Uncertainty Distress

sad kullfi kumarr bajewala GIF by Hotstar

Dr. Corinne Masur

Today I learned a new term.

I was reading scientific journal articles about how the pandemic has affected people and I came across it:

Uncertainty Distress

This term was coined to describe the “unknown-ness” in our lives right now and to highlight the distress being experienced by all of us during the pandemic, even when we are not in especially threatening circumstances at the moment.

And I am glad to now have a name for what everyone – children and adults alike – has been feeling. We don’t know what the summer will look like. Or the fall, for that matter. Will kids be able to play together? Will kids’ sports leagues operate? Will pools be open? How about camps? And later, schools and colleges?

And for the adults: will we go back to the job or the office? Will businesses that closed reopen? Will the jobs that evaporated become available again? Will people feel safe shopping in person? Getting haircuts? Taking the train or a plane? Meeting at each other’s houses and apartments?

Even though half of all adults are already vaccinated in the US, and more than half of the UK population has received at least their first dose, we STILL don’t know what the summer or the fall or the future will look like.

And this is VERY stressful.

Children are used to having their parents be able to answer their questions. But for all of us, the answer to the questions above – and all the others we have – are elusive. When we try to answer our children’s questions, we either have to be honest and say we really don’t know the answers right now – or we have to guess.

Neither option is ideal.

Kids want certainty. Kids like to know what to expect. Kids want their parents to know the answers to their questions. This makes them feel safe.

And we adults would like some certainty around now, too. It would make us feel safer, too. Will the vaccine protect us against the Covid-19 variants? Will the vaccine confer immunity to Covid 19 for at least a year? These things would be important to know.

Except we don’t.

So we all experience some degree of “uncertainty distress”.

Not knowing is hard.

The best thing we can do right now is to try to figure out how to live with uncertainty and how to help our children to live with it too. Tolerating difficult emotions is not something most people know how to do well. And yet, life is full of difficult emotions. Helping our children to learn how to live with difficult emotions is one of the best things we as parents can do.

So how do we help our children to do this?

In addition to the things you may already be doing, here are some suggestions:

-In times of uncertainty, it is best to keep the things that you CAN control stable.  Routines are important.  Try as best you can to keep bedtimes and meal times regular.  Try to maintain any family customs you have set up during Covid time – Friday night pizza, Wednesday night tacos, Saturday night movie, whatever.  Children tend to like routines and traditions even if they sometimes rebel against them.  These routines and schedules also provide some predictability in circumstances that are otherwise unpredictable.

-Provide children with something to look forward to. This gives a sense that good things CAN happen and that some things can happen according to plan.  Even if the things are small – a trip to a drive through for take out, a day trip to a State Park or a picnic at a favorite playground.

-Acknowledge children’s feelings, whatever they are. For example, if your child says, “I’m sick and tired of you saying, ‘I don’t know!'” You can respond, “You’re absolutely right! I’m tired of not knowing! It’s really hard right now, isn’t it?”

-Tell them stories from your own life of times you didn’t know how things were going to turn out – and then what happened.

-Tell them about times in your life when you were frustrated or bored or angry (tie it to what they are feeling at the moment).

-Thank your child for telling you how they feel. Even if you are at the end of your rope and the feeling your child is expressing is not particularly welcome at the moment, try to say, “Thank you for telling me how you feel”. Even if the next phrase is “but I’m sorry we cannot have pizza again tonight” or “I just can’t tell you whether camp will be open or not”, try at least to let your child know that it is a good thing for them to tell you what they are feeling.

-Reassure your child WHENEVER possible. Even if you don’t know the answer to their questions about when things will get back to normal, you can still rub their back (if they’ll let you) and remind them that you are keeping them as safe as you can and as soon as it is OK, you will make sure they get to go back to doing whatever it is they are missing at that moment.

-Talk about how hard not knowing is for you. Talk about what you do when you don’t know how something will turn out. Talk about how sometimes we all have feelings that are hard to bear.

