Author Archives: Andrea Ramsay Speers

About Andrea Ramsay Speers

Andrea Ramsay Speers, M.A. is a Psychotherapist practicing in Oakville. Her entire practice is built around one purpose: helping people enjoy their families more, whether that means coaching parents in learning new parenting tools, increasing connection and harmony between couples, improving relationships with teenagers, or helping individuals overcome their feelings of depression, stress, or anxiety and start enjoying their lives again. She can be found online at www.OakvilleFamilyInstitute.com.

Mom! He Hit Me!

Sibling fights are right up there on the list of parental pet peeves. It can be annoying to hear your kids fighting in another room, and it can be agonizing to hear how they treat each other. I remember reading somewhere that research shows that siblings between the ages of 6-12 years fight on average every 10-20 minutes. Eek. If there is a silver lining to this research, though, it is the awareness that it’s not just your kids – all parents know this struggle!

If we think about the goals of misbehavior and why kids do what they do, fighting between siblings pretty much always falls into the “attention” category.  Who can ignore WWIII breaking out in your family room? Your kids are well aware of that. Don’t think that they haven’t come to rely on your speedy response to their crazymaking. As a child, if you’re not getting your way, when Mom or Dad comes in, at least the playing field is level again. You now stand a chance of coming out on top after they make their decisions about who was in the wrong and what’s going to happen now.

One of the best ways of handling sibling fights is to simply stay out of them. Let everyone know at your next family meeting that your intention is to not interfere with their disagreements because you have faith in their ability to sort out their own problems. Then you need to follow through and allow them to actually do it, regardless of what method of conflict resolution they take.

If this approach gets particularly tense and leads to some sort of physical means of resolving the issue, there may be value in letting them sort it out themselves. For example, an effective way of learning that you shouldn’t hit your sister is getting hit right back. But if you do decide to step in, do it in a different way than you have in the past. Be calm, treat them all the same, don’t get involved, and give everyone choices. “I’ll take the toy/game/tv remote and when you guys can sort out who gets to take a turn first/who gets to roll first/what channel to watch, come and get it from me. I’ll be downstairs making dinner/folding laundry/cleaning the bathroom, and if you can’t decide, you’re welcome to come and help me.” Not only does this method encourage them to sort out their own problems through (hopefully) communication and compromise, it also sends the message that they are in this together and that you won’t get involved. With you as a common enemy, instead of the judge and jury, they are more likely to be motivated to work through their issues together and reach a middle ground everyone can live with.

If they’re really struggling to find a solution they’re both content with, put it on the agenda for your next family meeting, and work at solving it as a family. Talk through some basic problem solving and conflict resolution skills, tailored to the age of your children, and walk them through the process of solving this problem together. With practice, they’ll pick up on the steps they’ll need to apply to solve other problems between them.

While this strategy may not eliminate fighting between kids altogether, it will certainly help keep the conflict from getting beyond the point where they can resolve it themselves, and it will keep you from having to wade into the middle to rescue everyone, every time it happens.

By: Andrea Ramsay Speers

Andrea Ramsay Speers, M.A. is a Psychotherapist practicing in Oakville. Her entire practice is built around one purpose: helping people enjoy their families more, whether that means coaching parents in learning new parenting tools, increasing connection and harmony between couples, improving relationships with teenagers, or helping individuals overcome their feelings of depression, stress, or anxiety and start enjoying their lives again. She can be found online at www.OakvilleFamilyInstitute.com.

One Best Tip For Improving Your Marriage

love picIt’s hard to come home to a bad marriage.  When the one place that is supposed to be loving and supportive, is actually cold and lonely, it’s a challenge to keep positive and have hope that things can turn around. As hard as it might be to believe, though, it is possible. I have one tip for you, something you can start doing right away, that will help improve your marriage. It’s a simple tip, but not always an easy one.

Too often, as our relationships start to slide, we begin to lose touch with the positives.  We notice all of the ways that our partner is letting us down, or all of the missed opportunities our partner didn’t take to let us know how much s/he cares.  Over the course of time, we can become very, very aware of just how disappointing our partner is, of how she or he has wronged us, of all of the things that have happened that we just can’t believe makes sense to him or her – why would she even do that?!

