My Magic as a Mother

My children are not young school-agers anymore. With that comes new ways to care for them, as well as the balance of joys and problems that come with this developmental age. And yet, this is the stage of life that i know well – i studied human development and specifically adolescent psychology in my undergrad and was a youth shelter worker in the beginning period of my career. In fact, one of my favourite jobs was going to middle and high school classes to talk to students about healthy relationships, puberty and self-esteem.

My kids may have a different idea about me doing this with them though.

I also remember my own pre-teen and teen years more than my childhood.

My eldest is adjusting to high school. I spoke about this Rite of Passage before. With all its curve balls and adjustments to embrace, one thing continues to be evident: They come to me to talk about the stuff that i deem important and know something about. I may not be good at math or science homework, but i am so here for chats about friendships and heartbreak.

Here’s another example of a work-in-progress: I recently learned about some very upsetting incidents at my daughter’s school. Boys in her middle school said intentionally provocative and violent things about their female classmates. My daughter shared only part of the story with me, and kept out the main concern – the gender-based violence that these words represented. Of course, i quickly found out because our small school is a village and the news was passed around. I’m so grateful for this.

It has prompted me to be more intentional with how i address the things that are important to me as a mom.

When i was talking to my kid about this incident, she shared that she was uncomfortable because the topic (with her parents specifically) was ‘cringy.’ She assumed that i also felt this way when i was a 12-year old having these talks with my own parents. Little did she know that i desperately needed and wanted these talks. I did not get to have these conversations at all, and was alone to carry the feelings and confusion, let alone the decision about what to do about the hard things i lived through as a teen.

And i had more than my fair share of hard things.

Out of the talk i had with her, as well as ones i have shared with other mothers in our community, i realized i have something to offer our community: a circle for our children and us together.

I have found my magic as a mother: I can talk about things like puberty, healthy realtionships, and hard emotions and also WANT TO, and i can offer a community gathering (aka Circle) and build a container for this topic, and more like it. I even have a name for it – Seed and Snake. I’ll leave the explanation of this for another time.

I wholeheartedly believe we all need a village to care for each other. I love the reciprocity of support and guidance we can give each other. I am so ready to shift away from an individualistic care model, and one that sees village aunties and wise elders as the valuable members they are. Of course, i also see that no one is going to care for my children like I do. They won’t have my kids’ best interests in mind: rather they will have their own core values and instincts at the forefront of their support. Being at the centre of my children’s needs is my maternal, feminine responsibility and mine alone. My partner, their father, also has his own gentle masculine way to guide them.

This is the balance of finding a new way – an old way in fact – that is post-colonialist, and not patriarchal. It is the both/and of feminine flow and seeing we are stronger in community, versus taught to believe we are vulnerable and weak when asking for support.

Motherhood unveils our mortality. It reveals our inability to control everything. It is as much tethered to grief as it is the experiences of joy and love. It is the practice of loving so much and the inevitable letting go.

Any Dally shared these powerful words: “There have always been mothers, but motherhood was invented.” What does she mean by this? She goes on to say: “Each subsequent age and society has defined it in its own terms and imposed its own restrictions and expectations on mothers. Thus motherhood has not always seemed or been the same.” She wrote this in 1982, in her book Inventing Motherhood.

When we see that motherhood is a social construct, it creates space for us to become empowered and have agency to transform how we experience being a mother. Sophie Brock, a sociologist who specializes in matrescence today shares that “this understanding unlocks our power in redefining ourselves, reclaiming our experience, and moving towards revolutionising motherhood – for us and future generations.”

It’s also important to note who are mothers, be it via birth or adoption, and not all folks who birth their child identify as mothers. Not everyone who cares for their child in a maternal way is a mother. And at the same time, mothering is a verb that characterizes the act of caretaking with compassion and presence. This is part of the social construct.

Matricentric Feminism is a theory within feminism that centres mothers’ experiences. Coined by the feminist scholar Andrea O’Reilly, it intentionally looks at the context and challenges of mothers today. She claims that motherhood is the ‘unfinished business’ of feminism. While i do not totally agree, i understand her view. As more and more research and discussions are being held about matrescence, maternal load, and maternal mental health now, we are seeing a boost in the role and identity that the term ‘mother’ is tethered to. So, it’s important to look at the psychological, socio-cultural, economic, and political pillars that impact this identity. Having an active voice and reminder of the experience and plight of mothers is essential because it is us who have to keep cleaning all the finger-prints of our children and patriarchy alike off the glass ceiling. The ceiling may be higher and we have some more room, but it is still nonetheless present – and as oppressive as ever.

At the root of matricentric feminism is this reclamation – that being a mother is a powerful role to have. It is in fact the predominant role of all life – creating, giving birth to, and raising humans. It is about embracing a maternal energy, regardless of our gender. This is not easy to do in a society that still clings onto a patriarchal worldview. We are given a load to carry through the matrilineal burden of mothering – a verb now versus an identity alone, and yet being a mother is a role that is undervalued.

