Sunday, December 15, 2013


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Thanks so much for visiting my blog! However, I now have a fancy-pants website where there's even more great info about me and what I do....PLUS the blog. So please head on over here to check it out:


Thursday, August 15, 2013

On Getting More Emotionally Competent

Today I was lying on a table getting some body-work done. I try to carve out time in my schedule to have regular osteopathic care and massage therapy. This keeps me from getting horrible headaches and makes me an all-around more-fun-to-be-with person. So I’m lying there—in my calm self-care reverie—and despite my best efforts to let go and relax, my train of though goes something like this:

“Ah summer will be winding down soon, but that’s okay. Maybe I can get another one of those cute kid-sized Adirondack chairs on sale like the one my parent’s got for Josh the other day. Did I ever take that chair out of the car? Huh, I don’t think I did. Did I unload the car at all last night? Hmm…what was in the back of the car? Did I bring in the things from the farmer’s market? I don’t think I did….

…..Oh crap, the meat from the farmer’s market has been sitting in my car for the past eighteen hours. Shit.”

Any mom can relate to this. We forget stuff. All. The. Time.

But what happened next represented new learning for me. I was able to observe my thoughts and physiological/emotional responses. From this “witness” perspective, my thoughts and feelings went something like this:

“I can’t believe I forgot the meat in the car! What an idiot! Wait…what is that sensation? Is that a rush of shame flooding through my body? Why, yes it is. That’s ridiculous. It’s just wasted meat; at least it wasn’t a child I forgot about, or something else really important. Is that fear closing in on my throat? Huh? Why am I feeling so scared and ashamed right now? Sure, I just flushed thirty bucks down the drain, but it’s just money. It is not the end of the world.”

Because I am in the middle of reading Dr. Gabor Mate’s book When the Body Say No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection, I had recently read this:

“Emotional competence is:
  • the capacity to feel our emotions, so that we are aware when we are experiencing stress;
  • the ability to express our emotions effectively and thereby to assert our needs and to maintain the integrity of our emotional boundaries; 
  • the facility to distinguish between psychological reactions that are pertinent to the present situation and those that represent residue from the past. What we want and demand from the world needs to conform to our present needs, not to the unconscious, unsatisfied needs from childhood. If distinctions between past and present blur, we will perceive loss or threat where none exists;
  • the awareness of those genuine needs that do require satisfaction, rather than their repression for the sake of gaining the acceptance or approval of others.”
This book is rocking not only my personal world, but my view of parenting and the work I do with families too. The basic premise is that the above criteria are essential for human beings to thrive. Sadly, I don’t know too many people who meet them. The entire book is about how NOT having emotional competence creates undue stress in the body and screws up our immune systems massively, leading to many different states of disease and dysfunction in the body.

Emotional competence, or lack thereof, is taught and conditioned in us through our early experiences. How the adults in charge of our very survival felt about our expression of feelings impacted whether or not we accepted these (all) parts of ourselves, or abandoned and disowned them. If it was not okay to cry or fuss, according to mom and dad, guess what? We absolutely learned not to. If we were punished for things that were truly out of our underdeveloped mind’s ability—forgetting about things, making “stupid” mistakes, etc., then our brains built fear response wiring as a result of these experiences—and it never went away. My internal berating of myself is totally unhelpful, and yet I find myself doing it—a person who feels trapped in a cage that is no longer locked.

The big “aha,” and believe me, it was a painful “aha,” was in asking whether or not the feelings I was experiencing were from the present, or the past. I not only noticed how I felt, but I noticed that it was an old reaction to being forgetful and making a mistake.

I am a 41-year-old grown woman who spent thirty dollars of my own hard-earned money on six pounds of meat at the farmer’s market. When I accidentally forgot to bring it in from the car, allowing it to become hot and ruined in the summer heat, my body flooded with a cortisol, stress, adrenaline response. Maybe it was because I was lying down and feeling relaxed that I could see this so clearly as old, as outdated, as absurd.

I felt like I was going to get “in trouble,” like I had done something hugely wrong, that I was a complete failure for not remembering the meat. I also felt a strong pull to hide the event—just throw the meat away and pretend it never happened—to avoid the pain of facing the shame I for some reason felt because of my actions. Instead, I just felt it.

