful skyline of the city, the sounds of life around us, the taste lingering from my delicious dinner
3) Movement: We brought awareness to our legs pedalling both up hills and around us. It was an incredibly hot day so we also noticed how the pedalling felt with our warm bodies
4) Emotion: I carry with me now such a deep sense of love and happiness both for that experience, to share with my partner, and to be with my partner in that moment
5) Cognition: I acknowledged how grateful I was that we had that time together, and shared this talk with him so that we could hold onto it together

Now when life gets in the way, and we are getting stuck in the grind of everyday life, all i need to do is to recall this date and my body will respond. I will embody the memory and not just think about it. When I’m forgetting a detail, all i need to do is to recall the smell of the lake, or the body sensation in my core. As i bike daily, i get a quick hint of the memory whenever i feel the breeze on me or grip my handlebars. I don’t need to recall a big part of the story, but rather a single moment and my body and mind are united in recalling the happy moment. It’s a lovely way to practice more intentional felt sense of positive moments – we are so prone to minimize them and rush through them. It’s like I’m peering into that jar of happy memories or giving myself a warm hug by recalling this night.

As summer is coming to a close, you can try this tool. What memory from these last 2 months do you want to cherish and hold on to?

How to Live a Balanced Life

It’s butterfly season right now, and this summer brings a happy supply of them where i live. As they are an anchor for me, I’ve been working on creating a tool with the butterfly as the inspiration. I love the quote from Rupi Kaur that reminds us that ‘growth is a process that takes time’ – indeed strength is necessary for a caterpillar to become a chrysalis and then to transform and push out of cocoon. The metamorphosis of the butterfly is the perfect display of the rite of passage we all go through.

I am my own wellness or resilience coach – I work hard to create my own version of a balanced life by making a point to bring joy in, taking care of myself, as well as keeping myself connected to others. With this in mind, i created this worksheet as a guide to help you.

I love the various Wheel of Life tools that highlight the various parts of us – this is similar and a bit unique as it breaks down the parts into the holistic trifecta of Mind, Body and Spirit.

Think of these butterfly parts as a way to create more balance in your own life. Each part is integral to living well. So, the Antenna symbolizes the Spirit; the Head is the mind and mental health realm, and of course the Body represents the physical self-care we need to stay well. The 4 wings around it are for family, friends, work, and community. Now, add what you do that nourishes this part, and what you wish to add in order to create more balance. See what comes up, what’s missing, and what you’d like to add moving forward. We are our own experts, so get to navigate the way we live our life – what do you chose? Use the butterflies you see in nature as a guide – take time to slow down and linger in one place.

what the caterpillar saw as the end, the rest of the world saw as the beginning. lao tzu

I’ve created a free 2-page PDF that you can print and work on yourself, Get a cup of tea, a nice pen and take some time to sit with this. Click here to get your own copy and see what comes up for you!

The Makings of a Good Therapist

I love what I do. It may sound strange to think that I enjoy listening to people share their hard feelings, but what I also see is their healing process and transformation. I’m not so vain to think i made a difference, but rather I was there to bear witness to their own change. Going to therapy is still a taboo topic, as we have not accepted mental health needs support like any other forms of health does.There has been a lot of movement towards accepting therapy, both for people to go to someone for help, as well as a bigger societal shift in accepting that a therapist can help someone feel better, just like a dentist, doctor, or nutritionist can. Instagram has an amazing selection of therapists who use that tool as a way of sharing resources for free. While it’s not therapy persay, it is a great starting point for me. It’s a bit like feelings porn for me too. Have you seen this fabulous account, for instance?

I have a love-hate relationship with how therapists are depicted in pop culture. It’s no wonder people have misgivings about coming to see a stranger and unload secret feelings. Naomi Watts’ character on her show Gypsy (the name itself is problematic) really made me cringe. Anne in Working Moms is another example (though I love her new office). Gabriel Byrne’s character on In Treatment, or Toni Collette in Wanderlust, and more recently the therapist in Big Little Lies gives me hope that we are moving towards more positive portrayals. It helps to lessen the stigma – therapy is not just for extreme mental health needs after all.

