Transition to Parenthood Series

By Sasha Taskier, LMFT

By Sasha Taskier, LMFT

Conversations for Expectant Parents - Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I discussed the importance of setting some time aside with your partner and/or future co-parent to discuss some of the topics that might be helpful to connect over and learn both how you are feeling and thinking about the topic, as well as your partner/co-parent. It is often surprising what can come out of these conversations, and it is always helpful to learn about your partner’s hopes, assumptions and fears prior to the moment you are faced with a difficult decision or conversation. 

Part 2 is perhaps a little less sexy, but just as important! The topics of discussion in this post are Finances, Maternity & Paternity leave/ Family Leave and the transition to Childcare. Again, the point of these conversations is not to set anything in stone, but to begin to understand your own thoughts and feelings around these topics, and to better understand your partners’ as well. With a deeper, more clear understanding of your wishes and goals in these areas, you can begin to plan and make decisions with greater intention.

 

Finances

This is a tricky topic because of course, every family has different budgets and financial capabilities and constraints. Decisions around building a family and all that entails, require thoughtful financial consideration; many choices are measured by both priority and financial constraints. A few things to think about and discuss:

-       What does our current family budget look like, and how do we expect it to change?

-       For couples that currently keep separate accounts, and put their shared expenses into a joint account or credit card, how do you hope to divvy up these new financial responsibilities?

-       Have we budgeted for our hospital stay? (despite those lucky few with fantastic insurance, you will likely be required to pay a significant hospital bill at the end of your stay.)

-       It may be helpful to a) talk with your healthcare provider to understand what hospital you will be delivering at and b) connect with your insurance provider to understand a potential range (it will vary for every birth due to length of stay/ procedures done, etc.)

-       Have we created a fund to help us buffer the transition between a two person home and three person home?

-       If one parent decides to stay home with baby, what will that look like for our budget and how do we navigate this shift in roles? (this deserves its very own post!)

-       Are there people in our lives who may have recently gone through this transition? Can we talk to them about their financial experience and things to be mindful of?

-       What are our expectations of ourselves and our partners financially as we transition to becoming parents? Perhaps this taps into our family of origin model, or traditional gender roles we witnessed growing up or are actively working not to replicate.

-       Do we have someone that can help us navigate our financial goals?

-       Have we thought about creating a will and getting life & disability insurance?

-       Are we able to begin saving for our child? Perhaps discussing a savings account and/or a 529 education plan with a financial advisor may be a goal within the first few years.

 

Maternity & Paternity Leave

This topic aligns really closely with finances. Many parents in the United States do not get paid leave; in fact, the US is the only developed nation in the world that does not have a national mandate for paid family leave. That being said, many companies do offer paid maternity leave for a certain amount of time, and the topic of paternal leave is becoming more open and accepted.

Discussion questions:

-       Do you know if your employer offers paid maternity and paternity leave?

-       For how long?

-       Is there room to extend, perhaps at a partial pay rate?

-       What is the culture around taking this time in your workplace? (this may be especially relevant to working fathers where parental leave has not been the norm or expectation.)

-       What are the spoken and unspoken expectations for yourself and your partner?

-       Ideally, how much time would you like to take off after the birth?

-       How does the idea of taking time off work feel for you? Is it a relief? Is it anxiety inducing? Maybe both!

-       Does it have longer term ramifications on your role/standing/potential for promotion etc.?

-       If there is no paid leave, how will that impact your choices and your family’s financial position?

-       Is this something you can begin to save for, in order to create a financial buffer?

 

Childcare transition

Depending on where you live, the demand for child care may be very high. In Chicago (and other major cities across the country,) it is recommended to put your name on a waiting list for daycares in the early months of pregnancy in order to get a spot by the time you are ready to go back to work. Or, you may decide you want a babysitter/nanny, you may have family upon whom you can rely for childcare. Or, you may decide to stay home with your child. There is no right or wrong choice - it’s about what is best for your family, your needs, and your budget (and remember, these decisions are not set in stone; you can always alter the plan if one decision is no longer working for you and your family!)

Discussion questions:

-       What are the specific professional constraints of our jobs? (for example: do you work late evenings, weekends, half days, etc.)

