On My Mind

Tips for Handling a Breakup as a Parent

Written on October 10, 2014 at 11:15 am , by

Breaking up is (especially) hard to do when you’re a parent. You may not be hitched to your ex anymore, but you’re connected through your kids. Communicate while keeping the peace with these smart strategies.

Set talk terms. If face-to-face is too painful, go with emails, texting or phone calls.

Stick to  ground rules. No bringing up past incidents, no cursing and no threatening.

Organize your thoughts. Write down topics that need to be discussed before you pick up the phone, checking off each item as you address it.

Put the kids first. Their welfare is the priority, so avoid placing them in the middle of situations. When in doubt, ask yourself: What’s best for them?

Choose words carefully. Replace phrases like “you always” or “you never” with “I feel” or “maybe we should consider.”

Listen harder. Sometimes instead of reacting, just reflect. Consider saying, “Let me think about that and get back to you.”

Forgive. Let go of old offenses and accept an “I’m sorry”—or be strong enough to offer one.

 Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet. Read more of her posts here.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

 

Keep Your Naked Selfie Covered

Written on September 12, 2014 at 5:00 am , by

We’re used to hearing celebrities bare all in interviews and watching them bare all on movie screens. But this month, when news broke of hackers using the iCloud to leak nude photos of stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton, many were shocked. How did the hackers pull it off? What other information could be hacked into? Who’s at risk? Aside from the obvious concerns about such a privacy breach, however, another issue loomed. Why take a naked photo?

Maybe it’s because I don’t even like to pose for, much less share, a photo of myself in a bathing suit sans cover-up. So I can’t help but wonder why folks want naked selfies.

One group worth approaching to answer that question: teenagers. Most teens sext to maintain or ignite a relationship, or are pressured into the behavior. A recent study indicated that more than 50% of college students sent sexually explicit texts—with or without photos—as minors. (About a quarter admitted to sending sexually explicit photographs.) These numbers would indicate that among young people sexting is increasing in prevalence. In fact, it has tripled or quadrupled in some ages and categories of teens over the past five years. Boys and girls sext at the same rate, but boys forward more.

As moms and dads, we need to shift our focus to parenting in the digital age. We need to talk to our children and teens about sending pictures, receiving pictures and passing them on. We need to tell them that not everyone is doing it and cyberspace does not have a button for forgiveness. Images that are deleted can be retrieved, and pictures that are sent can be passed along.

The message to our children and teens should be clear and consistent. Do not ever post or send a naked or half-naked selfie to anyone. Ever. They should delete images that are sent to them and not forward them. I want to remind young people that there are many ways to feel good about yourself: practice kindness to others, volunteer in schools and communities, simply contribute to the common good. But keep your naked selfie covered.

Have you talked to your child about sexting? Do you think your son or daughter would ever do it? Post a comment and tell me.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet. Read more of her posts here.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

Moms Aren’t the Only Ones Trying to Juggle It All

Written on September 4, 2014 at 11:10 am , by

This August, software mogul Max Schireson announced that he was stepping down as CEO of a billion-dollar company. It was scandalous—but not for the reasons you might think. News that the hardworking former child prodigy was leaving his high-ranking position was met with shock and awe because he was leaning back, if you will, to spend more time with his family. Schireson will still work at his company, but in a lesser role.

Some critics responded with venom, stating that other men would love to do the same but would be left with financial woes. However, most of the response was supportive and highlighted the increasing number of men who choose to be homemakers.

The number of dads in the U.S. who don’t work outside the home hit 2 million in 2012, and there’s a myriad of reasons why these fathers remain in-house. When explaining his decision, Schireson used the B-word: balance. He felt like his life was out of balance and wanted to realign it in favor of his family. Of note is the fact that his wife is a well-respected clinician and professor of medicine at Stanford University who has managed the seesaw of motherhood and a demanding career in academia.

So what gives? Should it be newsworthy when a high-powered male makes an apparent sacrifice to spend time with his children when women do it all the time?

Well, yeah…

Our kids and families need to have fathers who are on active duty throughout their lives. The way that men play with their children can teach them independence and fearlessness. When fathers ask about school and attend parent-teacher conferences, our children do better in school. It takes both parents to help teens navigate their adolescent years. Discussing paternal attitudes and experiences with difficult topics like sex and drug usage has been shown to delay inappropriate activity.

