When it Pours for Moms, Help them RAIN! Your Being, their Well-being!

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Exclusive to AP Month 2020 “Parenting with PEACE -” with our focus on positive childhood experiences – API is pleased to welcome this special guest post from Christina Bethell: PhD, MBA, MPH Professor, Johns Hopkins University.

Blue earth with parents and children of different backgrounds standing all around edge and words attachment parenting month in the centerBeing a consistently kind and positive parent can be challenging, especially when children are also struggling or stressed.  Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, national data showed that over 1 in 3 children had moms who were not coping very well.1 And over 2 in 5 had parents who struggled to stay hopeful or find strengths to draw on when things were hard.  These parents were three times more likely to report routinely feeling angry and aggravated with their child.1 


Our best research calls for doing all we can to foster positive parent-child experiences.


About 1 in 4 US children have mothers who do not experience excellent or very good mental health and are less likely to cope, remain resilient and connect positively with their child. This is especially true for the more than 4 in 10 US children with parents who face economic, safety or household problems like someone who drinks too much, has untreated mental illness or is emotionally or physically abusive.1  Perhaps a silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is the light it shines on the need and possibilities to support moms and families by encouraging them (and their children) to reach out for help: to reduce longstanding sources of stress, build resilience, hope and strengths, and prioritize positive emotional connections with their children – especially during difficult times.


We can help moms recognize and heal from their own pain and build resilience, while also helping their children flourish.


Research points to transformational opportunities to promote both parent and child well-being by helping them build skills to recognize their stress; allow the feelings to move (and pass); identify core needs for compassion, care and support; and nurture themselves and reach out when they struggle. Taught by Tara Brach, the RAIN model (Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture) works.2 As do similar approaches.2 RAIN paves the way for mothers and children to withstand challenges and stay emotionally connected during difficult times. It also supports clinicians to cope and learn from challenges, which, in turn, helps their clients.2 

Red umbrella graphic with text: Parenting with peace daily tip - Do you find it easy or hard to talk to your family about feelings? Talking to your children about feelings is a positive childhood experience.Our best research calls for doing all we can to foster positive parent-child experiences: like talking together about things that really matter, looking for strengths and reasons to hope, and reaching out for support during hard times.3,4   The benefits are long lasting for us all.  Our recent research shows that fostering the most important positive childhood experience of all- safe and nurturing connection with parents-markedly reduces the risk of having depression or poor mental health as an adult. This increases the chances of having the social and emotional support they need later in life, when they might be parents too.3,4 

When it pours down for moms, help them RAIN!2  In doing so we can help moms recognize and heal from their own pain and build resilience, while also helping their children flourish4 and become healthy adults,3 despite the challenges of life.

  1. Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, National Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health, Johns Hopkins University. 2017-2018 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) national data findings accessed 10.20.20 at www.childhealthdata.org.  Additional NSCH analyses conducted for this article by C. Bethell, 10.20.20. 
  2. Hedderman E, O’Doherty V, O’Connor S. Mindfulness moments for clinicians in the midst of a pandemic [published online ahead of print, 2020 May 21]. Ir J Psychol Med. 2020;1-4. doi:10.1017/ipm.2020.59
  3. Bethell CD, Jones J, Gombojav N, Linkenbach J, Sege R. Positive and Adverse Childhood Experiences: Interactions and Effects on Adult Health Outcomes. JAMA Peds 9.09.19
  4. Bethell CD, Gombojav N, Whitaker RC. (2019). Family Resilience And Connection Promote Flourishing Among US Children, Even Amid Adversity. Health Affairs. 38(5). May 2020
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Feeling Tense? Find Peace Amidst the Chaos.

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It’s 3pm and my husband and I are beginning the office swap. There are conversations to have, phones ringing, toddlers fussing, and a pre-teen asking if she can watch TV in exchange for watching the baby. I have 15 minutes to transition from mom to professional. I have to fill my husband in on the school work, the plan for dinner, and what is going on with the kids – and he is still two hours away from the end of his workday. The irony of this all is that we chose this long before any virus forced us into it!

