Posts Tagged ‘self help’

Imperfect Parenting

Posted on: May 13th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Over the last month, I’ve written about my own personal journey during COVID to shine a light on fear. This week, in honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to write about parenting during COVID. Personally, I’ve gone through highs and lows. Some days, I’m so grateful and proud. Other days it’s a completely different story. Through all of it, I’m learning to love myself and my boys in the midst of imperfection.

Intentional Parenting

Prior to COVID, I liked to think of myself as an intentional mama. I made a lot of calculated decisions about how I wanted to raise my boys and had some pretty high expectations of myself. I’ve shared before that when I had Henry I suffered from postpartum depression. As a trauma survivor, I had an added layer of not wanting to do anything to harm my child. Not harming my children in a physical way, I don’t worry about that, but in not wanting to make a mistake. From there I spent the better part of 18 months being 100% attentive to Henry when he was with me.

I mean, I was that Mom we all hate. Calculated floor time, zero TV, homemade meals every night, cloth diapers, no electronic toys. I was perfectly happy doing all of this but I didn’t do anything except this. I gained being a mama in my heart and at the cost of myself (a bit). Enter Declan (my second boy) and keeping up at this pace was just not achievable at the same rate. I went through an angry phase, being angry at myself for not being able to keep it up. Then I realized while I could love all the different ways I could parent my children, the most important was having a full heart. That I needed to find time for Jessie and not just the mama in me. I’ve quoted it many times but truly, “How Not to Lose Your Shit with Your Kid,” changed me.

Changing Your Parenting Style

After I realized I couldn’t keep up the same pace of my “perfect parenting,” and with two children under 2, I gave myself a hell of a lot of grace. I let myself fail, break my own rules, and most importantly spent time taking care of myself too. I was able to keep the things that were important to me for Henry and Declan. This looked like eating whole foods, limited TV time (none for Declan he was not yet 1), being present when I was with them, and allowing myself some alone time when we were home together. This felt good. Really good. Enter Shelter in Place. Without my village, it all fell down.

I had gotten into this groove with my children because I allowed myself access to support. I made sure I didn’t expect myself to be with my children 110% of the time. My children went to who I consider their second mom’s house (Dana!) three days a week. Martin and I were rocking date nights at least every other week. I was going to the gym. I was regularly cooking at home (while still appreciating occasional restaurants). I was balanced. I was happy with myself, my parenting, and so grateful for our new son Dametrius finally coming home. Then, overnight, it was just our family and our responsibilities increased as a family increased exponentially.

I’m pretty lucky in the sense I had already laid the foundation with myself that it was OK not to be perfect as a parent. That to be a mama didn’t mean to be on point every second of the day. But a big piece of this was letting myself have some alone time. With sheltering in place, alone time is SO much harder to achieve. My husband works 40 hours a week from home with little relief from his work to help with childcare. Owning my own company means I have to be the flexible one with fitting my work schedule around the kids. It also meant I’m with our boys way more than my husband. I’m learning how to teach our new 8th grader. Dametrius just moved into his new home, so I had no idea what he knew academically.

Add my own hippie heart of loving organic foods (but not able to go to the store), limited technology, and being present to everything else and you’ll realize this was a tall order!

So I did something radical. I’m serious, this was big for me. I threw away my script. Seriously! I decided that the most important thing was something I already knew after healing from postpartum depression and parenting two very young children. It’s love. That’s it. Love is all my children need to grow and thrive.

Realizing What’s Important as a Parent

Don’t get me wrong. There are still things that are very important to me as a woman and mama. But if I kept up with my pre-COVID rulebook I was going to crash and burn. Honestly, looking back, I don’t know how I wasn’t crashing and burning anyways! Sure, I had help, but my expectations were sky-high. So now I expect failure from myself and my kids on a daily basis. We fail, we cry, we kiss, and we move on.

I still want my children to eat well but, honest to God, cooked my first boxed mac and cheese for them ever. I still want them to play in the dirt more than behind a screen but we have movie night every night. I still want to be present with my kids but I allow myself to check emails on my phone while drinking coffee each morning. Some days we have free days. This means jammies all day, movie mornings, coffee, and picking up a toy or something small in a pickup order. I’m resting for myself, eating as well as I can, and moving or getting any exercise when I have a few minutes for self-care. When I can’t do these things I give my heart a big hug.

Mostly, I’ve realized that while my village made my pace possible it wasn’t what my heart wanted. Being home with my children for this amount of time has taught me to follow their needs and my own together. I’m not the mama I was before COVID. I’m messier, louder, and I cry a little more. But you know what? In accepting imperfection I’m happier too. I hope through reading this that perhaps you can love your imperfections in parenting too. And hey, maybe you’ll become a bit closer to your authentic self.