When fathers like Max Schireson make a conscious decision to be more involved in the day-to-day activities of the their children’s lives and support their partners, they are not stepping down but stepping up. I applaud his decision and hope it inspires other fathers to do the same.

What do you think of Max Schireson’s decision? Post a comment and tell me.

 

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet. Read more of her posts here.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

What’s So Bad About Being a Trust Fund Kid?

Written on July 24, 2014 at 11:42 am , by

To the best of my recollection, I have never met a trust fund kid. I’m sure there are benefits to having a friend who never has to worry about working, paying rent or facing the dreaded “I’m sorry, do you have another card?’ from an ambivalent waitress. He or she might offer to foot your bill or pay for trips and would never squeeze you for cash. Sounds convenient, right?

But perhaps actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was aware of something about trust fund children that I am not. His untimely death resulted in a large sum of money going directly to the mother of his three kids because he refused to put any cash into trusts for them. Reportedly, he told his accountant that he didn’t want them to be perceived as “trust fund” children.

Which begs the question…why?

His decision is not without precedent. Reportedly, Bill and Melinda Gates will leave their children only $10 million each. Warren Buffet allegedly will do the same. On the other hand, Oracle chief Larry Ellison famously began distributing the family fortune to his kids at the age of 18. He didn’t want them to “be afraid of money” but instead wanted them to learn about the ethical and social responsibility that access to a vast fortune entails. Although both dropped out of college, they are hardworking adults.

It’s pretty simple to understand why creating trust fund kids may not be optimal for some uber-wealthy families. The common perception is that money is a primary motivator for hard work. That’s a complete myth. In fact, leading motivators for hard work are caring about customers and clients, having a sense of purpose, passion, an alignment of values, wanting to achieve and just plain having fun.

What’s interesting is that Hoffman made a shrewd declaration of how society endorses the wealthy and privileged at the risk of alienating the lower classes. Perhaps he also wanted his children to learn the value of earning a dollar and, more important, character.

However, character does not come from a zip code. Parents with limited means raise responsible children and struggle with the same parenting issues as middle- and upper-income parents.

For my money, the underlying issue is not related to how much cash we give or leave for our kids, it’s the life lessons we teach them. What kind of role models are we as parents? What kind of respect do we exemplify toward others? How much do we show love to folks in our own households?

Money doesn’t buy happiness. I would guess that a trust fund doesn’t either.

Would you ever establish a trust fund for your child? Post a comment and let me know.


Janet Taylor, MD, MPH
, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanetRead more of her posts here.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.


Would You Leave Your Kid Alone in a Car?

Written on July 10, 2014 at 2:01 pm , by

Imagine this scenario: You’re pulling into a parking space so you can pick up Chinese food for dinner. As you glance into the backseat, you can see that your adorable (but extremely energetic) 3-year-old twins are finally asleep and safely strapped into their snuggly car seats. And you wonder: Should you wake them up and bring them into the restaurant with you, or dash inside for just a minute, leaving the kids inside the car alone? You’re parked right in front of the restaurant’s door. What do you do?

The truth is, if we haven’t all made the dash inside, we’ve at least thought about it for more than a second. However, many parents don’t understand the cause for concern until it’s too late and they’ve received a reprimand from a concerned citizen, been handed a summons from an unforgiving police officer, or experienced a tragedy that will be hard to forgive themselves for.

While the specific laws and age limits for leaving a child alone vary from state to state, I imagine some parents are thinking: “I know my kid” or “No one can tell me what to do with my own children.” Actually, communities and institutions can and in my opinion should. Some parents need care instructions for their kids. Common sense and parenting skills are not a given. If legislation or consequences keep one child safer at the expense of another parent’s inconvenience, so be it.

Now here’s my confession: Years ago, I left the motor running and my twins strapped into the backseat of my cool minivan on a hot summer day. Pulling right up to the front door of a local Chinese restaurant, I quickly ran in to pick up my order. It took a minute for me to find out the food wasn’t ready. Then I pushed open the front door to see my now moving minivan rolling past me with one of my 3-year-olds at the wheel.

