I am a school psychologist, but depending on the day, I can sometimes act as more of a professional cheerleader or shoulder to cry on. What I technically do in counseling teenagers is to help them talk through their thoughts and feelings so that they can reach their own conclusions and formulate their own plans of action. It’s that whole “give them a fish” versus “teach them to fish” idea. This can be pretty challenging when I am faced with an acutely angry or distraught high school student. Over the years, I have noticed that I end up
annoying them with saying some of the same things over and over – little quotes, encouragements, and words of wisdom. Now that I have faced the *ahem* challenge of being a new mom, I have been thinking a lot about the fact that some of these could actually be really useful to me. In other words, I really need to start practicing what I preach. Here are a few of my favorite examples:
Do some positive self-talk. In general, this basically refers to creating a positive internal dialogue (e.g., “You can do it!”). One exercise I do with students is having them tell themselves a story about something they’re nervous about as though it has already happened. The story should be positive but also realistic. For me, this needs to go something like, “I was really nervous about my first time breastfeeding in public. It was really awkward at first, but once the baby latched on it was no big deal. It was really nice being able to feed her while I was out.” Or alternatively, when faced with a challenging situation, I need to just remind myself of how cooly I handled the time that the baby had an epic diaper blowout at the Honda dealership. I handled that, and I’ll handle the next little glitch.
“Showing up is eighty percent of life.” This is a Woody Allen quote – not that he’s my idol or anything, but he makes a good point. If one of my school-avoidant students has missed a number of school days or is nervous about going to English class, I always remind them of this, which suggests that their presence in class alone goes a long way. I need this quote in my life on those days when I’m stressing about whether I’m doing enough with the baby, whether she is bored or sublimely happy or properly socialized. Simply showing up every day for parenthood means that I’m already doing a lot of something right. And let’s not forget that eighty percent in high school terms is a B-. Not that I want to be a B- mom every day, but on some days I’ll take it!
Yes, that is normal. Instead of one of those “that was easy” buttons, I need a “that is normal” button for my work office, because I swear I say this like I’m a broken record. I think one of the hardest parts of being a teenager is the feeling that you are alone in what you are going through, that no one before you has ever experienced the thoughts or feelings that you are having, and that no one could ever understand you. I think that being a new mom is the same way! It has been really helpful and reassuring to me to hear the experiences of others in having their first. As it turns out, my fantasies about smashing my Medela Pump In Style with a hammer are totally normal. Hooray!
Put the oxygen mask on yourself first. I say this more to parents than kids, and it is my official parenting tip in my blogger profile because I believe in this piece of advice so much. Not that I’m very good at doing it myself. A few days ago, my little girl started wailing just as I was sitting down with some lunch – my first calories of the day besides coffee creamer. I said aloud, “I have to feed myself before I can feed you,” and it occurred to me that this was literally true. If I don’t eat, not only will I not be able to produce enough breastmilk to feed her, but I will be a low-blood-sugar disaster. So there – I need to eat, and if that means that you cry for a minute then that’s ok. Your full little belly will thank me later.
I happen to be a school psychologist by trade, but so many of us are in the position of being support- and advice-givers and then have such a hard time supporting and advising ourselves. Why is it so difficult to practice what we preach?