Xoxo,
Jessie

The Bridge Back Home

Posted on: May 6th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

A phrase I often use is “the bridge back home.” I’m not sure who coined it or if it’s just a phrase that I’ve used so many times it comes from me. What I call the bridge back home is really the way back to myself when I’ve been out of alignment with my authentic self.

photo of woman on porch thinkingLast week I wrote about what lies underneath my own fears and the need to control outcomes. I questioned if my own human experience rings true for others? Do we all engage in behaviors when we fear to avoid feeling the fear? After following the work of the amazing Brene Brown, I think the answer is a resounding yes! We’re human. To have a fear or fears that have transferred over into patterns of behaviors is so real I can touch it. These behaviors can be internal (things we tell ourselves) or external (things we do). Either way, they can make us feel better or worse in the short term and always make us feel worse in the long term. Let me try to explain.

The Only Thing to Fear…

When we are experiencing an emotion that doesn’t feel very good we typically exhibit either high or low energy behaviors. We then have an internal dialogue telling us all the ways we are not good enough. I’m a high energy gal when it comes to external behaviors. High energy looks like overachieving, micromanaging, perfectionism, and the like. Low energy behaviors look like eating high-calorie foods, sitting for long periods of time, lack of exercise, sleeping a lot, and so on. Each of these types of behaviors tells our brains we are anxious, stressed, or depressed. The more we engage in them, the more anxious, stressed, or depressed we become. It’s a loop.

To break the loop there are some really cool things you and I can do. This is what I call the bridge back home. Home is the way to me.

To begin, you need to know there’s no order with fear. Remember, being perfect is part of a loop so it’s going to get us nowhere. I’m going to write some different methods for you to try. I hope some of them resonate with you.

Identify Your Behavior

Identifying if you are in a high or low energy guy/gal is a piece of the bridge back home. What do you do when you don’t feel like you? And what can you do differently? For my high energy behavior readers, the key is to slow down. For my low energy readers, the key is to speed up. A key piece of this is knowing you are out of alignment.

Let’s go there for a minute. When we are out of alignment we engage in our fear-based behaviors. These are anxiety, depression, frustration, bitterness, anger, deep sadness, and the like. If anyone feels these stretches of emotions for more than a few days, I’d go out on a limb and say you’re out of alignment. If they go on for longer than a month I’d recommend reaching out for some clinical support. At the beginning or late stages of fear, a large piece of healing is to notice we are not ourselves. It’s another piece of the bridge.

The next piece of the bridge back home is to do something to realign your energy. This goes back to knowing if you are a high or low energy behavior type. For the high energy behavior types, a big piece of this is creating space in your day. Try to not book things back to back. Find a welcome rest, as well as time for self-care. I can tell you as a high energy person that this shit is hard for me. I have to make an active effort to slow my energy down when I’m in fear. I try to be careful with my schedule, limit my technology use,  try meditating, saying “no,” and doing a ‘home spa night.’ When I’m not in alignment I am not doing these things. When I am in alignment I do some of these things each day. Truly. I am careful because once I’m doing too much my fears kick in. Then I’m not my best self. Remember the loop?

If you are a low energy person a key to your bridge is little steps toward doing more and consuming less. This means making small efforts every day to do something active and to tone back things like high-calorie foods and technology (technology is not great for either of us!). If you’ve been stuck in low energy-mode for a while, you cannot expect yourself to run a marathon. But you could take a 15-minute walk outside or jump in a pool for a bit. Moving is key here because the more you slow down less and less serotonin and dopamine are produced by your brain. This is your loop.

Finding the Bridge Back Home

OK, so we’ve got some steps to build the bridge back home. We know to identify that we are not, in fact, ourselves. We know to classify ourselves as high or low energy and some steps to help heal our energy type. What now? Here is the most important piece of information: show yourself some serious love. It is not fun for anyone to be responding to our negative emotions or our operating in fear. It just isn’t. If you spend all your time tearing yourself down you are not showing the world or yourself any kindness. You are imperfect, you do shit that is embarrassing and mean, but you know what? Me frickin’ too!

If I tore myself or others down every time a mistake was made, what help is that? As a mama, I teach my children it is OK to fail. It’s OK to have bad days and act in ways that none of us agree with. Remember my oldest son Henry? He is learning this every day! From there I teach them to vocalize how they feel, give them a huge hug, and we move on. My kids expect the same from me. Seriously!

I can’t stay calm for a solid 24 hours. I just can’t. I’ve got two dogs, three kids, a husband, and a business to run. And I’m human. But when I lose my cool at home I will say, “Mama was mad, it was so noisy, I’m sorry.” We kiss and makeup. And you know what? I do this exact same thing for myself. “Jessie, my love, it’s OK darling. Breath deep. It hurts, but we need to try again.” I parent myself how I want to parent my kids.