Laptop on crowded desk with infant toys, coffee, and planner

Our competing needs clash every day. And it isn’t just the competing needs of my husband and me. In the mix are also the needs that our children have for love, attention, affection, and time. This often crashes into our need to provide financially for our family, and our need for professional and personal fulfillment. Every day, I wake up to the challenge of balancing the needs of two working parents and a family of five children ranging from 1 to 11.

It is a life full of opportunities to recognize my limitations as a human being.

One of my favorite songs is “I’m no SuperMan.” And I often find myself singing it as I go through my day. Occasionally it is accompanied by an equally valid and important mantra from St. Joan of Arc, “I was born for this.” These two phrases are my mantra as a mom: I am no Superman or woman and I was born for this. The first step in balancing all of this competition for time, space, and attention is to recognize that I have needs that are just as valid as my children’s and husband’s.


I can love my work and love my children. I can be excited and sad about the same things. By cultivating a mindfulness practice in my life, I can walk in that uncomfortable both/and place.


When I am working with clients, it becomes clear that most adults don’t know how to name their needs, often having wrongly learned that their needs are just ‘wants.’ They believe themselves to be selfish. When we show up in our lives believing that we are selfish, we see everyone else as selfish. We  then stop being able to read the needs of the people we love the most. The reality is that if we cannot name and honor our own needs, we can never hope to honor those of children. To help you think about what your needs may be, I have compiled a list.

Examples of Adult Needs:

I need to use the bathroom

I need to hydrate – (drink a cold icy glass of water, or in the winter maybe a hot cup of tea)

I need to eat

I need to move my body

I need to go outside

I need to go walk / run

I need to see a friend

I need to breathe deeply

I need to stretch

I need my spouses/ loved one’s support

I need to know that someone is proud of me

I need empathy

I need a hug

I need to complete a task

I need to be alone

I need to take a shower

I need to learn something new

I need to talk about something that is bothering me

I need to laugh, sing, dance

I need to play

I need to reminisce

I need to pursue my career

I need to use my talents & skills & gifts

Steaming hot cup of tea in woman's hands with soft light streaming through window

Like most adults, I used to believe that my needs were just ‘wants’ and sacrificing for my children was the most important thing I could do; it made me an A+ mom. I put on the SuperWoman cape every morning and melted into a heap of tears, wondering how I could be better tomorrow. More patient. More kind. Give more of myself to my children and husband. Having 5 children means I have spent a significant amount of my adult life questioning how I could be a better mom, how I could perfect this doing it all.

And then I woke up to the reality that I couldn’t; I absolutely could not do it all. I had needs, and no amount of ignoring them would make them magically disappear.

One of my needs was to return to work. I needed a break from being ‘Mom’ all the time, every waking and sleeping moment being about these five amazing little beings. Through great providence I was offered a position that would allow me to return to my career, still be home with the kids, and even have the time to homeschool them.

Returning to work came with a slew of trade-offs. They included guilt, shame, fear that I was/am messing everything up, less time to cook, clean, and be everything to eYoung child asleep in starfish position with foot on dad's headveryone. But the transition also came with room to breathe in a whole new way. It brought conversations that went beyond does your baby sleep in the starfish position or the dreaded H? (note mine do both and perform baby gymnastics all night long…) And why don’t they make washing machines that can handle cloth diapers?

I remember my first day at my new job. This was the first time I had gone to work in seven years; I had on high heels, slacks, a blouse, and I was carrying a computer bag – not a diaper bag. It was freeing and scary all at once. I can still remember walking down the street, waiting for the crosswalk sign to change and feeling the wind in my hair. I existed outside of being just a mom, and it felt amazing! I also remember getting home at the end of that first day, which had lasted five hours, including the commute. Oh the tears as I raced inside to give my babies kisses before they went to bed! I couldn’t get the work clothes off fast enough, raced to snuggle down next to them and breathe in their sweet baby smells. It felt amazing.