Understanding the social construct of motherhood “allows us to embrace and acknowledge the deep personal growth that can come from becoming a mother, coming to know ourselves in a completely new way, stepping into our power and experiencing fierce love and transformation. This understanding unlocks our power in redefining ourselves, reclaiming our experience, and moving towards revolutionizing motherhood – for us and future generations.” Sophie Brock

Here is the glass ceiling showing up again: We will never be good enough when judged according to the standards of the perfect mother, because we were never MEANT to be. This is impossible: The dial keeps changing, the room feels more spacious. That has been the biggest magic trick of all. “The problem is NOT with mothers not being good enough, not doing enough or not juggling well enough. The problem is the way the ‘tank’ of patriarchal Motherhood has been constructed and the rules that are written on it.” Sophie Brock

When i started to see how i was internalizing patriarchal mothering, i was first surprised that i could succumb to this. As a feminist myself, i understood the mom shame and guilt i carried was not mine. It was not my mother’s hand-me-downs either but something i definitely inherited. So i did something about it. Little by little, i have been taking off these emperor’s clothes that never fit me, and instead putting on my favourite magical cloak of feminist mother.
It’s been a healing, messy, and reparative process. It’s like i’m learning new magic tricks, ones that have been hidden in the dusty books at the used bookstore.

For instance, I took my kid to her first music concert earlier this year. It was a pretty reparative experience for me. My own parents not only struggled to ask about my interests, let alone embrace and encourage them. My mom had a much better sense of what i liked than my dad, and yet there was no way i could ask them to take me to a concert or the event of last year, the Eras tour Taylor swift movie.

I don’t want to be my children’s friend. I want to honour the relationship we have. In fact, having a hierarchy is okay – more than okay. We are our children’s teachers and elder (or at least we should aspire to be). We are not equal. That doesn’t mean i can’t also be a part of my child’s life, and let them know that what happens to them matters to me; what matters to them matters to me as well.

When i was a new mom, i needed others with shared values and rhythms. A pregnant person needs others to protect us who are NOT in early parenthood too – it’s a circle of life after all. What i now understand is that we also need to not feel guilty when we enter a different stage of life. I will always be a mother but i don’t have to solely mother in my daily life.

Of course, i am still a mother and identify with my role of Mother. Now that my children are older, though, i get to find this balance of life everyone talks about like it’s a treasure.

Let us not take it for granted that we can heal our mother wounds and be cycle breakers. We can be the mother or parent our children need, and also be a mother to ourselves, our community, and be a voice for change. Being maternal is for any gender to access.

Let us birth a new way.

My Midlife Midwife Era: Weaving the Spiral Path

If you look at most therapist bios, be it on their Psychology Today profile or on an Instagram landing page, you’ll notice that we specialize in “life transitions.” What does that actually mean though? I know for me, it means helping people be able to feel grounded to some degree when inevitable change happens. It means holding space and being witnessed in this sea change.

Since we are humans, we are constantly evolving, and change will happen, whether we like it or not. We’re not meant to stay the same or have our course be rigid. We’re actually meant to course correct when we are thrown curveballs, whether it is a global pandemic, a break-up, or a loss or maybe also meeting the love of your life or finding your dream job. All of it still takes time to embrace the transition.

We need to take pause and notice that life transitions are only one step in rites of passage. Our way of identifying life transitions needs to be updated and decolonized, and actually know it as a more soul-led practice that involves ceremony and acknowledgement.

So one thing I love is zooming out of our personal experience and noticing the universality of it. And guess what, there are archetypal stories that also reflect our own human experience. It’s a beautiful balance of our humanity and the divinity within all of us. This is where I have deepening in my own life as well as practice as a therapist, holding space for folks and their transitions, while also being able to let them know that while their stories unique, their experience is also universal.

We’re not as special as we think and yet maybe that’s a good thing.

For instance, a lot of us may know the concept of the hero’s journey by Joseph Campbell. In fact, I know I’ve spoken about it previously in other articles here. One thing that I’ve been sitting with though is how linear and masculine-based it is, and so i wanted to find something that felt more aligned with my own story and journey to full consciousness. I’m really relieved that there has been a resurgence of more feminine embodied archetypal stories, ones that have been pushed under the surfaces decades ago.
Take Maureen Murdoch’s book, The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness for example. This book has been pivotal in my own life’s transitions. If you want to learn more about the concept of a heroine’s journey, this article is very helpful.

The feminine path shows us a different way. One where we step out of current machine and decide to do things on a more full and authentic, more soul level. This isn’t about doing it without honouring our masculine side, but rather integrating both sides of this coin.

As i approach 50, i’m noticing how my own story thus far fits really well into the spiral path. When I was a teenager, I learned some things about my parents lifestyle that didn’t resonate with me. I also knew that I didn’t want how they modelled partnership to be what I carried further in my own story. And then in my mid-20s, I really rejected my feminine side. I cut my hair short, I wore doc martens and hung out with boys more than women. Only then to notice in my 30s that not only did I deeply cherish my relationships with women, my body also just felt more safe and comfortable in their presence – most jobs in my life have been in the community of women-identified folks.

