The Parent (Guilt) Trap

Who here has felt guilt in being a parent? Guilt about working too much outside of the home? Working out of a home office or home-based business? Not working, and feeling like your contributions aren’t as important to your family as those that might be a source of income or otherwise providing for your family? I know it’s a loaded concept, but I would bet that 100% of you, no matter your gender, work, or family make-up, have felt guilty about something related to parenting at some point on that journey. If you haven’t, then maybe you shouldn’t read further…..

Did we lose anyone? (Didn’t think so). More and more parents these days have to work at some point to ensure that there is food on the table, Play-Doh to grind into the carpet, and enjoyment to be had. Many are able to find what works for them through home-based businesses, MLM, and part-time work that coincides with their childrens’ school schedule. Others still are able to stay at home and not work for pay, but are proudly the Chief Household Officers of their homes and families, essentially running it like a business. Unless you are independently wealthy, you have probably felt the pangs of guilt that accompany being a parent, even to those children with fur. Constantly questioning, did I do enough? Did I make the right decision? Did I succeed in sneaking in enough fruits/vegetables to make sure my kid doesn’t get scurvy? (Yarrrrgh!)

I would imagine that any good parent would question most things. And you and your parenting partner (if your family is led by two or more caregivers) often disagree with what is best. As a mom, part-time counselor, and full-time business owner, I have struggled with what ratio of work to life/parenting balance is best. Mostly it was out of necessity (for my sanity and bank account) to work part-time, and not work too much to have my paycheck go to daycare costs, but damn if I didn’t have catastrophic guilt about it when maternity leave ended and my child was going to be taken care of by people that didn’t know how my child liked to be held, played with, or the things he enjoyed listening to or watching. I still feel guilty at times that it’s  best for me to work part-time right now, when I could be bringing in more money, and therefore helping our family to get out from under ginormous student loan.

But, I think this ratio is what works best for my family right now. I have a fabulous partner to share many responsibilities with, despite our varied viewpoints on when things are “completed.” My husband also has guilt, as he wants to be a 100% dad, a 100% husband, and a 100% employee. But we have realized that adding it up to 300% doesn’t work mathy-mathwise. (Right? I usually leave the complex math up to the engineer.) So, some days you fall short. Waaaaaay short. Others, you NAIL IT! And most days, statistically speaking, you do just enough. We all want to be great at something, and for many of us with children, furry and otherwise, we want to be the best in that area. Some days it just isn’t in the cards. Some days you’ll yell (gasp!); others you’ll be sick and Cars 3 and Mary Poppins will be on repeat while you recharge. But when you feel good enough to do something awesome, do it! And if you weren’t able to give it a go, try again another time.

With social media, your ‘grams, Snaps, FB, and other platforms, parents try to so hard to appear perfect, and I’m calling BS. I tell my clients that if they saw me out of my work drag, they would either think I’m homeless or wouldn’t recognize me at all (Thank you Mom Buns and yoga pants!). But, it’s because I’m not trying to impress anyone, win a pageant, or show everyone how sparkling clean my house is. Por ejemplo:

Could be worse, but could be better. Don’t let the guilt get to you. The fact that you are feeling guilty means that you are trying. Maybe you aren’t succeeding in the ways you’d like, or maybe you are allowing the fakers on FB/Pinterest/YouTube to get you to thinking that they have it all. What they don’t show you most of the time is a true DITL, because if they did, it would be toothpaste dribble on your shirt, fighting with your 2 yo to wear pants, or the tantrum that ensues when the rechargeable vacuum dies (also, who knew my child would LOVE vacuuming so much?!). Whether it’s grace, a break, or woosah, give it to yourself. Go on pinterest, fail at making a DIY bath bomb, use your kid’s bubble bath, and take a time OUT! Without guilt.


This common analogy is the one I share with my clients most frequently – the oxygen mask on an airplane. Flight attendants provide this very important information before each and every flight, and you need to apply this to your life at the start of each and every day. If the plane depressurizes and the oxygen masks fall from the ceiling, you:

A) Use it like a speed-bag and punch it as fast as you can
B) Not know what it is because you were playing Candy Crush during the instructions
C) Wonder, if I don’t see oxygen flowing, should I really trust that it’s there
D) Put it on yourself before you help someone else…

The answer…D! You must #treatyoself before you are capable of serving others. This is in ALL aspects of life, not just parenthood. Is it a great excuse to get mani-pedis every weekend? Only if your wallet and childcare providers (paid or unpaid) are available. But things like sipping hot coffee, taking a long shower, reading a book that you want to read that has more than a 5 year old’s vocabulary, exercising without having a child attached to you, losing yourself in a Pinterest rabbit hole, and actually having adult fun time (you pick your poison) are all forms of “oxygen”. You don’t feel guilty when you breathe, do you? Your breath doesn’t deplete another person’s chance at obtaining oxygen, and nor should your own self-care.

