Fairy Tales

Listening to Our Instincts

I suspect that parenting is more difficult than ever because of the proliferation of expert advice everywhere one turns. Advice can certainly be helpful. There are those who have done this before, who figured out things that can be helpful. There are scientists who have studied children and their behavior. There are therapists who have spoken with dozens of parents, so have an enriched context for understanding.

However, sometimes sources are untrustworthy. There are political agendas that drive the way we see certain issues, such as the impact of daycare on a child, or the benefits of preschool. Older parents or even therapists have their own biases, or may simply never have seen a situation quite like ours. Research often creates an incomplete picture, and in any case, the population level information that research yields may not be relevant to the unique person that is our child.


Cultivating Creativity While Mothering

Sasha entered treatment with me when her back pain became unmanageable – and nothing else she had tried was working. Sasha was trained as an opera singer, but had stopped performing when pregnant with her daughter. Though she had intended to go back to music in a professional capacity after her child was born, one thing after another got in the way – her husband’s job required them to move; she had difficulty finding reliable childcare; and then another baby came along. It had been more than four years since Sasha had performed, and as she admitted to me tearfully, she had begun to think she never would again.

Fairy Tales

When Motherhood Defeats Us

It is a human need to experience ourselves as competent. When we are mothering children, whether we feel competent can play a significant role in determining how satisfying we find this role. While some women come by a sense of competence easily after becoming a mother, others may have a more difficult time. Some women find the infant and baby stage easy, but feel at a loss when their child becomes a toddler. Others may not...


Teaching Kids to Value the Inner Life

Last time, I wrote about how becoming curious about our inner life – and helping our kids to do the same – can be helpful in managing difficult emotions. Relating creatively to our inner life brings other benefits as well. When we cultivate openness and acceptance toward our thoughts and feelings, we develop a capacity to engage life symbolically.

One of Jung’s great insights was that psychological growth requires that we separate ourselves from thoughts and feelings. Our conflicts, problems, and difficulties are a part of us, but we are not them. When we remain in identity with inner contents, we do not allow them to change and transform.


Helping Teens Manage Big Emotions

Research indicates that emotional regulation is one of the most important skills we can teach our children. Teens who lack an effective way of managing distressing emotions may choose maladaptive ways of coping, such as avoidance or numbing through addictions. Managing difficult or complex feelings requires a capacity for self-reflection. The quality of interiority – an awareness of and interest in our inner, psychic landscape – is essential for self-reflection.

When we know ourselves to have a complex inner life, we are able to be curious about the thoughts and feelings that take place there. Being curious about our emotions allows us to see them as something that is distinct from us, and this in turn gives us choices about how we respond to them.

Difficult Feelings

What if I Feel Envious of My Kid?

Janice had been seeing me for a few years, but I had never seen her quite this uncomfortable before. She was telling me about her daughter’s high school graduation party. Janice was a devoted mother who had worked hard to support her daughter through some academically tumultuous high school years. The daughter’s successful graduation and acceptance to one of her first-choice colleges ought to have been a cause for rejoicing, but Janice felt something much more complicated.


Can Motherhood Make You Badass?

My mother was never very good at saying "no." When as I teenager I would ask her for something she needed to deny me, it would tie her in knots. She would get angry at me for having even asked.

When my daughter became a toddler, we began to have battles over TV. She would scream and cry if I turned it off, and beg for me to turn it back on. I remember feeling tied in knots.


Am I Raising a Narcissist?

Recently, some research on parental overvaluation created a stir by suggesting that treating our kids as “special” can lead them to develop narcissistic traits. You can take parental overvaluation quiz here.

I imagine most of us know of a parent who consistently expects special treatment for their offspring. I knew of one mom who insisted that other kids play the game her child wanted to play because her child was “especially sensitive.”

C. G. Jung

Can Mothering Help Us Love Our Worst Qualities?

The Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung coined the term “shadow” to refer to all those part of ourselves we would rather not know about.

As children, we learn early on that certain qualities are not acceptable and need to be hidden from view. Aggression, selfishness, boastfulness, avarice, sexuality – these are all traits that we likely learned were forbidden. Depending on the values of our family or culture, we may also have learned to divorce ourselves from emotionality, creativity, or playfulness.


According to Jung’s theory, we split these qualities off so that they are not quite conscious. This allows us to go about life identifying with those part of ourselves considered more acceptable.

Difficult Feelings

Managing Adolescent Volatility

If we are parenting an adolescent, we realize that the teen years come upon us as a second storm after the relative reprieve of the school years. Teenagers can be as changeable as toddlers, but their outbursts are more frightening, and carry more potential for real harm to self and others.

An old Scottish fairy tale called “Tam Lin” has an image in it that comes to my mind when I work with parents of teens.

“Tam Lin” tells the story a woman who meets a mysterious man named Tam Lin in the woods at night. When she learns she is pregnant with his child, she seeks him out and discovers that he is a captive of the faeries, who plan to sacrifice him as a tribute to hell. To rescue him, she must pull him from his horse as he passes by with the faeries on Halloween night. Then, she must hold him fast as he turns first into a lion, then an enormous serpent, then a blazing fire, then a scaly dragon. She must hold him firmly while he is transformed into these dreadful things, and only if she succeeds will he at last be free of the faery spell.