So of course, this is how my path was already carved out for me. It all makes sense now, and i love that it’s a spiral path and not a linear narrative storyline. There is ebb and flow, back and forth, learning and unlearning, and coming back again. The oracle cards i bought at 22 are now a big part of my life. I dusted them off a few years ago, after being shelved away for years. I’m back again where I was before and yet I’m all together new. Now I am more embodied in this knowing and deep understanding. I’m looking back with perspective and wisdom. The 20-year old me who rejected being a woman, or being in service with my feminine power is in awe with where I am now.

As I close in on my halfway point in life, I’m reflecting back in my own timeline. I’m not surprised how well it fits in the path, nor how these archetypal stories of Maiden Mother Crown (and all the other ones) fit into my own journey through life.

I’ve been reflecting on how i got here, so that i can also support others weave their internal threads more intentionally. I have been midwifing my own midlife with such love and care, and feel called to offer this to others. I find this especially true for women who have had difficult relationships with their mothers, maternal lineage, or relationships with women where a lack of eldership and matriarchal wisdom is lacking. I have been going through my own rite of passage with fine grain detail and have noticed some things that i did intuitively really fit with The Spiral Path. It is about embracing a plan of action, that is saturated with an embodied sense of self-control and empowerment.

How to Weave your Path

1) Keep your Word to Yourself
Are you the first person you break a promise to? How often do you put your own needs (and dreams) at the bottom of your priority list. This martyrdom does not serve anyone. The laundry can wait, the dishes can be done by someone else, and everyone wins when you honour your soul’s calling. It can be by reading a book that moves you, attending a circle, dancing under the full moon. Whatever it is, make a commitment to yourself to honour your own promise to yourself. No one else will.

2) Take up Space
I recently went skating with my kid and her school. I was amazed by how these children took up space – on the ice, and also everywhere. I learned along the way to apologize for the space i took up, and then resented that i felt invisible. Now, i make a point to share about my own day at dinner, I set a goal for something I want to do on the weekend, I claim my rightful seat on the couch during family movie night, I screamed with joy during the recent Eclipse, and yelled “this is orgasmic” without a care in the world for who heard me.

3) Find the Balance within Masculine Go and Feminine Flow
This one was a hard one for me. After first abandoning my soft feminine side in my early 20s, i then learned how i internalized patriarchy and capitalism in my body. I saw ways that i was neglecting my own soft strengths and having a balance of both qualities and energies is what makes us whole. I can be a good business owner AND also work in the space of feelings and community. In fact, i need both in order to stay resourced and sustainable in my work.

How this looks for each of us is unique, and doesn’t have to be 50/50 to be balanced. It’s about embracing the universal truth that these qualities are not necessarily gendered but rather energetic.

4) Learn about Archetype Stories
Having a map that shows us the way is not only helpful, it is a practice of self-compassion. Learning about fairy tales and goddess stories has been a big part of my journey with my own life transitions. The book Women Who Run with the Wolves is my bible, for instance. I see myself in the stories. I also see more fully the stories of my ancestors and lineage. This is both humbling and reparative.

Archetypal stories allow space for nuance as well as the duality of honouring the humanity and divinity in all of us.

5) Honour Life with Ritual and Ceremony
Rituals are the ways we tend to ourselves and remind us that the only life we are living is our own. They enhance our experience, and carve out a path with intention and self-love. Ceremony is the way we can be witnessed for who we are by others, as we cannot go through rites of passage and life transitions alone. If you need some more guidance, check out my Instagram post here for some inspiration.

6) Pleasure Sorcery
I am so thankful to adrienne maree brown for the term ‘pleasure activist.‘ The opposite of pleasure is feeling numb, partly due to grief that has not been cared for. I wholeheartedly believe that the absense of pleasure is what is causing so many people midlife crisis, existential crisis and burn-out. Access to pleasure and joy were taken from us, or at least shunned into our collective shadow. In a Come to your Senses podcast episode, Mary shares more about how to have courage to be more your Self.

I am a Pleasure Witch, alchemizing the change that happens when we eat the best fucking chocolate mousse in your life, slowing down your partner in a sexual romp to access your own climax, marinating in new lilacs blossoms so that you can savour their smell. To source yourself in pleasure means giving yourself permission to slow down, take pause, awaken your senses.

Still unsure about this? You are not alone – the word pleasure still harbours some negative connotations. How about a practice of gentle pleasure? Try the 5% concept – what is something you can do to make it just a bit more enjoyable – is it playing music while you clean the bathroom, or fresh flowers by your bedside, or maybe it’s a delicious piece of pie to have with your taxes.

7) Trust you are Inherently Worthy
And here’s another tricky one – we need to reclaim that we are inherently worthy simply because we are alive. Our worth should not be tethered to our achievements, busy-ness, productivity. That is a patriarchal, white supremist and capitalist mindset. That keeps us stuck in hustle culture and a stressful experience. When we reclaim our worth, that is our success that will lead to a sense of abundance from a heart-centred and balanced life. Our worth is the value you bring to your own life, and will ripple out to how you impact other beings.