-       How do these specific schedules align with childcare decisions?

-       For example: Working late may be challenging with a daycare that closes at a specific hour. Working part time may lend towards a part-time babysitter for flexibility. Working weekends may require a special scenario, unless a co-parent can step in.

-       What is our childcare budget, and how do we decide that?

-       Do we have beliefs or thoughts about what would be best for our family?

-       Do we have spoken or unspoken concerns or fears about this step, or a specific option?

-       Do our families/ support systems/ friends have opinions that they have made known to us? How does that impact our feelings and decisions?

I am sure there are a number of important topics that can be included in this list. Think of this as a place to start, and use this as a resource and a conversation catalyst. See what doors open as you begin to explore and question some of these decisions, individually and as a couple.

You can read Part 1: here

You can read more Transition to Parenthood posts, here:

-       Postpartum Depression

-       Becoming a Mother

-       Couple & Co-Parent Conflict

-       Sex after Baby

-       The First Year of Parenthood

Three Tips for Finding Your Ideal Relationship

By Rachel D. Miller, MA, AMFT

By Rachel D. Miller, MA, AMFT

If you’re in the dating game, I’m going to guess you have a list of things you’re looking for in your perfect mate. In fact, I will bet you have a few lists, even if they are just mental ones. The problem with these lists is too often they focus on qualities or characteristics that you either want or don’t want to be present in the individuals you date. You might want someone who is intelligent, well-groomed, has a good job or built like Jason Momoa. You may refuse to date someone who watches NASCAR, has poor hygiene, or is divorced. While I understand how and why we develop these lists, they fail to touch on the things that people truly want in and from a relationship. These lists might actually be keeping you from the person who could bring you the most relationship fulfillment.

When I work with individuals who feel like they just can’t win the dating game, I suggest they toss their lists. Instead I ask them to contemplate how they believe they would feel in a relationship that was deep and meaningful for them. I ask what would need to be present in the relationship, not the person, for them to feel safe, secure, and connected. This new “ideal relationship list” can be challenging so here are suggestions to get you started.

Start with what you don’t want.

Many find it easier to talk about what they don’t want rather than what they do in a relationship. After a few failed courtships, focusing on what to avoid rather than what to find feels like a more reliable endeavor. Mind set and focus can greatly impact your dating experience. When all the focus on is on making sure this new one isn’t like the last three bad ones you risk missing the potential positives.

This is an exercise I learned from Law of Attraction expert and author, Michael Losier. Whether you buy into all the hype around the Law of Attraction or think it’s bogus, this exercise repeatedly creates a shift for the singles and couples I see. Start by taking time to list the things you know you do not want in your ideal relationship. Then one by one, change the wording to figure out what you do want. For example, if you know that you don’t want a partner who takes you for granted, shift that to, “I want to be with someone who appreciates me.” This change in language may not seem like it would matter, but words have the power to change your day to day experiences and expectations. When you focus on what you’re looking for, rather what you’re trying to avoid it becomes easier to recognize it when it appears.

Examine the past.

As challenging as it can be to find the good in failed relationships, it is important to do so. It can be key to determining your needs. If your last partner was attentive and affectionate, even if only in the early stages, and that contributed to feeling loved and appreciated, you know those are things you desire in future relationships. Past relationships are incredible opportunities for learning and growth, if we choose to view them in that light.

Observe others.

We all have those couples we think are perfect. The ones we watch and say “I want what they have.” The question is, do you really? Do you know what it is about their relationship that you admire? I urge you to spend some time with those couples, observe and talk to them. Figure out what it is that makes them work or what they have that you feel you haven’t yet. You might be surprised at what you find.

No relationship is perfect, but we each have an ideal. If you don’t know what yours looks or feels like, how can you hope to find it? A partner can have all the qualities you think you’re looking for, but the relationship can still feel disconnected and unfulfilling. Get familiar with what you need and desire in a relationship. Know your ideal.

Strategies to Move Through a Breakup

By Michaela Choy, AMFT

Around Valentine’s Day, I’m reminded of beautiful ways we can honor our loving relationships, and I’m mindful of those who feel alone and hurt – particularly those who have recently ended relationships. Breakups are profoundly painful phases that drain our emotional and physical states, and they will most likely impact you at one point or another. The following list includes strategies to implement at any point during a breakup process. Incorporating some of these ideas will restore your energy and help you create a new normal.