And as time goes on, we begin to focus more and more of our attention on what our partner is doing and how our partner is behaving.

Maybe we use his bad behaviour as an excuse for our own petty behaviour. Or maybe we’re just so hurt that we are hyper-aware of every little thing that she does or says, and we interpret it all to mean that she doesn’t really care.

However it happens, for whatever reasons it happens, it can become very easy to spend much more time thinking about our partner’s behaviour, which we can’t control, rather than focusing on our own, which we can.

So here’s my tip: Start noticing small actions you can take to improve your marriage.

If you’d like your marriage to improve, focus on what you can do that would start to move things in a better direction. Are you coming home grumpy and gearing up for a fight each night after work?  Make a point of doing some deep breathing before you walk in the door, and focus on what was good about your day, so that you’re not accidentally giving off a “Don’t talk to me” vibe. Have you been waiting for your partner to make the first move in apologizing/planning a date night/unloading the dishwasher? Don’t tell yourself that it’s ok to base how you behave on how your partner is behaving; instead act from a place of integrity and be the person you would like to be in your marriage, regardless of what your partner is or isn’t doing.

Perhaps you feel that you’ve been doing all of the work in your relationship already, and you’re tired of feeling as though you’re going it alone. Fair enough. You know yourself how hard you’ve been trying to get things on a better track. But if you’re still interested in seeing your marriage improve, it’s never too late to look at what you have been doing and asking yourself, “If this isn’t working, what might work better?  In this situation, what is in my power to change, what might make a positive difference in our relationship?”

If we only focus on what we want or need someone else to do, and then they don’t do it, it can lead to a real sense of despair and helplessness. While we can’t make anyone else do something, we can create an environment between us that is fertile ground for a positive shift in both our behaviours which leads to a positive shift in our relationship.

Maybe this means asking about your partner’s day and showing a genuine interest. Perhaps it means sharing more of yourself, contributing more to the conversation and the atmosphere at home, rather than hiding in the den all evening. It could even mean that you need to count to 10 before responding when your partner is short with you, especially when you feel that attitude is uncalled for.  Maybe you’ll need to do the same thing a few times before your partner trusts that you really are trying to do things differently, and s/he starts to respond in a kinder manner.

When we tell ourselves that we’re not going to change what we’re doing until our partner changes what he or she is doing, we’re setting ourselves up for a stalemate. Someone has to break the ice, make the first move – let it be you. Do something kind, genuine, loving or different, not because it’s your job to fix your relationship, but because it empowers you to know that you have the ability to positively influence the situation, the ability to control how you behave in any situation, and that you also have the ability to start the snowball rolling in the direction of a more loving and satisfying relationship.

By: Andrea Ramsay Speers

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When A Family Member Has A Mental Illness

selfcareThere’s lots of information out there about different mental illnesses and how to find help or treatment for them.  But what is often missing is advice for you on how to cope when it’s your child or another family member who has the mental illness.  Perhaps you’ve connected this person with great resources and treatment is progressing as expected, but that doesn’t always mean there isn’t a ripple effect created that impacts you and your family.  Here are three tips for helping yourself, while you’re helping your family member.

Accept your feelings.  You might feel shame, anger, guilt, embarrassment, disappointment.  All of these feelings are normal.   It’s hard to let go of the dreams we have for our children or our families, and sometimes a mental illness gets in the way of those dreams coming true.  Maybe it will help to know that everyone in your position runs through a gamut of emotions; you’re not alone (even if it feels that way).  Sometimes life is challenging in ways we don’t expect, and in those cases, we just do the best we can.  Under these circumstances, advocating for your ill family member and taking care of the business of running your family can seem like an enormous responsibility at times, but remind yourself that anyone in your shoes would feel the same and that you’re doing the best you can.