While watching the second season of Big Little Lies recently (and no, that therapist is not perfect either), i brought me pause to think about what i think makes for a good therapist. Here’s my short working list.

I will bear witness to your process. I have had clients come to me and say point blank that they want me to ‘fix them.’ I so wish that was possible, but it truly doesn’t work that way. I don’t have a magic wand to do that sort of trick, and more importantly, therapy is not for someone else to fix you but rather you must do this work yourself. It is truly our own work that helps us heal.

I know that I hold a lot of power in my role as a therapist. As a feminist therapist, i make that awareness explicit in our work together. I also play a role in displaying a healthy relationship with the people I support. As an attachment-based therapist, I see how unhealthy relationships have been a great cause of suffering. While it’s important to me to build a trusting and respectful relationship with the people I support, I am not their friend. I do think that therapy works best when there is a reciprocal relationship (relational). One big difference between talking to your best friend about a problem and coming to me is that I am not just a positive cheerleader, but someone who will challenge you if you are wrong and also provide you options, not just agree with you. I am like an accountability partner to help you stay on your task and commitment to yourself.

Some of my favourite words as a therapist are vulnerability, feelingful, courage, curious, compassion, resilience, and reflection. I have a toolkit of resources, tools, worksheets, and exercises to guide you in this process. Therapy is goal-based and an opportunity to establish tools and resources, work on the painful memories, and integrating them into your everyday life now. The ultimate goal for therapy is that it helps you live the life you love so that you no longer need to come to therapy.

As a therapist I am a vault that holds your secrets. Therapy won’t work if you can’t trust that person with your deepest feelings, so much so that you don’t feel safe in sharing them. Building this relationship plays a key role in how therapy works best. It’s also hard for me to say goodbye when therapy is ending, and yet I know that the goal of therapy is to have it be short-term with a clearly structured beginning, middle and end. I get ghosted as a therapist and while I know that the relationship is not about me (and I yield a lot of power), it is still a feeling-based relationship that is built on compassion.

With the new Controlled Act of Psychotherapy in Ontario, changes are being made to what therapy looks like. For instance, some people seek counselling as a way to help them with some life goals on wellness, having a better life and get back on track. A life coach also does similar work on wellness work but their focus is more on helping you live your optimum self. Psychotherapy is a deeper dive to help someone who is struggling with something that leads to feeling stuck, and is based on a diagnosable mental health issue (like postpartum depression or post-traumatic stress from the impact of childhood abuse). I am not a life coach, but my work can straddle any of these three areas.

A good therapist, like anyone, sees the value of continuous professional development. I am always learning and am a better therapist because of this. Even seasoned therapists of over 30 years need to keep learning about modalities that are evidence-based and validly researched. I also believe that a good therapist does not only use one modality as each person is their own expert and one size does NOT fit all.

I make people cry for a living. That means, while I follow your lead and have no agenda for my own, sometimes there is no emotional by-passing in therapy like there may be in everyday life. I will validate your experience and feelings, and hold space for you in a less biased way. My whole body is my instrument, especially as I use somatic-based therapies and mindfulness in my work. Going to supervision, therapy and peer consultation is a necessity, if not a requirement. I also practice what I preach as self-care is imperative so that I don’t burn-out or feel compassion fatigue. So don’t worry about me – I am a container that regularly gets my tune-up.

If you’d like to work with me, to live the life you love, contact me here. I’d be honoured to be that vault for you.

Summer Time Joys

In my last blog post, I shared how I had some mixed feelings about summer. It’s still a bit early to tell, but I am noticing how aware I am of the intentions I set out for myself and my family. This is helping me stay on task. Let me explain.

