News and Articles
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Relationships: Why maternal love is so important for us all
Family time: Burned out? You’re not alone-here’s some Rx to help
Quick tips to overcome the back-to-school blues
Relationships: Why maternal love is so important for us all
Posted on October 30, 2012 | By TU Magazines
Mom loves you
By Valerie Foster/HealthyLife
We all know the importance of a mother’s love and care, but a recent study about the scientific importance of nurturing got us thinking: Are there mental health benefits to mommy love?
Our experts all say a resounding yes. “The bond of attachment between a mother and child lays the groundwork for social, emotional and cognitive development,” says Albany therapist Laura Connell. “Without the bond there would be attachment disorders, which cause a lot of problems later in life.”
The latest study on mother love, conducted at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo., discovered that school-age children with a larger hippocampus in their brains were those nurtured early in life. Why is this important? The hippocampus is crucial for learning, memory and our response to stress. The study’s lead researcher, Joan Luby, was quoted on her local TV station, KMOX: “It validates something that I think is intuitive that we’ve known throughout history, but maybe haven’t emphasized the importance of enough: Just how important nurturing parenting is to creating adaptive human beings.”
Researchers at Ohio State University found that of the 1,000 study participants, those who grew into overweight adults lacked a strong emotional bond with their moms.
Psychologist Arthur Janov, Ph.D., in his book Biology of Love, talks about the importance of the first few months of an infant’s life. He writes: “Hugs and kisses during these critical periods make those neurons grow and connect properly with other neurons. You can kiss that brain into maturity.”
And one for your health: A study from the University of British Columbia determined that of 1,215 middle-aged Americans studied, those who grew up in poverty had a greater chance of suffering from type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke than those who knew a life of privilege — unless the lower income group had a loving mother.
“Children need to know from the day they are born that someone is there for them, and that begins with the mother,” says therapist Maud Purcell, who heads The Life Solution Center of Darien. “Children need to know that they can rely on at least one person to be attentive to them and there for them. It quells their anxiety because they begin to trust that they can rely on this person. They feel comforted. They feel safe. They feel valued and important. The bond a baby has with Mom is the baby’s first relationship.”
“A mother’s love builds a child’s self-esteem … a healthy ego state,” says Catherine Gayron, a therapist in Troy. “Unfortunately, babies do not come with a manual.”
Gayron points to failure to thrive syndrome in neglected babies as proof that the emotional piece is critical to a child’s mental health and survival. “When we neglect the emotional aspects of the child, the child over time stops eating, withdraws, loses hope, and lacks the desire or impetus to thrive. He gives up, collapses and withdraws into himself.” When there is a tight bond between mother and child, even if the environment is less than perfect, she says this closeness creates resilience in children, helping them to survive.
“In most cases, this is the child’s first relationship with women,” she adds. “The child learns how a woman acts, how the mother responds to the child, and how the child responds to the mother. If the child is a girl, the mother becomes the model of how to be a girl, a woman, and sometimes a mother herself. A boy learns how to respond to women. That initial relationship if so powerful for the child.”
Dr. John W. Travis founded the country’s first wellness center in Mill Valley, Calif., in 1975. Today he heads Wellness Associates, a consulting and publishing group, and together with his wife, Meryn G. Callander, wrote the recently published, Why Dads Leave: Keeping Your Family Together.
If mother love is missing, Travis says it can lead to depression, anxiety, bullying, poor achievement in school, violence, drug and alcohol addictions and illness. Boys may be on a continual search for love, a search for the mommies they never experienced emotionally. Teen girls may become pregnant, hoping to create someone they can love and who will love them.
“These are all the creative ways human beings make up for the failed connections of their childhoods,” he adds. “Our body and minds attempt to compensate for our failed connections. And the cost of the lack of those connections is so far reaching, the consequences so devastating.”
So what’s a mom to do?
Connell says that once the bond is established between the mother and child, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open throughout every stage of the child’s life. And most importantly, a mother must learn to love her children unconditionally.
“Children aren’t little cut-outs of their parents,” says Connell. “The point of parenting is to nurture, to allow children to become who they are going to be. Mothers need to pro vide the fertile ground on which their children grow. It takes a really aware person to raise a child. Mothers should focus more on behavior, not telling a son he is a bad boy because he pulled his diaper off. Instead, tell the son that when he is walking down the street, he needs to keep his diaper on. Or telling your daughter that when you are on the phone, it helps you hear if she is quiet.”
Gayron says it is important for mothers to be aware that as in any relationship, love is never enough. A mother has to seek out the resources that can help her deliver her love in a way that works. “It’s not about perfect parenting but being good enough,” she says, explaining that parenting can be divided into three sections. A third of the time, a mother is present for her child, fulfilling all the child’s needs. Another third of the time, the mother is not there for the child. The remaining third of the time is what Gayron calls “repair,” when the mother recognizes she is not fulfilling the child’s needs, and is able to turn the situation around and connect with her child.
