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Parenting Two Under Two: Strategies For Success

Parenting Two Under Two: Strategies For Success

Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT is passionate about helping individuals, families & couples create more fulfilling lives and relationships, and to function at an optimum level of health and happiness.

Jessica is also the facilitator of the Postpartum Support Group that meets Mondays online at 9 AM MST. 

From One Mom to Another…

Yes, I’m a marriage and family therapist but I’m also a mom. I was 6 months postpartum with my first baby when I found out I was pregnant with my second. This was not exactly a planned event and I am a consummate planner. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed and terrified. I felt like I was just getting my parenting sea legs and was suddenly going to be thrown into a momentous storm.

So I did what any person would do, I panicked and then consulted the internet, asking “how to survive two under two?” My babies are now 1 and 2, and we’re all okay. I can confidently say we made it through the first year, and I learned many things along the way.

While the one thing I know to be consistently true is that nothing is consistent and that the next year will bring a whole new set of triumphs and challenges, there are a few tips I have for living (not just surviving) with two under two.

Two Under Two: How To Make it Work

Help your oldest kid first

I remember reading this same piece of advice over and over again and it always seemed backwards to me. I thought my newborn would be so helpless that they would need my attention immediately while my older one was a bit more self-sufficient and could wait. However, in practice, I found this advice to be gold.

With the exception of any safety/imminent threat issues I attended to my older child first and once I got her settled, I was able to fully attend to my baby. My older child was generally easier and quicker to serve and once she was settled I had enough time to fully give the baby what he needed.

Trust that you have enough love and time for them both

I was afraid that having a second child so soon was going to mean I was going to miss out on my first. I was nervous that I wouldn’t have enough love or time for them both and that my first child was going to get lost in the needs of a newborn.

One of the many things having children has taught me is that love is infinite, endless and brutally intense. Love can expand far beyond the reaches you could ever expect and there is always room for more. You can trust that your heart will make space for your growing family, it always does.

As for time, I would be lying if I said that having two children did not create limitations on my time, but that was going to be true no matter what the age gap! What I found was that I became more intentional and present with my time. Because I was afraid of not having enough of it, I was more thoughtful when I did have it. I started to cherish the baby’s morning nap because it gave me space to give my oldest my full attention.

I also reminded myself that it’s good for kids to learn to not be the center of attention, to have to entertain them self, to share, to practice patience to realize that the universe has many people in it and there is enough love and space for them all.

Find a routine that gives you a break

Nap time is one of my favorite times of the day. It is a much-needed break from parenting. I love my kids but I also love the break from them, it is like coming up for air after being submerged by the endless needs of others.

When my second baby came I vowed to get them on a schedule that allowed me this break. Although it took some time, I aligned their naps so that most afternoons I get at least an hour break (here are some parenting tips around sleep schedules, if you’re interested). That break is my haven, my time to reset, check out, get a task done or read a book. That break is imperative to my survival.

Be kind to yourself

The day after I brought home my son from the hospital my daughter fell off the bed. I was holding the baby and saw it happen but couldn’t get to her in time. She cried. I cried. We both survived. Things happen. Be kind to yourself.

Breathe

Honestly, of all my tips, this one is the best. Breathe. When both babies scream you’re entire drive…breathe. When you’re overwhelmed and exhausted…breathe. When your one child poops in the tub that both children are in…breathe (and yes, this did happen). Focus hard on that breath and say to yourself “this too shall pass.”

It always does.

You’ve got this.

Sincerely,
Jessica

PS: If you are in the thick of parenting babies, toddlers or both, and are looking for more practical tips and emotional support – I hope you consider joining our online postpartum support group. We laugh, we cry, and recently washed hair is absolutely optional. 😉

 

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Practical Tips for New Parents

Practical Tips for New Parents

Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT is passionate about helping individuals, families & couples create more fulfilling lives and relationships, and to function at an optimum level of health and happiness. Jessica is the facilitator of our Online Postpartum Support Group: New Baby, Happy Life where she shares more practical tips for new parents.