Thoughts streamed through my head:

“I can’t believe it was such expensive meat I had to forget about it.”
“What a WASTE! Ack—all that meat—thrown away!”
“My husband will be angry! Did I really just think that? No he won’t! He has made plenty of expensive mistakes, this is no big deal.”
“This is old childhood conditioning. I was not permitted to make child-sized mistakes. The expectations were off—the emotional price too high.”
“I must have forgotten because I’d already brought it in once at my parent’s house to put in the freezer during dinner and then Rich wasn't home when I got home so I was thrown off, and it was bedtime, and I was distracted, and I had put it in the way back where it was easier to forget….”

This last part, where I desperately try to figure out why I messed up, the reasoning and rationalizing…it’s torture. It doesn't matter one bit why I forgot. I just forgot—something that every human on the planet does from time to time.

Lying on that massage table, several tears streamed down my face. I felt such compassion for myself, for my parents, for their parents. Generations and generations of people have been raised with shame, pain, and fear as huge parts of their experience. There is no reason for this. It is detrimental to our relationship with ourselves, and according to Dr. Mate, it is damaging to not only our mental health, but our immune systems as well.

There is no behavior for which a child deserves to be humiliated, punished, or shamed. Ever. There are better ways for guiding children, for understanding their behavior, for setting boundaries, for listening to feelings, for modeling what’s right with empathy and love.

Then I grieved—which is really the appropriate response to a loss.

It was a small loss. A thirty dollar loss.

A thirty dollar lesson.

Frankly, I would have paid much more for it. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

How Mistakes SHOULD Work

I had the pleasure of teaching a parenting class for teens a few years back. It's a wonderful training called: Parent Effectiveness for Resolving Conflict with Your Teen. Since that's a mouthful, it is affectionately called PERC for short. I only taught one seven-week round of it. Turns out that younger children are really more my forte as far as parenting ed goes. But I'm glad I was trained in it, and I will refresh my memory in about seven years to make sure I'm prepared for my own child's teen-hood.

Anyway, there is this tenet in PERC that got repeated every week when we sent the weary and frustrated parents home to try on different perspectives and practice new skills. The snippet important enough to repeat for seven weeks straight was this:

"Mistakes are the primary learning tool for humans."

I have shared this statement over and over--in parenting classes and my personal life. Imagine my delight when this photo popped up in my Facebook feed tonight:

This, my friends, is great advice.

Not being able to "handle" or work through making a mistake is a huge liability. Mistakes are normal! They help us learn! The are the PRIMARY way we learn. Not being able to admit, acknowledge, and learn from a mistake is a BIG problem. It's everywhere. I see it in the adults that surround me daily. DAILY. I believe this stems in part from the way many of us were parented: punitive, punishment-based responses to what were most likely just run-of-the-mill developmentally appropriate behaviors.

This old pattern in our minds is what gets us. It brings on what Brené Brown would probably call a "shame attack" when we make a mistake. Shame is what has us feel that WE are wrong when we make a mistake, instead of that we merely DID wrong.

When we can work through our own conditioning around mistakes, and heal from the pain and shame that we feel when we err, we will be able to lead children toward more quick resolution. Use this great list above with yourself AND your children. I am hopeful that providing this kind of guidance will create different brains for them: ones that don't send them down the shame-laden rabbit hole upon error. Ones that allow them space to communicate, repair, and learn when they do wrong.

Imagine how much more calm, happy, resourceful, kind, and productive humans could be?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Do I want to Nurture the Soul of My Family? Heck yeah!

I am delighted to share with you an excerpt from Nurturing the Soul of Your Family by the insightful Renee Peterson Trudeau. This book grabs you by the hand, leads you to a comfortable chair, and pours you a cup of hot goodness. You can taste, smell and feel the comfort and relief it offers. Ms. Trudeau has a knack for presenting accessible anecdotes that speak to the heart. Looking for a more peaceful family life? Get yourself a copy and read it.  ~Sarah

Upon Arrival, Proceed to Baggage Claim
Relationships of all types can be challenging. In particular, family members, partners, and children often develop a sixth sense for how to push our buttons. For myself, to become less reactive, I’ve had to slowly become more self-aware, compassionate, loving toward myself, and attuned to my needs — which has made me a much more emotionally present parent and partner.

