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  1. Since my dad died about a year and a half ago, I haven’t visited his grave, I skip past old family photos when my phone reminds me of what happened this day X years ago, and I haven’t spoken about him much with your 7-year-old son. Avoidance has been my way to grieve. But now that my mom has finished grieving the loss of her husband of 50 years and has moved on to find a partner she trusts and is truly happy with, my avoidant behavior is no longer an effective strategy. My mom tells me to just be myself when I first meet her “new friend,” but my other question now is how do I talk with our son about his grandma’s new partner? For guidance (for myself and hopefully others who are in similar situations), I reached out to Dr. Natalia Kaczmarek, a clinical psychologist who is the founder and owner of Northbrook-based Indigo Therapy Group. Here is part of our conversation: Q: How confusing can it be for a child to hear that their grandparent has a boyfriend or girlfriend when all they've known is seeing their grandparents together? Dr. Kaczmarek: I think confusion would be dependent on timing of the disclosure and how they understand love/relationships. It may be helpful to provide some education or a metaphorical story around the importance of seeking out joy, sharing as much love as you can, and that we can never replace special people in our lives, rather, grow in different directions with different people. For younger children, it may also be helpful to explain the expectations around how to relate with the girlfriend or boyfriend. Again, in the spirit of concreteness, they may need to know that calling them by their first name is okay, that relationships take time to grow and there may be some awkward moments, and that finally, this person may be similar to getting to know a "fun aunt" or "cool babysitter". Q: How do you initiate a conversation with your child about their grandparent having a new "friend"? Are there preferred ways of how to refer to their grandparent's new partner? Dr. Kaczmarek: In my experience, kids don't really know what boyfriend or girlfriend fully entails. Sometimes, it's more important to explain who the person is and what the label means. For example, "Grandma has a new boyfriend named Jeff. Jeff and grandma have a lot of things in common that they do together, like... After getting to know each other, they realized they made each other really happy and something special." It may also be helpful to insert some direction around your/the family's reaction is and build in space for the child to ask questions/bring up concerns. For example, "We are really happy for grandma and Jeff because they make every day a bit more fun, and we hope you like Jeff too. If it ever feels a little weird, or, if Jeff makes you miss grandpa, you can always let me know." Q: Should these first few meetings between your child and their grandparent's new partner typically be short, informal, and in a neutral place? In other words, not at your home for the holidays? Dr. Kaczmarek: I recommend something fun and something that has a natural built-in distraction or common activity, like the zoo! Holidays and dinners can feel high pressure, and let's be honest, most kids don't want to sit for extended amounts of time and just talk. Doing something with a common point of interest, even a game or decorating cookies, allows a natural connection to happen that can feel comforting and natural. Kids are intuitive and they will pick up on the feelings of the adults. The more comfortable the adults are with one another, the more grounding it will also be for the kids. Q: What do you tell your child if they ask if their grandparent's friend is going to be their new grandma or grandpa? Dr. Kaczmarek: Well, we are not psychics and it's impossible to answer this question with certainty! But your child probably isn't asking because they need to know the definite answer. If your child is asking about this, they are probably curious or maybe even anxious about something else - for example, will everyone just "forget" the deceased family member? / will there be new traditions? / what if you child doesn't like the new friend? / etc.? If your child is asking this, it's important to be honest with your uncertainty, and to lean into the question with some curiosity. Providing space for your child to express their concerns and validate those things (not necessarily providing solutions), can be very healing in their journey through adjustment and loss. Q: Are there signs parents should look for when trying to determine if their child needs to see a therapist about their grandparent dying? Dr. Kaczmarek: Every kid processes so differently that it's difficult to give a "one size fits all" recommendation. However, if you see any marked changes that are particularly disruptive to their functioning, like frequent emotional distress, externalizing behavior, persistent worries/ruminations about safety/your life, school issues/avoidance, nightmares, or potty issues, it may be helpful to get in with a therapist. It's also important to know that some level of distress is normal and should be anticipated. Other red flags would be if the changes are happening for an extended period of time and if things they used to enjoy don't seem to have the same positive impact. For sensitive children and families that have the privilege of planning, getting started with a therapist pre-emptively may be helpful. Again, it may take quite a while for a therapist to build a connection, reinforce a sense of emotional safety in the room, and teach a variety of emotional concepts to even begin grief work. Starting that work sooner than later would be helpful - and worst comes to worst, your child doesn't need as many sessions as you anticipated!
