Tonight I listened to a podcast about the importance of failure as I huffed and puffed while trying to get my tired body to run for 30 minutes. I really dislike running - my lungs hurt, my body hurts, and I’m really slow. Every spring, I restart a Couch to 5K program because I have decided that running is the most beneficial/least costly physical activity I can do (e.g., it’s free, doesn’t take much time, you don’t need any special equipment). Here is the thing though, I don’t like running and I’m not good at it. In fact, my husband recently told me that it looks like I move up and down (like a bunny) instead of in the forward direction (which might explain why I’m so slow).
I’ve also recently gotten into podcasts. Social media and the world of tech as a whole freaks me out. I’m a luddite (says my husband). So tonight, I got to combine my “love” of technology with my “love” of running.
Tonight’s podcast was from Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard. I have grown a solid appreciation for Dax and his insights over these eight weeks of running. Tonight’s episode was with Tal Ben-Shahar who researches, teaches, and writes about positive psychology. They spoke for almost two hours on the importance of failure as a means to build resilience, and the need to ritualize positive behaviours as a way to feel happier.
The information in this podcast was so salient to my own life and the work that I do with perinatal clients that I came home and re-listened while taking copious notes. Here are the points that really jumped out at me:
Physical exercise is the best predictor of happiness and can have the same effect on our mental health as the most powerful psychiatric drugs (another reason for me to keep running!).
By working on our happiness, we are strengthening our psychological immune systems so that when we feel painful emotions, we will recover more quickly.
Smart phone use has been significantly linked to increases in depression and suicide. Technology is an addiction and activates the same neural structures in the brain as other addictive substances. (Tal shared a beautiful illustration of the problem - “what’s the first thing you turn to when you wake up in the morning? Is it your amazing spouse or your cell phone?”)
You need to give yourself permission to fail. Even geniuses fail. In fact, as Tal points out, Thomas Edison is considered to be the greatest inventor of all time, but he also had the most failures.
We can’t rid ourselves of experiencing painful emotions. The only people who don’t experience these are psychopaths and dead people (ha!). Instead, we need to cultivate more positive emotions so that we can deal with painful emotions better. This allows us to build up our resilience bank.
Happiness isn’t just about thinking positively. It takes work. Hard work. You have to try and fail, and then try some more. Each attempt reinforces the neural pathways in your brain, until it’s eventually embedded. As an example of ritualizing positive behaviours, Tal explains that most people fail at new years resolutions because they assume that they require motivation and willpower to keep it going. Most of us, though, learn by engaging in gradual, ritualized behaviours. Here’s my personal example: about 7 years ago, I decided my new years resolution would be to start flossing (might explain why I’ve always had a million cavities). Guess what, it didn’t stick. For the next 5 years, I would set the same resolution, and every year I would make it a few months longer than the previous year, but then I would stop. Two years ago, it finally stuck and became a ritualized behaviour. I am proud to say that I am a daily flosser and haven’t had a cavity since!
Tal and Dax’s message of giving yourself permission to suck is what inspired me to write this blog. I’m used to writing academic papers, which have a clear structure to follow. I know what to do, and I’ve done it well. Blog entries, on the other hand, scare the bejeebers out of me. I’m in awe of what people produce online, and frightened of the negativity that can follow these posts. Listening to Tal and Dax’s discussion helped me realize that I need to write (because I love writing) and it can be terrible and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I try so that I can fail, and then I can try again.
I see the ideas from this podcast relating so strongly to parenting. When we first become parents we have no idea what we are doing. But for many of us, we expect that we should know and we should be able to do it perfectly. There are times that I look back at my first few years of parenting and cringe at how I thought things should be handled. But that was important. If I hadn’t tried those strategies, I wouldn’t have been able to figure out what works for me and what works for my kids (although let’s be honest - I’m still trying to figure it out). I’ve witnessed first hand the importance of teaching failure as a means to developing resilience in my daughter. She is the kind of kid who can’t stand not being able to do what she sees other kids doing. Enter the Monkey Bars. Four months ago, Olivia tried to do the monkey bars and fell immediately. She cried, and got angry, and didn't want to try again. Her dad and I encouraged her to keep trying. She fell many times, but always got back on those bars. Over the next four months, she made it further and further across those bars until a few weeks ago she was able to swing one arm at a time all the way until the end. The smile on her face almost made me cry with pride. She ran over and said “Mommy, I couldn’t do the bars, but then I kept practicing, and now I'm amazing at it”. You sure are kid, and not just at the monkey bars!