-Distraction. After you have done all of the above, (probably over and over again), get out the cards or the board game, take everyone for some drive thru or take out food, suggest a hike or make some popcorn and put on a silly movie. (I recommend “The Pink Panther”)

-But most of all, try to model having difficult feelings, accepting that they are part of your life, that they can be talked about and that they can be survived. If you’ve gotten angry or if you’ve shown your frustration or your exhaustion, talk about it later. You can tell your kids something along these lines, “You know, I was really tired last night and I yelled. I’m sorry, you didn’t deserve that – but right now things are really hard and I think we are all having a hard time – and we need to do the best we can.

Take care, and remember, you are not alone if you are feeling distressed at all the uncertainty in your life right now. We are ALL experiencing this uncertainty, and it IS distressing.

* (Freeston et al., 2020).

The Dreaded Child Care Decision!

KRizz robin williams mrs doubtfire help is on the way help is on the way dear GIF

Dr. Corinne Masur

Now that more daycares and preschools are opening up again, parents are asking themselves, “What is the best child care arrangement for my child?  How long is OK for my child to be in child care each day? What should I look for in a childcare provider or daycare?” and so many other questions related to child care.

The best way to make an informed decision about this is to consider three basic questions:

  • What are our family’s needs for childcare right now given our work schedules?
  • What are our options for child care?
  • What is best for our child given their age? 

This is a hard thing to talk about.  Parents need to work.  Parents want to work.  Women AND men have a place in the working world that is important. But one enormous problem is the fact that in the U. S. and most of the Western world, we live in societies that still expect women to take care of the children most of the time. In the U.S., our society does not support women, or parents in general, by providing sufficiently long parental leave after the birth of infants to care for the baby in an optimal way AND it does not provide universal high quality childcare for babies and toddlers once their parents have to return to work.

So – we have to talk about this.  

This post will not be about what parents should or should not do.  I am just going to try to describe the various child care options and provide some developmental information to consider.

Child Care Options

  1. Home care: 

Home care is a wonderful option for the newborn to the two year old.  If one parent does not work, then that parent can do the child care full or part time if that works for them. Or parents can trade off depending on schedules and ability. If both parents work or if there is only one parent,  a relative, friend or sitter who can take care of your baby during your work hours is a possibility.  If this person is loving and experienced with babies, this is a great option. A nanny share is also a good possibility.  Can you get together with a friend or two and have a babysitter take care of your children together? This simulates a family situation if you have a loving, experienced person to share with a friend or two (who have values and needs similar to your own) this can be a great option – as long as you work out the terms of the nanny share in advance of beginning!

  1. Out of home care: 

Small neighborhood day cares are a nice option which some parents choose.  What should you look for?  When you visit make sure you see each child or infant receiving the individual attention they need.  Make sure there is always one or two adults consistently available for each baby or toddler and that the babies are not just cared for by whomever out of the four or five adults available at that moment.  Make sure that there are never more than three babies or children being cared for by one adult at a time.  Find out how the daycare handles illness amongst the babies (Are they allowed to attend when ill?  How are they cared for in a way that ensures that other babies will not become ill? What are the hygiene practices at the daycare?) Make sure the babies get outside at least once a day in a stroller.  And make sure there is both a soothing environment available for nap time and a stimulating area available for play time.

Larger daycares can also be a good option for working parents – with a few things to keep in mind. First, the daycare needs to be clean and well organized. Second, good hygiene practices around illness and contagion should be in place.  Workers should wash hands each time they feed or diaper a baby or toddler. Third, look at the staff to child ratio. Fourth ask about what the actual practice at the daycare is in terms of who goes to your baby when your baby needs feeding, diapering, comfort, or play time.  What would be optimal is a day care whose practice it is to assign one or at most two workers to your baby so that your baby consistently interacts with the same person and learns that person’s rhythms and reactions in order to form a relationship with them.  Also, ask the daycare what their staff turnover rate is.  You want a day care which treats its staff well and where staff stay for years at a time so that your baby or toddler can be assured of seeing the same caregiver day after day so that they can establish a stable, consistent and loving relationship with the same one or two people there. It helps your baby feel comfortable, safe and secure to see the same face every time. 

