Importance of Support During and After Pregnancy

September 25, 2012

Ok quick announcement before I get started with the regularly scheduled blog for today. For all my loyal followers (I know there are a few of you out there) I have had to make the executive decision to switch my blogging day from Monday to Tuesday due to my little guy deciding he no longer needs naps and being in a preschool program on Tuesday mornings. So from now on, look for blog posts on Tuesday, end of announcement!

I don’t think I have really posted much on here about the new group that I have started. I was lucky enough to get to present to the Space Coast Birth Network on this subject on Friday and wanted to finish the presentation before I started posting about all my research (I feel a blog series coming!) If you haven’t already guessed, my new group is a pregnancy support group. In Brevard County, where I am, there are no support groups and only a few programs in place for pregnant women, especially ones who are not having a high risk pregnancy or at high risk for other things. So obviously there was a void in the area but why might you ask did I feel the need to fill it? Well, it was due to research that I had been reading.

To recap some of the research very quickly, a new field has emerged called fetal origins that states that everything a woman is exposed to while pregnant can effect her baby’s health and mental health throughout the baby’s entire lifespan. Of course I’m no medical doctor but I found this to be amazing and wanted to do something to help women create healthier individuals. So, the mental health piece of this for me is stress, or helping women to reduce the amount of stress they are exposed to as a result of circumstances, depression, anxiety and so forth through relaxation techniques and support in order to minimize the amount of cortisol the fetus is exposed to. Fetal origins is still pretty new to the research scene and there haven’t been a lot of studies on these specific factors but here is one article that talks about how extreme levels of cortisol effect the fetus.

Another related topic that has been studied is how to prevent mental health disorders during and after pregnancy. The childbearing years for women is when they are most likely to experience anxiety and depression. I will go a bit more in detail in another blog entry but suffice it to say that hormones can play a big part in flipping the switch for some women who are predisposed to these disorders. When a women becomes pregnant or shortly after she has her baby, she is especially likely to experience a mood episode or a bout of anxiety as well as other possible disorders. Knowing that we cannot change one of the main causes, hormones, it has been important to find other ways to reduce the chances of these disorders being experienced by pregnant and postnatal women.

One of the biggest factors that has been proven to be helpful in greatly reducing this risk is support during and after pregnancy. Think about it, it can be a very stressful time in one’s life with a multitude of changes ocurring and other people having strong views and not always correct information and this can cause a lot of pressure for a soon to be or new mom. Add to the mix that mom is likely to be home, trying to keep baby away from germs and dad will go back to work within a short amount of time and she is likely to feel lonely and isolated. Combine this with the hormone changes and it can very well be a recipe for depression and anxiety. As I stated, however, women who have an increased amount of support are better able to deal with this and are less likely to feel lonely and isolated. Support starts becoming a protective factor during pregnancy in order to reduce the likelihood of postpartum depression. This is very important considering once a person experiences an episode of major depression they are more likely to experience another one in the future. You can get this support from friends, family, church, or a formal group such as the one I have started.

My pregnancy support group is designed to specifically help create the sense of support needed to reduce the risk of postpartum depression when attended regularly. The group begins with a guided imagery or relaxation technique and then is opened up for each member to have a chance to talk about whatever they desire and to receive feedback and advice from the group as needed. The group then closes with an assignment that will help to increase the level of mother-fetal bonding. If you are in the Brevard County area, you can attend this group on Thursdays from 6-7pm at Discovery Institute, P.A. in Rockledge. The first session is free and each additional session is $10. No need to R.S.V.P., you can just stop in!


Step Children and Couple Strength

April 30, 2012

I work with a lot of step families between the couples I see, the teens I work with, and the step family group I run. One of the things that has become apparent in all this work is that children are intuitive and pick up on the strength of the couple relationship and this impacts the functioning of the children and ultimately the happiness of the family as a whole. Children in a step family have already experienced the ending of one relationship or have experienced the effects of a single parent home. They have felt the pain and guilt associated with the absence of a parent and many children believe that they are partly or wholly responsible for their parent leaving, even in the case of death. Due to this, they are more likely to test the step parent to make sure that they will be sticking around before they allow themselves to get too close and to really rely on their step parent.

