Browsing Tag

Anxiety

It’s All Just Too Awful: On the Eve of the Int’l Day of Persons with Disabilities, The IRC Shooting Takes Center Stage

By December 3, 2015 No Comments
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I’m sitting here in shock and horror that the only possible post that’s worthy of our parenting blog at this moment is one that is yet again, about senseless, horrific acts of violence.

This one hits much closer to home for me, though. When I saw several alerts cross my Twitter feed on Wednesday afternoon about a mass shooting on the 1300 block of Waterman Ave of San Bernardino, California, my stomach dropped to my feet.

Not only was the locale a mere 20 minutes from my home, but I knew that address to be the approximate location of the Inland Regional Center, an organization dedicated to supporting children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Why would I know that?

Because my sister has developmental disabilities. She’s also a member of and participant in IRC. 

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Categories: Disability + Disability Advocacy, Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health

In Scary Times, There are No Definitive Answers

By November 15, 2015 2 Comments
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Many of our readers noticed that we went largely silent this weekend, on the heels of the terrorist attacks across Paris, France that killed at least 130 people.

We took these few days to catch our collective breath, to connect and discuss how we as a parenting-meets-science blog should address these acts of violence, incidents that are becoming increasingly more frequent.

Because Paris wasn’t the only city affected this week. Beirut, Lebanon faced similar attacks, with a death toll of 40. And that’s just this week. Between intermittent school shootings both here and abroad, terrorist attacks, and other random horrific acts of violence, we’ve had to post, repost, and repost again our articles (found here and here ) about how to talk to children about senseless violence and death. It has gotten to the point where we are at a loss for words, readers. There’s nothing that science can say to make any of us feel any better – but we do know that we need to support the families that look to this blog as a trusted source of parenting information.

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Categories: Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health

Helping Kids Welcome a New Baby

By October 20, 2015 No Comments
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Three of the people I love the most and am closest to are my brother and sisters. I’m always happy to see them and, like the best old friends, we can catch up with each other’s news in a moment. These relationships are not an accident, however. They are the result of our parents’ efforts over the course of all of our lives to remind us that these, our siblings, are people we can count on. This work starts the minute a child learns that they are about to become an older sister or brother.

For a child under the age of four, it is not always clear where the baby is coming from and so it does help to demonstrate that the baby grows inside their mother. Many parenting guides recommend having a child come to some prenatal visits and some obstetricians, family doctors, and midwives include a visit for the whole family as part of their standard prenatal care. In fact, it is no longer unusual for older siblings to be present for a birth, especially when a child is being born at home.

The most important thing a child needs to know when they are expecting a sibling is that they are going to continue to be an important part of the family and that no new baby will ever replace them. This is a good time to reinforce a child’s gifts and special qualities. It is also an important time to remind a child of their ongoing importance by sharing pictures and memories of them through all stages of their lives.

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Categories: Ages + Stages, Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health, Newborns + Infants, Pregnancy, Birth + Family Planning, School-Aged Children, Toddlers + Preschoolers, Tweens + Teens

Transparenting Pink Boys and Blue Girls

By September 21, 2015 No Comments
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You may remember last year when Transparent, an Amazon original comedy-drama series took home five Emmys at the 67th Emmy Awards, which was a big leap for the subject matter into the public eye – and yet another step toward positive, wide-spread visibility for a subject that’s still unfamiliar to people. The series depicts the process that a father of three adult children must undergo as he comes out to his family about his true transgender identity. Like Caitlin Jenner, Laverne Cox and Chaz Bono, the lead character of Transparent brings the experience to greater understanding. What is perhaps less known is that awareness of being transgender can often emerge as a young child, and the stories like those of Jeffrey Tambor’s character (pictured right) don’t always shed light on the fact that from early childhood, many transgender adults have struggled to be out and open about who they are.

For most parents, upon hearing the words “it’s a boy,” or “it’s a girl,” conjure up a picture of how their child will look, what the child will wear, toys they will like, and who they will marry.  All of these ideas are based on the assumption— and the expectation of most parents — that their children will be heterosexual and gender-conforming.