Developmental Considerations

What option you choose can partly be guided by the age of your baby or toddler:

0 -1

The baby from birth to around one year of age is learning how to regulate their body and their feelings.  At birth, as every new parent knows, babies are not on a schedule.  They do not eat or sleep or poop at any specific time.  The caregiver’s job in this first phase of life is to provide prompt attention to the infant’s need for food, a clean diaper and soothing when they cry or fuss or feel uncomfortable. It is important that the caregiver also provides plenty of face to face time so that the baby can see their moods and feelings mirrored in the face of the caregiver as well as becoming accustomed to the rhythms and routines of that caregiver. This kind of attention to the baby’s bodily cues and emotions helps the baby begin to regulate.  From birth onward through the first year, what the baby really needs is one or two or three central caretakers – mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, friend, babysitter or childcare worker (who is assigned to your baby). In other words, the baby needs a consistent caregiver who is responsive to their own particular and unique moods, feelings and bids for engagement.  

Also, babies under one year of age do not NEED socialization with other babies, no matter what anyone tells you.  They need responsive love and care from one or two or three main adults (and a few other people from time to time when available). And they need time for play and stimulation from these caretaker(s) which might include activities like playing with toys on a blanket, music time, book time, and outdoor time in the stroller.

1 – 2

Later in development, as the infant becomes a toddler, the parent or caregiver is the bedrock from which the toddler begins to move into other relationships.  At this age babies are gaining mobility and interest in the world.  They love to see other babies and older kids.  They love to imitate them and to try to do what they are doing. At this age they still need their one or two or three consistent caretakers but they can also begin to spend time with other children, doing motor activities like running and climbing and chasing, and listening activities like short story or song times. 

2 – 3

At two and a half to three years of age, most children can begin to tolerate a full day of preschool or daycare – but if you can keep it to around six hours per day, that is best. More than that is a very long day for a young child. Longer days of ten and twelve hours can be taxing on an infant or toddler and require an extraordinary use of the child’s inner resources and coping mechanisms. If your work day is long, think about whether you can combine preschool or daycare with some hours at home with a relative or sitter.


In other words, situations designed to provide your baby or toddler with the care of one or two or three consistent and loving people who will respond quickly to your baby or toddler’s needs and who will provide the facial and vocal mirroring and feedback, as well as the love, soothing and the stimulation that your baby or toddler needs, is optimal. 

Other questions

  • How long per day should my baby be in care?

Here there are also developmental considerations.

From around sixteen months to two and a half years of age, your baby’s developmental capacities begin to change.  At this age something important begins to happen.  Your baby can begin to remember you (or whomever the primary caregiver has been) when you/they are gone.  This is the beginning of what is called object constancy and this is what makes it possible for the baby to begin to have periods of time away from you (or the primary caretaker) without suffering too much.  

If your toddler can remember you when you are not there, this provides some of the soothing that they need in order to be independent from you.  At sixteen months this capacity is temporary – the ability to remember the primary caregiver when they are not present lasts only a few hours.  At two and a half it lasts a bit longer and at four your child can usually keep you in mind for a whole day.  This does not mean they will not miss you – but it does mean that they can survive without you and be OK.

  • What is optimal for my baby?  

It is optimal for your baby or toddler to be cared for by one or two or three consistent caregivers for the first year to two years of life – if possible – whether those caregivers are mother, father, grandmother, babysitter or daycare workers who are consistent and assigned only to a few babies at a time.  

  • What about when my baby is older?

At sixteen months to two years of age, added stimulation is helpful.  A full blown curriculum is NOT necessary.  Toddlers do not NEED to learn numbers or letters – but they DO benefit from a rich and stimulating environment where free play and socialization is encouraged.  A good day care can do this as can two to three hours a day of a play group, or preschool.

  • Can I mix and match child care arrangements according to the day of the week?

Try to keep each day the same.  OR have a couple of days of one schedule and a couple of an alternate schedule. But try NOT to have each day be different.  Babies and young children LOVE routine.  It makes them feel safe and secure. Three days a week of half day preschool and two days at home or with a babysitter is a good schedule for a two year old.  But one day of all day daycare, another day with grandma, another day of half day daycare, a fourth day at home and a fifth day with a family friend could feel disruptive and confusing for an infant or toddler.

         – How do I evaluate how my baby (or child) is doing once I have made my choice of childcare options? How do I tell if my child is having a negative reaction to a daycare, preschool or other childcare situation?