The difficult thing about this is that many step parents believe that their step children should automatically respect them and they are also hoping for them to like and be nice to them. The aforementioned hesitancy of step children to get close to their step parents and the testing of the boundaries behaviorally looks quite opposite to what step parents are hoping for. This could cause a negative cycle in which step parents show children behaviors that they read as not being there for them and not being in the relationship for the long haul.

So what can the couple do? Well, it is important for the couple relationship to be strong to uphold all of the stress that comes with the step family situation. In addition, as the children pick up on how solid the couple relationship is, they will intuitively learn that they can rely on the parents more. This may take longer depending on the number of relationships the children have seen end around them. This is also important for the children as they learn how to fight fairly, disagree, and get along with others in general. Children learn what to expect in a relationship from the parental relationships around them which sets up the foundation for the type of relationships they will get into when they are older.

Overall, the strength of any couple within a family is the foundation for the rest of the family. Your step family has the possibility to be as strong as your couple relationship is. Although many of the typical concepts for strengthening a relationship apply, in addition you will need to work more on compromise, understanding, and appreciation.

Step Parenting Relationships- When Biological Parents Interfere

March 19, 2012

Being a step parent may just be the most challenging family role a person can have.  Not only are you reminded on a regular basis by the children that you are not their mother or father, often times the biological parents interefere. This can sometimes mean just the parent that is not your partner, but can also mean your partner. I was talking to a stepmother the other day who just could not make sense of her relationship with her stepdaugthers. She began to relay fight after fight that they had had with each one having an over the top reaction from the stepdaugther for the situation. My mind started racing through the possible reasons for this, the stepdaugther sees her as a threat as she takes away attention from the father, stepdaughter is resentful of having someone tell her what to do, and finally loyalty conflicts in which she feels she can’t like stepmom because it is a betrayal to mom. As I explained some of these possibilities as well as others to her she began to tell me about some of the wonderful times they have had together and I began to believe even more that mom, who lived far away, most likely sees stepmom as a threat and may be interfering in this relationship either intentionally or unintentionally.

Of course each case will be different depending on the individuals that make up your stepfamily and their biological families, but here are some ideas and tips to help you work through this issue.

Never talk bad about the other parent. You may believe that the other parent is a deadbeat, is conniving, or is an unfit parent, and this may or may not be true. No matter what, however, you cannot say things like this about them in front of their children, especially if you want to have a relationship with your stepchildren. No matter how often the kids hear it, they will not start to believe you. They feel a sense of loyalty to their parents and even if you are able to provide a more stable and loving home for them, they will not see it as long as you are trying to point this out to them. The best thing you can do is keep your mouth shut and hope that they come to see that you are not adding to their feelings of being torn between you and their biological parent and therefore be more relaxed and happy being around you. Or even better, if you can swing it, incorporate positive statements about the parent to the children so they can see that you are not looking for them to pick you over their parent and that there is no need to rebel against you.

Show the other parent that you are not a threat to them. If you have the type of relationship that you can or do talk to the other parent, make sure to incorporate statements that show that you are not trying to replace them. You can do this by asking for their advice on how to handle certain situations, by asking about their rules so there is a sense of continuity between households, and giving compliments about some of the parenting decisions they have made. You may choose to phrase these such as “as their mom, what do you think is the best way to….” If this doesn’t work, you may even need to resort to having a sit down discussion with them and be more open about how you see your role with his/her children and make it clear that it is not as taking over for him or her but as a support person for your spouse and as a friend/mentor/coach for the children. In a perfect world, this would work, however, I understand that not all individuals are able to hear this and understand without having jealousies and feelings about you being in their role with former spouse and children pop up. Remind them that you are just trying to help make it easier of their children and hope for the best, but don’t take it personally if he/she does not make big changes.


