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.

Tips to Help Keep Your Relationship Resilient


Whether you are in a new stage of life with a newborn, or you’ve been with your partner for 10 years and you’re feeling a lull, or your family has experienced another major transition in your life, it can be hard to stay attuned with your partner. All relationships take work and a commitment to that work. Sometimes crisis or change in our lives can steer us in a different direction and it can be overwhelming to try and figure out how to come back. When you know the love is still there, and you want this relationship to continue working for you, it might be helpful to learn some new tools.

As a therapist who works with couples to notice their emotions and their partner’s, I see firsthand what tools and practices can be effective with staying on track in the relationship you want. As someone who’s been with my partner for just shy of 20 years myself, I can also speak from personal experience. With this in mind, I’ve put together some tips and ideas that can be helpful for you.

1) Attachment Styles for Adults: I may have a bias as i am trained in attachment based developmental psychology and i incorporate it into my own life as a parent. Did you know that our attachment to our parents shapes how we attach to others once we are adults ourselves? We learn a lot from our parents, some of those things are not necessarily intentional. Children need to attach to their adult caregivers in order to feel safe. When that’s not always the case, it can impact how we build relationships as an adult. TIP: Check out this book: Stan Tatkin shares more about these styles in his book Wired for Love: He shares 3 main styles – Anchor (feel secure in relationship), Island (avoidant), or Wave (anxious/ambivalent). There is also a 4th style (disorganized) that is based on a history of trauma – like a Hurricane. Knowing what our attachment style is helps as it can give so much perspective and insight to our reactions when our partner does something that confronts our confidence in the relationship.

2) Love Languages: When i first started dating my partner it was a long-distance relationship for the first year or so. I needed validation and gestures of affection in order to help me feel secure in this new relationship, especially as it was long-distance. This was before the days of Instagram and social media, where i used dial-up free internet access to send emails, and long distance calls were expensive. It was when i learned about the 5 Love Languages did i realize that i was not needy or insecure, but in fact had a different language that told my partner i was into him. There are 5 languages – acts of service (think mowing your lawn), words of affirmation (you look great tonight!), gifts of affection (flowers), loving touch (holding hands), quality time (booking a table at a new restaurant). So, when i learned that I’m a Gifts of Affection gal and my partner is an Act of Service dude, i realized that we needed to interpret our various languages and they could indeed compatible. TIP: Take the Love Languages quiz!

“Remember, love is what brought you here. And if you’ve trusted love this far, don’t panic now. Trust it all the way.” – James Baldwin

3) Plan Monthly Dates: This doesn’t have to be a big night out, let alone a weekend get-away, but having planned and defined time as a couple can really help build confidence in the relationship. TIP: plan an date each month – it can be a movie you picked out for Saturday Night at the Movies on the Couch. Make a special drink and stock up on adults-only snacks. This reminds us why we love our partner in the first place. It also helps us stay attuned to our desire for our partner, a key component to a lasting relationship.

Did you know that we have have individualized pleasure, arousal, and desire blueprints? To take it further, we also have different types of sexual satisfaction styles. Knowing what yours is can help understand how your sexual needs are not met as often as they were, or that you are feeling like you are in a sexual rut. TIP: Take this quiz to see which type of Erotic Blueprint speaks to you! Similar to Love Languages and Attachment styles, when we know what our sexual desires are, and that of our partners, it can help break down the walls in the bedroom and help to more sustainable and thriving sex lives.

4) Plan Time Apart: You are not just a partner or parent, but also an adult in your own right. Being able to have other interests creates a balance in your life. It may seem counter-intuitive but it’s really another key ingredient in building resiliency in relationships. When you want to be seen by your partner, you need to see yourself and become more visible. TIP: Share your pride in your work, acknowledge something you did that was a new challenge, add more of your in your home – the special feminine touches that linger. Think of your favouite flowers in the bedroom AND dining room, photos of you and your lover by the bed, have a book you are reading by the couch. Don’t hide those pieces of you away. When we are practicing a wholehearted approach to life, our interests in life shine through and our partners want to be with us.