  1.  Look for signs of exhaustion including a greater degree than usual of fussiness, signs of tiredness even in the morning or at midday.  
  2. Look for signs of anger, dysregulation or confusion. 
  3. After the first three weeks of this arrangement does your child STILL seem tired, fussy, or confused?
  4. Is your child’s eating or sleep routine disrupted?
  5. Does your child cry for more than fifteen minutes after you leave?

These are signs that a change may need to be made in your arrangements for childcare. 

Of course it is normal for your baby or young child to cry when you drop them off at daycare or school.  They don’t want to leave you!   But how long the crying lasts is informative. Ask the worker or teacher how long your child cries. If it is for five to fifteen minutes, don’t worry.  But if it is for over an hour, this is of concern. Ask about your child’s mood for the rest of the day.  Do they seem happy? Content?  Or fussy and whiny? Watch their behavior and moods at home.  Has their attitude toward you changed since starting daycare or school or has it stayed the same? Again, this information will help you to decide whether the arrangement you have made is working or not.

The choice of how to best take care of children during the day is a hard one for working parents – especially those who do not have available family nearby.  Think about your needs AND the developmental needs of your baby or toddler – depending on their age and stage of development – as you decide.

Did you find this helpful? Or do you want to contribute to the debate?  Either way, leave a comment!

Parenting During a Pandemic

Another humorous post by Tejal Toprani Misra who is a psychotherapist in part-time private practice and a most-time stay at home mom. She lives in California with her spouse and two young sons.

I forgot what I was going to say. Does that happen to you now? Well let’s face it, I’m a mom so it always did but now I feel like it’s ALL. THE. TIME. For example, yesterday I had this thought: “My 5-year-old starts kindergarten in the fall” and I said to myself, “Wouldn’t it be nice if he had a break between the in-person pre-k he’s going to and starting in-person kindergarten in August? I should figure that out when I get a chance.” I never got that chance. For all I know kindergarten starts tomorrow. Can someone check that for me? 

The time we are living in is hard, ya’ll. Speaking of “ya’ll” I’ve started picking up lingo from all the binge watching I do late into the night – part of the maladaptive pandemic coping skills I’ve picked up. For a week I sounded like I was a Duchess. 

After much deliberation my husband and I decided to send our kids to in-person school starting in July. If it wasn’t for that option you would have found me in my home one day with two hairs left on my head (I currently have six, so yay me). Being a mom has had its challenges but the challenge has been at another level when you literally have no clue about the future or the present. At any moment I can get a call from my kid’s school saying that someone is COVID-19 positive and I have to come get my kids. As much as everyone is trying their best, this has happened twice. And as the mom to a two- and five-year-old whose spouse works on the front line of this pandemic 80 hours a week, I am the fall back. I am the fall EVERYTHING – the wearer of all the hats. As a psychotherapist with my own private practice, it’s hard to explain to a client why my five-year-old needs his butt wiped during a therapy session. I’m not being facetious, that really happened. Don’t feel bad for me, I still have the option of that school opening. 

And I would like to give a shout out to all the moms out there who haven’t had an alternative option for childcare in this pandemic. I tip my six hairs to you. I know your pain. Over a year ago when the pandemic started and the world shut down, for our family, that meant: no childcare, my private practice coming to a halt, and my spouse working day and night. The term mental load took on a different meaning for me. Before the pandemic I had a fresh four and one year-old and I was finally learning to take things off my mental load plate. I had let go of the fact that my one-year-old might be wearing an outfit comprised of clashing colors to school (I love you, husband). I had given into dinner being microwaved more than once a week. But then this pandemic hit and what I was managing became unmanageable because I didn’t even know what was on “my list” anymore. Was it everything? Or nothing at all? It was hard to get my bearings and every time I felt like I did, something changed again. Like moving during the pandemic. Apparently, we were trendsetters because according to NPR everyone is doing it. In June of 2020 we moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles to be close to family. We bought a plane ticket for our then 18-month-old, that way he would have ample ability to spit in between the seats (I can provide video proof of this on request). Looking back at it I cannot believe we pulled it off. I can’t believe that we quarantined at an Airbnb for two weeks and visited the kids’ new school from the parking lot. Being forced to be less cautious than I would have chosen to be during this pandemic has somehow made it easier to navigate. 