  2. There aren’t many topics that seem to ruffle feathers like the “Gentle Parenting” debate. And honestly, it makes so much sense. At some point the term Gentle Parenting came to be associated with permissive parenting, lack of boundaries, and parents who seemingly never get upset or raise their voice above 50 decibels. And while I didn’t coin the phrase, and I’m not too interested in defending the beast that gentle parenting has become, I will fiercely defend the parenting approach that I think it was trying to be. We love labels and categories, a quick google search on parenting approaches will turn up phrases like: gentle parenting, attachment parenting, connected parenting, permissive parenting, traditional parenting, conscious parenting, etc. But you don’t have to pay attention to any of that. If there is one thing I believe all parents need to understand, it’s that the best outcomes for our children depend on parenting in a way that builds a secure attachment between them (kids) and us (parents). And good luck trying to rebrand attachment theory, it’s grounded in decades of research. Its purpose and good name is here to stay! In my transformational parenting program The Empowered Parent: 90 Days to Parenting with Confidence, Pride, and Success, I lead parents to build this securely attached relationship with their children. And while my clients tackle aspects of parenting both deep and wide reaching, there is some myth busting that almost always takes place. So let’s set the record straight on three arguments I come across a lot. They’ll never be ready for the “real world” - which isn’t gentle at all. Yep! The world isn’t gentle. And guess what! Our kids are already living in that world. They experience pain, confusion, and heartache just as we do. They endure the death of family members, friends move away, they attend a new school, they encounter mistreatment, they witness images of violence. And they do all of this before they have a fully developed brain that could make better sense of it all. The world is tough, and we don’t need to be a source of that toughness. Instead, we provide security and safety. This is how our children grow to have resilience when they face hardships. The resilience is a result of having a safe and secure base in us to come home to. You can’t just let kids do whatever they want. I don’t know that anyone who understands attachment theory would advocate for letting kids do whatever they want - children need boundaries. I do however know that when parents move away from a mindset of needing to control their children and hold power over them, they see more cooperation and mutual respect. Think of your parenting as a set of guardrails along a path. If the guardrails are very narrow, our kids will constantly bump into them, causing friction and frustration for all of us. If the guardrails are too far apart or not present at all, our kids lack safety and reliable ways to learn from our leadership and presence. But when the guardrails are just right, we allow our children to explore, learn from mistakes with natural consequences, and provide the safety and leadership of thoughtful boundaries. Sometimes kids just manipulate for attention. This one may be half true! While I don’t think children misbehave to manipulate, I do think that a need for connection (i.e. attention) can show up with undesirable behavior. In her book Beyond Behaviors, Dr. Mona Delahooke explains that all behavior is communication. If we are able to shift from a behaviorist mindset that solely looks at behavior as something to be rewarded or punished, we are then free to examine beneath the surface and uncover the underlying cause of a child’s behavior. Often, our examination will reveal a child’s unmet need or an underdeveloped skill. At the simplest level, a newborn doesn’t cry to manipulate us. A newborn cries to get a need met - for example the need to be fed. And an infant hasn’t yet developed the skills (i.e. brain development) to ask for food with words or sign language. A key piece to the 90 day Empowered Parent Accelerator program is growing in knowledge of our child’s brain development. Understanding this development can make all the difference in how we respond to behavior - and probably most importantly the story we tell ourselves (and our children) about who our children are at their core.
  3. If you'd asked me where I'd be in 2023 as a teenager - there's no way I'd ever guess I'd spend my weekends couch surfing with my kids while watching Disney movies that I've seen a thousand times...and enjoying it. My social life as a teen/early adult was that of scene from a pop-themed movie. Nonstop plans, no fears or worries about being mugged, short dresses, scandalous heels that I could actually walk in (how!?) and more than anything, friends out the whazoo. I had friends from college, high school friends, cheer friends, friends of friends, guy friends, queer friends, straight friends, family friends - you name it and they were a friend of mine. It was completely normal for me to strike up a full conversation with a total stranger on the L over their shoes. Oh, you're also getting off at Fullerton at the same time as me? Instant friend! Fast-forward to today where I avoid making eye contact with strangers at all costs. Especially in public, unfamiliar places. Spark up a random conversation with a stranger that lasts longer than 30 seconds? As if. What gives?? Turns out, I'm not the only one. A quick Google search reveals that making friends as an adult is a common query and also that it is notoriously harder than it ever was. In fact, it is so difficult that there are apps dedicated to it. According to people smarter than me who are paid to research things like this, COVID is largely to blame. Per the Surgeon General, America is in the midst of a loneliness epidemic, and the forced physical separation of the pandemic certainly didn't help us stay in touch. Surveys show that many Americans lost friends thanks to two years of shutdowns and restrictions. Also, newsflash - you still got it, sis! The difficulty isn't that you're uncool or awkward. It's that the essential building blocks of friendship are harder to come by when you're older. For example, research shows making a casual friend takes 50 hours on average, while close friendships take 200 hours (yes, like 199 +1). Ain't nobody got time for that! So how do we push past the awkwardness and actually find time to dedicate to making new friends? And if you're anything like me, how do we convince ourselves that making friends is actually something we need? Because I have totally sold myself on Netflix and chilling with my kids in my spare time... Here are a few tips! Find your people Breaking news: to make friends you have to actually leave your house. But unless we are cool with being besties with our toddlers - teens, we gotta break free from the couch. An easy place to start, find yo' people! Finding a group of people that you naturally have things in common with is an easy launch point. Are you a new mom? Join a local new moms group (shameless plug for NPN's New Moms Group!), go to a family-friendly activity, or a networking event if professional friends are your thing. Don't just go though, you have to actually talk to people. As awkward as it may seem, approach someone and say something nice or ask them a question. Apparently this works. Connect AND MEAN IT How often have you met someone cool, hit it off amazingly, and then you're like, "okay totally let's do this again!" Only to never.do.it.again? Fall out of this trap by actually setting plans (AND ADDING THEM TO YOUR CALENDAR) before you leave. Adult friendships are a lot like scheduled sex. You can't believe you have to, but you feel much better knowing what to prepare for. Understand the benefits Adult friendships are a lot more than nice-to-haves or the icing on top of a successful adult life. Positive friendships are a proven mood booster and stress buster (while loneliness can be as bad for your body as smoking a pack a day). So unless, you're fond of smoking and want to die alone (okay, maybe a tiny bit dramatic) - the benefits to making friends are real. Also, for this assignment - work friends DO NOT count. Get out there and make some friends you aren't paid to hang out with. Morale of the story...don't give up on making new friends! It won't happen effortlessly like it did when we were in college but a lot has changed since then so why wouldn't our process of making and keeping friends? With a little planning and courage, the whole friends as adults thing is totally doable. Wanna be friends?