I panicked, crushing my shinbone as I swung open the door and put my foot on the brake. The car went from neutral to park. In shock, I said to my daughters, “Girls, what happened?” My level-headed, still-strapped-in daughter, Taylor, said, “Erin drive.” Erin, my sweet and funny aspiring daredevil, just smiled. I was dying inside but so grateful that a tragedy had been averted. And I have never left a child of mine in a car or unsupervised since.

While it’s true that parenting skills and styles are very individual, there is always one constant: the responsibility we have to protect our children and not expose them to potentially dangerous situations. You may believe that they’ll be just fine in your absence, but—speaking from personal experience—in lieu of a crystal ball, think safety instead.

Turn Off to Turn On: Make Time to Really Connect

Written on July 8, 2014 at 9:38 am , by

 

Truly connecting with your spouse, your kids or even a coworker isn’t a high-speed endeavor. Meaningful relationships can’t be jump-started by hitting send, condensed into 140 characters or easily deleted. They’re about a lingering glance, a tight hug or a pat on the back.

Unfortunately, high touch is being taken over by high tech. I’ve painfully witnessed couples more engrossed in their smartphones than in each other, fathers reacting faster to the ping of a text message than to their kids yelling “Dad!” and moms spending more time uploading family photos to Facebook than letting their kids download with them.

I know, I know, your teen is probably so obsessed with her Instagram account that she’s not paying attention to you either. But it’s hard to ask a teen to turn off a smartphone when you’re not paying attention yourself. My suggestion: Aim for as much real face time as you can. Create mini media blackouts by using a basket to collect electronics for a distraction-free dinner or having a family night devoted to offline entertainment like board games. Most important, teach your children when to pick up the telephone to reach out to someone by modeling that behavior. Our kids need to develop the keys to love and trust that come from a human touch-not a touchscreen.

 

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanetRead more of her posts here.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.


What Dr. Janet Wants You to Do for 20 Seconds to Feel Better Now

Written on June 18, 2014 at 6:11 pm , by

How many times have you been hugged today? Chances are even if you’re lucky enough to have been enveloped in the arms of someone you love, you still haven’t been hugged enough. That’s because the more embraces you have, the better it is for your health. Eight, in fact, is ideal. Here’s why:

Hugs are a power boost for our immune system. They decrease stress levels, help fight fatigue, promote well-being, lower blood pressure, improve our cardiovascular system and benefit aging muscles. Plus, there is nothing like a hug to make you feel up when you are down or safe when you are searching.

The science behind the embrace helping to heal both your head and your heart can be summed up in one word: oxytocin. Oxytocin is a chemical that’s released from your brain during the act of hugging, breast-feeding and, yes, sex. Think about the billions of dollars spent on self-help books, vitamins and little blue pills when one of nature’s most potent resources is free and can be plentiful! A 20-second hug, multiple times during the day (as I mentioned earlier, eight is best), is all it takes.

The challenge is to actually do it. Here are some suggestions to get your daily doses in.

1)   Unplug. Make eye contact and just go for it.

2)   Pay attention. Watch how others are feeling. We get so caught up in our own issues that we miss cues from people that we care about showing us they need to be held.

3)   Keep count. When you track and measure a goal, it increases your likelihood of obtaining it.

4)   Don’t be shy. If you have a teenager who avoids embraces, do it anyway.

5)    Draw everyone in. Get your whole family involved. Encourage group hugs.

6)    Press the men. Many dads stop demonstrating affection to their sons as they get older. Don’t let that be the case in your house.

Happy hugging!

Who are you going to hug today? Post a comment and tell me here.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanetRead more of her posts here.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

 

Why Age Is Really Just a Number…at 21

Written on June 5, 2014 at 9:00 am , by

In a few weeks, the youngest of my four daughters will reach a milestone. She will officially be an adult, as there will be 21 candles on a very delicious cake. Yes, her ticket will be officially punched into adulthood.

Adulthood. It’s hard to believe that a birthday can mark critical issues like responsibility, employment security (if you have a job), housing status (What? You still live at home?) and the pressure to finally be in a serious relationship. In other words, there is a general emphasis on just pulling one’s life together.