 

Sleep Makes Everything Better

 

By day, I am a marriage and family therapist. I love helping new moms and dads make the beautiful and often challenging transition into parenthood. However, my after-work hours consist of practicing what I preach in my parenting coaching and family therapy sessions as a mom of two littles myself. One of the most valuable lessons I can share with new parents is to prioritize sleep for both you and your children!

Sleep Training Can Be a Lifesaver

When my daughter was 4 months old she went from waking a manageable one time per night to waking up every 2 hours. I thought I was going to lose my mind! I was exhausted, sleep deprived, and overwhelmed by this new pattern. I decided it was time to sleep train.

I packed her up, went to the library, and checked out several books on sleep training. It was a Wednesday when I decided to make this life change and my plan was to start sleep training by that Friday. On Friday evening I skimmed through the rented books and decided sleep training was imminent.

Within a week my little one was sleeping through the night and I was reclaiming my sanity.

When You Educate Yourself You Can Teach Your Kids

During pregnancy, I went to many classes but not one of them talked about sleep, even more importantly, infant sleep. It had never occurred to me that good sleep habits are TAUGHT, and parents are the teachers.

Teaching your baby the habits of good sleep is a lifelong gift. Think about how often people talk about sleep, how great they feel when they get it, and how destroyed they feel when they don’t. Sleep matters.

Research shows that sleep is a critical component of good health, both physically and mentally. We need sleep to function at our optimal level.

Here are three reasons to prioritize your baby’s sleeping skills

When baby is sleeping, everyone is sleeping!

  • Teaching your baby to sleep through the night means that you, the parents, also get the sleep you need. People who are severely sleep deprived often experience increased symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Parents who are in a serious need of sleep may find that they are lacking in other ways as well including distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and general self-care.
  • Parenting is a hard job (not to mention any other employment/roles you may hold) and it is critical that you, as a parent, are getting enough sleep to manage it all.

 Teaching good sleep habits also teaches babies how to self soothe.

  • Self-soothing is a fundamental developmental skill. At some point, babies must learn how to calm themselves down from a state of stress or irritation independently of their primary attachment figure.
  • This is a skill they will utilize throughout life. A study published in the Journal of Behavioral Sleep Medicine found that one of the factors that determine an infant’s ability to sleep through the night is based on their ability to self soothe during the first five months of life.
  • Self-soothing may come in the form of sucking on their thumb, pacifier, stroking a security blanket, rubbing their eyes, playing with their hair etc. When a baby is able to self soothe, they are able to fall asleep without being held or rocked AND are able to put themselves back to sleep during the middle of the night without needing mom or dad!

 Knowledge is power.

  • Understanding baby sleep cycles, sleep cues, and positive sleep associations give you, the parent, back a sense of control.
  • When I talk to parents who have little ones that are not sleeping they share a sense of powerlessness, defeat, and frustration. They want their baby to sleep, they want to sleep, but they are unsure of how to make it happen.
  • Understanding the basics of sleep and the sleep teaching strategies provide a framework to operate from. It will help you dispel the myths that might be negating your progress (e.g. babies that sleep during the day, don’t sleep at night- THIS IS NOT TRUE!!!) and it will give you a roadmap for how to manage the sleep regressions that will undoubtedly come even after your baby is trained.
  • Once you have a handle on your baby sleep needs, sleep will come.

Remember, you are the parent, you can do this! May the sleep gods be with you.

Warmly,

Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT

 

P.S. If you need more support please join our Postpartum Support Group! It is a fantastic way to connect with others, learn new skills and strategies for managing this new job you are learning, and getting some extra support.

 

Relationship After Baby: Three Ways to Prepare

Relationship After Baby: Three Ways to Prepare

Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT is a Denver Marriage Counselor, Online Couples Therapist, Premarital Counselor and Life Coach at Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She specializes in helping individuals, couples, and families create health and happiness, and flourish —  together.