So guilt, you’re on notice.

(Courtesy of



While the title of this post is centered around moms, I will be less gendered in my language here. Speaking in generalities, it is typically the mother/female figure in a heteronormative couple that takes care of the detail-oriented day-to-day mess that is a household. Literal and figurative messes. Emotional messes, poop messes, food messes, scheduling messes, and financial messes.

HOWEVER, many more couples and families have different make-ups to include same gender partners, single parents, stay at home dads, DINKs, etc, which is awesome! A dear professor, Dr. Sandy Lopater, at CNU always started the semester methodically, saying “I’m going to tell you what I’m going to tell you, tell you, then tell you what I told you”, so here goes!

I will address the stress of what is called emotional labor, emphasize self-care, and how to hold yourself, and those you care about accountable to the stress creep. Whether it is a New Year’s Resolution or a new intention for yourself and household, these strategies will help you focus on what is truly important in life.

This story reaches a positive note as I just had a relaxing Wine Down Weekend with my book club, where games, chill time, and day spas were in the mix. My dear husband held down the fort with the tod-nado, and I was OFF THE HOOK.  How I got here (like literally how I survived the holidays to get here) has not been easy. Let me take you back…

I am the oldest of my sibling set, and tend to be the most Type A personality of my generation. I plan, I make lists, I schedule, I write things on calendars, I have a super low-tech way of ensuring bills get paid, I meal plan, I grocery shop, I cook, clean, and do many things. All of these things are examples of emotional labor. I realize this makes my partner sound like a total dud (he’s not), but I either consciously chose or assumed I was better at doing these things, so I took on these responsibilities to ensure our home runs smoothly. Having a small child and spreading things out would benefit my brain and bank account, I started before Thanksgiving. I buy things that are nice, but would appeal to many different types of people. I stockpile them in a large closet, and end up losing some of the items to the avalanche of stuff (admit it, you have that area of your abode too, and if you don’t, you’ve KonMari’d). I thought this was a great plan, one that would get things purchased and wrapped so they could look pretty under the tree, and I’d be less stressed…

Enter Type A personality! Our families do a Secret Santa gift exchange between siblings because we decided it’s better to receive a gift that we really, really want, versus a few small things that are nice, but maybe not what we really wanted, and is just junking up your house (see closet stockpile above). I also coordinated one side of the families’ exchange, because Type A (are you sensing a theme here?) #Idontknowanotherwaytolivelife. Then I purchased the gifts for my persons, and fretted over my husband’s tendency to procrastinate, resulting in late gift arrivals. So I assumed responsibility in checking in on him, therefore increasing my stress. We are also in the midst (and have been for over 2 years) of some reno projects, and I was wanting one of them completed as a gift to me. So, I began fretting over whether or not this would be completed on time.

Then……for good measure, let’s have 4 (!) birthdays in December to contend with planning/coordinating/purchasing/traveling etc, with one of them being said husband. Let’s envision the number of hats I am wearing around December 15th, shall we? I started having problems sleeping. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I can literally sleep through everything – fireworks displays, movies in a theater, contentious board games, fire alarms, etc. EXCEPT for my son’s crying…can’t sleep through that.

I was also suffering from extensive heartburn, my breathing felt shallow and my chest tightened (you can never be too careful, these can also signify a sign of a heart attack, especially in women) and I.HAD.HAD.IT. Emotionally, I was a wreck, and then for a shot of emphasis, I had a migraine for 4 days, including Christmas Eve/Day. The signs had been there, yet I wasn’t reaching out for help! Had one of my clients come to me with this information, I would’ve said “do something for you”, “zone out with a guilty pleasure”, “go for a walk”, “make sure you’re hydrated”, etc. I wasn’t treating my own self with compassion, and therefore did not look at my need to do the same things to help reduce overall stress.

December 28th. We were back at home, part of husband’s bday gift was available for pickup at the store, and I had spent one week with my amazing family. Yet all I could think about was getting away. My getting away place was the dollar store. You see, one of my all time greatest stress relievers is doing jigsaw puzzles. I had a point where I was doing one online every day, and it was a part of my self-care and enjoyment. I knew the dollar store sold jigsaw puzzles, and it was something my brain could manage, so I escaped my house, ran a few errands, and bought a puzzle.

