Category Archives: Self Care for Parents

Maternal Ambivalence

When You Love Your Kids but Don’t Love Motherhood

tired-mother-with-child1If you are a mother, you have probably experienced at least one day (if not many) when you wondered if you were cut out for the job of parenting. Mothering is hard work. Even on our best days parenting our kids, there are difficult moments. Many days, it is the occasional joyful moment that makes it all worthwhile. Other times, it may not feel like the good justifies the bad.

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Postpartum Depression

Risk Factors, Symptoms, and What To Do

Take a Screening Test for PPD

The Baby Blues has become as much an accepted part of being a new mother as engorged breasts and sleep deprivation. But what if the Blues don’t go away? For 10-20% of new mothers, Postpartum Depression (PPD) is an unwanted and difficult part of the first year of motherhood. The causes of PPD are many, and can include hormonal and lifestyle changes, a lack of social support, sleep deprivation, a high-risk pregnancy, a traumatic birth or difficult recovery, or breastfeeding problems. You are also at a higher risk of PPD if you have suffered previously from depression, or have recent losses or trauma in your life. Symptoms of PPD and related disorders can include:

  • Feeling sad, depressed, numb, or crying a lot
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Unusually strong feelings of anger or resentment
  • Lack of energy
  • Having headaches, chest pains, heart palpitations, numbness, tingling, dizziness or nausea, hyperventilation or other unexplained physical symptoms
  • Difficulty sleeping or excessive tiredness
  • Loss of appetite or conversely, overeating and weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions, or confusion
  • Excessive worry about the baby or lack of interest in the baby
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Lack of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors
  • Fear of hurting the baby or yourself

Many mothers experience only a few of these symptoms, but if you feel like something is wrong and you’re not quite yourself, that is an important signal. If these symptoms persist for two weeks or more, the mother should promptly get support by talking to her doctor or a mental health professional. PPD is a highly treatable condition, with therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

If you need medication and you are told that you must give up breastfeeding, make sure you get the advice of a psychiatrist who is knowledgeable about medications for breastfeeding mothers. There are a few antidepressants which are routinely prescribed for breastfeeding mothers with untraceable amounts detectable in the baby’s bloodstream. Moreover, breastfeeding can be beneficial both for the depressed mother, the long-term health of her baby, and bonding, which is even more challenging when a mother is depressed.

Depression not only affects you: it affects your relationships with your partner and your baby. Untreated, depression can lead to bonding difficulties and delayed development or failure to thrive. Getting the help you need to recover quickly is the best thing you can do for your baby and yourself.

Most importantly, tell your support people (your family, friends, partner) how you are feeling. The burden of trying to seem happy and “keeping it all together” can make the depression worse. You need to lean on the people who care about you, get as much help as you need until you’re back to feeling like yourself, and don’t beat yourself up for having PPD. It is NOT YOUR FAULT.

The Mindful Parent: Learning How to Let Go

balloons

“There are so many things we benefit from learning to let go of as parents—comparing our children to others, expecting them to be the people we imagined they would be, attempting to be a perfect housekeeper/caregiver/playmate/chef/lover (insert unrealistic expectation here), and, on some days, even expecting to take a shower!” Read More…

Commitment and Kids

Why the Couple Relationship Is So Important When You Are Parents

baby shoesWhat is it exactly that makes a committed relationship work, after kids come into the picture? It’s maintaining a loving and safe connection that  allows new parents to weather the storms of raising kids with their relationship intact.

If you want to maintain a good marriage, your relationship with your partner has to come first. Most of us have to work to earn a living, and some of us even enjoy our work. And we all have to take good care of our children. But if your partner always comes last, even a good relationship may fail, which will impact both your children and your financial future. A committed partnership takes love, commitment and hard work, and it’s a rare one that can stand many years of neglect.

Most of us want to be the best parents we can. But we don’t always remember that keeping our relationship happy is one of the most important things we can do for our children’s well-being. This means finding a way to spend time together away from the kids, as well as doing things together as a family. It also means keeping your sex life alive and kicking, whatever that takes. And it means working through your relationship difficulties and finding a way to connect and create time for your relationship despite whatever else is going on. It also requires that you accept your partner as a human being and a parent, as imperfect as they may be. Studies show that children fare much better in a family in which the parents’ relationship is solid, even if the parents do an imperfect job.