We start each summer break off with time away at a family cottage. I know that my privilege allows me access to this. I am so grateful for the opportunity to get out of the city, my work life, and keep things simple. It really can help me find the balance I need to get back on track. That doesn’t mean my kids are perfect, and there are no dishes to do – it’s got its own share of work and the kids still fight no matter the scene. The biggest argument my kids had with each other was who got the ‘better’ swing. Of course, both swings are the same but it’s like they have to fight for something. For the most part though, they played together, were in tune, and we all were attuned to each other.

We played board games, ate ice cream, swam in the freezing cold lake, read books, and slept well. Even our meals were simpler and we saw no one else for a few days at a time. At the end of the week, we were ready to come back to our real world so we shared our intentions for the summer.

This is something we do each year, but I changed it a bit this year as my children are getting older and have more agency in their goals. We added 3 areas to work on over the summer – something they want to do for fun, something they want to work on as a summer project, and a way to be a better citizen. While my kids’ answers weren’t exactly as I would have chosen, it is truly them to the core. For instance, my daughter decided to work on not picking nature and bringing it home (i.e. bugs, pulling flowers, rocks and more rocks) and my son wants to work on not swearing. I would have loved for them to work on eating better meals and not picking on each other. Good thing i made them my goals. Wink.

It also reminded me of my Word of the Year. I have one each year, and it’s moments like this that helps me steer back on track. I also appreciate the intention around breaking the year up into seasons, and having more short-term or specific goals with that. For instance, as my word of the year this year is Balance, i can think of ways to dig deeper during Spring (refreshing ways to give me balance with work and down time), Summer (moments of joy), Fall (things I can do to nurture myself that gives me nourishing balance) and Winter (ways i can be restful and cozy) so that I can ultimately get that balance i was working on all year.

As it’s summer, I can look at my goals to find JOY and bring in more pleasure to balance the fact that there is still a lot of work to do – both with my role as a therapist, as a mom, as a homeowner, as a gardener, and more. We set the intentions on the July New Moon, and put together our list of 20 things to do as a family this summer that bring us joy. This year that includes things like:

– Family bike ride to the lake
– Make and eat ice cream
– Sleepovers
– Camping
– Go-karting
– Climb trees
– Make movie with cousins
– Eat fresh fruit and veggies from our garden and local farmer’s markets
– Reading in backyard
– Regular visits to public pools
– Getting ready to being home alone (for my 10 yr old)
– S’mores and backyard fires
– Evening drinks in the backyard
– Playdates with friends
– Star gazing
– Paddle boarding alone
– Watch Lord of the Rings 2
– Cherry pit or watermelon seed spitting contest
– Create a summer song playlist
– Sell our homemade comic books

While we haven’t figured out how to stop the cat and dog fight, nor my own fight response to their conflict, i know that we can work on it as we are also having a joy-filled summer. And we created it ourselves. Call it an artisanal bespoke summer if you will.

My Own Cat and Dog Fight

It’s end of the school year, and while my logical brain is organized with the summer plans, another part of me is a bit more hesitant to start summer break. I’m talking about my somatic side, the ever-knowing inner body language that holds a more quiet space for me. I’m a bit worried for summer this year.

I love summer – the farmer’s markets, the sun, the outdoor swimming, the warm evenings, the freezies. Summer dresses and sandals are my perfect outfit of choice, and i love summer evening bike rides with my love.

Now, as a mom to two school-age children, summer also includes regular sibling arguments, sand in their shoes and on my floor, popsicle stains on their faces and t-shirts, epic meltdowns after a day at outdoor camp, and time mostly with just the 4 of us. Day in and day out.

I’m a bit worried about how much the sibling conflicts will get in the way of summer fun. Even as I coach my children to see that the ‘worst day ever’ was just one part bad + other parts okay, we hold the anger and resentment in our bodies for a bit too long. My daughter bounces back much more quickly, and she is ready to move on, though not with an apology at her end. My son needs more time alone to get back to his window of tolerance, and then he sees where he made mistakes so apologies.

