"Let Them Walk": Overparenting, Eroding Community Relationships and How to Make Your Kid Nervous as F*ck

Monday, April 20, 2015 by Meg   •   Filed under Psychology of Motherhood

If you guys know me, you’re probably aware that I’m a feminist. To me, this is about respecting the rights of other women, about embracing our differences and offering support. 

And I’m a little pissed off. 

Every week I see another story on some mother who let her kid walk home from school, or go to a park alone or god forbid walk to a friend’s house. Their children are being detained, mothers arrested, families torn apart if only for an hour or a few days.

Do the charges get dropped? Well, sure, almost always. But it SHOULDN’T BE FUCKING HAPPENING IN THE FIRST PLACE. 

If children walking down the street alone was really all that criminal, all of our mothers would be in jail. If your mom wouldn’t have called the cops for it, you probably shouldn’t either. “Free-range parenting” isn’t a new fucking thing. It was always just a normal thing until the last few years when we suddenly got super nervous. 

Helicoptering is the recent parenting fad, much like the majority of parenting fads that came before. And over vigilance is easy to fall into; after all, in our history we probably had some times where leaving a kid alone meant they got eaten by a saber-toothed tiger

But we aren’t in a place where we need to be on constant watch for a goddamn tiger. We only think we are....  continue reading

Birth Plans, The Mommy Wars and Jerk-Face Asshats: Shame, Maternal Anxiety and the Illusion of Control

Monday, November 10, 2014 by Meg   •   Filed under Psychology of Motherhood

So....birth.

I have seen too many cases of post traumatic stress and anxiety responses following childbirth to pretend it isn't a real issue. But stress surrounding childbirth isn't isolated to the outliers. At every turn we have people telling us that birth is dangerous, that hospitals are dangerous, that women who have cesareans are irresponsible and ill informed, that those who birth naturally at home are child-endangering hippies. Quite aside from the fact that we are often unable to actually choose our ideal outcome, our strong, evolutionarily-relevant response to public shaming triggers us to defend, to justify our experiences to others in a culture of "having surgery means you're broken," or, "dear god, you're fucking insane giving birth without a doctor." It's like saying, "You didn't do it my way? Fuck you and the vagina you rode in on."

This shit is crazy.

Regardless of our own birthing experiences, natural or cesarean, the element of choice in medical treatment carries physical and emotional implications for all women. And for those who believe that shame is not the issue at all, but that instead informed consent is the biggest driver here, let us acknowledge that in blaming other women for choices, whether fully informed or not, we continually reinforce this notion of "at fault" and subsequent shame, while dividing ourselves along lines of natural birthers versus surgical birthers.  As if one makes us inherently better than the other. As if we are really all that different in our desire to make choices for our bodies and for our families. As if the ability to choose always exists. Not to mention that those lines of division make it less likely that the demand for more education, for more choices, for more informed consent will fall below the threshold at which hospitals, other medical bodies or governments alter policy.

But you're not here for the policy. You're here for the psychology, right? So what about the emotional implications of these choices?

When faced with shame or blaming, many women feel "less than" or "wrong" for choices they made and this loss of empowerment has wider implications than we think. For while it is about control, it is not only absolute power that matters. It is our perception of control in any given situation that leads to emotional responses. We need to understand this as well as the fact that we are eroding the mental health of other women by blaming them for their decisions simply because they are not the same as ours or for having births that they may not have even wanted to begin with.

So for the love of holy fuck, knock it off and let's talk about this, about what control really means to us, about why we make different decisions, about how these things alter our emotional state. We need to understand one another. Because we get nowhere if we don't get there together....  continue reading

Ten and a Half Ways To Stop A Tantrum (and have fun doing it)

Friday, October 03, 2014 by Meg   •   Filed under Psychology of Motherhood

I have been approached a few times about tactics for avoiding meltdowns in children. I think this happens because you assume that I am able to avoid marshmallow-throwing screaming fits on my way out the door to join the circus. And usually I am.

Usually. 

But my tactics tend to be quite outside the box in an era of baby training and Supernanny. I am less concerned with behavior, more concerned with underlying need, just as I am when treating other people's children. But today is not about creating a loving, respectful environment that discourages tantrums (though that is another post, so stay tuned). Today I want to look at some creative ways to diffuse a screaming fit. And, if you know me at all, you may have guessed that my first line of defense is humor....  continue reading

Don't Tell Her She's Pretty? Screw Off: Self Esteem and the Case For Compliments

Friday, September 19, 2014 by Meg   •   Filed under Psychology of Motherhood

The self esteem of our daughters may be statistically lower than at any other time in history. Women’s happiness and well being has been on the decline since the 1970s1 and it is possible that our current standards of beauty along with our sociological situation is to blame. This may be why, in recent years, I have had a number of women ask me in session whether they are messing up their daughters by telling them that they are pretty. 

At first the question confused me. But no, they insisted, they had heard that telling a girl she’s beautiful is akin to sin, something you should never do or you might end up damaging them. 

And then I heard it everywhere, this debate about whether telling girls, “You’re so beautiful!” is really a good thing. Will she grow up to think that her worth is based on her physical appearance?

“We don’t want that! Tell her she’s smart, not pretty!”...  continue reading

"I'm A Terrible Mother": One Little-Known Drive That Causes Maternal Guilt

Monday, July 21, 2014 by Meg   •   Filed under Psychology of Motherhood

Feeling guilty? Your brain might be screwing with you. 

Our brains developed rapidly around the time group living became necessary. Higher order cognition allowed us to read social cues and compete without violence through the use of depression, anxiety, guilt and shame.

But, shame has less adaptive significance when triggered in response to societal views of maternal failure. And make no mistake about it, women are led to believe that they can fail if they are unable to live up to the standards of so-called experts.

Fuck you, Dr. Phil!

Today, society is predisposed to blame mothers. This is due, in part, to the behavioral manifestos of years past which proclaimed that children can be molded into anything if mothers provide the correct experiences. Behaviorism, and all that shit.

You know what, B.F.Skinner? Fuck you too!...  continue reading

From Good Babies to Bad Mothers: Behaviorism and the Influence of "Mommy Training" on Maternal Anxiety

Monday, May 05, 2014 by Meg   •   Filed under Psychology of Motherhood

Avoiding anxiety in parenting is essentially impossible because there is a discrepancy between internal drives, early modeling, social norms and societal goals that all compete. In recent human history, behaviorist thought has played a large role in altering the way we respond to internal cues about parenting, and many women enter therapy trying to field pressure from too many sources. Figuring out what those sources happen to be matters. There's a reason we feel like we're doing it wrong: according to some part of our brain, we totally are. 

Let me be clear that this is not an attack of a specific parenting model or ideal. It is also not to say that some forms of training are not useful. We evolved to watch those around us and model behaviors, learning how to parent through those interactions.

But our drives to attach are often at odds with the drives to fit into out current idea of what normal parenting looks like. And behaviorist mandates can create an additional layer of shame responses that some women may be susceptible to without even realizing it. This may be true whether they parent against the grain or not.

It is for those who are having trouble understanding their anxiety responses amidst competing drives that this post is for....  continue reading