Develop coping strategies.  There are going to be lots of things you can’t control, so get control where you can.  Whether it’s regular exercise to offset stress, or a monthly night out, or a few minutes with a book before bed, do what you can to impose a little bit of order and structure to your days.  Remember that you can’t give away what you don’t have; it’s important to fill your tank up, too, in order to be able to give your best to your family.  You deserve to have moments of relaxation, and joy, and peace, so create those moments in whatever way you can.

You may also need some coping strategies for dealing with your loved one’s behaviour, either at home or out in public.  Plan ahead for these situations as best you can, and remind yourself that it isn’t personal.  Don’t let public pressure or the judgment of others keep you from doing what you know is best for your family.  Have a plan in place for the unexpected, so you’re not derailed by a crisis.

And finally, stay connected.  Maintain a relationship with your partner; don’t let that become a casualty of the illness.  You’ll feel better if you believe that you have a partner in all that you’re going through, so keep that relationship strong.  Seek out support from others who can relate to your challenges or who are reliably there for you, whether that’s an association or support group, a therapist, or a friend or family member.  It’s hard not to worry about being judged for what your family member is doing or experiencing – sometimes people are not very compassionate about the struggles of others and worry only how it might impact them.  Don’t let this get you down or lead you to shut down about your struggles.  It’s not your responsibility to educate every thoughtless person you meet, but at the same time, staying quiet and not sharing your story keeps the whole topic out of conversation and continues the cycle of misunderstanding and suspicion.

Mental illness can have far-reaching effects on a family, but don’t let it define you.  Know that you’re doing the best you can in exceptional circumstances, have a plan in place and strategies to cope, and don’t let yourself become isolated.

By: Andrea Ramsay Speers

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5 Tips to Help Deal with Sassy Kids

kids-on-grass-2It seems to be that there comes a time in every child’s life when they transition from a cute and loving child, to a snarky and sassy tween or teen.  In this phase, kids go from good-natured to short-tempered, accommodating to resisting, happy to hold your hand to embarrassed to even be seen with you.

 

Let the eye-rolling begin.

Some parents roll with this change with remarkable good humour and grace; the rest of us may end up resorting to less-than-helpful responses to our kids.  If you think you may fall into that second category, here are five tips for getting your relationship back onto a better path.

1. Take a deep breath and don’t take it personally. 

Yes, it’s true that sometimes our kids can find just the right thing to say to cut us to the quick.  But they’re not necessarily trying to wound us that deeply, they’re often just trying out different ways of relating to others and seeing which ones give them a feeling of control and confidence.  It’s ok to respond calmly with something like, “That was very disrespectful.  I don’t like being spoken to that way, and I’m going to leave the room until we can agree that we’ll speak to each other more pleasantly.”

2. Harness the power of role modelling. 

As much as parents like to joke about the “do as I say, not as I do” method of parenting, children don’t tend to see the humour in it.  While there’s no doubt they can quite effectively push our buttons, a part of them is watching us to see how we’ll handle it.  Our kids look to us to learn how to behave in the world, and if we respond to them with anger, or an attempt at control by trying to put them in their place, then they learn that this is an effective way of responding to someone who is upsetting them.  While it might not seem like it in the moment, continuing to model respectful behavior towards our kids (and ourselves) does give them a blueprint for how to stand up for themselves appropriately and how to navigate difficult conversations.

3. Take a time out. 

We often get into the habit of believing that every parenting issue must be dealt with immediately.  But the reality is that sometimes we all need space to cool down, before we can get a real handle on the situation and think about the big picture.  It’s ok to tell your children, “We’ll talk about this later,” and then follow through and do it.

4. Catch them being good. 

You may have heard this phrase before; it’s something of a staple in parenting.  If we catch more flies with honey, than we want to be on the look-out for opportunities to acknowledge and appreciate those times when our kids express themselves assertively while still being respectful.  They don’t have to be talking to you; if you happen to overhear a conversation between two of your children, or one of your kids and a friend, it’s ok to pull your child aside later and quietly let them know that you thought she handled herself very well in that difficult situation.

5. Keep a healthy perspective.

While you may worry that the attitude demonstrated at home may be transported out there into the world at large, you can breathe easy knowing that it typically isn’t the case.  Kids generally reserve their worst behavior for family (lucky us), and they have a pretty good idea of what would and wouldn’t be considered acceptable with friends and other adults.