  4. until
    In this live webinar, Sarah Davis, founder of Olive. You. Nanny, will discuss how to hire a nanny and build a successful relationship with them. You will learn the steps to take during the hiring process and how to lay the foundation for a healthy relationship. About our panelist Sarah launched Olive.You.Nanny in 2005 in Chicago. Prior to opening Olive.You.Nanny, she was a professional nanny for 10 years in San Francisco, Denver and Chicago. She prioritizes helping parents and nannies build long-lasting relationships. Sarah has three children and now lives in Austin, TX. Questions about this event? Contact Amy at amy@npnparents.org
  5. NPN Amy J.

    Head, Heart, Hand Parenting

    Join Reena Vohra Morgan of Hive Educational Consulting as she shares a parent centric framework grounded in attachment theory, brain science and responsive parenting strategies. In this introductory workshop, you will learn ten pillars that can help you develop healthier family relationships and bring more peace, calm, and joy to your home. This session is useful for parents with children of any age, from 0 to adulthood. Reena Vohra Morgan is a mother to three children and has over twenty years of experience in education. She holds a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Development, Montessori certificates, and is a Jai Certified Parenting Coach. In combination with theoretical knowledge, practical experience, and compassion, Reena uses a strengths-based, reflective approach to coach and empower educators and parents. She offers concrete strategies, tools, and manageable action plans to support adults who interact directly with children. Reena is certified in positive discipline and Resources for Infant EduCareers (REI). Reena resides in Chicago with her family. Questions? Contact Amy at amy@npnparents.org.
  6. As a family law mediator and attorney, my hours are filled with former couples who must learn how to communicate for the benefit of their child. In advising clients on how to do this, we have to consider certain situations or feelings that get in the way. Before diving into advice on appropriate communication, I’ll explain a bit more on why it is so important: Your child deserves the best version of you, and the healthiest parents possible. Only you can provide them with a happy, healthy, and functional you. Your behavior is a model framework, and your child learns more from how you interact with others than from how you instruct them to interact with others. As we know too well, children are observant and smart. In their social skills now and for the future, your child will reference your communication skills (or lack thereof) as guidance for their social interactions. You are very uniquely positioned to help them become functional individuals who can face interpersonal difficulties. Your child will certainly pick up on your own attitude, demeanor, and language about your ex. If you ask adults whose parents were divorced to share a memory of how their parents communicated, they will undoubtedly remember. You don’t want your child to grow and think, “wow, my parent really couldn’t put me first. They hated my other parent more than they loved me.” You want your child to grow and know, “my parent did their best to protect me from the nuance and nastiness of their adult romantic relationship.” Finally, remember that your child is truly a combination of you and your ex. Regardless of who your child is closer to, resembles, prefers, etc., remember this: they have two parents. Your child could likely internalize at least some of what you’re saying about their other parent, because it’s, well, their parent! And you have a truly special opportunity to show them how to communicate in a healthy way. Caveat: My thoughts apply to standard or high-conflict situations where everyone is physically safe. Anyone dealing with an abusive or violence ex should, of course, put safety first. Universal guidelines for communication with a co-parent: Accept that your relationship with this adult is now primarily transactional. Consider this a business relationship where you are essentially professionals working together raising the child. Make, keep, and reaffirm boundaries. I highly recommend the book by Nedra Glover Tawwab as described below. Some common examples of boundaries with co parents are: Only being available to them for matters related to your child; Letting their calls go to voicemail and reviewing the voicemail; Answer non-urgent requests within 24 hours; and Reminding them as needed of your boundaries. Keep it BIFF: Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm. As described in the book mentioned below, communication between co parents can and should, in general, be straightforward. Your exchanges should be brief and to the point; informative and useful (no communication “just because…”); friendly without being flirty, and firm without being harsh. Again, you now have primarily a transactional relationship with this person. Behave accordingly. Consider shared calendar and family organization apps (Google Calendar, Our Family Wizard, Talking Parents) to limit unnecessary back-and forth. Never use the child as a messenger. Consider therapy another source of professional help for handling the massive emotions and changes you’re likely experiencing. You don’t have to do this alone. When one of you is still in love: Accept reality. However you must do this, learn and accept that you are now a solo parent and a single individual. This person is not your spouse, they are not your romantic partner. It is not ok to flirt with them or treat them romantically or “cute.” Distance yourself. Refrain from contacting them unnecessarily, or for reasons outside of their new role as co-parent (and not as your romantic interest). Ask some friends to be your assistants in this, and check with them before sending or saying anything that you think may not be best. Reframe their role in your life. While you may have once been comfortable calling this person your husband/wife/ spouse, this person has a new role: Teammate on Team Child. I have seen parents save each other's phones as new contacts “Sam Jones- Team Billy!” It’s corny, but maybe it will help. (Side note: if you can’t save them as something nice, save them as their own name. This is not a time for “nicknames.”) When there’s hate: Process it on your own. You are probably going to want a therapist, if only for a short term. How can you move forward if you’re still so angry abo it the past? Your anger may be well-founded and deserved, I get it. You must learn to leave your child out of this as much as possible, and prevent them from becoming collateral damage. Keep it away from your child. Regardless of where you are in the healing journey, your child is dealing with enough on their own. Protect them from adult matters by discussing co parenting issues when they aren’t around. Speaking in “code” or just out of their earshot probably doesn’t work as well as you think it does. Note: if there is or was abuse or violence in your relationship with your now-coparent, i recommend the following books in particular: “Splitting” and “Why Does He Do That?” These books separately address some of the considerations that you may unfortunately be dealing with. Regardless of where you are in the coparenting process, I hope you will consider your child above all else. Even the “best” parents struggle sometimes. It is hard! And you can do hard things. Especially ones that are so very worth it for your child. **Here are the links to the recommended reads mentioned above:** Set Boundaries, Find Peace: https://www.semicolonchi.com/humble-design/1du11v25tyoistwttyram0lgrgxvib BIFF: https://www.highconflictinstitute.com/bookstores/biff-for-coparents Splitting: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/9996542 Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/224552.Why_Does_He_Do_That_