Communication is crucial. In the short run, it is always easier to bury resentments and avoid conflict. But in the long run, resentments build up and fester – killing intimacy and poisoning your sexual relationship. Learning how to communicate clearly and connect on an emotional level while remaining responsible for your own feelings and reactions can save your relationship.

For example, if your partner spends time caring for the baby and you’re annoyed that you find him sitting in front of the TV watching football, take a minute to think about how you want to respond. Angrily attacking him for not being engaged with the baby will only drive a wedge between you. On the other hand, biting your lip may be even worse, if it will lead to you feeling resentful and unloving toward your mate. If, after letting yourself cool down, you find that you are still resentful about it, one way to start a conversation is by saying something like: “I know you have had a hard day and you enjoy watching football to unwind. And your time with the baby is yours, so I don’t want to tell you how to do it. But I can’t help feeling resentful, after spending the day entertaining and caring for the baby, when I see you watching TV rather than playing with her.”

It may be that this discussion will involve some conflict, and your partner may express anger. But he also might acknowledge that he is at a loss for how to interact with the baby, or that he feels inadequate or inexperienced with parenting a baby. And you might express your concerns about exposing the baby to TV, and your desire for both of you to be good parents, while acknowledging that a football game probably won’t ruin your child for life.

After such a discussion, you might find that you don’t feel angry anymore. You may understand where your partner is coming from and recognize that the baby will survive some football-watching with Dad. Or, the discussing may spark the idea of giving Dad more time with the baby to improve his confidence. But either way, your feelings of resentment will be less if you work through the issues and understand each others’ feelings.

This is not to say that there are never times when it pays to let something go rather than discussing it with your partner. But the important question to ask yourself is: “will I truly be able to let this go?” If the answer is no, then you have to talk about it, preferably when you are both feeling calm, so you can move past the feelings of resentment and reconnect with your partner.

Remember that there is no intimate relationship that can remain loving without dealing with some conflict. Expressing feelings in a sensitive way is how you grow closer and resolve difficult situations. If you find that these discussions are unproductive, get the help of a qualified couples’ counselor sooner rather than later, so there is enough good will between the two of you to work on making the relationship better.

Often, the issues that keep coming up between you two mask fears and anxieties about the safety and security of your relationship. Reestablishing that bond can make all the difference in resolving the little conflicts that arise and maintaining a strong, healthy bond with your mate.

Coping with Anxiety Using Mindfulness

anxietyYou know the feeling when it starts: an unpleasant burning in your chest or abdomen, a feeling of cold on the back of your neck, tingling in your arms, or tightness in the back of your throat. Anxiety is a physical phenomenon. Many of us are unaware of the specific physical sensations associated with our anxiety, but it sends a signal to our brain that we are in danger. On its own, anxiety tends to pass quickly and without much ado. It is the way we attribute meaning to the sensations in our body that causes anxiety to feel unbearable and to stick around. We interpret our anxiety as being “out of control.” We look to our environment for signals that we really are in danger, either physically or emotionally. And we beat ourselves up for feeling anxious, telling ourselves “What is wrong with me?” “Why can’t I feel calm?” And even worse, “I can’t tolerate feeling this way.”

But in reality, we can tolerate anxiety. By tolerating it and observing its physical manifestations, we rob it of its power over us. And over time, anxiety will diminish if we refuse to escalate it by letting it take over our thoughts.

Mindfulness is one of the most powerful tools for coping with and transforming anxiety. While it may feel like WE ARE anxious, bringing awareness to our body and choosing to focus on the specific physical sensations we are experiencing allows us to see that we are the observer of anxiety, not its victim. We can choose to halt self-defeating thoughts by returning awareness to our body and reminding ourselves “Anxiety cannot hurt me. It is only a feeling, and it is temporary. I am in control of myself. I can choose to be aware of the anxiety without letting it take over my thoughts.”

Practice doing mindfulness exercises such as this one when you are not feeling particularly anxious, as a way of being ready for anxiety when it comes. Learning to focus your full attention on your body rather than your thoughts takes some practice, but only five minutes a day can make a huge difference in reducing anxiety and helping you cope with it when it comes.

Anxiety is often associated with depression, even if the depression is not severe. Taking steps to address negative patterns of thinking, grieving losses, and learning to take better care of ourselves physically and emotionally is another important step in dealing with anxiety. If you need help to learn to identify and challenge negative thoughts, work through with past trauma or loss, or learn to improve your self-care and relationships, finding a therapist you trust is a great place to start.