These little moments may not be the best part of parenting, but hang in there.  Keep in mind that a strong relationship is your best insurance against the dismissive and disrespectful attitude from our children, so don’t lose touch with them.  Find opportunities to chat and share, create little moments of connection, and soon the scales will start to tip in the other direction.

 By: Andrea Ramsay Speers

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Boosting Your Child’s Self-Confidence

Purple Butterfly on HandIt can be hard to watch someone you love struggle.  Whether it’s with a complicated math problem, or a cartwheel, or a difficult friendship, our kids will run into a challenge that tests their mettle.  And at the same time, most parents would put “self-confident” on their list of qualities they hope their children will have.  Since we can’t dictate how our children feel about or respond to a challenge, what can we do to help them feel confident in the face of adversity?

The parenting author Jane Nelsen defines self-esteem as “the belief that I count, I’m capable, and I can control what happens to me, or how I respond.”  This is a fantastic cornerstone to our efforts to boost the self-confidence of our children, and helps us break down this notion of “self-confidence” into practical and manageable ideas.

I Count

All of us need to feel that we matter.  That desire for belonging never goes away; we need it as adults, too.  One of the most important ways to help a child feel that he counts is to really listen when he talks.  This means everything to kids – no one likes to feel as though they aren’t being taken seriously or that their problems aren’t significant enough to warrant time and attention, and it’s easy for us as parents to forget that when we’re preoccupied or when our children are experiencing what we might consider to be minor dramas or quick fixes.  Ask questions more than giving answers or your own observations or solutions.  Being included in decision-making through family meetings is an important way for kids to feel that their voices and opinions matter, and that they are an important, contributing member of your family.

I’m Capable

We gain confidence not by being told that we’re great, but by experiencing the overcoming of obstacles.  Being told “You’re the best!” doesn’t mean much compared to that feeling of actually conquering a challenge.  Kids need opportunities to learn new skills, fall down and get back up again, and then look back and see how far they’ve come.  As tempting as it might be, don’t jump in and get involved right away.  Have faith in them that they can find their own solutions (perhaps with you as a coach) when possible.  If you step in too quickly, your child may get the message that you don’t believe in him, that you don’t think he’s able to handle the situation on his own.  “I believe in you” and “You can do it” are among the most powerful words you can say to a child.

I Can Control What Happens To Me Or How I Respond

There are times in life when we can choose the outcome of a situation.  For example,  if we choose to spend the night before a big test or exam out watching a movie, we may very well be choosing not to do well on that test.  Sometimes our actions have a direct relationship to the results we get, and in those times, we need to empower our children to recognize the control they do have.  But sometimes we can’t control what happens to us, that’s very true.  As humans, a feeling of control over ourselves and our surroundings is extremely important to us.  Which is why it’s critical in those moments to remind our kids to recognize that there is something they can always control – regardless of what is happening – which is how they respond to challenges.  They can choose to be angry, resentful, or bitter.  They can choose to be defeated, despondent, or hopeless.  The can choose to be determined, focused, or accepting.  Armed with the understanding that even if they can’t control what happens to them, they can always control how they respond, our kids can learn to look for the elements of a situation that are in their control and take action.  At the end of the day, there are millions of ways to have a positive impact on your children’s self-confidence.  Spending one-on-one time with them, teaching them a skill you have, having a hobby that you share together, showing interest in their school lives and friendships, asking them what they think they should do next, reminding them of their successes, giving unconditional love…the list goes on and on.  Let I Count, I’m Capable and I Can Control What Happens To Me Or How I Respond be the structure of how you think about your child’s self-confidence, and fill in the rest with all of those little moments that happen every day.

