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.
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!!!!
Dr. Corinne Masur
Stacey Abrams tells the story of having been the Valedictorian of her high school class and, as result, being invited to the Governor’s mansion for a reception (as all valedictorians were in Georgia at that time). When she and her parents arrived at the gates of the mansion the guard turned them away. He said they did not belong there. He refused to look at the list of valedictorians. It was not until Stacey’s father insisted that the guard checked the list and begrudgingly admitted them. Twenty-four years later, Stacey Abrams decided she wanted to run for the office of governor of Georgia so that she could control those gates.
A young adult patient of mine told me a story that is similar in some ways. In seventh grade she did very poorly in her Latin class. The school had her tested and the psychologist who performed the evaluation told her that she would never be able to learn a language due to a learning disability. When this young woman went to college, she made it a point to take Spanish every semester and to do several study abroad programs in Spanish speaking countries. After she graduated from college, she got a better job than she had expected, based partly on the fact that she was now bilingual!
Some negative experiences, some experiences of criticism or humiliation or deprivation or limitation can actually provide the motivation for some children and teenagers to achieve. Such experiences can be formative in regard to how children develop, in determining who they decide they want to be and what they decide they want to do. Being told “no”, being told “you may not do this” or “you cannot do this” can lead some children to decide that they CAN and they WILL. The anger and the hurt these children experience can be channeled into a powerful drive to prove those who said “no” wrong!
As parents most of us carry the burden of feeling we need to smooth our children’s way, of protecting them from hardship or pain. And of course, it IS the job of parents to keep our children alive and to maximize their chances of healthy development.
But is it healthy for children to always experience a smooth path? To never meet with a failure or a “no”?
Is it best to try to protect children from every possible insult or danger?
I think not. And furthermore, I believe this mind set leads to our fear/belief that the current pandemic and the limitations it has imposed will stunt our children’s educational, emotional and social development.
Life provides all sorts of experiences – for most of us these include success AND failure and everything in between. We learn from our successes and perhaps we learn even more from our failures, our mistakes and the rejections and limitations we experience. And we can be motivated by any of these experiences, not just the positive ones.
Recently a post, supposedly by a superintendent of schools, went around on social media. She or he said:
“One of my biggest fears for the children when they return … is that in our determination to “catch them up,” …we will lose who they are and what they have learned during this unprecedented era … It is necessary to surrender the artificial constructs that measure achievement and greet the children where they are, not where we think they “should be.” … They did not miss the test prep. They did not miss the worksheets. They did not miss the reading groups. They did not miss the homework … Resist the pressure from whatever ‘powers that be’ who are in a hurry to “fix” kids and make up for the “lost” time. The time was not lost, it was invested in surviving an historic period of time in their lives—in our lives. The children do not need to be fixed. They are not broken”.
These are wise words. Our children will be different because of the pandemic, but they will have learned things during this time. They may not be as versed in the school subjects that they might have mastered had it not been for the pandemic, but they WILL have better tech skills (video games, and social media); they will better know how to navigate the internet, they will be well versed in connecting with others via online platforms, they will know how to occupy themselves better. Moreover, they will have experienced frustration and boredom and disappointment – and they will have survived. They will know that they can endure difficult times and heart-breaking disappointments and losses.
The children and the adults who are fortunate enough to live through this pandemic will not only have been limited and deprived and frustrated, they will also have been inspired in ways that we can only imagine right now.
Who knows how many children and teenagers and young adults will have been motivated to go into medicine, nursing, epidemiology, game and social platform design?
Who knows how many will say a resounding NO to the pandemic and find ways to fight or prevent future events of this kind?
Who knows how many friendships and social gathering will be created out of the sheer joy of freedom that is felt after the vaccine has been distributed and children are freer again to experience the social world?
None of us know the answers to these questions – but I am quite sure there will be many, many people motivated to make the world a more connected and safer place once this pandemic is over, just as Stacy Abrams was motivated to run for governor and my young patient was motivated to learn Spanish well enough to be considered bilingual!
Listen here for more on this topic:
Winter is almost upon us, school breaks are almost here, it’s a great time to bundle up and pick out some good viewing material. Check out Screenager’s list of 12 Documentaries to Watch With Your Family.
You don’t have to be a Philly local to benefit from The Franklin Institute right now. The Franklin Institute is sharing all kinds of fun online science videos this winter!
One of our contributors, Wendy, and her kids aged 2 and 5 years experimented with the Tinker Tuesday that was posted today. The project which used watercolors and salt was is a great way introduce ideas like hygroscopicity, absorption, and texture. While results varied based on approach, a fun time was had by all!