What happens, then, when our children do not follow the path we imagined when they came into our lives as babies?  Do we give our children space to express themselves without judgment, for example, when our sons want to wear pink converse sneakers or our daughters want to wear a necktie?  Many parents like myself absolutely want to expand gender roles for our children, and consider ourselves feminist, progressive, open-minded, etc.  Truth be told, however, when we see behaviors in our children that we associate with being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, we are often uncomfortable and may, out of fear or worry, say or do things to inhibit our children from being who they truly are.

It’s important to understand the meaning of sexual orientation and gender identity — very different aspects of who we are as humans —  are often conflated, and both tied up in conversations we have when talking about children who are not gender-conforming.

Sexual orientation is quite simply who we are physically/romantically attracted to; some people are solely attracted to the opposite sex, some to the same sex, and others experience attraction to both/all genders.  It is believed that sexual orientation is wired in us from birth and that by middle school a child is aware of this aspect of themselves regardless of whether they have acted on any feelings or shared them with anyone.

Gender identity is one’s innermost sense of being either male or female, or in some cases, both or neither. Gender identity is believed to be established by age 4, though for some children—and adults, coming out as transgender may be delayed based on fear of rejection, lack of safety, or simply not understanding their experience and not having a place to openly explore their feelings.

For most children, their assigned sex at birth (“it’s a girl!” or “it’s a boy!”) will match their gender identity. This is referred to as being cisgender (cis is pronounced like the “sis” in the word “sister”).  But for some children, they will have a profound sense of being a gender other than the one assigned at birth. For example, a three-year-old child assigned male at birth but who feels like a girl and wants to be girl, and is insistent, persistent, and consistent about this feeling, may in fact be transgender.  And for a growing number of children—teens in particular, there is a fluid, or non-binary gender identity that can include wearing a variety of “girls and boys” clothing, appearing androgynous, using the pronoun “they,” and other ways of eschewing the limitations or inaccuracy of either a male or female identity.

We often hear the term “gender non-conforming” when referring to children who behave in ways that are not consistent with more traditional gender norms or gender roles.  This might include girls who are tomboys or boys who prefer to play with dolls.

What should we do as parents if our children are among those who express themselves in ways that suggest that might be LGB, or T (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender)?

The most important thing is to give children the room they need to explore who they are, and to express themselves openly and freely.  There is no way for us to know what any of these behaviors might mean with regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. Many children who enjoy gender expansive (gender non-conforming) behavior do not experience discord with their assigned sex at birth, and are not destined to be same-sex attracted.  But some will follow that path and, as parents there are things we can do from early on to create a safe, accepting environment if our children are in fact LGBT identified at some point in their lives.

How do we support our children in this process, no matter what path they end up on? We can avoid “gender policing,” which often shames our kids and shuts down their need to express themselves with clothing, toys, hobbies, etc.

Sometimes by habit, or reflex, we might say to our son who is eyeballing a play kitchen at Toys R Us, “those are for girls,” or when our daughter wants to play touch football with the neighborhood boys instead of encouraging her, we caution her with “that’s too rough for girls.”

I’m sure many of us say things that reinforce rigid gender roles without realizing we are doing it, and simply paying attention can reap dramatic changes in the level of comfort our children have to simply be who they are.  What we know about LGBT children—teens in particular, is that family support is the most critical factor in their overall well-begin.  Too many LGBT youth are rejected when they “come out,” and it’s that rejection that shatters the foundation of trust and security and sets up our kids to struggle emotionally, academically, and socially.  Believe me, our children are listening closely to what we say in regard to sexual orientation and gender identity, and what they hear will be their clues for whether or not they can trust us and turn to us when or if they need to share about those parts of who they are.

If you are a parent who believes your child may be transgender, based on the criteria that they assert their gender on a persistent, consistent, and insistent basis, there are many online resources to help you better understand “gender dysphoria,” the clinical diagnosis that applies to these children and to find highly experienced medical providers and mental health professionals in your area to help support them.

