The True Weight of 300 Pounds

More fit people look at me when we’re at the park with our kids and their glances to me feel like 1000 pounds of judgment.

I haven’t always been the size I am now. Currently, according to the the scale in my aunt’s and uncle’s bathroom,  I am EE, which I assume is an acronym for Extremely Eloquent. Nailed it!

I weigh 300 pounds – 304.1 to be completely accurate.

It’s important to note that I have been fighting the urge to write this post for weeks because of my own insecurities. It seems contradictory (read: painfully hypocritical) since I remind my high school students all the time how important it is to be proud of yourself at every stage and to own your insecurities. I explain how much my husband loves me and how powerful my body is for having brought two children into the world.

All of that is true. I believe every word. However, I had to accept the realization that hiding behind layers of clothes and not being my true, authentic self regardless of what the scale read wasn’t going to make me any less overweight. People need to put a face to obesity. We need to be responsible enough to educate ourselves and our children so they can understand and begin to be sensitive to people’s struggles. We teach this with racism, sexism, and even poverty-sensitivity, but somehow it’s still acceptable to gawk and stare at a person who is overweight eating at a restaurant like they are some circus sideshow. Maybe if my story can be heard, people can begin to see that we aren’t monsters.

This is 300.

It should be noted that, while I am using my number so that I can begin to own it, many who echo my feelings are much smaller. Every person’s prison looks different.

My weight gain started in about fourth grade but, back then – before the instant spread of information – it was much easier to be blissfully unaware of one’s shortcomings. I had no idea I looked any different from my friends until sixth grade when I found out a boy in my class was paid in a bet to ask me to be his girlfriend and then give me a pack of Slim Fast as a Valentine’s gift…in the hallway…in front of all of my friends. Yeah, not one of my finer moments. (Sorry if I never told you that, Mom.)

To be honest, it wasn’t really the end of the world for me. I’ve never been like most girls who fawned after boys and wanted to be trendy. While I totally rocked the curled forward/curled back and feathered bangs of the 90’s, Guess jeans (which were from Goodwill and I eventually tore the business end out of during gym class), and silk shirts (mine were from the men’s department), I didn’t do makeup and boyfriends, Barbies or dress up. I did goals and involvement, jobs and volunteering. (Seriously, how did I manage to have friends?!)

It occurred to me later in life that I must’ve had some kind of awareness that I wasn’t physically acceptable. In the fifth grade, I wrote a fan letter to my 90s heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas (don’t act like you didn’t buy his issue of TeenBeat) and I asked my beautiful, cheerleading best friend to send her picture as my own. I must’ve known that I had no chance to hear back from him with a picture of myself in the letter.

Fast forward through high school and college where I tried billions of diets, fad plans, all natural pills, drinks, meetings, calorie counting, and starvation (for those who know how next-level mean I get when I’m hungry, picture how that last one must’ve gone). None of it worked.

The crazy thing is that, like most of you, when I look back at the pictures from those formative years, I would pay good money to look like I did then. At the time, I wanted to crawl in a hole during most social settings because I felt like the biggest cow in the room. I put on a super-believable front of confidence and hilarity but it was painfully isolating to feel that way about myself. I hid behind books, jobs, sports, and layers of clothing, because obviously a tank top and three t-shirts convinced people that I was only wearing that fat suit from “The Nutty Professor” instead of it being my real body under there.

Somehow I got along by being the guys’ gal. I played football with the boys, was a soccer goalie in college, and was usually one of the first picked for intramural teams because I wasn’t afraid to get dirty, but I really just wanted to feel like I belonged somewhere. How could I fit in while simultaneously feeling like I was watching it all from the outside?

I killed it in the gym before getting married and walked down the aisle, slaying it (if I do say so myself) at a solid 175 pounds. Anyone who was there would have been shocked by that number, but guess what? American people are idiots. We are so insanely naive to what real numbers look like spread across bones and muscle that we all assume 175 is the size of a grown man. Not always, my friends. I rocked a bikini on our honeymoon at 175 and would do it again in a hot minute if I still looked like that!

I then packed on 50 pounds in our first year of marriage because, well, marriage. I gained 80 more pounds with my first pregnancy since, as a lifetime over-eater, this was a license to eat donuts for every breakfast and wear stretch-pants to work because no one could say anything to me. Herein lies my greatest regret in life. No kidding.

The bounce-back from my post-wedding weight gain and two near-death childbirths hasn’t been the rebuilding year(s) I thought they’d be. I mean, how long is it acceptable to wear maternity clothes after your baby is born, really? Like, will anybody really notice if I rock a nursing bra to my daughter’s graduation?

This is 300.

What most people fail to recognize is that when you’re overwieght, you have to think about things differently every single day. It isn’t only the obvious considerations like seat belt extenders on airplanes or choosing a van over a compact car. Please understand what we see when we look at the world.

When we were deciding to downsize our living arrangements and go tiny, I was nervous because of my size. Could I navigate a ladder if we had a loft bedroom? Would I have to turn sideways in the hallways because, giiiirrrlll, these hips don’t lie? Would I even fit inside the shower or on the toilet? Turns out, it’s perfectly fine and we make it work.

In a movie theatre, music venue, or restaurant, I have to consider how wide the arms of the chairs are because slamming my hips into them is like pouring Play-doh into one of those spaghetti-making factories, if they have plastic seats because those babies don’t stand a chance, or if they have tables instead of booths because those suckers were made for infants. I refuse to eat at buffets because, even though my large frame consumes small meals at a time, I feel like I’m on display. It’s as if I am loading my plate at a feeding trough and all of the average-sized patrons are watching and snickering to themselves about me getting seconds, failing to notice the first plate had only a small salad and vegetables.

This is 300.

At home, in our tiny bathroom, the teal rug is flecked with white. This is the remnants of baby powder to ensure that everything goes smoothly throughout the day because, without it, the chafing that can happen behind the scenes is horribly painful. My husband asked me the other night if I somehow had gotten deodorant on my pants. I lied and said yes, but it was baby powder.

More fit people look at me when we’re at the park with our kids and their glances to me feel like 1000 pounds of judgment. Why isn’t she jogging instead of walking? Why did she wear a tank top in public? Why is she pouring her dumps over that bike seat so we have to all look at it? While their stares may be innocent, I feel the shame of a guilty verdict.

To say that my body is a prison would be a gross understatement. The analogy does no justice to my daily life because prisoners, even those doing time for crimes they didn’t commit, have no freedoms and little idea of the world outside. I’m forced to watch it pass by while my mind tells me I should be able to run, go, play, but my aching joints, bad back, and post-baby belly flap suggest otherwise. If you haven’t lived this life-sentence, please accept that you cannot possibly understand what we are going through. Additionally, we wouldn’t want you to feel this. It is painful…all the time.

This is 300.

When weight loss success stories begin with rock bottom moments like when their kid told them their friends called their mommy fat, or when they were made fun of in public, or when the scale would no longer register their weight, I smile. Good for them! Inside I somehow accept that I can never accomplish what they have. On some level I wonder if I self-sabotage because I feel like I don’t deserve to be successful. I have gone through every one of those scenarios…most more than once, but here I am.