Heavy stuff…but as a practicing adult I know that there is plenty of time to grow up. Growing up is a process that is not just marked by a numerical value. Growing up is a mindset.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the parameters of growing up were carded for, much like liquor sales? How cool would it be if delis and minimarts had a calendar marking the current date and the statement: “If you are still immature and born before this date ____, practice self-reflection or ask a real adult to share their experiences and most significant life lessons with you.”

What if the ritual of turning 21 was not focused on being able to drink legally but tapped into a person’s ability to help others, practice respect and goodwill, and simply focus on making the world a better place to live and coexist?

What if instead of honing in on a chronological age to symbolize the pinnacle of physical maturity and emotional growth, we understood that things like wisdom, self-understanding and self-acceptance are not easily quantifiable but can be gained throughout our life span with a willingness to do so?

In many ways, the over-celebration of adulthood or being “legal” minimizes the true benefit of simply growing older and growing up. The real benefit of growing up is being able to appreciate your own successes and failures, to find the silver lining in disappointment and to have gratitude for joyful experiences. Completeness does not arise from turning a certain age on a certain day. Happiness and self-satisfaction can be present throughout our life span.

If we provide our young adults with an accurate representation of growing old and the recognition that aging is not a disease state but a normal process that holds both real beauty and potential at every age, as well as a blueprint for finding them, then perhaps every 21-year-old will have much more to truly celebrate.

What emotional accomplishments do you hope your child will have achieved by the age of 21? Post a comment and share.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanetRead more of her posts here.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

 

What It Means to Mother Yourself

Written on May 9, 2014 at 9:44 am , by

As Mother’s Day approaches and millions of Americans reach out and touch the speed-dial button to their favorite floral shop, I find myself thinking about the day in another way.

This Mother’s Day will be the first for me without the visible presence of my own mother, Joan Taylor, who passed away last spring. The loss of my mother has made me think about the qualities that I need moving forward that will allow me to mother myself.

Those qualities include treating myself with compassion and loving kindness, and being more accepting of difficult situations by hearing my mother’s supportive words in my head—words like “everything will work out” or “you did a great job”—even when I’m unsure.

Since I have four daughters myself, Mother’s Day makes me examine the legacy that I am trying to leave for them, a legacy not of material or financial wealth but of social and emotional capital. In other words, the ability to tap into their own reservoir of self-understanding and acceptance with a dose of optimism sprinkled in.

This holiday, it’s also important to remember that while 90% of women want to be mothers, 39% of them may never be because of issues of fertility or circumstance. And  6% choose to be child-free. For these women, Mother’s Day may have multiple meanings.

One consistent factor for all women is the reality that we have been mothered. That experience, either with a biological or nonbiological mother, has a lasting impact throughout our lives. We learn how to love, experience life’s challenges, work out feelings of frustration and develop our strengths and values from our relationship with our first love and primary attachment, our mother.

The capacity to support each other as women by sharing our experiences of being mothered and what we have learned about our mothers and ourselves is truly what Mother’s Day represents. It’s about honoring our growth and origins and loving who we are just as our own mothers, in their unique and individual way, loved us.

Happy Mother’s Day!!

How do you mother yourself? Post a comment and share.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanetRead more of her posts here.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

 

A Little Sleep Self-Help for Your Home

Written on April 28, 2014 at 12:30 pm , by

Sleep—it’s that elusive thing all moms crave and rarely get enough of, especially with younger kids around. Most of the tips we’ve given you so far focus on the health angle—when to exercise, how to curb caffeine consumption and how to deal with a sleepless night. But when was the last time you considered what your home has to do with a good night’s sleep? Turns out there’s probably more of a connection than you think. The good news is that just a few small changes could have a big impact on the quality of your zzz’s.

Use your senses—smell, in particular.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, lavender has been shown to decrease heart rate and blood pressure, which can make you feel extra relaxed. So try a lavender-scented candle on the nightstand before turning in, or tuck a fragrant sachet inside your pillowcase. Better yet, wash and dry your sheets, PJs and other nighttime linens in the new lightly lavender-scented Sweet Dreams collection from Tide, Bounce and Downy. If you’re sensitive to fragrance, keep it to a single dryer sheet. Even a hint of lavender could help get you into slumber mode.