It is a process to reclaim this truth. When i started to learn that i had not just permission but the right to enjoy my own life, and not live vicariously through my children, i started to make sure i added my own projects, plans, and pleasure into our calendar. Nora Roberts shared a fabulous analogy – as a prolific writer, she was asked how she can prioritize and plan out time for writing: it’s all about making sure you catch the right balls.

8) Find Your Purpose
I knew since i was a kid that i was going to be a therapist of some kind. For years, i wanted to be a marine biologist but science and math are not my forte or passion. Being in water and living like a mermaid was not enough reason. When i started my journey as a therapy student, i thought i would be a child psychologist. The fact, it just dawned on me as i’m writing this that i did an undergrad program in HUMAN Development. Of course i was destined to support folks with life transitions.

Now that i’ve been a working therapist for over 18 years, and the years before that in abused women and children’s programs, it all makes sense how my work life is in service for others healing and growth. It is my life’s calling, and is the passion that gives my life a direction.

I am also more than my work, and my roles in life. I am a being who is whole unto herself – i am home.

To Come Home to Yourself
May all that is unforgiven in you
Be released.

May your fears yield
Their deepest tranquillities.

May all that is unlived in you
Blossom into a future
Graced with love.”
~ John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Invocations and Blessings

We Avoided a Date with Disaster

Last month, i shared some ways couples can recommit to their intimate relationship after becoming parents. This month, i’m back with a new article about intimate relationships and i’m sharing a story about my own trials and mistakes.

It’s been a few months since my partner and i have had a proper date. And by that, i mean getting dressed up and going out on the town. We make the intention to have lots of quality time and also sneak in mini-dates into our life regularly. And yet, we do need that special kind of date from time to time.

And so when we put the plan together to go to a new cute drinks spot, i was pretty excited. It was a Saturday night and i dressed up – i wore heels and a dress, and pulled out a vintage clutch instead of my usual purse. It was an added bonus that is new spot was in our own neighbourhood.

Neither of us wanted to drive because we wanted some tasty drinks and it was too close to deem a taxi worthy. So, when we walked a mere 2 blocks from our front door, i couldn’t help but wonder if the clouds in the night sky looked daunting, and more than just natural darkness.

Let me back up and explain that it’s my partner who is the ‘weather guy.’ He has an app he always refers to, and we ask him every morning to tell us the weather. He’s our go-to in-house weather forecaster. So, i guess a part of me assumed he already looked at the weather and deemed it worthy of the walk.

The first mistake is that i assumed this. The second is that i didn’t explicitly ask him to drive because i didn’t want to. The third mistake is that i didn’t look at the weather app because i wanted to wear heels and i dress – i don’t have to rely on others for this.

And so, we decided to keep walking and take the risk. We were barely past our own street when the rain started. Our wishful thinking and glass-half full perspective did not keep the clouds away.

And the rainclouds sure opened. We had to run for cover and wait out the rain for a few minutes. We were too far gone to go back, and i knew if we were to go home our night (let alone date and good humour) was spoiled.

You’d think the heat rising from inside me would have been enough to keep me dry.

So, it took me a few minutes to catch my breath and bearings, and to also sit with what i was feeling. Sure, i was mad and maybe a bit rage-y. I was also disappointed and frustrated. And my partner was too.

In the past, my bad mood may have made us turn around and go back home. Not only because i was wet and didn’t want to go out, but also because i would not have been pleasant company. This time, i noticed how i was feeling, and what resources i had within me to self-regulate and get back to Self energy. I knew my partner was grateful for this and he also wanted to go on the date, and it wasn’t his fault it rained on us. And he also was entitled to want a drink, and not have to drive for once. I knew this in my heart, so i was able to quiet that critical voice and my Inner Complainer, so that we could keep walking and enjoy our night.

And we did – we got to the bar, the rain stopped (in that order), and we had a lovely night.

I’m sharing this because i want to be transparent as a human who also happens to be a therapist who supports couples, and has a partner who is trained as a Non-Violent Communication facilitator who works with men. We are imperfect works in progress. And, we are witnessing our own healing and progress in real time.

Recently when my partner told me that he was afraid to tell me that an ember burned our pillow, i realized the narrative i have about myself being easy to talk to and easy-going is not necessarily true. That is absolutely true as a therapist and yet it can still be hard for my partner to be vulnerable with me, especially when he has to tell me something he did. My Inner Fiery Dragon was a strong protector of me, and yet she can be scary for others to repair things with. I get that.

So, what can we do, you ask?
Remember, it should not be a given that a relationship is inevitable, let alone happy indefinitely. All relationships take work simply because we are constantly evolving as humans, or at least we hope we are. So, get ready to learn, read, talk, question, and reflect on how you are doing on your side of the relationship coin.