To those of us who need to loose 100 pounds or more, it seems unachievable. We’re told, “Set small attainable goals. Exercise. Take in less calories than you’re burning.”

“You don’t say! Well that is brand new information! Why didn’t I think of that?!”

If you’re fit, or even one of those blessed with freak-show metabolism that burns off your fourth Taco Bell meal so you still make it into your size nothing skinny jeans, I applaud you. But I don’t understand your life. I can smell your burrito and wake up four pounds heavier for it.

This is 300.

I hate shopping. No, seriously. It’s the worst. I’ve always hated it because 10 years ago, when I was 175, it was even less acceptable for females to be larger. My size range of 10 to 14 may as well have been special order Big-and-Tall catalogue items. Now I shop exclusively online and happily pay the fee to return my items instead of awkwardly finagling my way around a fitting room only to leave disappointed and feeling even worse about myself.

It kills me that stores have started changing their sizing from 14/16, 18/20, 22/24, and 26/28 to 1, 2, 3, and 4. While I appreciate your attempt at sensitivity, I know if there are any single digits on my clothing tags, they better be followed by an X. Get serious! Nobody believes this shirt is a size two! The day my pants are a size anything below a 16, that long, narrow sizing sticker is staying on this leg, honey! All. Day.

“Ma’am, did you know your tag is still on your pants?”

“Why yes, innocent bystander at Starbucks. What is that number? Read it out loud. Tell your friends!”

When you’re larger, it’s difficult to feel like you look good in anything. Many have been told their entire lives that they are different, gross, or wrong. So when a well-intentioned friend pays us a compliment, our sensitive minds distort it into some kind of back-handed joke or slight about our looks.

Just because we had a grandpa who made crass comments about our size or a boy in grade school who bought us Slim Fast as a prank doesn’t mean the world sees us that way. Some do, but that is our reality. They are obviously inept. We are people. We have feelings, and families, and hopes for the future.

Just as smaller people should learn to walk a mile (okay, like a block) in our Sketchers Shape-Ups, we need to learn to let it go. Laugh so you don’t cry, call it what you want, but loosen up! Odds are you won’t wake up miraculously killing it in a supermodel frame, so we need to embrace it and decide where to go from here. As we do, let’s at least agree to enjoy the journey, even the bumpy, cellulite-filled parts.

This is 300.

Unlike other addictions, we need food to survive. Our reality is that we know our bodies shouldn’t run on a steady stream of cream-filled coffee, donuts from the office, and the Taco Bell Happier Hour dollar burrito we bought on our way home from work and trashed the bag so our family members didn’t know we ate it. We have to be honest with ourselves before we can be honest with anyone else.

“Oooh that girl is wearing one of those step counting watches! She’s probably on her way to eat kale and run at the park in some trendy yoga pants and one of those tank tops with the built-in bra!”

My Fitbit ain’t fooling anybody! I bought that burrito and ate it like a boss! What even is kale, other than the name of a kid who I imagine has friends with other pretentious names like Heath and Talon? I don’t even attempt Spanx, much less spandex yoga pants. Those shelf bras? HA! They hold up nothing and just spread over my back fat so I look like I am smuggling a pack of sausages.

It’s up to us to decide how we move forward from here. Some of us will continue to wallow in our self pity. Some may choose surgery, starvation, or a reality show in which you work out 12 hours a day. It’s a trick to make real people feel like it is attainable. (You know, those of us watching enviously as we devour an entire bag of chips and imagine what our life would be like if we lost our excess weight.) Many of us will continue to struggle. This is a lifetime sentence, even if you are successful.

I still don’t know my choice. I don’t want to just see my kids grow up, I want to be a part of that. I want to climb and race and do the crazy things I used to be able to do when I thought I looked like a monster.

The Old Normal, and the Imperative of Self-Defense Training for Women

In light of the countless high-profile assault charges recently meted I challenge us, individually, collectively, indivisibly, to say no. To scream no.