  7. until
    Individual and Family Connection will be hosting a free webinar for parents who want to deepen their understanding of meditation and learn mindfulness tools to enhance their relationship with their children. Join child and family therapist Sherry Fleydervish, LCPC to learn: - The neuroscience behind meditation - 4 simple meditations - Anxiety & why we worry as parents - Practicing non-judgment - Meditating with kids Advanced registration is required. Please go here to register. A link for the webinar will be sent upon registration. This is a free event. This is an external partner event. Please contact the organization directly with any questions or concerns: hello@ifccounseling.com
  8. Working to get to a place where each parent is comfortable with the other household can take years of trials and tribulations. Now, coparents with minimal conflict and an established routine have had an unforeseen wrench thrown into things: COVID-19. The underlying issue that causes conflict in split households is the worry that comes with one parent lacking control or knowledge over what occurs in the other’s household, which is why communication is important — but even with great communicators, this can be hard. As a family lawyer, I'm flagging some issues that I've seen arise during COVID-19 with split household families, and sharing advice on how to resolve these problems. [Related: How to co-parent during the coronavirus pandemic] 1. Vaccinations. As vaccines become more widespread, parents may have differing views on whether the members of their household will become vaccinated — whether it be parents, relatives, and soon, children. Parents must consider the science presented, consult with the pediatrician, and discuss their concerns and values. Whether parents or children get vaccinated could impact parenting time in limited situations. 2. Third Parties. Significant others, extended family, and caregivers are third parties that children may be in contact with. It is appropriate to ask questions to ensure they are abiding by CDC guidelines, and if genuine concern arises regarding the presence of third parties, first address it with your coparent. If the issue persists, it may be time to address the concern with a mediator, family therapist, parenting coordinator or the Court if necessary. 3. Summer Travel. There are different reasons why travel may occur over the summer. First, if one parent lives out of state, it may be necessary for either the parent or child to travel, perhaps for extended parenting time, or simply for summer vacation. If you plan to take a trip over the summer, it is important to give notice to your coparent as soon as possible in order to avoid last minute conflict. In addition, discuss logistics such as whether you’ll be driving instead of flying, who you will be traveling with, the location where you will be staying, and what you intend to do during the travel. [Related: How to handle remote learning while co-parenting] 4. Exposure. Create a game plan for what will happen if one parent or member of a household becomes exposed to COVID-19. This can include preparing for quarantine, who should be tested, and coordinating make-up parenting time. Consult with your child’s pediatrician for advice regarding quarantine procedures and testing. If in-person parenting time must cease for a quarantine period, consider how virtual parenting time can be exercised through Zoom, Facetime, or similar. 5. Back to School. As summer plans are discussed, the next step will be the return to school in the fall — for which more and more will be an in-person setting. Parents will have to make decisions such as what district, public or private, in person, remote or hybrid. While vaccines are increasing and schools are reopening, there is still a lot unknown. Stay in the know on what schools are offering and how they are deciding to operate in the fall and keep these questions in mind, so they do not create last-minute chaos. Communication regarding all of these issues helps to minimize the conflict. If there is disagreement, it is likely more time and cost effective to utilize mediation or a parenting coordinator before turning to litigation, or a family therapist to learn communication skills.
  9. Photo by Edwin Hooper It is November 1, 2020, as I write this article. You will be reading this in Winter 2021. So much will happen between today and the new year: the election (pause and breathe), Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and New Year’s. That is a lot to take in under normal circumstances, but this year, none of it will be exactly normal. Whatever comes of the election and the intense holiday season, there will certainly be additional tension at the start of the year for all families. [Related: Self-care during Covid: Creating your own pandemic slow-down] The following is a list of possible scenarios for processing the holidays. Pick the one that most closely resembles your experience, and then match that scenario with thoughts about the new year. A. Your candidate won the election and your whole, extended family was in agreement and celebrated. This excitement wove its way seamlessly into your holidays and everyone agreed on a safe plan for a socially distant celebration of all the holidays (every holiday was celebrated because of your culturally diverse family that blends and honors all the holidays equally). Despite the uncertainty of what lies ahead in 2021, you feel so nourished by your time with family and friends that you sprang into the New Year full of hope and possibilities of this new frontier. B. Your candidate lost the election. You felt alone in your family of “other candidate” supporters and had to spend a decent amount of time through the holidays listening to their gloating, while you are terrified for what is to come of our country over the next four years. Some members of the family think COVID is a hoax, while others haven’t left their house since March because they are so scared. It was so disappointing not to have the annual all-family holiday gathering that each family did their own thing and never connected as a big group. You feel defeated and hopeless going into 2021 C. You got through it. Is choice “A” even possible? Is some version of choice “B” inevitable? Is choice “C” pretty darn likely? [Related: From slow to go! Balancing life post-pandemic.] The reality is, there is truth and possibility in all three. And whether one of these was close to your actual experience or not, we will all have had aspects of all of them and a season like no other we could have imagined. Good for us! That’s right: I said, good for us! Now is when we really need to celebrate: our fortitude, our resilience, our creativity in difficult situations that brought bits of normalcy and spirit into chaos. In addition to celebrating, here are a few ways you can take your lived experience of 2020 — the good, the bad and the ugly — and use it to make a positive difference in how you experience 2021: Make a list of challenges you faced this past year and how you dealt with them. If you didn’t like how you handled some of them, what can you do differently when something similar arises this year? Be ready! Let your feelings flow. If you are like most of us, you’ve been holding your breath to get through it, only to realize there is no getting through. Share with a loved one your authentic fears, hopes, dreams for this year. It is never too late to have a joyful holiday! Bring as much of the true spirit of the holidays into the new year as we can: generosity of spirit, goodwill, beauty, light in the darkness, charity, and lots of hope.