I purposely made sure it was a scene of a place I’d love to visit (Cinque Terre in Italy), and was giddy as a mouse eating cheese when I was able to open it. It was not about finishing it with record speed, but doing it mindfully, with intention, and walking away when I felt stressed. A candle was lit, and I was having some water and some of the candy we received in our stockings (thanks Mom and Dad!). That puzzle saved me. It allowed me to be quiet, introverted, and calm. It helped me re-engage with my family, and be more present. In short, it helped me be me.

I realized I didn’t have to do everything by myself. I didn’t have to silently “suck it up buttercup” and complete tasks that others were capable of doing, nor were they all necessary. Sleep deprivation is a killer. It raises blood pressure, blood sugar, can elevate stress hormones, and causes our brains to not operate at optimal capacity. Chronic stress communicates with our brain that we are in “survival mode”, and minimizes our ability to think logically and rationally through decisions, conversations, or to know our limits. Caregivers to young and old know that debilitating stress can reduce your capacity for empathy, patience, and compassion. And the people who tend to be more detail-orientated tend to take on more than is necessary to ensure happiness of most (but not all) people in their household and lives. So if you have identified with any of these symptoms or scenarios, read on!

3 Ways to Reduce the Stress of Emotional Labor:

  1. Communicate with your partner – Partners are generally there because they want to be, and would want the best for their partner (that’s you!), including to know if their partner needs help. If you are feeling resentful, put upon, the only one who sees the cat’s vomit in the kitchen, then you owe it to yourself to speak up. Our partners, as gifted as they may be, are not mind-readers, and cannot know what is on our minds without us telling them. Change can only happen when a problem is identified and communicated. If you can, take time to identify the problem and a potential solution, so your conversation can be as productive as possible.

    For example: “I feel like I’m the only one who vacuums around here. Is there a way we can divvy up this responsibility so I don’t feel like the only Hoover Hero?”

    These conversations may be difficult, and even feel “weird”, but they are a great step in asserting yourself to improve your stress levels. *I am not talking to those who may be in abusive relationships, as speaking up may put you in harm’s way. If you are local to Hampton Roads, VA and are trying to find a way out of an abusive situation, please call 757-251-0144 (Coordinated Crisis Response hotline).*

2. Communicate with yourself – Asking yourself what can be limited or eliminated with regards to duties around the home is a tough ask, as many would argue that it all has to be done (raising my hand here). Well, it doesn’t! If you have the means (one day I’ll be that woman 🙂 ) outsource the tasks!

Utilize your grocery store’s new service to have someone else shop for you, and all you do is pick it up! Hire a housekeeper! Order gifts online and have them shipped DIRECTLY TO THE RECIPIENT, wrapped and ready! Have teenaged kids drop off dry cleaning! Have your kids help out with age-appropriate housework (my son actually loves “vacuuming”, although he’s good for about 2 minutes), and praise them for their hard work, even if the towels aren’t folded right (DO NOT refold them. That sends a message that their job wasn’t good enough, and while I love to work, I don’t necessarily want to see your kids in my office). Have a designated “no cook” day, where you get a frozen pizza or take out from your favorite place. We cannot do everything, and we cannot do ANYTHING if we are overextended. What’s 1 task that you’d love to take off of your to do list?

3. See and praise the work that is being done – This is probably the hardest to do, as our stressed eyes are less capable of seeing the smaller things that people contribute to our daily lives. A silly thing that my husband and I do that brightens our days is secretly hide a small card that says “You’re one great Mom/Dad” It’s been in the freezer, my planner, my laptop, a novel, husband’s lunchbox, laptop bag, and we look forward to finding new places to hide it for our partner to find when we most need it. If someone is praised for the job they did (see #2), they tend to want to repeat it. Even if it’s not perfect, show them you appreciate their efforts. I am still a work in progress on this, as my husband can attest. For kids and adults, graphic or tangible representations of their efforts (gold stars, sticker charts, allowance, etc) help to motivate positive behaviors. My husband loves gold stars, and I’m sure they’re available at the dollar store (the one I go to rhymes with Smollar Fee). Your children need to see that they need to contribute to the household, and that their behaviors have merit. They will carry these ideals with them into their own households, and will hopefully be great roommates and eventually partners in the future…or children that live with their parents.

Next, it’s important to step away. Step back. Breathe.

And repeat this mantra: “Is this necessary? Is this sustainable? Is this fun?” If the answer is yes to only one of these questions, find a way to change or eliminate the task.