How to Have a Great Relationship After Baby?

Plan Ahead.

 

As a Denver marriage counselor, online couples therapist, licensed marriage and family therapist and married mom of two I know that bringing a new baby into the family is truly one of the most amazing life transitions. We spend countless hours preparing for our new little member by creating a perfect nursery, talking about a birth plan and reading book after parenting book, but often we forget to think about our relationship after baby. It’s vital to prepare your marriage for a child, too.

How Does Having a Child Change a Relationship?

Let’s face it, having a baby requires a major adjustment in our relationship, including the way you communicate, work together as a team, and even show each other love and affection. I should know, I have two children…under two years of age! (But that’s another blog post.)

Making space for a third, or fourth member of the family brings growing pains in a marriage and often it is the one area that gets overlooked. This is a problem, because your relationship after baby can need some TLC too. It’s important to strengthen your relationship before welcoming a new child, so that you both have the most positive experience possible.

We increase our ability to have a smooth transition from a family of two to a family of three or more only if we plan for it. Here are a few tips to help you successfully navigate the path from partners to parents.

One: Identify Your Support System Before Baby Arrives

As the age old saying goes, “It takes a village, ” and I honestly believe that it does. The first couple of months of newborn life can be challenging. No matter how many books you’ve read or classes you’ve taken, parenting is the true definition of on-the-job training. Not only are you trying to climb the learning curve of this new job but you’ll be doing it on very little sleep. It is imperative that you have a support system that you can rely on when you’re tired, overwhelmed, worried or downright terrified that you’re doing it wrong (don’t worry, you’re not).

Figure out who is your individual support and who is the support for you as a couple. I cannot stress enough the importance of support for new moms specifically. Being postpartum coupled with the sometimes challenging experience of breastfeeding (if that is your choice) can be especially hard, and being able to lean on others that have gone through it, is life saving.

Encourage your friends and family to check in on you two, accept any and all offers for meals, cleaning, a break for a nap or a shower, and know who you’re going to call when you just need a minute to cry/vent/complain etc. Remember that asking for help is the truest sign of strength and not weakness. Being willing and able to know when you’re at capacity and need to tap out can assist in avoiding symptoms of depression and/or care fatigue.

This will help both of you as individuals, and as a couple. Having someone to support you both in taking “time-out” together can help sustain your relationship after baby. Also, having support to prevent either of you from becoming so depleted that you don’t have anything left to give to your partnership is very important.

If you don’t have a natural support system with friends and family to lend a hand, consider making your own — Ideally, as part of your pre-baby prep plan. Check out in-person or online postpartum support groups for emotional support. You may also consider finding opportunities to connect with other young families in the same situation who would welcome the opportunity to trade childcare from time to time.

Two: Employ Your Empathy

The practice of cultivating empathy for both yourself and your partner is one of the most important tools you have. Let’s be honest, sleep deprivation is an actual tactic used for torture. So when you are feeling highly irritable, overly emotional and that your brain closely resembles a fried egg reach for your empathy.

What’s empathy? Empathy is understanding how another person feels, and having compassion for them (as opposed to criticism or judgment). When you’re adjusting to a new child, neither of you are at 100%. You’re both going to make mistakes, say the wrong thing, or do something that will annoy each other. This is the time to give each other a pass. [For more on this topic check out “Empathy: The Key to Communication And Connection”]

Remember that it makes sense that you’re feeling on edge, or that your partner seems more easily agitated. Remind yourself that it is only temporary. You will sleep again, your distress tolerance will come back, your ability to think clearly will re emerge but in the meantime you will practice patience with yourself, and those around you.

Be thoughtful about the fights you choose, allow space for tears, and be gentle with your words for both yourself and your other half. Ideally, begin intentionally cranking up the empathy in your relationship well before baby arrives so you have lots of practice being more tolerant of each other before stress and sleep deprivation shorten your fuses.