  10. Mother's Day is such a loaded holiday for lots of reasons — often tied to traditions set in place to honor our own mothers. But like it did in 2020, this Mother’s Day isn’t “normal.” Will it be any different this year? Or is it something that you're looking forward to because it's predictable? Given the challenges and victories for mothers and all caregivers who continue to prevail in this pandemic, I believe it’s a perfect time to expose and disrupt the status quo. Starting with Mother’s Day. Do you know its origin? It started as an anti-war movement in the 1850s. In 1870, Julia Ward Howe — composer of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" — issued a widely read "Mother's Day Proclamation" calling for women to take an active political role in promoting peace. Ultimately, in 1914 Anna Jarvis was successful in her campaign to have the day dedicated to appreciating your own mother when President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it a national holiday. [Related: Mother's Day ideas for Chicago moms] Unfortunately, Jarvis lost her second battle which was to keep the holiday out of the hands of consumerism. Speaking of which, how much do you think we spend on Mother’s Day? Made up mostly of greeting cards, flowers, and social outings, Americans spent $26.7 billion dollars on Mother’s day in 2020. Does the 7% spending increase (in the throes of a pandemic) from 2019 and the 45% increase from 2010 translate to a mothers' increased fulfillment and satisfaction in the day? Well, that is for each individual mother to decide. Let’s look at it another way that might spark your interest. Just as you are the author and director of your pleasure in all spheres of your life (wink, wink), so too are you ultimately responsible for your own “MOM-GASM!” I may be stretching it a bit with the metaphor, but the possibility for a day where everything from time with yourself to experiences with others brings you delight. [Related: To the mom missing her dad on Father's Day] The sky's the limit, but the key is to make it your own. Map out your day, and if you want it a certain way, you have to ask for it — your family cannot read your mind. While lovely to receive gifts and acknowledgment, one day won’t refuel you from a year of incredible stress and increased hours of unpaid labor. But you deserve to design a lovely day. As women, we are generally great at caring for others, but not so adept with mothering ourselves. Empower yourself this Mother’s Day to disrupt old paradigms that do not serve you, and create a vision or intention for yourself. It’s not selfish, nor does it take away from the day to communicate your wishes and set the tone. While hardly exhaustive, I offer a few ideas to get your started: • Do some research on May day/Mother’s day in different cultures. • Create your own “ritual” or devotion for the day that you may carry forward. • Inventory all the ways you have mothered yourself and others during a deadly pandemic. • Ask for a vision or wishes from your family for the year ahead. • Carve out a minimum of an hour, but hopefully more, of alone time. • Keep it real and remember it has been an incredible year, and you can feel all of your feelings on this day and beyond. Cheers to you, Mother.
  11. We are now nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic and have experienced the accompanying challenges and bright spots of quarantine, working remotely, and e-learning. As we acclimate to the new normal, you might be experiencing some clarity in your relationships. Some people are realizing their relationship with their significant other may bring unhappiness rather than satisfaction, or strain rather than ease. Are you staying for the sake of your children? Have you tried couple’s therapy but still cannot get along? If you relate to any of these issues, you may be already considering separation or divorce. This can be incredibly difficult to process, but the struggles we have all experienced over the past year may have alerted you to a desire for change. This realization may be enlightening or potentially distressing, but the next steps do not have to be strenuous or daunting. You can separate peacefully and amicably by taking into consideration the following tips. [Related: Have a difficult ex? Co-parenting is possible with these tools] Communication and compromise The best thing you can do now is communicate with your spouse, either directly or through a therapist or your lawyer, in a respectful manner. Compromise and cooperation are key. Peaceful processes Consider mediation, which involves a neutral third party to facilitate the separation or an uncontested divorce process, where either one or both parties can have representation and the divorce will move forward seamlessly so long as there is agreement amongst the parties. Another idea is to begin or continue in therapy for communication or co-parenting counseling. For other couples, separation may become contentious but if you can keep level-headed and communicate your thoughts with your spouse, this can help exponentially. Keep in mind that the common goal is to separate civilly and expeditiously. Children come first Remember your common goals of keeping the children happy, safe and healthy are priority; always consider their wants or needs and how to align those with your requests in the separation. You and your co-parent must cooperate and act in your children’s best interests. There are a variety of professionals that can facilitate this process: a Child Representative or Guardian ad Litem may be appointed to represent the children’s interests, or a Parenting Coordinator may be appointed to help with communication. Self-care Something many people forget during separation is taking care of themselves. Try to do activities you may not have done with your significant other or even with your children — anything from starting a new fitness class online to spending more time with your friends and loved ones. Recognize that self-care is one of the most important routines you should preserve during this time. If you keep the above tips in mind, separation and divorce during COVID-19 may actually enhance your life. Remember: Your and your children’s happiness is indispensable.