We can’t get away from cleaning, eating, or working, but we can modify these tasks by thinking outside of the box. To make your to-do list more fun or at least less sucky, I listen to intelligent, funny, or entertaining podcasts or energizing music. Podcasts I enjoy: All Songs Considered; Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!, Nerdist (Not for kiddo ears),  S-Town, among others. It might benefit you to choose adult podcasts (with headphones) to remind yourself you’re an adult! And get you out of singing Perfect Piggies by Sandra Boynton for the 11teenth million time.

Find something that is just for you to enjoy. Mine are puzzles (crosswords, jigsaw), guilty pleasure TV shows, at-home pedicures (try the Stedi Pedi), YouTube, and quality chocolate. Lidl is a great resource for amazing chocolate at great prices. Yours might be video games, petting your animals, exercise, creative arts, or meditation. Once you make a list of those things, pick one thing from the list on a fairly regular basis. Put them on pieces of paper in a jar and pick one out for a surprise. Make it work for you so that you do it more often.

Lastly, many of us need an accountability partner/group to ensure we are following through on our intended changes. This helps many stay focused on fitness goals, creative writing, professional development, or completing that master bath reno that your wife keeps griping about…Find who that person or group might be, and commit yourself to speaking your intention out loud to them.

“I really want to do X more. Are you/the group interested in helping me figure out how to hold myself accountable?”

I would bet most would jump at the chance, and would probably also request your help in holding them accountable as well.

Make it fun if you’re a competitive person, put the stakes low (Starbucks coffee, ice cream at your favorite place, picking up a lunch tab, watching their kid(s) for an afternoon), but just frustrating enough to know you have to uphold your end of the deal. Log your progress so that you know how many times per day/week/month you’ve engaged in self-care. If you are into statistics, you can figure out what might be getting in the way (crazy schedules on Wednesdays, too many extracurriculars, not scheduling it in your calendar, etc) and find ways to combat the issue.

As parents or household managers, we all need a social group to vent to, hobbies that are ours alone, and appreciation on a pretty regular basis from our partners to keep us going. We also should demonstrate how important self-care is to our partners and children, as too many of them turn to substances later in life to deal with stressful events and trauma. Showing them healthy ways to cope is one way you can teach them how to take care of themselves, and hopefully fend off future mental health issues exacerbated by stress.

I hope you have found these tips to be beneficial! I’ll was thinking of you as I took care of myself with my tribe, and wish you all the best in being the best parent, partner, and worker you can be. Let me know in the comments what you are excited to try, and what you are looking at giving up as part of your self-care plan!


Take care,



June is Men’s Health Month

June is Men’s Health Month, which does actually include mental health! Women’s Health Month was in May, and it makes sense in corresponding to Mother’s Day, and June for Father’s Day. With so many ills in our world, and changes in gender roles, responsibilities, and hope for the future for many, it is understandable that many struggle with mental health issues, like depression, anxiety, phobias, and avoidance. Men are no different, and in fact are usually less likely to report these struggles, for fear of how they would be perceived by their family members, friends, and colleagues. Here’s some shocking information: while women tend to attempt suicide more frequently (3x as much), men tend to succeed in ending their lives (3.5x as much), equating to 25 attempts to 1 completed suicide. Those are staggering statistics! In my practice, female-identified clients outnumber male-identified clients 2 to 1. That doesn’t mean that women are twice as likely to suffer from mental health issues, just that there may be less stigma in reaching out for support.

What is interesting, according to a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, women tend to ruminate more on their own issues than men, as men tend to find ways to “solve” their problems. Men typically like to solve problems…fixing broken things, or breaking fixed things, as this study also found, as men tend to use more impulsive decision-making and substances to avoid or “fix” a problem. Which, coincidentally, is not good for overall health! Men are also less likely to seek out medical care for routine checks, or choose to ignore symptoms of significant problems. Men have higher mortality rates, lower life expectancies, and worse prognoses for various diseases, possibly related to the time at which an intervention was introduced (later introduction may yield less treatment available to stop or reverse the damage done). If you’re interested, here’s a link to an article discussing the differences.

So, how do we turn the tide of improving men’s outcomes by encouraging them to seek out medical and mental health treatment sooner? We educate! If you are a man, I would encourage you to think of the last time you saw a doctor for a physical (lab work included). If you can’t remember, GET THEE TO A DOCTOR! Our bodies tend to tell us through various metrics of issues that are lurking, including high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, irregular heartbeats/arrhythmias, high blood glucose, liver and kidney functioning, and levels of hormones (testosterone, thyroid, etc). The more you know, the more you can do. If you aren’t a man, but have a man in your life that you care about and would be significantly impacted if you lost them, tell them to GO TO THE DOCTOR!! The highest category of men that tend to complete suicide are those in the “middle-age” category (white males in particular), and often undiagnosed or untreated depression is to blame. Click here to see if any of these ring true for you or your loved ones. The earlier mental health and/or medical issues are treated, the better the outcomes. Period. It is not worth losing a life to something that is treatable because of the fear of what people may think. Superheroes are often disguised in shabby clothes, because they have been too strong for so long, they avoid recognizing the cracks that happen until they become too wide to be camouflaged.