I was “date raped” in college. I put that in quotes because I wasn’t on a date at all. We were merely friends, or so I thought, and he had offered to escort me home after a late-night party. He was an upperclassman, a leader in our social house, respected by all accounts and ostensibly charged with the task of getting me home safely.
Instead, he brought me to his room.
The feeling that sticks with me more than any other when I look back on that experience is the shame I feel for not having done a better job of preventing it.
I blame him, too, of course, for his calculated coercion tactics (“Let me walk you back to your dorm. It’s late.”) and his psychological maneuvering (“Here, we can just snuggle…” and not long after, “You know you want this, Jill.”).
A rugby player, he was significantly brawnier than me, and back then, I didn’t know my own strength or many tools for how to use it. When he didn’t appear to hear my protests, the following notion flickered at the edges of my jangled, buzzing mind: Resist and you could instigate him further … submit and, with luck, it’ll be over quickly.
So why do I still carry the bulk of the blame 20 years later? I’m not entirely sure, but I have a few theories….
First, I have reduced this person in my mind to the basest of characters, a coarse operative, if you will, a 20th century equivalent of the nefarious Shakespearean rogue who somehow plants himself at the right hand of the King. How can you require anything, let alone decent behavior on the most basic level, from someone so odious and depraved? He is a victim of his own awfulness. He must be sickening to himself, I tell myself. We can’t expect anything from people like this, so we expect everything from ourselves instead.
Here’s how this plays out in my mind: You see, I could have taken some right action along the way. I could have had one less drink. I could have been smarter. I could have predicted and therefore prevented the assault. How ridiculous and innocent I was! How stupid and naïve! How blind.
While those things could be true of every young, trusting undergrad, this misappropriation of guilt makes me feel less the victim somehow. It helps me take back some control. It helps me believe that I will be the one in control next time, should there be a next time. I know now that I wouldn’t give a second thought to acting “unpleasant” or “making a scene,” even though society constantly reminds us that it’s “unbecoming” for a woman to get angry.
Second, I believe that each person in any kind of relationship makes up half the equation. If you’re annoyed with your partner for being irritable, think on how your behavior exacerbates his impatience. You’re angry with a friend for not considering your feelings? When was the last time you considered hers? If your child is non-communicative, what could you do to help him feel he can talk to you? While it’s easy to heap blame on others, I do my best to own my role in every interaction, whether I’m the one who’s hurt or doing the hurting.
So how does this compute when the “hurt” is rape?
It doesn’t (I repeat over and over to myself). It is not your fault if someone abuses you. You didn’t “ask for it,” whatever you happened to be doing with your hips, like moving them when you walk, which is kinetically necessary as far as I’m concerned. You didn’t toss your head back in laughter to show him your bare neck. You did it because you thought something was funny.
And no, the abuse you’ve suffered has nothing to do with how carefully you considered your reputation – my girlhood warning to avoid emitting a sexual selfhood of any perceptible or desirable kind.
Which brings me to the third, and perhaps most difficult self-inflicted guilt-wad to deal with: the memory of my father’s reaction to the incident. I told my parents voluntarily because rape felt like less of a personal shortcoming if I could talk openly about it with the people who love me the most and had worked so hard to raise me well. I would feel like I had betrayed them less if I could tell them and have them understand and still accept me, regardless.
Of course, my father was deeply worried for me, as any normal father would be, and spitting mad at the upperclassman (I remember watching his knuckles whitening as his fists clenched and unclenched involuntarily). But in his state of shock and confusion, the words he managed to conjure up came in the form of a question: “How could you put yourself in this position?”
Oh god, how? I thought in a panic. I’ve failed them. I’ve failed at being a strong woman on my first go-round, my first chance at proving myself worthy of respect and dignity and real, untainted, caring love. I’ve ruined myself. It’s over.
I wanted to crawl inside a hole.
Despite all the shame, I talked candidly to the nurses at the college infirmary about my experience and made myself available to any other students who had suffered through abuse, on campus or in life. I figured that if we could sit together in the pain, at least we would not be alone. And while the option was presented to me, I decided not to press charges. That admired, affable upperclassman’s friends and family were, and are, none the wiser.
I am fine with that. Because I am wiser now.
In light of the countless high-profile assault charges recently meted – and to shine a light on a systemic cultural sickness that we all knew was there long before the avalanche of allegations came crashing down – I challenge us, individually, collectively, indivisibly, to say no. To scream no louder and louder and louder and louder until we are finally heard and the perpetrators back the fuck off.
We must dismiss anything that insults our own souls until our souls are fully restored. We must break the chain of sexual discrimination and violence against women and children and anyone perceived as lesser or different or weak – a chain that’s made up of centuries of generational links of learned hostility, social exclusion, androcentrism, patriarchal privilege, and sexual objectification.
We do this through sound parenting and education and programs that support socioeconomic equity. But we also do it by fighting back, by taking the attacker by surprise with a palm thrust to the nose and a knee to the groin, by shocking the playground bully with a scrappy uppercut to the jaw. We’ve been fighting for a long time, of course, and we will continue to fight until a woman no longer shoulders the blame for a man’s reprehensible behavior.
We clearly have a long way to go. Prominent elected officials and so-called “civil servants” commit and even brag about sexual assault and somehow manage to retain their positions. The Women’s Action Team in Brattleboro, Vermont, galvanized in the fall of 2016 “with the explicit purpose of advancing reproductive justice and combating rape culture and misogyny,” said filmmaker and photographer Willow O’Feral in an interview on Vermont Public Radio’s Morning Edition.
“(W)e are here to say, ‘we are not going to take this,’” she continued. “‘We are fighting back.’” O’Feral’s latest film, “Break The Silence”, features women talking about their reproductive and sexual health histories. Proceeds from the film will support a transportation fund that helps minors gain access to Planned Parenthood’s medical support and abortion services.
I recently worked with my sons’ taekwondo teacher to organize a women’s self-defense class. When I polled my online network to gauge interest, the response was enormous – astounding, really, for a loosely populated northeastern state known for its happiness index and high quality of life. Dozens and dozens of women responded, admitting they’d been searching for opportunities to build these skills, to feel safer, to know they would have what it takes in case … just in case.
Last weekend, nine women managed to carve four hours out of their Sunday to attend. One of them was my mother, who has been reeling from an unsettling encounter with one of the night watchmen at her continuing care facility. We each had our nervous tics, our hurdles, our fear-facing moments, our breakthroughs, but no one practiced those maneuvers with as much vigor as my mom.
I don’t think I will ever forget the sight of her, a 100-pound spitfire of a 76-year-old grandma, feet planted firmly on the floor, her small arms raised, palms front in the universal gesture of defense. “Back off! I don’t know you! Go away!!” she shouted. “Back off! Back off! Back off!! BACK!!! OFF!!!” Over and over in a voice so angry and adrenaline-tinged that I hardly recognized it as hers.
At last, the instructor (playing the advancing attacker), stopped and backed away.
When it was over, my mother stood there visibly shaking, her eyes ablaze with fight and fury. It was as though she was rooted to the spot, riveted by the specter of her own power. Slowly and very gently, the instructor came to her, kneeled in front of her, and took her hand.
“You won,” she said, with a tenderness that dredged a sob from the pit of my gut. “He left. He’s gone. You won.”

The Lesson in the Succulent

It’s so many of us who have moved our own hardier selves right down to the bottom of the list of things that need to be cared for.

I’m losing another succulent.
Rather I am, in fact, losing the last remnant of my third succulent arrangement that I bought after the first two succumbed to the very same illness this last pathetic sucker has.
What’s the illness, you ask?
Neglect.
Succulents are easy, they say. They’re hardy. They don’t require much and they’re hard to kill and they look pretty and they’re totally trending on Etsy.
Sign me up.
Except around here, where there are two smallish humans and two medium-sized humans and two large humans and one dog who all are slightly less hardy than, say, a succulent, and require much more than a sunny corner of the house and an occasional squirt of water, all “easy to keep alive” means is you’re moving to the back of the list, buddy.
And the list is long, isn’t it? It’s three square meals cooked from scratch with farm fresh organic and locally sourced ingredients prepared with love (read: take out) that everyone hates and makes gagging noises over and feeds to the dog when you aren’t looking.
It’s a never ending mountain of laundry that we are doomed to cart up and down 800 flights of stairs everyday like Sisyphus, except worse, because it also smells like armpits mixed with old milk.
It’s bills, too, and groceries and work and worrying about them and worrying about us and worrying about our marriages and worrying about our parents and worrying about our cholesterol and cancer and trying desperately to remember if we locked the door before we laid our head down.
It’s taking on the full responsibility of an entire household like a martyr goddess because a) we’re good at getting this crap done and b) we love the heck out of these people and want to see them thrive.
So the succulent falls to the bottom of the pile. Tomorrow – we say to ourselves as we lie there debating whether to check the doors for the second time – we will take care of it. We will water it and trim it up nice and clean off the dead parts and put it in the sun and love up on it a little bit until it remembers that it’s supposed to grow and not wither away into another mess we have to clean up.
Tomorrow. Or the next day. Definitely next week.
Sound familiar?
This succulent is so many of us. It’s so many of us mamas and caretakers and lovers and servers who get so busy in the noble pursuit of keeping the people we love alive that we have moved our own hardier selves right down to the bottom of the list.
Where we are busy getting neglected.
Where we are thirsty and wrinkly and shriveled up and, well, kind of sad looking.
I get it. Believe me. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in some silly mama task, like cleaning out the kids’ closets, and maybe the radio is on and I’m jamming a little bit and my caffeine has kicked in and it annoys the freaking hell out of me that I have to stop and pee or eat or attend to some other stupid basic human need like catching my breath.
Then other times, I accidentally sit down on the couch before it is sit-down-on-the-couch-time and my body is like “oh, thank God,” and my kids are like “oh, heck no,” and I can physically feel myself drying up and dying a little.
It’s times like that, when I feel this weird kinship with my succulent that was once lovely and is now sort of struggling, that I’m compelled to remind us all that “easy to keep alive” (a.k.a. “harder to kill”) doesn’t mean immortal.
Let this little sad guy be a warning to us all and maybe the impetus to take care of ourselves once in a while. Maybe even often. Because nothing thrives without a little loving care.
Including us.
This was originally published on the author’s Facebook page.