By: Andrea Ramsay Speers

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Staying Connected To Your Tween

The-best-top-desktop-purple-wallpapers-purple-wallpaper-purple-background-hd-28If you’re the parent of a tween, you may look at parents of younger kids, out for a walk at the mall or on their way to school, and see the little ones willingly reach for Mom or Dad’s hand…and cry a little on the inside.  You may find yourself butting heads with your 10 year old and think, what happened to the little guy who was easily distracted by a hug and a game of Uno?  Gone are the days when you begged the kids to go play in the other room because you needed some peace and quiet!  Now you’re the one being shooed out of the room.  Sigh.  We know they’re growing up, but did it have to happen so soon??  We typically expect teens to be much more connected to and interested in their friends than in their parents.  But we need to not give up on them, because friends are not a good replacement for parents.  We need to stay connected, even if that connection evolves, so that we can continue parenting and leading our kids.  And that evolution starts well before they actually hit the teen years.

Step one: spend some good time together.  Between homework and racing kids to activities, it can be easy to become disconnected.  Start by making sure that not every interaction you have with them is a negative one!  If the only time you really seem to have their attention is when you’re disciplining them, you’ve got a problem on your hands.  A few kind words in the morning, leaving little love notes for each other, a little chat over tea in the evening, interesting discussions at the dinner table, and turning off the TV and the electronics during all those windows take little time but can pay back big dividends in a relationship.  It doesn’t have to be anything big, but create some good times together. Building in regular time with you and/or as a family – weekly game nights, perhaps lessons in a sport you can do as together – helps to give you all something in common.

Spend time getting to know your kids’ friends.  If you don’t know who your tween’s best friend is, make a point of learning, pronto.  Including friends in some of your fun family outings is generally painless and informative (and may make your tween more interested in participating!).  And as far as that goes, find out more of your tween’s other “favourites”.  Nothing makes a kid sigh in exasperation louder than having his parent go on about his favourite food/tv show/singer/movie, when the kid has already moved on and has a new favourite.  Don’t get hung up on who you think your child is; you might be clinging to an idea that’s outdated, which might lead him to feel that you really don’t get him at all.  Be curious about your kids and their evolving ideas and tastes.  It’s these little things that help kids to feel as though you’re really on their side, and that you’re okay with the independence they’re developing.

Your child is turning into an adult, so don’t be afraid to change the way you relate to him or her.  Share more of yourself; talk about your day, what your “favourites” are, what you’d really like to do over the next year.  I’m not saying you should talk to her like you would your best friend, but you might be pleasantly surprised by the insight and personality that’s developing in your not-so-little one.  And the relationship you cultivate now will keep you closer and more connected in a few years when she’s just that much older.

By: Andrea Ramsay Speers

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The “Wow Factor” and The Holiday

Ease Holiday StressThis is the time of year when expectations run high, and it’s easy to fall victim to the thinking that if we don’t do something perfectly, we’ve ruined Christmas. That’s why this is the perfect time to employ the Wow Factor. I didn’t invent this principle – I first heard about it in the book The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn – but I think it’s particularly applicable around the holidays.

What this principle does is allow you to recognize the value in your time (or money, for that matter), and whether or not spending it on a certain activity is worth the amount of “wow” you’ll receive in return for your efforts.

Let’s consider gift wrapping. There is a certain Wow Factor in seeing all those pretty parcels decorating the bottom of the tree. Let’s say your enjoyment of those wrapped gifts rates a 5 out of a possible 10. You may feel as though you need to up the ante by not just wrapping each gift in paper, but by wrapping them a la Martha Stewart. But the amount of effort it will take is significantly increased. Shopping for ribbons and coordinating paper, assembling all the scissors and tape you’ll need to create those fabulous bows, and the work to actually wrap and tie every individual package is also part of the Wow Factor. Is the enjoyment you will receive from perfectly wrapped gifts going to raise the Wow Factor from a 5 enough to justify the time and effort it will take?

If you’re going to spend an additional six hours prepping and wrapping gifts but the Wow Factor is only going to go up to a 5.5 on the scale, is that really worth it? Or could your family do without those extra trimmings and be perfectly content with a 5 out of 10? In fact, will they even notice and appreciate the extra work you’ve put in? Because if they won’t, you’ve misspent energy that could have been put to better use on something else.