Supporting our children through the next wave
Guest poster Karen Libber Fishbein, MSW, LCSW is a Philadelphia-based clinical social worker and mother of two girls.
Here we are in December of 2020, ending a year with large-scale health, racial and political crises. Our children sense the daily tension and they feel the growing tedium. Life in the present is difficult to tolerate: COVID rates are spiking, school is opening and shutting and opening again, the days are getting shorter, the weather is getting colder, warm weather activities are no longer possible, and indoor gatherings are increasingly risky. The holidays this year will be very different than in previous years.
But now we have news of the vaccine! Health care workers and people in long term care facilities will be vaccinated as early as this month!
There IS light at the end of the tunnel!
But can we feel ourselves lightening up yet?
Can our children feel the hope that the vaccine implies?
As far as education is concerned, learning is radically different for many children regardless of how or where they go to school. Children attending school must adhere to social distancing guidelines and pay close attention to their activities and behavior. Children learning from home need to find the emotional and physical space to focus on their virtual instruction and navigate the novel world of remote learning. Teachers are working on overdrive to deliver their lessons in the smoothest way possible as they adjust to policies and procedures that may not fully account for the complexity of their students’ individual needs – or their own.
Children’s family members and caregivers are also struggling as they navigate these unprecedented times. Many caregivers are spread too thin as they take on numerous roles throughout the day without natural transitions and boundaries. Normal coping strategies (e.g. going to the gym, dining at a restaurant, attending a yoga class, asking friends and family to come over and help with the kids) are no longer feasible solutions.
A family member of mine is an experienced pediatrician, and he noted that families have been sharing with him that some of their children are starting to reach breaking points.
So, no. Perhaps our children cannot yet feel the hope that the vaccine implies. Children live in the present and the present is still hard.
Some children are not turning in work. Some are logging out in the middle of class. Most children, except perhaps those with the most energetic, exceptional teachers, are bored.
The personal interaction children had with teachers is absent. The desire to work for the teacher, to please him or her is more remote with remote learning. The motivation to pay attention is in short supply as a result.
So what can we do, in these dark days of winter, to help our children with their feelings of sadness, anger, boredom and loneliness, in other words, to survive in the present?
My two daughters, ages 5 and 7, continue to express frustrations about their radically different daily routines. My older daughter has been a champ with her 100% remote instruction. She signs into her classroom on time every day and seems to be keeping up with her responsibilities. While I am beyond grateful for her success, we run into difficulties after school. When I try to encourage non-screen related activities, there is usually backlash. “Mom, I don’t want to go to the playground, I don’t want to go outside and ride my scooter.” Last week as she was making these assertions, she burst into tears and said, “I really miss my friends, I want COVID to be over.” In that moment, I stopped pushing my agenda and then validated her and held her close as she cried.
My younger daughter is faring better during COVID than she was previously. The extra time with family and the slower pace of life has resulted in reduced anxiety for her. While this sounds all well and good, my husband and I are beginning to explore in person pre-k for her because she is not cooperative in our home schooling attempts and we don’t want her to fall behind. As we have broached this subject with her, her expression immediately shifts, and she becomes visibly sad and anxious about the prospect of returning to school.
I realize that my girls’ experiences may or may not be in line with the experiences of other children, but I’m going to offer some ideas that have worked with my kids and may be helpful for others during this next wave of darkness.
- Validate your children’s feelings and let them know that they have every right to feel the way they feel. It also may be helpful to let them know that you are struggling in your own way as well.
- Understand that your children’s exaggerated emotions regarding day-to-day challenges are likely reflective of deeper tensions they are holding.
- Praise your children when they adopt healthy coping skills on their own, for example if they engage in an activity on their own terms (e.g. arts and crafts, reading, playing with their toys.)
- Take a day trip somewhere new where you and your kids can spend time outside, i.e. hiking, visiting a farm, or exploring a new town.
- Encourage meaningful use of screen time such as FaceTiming with friends and family members or watching learning-oriented programming on television. My girls are loving shows on TLC right now. They also love calling their grandparents and friends to say hi! This feels much healthier than getting sucked into endless YouTube clips.
- Consider letting your kids have a special treat when days are tough. Wendy’s is our go-to—we load the kids in the car and then allow them to order a meal at the drive-through. This activity is especially appreciated on a rainy day.
- Engage in a charitable activity and enlist the help of your kids. We have collected canned goods a couple times and, as a family, have delivered them to a local food bank. We then use this as an opportunity to focus on gratitude for the privileges we do have.