Three: Negotiate Your Roles Before Baby Arrives

One of the biggest challenges of any transition is a renegotiation of roles. Bringing another person, albeit a small one, still brings along a whole new set of tasks. Your relationship after baby can look very different in terms of who does what around the house. Before baby is born, spend some time with your partner considering how you are going to split those tasks up.

Questions to ask each other before baby comes:

  • Will one person be solely responsible for night feedings and diaper changes or will those tasks be divided?
  • Will both of you be responsible for washing bottles? Or will one person be the keeper of all things milk?
  • How will you make sure that you both are getting time to take a break and check out of parenting duties, even if only for 10 minutes?
  • If you have pets in your home, consider who will be in charge of their needs while you’re adjusting to the needs of baby.

Remember that these roles can always be renegotiated as you go, but starting off with an initial idea of what household roles and responsibilities will look like will decrease the chance of a 2 AM screaming match about who should be changing a dirty diaper. Tackling the responsibilities of parenting together will also help keep feelings of resentment at bay and protect your relationship after baby arrives.

In my experience the first two months are the hardest part of the transition. At about 8-10 weeks it feels like a fog lifts and suddenly you re-emerge into the world of the living, but the initial weeks can feel like a whirlwind. Having a plan with your partner will at the very least give you a road map of ways to navigate the sometimes treacherous path so that you can spend more time enjoying your new baby, and become a stronger couple (and family) in the process.

And… congratulations!

Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT

When Do You Need Marriage Counseling? 8 Ways To Tell

When Do You Need Marriage Counseling? 8 Ways To Tell

Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT is a marriage counselor, relationship coach, life coach and therapist with Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She is passionate about helping individuals, families & couples create more fulfilling lives and relationships, and to function at an optimum level of health and happiness.

“Do We Need Marriage Counseling?”

Have you ever thought this to yourself? Maybe in the aftermath of a nasty fight, or another frustrating conversation? It’s also easy to talk yourself out of going to see a couples therapist, marriage counselor or relationship coach. It can be hard to tell what is normal relationship turbulence that will blow over on its own, and when more serious relationship problems are brewing under the surface that you may need professional help to resolve.

I think we can all agree that relationships take work. However, too often (particularly for long-term couples) it can be easy to take each other for granted, and pay attention to everything and everyone else besides each other. When relationships are set to autopilot for too long, over time they often go significantly off-course or sometimes even take a 90-degree nose-dive into the ground.

When your relationship is clearly in a significant crisis you know it’s time to get help and seek couples therapy or relationship coaching. However, if your relationship is not clearly in trouble, but rather is in the process of going off course, it can be hard to say, “This is it. We need to talk to a marriage counselor.” 

The problem is this: Relationships that are still mostly good are much easier to repair and restore than seriously damaged relationships where trust and goodwill have been lost. Marriage counselor and couples and family researcher Dr. John Gottman has found that, on average, divorcing couples waited for an average of six years after the onset of their relationship problems to get help for their marriage. Often, sadly, by the time they do, it’s too late. [Check out “How to Stop a Divorce and Save Your Marriage“]

On the other hand, pro-active, committed couples who care about their relationship are alert to the early warning signs that their relationships are headed in the wrong direction. The happiest, healthiest, and strongest couples are the ones that get into marriage counseling or couples therapy early, because they stop budding relationship problems in their tracks.

I think of relationship coaching or couples therapy as being proactive versus reactive. The one thing that I have found to be consistently true is that it is much easier to elevate an already healthy relationship than to try to save one that is floundering, There are a variety of reasons why relationship coaching would be beneficial but all of them support the goal of enhancing what you already have.