Some of the keys are to show up in our relationships with a soft and open heart, a healthy perspective, and a full cup rather than a half-empty one. Before we can do that, however, we have to examine ourselves: we have to release and heal old self-limiting beliefs by understanding what we’re holding on to and why.

We all have emotional baggage. Ever heard the phrase “the issues are in the tissues”? Our beliefs, scars, and old patterns from our family lineage, childhood, culture, education, and birth order all significantly affect our worldview and habitual ways of being. These, in turn, guide how we show up and relate to our family members.

Some days we get easily triggered. Maybe our child not putting their dirty clothes in the laundry room sends us over the edge, while other days they could break the front door and we’d just roll with it. Our state of being has the most impact on how we respond to external circumstances. Some days we receive the gift of observing when we’re stuck in an old pattern or way of seeing things, and other times we just feel stuck, or else constantly critical or judgmental, thinking of our partner or children: “If they’d just listen to me, we’d all be happier!”

When this happens, look inward to see if you have any unclaimed baggage. For instance, when my son, Jonah, was about to turn ten, he and I went through a really difficult patch. He’s a beautiful, passionate, mature, intense kid, and as he reached adolescence, his level of defiance at times overwhelmed me. A simple request to finish homework or put his dirty dishes in the sink could invoke an emotional tsunami. Since I have a tendency to be controlling, our interactions were a Molotov cocktail.

After a particularly hard stretch involving lots of crying jags (mostly mine), I called Terri, a parent educator, and asked if my husband and I could see her for a session. I was exhausted from the stressful interchanges and needed help. After I explained our situation, Terri turned to me and gently shared, “You are going through mourning — Jonah is no longer a child. He’s an adolescent.” Terri went on to highlight some of the science around early-adolescent behavior and how best to support my son; in short, offer love and acceptance, not solutions and tips for improvement. After that illuminating session, things got much easier in our home — not yellow-brick-road happy, but the crying and yelling diminished greatly. 

In part, the improvement occurred because my husband and I tweaked our language and gave Jonah more freedom, but mostly things changed because my husband and I shifted ourselves internally. We realized we were holding unrealistic, supersized fears that were causing us to be overly critical; our heads had become filled with visions of our out-of-control nine-year-old turning into a sixteen-year-old heroin addict. We were “parenting from the future” and from our own fears and wounds, rather than from the present moment, which was what our son most needed. This aha moment and shift in our awareness are what created the big shift in our family dynamic that we needed. Often we have to break down in order to break through.
# # #
Life balance coach/speaker Renée Peterson Trudeau is the author of the new book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family.  Thousands of women in ten countries are participating in Personal Renewal Groups based on her first book, the award-winning The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal. Visit her online at

Excerpted from the new book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family ©2013 Renée Peterson Trudeau.  Published with permission of New World Library

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Compete or Cooperate?

It is very easy to encourage competition in your child. Don’t think you’re biased toward competition? You probably are—I know I am. Along with individualism and independence, these three are the American creed—the water in which we all swim. However, I would like to draw your attention away from it for a brief moment in time. I know, I know, it’s very bright and shiny in competition-land. There is glory, prestige, and WINNING to be had. I get it. But let me take a moment to introduce you to my friend cooperation over here.

While competition may be the “new normal,” cooperation has gotten the human race pretty far. Think of modern medicine, check out the great pyramids, or just take just take a peek inside an early childhood classroom—none of that happened without coordinated cooperation among many human beings. The first hurdle in creating more emphasis on cooperation is in knocking competition off its pedestal. We become so hyper-focused on skill-building and fact-acquiring that we easily forget that we are not just bodies, or giant walking brains. We have hearts and souls; we are emotional creatures. Sit with that just for a minute. Take a breath. Exhale.

Competition without the temperance of cooperation is lonely and isolating. Even within the context of sports, both are needed—that’s called teamwork. Now don’t throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. I’m not saying we need to eschew competition entirely. I’m just suggesting you refocus from time to time on cooperation too. Here are three easy ways to highlight it for your child:

• Promote games and activities that require children to work together. When given the chance, kids love the community-minded fun of charades, obstacle courses, and scavenger hunts. Or check out some non-competitive board games like Ravensburger’s Roads, Rivers, and Rails or Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It.