A great place to start is to learn about your relationship with conflict. Do you know what your conflict style is? I’m not the type of therapist who will do personality quizzes with you. Partly because i find them simplistic, and also because i don’t think they showcase our full story. And yet, one way to really sit in the discomfort about the role we play in conflict is to notice a pattern. Do i hide my head in the sand like my pet turtle? Or do my teeth glare out like a shark or tiger? Does my body become soft like a fawn or teddy bear or is there wisdom in my response like an owl? Maybe instead of using animals as a mirror, how about looking at these typical ways we respond to conflict: Accommodating, Avoiding, Compromising, Competing, and Collaborating? Do any of these sound familiar to you – be honest! If you’re stuck, this article can be a great start to look into this more.

As a couples counsellor myself, one of my favourite resources about befriending our conflict style comes from the work of Sue Johnson and Emotionally Focused Therapy. She shares that we need to learn a new dance with others in order to break stuck patterns, be it an intimate relationship or other kind of connection. So a good place to start is to take a kind self-critical lens and really think about your own pattern when conflict shows up.

I know many of us are afraid to think about worst-case scenarios, and we may avoid looking at the cobwebs in the corner. I think knowledge is power so i appreciate knowing why a relationship may struggle or fail. A few main reasons are: a lack of growing, developing and evolving in parallel ways; getting stuck on differentiation, lack of repair after rupture that leads to emotional pain and trauma (triggers still alive); or lack skills and support to help them move past this stuckness.

So it bears knowing that developmental hurdles happen as a couple, whether it is after becoming parents or if one of is on a new journey in life. We may struggle with Differentiation, which is a manifestation of true individualism. This means we can acknowledge and trust that our inner experience is separate from someone else’s, and that’s not only okay but valuable. Our attachment style can impact our ability to trust that our opinions and thoughts about something doesn’t have to be questioned or minimized by someone else if we don’t share the same idea. In this article, Dr. Ellyn Bader shares more about what differentiation looks like.

I’ve been reading Dr. Tracy Dalgleish’s new book, I Didn’t Sign up for This. In it, she shares stories from her own marriage as well as other relationships to help the reader know they are not alone. The book is filled with resources and support, and i found her 4 C’s especially useful. This comes from her own work and research as a couples therapist. It describes the ingredients of Collaboration, Compassion, Connection, and Curiosity as important felt sense experiences to help couples get back to their Selves in a relationship. This connects to the individualism that is necessary for healthy relationships, and are the catalysts to repair after ruptures.

I also really value John and Julie Gottman’s work with couples and families. In fact, i have done training in their appraoch as a therapist and their research has become an integral part of my own growth and development as a human in a committed relationship. Since i didn’t have my own healthy models to look to growing up, learning this was important for me. They have a plethora of resources and have been on many, many podcasts and shows. Here is just one recent podcast that i found to be a great resource.

Oh how I wish this was taught in school. Back then for Little vania and now for my own kids now.

More than my Baby Daddy: Becoming Parents and Staying Together

Having a child is a life-altering portal for everyone, regardless of how you crossed the threshold. Since parenthood is a rite of passage, we become someone who never existed before. I used to cringe when i heard that giving birth to a baby meant that we too are newborn mothers and parents. Now i understand that a new version of me was indeed birthed when i evolved into motherhood.

This sea change also impacts the couple as they are also all-together new beings as co-parents.

Many couples have to find their way back to each other after becoming parents. This is a natural occurrence as it takes time to learn how to be in this new role as a parent. We need to sacrifice other parts of us so that we can integrate this new role into our life. The sacrifice is meant to be temporary. What makes it hard is that there is no map or guidance on how to come back to centre. We will never be who we were before as a childless couple. And yet, i think one thing that sets couples up for failure is the unrealistic expectation that they just ‘bounce back’ into their own way of being together. We assume that we just add a child to our life and it all goes back to the way it was.

Now that my own kids are older, i am starting to feel the integration of motherhood into the rest of who i am. More specifically, i am finding ways to balance my main roles, including the role of partner.

My partner and have been together for over 20 years, 15 of them as parents. These last few years have been some of our biggest growth years. We have come to know that our evolutions are mostly parallel journeys, if not always at the same place or pace. In my own relationship, we’re lucky that we are on similar aligned paths. I know this isn’t always true for many families.

It’s not lost on me that i may have an advantage as a therapist who specializes in life transitions and matrescence. I’m also a couples therapist and one of the main areas i specialize in is the transition of parenthood and how it impacts intimate relationships. I support others through areas i have lived experience in so i have been reflecting on what worked for us, i’ve come to see that we did some key things subconsciously.

I often get asked what my secret is to a lasting intimate relationship. It’s such a gift when others comment on witnessing my love with my partner. So i wanted to share some of the main takeaways that have helped me maintain and flourish in my partnership.

Human Development Stages
Growth and development isn’t just for kids. Our foot size may not be growing anymore, but that doesn’t mean we are done evolving as humans. The growth and maturation just happens in our psyche and emotional realms, or at least it should.

Becoming a parent is just one of the stages that fall into adulthood. It’s right up there with getting your first ‘real’ job, buying a home or signing a lease, finding chosen family and community, and paying taxes. Like all of these very adult tasks, becoming a parent isn’t just something that happens to our body and happens on weekends. It’s an all-encompassing sea change and is meant to turn us upside down.