Here are eight early warning signs that your relationship is headed for trouble, and it’s time to talk to a marriage counselor:

You Struggle to Communicate With Your Partner

Communication is the number one reason people seek out marriage counseling or relationship coaching. People have different communications styles. Often couples have unintentional miscommunication because they have a fundamentally different way of communicating. While one person may be speaking from a place of logic and reasoning the other person may talk straight from the heart. If this has been true for you, take heart: Marriage counseling or relationship coaching is the perfect way to learn basic communication tools and identify where your specific breakdowns in communication are happening so that you can change your patterns, and start understanding each other again.

You Feel Disconnected From Your Partner

While we all may wish to return to the feeling of total connection and engagement we had with our partner when we first started dating, it can feel challenging to maintain that with the ever competing demands for our time and attention between kids, work, and  life in general. If you are noticing a feeling of disconnection between you and your partner, couples counseling or relationship coaching not only provides you with the specific strategies to regain your connection but also puts aside uninterrupted time to focus on the relationship, which is beneficial in and of itself. [Learn More: Empathy: The Key to Connection]

You Have Difficulty Managing Conflict

The ability to “fight fair” is learned. Healthy conflict management is a skill-set. Couples often need a roadmap to navigate their conflict so that they can avoid the roadblocks, understand the unforeseen curves and learn how to get themselves to the desired destination safely (we’re talking emotional safety). Learning how to have healthy, productive conflict is one of the most common goals I see in my couples counseling practice.

One Or Both Of You Is Uncertain About Your Commitment to the Relationship

It is common for me to see a couple where one person, or sometimes both people, are no longer certain about their commitment to the relationship. Through couples therapy or relationship coaching we assess the level of engagement and what it would take to either move towards full commitment to the relationship or begin the process of separation. This is generally a short-term process and at the end of it we either refocus on rebuilding the commitment or giving you the tools to separate in as healthy a way as possible.

You Need to Rebuild Trust

Whether there has been an affair or some other form of infidelity, couples often come to marriage counseling or relationship coaching with the hopes of rebuilding trust. Rebuilding trust is a delicate process, requiring lots of support for both of you. Trust and emotional security are difficult to repair without the support of an expert couples counselor. However, when you work with a competent marriage counselor or relationships coach you can both learn how to manage anxiety, show each other you’re trust worthy, and rebuild your sense of emotional safety. [Learn more: How to Repair Your Relationship After Infidelity]

You Need Parenting Coaching

Maybe your relationship is solid but you’re having challenges with parenting. Many, many couples struggle to get on the same page around parenting. Parent coaching is an opportunity for you and your partner to get on the same page in your parenting relationship and to identify strategic, evidence-based practices to manage the difficulties you are having with your child(ren).

You’re Facing a Difficult Decision As a Couple

Many times, couples can get into “gridlock” around major life decisions. To have a baby or not, to move to a different town or not, to take a specific job or not, can all turn into binary black-and-white, either-or conflict between partners. Gridlock can be difficult to get through alone, but working through major life decisions with a great marriage counselor or couples therapist can help you find common ground. If you are coming up against a difficult decision and either you and your partner disagree or are struggling to talk about the decision altogether, relationship coaching will provide a safe space to begin talking through the options and giving you both the space to be heard and understood so that you can move forward, together. 

You’re Struggling With a Transition

Life transitions are hard. They often upend our world as we knew it and force us to adjust to a brand new set of circumstances. If you are going through some sort of challenging life transition, whether it be the birth of a child, job changes, moving, or empty nesting, relationship coaching is a perfect place to process the transition and learn the necessary skills to adjust and thrive in your new circumstances.

“But Who Has The Time For Marriage Counseling??”

Yes, for many couples, time can be the biggest obstacle to getting involved in marriage counseling, couples therapy, or relationship coaching. (The second is the myth that marriage counseling is expensive, which is addressed here.) But it is true that many busy, successful, professional couples — especially those with families — can struggle to get the planets to align to both be in the same place at the same time for couples counseling. What’s the answer? Virtual relationship coaching.