Transgender Actor Laverne Cox on the cover of Time Magazine (courtesy: Time.com)

Transgender Actor Laverne Cox on the cover of Time Magazine (courtesy: Time.com)

Transgender individuals are gaining visibility in the media with the popularity of shows like Transparent, as mentioned above, Orange is the New Black (featuring Laverne Cox, pictured left), and the widely-publicized transition of Caitlyn Jenner, to name a few. Jeffery Tambor, who won for best actor for the lead role in Transparent recognized the significance of his win by dedicating to the transgender community, saying, “thanks for your patience, thank you for your courage, thank you for your stories, thank you for your inspiration, thank you for letting us be part of the change.”

Likewise, there are many emerging voices of parents of transgender children who are now advocating for their children at school and in the broader community; many of their stories are told in books, in videos, and on their personal blogs and websites. The voices are out there – and I believe connecting with other parents of transgender children is incredibly empowering and certainly the best path toward being educated and informed about the best ways to support and take care of your children.

 

 

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Categories: Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health

Applauding Celebrity Blogger Perez Hilton for an Authentic Video on Anxiety Surrounding Daughter Mia’s Birth

By May 14, 2015 1 Comment
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I’ve got a dirty little secret…I love reading celebrity gossip. My former career as a TV news producer made that an easy thing to do as part of my job, since we’d have to stack our shows with stories that were balanced between being informative and entertaining. Post news career and into graduate school and the corporate consulting world, I’d take breaks and sneak a few minutes here and there to snoop around online with my favorite pop culture websites, hoping no one would catch me and make fun of me (they did, oh yes). Though I don’t keep up with it all the way that I used to, one of my go-to sites will always be PerezHilton.com, written by Mario “Perez Hilton” Lavandeira. Hilton is a blogger who has over the past 10 years transformed his web presence from super controversial (“Hollywood’s Most Hated Website” complete with cartoon penises drawn all over celebrity’s faces), to something a bit more even-keeled, bold, and entertaining. A web adolescence, if you will!

I personally find Hilton’s outspoken mix of silliness, snark, and breaking content completely enjoyable, and like anyone who’s followed a celebrity long enough, I have a level of affection for the guy as though I distantly know him. I think he tells things the way he sees them without much self-censoring, which is something a lot of us can learn from when it comes to things we’re passionate about, even if we don’t always agree with what he has to say. So I’d like to applaud Perez Hilton for the video posted on his blog on May 13 (above), in which he gives a raw and authentic take on what he calls “unhealthy levels of anxiety” surrounding the recent birth of his daughter Mia.

For anyone who has dealt with any form of anxiety, they know it can be debilitating, particularly when it’s reached a point where it can’t be rationalized away. And while there’s a lot of discussion about new mothers dealing with postpartum depression (which comes oftentimes laced with extreme anxiety, referred to as postpartum anxiety), there isn’t as much discussion about what fathers go through surrounding the birth of a child.

A recent study out of Norfolk, Virginia, showed that 1 and ten fathers met the standard criteria for moderate to severe postpartum depression, which is much higher than standard population rates of depression in men, which sits around 3-5%.  Further, a study found in JAMA, which looked over 43 studies of a combined 28,000 fathers, found that paternal depression rates spike to 10.4% during the first year of a child’s life – you can read a summary of that study here.

Maternal postpartum depression is characterized by (courtesy of Babycenter.com):

  • Irritability or hypersensitivity
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety and worry
  • Crying or tearfulness
  • Anger
  • Negative feelings such as sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, or guilt
  • Loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy
  • Difficulty sleeping (especially returning to sleep)
  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Changes in appetite or eating habits
  • Headaches, stomachaches, muscle or backaches

Male symptoms of postpartum depression are said to be more often characterized by the withdrawal and irritability factors on that list, and it’s largely attributed to the combination of parental pressure and enormous sleep deficits. Perez Hilton, who has been open about his mental health in the past, is pretty clear in the video that he knows what he is dealing with is not what he identifies as his experience of depression, but as unhealthy anxiety, which is a huge first step and aligned with the various studies. Hilton also mentions in his monologue that he’s a single parent (Mia is his second child via surrogate), and is sleep deprived, which would put anyone into a state of extreme stress. So all that being said, I again would like to commend him for coming forward – I’m proud he’s able to acknowledge this part of his postpartum process. With his far-reaching platform, to be open about something I’m sure many other fathers have faced can only help others to understand their own struggles and experiences. And of course – congrats, Perez, on baby Mia!