The Wow Factor can be used in so many situations – it really is a handy tool. (In fact, I even used it to help me pick my wedding dress!) When shopping for gifts, it’s easy to go overboard. But let’s face it: after the first few gifts, the Wow Factor drops off sharply. Those first two or three gifts are as good as gold to a child, but after that the enjoyment per gift really does decrease. So maybe it’s not worth it to spend your time and money shopping for a dozen perfect gifts when your children will be just as happy with only three or four.

Your time and money are valuable. Don’t waste them on things that don’t really bring you enough satisfaction to justify spending them.

Find some time to savour this holiday season. It goes by so quickly, really, as does the childhood of your children, so resolve not to let another holiday pass with a stressed out and cranky parent. You deserve to recapture some of that childhood enchantment of the holidays, too, so make the effort to slow down, just a bit, and remember why your 10 year old self loves this holiday so much.

By: Andrea Ramsay Speers
Andrea Ramsay Speers

Improve Your Communication And Your Marriage In Three Simple Steps

glass-heart-purple-loveEvery marriage has conflict.  I’m not sure that I’ve ever worked with a single couple who has not said that communication is one of the problems they have in their relationship.  It can be frustrating at best, and heartbreaking at worst, to not be able to get your message through to the person you love.  When you’re saying one thing and he or she is hearing something else, even the most optimistic among us can get discouraged.

But there is hope.  With a few small changes to what you’re doing and saying, you’ll be amazed at how much better you can communicate with your partner.  Here are three of my best tips for improving your communication, in your marriage and with everyone else that you talk with.

Start by committing to only having discussions with your partner when you’re both calm.  I know, I know, this may seem totally unrealistic right now, but trust me, you can train yourselves to do it.  When we’re angry, we don’t think the same way that we do when we’re calm, and this is not a good thing if we’re in a discussion.  Take a time out if you need to – walk away for a few minutes, cool down, then come back with a clearer head.  You’ll need to decide well before you need to use a time out just how long it’s going to last (20-30 minutes is often enough time to calm down and be ready to discuss, not argue about, the issue).

Next, stay focused on the issue at hand.  Who hasn’t had a “kitchen sink” argument, where we start out talking about one issue, then drag in every single hurt or grievance, everything but the kitchen sink?  They never get us what we want.  Get into the habit of discussing – and ideally, resolving – one issue at a time.  If you bring something up to your partner, and he says something along the lines of, “Well, how do you think I feel when you [insert his issue with you here]?” don’t get flustered.  Remember the first tip: stay calm.  Take a deep breath and say, “I’m happy to talk with you about [his issue], but as I started this discussion with you to talk about [insert your issue here], I’d really like to focus on that first, if we could, so that we don’t get sidetracked by too many topics all at once.  I’d be happy to talk about whatever is on your mind at another time.”

And finally, remember, ultimately, you’re both on the same team.  Practice seeing the issue as something separate and outside the two of you.  Instead of defining the problem as, “You never pick up after yourself,” define it as, “The house isn’t always as tidy as it could be; how could we work together to fix that?”  This is a subtle shift, for sure, but it’s this kind of approach to problem-solving that keeps us from turning on each other and makes us more likely to be willing to compromise and have empathy for our partner’s point of view.  You’re in it together; don’t tell yourself that your partner is the enemy.  Stay calm, stay focused on the issue at hand, and stay the course until you can find a solution or compromise that leaves you both feeling good.

By: Andrea Ramsay Speers

Andrea Ramsay Speers

Top 5 Tips for Blended Families

Family, Counselling, Therapy, Couch, Talking, Step-parentsBlending families is an adjustment, to say the least.  Depending on the personalities involved, you can expect anything from excitement (every parent’s dream) to indifference to unfiltered hostility (every parent’s nightmare).  But there are steps you can take to make the transition easier and help everyone to feel comfortable with their new situation.

First of all, keep your expectations realistic.  This is a new experience for everyone, and it’s not always going to be a smooth transition.  Accept reality: you will not be able to keep everyone happy all at the same time.  Take a deep breath and accept this natural limitation.  Now that you’ve freed yourself from the idea that total satisfaction is possible for everyone involved, you can face the challenges and decisions with a more balanced perspective, and hopefully, a little less internal pressure.