Stepfamily Love

February 27, 2012

I work with a lot of stepfamilies in my practice and there is one thing that they all have in common, they all hold a lot of myths about what their relationships should look and feel like. One of the myths that many of the parents hold is that they feel as though they should love their stepchildren instantly and many feel as though their stepchildren should love them in return. The reality is that you will not always love a child just because you fell in love with their parent. This isn’t to say that you won’t grow to love them as you get to know them and build a relationship with them, but it takes time, sometimes a lot of time! This is especially true when the child is less than happy to have you in their life and may even be making life a bit more difficult for you and your new or soon to be spouse. Although not unique to stepfamilies, it is also more likely that there be jealous feelings within the stepfamily both on the part of the stepchild and stepparent about the amount of time and attention the other takes away from them, which makes it more difficult to create a bond. Although not always the case, many stepchildren may just act disinterested in the stepparent (and sometimes the other way around). They may neglect to talk to the stepparent and choose only to speak to their legal parent.

These relationship issues can leave all parties feeling uncomfortable and it can be emotionally draining. So what can you do to help foster positive relationships in your stepfamily? As a stepparent I suggest that on occassion you spend one-on-one time with your stepchild. Find something they are interested in such as a ball game or a car show and take them as a positive treat and bonding experience. Find opportunities to have real conversations with your stepchild, teach them more about a subject they have some interest in or about some skills they are lacking (in an uplifting way of course). You may want to come up with some sort of tradition for the two of you or even as a family as a whole, making sure that each person has their own part in the tradition and that all parties enjoy it. It may also be important to lay off some of the discipline for a time being as well. This is not to say that the child should not be disciplined at all, just that it should be the legal parents responsibility to do the disciplining. Look towards the other obstacles you feel are in the way of your relationship and begin removing some of those barriers as appropriate.

Make sure that you give them space as needed as well. Do not try to force a relationship as a child of any age will be more likely to rebel if they are feeling forced.  Remember it will take time and allow the relationship to grow and flourish as time passes.

Disney World Daddy

January 16, 2012

Well, the term is actually Disney Land Daddy but being from Central Florida I felt the need to change it to Disney World. Many of you may have never heard of this term, in fact, I had only heard it for the first time recently myself. A Disney World Daddy is a single father who does not have full custody of his children and tends to spoil them when he has visitation. Some might say, well whats the problem with this, he has to pack all the fun stuff in a short amount of time since he doesn’t seem them as often. The problem, however, is that it does not create the type of relationship the father and children really need.

A single father who does not have custody or shared custody of his children is really in a tough position. (Please note that I am going to be making assumptions here for ease of writing this article but these assumptions do not apply to all single fathers.) Historically fathers were not very involved in their children’s lives and although this is increasingly changing, it can be very difficult to keep up a high level of involvement when you are not living in the same household (although it is possible). Not being privvy to many of the children’s day to day activities can cause a loss of bonding for some fathers and children. Disney World Daddies are those that realize that this happens and try to make up for it (or are trying to mask their own uncomfortableness) by keeping the children busy with all types of fun activities such as movies, shopping trips, sporting events, and yes, theme parks. The problem is that always being engaged in these activities does not promote the chance for fathers to actually bond with their children since their is limited time for talking and the children’s view of dad changes from parent to entertainer. Now, don’t get me wrong, these activities do have a place in the parent/child relationship, but they should not be going on all day- every day during visitation.

If being a Disney World Daddy is not getting you the effects you want with your children, then what is it that they really need? Single (or even re-married) dad’s need to keep the role of dad that they fulfilled previously (which is hopefully a positive role) but also take on the role of mom as well in order to really develop or keep their meaningful bond with their children. This means that the child is treated like they are a part of the household with reasonable rules and responsibilities instead of like a visitor being waited on. Children need boundaries and respond well when they are given them (although it may be a difficult transition if they have not had any for a while). This is positive in not only teaching them about the way the world works but also in helping decrease the likelihood that they will feel like an outsider in your home and in your new family if you are remarried.

So what should you do to fill up the time you have your children? Talk to them. Ask about how school is going and any other interests they might have. Talk about their friends if they are willing and let them know you are there for them when you need them. You can play games such as board games and card games or even go to the park. Do things outdoors such as riding bikes and going for walks. Teach them new skills and how to interact with the world. And every now and then you can even treat them with the fun activities such as Disney World!