So here are my final takeaways:
Exercise, especially on maternity leave.
Put the phone down every once in a while.
Make eye contact with people. Hug. Feel connected.
Embrace all emotions, even the not so fun ones.
Practice gratitude regularly. Keeping a gratitude journal is a great way of doing this (https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/gratitude_journal)
Try, fail, try again, repeat.
For those interested in hearing the whole podcast, here is the link:
What is self-care, anyway? Is it sitting in a wheat field slowly exhaling? Self-care is talked about a lot especially in pregnancy and postpartum care. Self-care is essential, but let’s think about it for a moment. For pregnant and new moms, self-care can sound like more things on the to-do list, more ways we’re not measuring up.
So let’s get super simple about what self-care is so it won’t be too overwhelming or feel unachievable when your hands are full enough already. Try this little exercise: Think about your kids growing up and going off to university or living outside of your home for the first time. Wipe your tears and let’s get back to the exercise. How would you want your son or daughter to take care of himself or herself? Would you want them to eat healthy food, drink plenty of water and get some exercise? Find ways to relax and get enough rest? What else is important to you that they do to take care of themselves?
Now turn to yourself. Can you care for yourself the way you want them to care for themselves? In the early days of motherhood you will need others to support you to take the time you need to care for yourself and hopefully others will help care for you, but then you will need to find creative ways to fit this is in with baby in tow. It may feel easier to let baby’s needs take over and forget your own. But this won’t be effective long-term.
One way to think about it is that you need to put your oxygen mask on before assisting others. Our philosophy at The Well Parents Centre is that caring for yourself is also an end in itself- not only because you need to be on your game to support your little ones- but because you deserve to feel well, too. Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive, glamorous, or a competitive sport. Keep it basic to keep you healthy, both mind and body. So, what does self-care mean to you?
How Are You, Dad?
Can fathers experience postpartum depression and anxiety? Absolutely. About 10 percent of fathers experience depression in the first year after delivery  and anxiety problems may be even more common . Yet, research shows that signs of postpartum depression in fathers are often missed. The public has gained awareness of the signs of postpartum depression in women, but less so in men .
Cases of postpartum depression and anxiety go undiagnosed and untreated. This is one of the reasons we called our clinic The Well Parents Centre. All parents are vulnerable to mental health challenges and deserve to feel better.
Fathers may not experience the profound biological changes that come with pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation, but they do experience a profound life change. Any major life event, whether perceived as positive or negative, can leave us vulnerable to experiencing mental health challenges. Amazingly, fathers actually do experience hormonal changes that we take for granted. Men experience a drop in testosterone when they become fathers, and the drop is more significant if they are more involved in child-rearing .
Let this research finding sink in: Up to fifty percent of male partners of depressed mothers are depressed themselves . Put another way, if you take a random sample of women with postpartum depression, half of their male partners are depressed too. This is not a female problem. This is a family problem. Even a societal problem.
By addressing their mental health and well-being, fathers can be more involved in child-rearing in the early years and beyond. The benefits of having an involved father are huge. Think better school performance , higher self-esteem  and fewer psychological problems in girls and behavioural problems in boys .
So what can we do? We can ask a new dad how he is doing and really listen. We can shift away from thinking that a new dad is support staff for a new mom and baby. We can communicate caring for him in his own right. He too is transitioning into his new role as a parent, or as a parent to an additional baby. Health professionals can also start regularly screening new fathers for depression and anxiety and offering appropriate mental health support. It will help fathers, which will benefit the whole family. We need to create the conditions for fathers to open up about their mental health, knowing they will be taken seriously and without judgement.
The Well Parents Centre is for all parents. Please reach out if you need support. We understand that fathers have unique challenges. We offer individual psychological therapy as well as couples therapy to help you feel better and parent better.