Start by focusing on relationships.  Keep in mind that we are always more forgiving and more generous towards those that we know personally and have a good relationships with.  If your relationship with one of the kids is strained, this is the time to develop that relationship.  Find an activity or hobby that you can share together, find common interests to discuss, volunteer to be the one to drive this child to activities or friends’ houses.  Look for little windows to connect – instead of hauling out your laptop to get some work done after dinner, sit on the couch next to your family member and strike up a conversation about his or her day.  Or your day.  Invite the kids to come with you on typical errands like groceries, and recruit their help to work as a team to get the shopping done.  Don’t get discouraged if it feels as though you are getting a bad return on your investment.  You might need to do the “right” things over and over before you make any progress.  Don’t let a string of declines deter you; keep making the offers and trying to create opportunities to spend time, particularly one-on-one time, with each of the children.  One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to discipline their step-children too soon; this can backfire in a big way and cause a ripple effect of bad feelings that can take a very long time to overcome.  Err on the side of caution, and at first, just allow each parent to discipline their own kids, while supporting each other’s efforts, and continue to work on developing a good relationship with each of the kids in the house.

Develop routines that everyone can live with.  Routines and predictability help kids to feel safe, so try to keep as many things consistent as possible.  Keep in mind, though, this means blending two possibly very different ways of doing things, so total consistency from one family to the next is not possible (see my first point).  Find a balance between the routines from your two previous families, and incorporate those habits that make sense and will fit well for your new circumstances, adapt those habits that can be made better with some tweaking, and accept that certain things are just going to have to be left in the dust for the new family to work.  That’s ok.  Things will evolve as both your comfort level as a household grows, as well as the age of your children changes, so you’ll have lots of time to find what works best for you.

How will you decide what works best for you?  You’ll need to communicate.  A lot.  About just about everything.  Communication is one of the biggest black holes in many marriages and families, so the importance of it cannot be over-stated.  Family meetings would be a tremendously helpful idea here.  Find a consistent time once a week to sit down with everyone in the family and address as a group any complaints or concerns that are coming up, as well as to acknowledge and thank others for doing what they can to help out.  I think family meetings are one of the most important tools parents can have in their tool box, and many, many family problems benefit from a group problem-solving session.

And finally, put aside some time for you as a couple.  Not spending enough quality time together is the killer of many relationships, and with the additional stresses that come with a blended family, it’s more important than ever that you two keep some time sacred just for the two of you.  There will always be something going on or someone who needs you – make sure that you put yourselves on that list instead of putting your relationship on the back-burner while you put out the more immediate fires.  When your relationship reaches crisis status, it won’t demand attention the way other family crises do.  Instead, it will burn away slowly and run the risk of fizzling out altogether.  Don’t let that happen.  Connect daily, even if only for a few minutes, show appreciation, develop routines and hobbies that you can do together, focus on quality communication, have fun…all the same stuff that’s going to keep your family strong will keep your marriage strong, too!

By: Andrea Speers

Andrea Ramsay Speers

Mat Leave Over? 10 Tips to Keep Your Sanity When You’re Headed Back To Work

 20131019_Mother_Baby_0442It can be tough to watch the days tick away in your maternity leave.  Many moms I’ve worked with feeling a growing sense of anxiety and dread as their return-to-work date approaches.  But there’s lots you can do – before and after you’re back at work – to smooth the transition and tame those anxieties.

1. Feel confident in your day care arrangement.

This one might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many moms feel pressured to make a day care decision, for any number of reasons, and have a gnawing discomfort with the decision they’ve made.  You might never love the idea of being away from your little one for eight or more hours a day, but at least make sure that you’re not spending your time at work fighting the feeling that something just isn’t right.

2. Plan ahead.

If you’re like most moms, you probably took care of the bulk of the cooking, cleaning, and other home-caring while you were on maternity leave.  Many women then find themselves in the position of trying to continue to do all of it, even when they’re back at work full time, simply because they and their husbands have fallen into the habit of assuming that she’ll take care of it all.  If you can have this conversation before you even go back to work, that’s great, but it’s never too late to sit down with your husband and do some planning and problem solving about how all of these jobs will get done once you have two people out of the house for most of the day.