5 Things You Can Start Doing Today to Calm Your Kid’s Anxiety

You can teach your anxious child to better manage his or her feelings. Here are a few strategies.

Did you know that anxiety worsens with time if nothing is done to help kids learn to manage anxious feelings appropriately? Although some children are born with a more anxious disposition, cases of chronic anxiety in kids are rare.
In other words, you can teach your anxious child to better manage his or her feelings. Here are a few strategies to help your anxious child:

1 | It is okay to be anxious

Children are rarely able to define their big emotions, especially if they have not yet learned to differentiate between emotions. A child experiencing anxiety is therefore likely to struggle to communicate this anxiety. Parents can have a particularly difficult time identifying children’s anxiety, because different kids will show their anxiety in different ways.
It can be easy to identify feelings of anxiety when your child cries each and every time he has to go to school, or just before his swimming lessons, or when he acts clingy and never wants you out of sight. But anxiety can transform into pain and physical symptoms (headaches, tummy aches, vomiting spells), into bad moods and tantrums, or into inappropriate behavior such as violence and aggressiveness.
The first step to help your child manage anxiety is to teach him to identify and manage his emotions using age-appropriate techniques. Let your child know that it is okay to be anxious. Talking about anxiety and anxiety-provoking situations can be therapeutic for your child.

2 | Create an anxiety toolkit

Children who have learned to identify their anxiety and what triggers it are better able to apply appropriate strategies to deal with it. An anxiety toolkit is a container in which your child can find objects to calm her anxiety. Keep in mind that some objects are more effective than others.
For instance, sensory activities, visually calming activities, and activities that help your child release tension (trampoline) or focus his attention elsewhere (mandala) are all effective in helping your child calm down. The key takeaway is your child understanding that anxiety is a normal and manageable emotion.

3 | Neither over-protect nor under-protect

Just like pushing your child to get over his anxiety does not help him overcome it, protecting him from anxiety provoking situations does him little good. Overprotection may make things worse. Rather than shield your child from anxiety, take very small incremental steps to help him face what triggers it.
You can gently nudge your child out of his comfort zone by talking about anxiety-provoking situations, going over worst-case scenarios, and brainstorming appropriate reactions to these scenarios: “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” “What do you think would happen if…?” “What can you do if…?”
Tread carefully when nudging your child out of her comfort zone. You do not help an anxious child who needs you present by leaving her alone at a party. However, you reassure her by gradually reducing the time you spend with her during her social events.

4 | Manage your own anxiety

Evidence suggests that anxiety-prone parents are more likely to raise children with anxiety-related disorders. The biggest problem parents with an anxious disposition face is the employment of ineffective strategies in an attempt to shield their child from anxiety. Addressing your childhood trauma, dealing with your fears, and knowing when to walk away will make it easier to help.
Remember, how your child interprets situations largely depends on how she sees you interpret those situations. Choosing to be more optimistic about how you perceive everyday life events and not presenting situations as dangerous or irresolvable will help lessin your child’s anxiety.

5 | Get help

Child anxiety, unfortunately, can point to more serious issues. It is time to seek professional help if:

  • Your child’s anxiety causes him or her considerable distress
  • Your child is withdrawn and difficult to be around
  • Your child’s anxiety prevents him or her from participating in school-related or social events
  • Your child also displays many behavioral problems
  • Your child avoids eye contact, even with family members
  • You are overwhelmed and feel unable to help your child

Multiple resources have been designed for parents to help children deal with anxiety-related issues. In most cases, children can respond to their anxiety in appropriate ways, but only if they are taught how using effective, age-appropriate strategies.

A Straightforward Approach to Teaching My Kids About Sex

I made a conscious decision early on to be open and honest with my kids and to incorporate sexuality and sexual education naturally into their lives.

The week before my 13th birthday, my mother, a registered nurse, handed me the small booklet called “A Doctor Talks to 9-to-12-Year-Olds.” That and occasional reminders to “be a good girl” and to “save myself for marriage” were the extent of my sexual education at home.
In seventh grade, after my mother hesitantly agreed to sign a paper allowing me to participate in the public school’s sexual education program, I remember thinking finally some real information might be shared. Mrs. Trent’s classroom was covered with posters of Voyager and Spacelab with planet mobiles made by students hanging from the ceiling. She encouraged questions and went into great detail in her answers.
But the fertilization part was exactly like in the doctor’s book. It wasn’t until the last day of our chapter on sexuality that it looked like we might finally be getting to the truth about exactly what sex is. I don’t recall what was shared and don’t remember asking any questions, but clearly, I still didn’t get it. My journal at the time states in big bold letters: “Today Mrs. Trent told us all about SEXUAL INTERSECTION!”
With my lack of information in mind, I made a conscious decision early on to be open and honest with my own children and to incorporate sexuality and sexual education naturally into their lives. The only problem was, with no experience talking as a child or with a child about the subject, I wasn’t confident in my own knowledge. I felt awkward and uncomfortable, and I didn’t know what to say or how to say it.
So I bought books. Peter Mayle and Arthur Robins’ “Where Did I Come From” and Robie Harris and Michael Emberley’s “It’s So Amazing” had a place on my children’s bookshelf before they could read. Sometimes I’d find them looking at the pictures like any other book. Every once in a while, I’d pick one up and casually read a few pages to them just as I did “Frog and Toad” or “Winnie the Pooh”.
Despite my deeply ingrained Catholic guilt and my lack of role models for valuable communication, I gradually became more relaxed about addressing the basics. I learned things no one ever told me about. The vas deferens and clitoris never made an appearance in Mrs. Trent’s basic diagram. I was using words that I’d never heard spoken out loud and certainly never said myself. Vagina became common vernacular.
From the start, I attempted to be straight-forward and factual with my children about puberty and sex. Even as a little dude, my son knew about menstruation. When he was five and found a tampon on the bathroom counter and questioned whether I smoked cigars, I gave him the basic details about periods.
My description must have included some facts about gestation because, over a year later, when he and his older sister were playing LIFE, they had gone around the board twice and my daughter had two cars full of children. I overheard my son say to his sister, “Hey, you haven’t had a period in five years!”
At first, I was thinking, “The kid is a math whiz!” and then I realized that he was no more than seven and actually grasped the fetal-growth concept I had shared so far back that I barely remembered the conversation. Point is, the kids seemed to be listening, and they seemed to be willing to share and ask questions.
During the summers, when we had some time on our hands and my children were each around 11, I made them sit with me and read through “It’s So Amazing”. My son hated it, but I told him that it was my responsibility as his mother to give him this information. Did he know how much I wanted to be a good mother? Yes? Well then, dude, you have to help me out, here.
When the subject came up in seventh-grade health, he told me he was glad he’d already heard all that information and more, and he wasn’t as uncomfortable as many of his friends clearly were.
Those early talks helped set the stage for the more difficult conversations as my children have moved through their teenage years. We’ve talked about blow jobs and masturbation, reproductive health and orgasms, hook-ups and body image, sexual orientation, identity, and sexual pressure.
We’ve talked about asserting needs, desires and limits, and a girl’s right to pleasure. When a subject gets tricky and I don’t know how to address it, I’ll check out sites like More Than Sex-Ed or Peggy Orenstein’s book “Girls and Sex” for tips.
I’ve had frank conversations with my children about the easy access to pornography and how watching it might shape ideas of what sex is or should be. I’ve shared that, when I was young, about the only access to such images were in the magazines I found at one of the houses where I babysat and how the videos were far less graphic and only available at XXX stores or if friends passed the contraband around.
Music wasn’t as graphic either. Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” was scandalous (at least in my house), and the first time I ever saw sex was when I had it myself. Now people can watch it on their phones.
I am not like my mother. I don’t say “Just Say No” without giving explanations. Just as we talk about what alcohol and drugs do to your body and when and why you might not want to make that choice, we also talk about how the images in pornography may stay in your mind and become an expectation of how you or your partners should feel, act, or pretend to act. We talk about how those videos aren’t real life.
I tell them how I hope that, when the time is right, they will have more authentic experiences. We talk about respect, for themselves and others. We talk about the emotions that go into the decision to have intercourse.
I was the first person my daughter told after she had sex for the first time. I would never have told my mother, who tried, awkwardly, when I was 29 to return to the conversation we didn’t have when I was 13, asking if I felt comfortable choosing a white wedding dress as we prepared for my wedding.
I had conversations with my own daughter for several months as she considered whether her long-term boyfriend should be her first lover. Of course, we talked about safe sex. And we talked about protecting the heart.
She still calls me from college and shares anecdotes of her relationships. Sometimes she asks for guidance, and I promise no judgment. All indications are that she is confident in her sexuality. She’s taking care of herself and has healthy attitudes about what she wants and how she should be treated. That is what I was hoping for when we first opened up “Where Did I Come From?” when she was tiny.
My children came from a safe place where they could talk about anything, and still can.