 Paulson JF, Bazemore SD. Prenatal and Postpartum Depression in Fathers and Its Association With Maternal Depression: A Meta-analysis. JAMA. 2010;303(19):1961–1969.
 Leach, L. S., Poyser, C., Cooklin, A. R., & Giallo, R. (2016). Prevalence and course of anxiety disorders (and symptom levels) in men across the perinatal period: a systematic review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 190, 675-686.
 Swami, V., Barron, D., Smith, L., & Furnham, A. (2019). Mental health literacy of maternal and paternal postnatal (postpartum) depression in British adults. Journal of Mental Health, 1-8.
 Gettler, L. T., McDade, T. W., Feranil, A. B., & Kuzawa, C. W. (2011). Longitudinal evidence that fatherhood decreases testosterone in human males. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(39), 16194-16199.
 Goodman, J. H. (2004). Paternal postpartum depression, its relationship to maternal postpartum depression, and implications for family health. Journal of advanced nursing, 45(1), 26-35.
 Jeynes, W. H. (2015). A meta-analysis: The relationship between father involvement and student academic achievement. Urban Education, 50(4), 387-423.
 Deutsch, F. M., Servis, L. J., & Payne, J. D. (2001). Paternal participation in child care and its effects on children's self-esteem and attitudes toward gendered roles. Journal of Family Issues, 22(8), 1000-1024.
 Sarkadi, A., Kristiansson, R., Oberklaid, F., & Bremberg, S. (2008). Fathers' involvement and children's developmental outcomes: A systematic review of longitudinal studies. Acta paediatrica, 97(2), 153-158.
Parenting is often referred to as “the toughest job you’ll ever do” Although this statement definitely has some truth, it also doesn’t have to be so darn hard. Parenting can be easier for you, but we first need to look at a few factors that go into parenting, which tend to lead us down the path of difficult parenting.
Why Is Parenting So Hard?
Parenting isn’t something we are taught. There isn’t a class you take when you decide to become a parent that teaches you everything you need to know. Instead, you are thrown into parenting blindly. You are left to figure it out as you go and sometimes when you are in the moment you just don’t know what to do.
At these moments we often react in a manner we later regret. We wish we hadn’t yelled or punished our kids, but in that moment we didn’t know what else to do. We often jump from consequence to consequence, as we have NO idea what else to do. Sound familiar?
We are emotionally invested and tied to our kids at such a deep level. This makes it really hard for parents to hold their ground and follow through. Lack of follow through creates a continuous cycle where our kids are left no choice, but to continue to push the boundaries until limits are set.
As parents we find it very hard and difficult to set firm boundaries because our emotions, such as guilt and self-doubt, often get the best of us. We then, against our better judgment, give in; throw in the towel and our follow through goes out the door. This makes the next issue even harder to manage and once again makes parenting so darn hard.
Parenting isn’t instinctive. You would think that parenting would come naturally to everyone, but I’ve got news for you, IT DOESN’T. For the majority of people, parenting is really hard, because what they think would be the best approach for a particular issue, often is not. Take this story from a client of mine as an example.
“I was tired and exhausted from a long day at work. When I picked up my toddler from daycare, just like every other day he was crabby, whiny and fussy. I didn’t have the patience to deal with him, so I did my best to tune him out, which made him very mad. This escalated to a full-blown scream at the top of his lungs tantrum. I had no idea what I was doing wrong or what to do differently”
Can you relate? Let’s take a closer look at what happened here:
My client was doing her best and went with her instincts to ignore in that moment. Unfortunately, she realized after our session, that what needed to be done was quite the opposite. Her son needed her attention and was starving for it after a long day away from her at daycare. His “emotional attention bucket” was low and he needed her to spend time with him. After we spoke she realized that she wasn’t giving him the right kind of attention daily to avoid these tantrums. Her son was also over-tired and over-hungry. He needed her to be proactive and have a snack ready on hand to help meet some of his basic needs.
Moving forward mom can get down low when she picks him up, smile and look him in the eye. Make a concrete connection straight away. Pass him a healthy, but enjoyable snack, as she gets his coat on, and then chat with him on the way to the car to help give him some of the needed attention. Being one step ahead and parenting proactively is ½ the battle.