And if you realize you’ve made a mistake, be honest with your child. “We all make errors,” Connell says. “You would be surprised at how much it can mean to a child to hear a mother say she is sorry. And be honest with your child. Say, ‘I was tired and impatient, and my reaction was not about you. I just took it out on you.’”
With adult children, sometimes the damage is so severe the relationship cannot be fixed. Gayron says that before a mother can apologize to her child, she must do repair work within herself. “If the mother is looking for forgiveness and it’s about her needs, not the needs of the child, the apology will never work.”
Body. Mind. Spirit.
Family Time: Burned out? You’re not alone – here’s some RX to help
Posted on December 31, 2012 | By TU Magazines
Burned Out by Mothering?
By Wendy Page/HealthyLife
Wake up. Get dressed. Wake the children. Get them dressed. Make breakfast. Make lunches for school. Go to work. Clean the house. Do the laundry. Get the children off the school bus. Monitor their homework. Drive to and from activities. Make dinner. Put the children to bed. Pay attention to your significant other. Repeat every day in some form for at least 18 years.
Just reading that list is enough to make even the strongest woman sometimes struggle to find joy in her day, much less want to get out of bed certain mornings.
While you might imagine you’re the only woman feeling this way, in fact these feelings of exhaustion and mild depression are real and shared by many women at various points in their lives. It’s called burnout, a psychological state of physical and emotional exhaustion that can occur as a result of job stress, in this case the stress of full-time mothering and, in many cases, full-time working outside the home, too.
The good news is that solutions exist. We talked to some experts about ways to prevent burnout, recover from it, and what signs to look for so burnout doesn’t turn into full-blown depression.
Women who take on multiple roles are in the highest risk group to suffer from burnout. “It’s easy to go into burnout when all those things can feel so overwhelming,” says Laura M. Connell, a private practice counselor in Albany. “It’s feeling hopeless that this is my life and things can’t change. That’s a hard place to be.”
An e-mail that circulates regularly listing the “job requirements” of a mother only reiterates the challenges of this particular job: chef, chauffeur, mediator, tutor, maid, to name a few. It’s a job with no pay, and one that can never be quit. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to quit every now and then, nor are you a bad mother or wife for feeling that way. While not every mother will admit to the feeling, most women have it at some point in their lives.
“You’re always giving of yourself to other people,” says psychotherapist Paola Cummings of the Samaritan Counseling Center of the Capital District. “I think it all comes down to a loss of self, who you are as a person. What helps is having something of your own. It anchors you to yourself — not just being somebody’s wife or somebody’s mother. Do something that’s a facet of your own personality.”
“Make sure you bring into your life things that bring you joy as a woman, as a human being,” Connell continues. “It’s imperative to find outlets of things to do for yourself. … Schedule it. Put it on the calendar and just do it. A work-life balance is imperative.” Work here refers to your family responsibilities.
And don’t feel guilty about making time for yourself. The airlines have it right: When the oxygen masks come down, you are told to place one on yourself before taking care of your child. The same holds true for parenting. Part of good parenting is good modeling — letting your children see you leading a healthy, balanced life. Your children will be OK if you leave them at home with a babysitter to go out with your husband or friends, or to go shopping. It’s better for them to see you balanced than to see you depressed.
Critical signs that you may be in distress are lack of motivation and an absence of joy in your life. Connell stresses the importance of reaching out for help. “Women think they need to do everything, but it does take a village,” she says. “It used to be that everyone knew their neighbors, but we don’t depend on each other like we used to. We feel like all the pressure is on us and we can’t reach out to other people. Don’t be afraid to reach out.”
Dorinda Murray, a wife and mother, who splits her job working in an Albany office and at home in Clifton Park, uses different recovery methods depending on the severity of her feelings of burnout. “For minimum burnout — deep breathing, reflecting on things I am thankful for or 30 minutes exercising,” Murray says. “Moderate burnout — Merlot and popcorn on a Friday night alone reading a good book or watching something that I want to watch. High burnout — mandatory girlfriend time, talking and laughing.”
Murray’s strategies illustrate an important point: You need to be able to assess the severity of your burnout.
“If you can’t get out of it for two weeks straight, or you’re at a point where you can’t get out of it on your own,” says Cummings, these are signs that you may have tipped into a dangerous zone (see first sidebar). “Therapy can help you figure out how you’ve lost track of yourself over the way. It helps to reestablish yourself.”
Connell echoes the sentiment: “If you’re past the point of preventative methods and simple recovery ones,” she says, “it’s always wise to talk with a therapist. You may be too far into it to see your way out.”
Connect with someone who makes you laugh. Walk away from the stressful situation; get some fresh air and some perspective. Let your child watch TV for a few minutes, without feeling guilty for it. Give yourself a time-out. Basically disengage for a minute to let things settle. You’ll come back calmer and you won’t say or do anything you may regret. Murray’s been repeating a quote she heard from Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts: “You’ve got to change the way you think in order to change the way you feel.”