Helping Kids Let Go Of "Sticky Thoughts" Using Mindfulness

As a clinical psychologist, I see a lot of kids (and adults for that matter) get “stuck” on thoughts. This exercise can help release them.

As a clinical psychologist, I see a lot of kids (and adults for that matter) get “stuck.” Through experiences, the words of others, or just by temperament, they become stuck in their thoughts about themselves, others, and the world. A lot of prevalent clinical presentations (think anxiety, depression, and oppositional/defiant behavior) come down to this type of “sticky” thinking.

Psychologists have long used the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) idea of “thought challenging” to “get rid of” these types of thoughts. After explaining an “unhelpful” or “negative” thought to a psychologist, one may be met with a barrage of questions: “How likely is that to happen?” “Is that a helpful thought?” or “Is it true?” While helpful for some, CBT can place a lot of attention on our less helpful thoughts, even while trying to eliminate them. The more we push them away, the tougher they get.

I think of it like a garden: A seed that is watered grows into a tree, right? It grows bigger, stronger, and more permanent. That’s also what happens when we “water” (pay attention to) our thoughts. The neural pathway associated with the thought grows in strength, accessibility, and permanency. So, what if by engaging in CBT, the very act of challenging our thoughts to try to reduce them, is actually watering them instead?

Cue mindfulness and acceptance and commitment therapy. Mindfulness is really growing in popularity, but it is often seen as a bit of a minefield, perhaps even a bit flakey or “hippie.” It can be especially hard to explain it to young people. Basically, mindfulness is about being in the present moment, becoming aware of what’s happening in your mind (and body), but not judging your thoughts or trying to “get rid of them.” It’s about not “fusing” too strongly with them.

An example of being fused with a thought is this: I have a good friend who has a seven-year-old son. This kid is a complete champ. The top reader in his class, popular, and an absolute flipping expert on dinosaurs. But he doesn’t try anything new. Like, ever. He is so fused with the idea that he is good at everything, that something inside him doesn’t want to change that idea, so he doesn’t try anything that he may not be immediately good at. This type of fusion can cause kids to become “stuck.” Not only is he stuck on the idea that he needs to be good at everything all the time, but he’s also stuck in life, unable to enjoy new and exciting activities.

Enter defusion! Defusion can be next to impossible to explain without just doing it, especially to kids. Rather than go too scientifically into what it is, I’m just going to list some activities to practice it with your kids. By hearing about the activities, I think you’ll then know exactly what defusion is. In short, it’s the act of becoming less attached (fused) with your thoughts. Noticing them, but having them mean less, and thus not watering them into big, strong, hard-to-move trees.

Here we go!

1 | Write down everything you think of in one minute

Set a timer and have your kid write down whatever comes to mind in this time. No checking for spelling or grammar or worrying about handwriting. It’s best to handwrite and not type if possible. This stream of consciousness activity is a real winner. Writing down everything you think of in a minute can be hilarious and surprising. It also serves to help us to see that we can move past thoughts that we have and not get stuck in them.

In reading back what your kid has written with her, you’ll hopefully be able to identify positive thoughts (I can’t wait to go to the zoo tomorrow), neutral thoughts (that curtain is green), and negative thoughts (I hate my sister). We can teach our kids that when any of these thoughts come up, it’s possible to notice them, be aware what we’re thinking, and then move on to another aspect of our lives . We can then move in a valued direction, rather than watering the thoughts that we don’t want to grow.

We can teach them that it’s not only possible, but that they have already done it through the writing exercise. This exercise is the first step towards learning to accept thoughts without becoming fused with them. Older kids may move on to “Mindfulness Meditation” in time.

2 | Name that story

When you notice a specific pattern in your kid’s thinking (whether this be through the writing exercise or just in general conversation), it may be a good idea to put a name to it. Does he often talk about how he is “hopeless” or “no-one loves me”? That may be his “not good enough” story. This helps separate his thoughts (story) from who he is. It also stops both him and you from becoming fused with the thought.

I bet you’ve found yourself fused with your kid’s thoughts before, right? This might have looked like a long argument, such as: “Lots of people love you. I love you. Daddy loves you. Mr Biggles the cat loves you.” Or trying to convince him that the rollercoaster ride is not that scary with: “Look how much fun everyone else is having on it.” This is you stuck on his sticky thoughts, on his story. This arguing is similar to a CBT practice.

Rather than engaging in an argument and trying to convince him that his thoughts are not true, next time why not try giving the thought a name, and asking him, “Wow, here’s your ‘I’m not good enough’ story again – what do you want to do with it?” and see how that goes? You may just find that when the seed stops being watered, it shrinks.