In a world of either/or, I am living something uncharted – both/and. I can love my work and love my children. I can be excited and sad about the same things. By cultivating a mindfulness practice in my life, I can walk in that uncomfortable both/and place.light blue animated brain in the shape of a heartSometimes living both/and – allowing competing needs to exist – unleashes a fear response. Those thoughts of I am screwing everything up arrive on the scene. And when I experience fear, it triggers a physiological response known as the sympathetic nervous response (SNR).

For me I know my SNR is engaged when I am short of breath, or my shoulders think they are earrings. My jaw struggles to open and shut with ease. When I notice these body sensations, I remind myself to stop what I am doing. I ask myself, what am I scared of? Is there an active danger I need to be aware of?

 

Curious toddler peering over wooden ledge with look of amazement on her face, black and white photoIn that moment of asking, I become a better mom, a better wife, and a better human being.

In that moment, I cultivate curiosity.

Fear and curiosity live in opposition to one another; there is not room in the mind for both. When I ask questions about my surroundings, my beliefs, and my experience, I signal to my body that there is no immediate danger. It’s okay to disengage that SNR. Sometimes I need to stop and tell my husband or my kids, “Hey, I’m feeling keyed up and I’m not sure why, so can you help me out?” Sometimes the help I need is for them to stop making so much noise. Or perhaps I’m asking if they notice any of my triggers that I may be missing.

When we can recognize our body’s messages to stop and take in our surroundings, we can plan. Maybe I need to attend to an email that is bouncing around in my brain, or maybe I need to recognize that I am off until Monday, and my work will be there when I turn on the computer. Balancing family life and professional life requires awareness and tools for the clash of needs that is inevitable. The SNR  is one of our body’s greatest tools, and yet so often we seek to numb when we experience it, moving frantically through our life, desperately seeking an escape. That makes perfect sense. After all, the SNR just communicated that we were in danger and we needed to take action and move.

Those physical symptoms of heart racing, palms sweating, and holding my breath are the stop signs in my life. They are an invitation to slow down. They are an invitation to pause. They are an invitation to be mindful. Mindfulness for me is about filling my mind, filling it with the information about my surroundings, my emotions, my needs. And it provides me with the ability to move forward with purpose and intentionality.

dandelion stalk with single seed still attached on vibrant green blurred background

Part of that intentionality is leaning into the discomfort that comes from competing needs and desires. I have learned to embrace Brene Brown’s Mantra, “discomfort over resentment,” since returning to work has included many moments of discomfort and conflict. Children beg to be read to, played with, and taken out for bike rides – but I have case notes to fill out and studying to do for the licensure exam that expired while I blissfully rocked away in the nursery.

It’s uncomfortable to tell my kids no, I can’t play that game right now, because I have to finish studying this chapter. But I never want to resent playing that game with them because it means not achieving my dreams. In the world of both/and, the same is true for accepting the discomfort of saying “no” to a new potential client because I want to spend my days building block towers and playing heated games of Risk. I never want to resent my work because it stole these precious moments of my children’s young lives.

There will always be competing needs. Balance means embracing the invitation to mindfulness that comes with both/and, accepting that I have real needs, and seeking a plan to meet my needs so that I am prepared to meet those of my children.

mother and four children sitting on a blanket, having a picnic in the park

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AP Month 2020 Daily Tip

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#ParentingwithPEACE

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AP Month 2020 Daily Tip
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#ParentingwithPEACE

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AP Month 2020 Daily Tip

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AP Month 2020 Daily Tip
#APMonth2020
#ParentingwithPEACE

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AP Month 2020 Daily Tip

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AP Month 2020 Daily Tip
#APMonth2020
#ParentingwithPEACE

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AP Month 2020 Daily Tip

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AP Month 2020 Daily Tip
#APMonth2020
#ParentingwithPEACE

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AP Month 2020 Daily Tip

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AP Month 2020 Daily Tip
#APMonth2020
#ParentingwithPEACE

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