5) Conflict Cycle: This comes straight out of Emotionally-focused Therapy but YOU don’t have to be trained as a couple counsellor to know how to work on conflict in a effective way. Did you know that each relationship dyad falls into a conflict cycle or pattern? It might help to see what yours is so that you can work past them. TIP: Check out Sue Johnson’s book Hold Me Tight. It is a wonderful resource that shares more real-life stories of couples who have learned to recognize their conflict cycle.

I love Esther Perel’s work with couples, and one of her most poignant quotes is “do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” We have to truly understand that we can’t control or change anyone else, so when we want to change someone, we have to change ourselves. One part that is key is learning how to take care of your own emotion first, so that it doesn’t impact the repair work. We need to learn how to repair, and that comes with learning helpful self-soothing anger management tools. Learning healthy ways to communicate these needs is especially necessary.

6) Aligned Values and Priorities: It’s interesting how we can feel so comfortable at home that we get into a habit of putting on our comfy clothes when we get home from work, and present our best self for work but not at home with our loved ones. Yes they love us, for better or worse, and yet why is it we present our messiest side for the people we love the most? I saw an episode of The Fabulous Mrs. Maisel once and she had a habit of taking off all her make-up and putting on the face cream only after her husband fell asleep. I think a happy medium on these 2 extremes is much more healthy and sustainable.

As we are constantly evolving and learning, our relationships need to follow the same course. While we don’t necessarily want carbon copies of ourselves, having key values that are shared by both partners can lessen any longstanding tension or conflict. TIP Have weekly meetings with your partner to discuss goals for the week, highlights, plan some time together and hear from them their plans. When we intentionally sit down together and ask each other these questions, we are not surprised when it comes up. Put it in a Google Calendar (i love this program, it really is a relationship tool!). This may help you carve out space not just for a date, but a chance to take a class together, or read a book together. Moments like this serve us as they help us get back to centre.

What are some ways you have noticed you get back on track with your love partner? If you are struggling with this, contact me and i’d love to help you do this!

The Summer I Saved an Alligator

Each year, at the beginning of summer break from school, my family and I go on a vacation to the cottage. It has become such a family ritual that that we start to anticipate it weeks in advance. It’s a chance for us to unwind, relax, be in nature, and an opportunity for us to get a break from our everyday life.

The timing of this time away is impeccable: I am in the middle of a three-month long course that is offered by the Neufeld Institute. While it’s simply named Intensive I, it’s actually a very in-depth course on attachment and how it helps us reach our full potential. So as I’m taking this course, things are coming to my mind’s eye around the behaviour and emotions that my children are experiencing. This year, I found the time at the cottage to be even more important as it’s a chance for us to be alone as a family. I’ve been noticing my younger child becoming more and more attached to her peers. As an Attachment-based therapist and parent, I know it’s my role to remain the anchor for my children. Being the answer for them helps them to live their life as fully as possible. Watching my daughter become more more attached to her peers even at such a young age has been an interesting experience for me as a therapist and parent who is making very intentional decisions.

So, in order to help re-connect and be that anchor for my kids, off we went to our week away from the world. The weather was glorious, we ate S’more‘s and we swam more than once every day in the lake. Even though it was rather cold, the water has always been our happy place as a family. We could be cranky, tired or bored beforehand, but we always emerged from the water happy, content and refreshed. During one afternoon in the water, we were playing with our beloved water donuts. I of course brought to my favourite doughnut-doughnut, and we also had on hand the inflatable alligator that had been mine as a child. This summer my daughter has a goal to work on her swimming and so she and I were playing with the alligator as an opportunity for her to feel more confident in the water. Luckily she was still wearing her puddle jumper water wings because in one quick moment, the alligator overturned and slipped from under her. My quick instinct tended to her to make sure she was safe and well we were cuddling and checking in together and the allocator quickly started to drift off. I had first thought it was going slowly in the direction that would take it to shore but then I quickly noticed it was actually going deeper into the lake. I’m pretty confident swimmer and had been on the swim team in high school so I was pretty convinced that I would be able to reach the alligator in time. Because in one quick moment overturned from under. My quick instinct tended to her to make sure she was safe and while we were cuddling and checking in together, the alligator quickly started to drift out. Instead of going slowly in the direction that would take it to shore, it actually went deeper into the lake. I’m a pretty confident swimmer and was on the swim team in high school so I was pretty convinced that I would be able to read to the alligator in time. I was wrong. After a leisurely paddle where i was in my donut, i soon realized i was not going to reach the alligator in time. I have memories of this toy from my own childhood, and didn’t want to lose it so soon after my kids were able to play with it. So, i ditched the donut (this time int he right direction) and started to frantically swim at full speed towards the bright green animal floating in the water.