If you or someone you love may be in immediate danger of death, please call 911, go to your nearest Emergency Department, or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a crisis counselor. We’re here to help! Men, make your health a priority, so people that love you can continue to do so for a long time! #MensHealthMonth

Take care,


Who is to blame?

With news of recent events out of Roanoke, Virginia, regarding a seeming workplace issue became much more yesterday, I am stuck at the intersection of many roads. First, I am a daughter, and three sets of parents lost their children yesterday in a senseless crime. I cannot imagine the families’ collective grief of losing bright stars to something that did not need to happen. Second, I am a sister. I can now, unfortunately, count myself in the club of having lost a sibling, albeit to much different circumstances. But both of my younger siblings had a connection to Adam Ward, photojournalist at WDBJ, who was killed. My sister had a class with Adam while attending Virginia Tech, and both pursued a degree in communications/journalism. She did not know him well, but she knew who he was. My brother, who also attended Virginia Tech, happened to be roommates with him sophomore year. Despite not knowing him well, my brother has a great picture of he and his roommates attending a VT basketball game, one now that is a memory of someone gone too soon.

In being a sister, I also had to endure the uncertainty of April 16th, 2007. What’s the significance of that date, you ask? Anyone who is a Tech grad, has a Tech family member or friend, or lives in Virginia (and across the world) would know that that date was the day that 32 innocent people lost their lives to someone who struggled with mental illness, and the 33rd victim was reported to be a “monster”. You see, my sister was an RA on campus that year, and along with her RA community, lost people that were dear to them. What our nation lost, again, after having endured multiple school/workplace/community shootings, was its innocence. The struggle to know how my sister was, where she was, and if she and her residents and fellow students were safe was unbearable. I was in graduate school myself at William and Mary, and was glued to my friend’s TV to find out more details. I tried to remain in contact with my mom and sister as much as I could to determine wellness and safety, and to be so far from them was hard.

My third intersection is that I am a mental health counselor. I attended William and Mary to become a mental health counselor, and now stand before you as someone who helps treat those with mental health issues on a daily basis. I experience the losses that my clients have endured in their retelling of their own trauma histories, and can only respond in sharing brief moments of my own fears as it relates to my own experiences. To say that I have a connection to these tragedies is not one that I enjoy, especially knowing that my connection is removed a few degrees of separation, and is no comparison to those whose lives were directly touched. Yet, as a mental health counselor, I struggle with the issues of comparing people who suffer to “monsters”. Monsters, as we now know (but didn’t as kids), are not real. They do not hide under our beds or in our closets, and cannot “get” us because of something we did. But the fear that we have is real, and the perceived mistreatment that the gunman and damaged human has probably endured throughout his life, led to his unfortunate decision to right a wrong that was not his to correct in that manner in the first place. I choose not to name him, as his name is not important. What is important is his suffering, and the reported discrimination that may or may not have taken place.

What we as a mental health community of healers know, is that trauma, no matter in what form, can change a person.  The younger age at which a trauma is sustained, the more changed a person can become. A majority of people demonstrate resilience in their experiences, and can sometimes spontaneously “get over” what occurred in their lives. Not everyone is as lucky, and the more trauma someone experiences, the worse their outcome in healing can be. As you all may know, a vast majority of those with mental health issues are HARMLESS, meaning that they would rather hurt themselves (suicide and/or self-harmful behavior) than hurt another person. But there are a novel few who feel it is their (delusional) duty to take justice into their own hands to correct something that may not have existed in the first place. This is not me saying that the accusations he made were untrue, but he had a lengthy history of discord in the workplace and had to be terminated and forcibly removed from several workplace environments due to this discord. His own perception appeared to be flawed, in that he felt he needed to make a statement with his actions that was one of finality – one that could not be corrected, justice could not be served, and in some ways could be considered cowardly. I repeat again…a vast MAJORITY of people with mental health issues are HARMLESS. But it only takes one person’s actions to become infamous, and that sticks in our minds as novel.