Anyways, what was I saying?

An Interview with Sharla Feldscher

Image courtesy of Sharla Feldscher

Dr. Corinne Masur

Sharla Feldscher runs a Public Relations Firm – Feldscher Horwitz Public Relations – which includes a pro bono division called “Young People with Big Hearts”  which provides publicists for children who help the community. Two such children are16-year-old Alexa Rhodes who donates sturdy backpacks filled with valuable items to the homeless and Rocco Fiorentino who Sharla met when he was 10 years old. Rocco is totally blind, a jazz artist and humanitarian. He is now 24, but in those early years Sharla got him on Sesame Street, singing and dispelling myths about being blind. Sharla is also the author of KIDFUN which is available on her website – www.kidfunandmore.com, her publisher’s website – www.wordeee.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever books are sold. Follow her at facebook.com/kidfunandmore

For all of you parents who are at home with kids and flat out of ideas for what to do, today we have a really interesting interview for you with Sharla Feldscher, author of KIDFUN: 401 Easy Ideas for Play:

Tell me about yourself, Sharla

Well, sure, the one thing I always knew, even when I was very young, is that I loved kids. I went to Temple University and became a kindergarten teacher. The elementary school where I worked was built in 1898 and when we went to the “gym” it was really an old storage area, so we had to be creative. There were lots of benches and little wooden chairs stored there so I had to be very creative to make that gym work. One idea I had was to have the kids walk across a bench like it was a bridge.  In advance, we’d do language arts and I’d have the children make up stories about where they would go when crossing the bridge. If they crossed the bridge and went to a theme park, they could stand on a chair as if it were a rocket ship or there may be a lake there so we’d make a circle with a rope and they’d jump in and pretend to swim or be ducks in the lake.

When I stopped teaching after I had kids, I started writing books about creative things to do with young children.  I also had a column in the Philadelphia Daily News that eventually became a full page for kids called KIDFUN.  The kids who participated became reporters and reviewers and gave their opinions. I was also a Dear Abby for kids. Kids would write me their questions that I’d answer and it was really very touching.  I was a guest on television a lot and now I’m on WPHL TV with a monthly KIDFUN feature. I also started to work at Please Touch Museum and became their first PR Director.  Then I started my own PR business when Sesame Place asked me to be their PR consultant. That lasted 26 years. I like to say Big Bird was my first client!  I do PR for a variety of clients now but it started with children!

And tell me about your book.

What’s been so interesting – I’ve been writing KIDFUN for 40 years. This is my 8th book! – first I played with my kindergarteners then I played with my kids and now I play with my grandkids.

And right now creative ideas for play is even more important than ever with the pandemic!

Tell me how you got interested in play

Really I think I had great role models in my family.  My brother and I were always creating fun things at home.  And I had cousins with whom I’d play games – if we were in the car, if we were at the dining room table, we were always playing.  My cousins were more creative than we were and thought up games for every occasion!

What advice do you have for exhausted parents, Sharla?

You don’t have to be your children’s playmate.  Just set the stage for creative play!

Can you give us some suggestions – many parents are out of ideas after spending a year at home with their children! 

   – I believe there are fun things to play with all over the house – you know, “stuff” like paper plates, paper cups, rubber bands, old hats, scarves, wooden spoons, etc. etc. Use these for play. Here are some examples:

              – Make a KIDFUN carton and put some “stuff” in it for your kids to use for creative play.  One day make a box filled with scarves. Be casual – don’t tell them what’s in it, just say, check out the KIDFUN carton today. (Kids love new stuff!)  Another day put old clothes in the box.  Another day put all the hats and masks you have in the house in the box. You’ll be surprised what your kids come up with!

– Neat things for art.  Go to the sewing section of the dollar store – you’ll be surprised what you find – like pompoms, feathers, googly eyes and more. Keep these things in a bag for a day when the kids are really bored or have been on screens for too long.  Pour all the things in the bag onto the table and let your kids do art with some paper and glue and all that good new stuff.

– Another day give your children paper and an assignment: draw crazy animals – not normal animals.  They have to have more than 2 eyes, more than one nose and no mouth or many mouths. Then have your children give their animal a crazy name and a story to go with it.