We need to learn how to become something new. It’s not enough to assume a role, as that will not be enough to full integrate this rite of passage. When one of us takes on the task to learn more about becoming a parent, it serves both parents to benefit from this. And yet what happens more often is that the other parent falls into a default way of parenting as they were parented. This can lead to defensive when advice or information is shared. Knowing some of the key issues new parents face in their relationship is a great first step.

One of the most significant learnings i have benefited from in my own development is understanding Attachment Theory and attachment styles. We don’t have one stuck style, and we can absolutely heal an insecure one. This growth fits in well when we are setting intentions to mature into who we are not as an adult, versus getting stuck in our earlier versions and wounded former parts. Knowing how to heal your attachment style so you can have a reparative experience with your own child is a key component in embracing your developmental stage. This has been a huge healing edge for my own parenting journey.

Relationship Building
It is helpful to know what stage of a relationship you are in – not just how long you have been with your partner. Susan M. Campbell has a brilliant theory that highlights stages of building a deeper connection with your partner. These 5 stages of relationship building move any relationship through a process. While she first created it for intimate couples, i think this works for any relationship.

Romance is the first stage. It is when we are so excited by this new match, there are feelings of infatuation and limerance fostered by oxytocin. This is the honeymoon stage, and can last up to 6 to 9 months. After a few months of getting to know each other, Power Struggles start to show up. This marks the time of uncertainty. For many couples, this is the dance they start to cycle though. If the relationship is strong enough, the couple can progress to a stage of Stabilization.

A lot of relationships cycle through these first 3 stages. When a baby comes along, this is a great opportunity for the parents to make a Commitment to learn more skills about communication, conflict resolution, division of labour, and time to get rest. This next stage of relationship building is crucial to get to the ultimate stage of Co-Creation and Bliss. It is necessary to intentionally commit to the relationship again as a couple, and not just a level of understanding as co-parents.

If you want to know more about this theory of relationship building, i love how Jessica shared some insight about attachment styles as they impact the stages on her podcast HERE. Also this article does a wonderful job in reframing some of the stages – Initiation, Experimentation, Intensify, Integrate and Bond. I really appreciate this update as it lands for my own system with more ease.

Village Members
One thing that can help us feel more solid in our footing is to know that we are not alone in this newness. We may feel like a fawn just newly standing and being expected to run into this new life full steam ahead. And yet, while we have never done this before, many have.

This is where village comes in, and why it is so important in fact. I also know that finding this said village is so much harder than it should be, and even used to be. As social creatures, it is so helpful that we can have space to talk about what is coming up for you. I love being happily surprised when my situation is reflected in others i chat with. That could be connecting with a new friend in yoga class about motherhood, or another student about menstrual cycles, or maybe your cousin at the next family gathering. Being vulnerable is a wonderful alchemizing quality that lessens our assumed aloneness or shame.

Of course, having this community is not always possible: When you don’t have elders in your life, or the people you know that are parents are not your role models, it helps that we have other ways to create a village.

As a book lover, i always fall back on books as my main resource. There is something so comforting about knowing that a book was researched, written, approved and published tells me that i’m so not alone in this stage of life. Now, we also have social media (for better or worse, it’s like it’s own marriage). I also love podcasts and of course, a good blog!

Some of my favourite books on this specific topic are:
*Baby Bomb: A Relationship Survival Guide for New Parents by Kara Hoppe and Stan Tatkin
*To Have and to Hold: Motherhood, Marriage and the Modern Dilemma by Molly Millwood
*The Gottmans and their plethora of books and more here

House Meetings
I know this seems too much like a work meeting, but i promise having a meeting with your beloved about the business side of life can really uncouple all the work from the intimacy. If we are partnered or in a committed relationship when we become a new parent, it is important to have regular conversations with your partner. Talk about things like what is coming up for the week with social engagements and meetings or appointments. Share things you have learned about parenting, or ways to alleviate the mental load. Share resources, have a book club with 2 members!

Take time to create your shared values and needs list. As a place to start, this article shares some key ones. Many people in relationships are surprised to find that what they think is a shared core value is in fact not a shared priority with their beloved. It is the shared values and needs that keep us aligned on a paths in life. They can manifest in things like how housework is done, or when to book a date night. These are the ways to put needs and values into action.

Keep Things Intimate
I don’t mean to jump right back into bed after having a bed. At least, not unless it’s to have a real nap! But I do know that we still need to feel intimacy with our partners. A lot of us are touched out after having a child, especially in the case of the primary caregiver. And yet intimacy doesn’t always have to be more physical touch, but can be beautiful gestures and offerings that foster co-regulation and connection.

This helps us stay in each other’s orbit just enough so that when it does feel that time is aligned, it’s not as hard to jump past these blocks that were put up. And then we can come back to a more regular date night and routine.

In a recent blog article on Momwell, they talk about how different sex drives can impact a couple. This is even more intensified when a baby comes along AND the mental load is not balanced. I really appreciate how they name consent, timing, focus, and pleasure as key tenets of fostering a shift in our responsive sex drive.