  12. My long-term relationship that had been fizzling for quite a while had finally snuffed out when it occurred to me that I should become a single-mother-by choice. I was always able to picture myself as a mother but the image of myself as a wife was hazy. Very willing to have the baby and not the man, I started to strategize on how to make that happen. What is a single-mother-by-choice (SMC)? Sometimes called a choice mom or only parent, a single-mother-by-choice is a woman who decides to become a mother with full understanding that she will be the only parent. Or as the 2015 article, the single mother by choice myth defines it, “she’s the epitome of the modern independent woman who wants to have it all, career and family ─ taking her future into her hands, acting decisively, and doing what it takes to achieve her goal of motherhood, with no need for a man. A single-mother-by-choice will pursue motherhood with the aid of donor sperm from either a known donor, with a sperm bank, or private donation. I went with a sperm bank. How does it work? Initially, my plan was intrauterine insemination (IUI), where sperm is placed inside the uterus. Some women are brave enough to do it on their own at home. I wanted to go through a doctor. In doing so, I researched the best in the Chicagoland area and went with Chicago IVF. After sharing my medical history, I underwent a hysterosalpingogram, an X-ray of my uterus and fallopian tubes. I learned that in vitro fertilization (IVF), where the sperm and egg are fertilized outside of the body and then placed inside the uterus, was my only option. Due to the rigorous care schedule, I transferred my care to the Fertility Center of Illinois in River North because it was closer to home and work. Speaking of work, in Illinois, there is a state mandate that health insurance must cover fertility treatment, including up to four cycles of IVF. But how does it work as a parent? The African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child, rings loud and true for an only parent. If not to help in childcare or to have someone in case of emergency, you will need a sane adult to let you know that you will survive. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the help of my parents—without them, working from home during the shelter-in-place would have been impossible. Any advice for someone considering SMC-hood? Working to get pregnant is well, work. Don’t be afraid to ask all of the questions. Choose a healthcare team that you’re comfortable with, especially if you’re a woman of color as racial and ethnic disparities in pregnancy-related deaths persist. Get a full physical workup before you start. Keep a journal because pregnancy comes with a lot of feelings and your journal can be your listening ear. Focus on what you have and not on what you’re missing. It took me two years to become pregnant. Out of those 730 days, Mother’s and Father’s Days were some of the roughest. The first year, I was starting IVF and had no clue if it would work. I skipped church and their Mother’s Day parade and focused all the energy I had after a good shower cry on my mom. That Father’s Day was rough because I was working to become an SMC and I was already rife with worry of how my baby-to-be would feel about the holiday seeing that she or he wouldn’t have a conventional dad. By the next year, I was an IVF pro, but I still needed a distraction. I spent that holiday season uplifting other moms-to-be and hosted a Twitter giveaway for a self-care kit. However, the nervousness around Father’s Day persisted. My mom was the first person I told my decision to become an SMC. “A baby needs a dad,” she said, and I agreed. But when I told her that I didn’t want to miss my chance to become a mother because I didn’t have a man, she quickly gave me her blessing. Yet, that didn’t stop me from praying that my love for my child would be enough. My third embryo transfer, in which my father drove me to the doctor, was a charm. That February, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Mother’s Day of that year was going to be great. My mom and I made plans to brunch with her best friend and her daughters, all of whom are mothers. I would finally get to celebrate with the cool kids. I even bought me and the baby boy matching shirts. But the Thursday before Mother’s Day, my father had a stroke. My mother spent the holiday in the hospital with my dad, while I celebrated my first Mother’s Day worrying and taking awkward selfies of me and my son. My dad’s recovery was slow but steady. He was still in the hospital for Father’s Day. Me, mom, and the baby sat around his bed and ate salads from Portillo’s. This year, while Mother’s and Father’s Day was off-kilter for the entire country, I’ve finally hit a stride and that blanket of burden is gone. My son is growing into his own person every single day and I’m confident in my ability to parent him, for now. This first year of parenting has already taught me that he will change and change. Even this Father’s Day felt better. My dad is doing as well as we could expect, and I’ve begun to practice my spiel on how I will tell my son know that he’s donor-conceived. I’ve even had the opportunity to connect with two handfuls of his donor siblings ─ giving him a peek (when he’s ready) into his other side, albeit extremely non-conventional. And maybe now I will channel all that Mother’s and Father’s Day tension into a holiday more deserving, like National Brownie Day.