- Get creative with babysitting. Depending on your COVID risk tolerance, consider having a babysitter or young teenager come over. We have been in touch with families in our community and have invited a few select babysitters over to help. The kids really love having the younger babysitters (i.e. middle school or high school age) over because they are often more interested in playing. We evaluate COVID risk by checking in with their parents to assess how much exposure the potential young babysitters have had and vice versa. Right now, we have a 13-year-old coming over who is in virtual school 100% of the time and has had minimal contact with people. The kids have spent hours playing together and it feels somewhat normal. It is fun for the younger kids and provides meaning for the older kids.
I hope you find these strategies helpful as you navigate this next wave of darkness. With any luck, as spring emerges, and the vaccine is delivered, we will return to some level of normalcy. Then, at that time, our children may need different guidance and support since “normal life” will not be normal, it will be new to them!
Remember these delicious treats we shared last Thanksgiving? It’s the perfect time of year to make them again!
Here is a fun Thanksgiving dish kids love to make!
You can have kids of any age help with this:Steve’s Sweet Potato Marshmallow Balls You will need:sweet potatoes1 bag marshmallowsbrown sugarbuttercorn flakes
Roast how ever many sweet potatoes you need (2 for a small gathering of 4 people, more for a larger gathering) at 400 degrees until soft. Let sweet potatoes cool then remove the skin and put into a large mixing bowl. Mash the potatoes using a potato masher or hands. After mashing add a little brown sugar to taste.
Now for the fun part!
Put corn flakes on a cookie sheet with sides and have your child mash with his/her fists.
Then have your child stand at the counter and take a scoop of sweet potato and form into a ball around one marshmallow. Each ball should be larger than a golf…
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Dr. Corinne Masur
This is Bear and Piggy, two Native American carved fetishes. A creative woman I know sent them as a gift to a friend. And as she packed them up in their box and thought about the trip they were about to make, she decided to write a story about this for the children in her family. Because she could not actually be with the children this year due to Covid, she printed up a little board book with the story accompanied by photographs of Bear and Piggy emerging from their box.
This year we are all going to need to think outside of the box when it comes to the holidays. Many of us are used to doing the same things each year – getting together with the same relatives at the same place, in the same way. And these rituals are so comforting and so familiar that many of us are trying to figure out how we can continue them this year.
But, really, does this make any sense?
In many places Covid numbers are way up. They are higher than they were at the beginning of the pandemic; they are higher than they were during the summer.
This year calls for creativity. And flexibility.
One mom I know has made her garage into a playroom for her children and the occasional friend who comes over and she is thinking of setting up a dining room table there for Thanksgiving dinner – with the garage door open!
Another parent I’ve talked to is going to forego eating Thanksgiving dinner with the extended family and is going to have a brief Thanksgiving get together with masks and social distancing – just long enough to give each family member a to-go turkey dinner in take out containers!
So this year, whether you decide to write a children’s book and send it to the kids in your family, or eat in the garage, try not to let the old traditions tempt you into taking risks you really don’t want to take.
Be flexible, be creative, and get out of YOUR box!
Dr. Corinne Masur
Today is a good day to talk to your kids about winning and losing. The subjects of sportsmanship, humility and grace come to mind – as well as braggadocio, sore losing and bitterness.
Whatever side of the electoral battle you were on, you and your children will be having strong feelings today – and this week – and perhaps for months to come.
So what do we say to our children? And at what age are they ready to have this conversation?
Well, really children of any age, starting around 3 know about winning and losing – and they can talk about the feelings that come when they experience each. Of course, depending on your child’s age, you will speak about this differently.
But the place to start is to remind your child – whatever age they are – that how they and your family feel at this moment is not the way that everyone feels. Some people are extremely happy and relieved today and some people are extremely disappointed and upset today. And you can remind them that it is normal to feel happy when you win and upset when you lose.
HOWEVER – and this is where the more nuanced part of the discussion comes in – it is important, however you feel, to be aware that other people might feel differently than you do and to treat them and their feelings with respect.
Good sportsmanship is something that kids who play sports should be learning. You can provide this as an example: after a game, your team shakes hands with the other team to indicate that you both played a good game and that there are no hard feelings left over from the competition.
The losers can feel upset but still lose graciously. This is a concept that can be introduced to a 3 year old and also to a 16 year old.
And the winners can feel happy and joyous but they can also behave graciously by telling their competitors that they played a good game. Children can be reminded that bragging about winning is not the way to go, even though inside it feels so good to win.
You can tell your children the story of “burying the hatchet”. When Native American tribes had disputes or wars with each other, when it was over, they literally buried a hatchet in the ground to symbolize the end of the disagreement.
This is a way to handle winning and losing too. After someone has won or lost, it is time to bury the hatchet, to accept the defeat or the victory and to move back to getting along.
Today, I fervently hope that our nation can do this – and that all of our children can learn something about how to win and how to lose with grace.