It’s also important for the non-primary parent to remember the struggle for the one at home with a new baby is a struggle of duality – the dance of becoming a sexual woman and also a mother. These two archetypes or roles have been quite polarized. I talk more about this in a previous journal article – you can read it here.

I personally really love focusing on what seems like little things – rituals and routines, intentional dates that honour mutual delight, and connection bids that enhance attunement. These are the daily practices that have helped my partner and i through the darkest times as new parents. When we didn’t have energy, time, or resources for any significant date nights, we always had access to cuddles, appreciation and dinners by candlelight.

I want to end with a gentle reminder that all relationships take work and communication, as well as a focus on our Self. Even the great Esther Perel, a renowned couples and relationship therapist, has shared she wanted to leave her husband at times: “It isn’t so much that we leave the person we are with as we want to leave the person we have become.”

My Inner Dragon is Growing Up: Learning How to Not Abandon Myself

Recently, i was involved in a small conflict with someone at work. As a sole entrepreneur, this doesn’t happen a lot these days. In fact, this doesn’t happen in my life in general. It highlighted for me that even though i may be a therapist who specializes in healthy relationships, boundary work, and communication skills, i am also a work-in-progress. I am not exempt from conflict or making a mistake.

This incident was medicine for me as it really helped me take stock of how far i have come, and the work that is yet to be tended to. In some ways, starting the year off with this is a great reinforcement of my commitment to my Word of the Year: Embrace.

I need to embrace that conflict is a natural aspect of being human because we will be faced with people who have competing ways of tending to their needs. This is a reminder to all of us that anger and conflict are not inherently bad, rather it’s how we respond to it that matters.

I won’t go into the depths of what happened here. Rather, what stood out for me was how i handled myself and what i gleaned from the person who had a competing need.

To start, i was able to reflect on how i have evolved in my personal relationship with conflict. I grew up in a home where my needs were not heard, and i felt that they didn’t matter. Having a voice and opinion was something that took many years to grow. I, like most people, am conflict avoidant most of the time. I am not averse to it because when i am able to notice my needs, i can get into the messiness and still address what it is i need, even if it is flawed.

It’s one thing to know that you have needs and that they matter. What is also necessary to be the steward of said needs is to have skills to handle conflict or competing needs that will inevitably happen.

I did not grow up with the best models of conflict resolution skills. In fact, i felt afraid by my parents’ anger and difficulty to tend to their own emotions. I learned that walking on eggshells was not just a practice but a survival skill and it has taken me years to evolve from that trauma response. With that in mind, i have had to do a lot of work to heal from my childhood as well as update my skillset around conflict. It can be hard to not regress when we are with our families of origin, especially when the work is not reciprocated. So, when my dad’s default of attack and then withdraw tactics get activated, i have to work hard to stay grounded. I have to hold two truths – that his childhood context will always be in the room with us, and i know how to take care of myself now.

A good place to start when you are wanting to evolve your relationship with conflict is to remember that it is tethered to how often we are up against wounded Parts, not necessarily our best Self. Conflict happens when protectors come online inside us, and we are in conflict with flawed yet well-intentioned Parts of other people. Our parts are in the conflict – not our most evolved Selves.

Because i did not feel safe with my needs or standing up for myself, a Part of me used to come online whenever i was in conflict. She was my Inner People Pleaser. She later grew up to be sassy and a bit of a dragon because i so desperately wanted to stand up for myself. But what i lacked was the skills to stay rooted and assertive – i became passive aggressive instead. I knew i didn’t want this but it was a way to not stay stuck – my new-found Inner Warrior was also not wise enough to notice the impact i had on others.

Working on this really helped me be mindful of how experiencing conflict felt in my body – i got hot in my core as well as wanted to bow my head down, or be deferential. I would have shallow breaths that inhibited my ability to say something – to speak up. My whole body got in my own way in fact. Through somatic healing work, i was able to attune to this and have more clear mindfulness when this response showed up in me.

We are all works-in-progress as humans: We are supposed to be. One thing i have learned is what i need to stay present during a conflict. I’ve noticed that having steps and a path is really helpful for me because it acts as a guide and keeps me grounded as well as attuned. Here is what i have come up with: 1)Notice your Reaction in your body 2)Take stock of what you need 3)Ask yourself if it is worth addressing – what is at stake? 4)Reflect to stay Present – is this old or new? 5)Resource with skills and self-soothing to help stay grounded and 6)Use I-statements so you can be objective and not reactionary. What these steps do is help me slow down – and not reactive but rather respond with a mindful awareness. I have been catching myself do this more and more when with others, and it need not take more than a few minutes – we DO have time to to do this, i promise you.

It is also important after a conflict occurs to process what happened and your role in. Remember, it take two to tango so there will also be something you did that contributed. The lesson is to learn from your contribution, even it is unintentional – to make you a better human. So, make time after a conflict (remember they are inevitable after all) to 1)Reflect on what happened and what you could do differently and 2)Forgive yourself and accept you are not responsible for others’ feelings.