 

Coaching-Online-Couples-Therapy-Denver-Marriage-Counseling-Austin-TX-Marriage-Counseling-San-Francisco-Couples-Counseling

 

 

 

 

 

Make it Work, With Online Relationship Coaching

If you are living a full life without an excess of time, then virtual coaching is.a perfect way for you to address the challenges in your relationship now before your find yourself in a full-blown crisis. Virtual relationship coaching, aka, meeting for marriage counseling or couples therapy by online video, is not just a fantastic option for busy couples but also sometimes the only way to make it work. This is especially true if:

You Need Relationship Coaching But Are Living Abroad

There are several reasons why relationship coaching is a great option for people that live abroad. It can often be challenging to find access to mental health professionals in other countries. However, having the ability to do virtual relationship coaching internationally brings a highly trained couples coach right to your door. Living abroad can also be isolating. Coaching will provide you with additional support and also help you identify how you can build a support system within your new community, both individually and as a couple.

You Need Couples Counseling in a Long-Distance Relationship 

If you and your partner live in different towns, states, countries and aren’t in the same place often, virtual coaching for long-distance relationships may truly be your only option to get help for your relationship. It is common for me to work with a long-distance couple via a three-way video conference. Don’t think that being in a long distance relationship rules you out from getting help. [Listen to “How to Make Long Distance Work” on the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast for some great advice about how to have a fantastic long-distance relationship].

I hope this information helps you decide if you need marriage counseling, and if so, about all your options for getting your relationship the help it deserves.

Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT

How To Stop Worrying: Avoid The Mind Trap

How To Stop Worrying: Avoid The Mind Trap

Anxiety Management: How to Stop Worrying About The “What-If’s”

I have an infant, which means that over the past several months I have often found myself awake in the middle of the night feeding a hungry baby. Although I would do everything possible to keep my mind quiet and in sleep mode I started to notice a recurring pattern.

I would have just settled into the still and quiet of the night when I would hear a little voice in my head say “what should we feel anxious about right now?” This voice was clear as could be, prompting me to run through all the things in life I could worry about that would most likely keep me up for the rest of the night. Having spent years as a therapist and life coach helping others learn to manage their anxiety as well as teaching myself to manage my own, I was able to see this for what it was…a trap.

The mind is an amazing tool that can also be a bit of a narcissist, demanding attention when it is beginning to feel forgotten. In order to regain your focus, the mind will create the illusion of distress and unrest where there is none.

Learning how to combat the “worry trap” of the mind creates an experience of true freedom.

People have a tendency to believe that their thoughts have power over them, when in reality, we have power over our thoughts. Research into evidence-based forms of therapy, such as cognitive therapy, shows that by repeatedly practicing a different thought patterns we can create new neurological pathways in the brain. This means that with practice, you can begin to control the reflexive response of anxiety and feel more at peace.

Three Steps to Get Out of The Mind-Trap

  1. Ask Questions: You can take the first step out of the mind trap by asking yourself a couple of simple questions. Is there anything I can solve right now? And if so, what are the solvable problems? I know that at 2:00 in the morning the chances of me solving any of my worries are slim to none, making it pointless for me to give that little voice any attention at all.
  2. Talk Back: I found that the simple act of saying to myself “there is nothing I can do about any of these anxieties at this moment” quiets that nagging voice.
  3. Solve Your Solvable Problems, or Let It Go: However, when that voice presents in a moment where you can tackle the anxiety, identifying the solvable problems does two things. First, it exposes whether or not the anxious thoughts are based in reality and second it helps you regain your sense of control. If there are no solvable problems than you can consider it wasted worry and move on. On the other hand, if there are solvable problems, taking the steps to remedy whatever it is that is provoking the anxious feelings will provide a sense of empowerment and ease the feeling of impending doom that anxiety tends creates.
So, next time you hear that sneaky siren calling you into the depths of anxiety, remember, it is only a trap. You have the power to ignore the call altogether or take the necessary steps to avoid the deceptive lure into the mind trap.
Growing Self Counseling & Coaching
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