 

Make the bedroom a gadget-free zone, especially at night.
Face it, with the popularity of tablets, e-readers and laptops, more work, reading and Netflix watching is done in bed these days than ever before—it’s just so comfortable and convenient. We’re not suggesting you never marathon a series or ban the Kindle from bed, but be sure to limit that activity to daytime. Dr. Ian Smith, celebrity physician and wellness expert from The Doctors, recommends turning off all devices, including your smartphone, at least 30 minutes before bedtime. If you want to read, do it the old-fashioned way, with a book. Don’t use your phone as an alarm clock, because that gives you an excuse to leave it on all night and be tempted to check it.

Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet.
Creating the right environment is key for falling and staying asleep. Shop for breathable sheets, PJs and other bed linens, says Kelly Ellis, director of integrated marketing at Serta International, who notes that flannel sheets, while certainly cute, are best avoided, even in winter. Dim the lights in the evening to tell your body that it’s time for sleep, and choose calming decor—think whites, blues, grays, tans and other tranquil hues.

Replace that old pillow.
Everyone seems to know that mattresses eventually need replacing, but so do pillows. According to Erik Brandt, VP of iComfort brand development at Serta International, they should be updated more frequently than mattresses for optimal comfort. (How long have you been holding on to yours?) The cooling action of the iComfort Scrunch Pillow’s memory foam particles is right on target for enhancing anyone’s sleep experience. At $79, it’s a bit of an investment, but what better to splurge on than a good night’s sleep, right?

Hit “Post”—Wait, Not So Fast!

Written on April 10, 2014 at 9:00 am , by

I remember when memories had expiration dates. What I mean is that if someone had a picture that you liked, you actually had to ask for the negative or request a copy of the photo. Occasionally, by the time you received the keepsake, you had long forgotten about the event. The good thing about formally requesting a reproduction was the implicit approval residing in the delivery of the image.

That was then. This is now. These days, a photo is taken and uploaded faster than you can say “Cheese!” A quick turnaround is wonderful for sharing a joke and capturing good times, but if you are looking for private moments, you won’t find them in this technological age. And when it comes to children—and more specifically photos of other people’s children—we’re not dealing with a laughing matter anymore.

A recent poll indicated that 57% of parents on Facebook strongly dislike having unauthorized photographs of their children posted. However, most parents feel like they don’t have control over the images. Their wishes and wants are conflicted. As a parent, if you don’t have control, who does?

Perhaps the answer is that every family needs to have a social media and sharing policy. Decide if it’s okay to have your little cherub’s face posted at any time by folks who are not part of your family’s tribe. If it is, have at it. If not, then diligently make sure that your wishes are enforced. That may result in the potentially difficult task of asking friends and family to delete unauthorized photos. By the same token, if you post a picture and are asked to remove it, please do.

In the future, schools and organizations may need to require consent for the release of photographs to protect your wishes. Until that happens, the wiser decision may be to ask, not assume, before hitting the “post” button.

Have you ever asked someone not to post (or to remove) a photo of your child from a website? If so, post a comment and tell me what happened.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

Be Willing to Learn from Failure

Written on March 18, 2014 at 10:00 am , by

Inspired by my work at an inner-city hospital—but dismayed by what seemed a revolving door of the same critical patients—I decided to obtain a graduate degree in public health 10 years ago. I was exhausted by having a job during the day and school at night, but I felt like the luckiest student in the world when I confidently turned in my first paper.

I can still remember gasping for air when I checked my grade on my smartphone: C minus. I had let myself and my family down. I was an academic disappointment—or was I?

Looking back, that episode taught me a valuable lesson. I realized that there is a difference between a moment and an experience. Yes, I had let myself down in that moment. But the experience made me want to improve. This was not a fatal event, but one from which I could regroup.

Whenever you attempt a victory—whether it’s hitting a fundraising goal for your child’s school trip or creating the ultimate Easter basket—there is a risk that you may not succeed. The question is whether you stay in the game, knowing that there is always room for improvement, or slink over to the sidelines and never try, try again.

Be willing to learn from the experience of failing and be determined to turn things around. I did so with hard work and a willingness to listen to painful but honest feedback from my advisor. You can too. Remember: Failure is a symptom. It does not have to be a condition.

 

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.