When we take time to do this, we remove any residual baggage of misaligned guilt and it keeps us moving forward with intention. This is one way i have been standing up for myself instead of self-abandoning my needs. Surely, it is not easy especially after a lifetime of people pleasing and fawning. That’s why one other important resource is to learn the difference between belonging, fitting in or fawning for safety.

In a recent I’m Not Your Shrink podcast episode, Dr Tracy Dalglesih speaks about the polarity between giving up ourselves so that we are not abandoned or rejected by others. We will do whatever we need to fit in or fawn towards someone. This is a safety need, that stems from our nervous system. We are social creatures and being in community is a survival skill. It was built to keep us safe and now our job is to discern if the danger is real or not. Anyone with unhealed relational trauma may have a harder time addressing their needs because it may put our relationship at risk. Dr. Tracy goes on to share the concept of Differentiation: where we can get a felt sense of separating someone else’s needs from our own, instead of being stuck in enmeshment: The antidote to self-abandonment is the practice of differentiation.

The role of anger and defensiveness as a reactionary impulse is our body’s way of telling us a boundary was violated.

Someone i support recently told me that i am the Queen of the Reframe and i am boldly claiming that title. I don’t love demeaning and pejorative words to describe someone. I find them violent and discriminatory, reductive and slamming. And yet, i do love the reparative work of reclaiming words. For instance, many moons ago, i learned the reframe of the word BITCH – a woman who Believes In Taking Care of Herself. And so, sometimes when i notice i am upset about something that someone did that impacted me, this word is a perfect tool to help me notice the impact on me: A boundary was violated and my anger is actually a proportional response. Even that is huge – my anger can be a valid and understandable response.

I am a social creature who thrives off connection and relationships. So it makes sense that I may not want others to use that term against me, or call me selfish. And yet, i think what makes these labels unhelpful is that the person using them doesn’t also reflect on what they have done to cause my reaction. It gives them an excuse to not do their own work of critical self-reflection. So a huge part of this journey with conflict for me has been embracing (see what i did there) that i am not responsible about what others think about me. I am also okay with accepting that not everyone will like me. This is especially true when it comes to being proud of my truth and the boundary i placed with them.

“As good girls, we’ve been socialized to believe we’re victims and not the heroines of our own lives. This socialization can put is in a passive stance, feeling as if the world, relationships, and events are happening to us, robbing us of our agency and will.” Majo Molfino

This is the golden ticket for me as i am maturing into adulthood: I would rather disappoint someone else because my need matters to me, instead of having regret for not speaking up. This is one way we can work on not abandoning ourselves. For many of us (especially women), this has been a hard truth to come to. Our inner people pleasers and Good Girls struggle to put our needs first, let alone on the table at all, if it means having someone be upset with us. And yet, if it means that every time i revisit the argument later or am faced with it again, a little part of me holds shame and resentment. This is not the way i want to live. I am moving on from my Inner People Pleaser and Good Girl. Yes, it’s been messy at times, but it’s also been reparative, transformative, and is getting me back to honouring my own needs.

What is this really about? We need to zoom our lens out from what we think the problem is. It may not be what’s right in front of you: It isn’t necessarily about the parking ticket or table in the office, but rather old wounds that have become a pattern for us. Often, it is around an attachment rupture or confrontation that someone is putting their own need above mine. In her book, Break the Good Girl Myth: How to Dismantle Outdated Rules, Unleash Your Power, and Design a More Purposeful Life, Majo Molfino shares more insight into this as well as great ways to evolve from our Inner Good Girl. It includes a self-care plan as well as unpacking the myths of sacrifice and perfection.

Another helpful healing practice is to get to know what Healthy Aggression feels like. Remember, our felt sense of anger is a message from ourselves that a boundary we need was violated or minimized. I like to think of this inner knowing as my Inner Warrior coming online. She is wild and also has healed from the attack mode she used to need. Kimberly Ann Johnson has been a teacher for me about this. In her book, The Call of the Wild: How to Heal Trauma, Awaken our Inner Power, and Use it for Good, she shares that it is imperative to have a felt sense of our boundaries: It’s not enough to just think our way through this work. We also need to reclaim our right to bear our teeth a little, even if it’s just in front of our mirror. These somatic resources can be a great support to help us adapt with healthy maturation.

I do this healing process in incremental steps, so that both my mind and body are in agreement. That means, i work to own my feelings with I-statements. I have a simple somatic practice called Strong Back Soft Heart to hold space for my needs with a Strong Back, and also the feelings of the other person with a Soft Heart. When we hold our own needs with the same level of respect as how we hold other’s, even if the outcome isn’t 100% our dream ending, we can feel at peace with it.

As I’m embracing my mid-life emergence, that means also reclaiming that i will get upset with others because we cannot always have aligned goals or needs. Moving into the Virgin era of my life means embracing the gift that comes with old(er) age – i don’t have to care what others think about me anymore. I don’t have to accept the role they want me to play for them. While a part of me can’t wait for that to be fully embraced, i know that i still have work to do in order to integrate these parts to be more humane and respectful even when i disagree with others.

So, i will let myself roar – i will not silence myself anymore. I just won’t do it with a fire but rather a soft fierceness.