3. Talk to your husband – a lot.

Maybe you’ll find that your carefully laid plans just aren’t cutting it once D-Day comes and you’re back on the job.  Don’t trap yourself into feeling that you’ve got no options – at the very least, put aside some time to chat with your husband, your partner in this big game of life, and let him know how it’s going.  Don’t make assumptions about what he’s thinking or what he would or wouldn’t be willing to do; you owe it to both of you to be honest about how you’re coping and what might be falling through the cracks.  This is also the time to acknowledge just how great a man you’re with, and recognize the efforts he’s making.

4. Be prepared to compromise, and accept that you can’t do it all.

This flows from the last point.  Not only will you have to accept that you’ll probably have to cut some corners when it comes to getting things done the way you like them, but if you want to retain your sanity, you’ll have to also accept that your husband may not do things exactly the way you’d do them.  And that’s ok.  As long as what needs to be done is getting done, you’re much better off just going with the flow than trying to insist that certain protocols be followed.  Let each of you figure out the best way for you to do what you need to do, and let that be ok.

5. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Here’s the truth about having a baby and returning to work: your life is going to be different now.  That might seem obvious, but I think we all have a tendency to try to fit our “old”, pre-baby life into our “new” baby-filled life.  You might have to readjust your priorities and simply let go of some of the assumptions or habits or preferences that just bog you down in your new schedule.

6. Make time for your marriage.

You’re going to have a lot of demands on your time, but don’t fool yourself into believing that your marriage can wait.  The number one contributor to marital breakdown today is not spending enough time together; don’t kid yourself into thinking that your marriage is the last on a long list of priorities.  Invest even just a little time now, and save yourself a lot of heartache later.  Don’t let yourselves to be reduced to just co-workers in the business of running your family.  Even a quick 10 minute daily chat over a glass of wine or cup of tea goes a long way toward keeping the two of you as more than just roommates.

7. Make time for you, build in downtime for yourself.

This is a ridiculously easy one to put at the bottom of your list, and a ridiculously hard one to make time for.  But it’s critically important.  You can’t give away what you don’t have, so if you’re burning the candle at both ends, you’re setting yourself up for a crash.  A few minutes a day of quiet time, such as reading, taking a bath, or connecting with a friend, is a long-term investment in your mental health and ability to cope with the day-to-day challenges that are thrown your way.

8. Ask for and accept help.

You don’t have to go it alone.  If someone offers to take the kids for the afternoon or to pick up some of your groceries, accept it!  We tell ourselves that everyone else seems to be able to pull off this whole working-parent thing, so we should be able to as well.  But the reality is that we never know what’s going on behind closed doors, and sometimes we need to be honest with ourselves instead of trying to live up to some lofty ideal.  We are among the first generations in recorded history to raise our kids without the benefit of a “village” of family members and neighbours to help share the load, so if someone wants to be a part of your village, let them.

9. Remember that there’s a time for everything.

We live in a land of opportunity.  From camps and lessons and experiences that our kids can have, to Zumba and book clubs and job promotions available to us, there’s a lot we could be doing.  Remember, though, that while you can do it all, you probably can’t do it all at the same time.  This might not be the time to tackle a new project; perhaps in order to feel as though you’re doing well in all of the jobs you’ve currently got, you need to not take on anything new.  That’s ok.  Don’t beat yourself up thinking that you “should” be able to do more, be more, have more.  Time is our the resource that can’t be recouped once it’s spent, so invest this precious resource in only the areas that truly matter in your life today.  Just feel good about where you are right now, and enjoy the time you have with your family as it is, right now.

10. Keep the big picture in mind.

You are stretched thin at this moment.  That’s a fact.  Raising little ones and working is a lot to juggle.  You’ve got a lot going on in your life, and it’s easy to get swept up in the day-to-day of it all.  Build in time for fun with your family and remind yourself that your best is good enough.  Take time to step back and love what you have.

By: Andrea Ramsay Speers Andrea Ramsay Speers

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