 

 


 

Resources:

Anxiety disorders and Types. WebMD.

Perez Hilton. Perez’s Anxiety Battle and Life with His Newborn Daughter. Perezhilton.com

David Wright. The Man Behind ‘Hollywood’s Most Hated Website’. ABC News Nightline.

Matthew Tharrett. Perez Hilton Would Like To Talk To You About His Depression. Queerty.com

Stacey Colino. The Other Postpartum Problem: Anxiety. Parents.com.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perez_Hilton

PerezHilton.com

Perez Hilton. Introducing…Mia Alma! PerezHilton.Com

Charlie Laino. Men Also Get Postpartum Depression. WebMD

Margarita Tartakovsky. When Dad Has Postpartum Depression. Psychcentral.com

Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.  Babycenter.com

Katherine Harmon. Fact or Fiction: Fathers Can Get Postpartum Depression. Scientific American.

 

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Categories: Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health

How to NOT Risk-Assess Yourself into a Panic: Stepmother Training 101

By April 13, 2015 1 Comment
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I’m brilliant at over-intellectualizing any challenge that comes my way. I can feel the earth shift at this very moment as my friends collectively roll their eyes in agreement on this one. As someone with a journalism undergrad, and a health policy and international health policy and development master’s degree (super quantitative, mind you), I am compelled to both over-research, and over-analyze things that I don’t know what to do with…until I know what to do with them. That both drives me and my loved ones batty at times. Mea culpa, loved ones. You’re a patient lot.

That being said, my latest obsession is learning all there is to learn about step parenting, as though there’s some sort of manual that will give me the magical information to make every
thing happen perfectly once we make it official. The fabled Cinderella stigma hangs over the head of every woman marrying a man with children – even look at the top photo associated with “stepfamily” on Google! I know, this quest to avoid being associated with a Disney villain by just acquiring the title of stepmother is ridiculous. From peer-reviewed articles to anecdotal self-help books, I’ve read myself silly, and frankly, I’m just about over it.

This past week with the wolfpack was busy, but I took the opportunity to get back to my reading, yet another anecdotal book on step parenting called The Single Girl’s Guide to Marrying A Man, His Kids, and His Ex-Wife. Instead of an informative read as I’d hoped, it was a series of horror stories: children tripping their stepmothers, spitting in stepparents’ faces, and name calling in the worst possible way, all kinds of awful behavior that I couldn’t even fathom coming from these two lovely, wonderful young men in my life.

Developing secure attachments with one another takes time, as does understanding how to respect and love one another on appropriate terms, making sure everyone’s needs are met, and creating space for each of us in the others’ lives. I’m finding that it takes time, patience, and a tireless sense of humor. I was raised in a house of women except for my even-keeled and god love him, very patient father. This house is a pack of the male species…where in their natural habitat, farts, smelly shoes, and rough housing are essential components of life. As a woman, I don’t relate to it very well (I love you, Dad. I’m sorry for puberty!), but I’m also learning I don’t need to try to be one of the guys. We’re inherently psychologically different, and we’re learning that that is ok.

But it hasn’t been all rainbows and bunnies; we all have our bad days, and adjusting to new people is a challenge. Fortunately, we’re not alone. According to clinical psychologist E. Mavis Hetherington (excerpted in the book Stepmonster), the divorce rate is 65% for marriages in which one partner has children from a previous marriage, with the key issues often related to the process of blending the family into a cohesive unit. Another study in the book suggests that once a stepfamily has surpassed the three-year mark, those marriages are more likely to survive than first marriages; with 5 years in, these stepfamily marriages are more likely to succeed than any other type of marriage. Those numbers seem daunting when I consider them and the marathon that 5 years could be if things were different than they are now. Perhaps most alarming of all is the general data that suggests that approximately 50% of children in the U.S. under the age of 13 are in a parent-stepparent home. Add that all together and it leaves plenty of people (including adolescents of divorce) cautiously approaching child-stepparental relationships as temporary and impermanent scenarios.