After a recent argument about which bike route to take, and my kids using their bikes as weapons to hurt each other, I reflected on how it all came to a head so quickly. And then I saw it: My son’s conflict instinct is to Fight /island /attack and my daughter’s is to Fawn/wave/pursue. In therapist language, my children have outright presented me with their conflict cycles and attachment style. As a therapist, I know how to support couples with this, so when i saw this dynamic in front of my own eyes, it was a light bulb moment.

My son’s sense of justice is so strong that he has a hard time seeing how his reaction can exacerbate conflict. It’s a beautiful thing to witness him wanting to hold the line around rules, order, and safety. And yet, that can mean other people have a hard time being heard by him. My daughter’s constant chatter and social butterfly-ism means she does not allow space for others to be heard. They are my own life size perpetual cat and dog fight.

So, this summer’s plan is still filled with pool trips, strawberry picking, camping, and reading. It will also contain some work on coaching my kids to help them with their relationship. For better or worse.

Wish me luck!

My Body My Choice

I’m not exactly sure when i became an activist for gender rights, but it was definitely in high school, if not earlier. I got my period earlier than the vast majority of girls in my class. I was 9 (nine!) – take that in. I was the same age as my eldest child is now. There is nothing like being in grade 5 and other girls wondering what the strange noise was coming from a bathroom stall. In fact, it was me tearing off the sticky part of my maxi pad. Talk about stigma and being embarrassed for something so normal. I also got breasts pretty early too, and of course that brought on attention from much older boys and men even. I noticed that for sure, and yet didn’t have the skills to put them in their place (the boys i mean), or more importantly, the support and guidance from others to help me with this.

So i started dating younger than i might have otherwise, and my body has been a sexual object for a long time. I remember being in middle school and walking on the beach in Florida, while on vacation. A boy i did not know came up to me and asked me point blank if i “put out.” I didn’t even know what the term meant. Luckily, it didn’t go farther than that, but the memory still stays with me.

When i was in high school, a pro-choice rally was held and i recall my mom urging me not to go. She was afraid of me being an activist in a rally and getting hurt or in trouble. While i obeyed her request (rule), i did learn more about what abortions are and what being pro-choice is for me. A friend of mine had to get one when we were in high school. I remember helping her get the phone number for a clinic in Toronto and being part of a team of teenage friends helping her navigate the system to get it done. I grew up in a smaller city 1 ½ hours from the big city and it was my job to hold on to the card with the clinic’s phone number. I still remember where i hid it.

About ten years ago, i worked at a reproductive health clinic where medical terminations of pregnancies happened. My role as a counsellor was to be a guide to people during the procedure. I literally would hold their hand and help them with breathe work, distraction tools and self-compassion. I loved this work and it brought me closer to the work i do now, so i am so grateful for what i learned there.

One thing i learned is that many of us that choose to get an abortion do it for a number of reasons. As we are our own experts, it is up to no one else to govern or decide what’s best for our bodies. And yet, we are hearing otherwise again in the news as some states are changing a sacred and human rights law that passed many moons ago.

I can only assume that people who have had to make a difficult choice are feeling triggered all over again. Some of the people i support come to help heal from the shame, remorse, and grief from making this decision. They don’t need lawmakers and politicians (mostly old white men) to make them feel worse for their decision. It was a hard decision to make, and it was their’s to do so and the right decision at the time.

Abortion is not just for rape, and yet it’s ironic that this backlash to our rights over our bodies is happening during May which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I can’t help to think of this as another form of systemic sexual abuse. While it’s not a sexual assault persay, it is a violation and abuse of someone over someone else’s body, in a sexual manner. The removal of abortion access is not about the unborn babies and fetuses – it’s about power. Just like rape is not about pleasure via sex: it is also about power.

I am now teaching both my children that they are the boss of their body. My daughter still asks who saw me naked when i delivered her earthside. Even last night, i overheard her asking my partner who saw my vagina when she was coming out, if i was naked with my consent, and if being naked was necessary. We talk about body autonomy a lot, and i still ask them if I can kiss and hug them good night.