1. Kindness

Do one good thing for yourself each day. This can range from a small gesture of kindness to something larger. Getting a special coffee from your favorite coffee shop, cooking yourself a nourishing and delicious meal, going to the movies, or getting a massage are some examples.

2. Connect with Your Greatest Support Systems

Set up time to see friends or family and schedule at least one or two of these get-togethers each week. This can be helpful for a few reasons. One, surrounding yourself with supportive connection can feel healing. Two, it gives you some structure in the week and forces you to get out into the world. There are open pockets of time that you and your past partner once spent together, and this is one way to fill that time meaningfully. If family and friends are far away, consider setting up phone calls or trips to see them.

3. Reflection

At times, you may want to create a list of reasons why the relationship didn’t serve you. Be honest with yourself about the ways this relationship impacted you. It’s normal to think of both good and bad impact.

If you are ready to take a step further in your reflection, notice the ratio of good to bad. Ask yourself if you had awareness of this picture while you were in this relationship and begin think of ways you can you build greater awareness going into your next relationship.

Reflection with this list can be particularly helpful if you hoping to get back together or stay apart.

4. Physical Movement

Go for a walk or try a new workout class. Joining a sports league or a weekly fitness class can not only help your body feel better but also add structure to your routine.

5. Distraction

Create a list of go-to, feel-good things when you have inevitable moments of emptiness. Think of activities you can do when you’re alone and activities you can do with friends or family. Moments of intense loneliness and pain can appear out of nowhere. A premeditated list of activities will give you options in moments where your thought energy is lacking.

3 Common Mistakes of Online Dating

By Caitlin Nelson, LMFT

By Caitlin Nelson, LMFT

A few years ago, Aziz Ansari came out with a book dedicated to understanding the world of online dating. Here are a few of the common online dating mistakes he outlines in Modern Romance:

1. Messaging too much before meeting

The only way to know if you truly connect with someone is to meet them face-to-face. The desire to continue texting to see if you’re a good fit is well-intentioned, however, it can cause you to lose interest in the person before actually meeting them, or them in you. It also cannot replace the first impression your brain makes when meeting someone. Send a few messages and then set up a time to meet.

2. Dismissing people too early

The seemingly endless options through dating apps are great, until they aren’t. Having too many options can actually cause us to become more picky or incapable of making a decision at all. We adopt the mindset that there is always someone better and the little quirks that we may have grown to appreciate in someone become the reason we swipe left. Rather than dismissing someone for a minor difference, try investing in a few dates before making the decision to call things off.

3. Ghosting

When we decide we are no longer interested in someone, there tends to be three options of breaking the news: pretending to be busy, saying nothing, or being honest. Out of the three options, saying nothing was agreed to be the least preferable option when on the receiving end, and being honest was the first. However, most people reported using the “pretending to be busy” option and the “saying nothing” option when they needed to break the news to someone. Silence, better known as ghosting, creates situations where people are no longer accountable for their part in interactions and self-doubt and frustration take over. Remember that there is another person on the other end of the screen and hold yourself accountable in your interactions.

Braving the Wilderness: A Mini Review

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

I recently read Braving the Wilderness, Dr. Brené Brown’s newest book on the quest for true belonging in an era of emotional disconnection and political toxicity. I have long been a fan of Dr. Brown’s work; I try to reread her books Daring Greatly and Rising Strong every chance I get, and I am constantly recommending them to both clients and friends alike. I had very high hopes for her newest work, and let me tell you, it surpassed even my incredibly high expectations.

Here is a mini-review of the book, including reasons for its potency and relevance, and some of my favorite takeaways.

Brown explores to the rise of disconnection in our communities. She sees that our political parties have become gangs that leave no room for dissent amongst us. Perhaps more importantly, if we stay inside these bunkers, we lose the ability to connect with those on the outside. We are the most separated and siloed we have ever been, and despite being surrounded by the people who (likely) share our political beliefs, we are also the most lonely, isolated and disconnected we have ever been. So, while we may be gathered under the same bunkers of political ideology, we are really still alone.