Who or what is to blame here? The short answer is that we are ALL to blame. Yes, that is a bold statement, and yes, I do believe it is true. For this person, and for the countless others that have acted out in violence related to a perceived wrong-doing, they all started this life out as infants. And as an infant, they needed to be cared for, loved on, and supported in learning how to make good decisions, respect others, and be provided empathy and compassion when necessary. But, as we know, not everyone receives that growing up. Despite the myriad circumstances that can exist to cause a person to harbor hate in their hearts, we know that hate is a learned emotion and behavior, and not one that exists from birth. We have to be taught how to hate, and this learning has to be reinforced in order to follow us to adolescence and adulthood. Normally, we take on our parents’ own “hates” like I have from mine: I “hate” the Redskins (but also the Cowboys), I “hate” tomatoes (from my mom), and cold weather is not for me. But my parents also massaged my desire to learn, and allowed me to be able to make my own decisions, somewhat to their dismay. I think I turned out okay, and hope they think so as well. But let’s say that I got other influences from my parents about whom or what to hate, like “hating” other races, sexual and gender minorities, religions, etc. That is something that is learned and reinforced. The hurting human reported that he was discriminated against because he was black and gay. I don’t doubt that at some point, and perhaps several throughout his life, he was discriminated and hated against for his identity, which is something he could not change. If he could, I’m sure he would have to avoid being hated and treated differently. But the point is, he, just like many others who have become so angry for the way that they have been mistreated, or perceived mistreatment, have experienced hate. Either from a parent or caregiver, from an abuser, from punk kids, from their house of worship, teachers, loved ones, or the community, these people have not learned how to manage their own stress and experiences to allow them to let things go and move forward.

We don’t teach empathy, respect, and compassion in this world anymore. We are too engrossed in our smart technology to pay attention to our loved ones, including kids, and we as a society have become so dependent on our work for the “stuff” that we can buy with our income, that we forget what life is all about. Our advertisements always appeal to keeping up with the Joneses, instead of being the best that you can be, for yourself and for your loved ones. We as a society are becoming more and more self-absorbed with our following of Kim Kardashian instead of following those who are trying to keep peace, like Malala Yousafzai, Desmond Tutu, Pope Francis, teachings of Buddha, Jimmy Carter, and so many more. We value looks over intellect, and stuff over clarity. But we are all to blame for how our society has changed, so we cannot blame anyone but ourselves. If we watch the news shows that focus on gossip, then we create an audience and advertising dollars for it to continue.

The education that we need to have begins in the home. We need to teach empathy to our children, and provide empathy to those who need it. If sympathy is what you offer someone when a loved one has passed (because you have also experienced a loss such as that), then empathy is that same sentiment, but offered to someone who is going through something you have not gone through, and wouldn’t know the first thing about going through. Just because we don’t understand the pain and suffering, doesn’t mean we should run away from the suffering, but run towards it instead. As a counselor, I embrace suffering because it is universal. If we could have turned back time for the hurting human to the point where his suffering began, something could have likely been done about it. We can no longer ignore people who are intent on hurting others as they have hurt, and we also need to realize that we cannot predict something as catastrophic as what has occurred. But the more we reach out in kindness, to offer our empathy and support to those who may not be able to offer it to themselves, and to teach our own young people that a life lost is a loss for us all, then maybe violence can become less of a headline grabber. In my mind, if everyone could experience the unconditional love that a cat or dog provides to their people, we could understand more about what empathy and compassion look like on a regular basis.

We can change access to weapons, call for reform, march in the streets, and demand change, but until we start giving each other respect, love, kindness, compassion, and empathy, we will not be able to make a difference. Any death is a loss, but if something could have been done to offer this hurting human a space to grieve his losses, he possibly may not have taken his hate out on others.

If you, or someone you know is contemplating suicide or taking your pain out on others, there is help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7/365 at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) to speak with a knowledgeable person who can link you up to your community’s resources. You are not alone in your hurting, and there is hope.



Pregnancy and Gender Awareness

As most of my clients know, I am pregnant and due in January 2016; although let’s be real…this baby will come whenever they please (yes, there’s only one…just trying to be gender neutral)! Aside from the many different pieces of advice, things to know and read and become “experts” on, as well as the “You’re going to do what with my what?!?” moments, it’s been pretty great so far. My husband, who is not a counselor, has also schooled me on a few things.

We spilled the proverbial beans about a month ago, and he has had many conversations and questions asked by his co-workers that got him thinking about gender and our child. As many people do, his co-workers have asked him, “So, are you finding out the gender?” This got him thinking, and his response was, “We’ll be finding out the sex”. When he was relaying this story to me, one pregnant sleepy evening, I said “That’s great honey”, not recognizing the profound statement he made in his male-dominated and more conservative work atmosphere. It wasn’t until the next morning when it hit me upside the head, the gravity of his minor, but significant change in verbage from “gender” to “sex” when it comes to finding out about our child. I, at first, was floored and proud, that my husband was educated enough to know the difference (I guess I can take some credit for that). Then my pride turned to shock (at myself) for not seeing the significance of how we, in our society, mix the words gender and sex so fluidly, without recognizing the vast differences in the words.