Parenting is sometimes harder than it needs to be for the three reasons we just discussed, but the good news is there are SOLUTIONS!
Life with kids can be great. You don’t have to be frustrated and exhausted day in and day out.
PARENTAL CHANGES TAKES TIME
If you can relate to the above, then I have a solution for you! Positive Discipline is a parenting approach that will leave you and your kids feeling better, which will simultaneously, tighten your parent-child bond. The key to making changes is to stick with it over time. Old habits die hard and change takes time.
As you make adjustments in your parenting style it will take time for those new methods to become your new norm. There will be moments of setbacks and mistakes. When this happens don’t panic! Simply, own up to your mistakes, apologize and try again. Learning from our mistakes is a great way to role model that mistakes are learning opportunities. Stick with your new positive discipline solutions and remember that change takes time!
POSITIVE DISCIPLINE WILL MAKE PARENTING EASIER
Often times we don’t know what parenting tools and solutions are even available to help us when certain issues arise. We gravitate either towards yelling, consequences, empty threats and taking things away (authoritarian parenting approach) or we end up just giving in (permissive parenting approach).
We do this hoping our kids will listen and learn. Unfortunately, these types of reactions only cause our kids to act up more. The negative behaviours get worse and we become more frustrated. We need to stop this cycle in order to make parenting easier.
By grasping new parenting solutions and tools, you will be able to solve problems more effectively and stop misbehaviours long term
WHAT POSITIVE DISCIPLINE DOES FOR YOUR KIDS
· Helps strengthen your parent-child relationship. Fills up your child’s power and attention buckets.
· Offers solutions that demonstrate mutual respect for you and your kids.
· Creates lasting, long-term changes.
· Gives your child opportunities to learn from mistakes.
· Teaches life skills such as problem solving skills, self-management and cooperation.
· Kids learn how capable they can be! Building self-confidence and a strong self-worth.
All 5 of these points are why I use Positive Discipline in my home with my sons, Hudson and Beckett. These reasons are why I also love consulting with parents to teach them Positive Discipline tools. The more you learn about Positive Discipline the more you’ll want to know.
Once you begin implementing new tools to help your children achieve these attributes, you won’t want to stop. You will become “addicted” to the way you finally feel about parenting. You will have more time, energy and freedom to enjoy each and every day! Finally parenting won’t have to be so hard!
Small Changes Make BIG Results!
BOOK NOW to start filling your toolbox with Positive Parenting Strategies that will make your daily parenting experience easier! Save yourself time and energy and enjoy a quality life with your kids!
Sally is a new mom to a healthy, 5 month old baby boy. Sally describes feeling consumed by worries that her baby will stop breathing in his sleep. She feels tense, restless, and unable to fall asleep most days. Because of these worries, Sally sleeps with the baby monitor in her hand, sets an alarm in the middle of the night to check on the baby, and asks that her partner check on the baby when Sally is sleeping. To try to give herself more reassurance that her son is safe, Sally googles information on sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and makes extra appointments with her pediatrician.
You might be thinking that Sally sounds familiar. Almost every parent worries to some degree about having a baby and raising children.
Will I be able to breastfeed?
Is my baby too hot or too cold?
Is my baby sick?
Is it okay to let my baby cry?
Will I be a good parent?
The responsibility of caring for a baby can feel enormous. For first time parents especially, they simply lack experience to feel confident in what they’re doing. Many gain confidence relatively quickly. But what happens when these worries become more severe? What happens when you can’t get these worries out of your mind, and they interfere with your ability to do things in your day-to-day lives? If left unmanaged, these worries can become postpartum anxiety.
So what is Postpartum Anxiety?
Postpartum anxiety (PPA) is anxiety that starts after having a baby, and that is more severe and debilitating than the typical levels of anxiety experienced by new parents.
Common symptoms include:
Frequent worry or racing thoughts
Feeling that something bad is going to happen
Change in appetite
Physical symptoms such as heart racing, tight chest, muscle tension, feeling hot and sweaty
Repeatedly checking for safety
Seeking reassurance from others or the internet
Being hypervigilant (looking out for danger) or extra cautious
PPA really doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Most of us have heard of postpartum depression, but did you know that postpartum anxiety is actually more common? Up to 20% of women will experience an anxiety disorder during pregnancy or the postpartum period. Unfortunately for many women, it will go undiagnosed for a long time.