3 | I am!

Kids can get stuck on their “I am” stories, like my seven-year-old buddy. “I am good at everything; I am an achiever,” or “I am anxious” or “I am naughty.” An idea to move past these sticky “I am” thoughts is to have your child write out on some poster paper all of the “I am” statements she can think of. I am a friend, I am an animal lover, I am a good basketball player, I am cheeky, I am scared sometimes. She can even draw pictures that go with each “I am.” Then explain: “I worry sometimes that you are getting a bit ‘stuck’ on this ‘I am.’”

It may be that she’s stuck on having to be good at everything, or it may be that she’s stuck on being anxious and generalizes this to being “just who she is.” Learning to let go of stuck “I ams” is such a valuable life skill.

Mindfulness people would say that it’s important not to fuse too strongly to any particular thought or any particular aspect of who we are. It’s important to be flexible in our thinking and in our lives, to not water the seeds of unhelpful thoughts, and hopefully to see them shrink!

Why Confidence in Yourself as Parent is What Really Matters

Turns out that whether or not you think you’re doing a good job as a parent might matter just as much as your parenting skills.

Would you describe yourself as a good parent? Turns out that whether or not you think you’re doing a good job as a parent might matter just as much as your parenting skills.

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” In parenting research terms, this is referred to as parenting efficacy. Research suggests that whether or not you believe you’re able to provide the social, cultural, and emotional support your kid needs in ways that lead to positive development impacts his or her development.

Parenting efficacy is the extent to which parents feel capable of effectively managing the challenges their kids encounter. Several studies suggest that this parenting efficacy has an impact on children’s adjustment. It involves issues such as how far parents are willing to go to solve challenges, their stress levels, how they promote their kids’ self-efficacy, and the overall satisfaction they derive from parenting. Parenting efficacy is also influenced by whether or not parents feel supported, and by the positive relationships and interactions they share with others.

According to Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy, people with high self-efficacy are motivated, more likely to take on difficult tasks and to invest the necessary effort to complete tasks, and are also more likely to persevere. In contrast, those with low self-efficacy have greater self-doubt, higher levels of anxiety, avoid difficult tasks, and are more likely to view difficult situations as threats rather than challenges they’re able to overcome.

High parenting self-efficacy is particularly important in early childhood because this is an unpredictable period during which kids learn most. Moreover, the relationships built in early childhood set the stage for successful parent-child relationships in adolescence and beyond. Several studies have linked low parenting self-efficacy to problem behavior during early childhood and to issues such as substance abuse and delinquency in adolescence.

The good news is that self-efficacy is not a fixed trait. In other words, it’s possible to strengthen your parenting efficacy. Here are a few tips to help you promote effective parenting practices.

1 | Be in the know

Research confirms what we already know – when you feel competent in your parenting role, you are more likely to be warm, sensitive to your kids’ needs, and engaged in their learning and development. It’s easier to think of yourself as a competent parent when you have the skills to respond to your child’s needs.

Keeping up-to-date with information from reliable sources can help provide you with useful parenting information. That said, not all the information will necessarily apply to your family. It’s important to pick what works for you and your kid. Focus on both your strengths and weaknesses to decide what matters most and how best to get to your parenting objectives.

2 | Monitor, don’t spy

You’re more likely to feel confident in your parenting skills when you know what your kid is up to. According to the behaviorist theory, kids imitate the models with whom they identify. These models could be their friends and parents, but they could also be TV personalities or other people in kids’ environment. Several studies suggest that kids exposed to violent models are more likely to be less empathetic, engage in aggressive behavior, or demonstrate fearfulness.

It’s important to know who your kid is hanging out with and what he’s watching, but this doesn’t mean you need to spy on him. Watching his favorite show together at least once, playing video games together, and organizing play dates is an easy way to monitor your kid’s activities without spying.

3 | Work on your stress and depression levels

Parenting self-efficacy and stress levels are inseparable. Research suggests that parents with high stress and depression levels are more likely to have low parenting self-efficacy, and the higher parents’ self-efficacy levels, the less likely they are to suffer from anxiety, stress, and depression.

Working on the issues underlying your stress and depression can help increase your parenting self-efficacy. It’s also easier to help your kid manage her stress and anxiety when you have learned to manage yours.

Other studies suggest that parenting self-efficacy is also higher when kids are less emotional. Indeed, there are many occasions on which misbehavior can be explained by kids’ inability to manage difficult emotions. Using appropriate strategies to talk to kids about emotions and help them learn to manage those emotions by themselves can help strengthen your parenting self-efficacy.

4 | Strengthen your support network

The more supported you feel in your parenting, the more likely you are to develop a high level of parenting self-efficacy. Couple support is one of the most important determinants of this self-efficacy. Sharing parenting tasks with your partner reduces the feeling that you’re overwhelmed or stressed, and increases your confidence in your parenting.

Parenting support may also be provided by family and friends. There’s evidence that this support enables parents to deal better with stressful events and to feel that they’re doing a good job as parents. Strengthening your support network also means knowing whether or not to avoid people who constantly criticize your parenting.

5 | Strengthen your kid’s self-efficacy

Strengthening your kid’s self-efficacy also strengthens your parenting efficacy. There are several easy habits that foster kids’ autonomy. When you provide unstructured but creative environments, you motivate your kid to solve problems by herself and you also foster her creativity.

6 | Create opportunities to bond

Strong families spend time together. Creating opportunities to bond strengthens family relationships. If you don’t already have one, start a family ritual. If done right, family rituals can help the whole family connect, reduce sibling rivalry, and strengthen your parenting self-efficacy.

No matter what parenting style you choose, remember that believing in yourself is a job already half-done.

The Mantra That Keeps Me From Trying to Fix Everything

Managing everyone’s constantly changing emotions is a full-time job, and I’m pretty sure I want to quit.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!

One sunny day this summer, on a hike in Maine, one of my daughters was complaining. She was complaining about doing a very short hike (about 400 feet) to get a view of Acadia National Park after biking on wide smooth carriage trails with her cousins.

I know. Ridiculous, right?

My insides squirmed. How privileged of you! How dare you be complaining! Don’t you realize how lucky you are?! Lucky to be on vacation, lucky to be in a national park, lucky to be with your cousins and your parents, lucky to be doing something fun and healthy.

More complaining and then some arguing ensued. My emotions ran away with me, there among the pink granite and pines. They hijacked my body and made my blood boil. My daughter’s unhappiness became my unhappiness. I seethed, cresting the hill. I tried to take in the mountaintop, the ocean, and the tiny islands dotting the Maine coast. They were there, but I couldn’t see them clearly. My view was clouded by frustration. How could I be raising someone who doesn’t appreciate this?

My sister-in-law, who was on the summit already, looked at me. She shared what a friend of hers says to her about dealing with her children, “Be like a colander.”

“What?” I said, confused. I stared at the tiny boats floating like small toys in the bay.