If you are a Disney World Daddy or are in a family with one, please feel free to call. I am periodically running a stepfamily group, Smart Steps, that may be of interest in helping you to get your stepfamily life back on track. If you would rather, I can also see stepfamilies/stepfamily members on an individual basis. You can call the office for more information at 631-5538.

Bearing All the Togetherness of the Holidays

November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving is approaching and for some, this is a favorite holiday. Images of golden turkeys with fluffy stuffing and bright cranberry sauce leave our mouths watering. But what if your images of thanksgiving are more of boredom, family tension and arguments, or any other event that leaves you dreading this time together? Well, there are some ways that you can deal with this holiday and make it through long enough to taste some of your favorite foods.

1. Focus on the positives. Even though Grandma is always very negative and hounds you about finding a spouse, you can focus on how good her pie is every year and be thankful for having her there with you. So Crazy Uncle Bill will be joining you this year? Instead of focusing on how his lisp drives you crazy as he talks, think about how smart of a guy he is when it comes to finances and what you might be able to learn from him.

2. You can choose who you spend the holiday with and this may not be your family. For some of us, our family is down right toxic for us. Do not feel as though you have to spend the day with them anyways. You have the right to choose who you will be spending your time with and you may choose to have dinner with some close friends who feel more like family than your real one does.

3. Figure out what bothers you most and find a way to control it if you can. For instance, if you become annoyed because your sister always wants to host Thanksgiving, but then serves up a tofurkey instead of a turkey, bring a turkey for everyone to enjoy and share. If you are hosting and become frustrated when relatives over stay their welcome, be clear ahead of time when you would like for them to show up and also let them know when you need them to leave by, in a nice way of course such as by letting them know you have somewhere else you must be.

4. For those things that you cannot control, come up with possible ways you can respond to them ahead of time. Yes, sometimes we are thrown an unexpected curve ball and don’t have time to plan a response but we also know that certain family members have their own quirks that get to us. Think about how your cousin always brings up a past memory that you care to not revisit and you end up arguing about it each year. Plan ahead to figure out a nice way to handle the situation and nip it in the bud before you are in that position and you are more likely to be able to squash it instead of making it into a bigger deal.

5. If all else fails, remember that this is just one day of the year. You can be thankful that this does not happen more frequently and allow the small things to roll off your back as you enjoy a day with family.

These are just a few ways you can deal with spending the holiday with family. Please share your tricks for making it through to Black Friday in one piece!

Creating Appropriate Boundaries with Children- 5 Tips

August 15, 2011

         Boundaries are important for all types of relationships. They help us ensure we are acting and interacting appropriately with other people. If you do not have healthy boundaries with your children, this can negatively impact your marital relationship, especially if it is a step family situation. A common problem within families is that one parent becomes allied with a child instead of with their spouse. This can negatively interfere with the marital relationship by splitting apart the couple, making it impossible for them to be a united front. Here are some tips for establishing proper boundaries with your children.

1. Create rules and make sure they are well known and follow through on them. This includes age appropriate and healthy discipline that is reinforced consistently.

2. Don’t let children run the house. Ask opinions of your children when making decisions but make sure that it is clear that the final decision will be made by you and your spouse.

3. Make sure that you have time alone with your spouse. Help the children to understand that this time is a priority and that although they are loved, they are not always going to be a part of their parents activities.

4. Make sure children are not a part of adult conversations. Although it is important to teach children life skills, there are some conversations that they do not need to be an active participant in. These will need to be up to your discretion based on the topic, your child’s age, and your child’s personality.  

5. Let your kids know you will be open and honest with your spouse. This means no keeping secrets! I will note that at times it may be appropriate to keep a secret if there is a history of abusive behavior, however.

         By implementing these tips, you should be on your way to establishing appropriate boundaries within your family. If you are in theBrevard County area and are looking for a family counselor, please feel free to contact me. You can also like us on facebook.