In response to the latest backlash to women and reproductive choice, someone in my neighbourhood filled blocks and blocks of sidewalks with chalk-written slogans that remind us that we are the boss of our bodies. When walking over this simple and powerful display, i had an interesting chat with my children on what abortion is – i had to balance what it means to be pro-choice and that abortion is an absolutely acceptable and valid choice, with how to explain the process in an age-appropriate way.

My children have not yet reached puberty but they are on the near cusp of it. We have good books and chats about it a lot, and they know what it means when i have my monthly blood cycle. While i have had my period for over 30 years (*wow*), it was when i became pregnant that i really learned how my reproductive parts work, and when i can get pregnant each month. I want my children to learn how their bodies work before then. That is one way they can be truly informed when needing to give consent. Knowledge is power, right?

This upcoming Tuesday May 28 is the second annual Menstrual Hygiene Day in Toronto. I’m so excited that gender activists in the city have championed the path to lessen the stigma of menstruation and making pads and tampons accessible to all bleeders. I also love that Dr. Morgentaler, a renowned doctor who has been a forerunner in reproductive health and performing abortions for decades, received an Order of Canada for his work. Maybe we need to send invites to period party to those old white men in power to our south.

Or not, they might be party poopers.

Rainbow Jar for Feelings


Recently, my kids and I were having a tough time and i was reminded me of co-regulation tol, the rainbow jar. I made it when my son was little many moons ago . It’s the tool to help with feelings as a way to process them and hold space for them. When we opened up the jar recently we noticed we needed to update it. There’s nothing like jumping on the bed to make us feel better

My son wears his heart on his sleeve. Since his sense of justice systems, sometimes it can harbour some conflict with his peers. He holds on to this anger and it’s hard for him to come back to neutral. While i can appreciate his sense of fairness, it can get in the way of accepting the reality of a moment. He goes into fight mode pretty quick and is hard to get back into his calm window.

My daughter hates to be wrong, or in the wrong. If i am every angry at her (and of course, i am allowed to be as her mom), she holds on to this and then creates a grudge herself. She also really struggles when things are less than perfect.

Both of these examples are great ones because when we can learn emotion regulation and staying with a feeling, then we are able to also foster some self-reflection and a more healthy mindset of acceptance. In our family, we are working to allow space for all the feelings, not just the easy and positive ones. That is hard to do sometimes.

Gordon Neufeld’s latest work on resilience in children (and adults truly) focuses on the importance of Play, Rest, and Feeling. Having access to all three is an integral part to establishing resilience and bouncing back after a challenge of adversity. I love the intention of noticing a full range of feelings in this process. If you want to learn more about how to take care of your kid’s feelings, Sarah Rosensweet also has a great article on how to help children with their emotional backpacks.

With this in mind, i created this tool to help my kids notice and honour their feelings. And of course, i use it as well – both as a model and knowing i can benefit from it as well. We keep it right in the dining room where any of us can access it easily. The agreement is if one of us needs help with their feelings, and asks for company, we join them. I want my kids to know i am there for any of the feelings, so we carve out space. I help them set it up, and if i am prepping dinner or something like that, we negotiate the timing to honour everyone’s needs.

Here are some of our activities:

– Jump on the bed
– Eat some chocolate
– Read a book
– Rip up some paper
– Cuddle together and get some tears out
– Dance party!
– Listen to a favourite song
– Colour
– Play outside
– Talk to someone about it
– Find a pet rock
– Build a lego fort for my feelings
– Have a cup of tea
– Play by myself
– I spy with colours – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet
– 5 Senses game: 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things to touch, 2 things to smell (get out some calming essential oils, 1 thing to taste)

That pouch you see in the photo has some Worry Dolls from a trip to Guatemala from years ago. I love this sweet tool to help hold space for feelings with kids. Both my kids have one that they keep close, as a reminder. What are some fun and effective ways you help co-regulate those hard feelings?