“Let your child’s emotions, whatever they are, flow through you. Don’t hold on to them. They are her emotions. You don’t have to carry them.”

Whoa. I stopped. I looked at her freckled, sun-kissed face and her wind-tousled hair.

“I don’t have to carry them,” I repeated.

“Nope,” she said, and joined her son and husband at a rocky overlook.

This idea was revolutionary.

So I stopped. I let my daughter walk ahead, and tried to be like a colander. She huffed and puffed on the hike down, complaining to the wind, as I joked with my sister-in-law about the movie “Frozen” (we also may have sung a little bit).

The colander idea clearly links to my current meditation practice. I’ve been practicing for a while (using the Calm app). Like many people, I have a very active mind, like a hamster on a wheel. When thoughts come in during mediation, I’ve been learning to note them, as in, “I see you there, but I am not going to focus on you right now. I am going to focus on my breath instead.” Then I say to myself, “I am inhaling…. I am exhaling,” to refocus. I try to picture my thoughts floating down a river. I think, There you are. There you go, floating away. I’ll get to you at some point, just not right now.

While I’ve been able to do that in practice, filtering my kids’ emotions on a regular basis has been much harder to do. As parents, we are biologically hardwired to feel our babies’ emotions and to help them in times of distress. As they get older, this can become overwhelming and overbearing, not to mention exhausting. Managing everyone’s constantly changing emotions is a full-time job, and I’m pretty sure I want to quit.

So, back to the colander.

I started imagining my colander. What would it look like today? That day, mine was a shiny, sparkly hot pink, made of stainless steel. I have no idea why, but I pictured it like that. Water and emotion flowed right through my hot pink colander.

When I was frustrated later, I pictured it again. It helped me think that I am not my emotions, or the emotions of my family. I don’t have to fix everything.

This can be used with anyone who works closely with children, or any humans actually. We can stay with the discomfort of someone else’s emotions without becoming those emotions ourselves. We can show empathy and be with our kids, students, friends, and co-workers without being sucked down a river of emotions ourselves. This might help us be less tired, less on a roller coaster, and more able to manage our complex, daily lives.

So, when faced with strong emotions from a child, partner, family member, or work colleague, I ask you: What color is your colander?

14 Ways "Black-Ish" Normalized Postpartum Depression

A recent episode of the ABC sitcom “Black-ish” focused on postpartum depression and mental health. This is incredible progress.

I was very pleased to watch television this week and see a mental health focus for an entire episode of the ABC sitcom “Black-ish.” This is incredible progress. As a licensed mental health therapist, I understand well the stigma facing mental health and how much awareness and education is needed.

In the “Black-ish” Season 4 Episode 2 – Mother Nature, Bow is feeling overwhelmed after the birth of her son and learns she is suffering from postpartum depression. Dre urges her to get help and stands by her side while she works through it. Meanwhile, the kids baby-proof the house in an effort to help their parents out.

Here are 14 ways this episode of “Black-ish” normalizes mental health for new mothers experiencing postpartum depression.

1 | Honoring mothers is not dishonoring fathers

In the first two minutes of the episode, we see Andre Johnson Sr., or Dre (played by Anthony Anderson), recognizing the pride a man feels when having a newborn baby. He also honors women for the feat of carrying a human being inside their body, and now holding and nurturing that child for the rest of their lives.

“Mother nature has given women everything they need to sustain life with comfort and ease.” A man honoring and praising a woman for her motherhood does not take away from his honor or manhood, it enhances it.

2 | Your family may notice you acting differently but may not understand you are dealing with a mental health issue

Dr. Rainbow Johnson (Bow), played by Tracee Ellis Ross, is visibly showing signs of depression – easily distracted, lack of motivation, frequent crying, low energy, insomnia, etc. As narrated by Dre, the family is aware that something is “wrong” and take steps to help Bow, but are initially unaware she is struggling with a mood disorder.

3 | Having a mental health diagnosis is not a sign of weakness

Dre’s mother, Ruby Johnson (played by Jennifer Lewis) makes the following statement when referring to Bow’s change in behaviors, “This is what new motherhood looks like…she’s just weak.”

There’s often a perception that acknowledging the presence of a mental health diagnosis or even getting help or treatment is a sign of weakness. It is not!

In the last scenes of the episode Ruby ends up apologizing to Bow and tells Bow she’s not weak. Ruby admits being weak for not being there to help Bow through this experience.

4 | Having experienced postpartum depression during a previous pregnancy is a risk factor, but is not the only indication

Dre makes the statement that Bow didn’t experience the symptoms she’s displaying presently after the birth of her other children, and he doesn’t understand why this pregnancy is different.

While previous experiences with postpartum depression are a strong indication of present or future indications, they’re not the only factor that must be considered. Factors such as previous experience with depression, a family member who’s been diagnosed with depression or other mental illness, medical complications during childbirth, mixed feelings about the pregnancy, whether it was planned or unplanned, and others. In Bow’s case, the fact that the baby came early, Bow’s age (meaning it was a high-risk pregnancy), and other factors make experiencing postpartum depression very likely.

5 | Postpartum depression is not the same as having “baby blues”

One of Dre’s co-workers attempts to diagnose Bow as having the “baby blues,” which is used to describe the feelings of unrest, tiredness, worry, and fatigue many women experience after having a baby. It’s normal for a mother to experience worry or concern over being able to provide care for the newborn baby, and this is present in approximately 80 percent of mothers.

However, postpartum depression is extreme feelings of sadness and anxiety that affect the mother’s self-care or that of her family. This affects approximately 15 percent of births. A new mother should not try to diagnose herself but consider speaking to a mental health professional to get an evaluation if she or another family member is concerned.

6 | New mothers can experience postpartum depression and not know it

Dre takes the advice of his co-workers and reads through a magazine targeted to women where he discovers his wife may be experiencing postpartum depression. The suggestion from the magazine encourages Dre to be gentle with his approach in discussing this with his wife.

While magazine or online questionnaires are no substitute for mental health treatment or assessment, the advice given in this occasion was helpful. Having a discussion with a new mother about the possibility of her having postpartum depression should be done very delicately and in a supportive manner.

7 | Mothers should not try to self-diagnose themselves

Bow makes this statement, “I do not have postpartum depression. I am a doctor and I would know.”

While the character of Rainbow Johnson is a medical doctor, she does not specialize in mental health or psychiatry. Postpartum depression doesn’t discriminate in race, profession, socioeconomic status, or anything else. A diagnosis of postpartum depression is not an indication of weakness or failure in the new mother; rather, it’s an indication of something that affects many women. Luckily, there’s help for it.

8 | A woman experiencing postpartum depression is not someone who needs to be fixed

In one scene, Dre asks Bow over and over if she’s okay and tries to engage her in activities. Bow responds, “Please stop trying to fix me.”

It’s important to recognize the new mother not as something that has been broken and needs fixing, but as a human being who is experiencing a mood disorder and needs lots of support. This mindset of the mother being “broken” may cause her symptoms to worsen. She may feel like her body is failing if she can’t breastfeed, or her skills as a mother are failing if she is unable to console her child, or any other self-defeating thought.