• Notice and narrate times when your children are cooperative. So often we find ourselves saying things like “You did it all by yourself!” because we’re delighted by a child’s independence, or “You won!” when we can see they’ve really tried. Just remember to also say something when they ask for help or work with a friend. Interdependence, collaboration, and cooperation should be as highly valued. Try, “You two really worked together on that project—you made quite a team.”

• Model cooperation in your words and deeds. It’s the good news and the bad news: Your child is always watching what you say and do. And we all know that the “Do as I say” line just doesn’t work. Make sure your child has ample opportunities to see you cooperate and negotiate. If winning is always held up as the highest (or only) goal, kids will learn to shy away from risk-taking, and we’ll set them up for a lifetime of disappointment.

So moms and dads—get out there and cooperate! Show your kids how to work well with others and model the “try-fail-persevere-succeed” cycle. Reveal the benefits of cooperation and collaboration and take notice when your children engage in these important life skills for themselves.

For children: Yo! Yes? by Chris Rasehka and Swimmy by Leo Lionni.

For grown-ups: Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, by Ellen Galinsky and NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

~from the March/April 2013 issue of Parent & Family

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Worst. Vacation. Ever.

I was all set to have eleven long days off. The first Saturday was supposed to start with my husband taking our son to the last swimming lesson of the session--such a nice kick-off to my vacation: getting to sleep in.


I drifted off after thinking they had left only to be awakened shortly thereafter by the pitter-patter of four-year-old feet. I asked Rich, "What happened to swimming?"

"He doesn't feel good, and seems to be coughing," was his answer. Here's how my vacation turned out:

Saturday: fever, coughing, no appetite, me spoon feeding oatmeal, Josh vomiting oatmeal, fever, cough, cough. Some very brave friends who had kids who were already coughing anyway came to visit, as did my bother and sister-in-law.

Sunday: coughing, fever, runny nose, no appetite (let the boy starve!), cough, 103.5, "my head hurts," Xopenex nebulizer, cough. My courageous sister-in-law and her boyfriend bring dinner to us. Josh goes to bed at 6:30 pm.

Monday: cough, fever, cough, cough, snot. Josh watches Diego on Netflix all day long. My parents who probably already had the virus come over and bring dinner. A highlight of my day is driving to the drugstore to get cold-fighting supplies to the tune of $80 (and wine for the grown-ups--when did drugstores start carrying alcohol?--genius!).

Tuesday: (Merry Christmas!!) Coughing, fever, runny nose. My husband starts the day off saying he doesn't feel well. He spends much of Christmas morning accused of merely having a hangover from the wine I bought at Rite-Aid, but when he disappears before presents are even open and I find him wrapped in a blanket on the futon, I know I'm in trouble. Lots of helping hands get us through the day.

Wednesday: BOTH son AND husband are coughing, fever, runny nose, cranky. Actually, Joshua's fever is down, but I still take him to the doctor and hide out at my parent's house for the afternoon. Josh falls asleep on our way home at 4:30 pm and transfers to bed and STAYS ASLEEP ALL NIGHT until 7:30 in the morning!!

Thursday: Rich is miserable, Josh's fever comes back. Tea, fluids, honey cough syrup, homeopathic remedies, Motrin. I'm surrounded by coughing. Oh, and it's snowing. A lot.

Part of this vacation was supposed to be a couple-day road trip to visit my grandmother and some other lovely relatives, but that was thwarted by the sicknesses and the fact that my uncle's father is on his deathbed.

While I was making multiple phone calls to said relatives to decide if we should still visit, (because I'm the kind of person who just can't. let. go., even when people are extremely sick and others are actually DYING) I accidentally flooded the ground floor bathroom straight through to the basement because I forgot that I was running water to fill the bathtub since it was snowing and we could lose power and my husband was incapacitated and what if we needed to flush??? 

This led to the adrenaline fueled use of every single towel in my house to mop up the water. Which led to the largest pile of laundry you are likely to have ever seen. I was going to take a photo, but by the time I got in there with my camera, much of it had been folded--by my awesome husband who is THANK GOD feeling better. That pile was about the size of your average sofa. Every time I looked at it, or tossed another heap from the dryer (and had no energy for folding) I'd think to myself, "At least it's clean!"

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were much improved, so maybe I should have entitled this post "Worst. Half- Vacation. Ever. But where's the drama in that?