When I work with my trans clients, I emphasize to them the importance of sharing their own stories, educating their friends and family members, and also recognizing that people will “mess up”. But this time, my husband educated me! When it comes to the sex vs gender argument, the very simple answer is a “parts vs thoughts” definition. Sex is defined by the types of parts (genitalia) that we have externally, and gender is all about what types of thoughts we have as an individual, and how that relates to our “male-ness” or “female-ness”. So when I’ve been saying the gender of our baby, what I should have said was the sex of our baby. We will be finding out the sex (parts) of our child, but the child will have to let us know their gender beginning at ages 2-12. As both my husband and I are considered cisgender (we identify with the parts that we have as indicative of our thought/identity patterns), we will assume, unless stated differently, that our child will also be cis. If our child wants to play with Tonka trucks, but has girl parts, then that’s fine! If our child wants to play with Barbie dolls but has boy parts, that’s fine too (although my husband prefers that either gender will play with Legos).  Bravo to Target for recognizing this fact, and for more parents in our society not getting so up in arms about the types of toys their children play with. It was not that long ago that “kick the can” was a part of play, and that has nothing to do with gender.

Being blessed with a healthy child is all that we want as parents, and knowing that not all children are born, and remain healthy, it is our duty as parents to begin to recognize when things may be affecting them mentally/emotionally, and not just physically.  A staggering statistic that I have shared with many trans persons and parents of trans youth is that 41% of trans-identified people have attempted suicide. Yes, you read that correctly. 41%. That is 9 times the national average of persons who attempt suicide. If parents could learn to accept their children as people, not as damaged, wrong, or immoral because their inside doesn’t match the outside, that number could come dramatically down. I impress upon parents of trans youth that being trans is not a death sentence, but denying a trans person support, love, and help to confirm their gender identity could be, this usually gets their attention to look past the confusion, and learn to love the person that they’ve created.

We do not yet know the mechanism by which a person’s gender identity is formed in the womb, but we do know that it is not a choice, like where to eat lunch, and where to go to college. Being a parent of a child who is not yet here helps me see things a little differently, and just wanting a child who is healthy is more important than the parts or thoughts they have. There are many resources for people who are struggling to understand what their child, partner, friend, or co-worker are going through related to gender identity and transitioning, and I invite you to school yourselves on appropriate language to use, questions to ask (and to avoid), and how to support those who need your love.

Thanks to my husband for being the inspiration for this post (and to his lovely parents, who raised him well!), and for all of my trans and gender-nonconforming clients who continue to show me their courage and strength!

Human Rights Campaign


National Center for Transgender Equality

Equality Virginia

Virginia TIES conference – October 10, 2015


A streak of…Yoga?

Having done yoga on a semi-regular basis now for about six months, I decided to use inspiration from some great friends to begin a Yoga streak.  What is a streak? Well, it’s doing something you may already do on a regular basis, and begin to do it on an every day basis, for at least a certain amount of time (or distance, if you’re running/biking). Unfortunately, you can’t use meals as a streak (I’ll eat dinner every night for the rest of my life!).  I decided March would be the month to complete a yoga streak, as it would be 31 days long, no holiday or birthday travel to throw me off my game, and I wanted to feel the benefits of yoga.

What are the benefits of yoga? Click here to find out more from Amy Weintraub’s LifeForce Yoga site. Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years, and has been a means of spiritual, mental, and physical improvement. Amy’s own recovery from depression is told in her book, Yoga for Depression, and yoga has been a demonstrated way for many to use in their recovery from depression, anxiety, stress, trauma, and addiction. While I wasn’t going to use it for those issues, I knew I could always use a bit of stress reduction.  I had attempted a streak before with yoga, but unfortunate personal experiences left me unable to complete a whole month.

While you don’t technically need any special equipment, a good mat is a wonderful investment. I purchased a mat from Target years ago, and added a thicker mat from TJMaxx due to discomfort I experienced in my knees while kneeling. Many can be benefitted from a Yoga block, wedge, and strap to ensure proper reach, stretching, and alignment on the mat. I used a regular class at the Y, and a few of the channels on Hulu (GoYoga, GAIAM) as well as the Yoga Studio app (it was free for iOS when I downloaded it). Other good apps are available for Android. While they are no match for a guided class, especially if you’re like me and need a good push from a live person as motivation, they will enable you to begin to practice. A great local place to practice many forms of yoga is Sattvic Space Yoga, located in Portsmouth. Their offerings are currently donation-based, and they have many different classes.