– Another thing: see what your kids love.  My granddaughters love crepe paper – so one day I gave them crepe paper and told them they could decorate the house any way they wanted as long as they didn’t use tape.  They did all sorts of things with it. I loved when they told me they were “spies in training”.  The crepe paper was tied from door knobs to furniture and back again. It was their  “lasers”.  They jumped over them, crawled under them, etc. They didn’t ask me to do it with them, they just wanted to show it off to me at the end.

– Want your kids to go out for a walk but they’re complaining that they don’t want to?  Have them wear their old Halloween costumes or dress up like clowns on the walk and tell them it’s a parade.  Let them put on a few things to wear outside or put a little  “clown” makeup on them.  

                 – On another day, walk to the local park and tell them they can have a circus. Let them do some tricks – or whatever they want – for their performance. 

                 – Another day, play “I Spy” on the walk.

And do you have any ideas for grandparents who are out of ideas regarding what to do on Zoom calls?

Grandparents can do KIDFUN virtually.  There are lots of simple things that are really fun for kids.

   – For example, before the Zoom call, plan with the kids for Color Day. If it’s Red Day, everyone comes dressed in something red. They can all eat something on the call that’s … red! They can make up stories about things that are … red! The following week it could be Green Day or Yellow Day.  

   – Another thing a grandparent can do is ask the child/children to bring a favorite stuffed animal to the call.  Then they can say “let’s make up stories about your stuffed animal”. Each child can make up a story.  The grandparent can help out by asking questions about the toy’s favorite things like  “What’s his favorite ice cream?  What’s his favorite hiding place?  What’s his favorite thing to do when he wants to be naughty?” etc.

   – On another call it could be hat day and the kids can go get hats to wear. The grandparents can ask the kids to make up a story about where they would like to go in this hat.

There are so many fun things kids can do using their imaginations with just a little bit of help from parents or grandparents.  In my books I have LOTS of other ideas for anyone who needs some new ones!

Join in the conversation! You can find Thoughtful Parenting on Facebook and Instagram.

An Alternative Ending to “The Giving Tree”

Dr. Corinne Masur

The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein is a beloved favorite in some families and a book to be avoided in others. The tree gives its apples, its branches and eventually its trunk to the boy who has grown up “loving” the tree. For some people the tree provides an example of selfless love.  For others, the tree models love which knows no boundaries and ends up destroying itself in an effort to give the boy all he wants.

If you or anyone you know fall into the second category, a playwright has written an alternative ending to The Giving Tree just for you!  While possibly not as poetic as the original and perhaps needing some rewording for young children, it does provide a model of what it means to love while also setting self preserving boundaries:

Post-Pandemic Separation Anxiety

Dr. Corinne Masur

More people are getting vaccinated, spring is coming, and little by little we may be able to get out more than we have been.

This is a good thing, right?

Well, it IS a good thing, as long as we continue to use precautions like mask wearing and social distancing and hand washing. This spring more children may actually get to go to school and daycare and this summer children may get to go to camp and families may actually be able to go on vacation.

BUT we need to be prepared for some increased separation anxiety for some children – and even for some adults.

We have gotten used to hunkering down at home and spending more time there than ever before.  And as hard as it has been, as claustrophobic as it might have felt at times, as much as we all yearned for the freedom to be able to go where we wanted, it is possible that some of us will find it difficult to go back out into the world to do the things we think we want to do.

Even now, trips which used to be mundane can feel like a big deal.  For those of you who have worked at home, have you tried visiting the office yet?  Have you tried driving to places you used to go routinely which you haven’t been to in months?  It can feel strange to do these things; it can be anxiety provoking.

So, assume that your children will feel some of these feelings of strangeness when they try to do things they haven’t done in months.  They may be excited – but they may also have trepidations; they may be hesitant; they may ask questions like, “is it safe?” or “will my friends recognize me?”

The best advice we can give, given that none of us have been through anything like this before, is the following:

      – Prepare your children for what is coming.  If they are going back to daycare or school in person – or back to church or synagogue or music lessons or play dates, start talking about it a few days in advance.  Tell them what it will be like.  Tell them that they might have worries or questions and that they are welcome to talk with you about it. Tell them how you expect them to behave and remind them of what is required in these situations.