Signs you may have a larger problem
A certain amount of burnout is expected no matter what job we’re doing. Who feels enthusiastic every single day about what she’s doing? But if not treated, burnout can tip over into depression, which requires more than simple recovery methods. If you have the symptoms below and they’ve been going on for more than two weeks, experts say you should speak with a therapist.
You’re being short, more irritable than usual.
You have trouble sleeping, or sleep too much.
You’re not eating enough, or eating too much.
You feel anxious, worried about tomorrow instead of living in the present.
You feel hopeless, and helpless.
People close to you comment that you seem different, or they start avoiding you.
You have difficulty doing the normal activities of daily living.
You feel depleted.
You feel you have no one to talk to.
Cooling Tips from Other Moms:
People have different breaking points and recovery methods. The secret is to figure out what activities you can drop from your mom/wife job — e.g., set up a carpool, have your children help more with chores — and what you can do that nourishes you instead. Find out what works for you.
“There’s exercise, yoga, listening to music,” says counselor Laura Connell. “These can help relax you, re-ground you.” Here are some suggestions from readers about what helps them recover their equilibrium:
I stop. Go for a walk. Read a trashy book. Get coffee with a friend. It is those little breaks that recharge me and help me to tackle what lies ahead. — Darlene
I jump on the elliptical machine and watch the Ellen show for a while. That always puts me in a better mood, reenergizes the body and spirit. — Marianne
I try to plan ahead, communicate, ask for help when needed, get enough rest, and most importantly, cherish weekends of going out and having someone else do the cooking! :-) — Pam
Go to the Y, ignore the tasks/mess and read or go to the movies (matinee!). Not necessarily in that order. — Ellen
Chocolate. I have a bag of dark chocolate-covered cranberries that is strategically located where I typically run out of steam. — Jen
Get the kids to do it themselves! Go out to lunch with a friend. Order dinner out. Take a mental health day and read a book for fun. If none of that works … go on strike! Pretty soon everyone will realize how much you do! — Fran
Got a tip of your own to share? Log on to Facebook (facebook.com/healthylifenymagazine) and tell us. Want more tips on stepping back and enjoying family time? Read our Slow Parenting story here.
Quick Tips to Overcome the Back-to-School Blues
Laura M. Connell, M.A., LMHC
from Spotlight, September 13, 2007
Summertime has come and gone again. Only a few short weeks ago, we were carting our children back and forth to summer camp, the pool, fun parks, and other family outings. Hopefully some parents were even able to relax a little! It’s time to buckle down once more for another school year. Back-to-School time can be very exciting for students (and parents), but can also cause children to feel quite anxious.
Here are some tips to help with the transition from the dog days of summer to a productive, enjoyable school schedule:
1. Get into a routine.
Usually meal and bed times are more relaxed during the summer. When school starts, or ideally a little before, make sure that children are going to bed at a reasonable hour and waking up in the morning with enough time to eat breakfast and get ready. Have a set time and place for children to do their homework each day after school to cut down on “forgetting” or staying up too late. Providing a healthy snack beforehand helps children concentrate and focus.
Being organized is a huge time saver, especially when everyone is rushed in the morning. For example, morning stress can be minimized if clothes are put out and lunches are packed the night before.
3. Stay connected.
It is important to communicate with your child’s teachers. Know who they are and how you can contact them if you have a question or concern. Also, stay connected with your children. Take a look at their homework assignments and check to make sure they’re done, especially for younger children. Even teenagers need their parents to stay connected (although they may try to have us believe otherwise).
Take an interest in what they are doing in school. Some students may still experience anxiety despite their parents’ best efforts to prepare them for a positive school experience. If your child expresses feelings of upset, is anxious about returning to school, or exhibits any symptoms (i.e. physical complaints that are not otherwise explained, excessive worry or nervousness, refusal to go to school) it is important to find out what is causing the problem so appropriate action can be taken.
Below are just a few common causes of anxiety in children:
1. Having parents who are experiencing difficulties in their relationship or are in the process of separation or divorce
2. Being bullied at school (this is now a problem on the internet as well!)
3. Struggling academically with no supports
4. Dealing with personal or family illness
5. Moving to a new home/town/school district
6. Starting Middle School or High School
Talk to your child about his or her concerns. It can be beneficial to speak to teachers, the Principal or other individuals who may be able to give you some insight and assistance if there is a problem at school. Seek professional help if your child’s anxiety interferes with normal activities, prevents healthy friendships, becomes an excuse to stay home from school, disrupts sleep, leads to compulsive behaviors, or causes physical symptoms. Your child’s pediatrician should be able to determine if the symptoms are a result of an anxiety disorder, another medical condition, or both.
According to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, approximately 13 percent of children ages 9-17 experience an anxiety disorder- making it among the most common emotional problems to occur during childhood and adolescence. Counseling can be a very effective method in helping individuals deal with anxiety. When looking for a therapist, make sure that he or she has experience working with children/adolescents. It is also important to find a counselor that you and your child feels comfortable with. We know that good nutrition and adequate rest are necessary for our children to have the most fulfilling educational experience. It is also our responsibility to ensure that they are mentally and emotionally healthy as well.