PPA can take different forms including:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Excessive worry)
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (Repetitive unwanted upsetting thoughts and/or feeling the need to do certain things over and over again to reduce anxiety)
Panic Disorder (panic attacks which are not dangerous but feel very unpleasant)
Who is likely to experience PPA?
Common risk factors for PPA include:
History of anxiety (prior to or during pregnancy)
Family history of anxiety
History of endocrine dysfunction (e.g., thyroid imbalance)
Previous mood reaction to hormonal changes (e.g., puberty, PMS, PMDD)
Perfectionism (e.g. Type A)
Stressful life experiences (e.g., previous miscarriage or infant loss, high risk pregnancy, financial crises)
Limited or no social support
Here’s the good news! There are two main methods that manage PPA very well – cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and medication. With CBT, the main goal of therapy is to help people change the way that they think and change what they do in order to feel better. There are also effective and safe medications that can be prescribed during pregnancy and the postpartum period. If you are suffering from anxiety and are wondering if medication is right for you, we strongly encourage speaking with your family doctor who can discuss treatment options with you.
Let’s get back to Sally:
Sally connected with a Perinatal Psychologist with training in CBT. Sally and her therapist worked to identify Sally’s unhelpful and unrealistic thoughts (e.g., something bad will happen to my baby if I don’t check on him), and develop more realistic ways of thinking about the situation (e.g., SIDS is not common, my baby is safe is his crib, checking on my baby doesn’t prevent bad things from happening). Sally was tasked with doing exercises designed to gently expose her to her fears, whereby she increased the time between checking on the baby, and placed the monitor on her partner’s side of the bedroom. Sally was also taught techniques to help her relax, and was encouraged to exercise and get out of her house every day. Sally’s anxiety improved over time, and she was able to stop worrying as much about her son, and sleep more restfully at night.
If you or someone you know is experiencing the symptoms described above, please reach out to a healthcare provider. A good place to start is with your family doctor, midwife, obstetrician, or mental health provider trained in perinatal mental health. If you are interested in seeing a perinatal psychologist, check out our team at the Well Parents Centre. Remember that “you are not alone, you are not to blame, and with help you will be well” (Postpartum Support International).
We’ve compiled a shortlist of postpartum myths we wish everyone understood. Read it for yourself or share with others who may benefit from learning the truth about postpartum mental health!
Myth #1: Postpartum mental health problems can only happen to mothers
Fact: Postpartum mental health problems can also affect partners. While biological mothers are most at risk, male and female partners, as well as adoptive parents are affected. Check in with your partner.
Myth #2: Depression is the only postpartum psychological problem to look out for
Fact: Some studies have found that anxiety disorders are just as common as depression in pregnancy, and may even be more common than depression in the postpartum period.
Myth #3: The term postpartum refers only to the first few weeks after birth
Fact: While ‘postpartum’ may technically refer to the first four weeks after pregnancy, experts now consider the whole first year when discussing mental health problems related to bringing home a new baby.
Myth #4: Having scary or disturbing thoughts about your baby means you’re going crazy, a bad mother, and automatically going to harm your baby
Fact: Most, if not all, parents have thoughts of bad things happening to their baby, including being the one to do the harm. If these thoughts cause distress and are inconsistent with how you would act, then you are not going to act on these thoughts. It does not say anything about you and your role as a parent.
Myth #5: There is a right way to parent
Fact: There is no right way to be a parent. If there was, there would be only one “how to” handbook. Set realistic expectations for yourself, particularly in the early months.
Myth #6: You should be ready to have sex again by 6 weeks postpartum
Fact: There is no “normal” timeline, and readiness will be different for every person and every couple. It’s important to be open with your partner and find ways to connect that don’t necessarily involve sex.
Myth #7: Sleep now because you won’t sleep after baby/Sleep when your baby is sleeping
Fact: Sleep is essential for good mental and physical health, but putting pressure on yourself to fall asleep and stay asleep for several hours is only going to make sleep more difficult. Focus instead on engaging in restful activities and asking for help from others.