  13. Co-parenting is always a balancing act, but add your child's remote learning into the mix and you could have a real challenge on your hands. As always, communication is key. Each parent should be informed on what the back to school process looks like and all available options, knowing that with COVID-19, recommendations and options are changing every day. Discuss with your co-parent the concerns you each have as it pertains to healthcare, your work schedule, and your child’s educational, emotional and social needs. [Related: How to co-parent during the coronavirus pandemic] What are some options you can consider? Perhaps a temporary modification of the current schedule to better accommodate the child’s new hybrid learning model or remote learning schedule. Seek out advice from teachers and counselors at your children’s school to help create a good parenting schedule and break up of work among both households. Perhaps brainstorming together about co-teaching different subjects and classes, coming up with activities or homework that can involve both parties. Children will also be in a time of transition during the period of remote or hybrid learning. It is vital as parents to be on the same team with one another, trying to create a fun and educational environment in both homes, finding new and exciting ways to teach and learn given the circumstances. However, co-parents may be facing certain issues that nuclear families do not. For example, a point of contention may arise over which home is more equipped to facilitate remote learning during the week. Do both parents have adequate access to a computer, an extra room or office, or even faster internet? Another issue may be that one parent’s work schedule may allow for more hands-on learning with the child while the other’s work schedule poses time constraints. Parents need to communicate with one another and determine what the best remote learning option is for their child. [Related: Have a difficult ex? Co-parenting is still possible with these tools] Apps such as Talking Parents and Our Family Wizard should be used for parents to check in and make sure the children are being kept up to date on the school curriculum. Calendar applications within the OurFamilyWizard program can be used to update the other parent on homework for the week and what work has already been completed. Parents also should communicate to ensure that consistency is being maintained. It is expected that both parents get on the same page to facilitate remote learning in equal or similar environments, support one another, and communicate about issues the child may experience. If you and your co-parent are worried about the transition to online learning (and parenting) or have already been faced with hiccups when trying to compromise, seeking third-party help is always an option. Mediation, Parenting Coordination or involving a Guardian ad Litem may be the best resources for helping you both come to a healthy resolution or fair compromise. These forms or third-party help can be used to avoid costly litigation and help parents stay grounded in the most important thing: the way your child can learn, progress, and transition to remote learning with ease. The Law Office of Erin M. Wilson specializes in family law, litigation, mediation and parenting coordination.
  14. Even in the best of times, being great at both parenting and partnership requires deft maneuvering. Throw in a global pandemic, and many of the struggles two-parent households are experiencing shine in glaringly bright light. But it’s possible this time could forever redefine our roles in the home and our relationships with our partners. Simply put, sheltering-in-place together has answered the question around what we do in a day. We’ve always juggled a lot but there’s less curiosity about what the other parent has done, is doing, and will do for the family. Still, I’d like you to ask yourself: Who’s the default parent in your child’s eyes? Are you happy with how well you work with your partner to tackle the never-ending list? Do you fairly split the domestic work in (and out of) your home? Your time should be valued equally to your partner’s. You shouldn’t have to feel resentful or like you’re nagging to receive help from your spouse. If things feel inefficient at home or you feel like you’re secretly keeping score on what they do versus what you do in a day, there’s an opportunity for improvement. [Related: Will my relationship survive this virus?] My husband and I share two children, five and one and a half years old—both boys. I run two companies. He works full time and is the breadwinner of our household. We’re making it work during the pandemic by having clear discussions, separate tasks and respect for each other’s roles. Here’s how you can get started on the path to equity in your partnership. Have a direct conversation. Changing the dynamic with your spouse is a difficult conversation to have, but it’s worth having. Most folks will react positively to a direct approach, an explicit and collaborative request for help. Consider your approach. How you communicate directly affects the way you are heard in the world. This also holds true in your own home. It’s important to be thoughtful in your approach. Deliver your ask for help in a way that engages and invites your partner to have a conversation with you. To start you might say, “All this time at home has me thinking about how we run our house and manage the kids. I think we both see how much it takes. I’m wondering if there’s a way to make things feel easier, so we can get stuff done faster. Want to make some time to talk about later?” Know your intention going into the conversation so you can manage the outcome. You’re asking for a true collaborator in the system, so put some value behind it. Give them a reason for buying-in to the plan so there’s mutual understanding. For example, your partner may be really happy to hear that buying into this will bring you more happiness, that you’ll be a more fulfilled spouse. Or they may be happy to hear that they’ll finally be taking the lead on certain things. Keep tasks separate. There needs to be a clear division of who’s doing what, and when, to maximize efficiency and minimize disappointment. Trust matters, so give your partner space to take care of things from start to finish. In my family, important dates and details are added to a shared calendar so the person responsible for that to-do has all they need to pull it off without bothering the other person for information. Continue the conversation. This is an ongoing conversation. It’s about teamwork and the mutual respect you have for one another. My partner and I talk household/kid-stuff regularly so nothing is left up for interpretation. We do this every day while making the bed in the morning or while we’re having breakfast. While it took time for both of us to fall into this way of life, we now unapologetically rely on it, and as a result, are less exhausted by day-to-day adulting. [Related: What it's like to be a parent with Covid] When couples habitually choose to divide and conquer their to-do list, they are choosing a new way to talk about what they need. They’re recognizing that time is precious and by creating household efficiencies, there’s space in the day for what matters. Like laughing and having fun. And lots of snuggles. For me, that means I see my partner raising two boys without any stereotypes of toxic masculinity. In turn, my kids see his full, vulnerable heart and this helps their emotional development. They also see two dependable people managing the mundane to the outrageous for our home, while juggling their careers and hobbies. This is valuable modeling for their future, one where there isn’t a helper parent but an equal partnership while parenting. I’d even dare to say we’re creating new patterns to make life a little more fair one day. At least that’s my hope.