Rather than continuing to stay in our bunkers and stonewalling (or fighting) with anyone who has a different belief than ours, Brown encourages us to learn to stand in the wilderness and begin to have the hard and painful conversations. Only through these moments of real connection can we better belong to ourselves and to one another.

To do this with any sort of success, Brown provides practices and tools that are meant to help us step into and become, what she calls “the wilderness”, both rooted deeply in our beliefs and integrity, and courageous enough to open ourselves to those around us even if we know it might not be popular opinion. We must choose courage over comfort and learn to embrace vulnerability. Both vulnerability and joy are the keys to true belonging.

Here are her tips for braving the wilderness:

  • Boundaries: Set/Hold/Respect them. The challenge is letting go of being liked and the fear of disappointing.
  • Reliability: Do not over commit or overpromise to please others or prove yourself.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.
  • Accountability: Issue meaningful apologies. Let go of blame and stay out of shame.
  • Vault: Share only what is yours to share. Stop using gossip to hotwire a quick connection with someone.
  • Integrity: Choose courage over comfort. Practice living in your values.
  • Generosity: Be honest and clear with others about what is ok and what is not.

Brown masterfully provides both research findings and anecdotes to better explain and unpack how these tools show up in our daily lives and why they are so integral to true belonging. One of my favorite sections from the book was a practice called: Hold Hands with Strangers.

She teaches that collective joy and pain are the cornerstones of human connection; “seek out moments of collective joy and show up for collective pain.” These are the moments that reinforce our human connection, such as concerts, sporting events and even movies where there is a palpable force of love and connection in the audience. Have you ever felt an experience of collective joy? For me, singing songs arm in arm with my best friends at my childhood summer camp triggers those memories. Even the joy I experienced at a Beyoncé concert, singing and dancing with strangers who loved her the same way I do. They were moments that, although maybe silly, made me feel hopeful about the goodness of people.

Moments of collective pain, such as funerals, or sitting with a friend who is grieving or hurting, are profoundly important - albeit much more difficult and uncomfortable. We need both.

Brown shares a study that examined the impact of collective assembly. The findings showed that these experiences “contribute to a life filled with sense of meaning, increased positive affect, increased sense of social connection, and decreased sense of loneliness. All essential components of a happy healthy life.” The best part is, they have a lingering effect; we hold onto these positive feelings past the events themselves.

Even since the rise of social media in the last decade, we have become simultaneously more connected and more isolated and lonely. Brown’s ultimate message resonates with me very deeply - if we want true, authentic belonging in this world, we first have to know who we are, what roots us and only then, can we turn outwards and engage with our friends and communities from a place of curiosity, vulnerability and shared humanity.

There are countless pieces of wisdom in this book, from conflict transformation tools to parenting advice, and its message could not be more important or relevant for our world today. So, pick up a copy - (and then talk to someone about it, in person!)

Back From the Honeymoon.....Now What?

By Karen Focht, LMFT

By Karen Focht, LMFT

There is so much time and energy that goes into planning a wedding.  Although this process can be stressful, it also comes with feelings of excitement and exhilaration.  After all of those countless hours of planning your big day comes and goes in a matter of moments! 

Through both my personal and professional experience over the years, I have seen the joyful heightened state of a couple experiencing their wedding and honeymoon, and then the quick jolt back into the reality of day to day life.  How do we keep that sweet honeymoon glow as we transition back to life as a now married couple?  Here are a few tips to consider.

1.     Tap into new interests:  Make a list with your partner to identify new interests to peruse together as a couple.  This could include a class on cooking, knife skills or improve, just to name a few.

2.     Get connected to other strong couples:  Creating a positive support network which includes other couples can strengthen your relationship’s foundation and offer additional support through challenging times that may come up in the future. 

3.    Explore your city:  Create time out of the ordinary with one another.  Visit a museum, check out a new hotspot, or spend time outdoors in your neighborhood

4.     Check In:  Carve out intentional time each week to sit down and connect around your relationship.  What are your strengths as a couple?  What are the challenges you face and how can you work together to improve upon these challenges?

5.     Seek additional support:  Therapy is not only important through the challenging times, but can also be tremendously helpful to continue to strengthen relationships while they flourish.