Luckily, we were the only people in the water and it was so calm (or maybe that was a problem). I used all the swimming strokes i learned (front crawl, breaststroke, backwards) and there were a couple of times where i had to quickly assess if this damn toy was worth me drowning or having a heart attack. I have to say there was a moment of panic of not reaching the floating device in time. Of course i did, as otherwise i wouldn’t be here writing this, but wow, was it a stressful moment for me.

I was able to use some de-escalation tools to help me get there, i used all the positive thinking i could, and worked on some radical acceptance that it was truly okay if i did’t reach it. A part of me know it would come to shore eventually. Another part of me wanted to be my kids’ saviour – of the alligator anyway. And you know what?

They didn’t even notice.

They didn’t realize how hard it was to get the floatie. But my partner did, and he tended to me and gave me some space to breathe. Literally.

So on that note, because i’m a glass half-ful gal, i’m going to leave you with some links to great articles about how to embrace summer, and how to make it meaningful for you as a parent. I work from a place where setting intentions help me live the life i love, and that summer means as much for me as it does my kids. So, here are some great resources to help you if you are stuck:

10 ways to stress less and flourish more
Mothering Arts Best Summer Ever list
Summer vacation: Freedom from or freedom to
18 summers – though i think this is too much pressure and not only 18 years, the article has some helpful tips

What are some of your favourite summertime family rituals? How do you spend the summer doing things you love?

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.

I Want to be My Children’s Compass Point

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I was listening to a CBC segment a few weeks ago, with a writer who shared her philosophy on this whole ‘parenting’ movement. While she too wrote a book about it, she wonders if we are doing ourselves a disservice with all this pressure and industry around parenting.

There are a lot of books, workshops, and ‘experts’ that are available to us these days. Each is designed to help you be the best parent you can, and also to find solutions for places that you are stuck. While i guess we fall under this category a bit, i prefer to see our practice as an extra support to you as you guide yourself to the best parenting path. That said, we can be overwhelmed when other parents or even just the regular folk who are waiting in line at the grocery store, ask you if you are an ‘attachment parent’, ‘free range parent,’ or a ‘peaceful parent’ or even a ‘helicopter parent.’ There is just so much pressure and pull to be defined as ____ parent: I just want to be the best parent i can for my children.

So i hope this doesn’t sound too contradictory to that writers point: i really love reading books and finding ones that speak to what i hold dear to me, and what our family’s values are.

As someone who really values being attached to my children, my partner, and to the people closest to me, i relish the chance to integrate this bond in any way i can. Having read Hold On to Your Kids by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Mate, i wish all new parents can read this book. In it, they describe how attachment can play out between our children and ourselves, to the better of our relationship and also for our communities.

Neufeld goes on further to explain that attachment is not just about the practices – things we do like wear our babies in carriers, co-sleep, stay with our babies all the time, and exclusively breastfeed. Rather, it is a relationship between the child and parent. This relationship gives a context to how the child is raised in the family and grows up in the world. I so love the idea that we are to be our child’s compass point, and that it actually puts them at a disadvantage when we hurry them to stop being dependent on us. There is a dance of attachment that we go through with our children, and in order to keep that bond alive, it is our job to remain the alpha in their lives. It may sound daunting in this day of technology, and peer orientation, but i also really hope that my children come to me No Matter What when they are in their teen years. The work i’m doing now fosters that future attachment.

What that in mind, I’m really excited that Dr. Neufeld is coming to Toronto at the end of November, to flush out this theory of attachment and development. He is giving two talks – one is a two-hour discussion on how play can help build attachment, and the other is a full day workshop on resiliency and attachment. If you want to learn more about this theory, why don’t you come check it out!