  15. Co-parenting can be complicated enough without additional factors that throw a wrench into the system you and your co-parent have developed. The presence of coronavirus will alter the way that you co-parent. Here are some tips on how to be successful co-parents while dealing with coronavirus. Stick with the routine where you can. During this stressful time, there will be adjustments that have to be made. However, it is important to keep consistency in the places that you can. Children thrive on routines, so keeping small things consistent will help them remain calm and make a scary situation more predictable. Try to engage in similar activities with your child as you have in the past. If your child is out of school, try to incorporate academics into their day. School subjects can be incorporated into the daily routine with activities that you have done in the past such as reading their favorite books, practicing their favorite school subject with writing or math exercises, or even at home science experiments. Also, coordinate with your children’s teachers, as many are sending excellent resources for you to do at home. Accept that you may have to interact with your co-parent more than usual. Communicating during this time is going to be more important than ever. Communication tools such as Our Family Wizard and Google Calendar can help increase communication while also keeping it civil. Pickups and drop-offs may have to be face-to-face if school or your usual spot is no longer an option, so minimize all unnecessary interaction when you exchange your child. Try to keep these communications as short and efficient as possible. Do your best to be as responsive, understanding and civil as possible as you communicate and interact with the co-parent. Be flexible. It is not surprising to know that parenting schedules and systems are not always set in stone. Things come up that require changes to be made. During this time, there will have to be adjustments to the parenting system that you have developed over time. It is important to be flexible and work with your co-parent in order to keep things running smoothly for your children. If you are uncomfortable with the current custody agreement due to coronavirus, openly communicate that with your co-parent and attempt to come to a temporary agreement. Make sure you know which battles are important for you to fight, and which battles you are able to concede. At the end of the day, both parents will have to compromise and work together in order to continue functioning. Accept help. During the practice of social distancing, children have seen a decrease in their typical events, including extracurricular activities, playdates, school and sports. However, you may still have to work. This can create issues if you are unable to watch your child at certain times. Accepting help from your co-parent or other third parties will be extremely beneficial to you and your child. Accepting help will decrease your stress levels as well. Putting personal issues aside and accepting help from a step-parent or extended family may be necessary in order to act in the best interest of your child.
  16. Many of us are in a relationship that was already taxed before being quarantined and ordered to stay at home — for the foreseeable future. Some of you are in the process of divorce and now that courts have halted, you are feeling stuck. Others with children are now having to work even more as a team, which was already difficult pre-Covid-19. This isn’t easy. More time together in a pressure cooker of tight spaces and new stresses is rough. Maybe your partner has some really annoying habits or doesn’t handle stress well. Or perhaps your children are more likable when they go to school and wear off some energy before you hang out together. I get it. No matter what, there are things you can do to make things better. Research shows that if even one person in a relationship makes a positive change, it can have lasting effects on the relationship as a whole. I think of the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding when the mom says, “Let me tell you something, Toula: the man is the head, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants.” Hang with me. I’m not suggesting the obvious here. Instead, I’m suggesting we have control to turn our own neck during this time. If we want five reasons that drinking is good for us, we’ll find five. If we want five reasons drinking is bad for us, we’ll find five. Therefore, despite feeling out of control in so many facets of life right now, we still have choices. Choice #1: Turn toward or away Relationships are difficult, but choosing to turn toward your partner rather than away can make things better, even if the relationship is ending. I know social distancing and turning toward seem like an oxymoron, but it’s an emotional turn to build emotional intimacy. That means sharing your feelings, avoiding blame, and taking responsibility for yourself. Feelings will be all over the place in the next few months and naming them is the only way we can validate and make space for them. If we don’t do this, the feelings will come out sideways in anger, distancing, addiction, etc. Choice #2: Making space for each other–LITERALLY Everyone needs to have their own space. This means kids need their own space and each of you need your own space. This might mean one person at a time taking a nap or a few hours to work on a personal project. Today my husband built a stool and I took time to write this blog. During each of our projects, we took turns with the kids. Choice #3: Move your body Thoughts have a tendency to get stuck and cycle on repeat. One great way to get out of this pattern is to physically change your location. If you are on the couch dwelling in despair, then go to the kitchen and grab a healthy snack. If you are in bed tossing and turning, go take an epsom salt bath to reset. Also, 30 minutes of exercise a day can boost your immune system and raise endorphins to help you feel better. Helping each other take this time is an act of kindness. Choice #4: Love Mapping The Gottmans, a therapist team known for their insights into healthy relationships, ask that couples “remap” every six months. After years of knowing each other, we start to think that we know everything about our partner and begin to predict what they will choose, say, and do. However, things change. People change. Asking each other random questions and listening to their answers as though you don’t already know them can be a helpful reset. Remember when you were first dating and you would stay up late talking about your favorite artist, musician, food, etc. Let’s do this again as a way to connect. Check out the Gottman Institute’s Card Decks free app for questions to get started. Choice #5: Appreciate each other’s Enneagram number If you haven’t heard of this personality measure, you now have all the time it takes to complete the assessment. Go to www.enneagraminsititute.com and take the test for $12. Once you both take the assessment, google “numbers ____ and ___ in a relationship.” This will provide you a brief description of your strengths and weaknesses as a couple. This new awareness will really be helpful during this stressful time. Acceptance is what we are searching for here. If we know that we are in a relationship with a 3 and they need to make a list and be productive, then we can accept that. If we know that we are in a relationship with a 7, then we will better understand their need for adventure and impulsivity. It is always better to accept your partner rather than try to change them. Know that change only happens if the person is seeking to change on their own. Choice #6: Random Acts of Kindness This works for any kind of relationship. It shows care, concern, love, and respect. It fosters happiness and joy for all. I know that sounds flowery, but we can choose this new lens every day moving forward. A few things to try: take a task off of someone’s to-do list, buy them flowers, send an email or text with a detailed expression of love, have a favorite food delivered, watch what they want to watch, read out loud to each other, sing to them, tell them to take a break, or make them dinner. My wish is that everyone will grow closer during this time, focus on what’s important, and love each other. Even if your relationship is coming to an end, you have a choice to be respectful and leave that person with a little more closure and understanding. Crystal Clair is a therapist and mom of two littles. During the summer you can find her and her kids mostly outdoors either at Foster Beach, Lincoln Park Zoo, or any local park with a water feature. She strives to find the joy in parenting even in the tough times.

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