     – Take it slowly.  Do not assume that everyone will be on board right away with doing things they have not done for a year.

     – Expect some last minute demonstrations of anxiety.  Before doing something that they have not done before or something they have not done in a long time, it is not unusual for a child to develop a stomachache or a headache or to feel ill in some other way. This is their body talking and saying what they cannot say with words, “I’m afraid to do this!”  Remember, children do not develop these symptoms on purpose.

And adults, take it easy on yourselves as well. You may feel anxious when your children start back to school full time or go for sleepovers at relatives’ or friends’ houses.  You are used to having them close by. And again, as difficult as it may have been at times, it may have become so familiar that it feels strange to have them away from you. You may feel relief…and you may also feel nervous.  Give yourself time to get used to your children doing more on their own away from the house – and reassure yourself that ALL of you need to learn how to be more independent again.

The Transition to Motherhood

Dr. Corinne Masur

Recently a young mother and trainee at my Psychoanalytic Institute and I were talking about the transition to motherhood.  She has a four month old and she had just read an article that talked about “Matrescence”.  I had never heard this term before but I was immediately taken by it!  Finally, a word to name the developmental stage that women go through when they become mothers!

There is really nothing like this transition and yet we don’t talk about it much.  Going from being an individual who can do what she wants, when she wants, responsible mostly just to herself, to being totally responsible for a new, helpless human is an enormous shift. And it can be a shock. Suddenly, everything changes.  Independence and autonomy go out the window! Now the baby’s needs have to be constantly considered.  When the baby has to feed, sleep, be comforted or cuddled has to be taken into account before the woman can decide to do anything else. Life becomes less orderly and MUCH more messy.

This is especially true for women who worked and had control over their own schedules outside of work. Staying home and caring for a baby’s needs can feel like a huge shift in every aspect of her being – her schedule, her priorities, her freedom and especially, her identity.

I remember one new mother saying to me, “No one told me how hard this would be!” and she wasn’t just talking about taking care of her baby.  She was talking about so many things. She was jealous of her partner getting to go to work each day, getting to take a half hour for lunch, getting to go to the bathroom on their own. She went from working to being at home all day and she felt hemmed in. She loved her new baby but she also felt that his needs were all encompassing. She felt she didn’t get a moment to herself.  Her partner worked long hours and for those first few months she felt quite alone and isolated. She had friends but she did not feel she had time to reach out to them.  At another time she said to me, “The responsibility for keeping my baby alive is all on me”.  She felt the weight of this and it was nothing like anything she had felt before.  She also felt the weight of her love and connection to her baby and THAT was like nothing she had felt before either.

Of course, for each new mother and each new parent, what feels hard may be different – but for all new parents, especially first time parents, the transition to motherhood/fatherhood is huge. Each parent has to adjust to who s/he is now, now that s/he is not just an individual or part of a couple but now that s/he is responsible for caring for another human being and having that human being be totally dependent on him or her.  S/he has to rethink what it means to be HER.

This shift in identity is something that we take for granted.  But we shouldn’t.  It’s difficult – and comes with mixed feelings and in some cases, considerable struggle.  An article in Psychology Today compares matrescence to adolescence, another stage of life that can be stormy.

Every phase of development in human life comes with conflict. First time mothers may love their new role – but they can also hate it.  They can hate having to stay home because the baby is napping when they would rather be out on a walk or having coffee with a friend. They can hate the long days and the lack of adult companionship.  They can hate the total dependence of the baby, or the endless routine of feeding, burping, diapering, soothing. They can feel bored and beleaguered and resentful.  They can miss work and the sense of purpose that work brings. Deeper conflicts can be stirred up including feelings about how they were parented themselves or how they feel about bodily functions, time management, productivity, independence and commitment. And all of this is completely normal.

We need to acknowledge the significance and the difficulty of transition from non-mother to mother and non-father to father.  This is a life transition that resonates with past and future identities, goals, routines and ways of being.  It is transformative. The role of parent adds new dimensions to one’s existing sense of self, to one’s repertoire of feelings and abilities – but it is often a struggle getting used to the new role and all it entails.