Over the course of the 31 days, I learned that I could gain strength, both physically and mentally.  It was hard to change my “obligation” to a “choice” that I made to complete the challenge, but during the first few days, I began to realize that this was a healthy choice. I preferred to go to a class because I needed a kick in the posterior, but I began to look forward to choosing the classes on my app to fit my needs of that day.  I have some lower back issues, and sometimes I could only do 15 minutes of stretching, but other days, I could challenge myself with increasingly more difficult poses and for greater stretches of time. I remember challenging (forcing) myself to complete a 60 minute class at home, and joking with my husband “If I don’t make it through the class, it was nice knowing you”, because I didn’t trust my own ability to complete a 60 minute class at the Intermediate level. Looking back, that was completely ridiculous, as I routinely complete a 60 minute class at the Y, and many of the poses in that class are Intermediate. Lesson learned: Go into it with confidence. “I will try my best, and push myself” was one of the mantras used.

About a week into the streak, I began feeling more confident, stronger, and I lost a small amount of weight. Without trying, I also became more mindful of my overall physical activity and eating habits. This helped me feel mentally stronger! One thing I learned about this is the importance of hydration. You will strain and sweat, and you need to replace the lost water with more water! Drinking more water is something that most of us need to do anyway, so get a reusable water bottle, and take it with you everywhere. Another lesson learned: always, always, always use the restroom before a class. I paired my morning coffee with morning yoga classes, which on a few occasions had to leave to use the restroom. Not only is this embarrassing, it breaks up the practice.

Two weeks into the streak, St. Patrick’s Day happened. We have a standing dinner tradition with friends, and in the whirlwind of planning, cleaning, and cooking, yoga had to wait until after the dinner. Needless to say, there were some adult beverages consumed during the dinner, and it was a late evening. Guests left around 10:30/11pm, and I am not an evening person, so doing yoga later at night was maybe not the best decision, but I had to do it! Lesson learned: completing your streak task earlier in the day is preferred because of the benefits of practice lasting throughout the day, and GETTING IT OVER WITH! There is a reason that Peace and Pints at Smartmouth Brewing does yoga prior to drinking beer. Balance may be more difficult with less physical stability. However, practicing certain types of yoga poses at night may benefit you in sleeping soundly. The beauty is, you get to decide what you do and how you do it!

The third week had some pain. You’re familiar with “No pain, no gain”, but in yoga, pain is not recommended.  My pain was related to my apparent flexibility, which traveled into an elbow “thing”. I had to be extra careful with my alignment while in table top or downward dog to ensure that I was not hyperextending my elbow. I took anti-inflammatories, and iced it to reduce further inflammation and injury. Despite looking ridiculous, the ice really helped. Lesson learned: Being mindful about my practice, ensuring proper position and alignment, and taking time to take care of myself is important to make sure that I can continue to practice yoga, lift my heavy bags, pick up my cats, and complete other household tasks.

Something happened during the fourth and final week that I didn’t think would happen. I actually started looking forward to yoga! I guess what researchers say about starting a good habit is true. I began to see more changes in my weight, muscle definition, and self-confidence. While I didn’t do the streak for those benefits, I had hoped that those side effects would occur. On the last day, it was apparent that my elbow needed some more time to heal. I had intended to attend a yoga class on April 1st, but in conferring with myself and my better half, I decided to forgo the class, and be extra careful with my elbow. I never thought I would think this, but I missed it. Maybe it was my lower back talking, but I genuinely wanted to practice yoga. Lesson learned: Give yourself the opportunity to change, learn, grow, and enjoy. I’m proud of my commitment, and glad to have seen the results of my commitment. While I may not be doing yoga daily, I will do it with intention, strength, and confidence. Think of some things that you’d like to change or do, for a certain amount of time, and schedule it into your day. Namaste.

Welcome to Serenity Counseling

se·ren·i·ty (səˈrenədē/) – noun: 1. the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.

Our aim is to take you from a state of sadness, anxiety, worry, or stress, to one of Serenity. We use a holistic approach to counseling, in ensuring that not only can your mind and spirit can improve, but your physical body can as well. Knowing that our brains and bodies hold hurt, negative memories and thoughts, and feeling as though we are stuck, we encourage our clients to learn more about their brains, bodies, and selves to promote healing, inside – and out. You are an integral part of this process, and we hope to work with you on achieving your Serenity!
-Angela P. Callahan, LPC, NCC
Owner and Therapist