I’ve looked to psychology, evolution, biology and anthropology for answers, and the results are split. Some studies show that stepparents should actively engage with their stepchildren as a parent and guardian, while others say it’s best to emotionally disengage and step back, sometimes almost completely. As the science is as clear as mud on the subject, this means this is a path that the wolfpack and I have to clear on our own. I would urge others in my shoes to consider the same.

But I digress. Sitting on my bed, reading that book filled with chaotic tales, I was jarred back to the reality of what was so – what my current experience and current life looks like. Science and stories aside, my future stepsons and I have had the experiences we have had, and all the rest of these things I was reading were just fodder that I could choose or not choose to use to skew my perception of what my reality is. In that moment, I felt very grateful, and I put my book down and rushed out to find the oldest playing a video game, and I gave him a hug and thanked him for not being the kind of kid who would knock me down. In his typical teenage way, eyes still glued to the TV as I squeezed him tight, he said, incredulous, “uh, who DOES that?” Amen, dude. Who DOES that? Neither of them, fortunately.

When I fell in love with my fiance, I had no idea I would eventually fall in love with his boys. But I have, and I think that’s a precious gift. It makes it easier to deal with them when conflict comes up, which, because we’re all alive and human, it inevitably will.

 


 

Resources:

Bjornsen, Sally. The Single Girl’s Guide to Marrying A Man, His Kids, and His Ex-Wife

Martin, Wednesday. Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do

Hetherington, Mavis. For Better or for Worse: Divorce Reconsidered (findings from the 30 year Virginia Longitudinal Study)

http://www.stepfamily.org/stepfamily-statistics.html

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/01/13/a-portrait-of-stepfamilies/

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Categories: Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health

Colic is a Symptom, not a Diagnosis

By March 31, 2015 4 Comments
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When my son was about four weeks old he was diagnosed with colic. My response to the emergency room doctor, “I kind of figured that. What do we do?” She recommended we try the five Ss (which we had done almost 24/7 since he was born), but in the kindest way possible said other than that all we could do was wait for him to outgrow it in another two to four months. While I had been a weeping mess for weeks, blaming myself for being unable to handle a newborn, at that moment I knew the three of us wouldn’t survive much longer like this. And I wasn’t about to let that happen.

Having a background in public health, and being a data nerd, I jumped into the peer-reviewed literature and discovered a growing body of research that recognized colic as a symptom and not a disease. I created a daily spreadsheet and logged everything that happened in our house. What I ate, when I ate it, when my son ate, how much, diaper changes, when he slept (ha!), when there were breaks in his crying, and how long. It all went into the spreadsheet.

A week later after a particularly bad day my husband and I made an urgent appointment with our pediatrician. Instead, we had to see the on-call physician and that happened to be a stroke of sheer luck. She did a head-to-toe examination of our son, looked through his medical records and my spreadsheet (admittedly she heavily rolled her eyes) and said, “I think what we have here is a severe case of acid reflux.” She prescribed a strong pediatric proton-pump inhibitor and said that if it didn’t work within 48 hours, to come back and she would run some tests.

Twelve hours after his first dose, our son slept for five hours straight (!). When he woke up he was a different baby, the screaming all but gone and refreshingly happy. I often share our story with parents struggling with colic as an example of colic as a symptom and not a disease, so I was glad to see Dr. Chad Hayes’ piece in the Washington Post yesterday advocating for colic to be treated the same way. If you haven’t read it yet, you can read it below, and if you have or had a colicky baby take heed in what he says in his message.

[embed_articles url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/why-is-your-baby-crying-is-it-really-colic–or-not/2015/03/30/0f1b280c-c2c6-11e4-9271-610273846239_story.html]

 

 

Resources:

Chad Hayes. Why is your baby crying? Is it really colic – or not? The Washington Post. March 30, 2015. Retrieved 3.31.15.

Dr. Harvey Karm, MD. ‘5 S’s System’ May Help Colic Symptoms. The Happiest Baby on the Block. Retrieved 3.31.15

Roberts, DM., Ostapchuk, M. and O’Brien, JG. Infantile Colic. Journal of the American Family Physician. pp 735-40, August 2004. Retrieved 3.31.15.

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Categories: Ages + Stages, Newborns + Infants