I'm just glad everyone's feeling better.

Friday, December 14, 2012

We Are Broken. We Can Heal.

I’ve had it. I’ve absolutely completely had it. I am fed up with the violence, the greed, and the extreme short-sightedness of our species. With the news of the second (seemingly) random shooting of the week, I have logged off and quit work for the day. I cannot sit one second longer without speaking up.

We are all so lost. We are wandering among a million other broken souls. We are at war with each other. Jada Pinkett Smith issued a statement about women and men last week. She wisely noted, “When woman is lost, so is man.” WE ARE SO LOST. Our culture of greed and misogyny and violence is SO LOST. We cannot go backward. We cannot retreat. We have to keep moving. But first, we have to grieve.

We have to grieve the twenty children who died in Connecticut today.  And the six adults.

We have to grieve the prevalence of hatred, intolerance, and vindictiveness.

We have to grieve the way we have treated each other.

We have to grieve rape and genocide and war.

We have to grieve those who look around, say “screw this,” and commit suicide.

But, do you know how? Do you really know how to grieve? I do not intend to cast stones, but this story, and a million more a day should wreck you. The tragedy and horror should stop you in your tracks and break your heart wide open into a flood of tears. And yet, there is SO MUCH PAIN. We hear so many stories, but we cannot afford to be jaded. Women, you have more practice with this. Call a friend. Share the awful burden of what has become of our human family. We cannot afford to become any more emotionally bankrupt than we already are. Men, trust your feelings. Know that they are not a weakness. Parents, you can guide your children in this way.

We must teach our children to be emotionally intelligent. Feelings are just feelings, but they don’t exist for no reason. Feelings keep us connected to ourselves and our bodies. Emotions are messages from ourselves to ourselves, and we have to listen. We have to feel these feelings: hurt, fear, rage. Children are quite good at this. We have to learn from them and remember to NOT stop them short. Do not distract with a cookie, or bribe, or punish, or give “consequences.”

I recall a meltdown that my son had about a bowl. You know how toddlers can be: it was the WRONG bowl. I reframed this outburst and told myself: “It’s not about the bowl, it’s just about the release of emotion.” I held the limit about the bowl and I held space for his big, messy, outrageous feelings. Not because I’m spoiling him. Not because I think he should “get” to have a fit about every little thing. Merely because that was what he was feeling. So I honored it. I let him grieve the bowl. Later, or perhaps not as later as I’d like, he will have much bigger things to grieve. I want to make sure he knows how.

A few days ago I posted this status update on my Facebook page: When my child is melting down, I have to tell myself: "This is not a problem I have to solve, or a behavior I need to correct. It's merely an emotional outbust I am called to hold space for and be with. My calm, loving presence will offer him the safe harbor he requires to learn to calm himself. The more he practices, the better he will be at this." I was excited because it was the first post of mine that got significant viral exposure. However with that came the first hateful comment on my page. In response to my kindhearted advice, someone wrote: “I just told my kid to shut the fu*k up.” Why someone would be proud to post that I will never know. I didn’t bother to respond. I just hid it from my feed and moved on. But if I was going to respond, I would have said:

Sir, your child is a human being. Telling him or her to shut-up, even without the vulgar language, is just plain ignorant. You are ignorant to the fact that human feelings are the roots of empathy, and that empathy is the glue for human connectedness and the foundation of kindness. Empathy breeds compassion and compassion is the best way to learn to tolerate the extreme feelings of vulnerability we all feel. You are ignorant to how isolating your cold, mean words are and to how alone and scared your child feels when you treat him or her that way. You are clueless to the fact that isolation fuels loneliness, and loneliness fuels violence. We cannot afford more violence. Feelings, love, and empathy are NOT weakness. This is what will save our sad, sad, little species from ourselves. Please rethink your approach with your child.

Our hearts are breaking and this is exactly right. Feel your feelings. Make space for them. Make space for your child’s feelings. Normalize tears. Normalize anger. Teach love, kindness, and acceptance by showing them, giving them, living them. Grieve. Hold your children when they cry about a bowl. Understand. Say “I know that’s hard, you wanted a different bowl.” Hold yourself and your friends as we break under the weight of this awfulness in Connecticut.

This is grief. It is the only way.