Thursday, June 19, 2008

Keeping the Anti-Anxiety Beat

I know I've written about taking breaks from anxiety before, but an encounter with the really great folks over at Seattle Drum School in Georgetown got me thinking about the buffering effects of music on anxiety's chatter. When the mind is engaged in counting out triplets with one hand and sixteenth notes in the other, there's not much mental room left for anxiety. (Okay, so I'm not a drummer--except for in my dreams--but at least that's how it seemed to me back when I played Chopin on the piano. Or maybe I just have less "mental room" than others!) It seems to me that when the mind and body are fully engaged with each other (as in drumming or playing an instrument), there's little opportunity left for anxiety's influence to insinuate itself. And while anxiety and "perfectionism" cures remain elusive, taking much-needed breaks from their chatter is a life-preserving practice.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sharing Parenting Equally

In this Sunday's New York Times Magazine, Lisa Belkin wrote a thought-provoking article on "equally shared parenting." The concept behind equally shared parenting is just as it sounds: each parents spends as much time contributing to work, home, and family as the other. While I commend the parents who are engaging in this arrangement, I couldn't help but wonder about the details. How exactly does one track every single contribution in the work, home, and family categories? How does one weigh tasks that are more burdensome than others? Reading about the featured couples, it seemed to me that this arrangement could open itself up to persistent arguments over the division of labor.

One mother, whose family eventually opted out of equally shared parenting, had this to say about her family's experience: "The question should not be, Is it all exactly equal, but, What is best for all of us as a group right now?...If we decide it's really important that we are 50-50 on everything, we would work on that. If we decide it's really important that we be close to family, then we work on that."

Now, that sounds like an arrangement I could live with.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Talking to Your Kids About Financial Anxiety

Growing up in Michigan in the 1980s, my family lived through an especially bleak period of economic history. Though I was in elementary school at the time, I was acutely aware of the economic uncertainty in my corner of the world. Several of my classmates moved to Alaska, California, and the South, their parents unable to find work. My father went through long stretches of unemployment over the course of four years, with stints at work just long enough to prolong his unemployment benefits. I remember the nightly news compared Michigan's unemployment rate with that of the Republic of Ireland's (around 13%, if memory serves--but oh, for Michigan's economy to be compared to the Celtic Tiger's now...)

If you are feeling anxious about your family's financial situation, chances are your children feel it, too. Here are three things you can do with children of all ages to help assuage your family's financial anxiety:

With Toddlers: Just say no. Perhaps you bought special treats for them while out shopping before. You are in charge, and it's okay to say no to purchases you might have made before. When grocery shopping, pack along snacks you know your toddler enjoys to avoid tantrums in the cookie and cracker aisle. And if your toddler screams throughout the store for that special snack, that's okay (albeit, highly irritating). If people glare at you in the store, remind yourself that those looks mean, "that's a parent who knows how to set limits." Good for you!

With elementary-school age kids: They really want to be helpful. They really do. And they understand the ethic of helping their family. Explaining to them that while certain activities might be too expensive (e.g. lavish parties, theme parks, camp), there are lots of ways to have fun or to earn money towards something they'd like to do. Your kids might enjoying organizing a garage sale of their unwanted toys and clothes to put toward something they really want. They can have book or toy swaps with friends to get a new-to-them item. And to help them understand the ways they are fortunate, your family can volunteer at a food bank or homeless shelter. They really, really want to be helpful; they just don't always know how to do the helping.

Tweens and Teens: This age group is hard, no doubt. They are under a lot of pressure to look the "right" way. Let them know that you understand style matters at this age. Also let them understand how much is in your family budget for things like clothes. If they haven't discovered it already, your t(w)een will appreciate how much further her clothing dollar goes at thrift stores. (I just saw a navy pleated mini-skirt with green embroidered skulls at Goodwill that I would have killed for when I was 16 and first discovered the many joys of thrift store shopping.) And speaking of budgets, if your t(w)een is interested, share with them the family budget. Maybe she has ideas for trimming costs. A real go-getter might find you a more competitive rate on insurance or a mortgage, or compare prices online for regular purchases. As the recent mortgage crisis points out, it's never too early to give your children a good financial education.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Mind-Body Solution

I just took my marriage and family therapy licensing exam today, which reminded me of the importance of being physically well to perform mentally well. During the days leading up to my exam, I took great care to get lots of rest, limit my caffeine intake, drink lots of water, eat healthfully, and make time for exercise. Truly, it's the lifestyle I should lead EVERY week, but today I really did notice a difference. In the past, I've experienced horrible test anxiety, but today I felt a great deal of calm. I sensed I'd prepared myself both physically and mentally well for the test, and I left the testing center feeling I'd done my best. Now, I'll have to wait for my scores to confirm how I did exactly, but for now I feel at peace that my physical and mental preparation kept test anxiety from pestering me today.