9 | Just because someone else did not seek treatment after giving birth does not mean this is healthy for everyone

Dre’s mother, Ruby, discusses Bow’s ability to parent with Dre, comparing Bow’s present actions with her own experience after giving birth to Dre. She says, “I didn’t go to some quack doctor because I was mentally ill with some made-up disease.”

Dre quickly corrects her and explains that postpartum depression is not made up, stating that many women experience it. The Center for Disease Control estimates 11 to 20 percent of new mothers experience postpartum depression. Just because your mother, sister, grandmother, aunt, best friend, or whomever didn’t receive treatment for postpartum depression doesn’t mean that is the best course of action for you.

10 | Recovery from postpartum depression is not instantaneous, it takes time

One of Bow’s children asks, “Why isn’t she getting better?”

Sometimes the expectation for the new mother, or her family and friends, is that she will get better quickly. This process takes time and can be incredibly frustrating for the new mother. Support, encouragement, and space will be vital to her during this time. The best thing family and friends can do is to keep communication open and provide the new mother with what she asks for.

11 | Experiencing postpartum depression is not a reason to allow people to walk over you; establish and reinforce boundaries

One of the scenes shows Ruby and Bow discussing why Ruby made the decision to give Bow’s child baby formula instead of the breastmilk Bow had pumped. Bow assertively tells Ruby she has crossed a line.

It’s important to seek the counsel of a mental health professional regarding healthy behaviors and practices, but at the end of the day you are a mother and it is your child. No one should ever make you feel bad for wanting to raise a healthy baby and no one should violate your wishes as the child’s mother. This may mean setting boundaries with your family, in-laws, friends, significant other, or other people.

12 | The new mother needs support and unconditional love from her significant other

If the new mother is fortunate to have the support of a significant other, that person should be prepared to fully support and love the new mother unconditionally.

In the scene when Bow tells Ruby to get out of her house, Dre supports his wife, even to the point of asking his own mother to leave their house. Bow needs this support during this time. Ruby also calls Bow crazy and says she is overreacting.

Name-calling and unrealistic expectations will only backfire and make things harder for the new mother. The feelings the new mother is experiencing are real, and they should be honored and given space to be worked through.

13 | Everyone around the new mother will feel powerless to help and that’s okay, because it’s not about them

Dre is speaking to his father, played by Lawrence Fishburne, about Bow’s seemingly lack of progress. He states, “I feel powerless.”

It’s not uncommon for men to feel like the woman needs fixing and it’s their job to fix her, but the new mother just needs time, support, and unconditional love to help her during this time. Let’s us not forget this woman just carried a human being inside her body and now that human being is a newborn baby who is crying and solely dependent on the new mother for everything. No pressure at all, right?

14 | Counseling or therapy and medication management are proven treatments for postpartum depression

There still continues to be a stigma around mental health. It is everyone’s responsibility to become informed and to inform others so we can break the stigma.

In the last few scenes of the episode, Bow talks about the therapeutic homework her therapist assigned to help her through this experience. Bow also expresses initial frustration at her therapist, which is normal for anyone entering therapy. Bow’s continuation with therapy and her medication helps her eventually work through and improve her mood.

If you or a loved one may be experiencing postpartum depression, please contact a mental health professional for an evaluation.

What Exactly Does Great Faith and Great Courage Look Like?

I suppose faith has come easier to me these days. Spending time around children does that to you, I think. But courage? No way.

There is a single prayer I pray every day, often many times a day, and lately with every breath. “God, help me be brave.”

This is still relatively new to me. I didn’t grow up praying. I didn’t grow up in a church. So when I decided I needed to start having a dialogue with God, I did what a lot of people do: I asked for stuff.

“Please let me find happiness.”

“Please let me fit into that dress next weekend.”

“Please smite that chick in the eyeball who stole my boyfriend.”

“Please let this marriage last.”

”Please keep my babies safe. Healthy. In my sights.”

There’s a problem with that, though, and it’s not that all that asking is greedy. I truly believe the universe is a plentiful and loving place. I believe that it wants us to be happy. I believe that it wants us to have what we need and even what we desire, that it wants to rise up to meet us where we are. With the possible exception of wishing that people be smited in the eyeball (even if they deserve it), I think we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for things or hope for things or truly believe in our hearts that we are good and worthy of receiving things.

The problem is that all that asking I was doing was giving me the illusion of control, and control is where it gets tricky. I’m addicted to control the way some people are addicted to booze or sugar or gambling. I crave it. For God’s sakes, I follow around behind my family and reload the dishwasher when they aren’t looking like I’m the only one who can do it right. Like I am the queen of dishwasher-loading, like this is a thing that little girls everywhere are aspiring to right now, like it even matters. Much like anything we are addicted to, control makes me feel powerful and that I have a purpose when at the same time it is slowly destroying my life.

Really, I don’t have control of anything.

It’s a hard time to be a control freak. All we have to do is look at the news or outside at the weather to be reminded of that. The world feels increasingly hard to live in with every passing day and everywhere I look I see people throwing up their hands and asking “Why? What did we do to deserve this?” I’ve been asking it too, whispering it in the dark corners and waiting, waiting, for the answer.

Maybe the answer is nothing.

Maybe the world is just hard, maybe being alive in it takes great faith and great courage. Maybe it takes a slow un-gripping of the wheel, finger by white-knuckled finger, because we were never the ones driving anyway and the truth is the dishes are going to get clean even if they are stacked all wrong.

Of the two – great faith and great courage – I suppose faith has come easier to me these days. Spending time around children does that to you, I think. But courage? No way. I’m not a brave person. I’m the one who watches everyone else jump in the pool from my corner where I have to ease myself in so painfully slow, one inch of stark white goose-bumped flesh at a time, holding my breath for so long that dizziness starts to crowd into the corners of my vision. I don’t drive above the speed limit and I don’t watch scary movies because they make me feel like I am dying (lately that is exactly how I’ve been feeling when I watch the news too).

Also, my depression is back and it has brought its faithful partner along with it, anxiety, and every single bone in my body is calling out for me to hide, seek shelter, and cower.

But I cannot, and that’s where God comes in, at least for me, at least for right now. I am not inherently brave, but maybe I don’t have to be. Maybe all I have to do is ask for the courage to keep going. Maybe getting out of bed and facing the day is an act of tremendous courage sometimes. Maybe that’s how the revolution starts.

I still want happiness. I still want us all to be healthy and safe. And yes, I want revolution too, and healing, and progress. I want to march and sing in the streets and not be afraid every morning when I let my babies out the front door and into the world. None of that is going to be found in my hiding spot. I know. I’ve looked.

So all I want, all I will let myself ask for right now, is to be brave.

God, help us be brave. Brave enough to keep going. Brave enough to live our lives in a broken world. Brave enough, even, to fix it.

This post originally appeared on the author’s website, Liz Petrone.com.