And becoming a mother/parent during COVID?  Reread the above and multiply by 1000. All the normal challenges, deprivations and frustrations are magnified by the current conditions. New parents often don’t know what to expect from their baby, moment to moment, but now NONE of us know what to expect from the outside world. When will the pandemic be over? Will we get sick? Will our family members get sick? Will our jobs survive? Will we survive financially? Will daycares be open or stay open? Can we even grocery shop safely and if so, how many masks do we have to wear to do so? Moreover, it’s hard to find help. Relatives and babysitters can’t come over as easily to help with child care. Friends with babies can’t get together without negotiating around COVID safety. Life for the new parent is even more uncertain and more isolated than ever.

Some mothers are “on the brink.”.  It is just TOO much – particularly for single mothers, mothers whose financial situation is unstable, mothers who have to manage working from home and childcare simultaneously. Maternal stress levels are high – life can seem scary and tedious and frustrating all at once. Some have taken to going to a local park and screaming as loud as they can. One mother said, “I feel like a ticking time bomb…but then I am unable to defuse myself”. Another said, “Some days are so busy they feel like they don’t exist. It’s like I just went through 24 hours and I don’t remember any of it because I was just go, go go.” 

It is hard to concentrate on a new baby when there are so many worries. And at the same time, that is what is needed. Some parents find it an escape to just care for their baby. Some are glad that there is little for them to fear they are missing out on while caring for their infant during this time – after all, so little else is happening.  There are fewer distractions from the baby and more time to get to know him or her – and after all, that is the job of the new parent – to get to know the baby and to get to know ourselves in our new role.

Please join in the conversation. You can find Thoughtful Parenting on our Facebook and Instagram.

Weaning from Electronic Entertainment

Dr. Corinne Masur

The vaccine is here, our new President is compiling guidelines for school re-openings, spring is coming and parents are thinking: “How are we going to get our children off their devices???”
Yes, it is true.  Life outside the house is going to resume.  We don’t know when exactly and we don’t know how exactly, but we can all see that it is going to start happening over the next several months and into the summer.
But children have also been using their devices more than ever.  Parents have found it life saving to allow more movie and video game and YouTube time.  Especially parents who work.
Kids have found that they can amuse themselves during the long periods of enforced home time if they have a device at the ready and they can also socialize with friends via these same devices.
Parents who always said they would not give their child a smartphone before age (fill in your number) did so earlier than expected.  Parents who had strict rules about screen time relaxed them.  Some parents (read: most parents) even encouraged children to watch while they worked, cleaned the house, made meals, talked to a partner or a friend or took a minute for themselves.
So HOW do parents get kids away from these devices once we can go out more, do more, see more people (even if still utilizing some safety protocols)?
I have one main suggestion.  It will not be easy.  You may say you don’t have the energy or the time or the mental strength.  But I truly think it is the best way:
Do NOT lecture, threaten or cajole.  Instead, plan things that do not require a screen.  Do not say that is why you are planning these activities or you will get heavy pushback, I guarantee you.  But plan a hike, a walk by the river, a race, a bike ride, a baking contest, a bread making session, an art project then an art show (at home).  If you didn’t do Zoom sessions before, do them now – schedule a family Zoom with relatives you haven’t been able to see.
Tell your kids that to get ready to go back to school it’s time to get used to doing more things, to get in shape physically, to go outside the house more.  
Going back into spaces outside the home may actually cause some initial anxiety – among children AND adults.  Seeing more than one or two people at a time may feel overwhelming at first.
So prepare by renewing your efforts to set up some Zoom play dates and some Zoom dinners with family friends.  Set a time limit that your children must participate depending on their age.  For small children 2 – 4, five to fifteen minutes may be all they can manage.  For 5 – 10 year olds, tell them they must stay on for 10 – 20 minutes, depending on their ability. And for teens, at least 15 – 20 minutes can be the minimum.
We ALL need to start getting used to seeing people and going out and we ALL need to get off our devices.  Set a good example for your children.  When you spend time with them taking a walk or a hike or a bike ride or playing a game, turn OFF your phone and do not check it. We adults need to wean ourselves from constant device use as well!!!!