I know I said there is no order but this is the key to the bridge: Treat yourself with love and kindness when you fail and get hurt. Then, from that space, stand tall again and come back home.

Xoxo,
Jessie

Underneath our Fears

Posted on: April 29th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Over the last six weeks, you’ve allowed me to provide you with guidance during the COVID-19 outbreak. I’m so very grateful to be able to give you my take as well as speak my own truth. Last week I wrote about fear and the stories we make up behind those fears. For me, well before COVID-19, this river ran deep. It took both facing my fears and pausing during Shelter in Place to truly shine a light on them.

In calling out my fears and the behaviors around them I was able to see myself clearly. I’d like to share some of my experiences with you. I’m hoping that by doing this you are able to relate, unpack your fears, and authentically show up for the beautiful ride we call life.

Calling Out Our Fears

Photo of woman in deep reflection and thoughtSheltering in Place has been hard for me for many reasons. We talked about my fears related to COVID-19 in my last two blogs. What I haven’t talked about is that during Shelter in Place I have been forced to sit with my own thoughts on a larger scale. Like everyone else in the world, I am stuck where I am, with who I am.

For me, the first phases of Shelter in Place produced anxiety due to fear of the unknown. I spent a lot of my energy navigating the new normal, both at home and at work. This piece of anxiety was hard, as I was unable to control or even predict outcomes. On a surface level, however, it was not a deep fear; it was a guide to larger fears that would come up for me.

I’m wondering if this is true for a lot of us? Do we all have surface-level fears pointing to deeper fears? And if we only ever respond to the surface fears, do the fears underneath live on?

Let me speak for me. My primary surface fear was being unable to control the outcome of COVID-19, both in my home and my business. My fears first bubbled over in my perfectionistic tendencies at home (and a bit at work). At home, this looked like keeping a perfect house. I mean, I love a clean home (definitely more than most people), but when I’m cleaning to be perfect… it’s different.

Usually, I’m just jiving and creating a space I enjoy. At work this used to come out in micromanaging. Thanks to our current team, who I could not be more grateful for, I can’t really jump in and do this anymore. They would call bullshit and thank God for that! So this is my surface. I’m afraid of what I can’t control, so I will try to overcontrol what I can. Does this speak true for anyone else? Do you have surface behavior you engage in when you’re afraid? Does your perfectionism come out?

Avoid Feeling “Out of Control”

Once I can see what I’m really up to, I usually find I’ve been doing a heck of a lot of things to avoid feeling out of control. Perfectionism is one of them. Numbing activities like too much chocolate, wine, or Netflix is another. Forcing myself to be overly busy is a third. I do these things in order to ignore what my make-believe fears are telling me. And make-believe fear is always telling us we are not enough. It’s a tricky, awful fear but also a piece of the human experience.

So, what came up for you? Looking at your past month during Shelter in Place, what have you found is beneath your fear(s)? Are you overachieving at home to avoid it? Or are you purposely underachieving to try and relax? Are you really OK with everything that is happening in your world? All of your answers are OK. What isn’t OK is to notice that fear is driving you and to continue to allow it to be in control.

What can you and I do to fight these fears? Honor them. Honor the fear and what it’s telling you because even make-believe fear can guide us all. Fear is telling us very loudly that we are not OK. We have to realize that something lives beneath our fears that needs care and attention.

In speaking for myself, I have felt very deeply, for a very long time that what I am doing is not enough–that somehow I am wrong. It took sitting in place during the COVID-19 outbreak to finally be able to say this out loud. This comes from a traumatic childhood and being a survivor of domestic violence. Harmful circumstances occurred around me for a very long time and I wanted to prove I didn’t deserve them happening to me. That’s why in times like these when I cannot control outcomes, my fear tries to tell me I’m not enough. That I’m not safe. But I’m grateful for this fear and here’s why.

Learning from Fear

When my make-believe fears are present and impacting how I behave, it’s a signal for me to pay attention. To discover what I’m really afraid of; how I haven’t been honoring myself. It’s hard to write this. To write that I struggle with perfectionism and am a survivor. But I know that by saying this I’m honoring the badass woman I truly am. That no one deserves to be at the hand of physical violence. That we are not stories narrated by our fears.

I know this to be true. You are perfect just the way you are. Human, full of failures & flaws, and maybe some awesome eclectic tastes. But you are worthy of love, belonging, and a life you adore. I hope by sharing this piece of my story that you are able to look at your own. To get curious and ask yourself why you are afraid. What’s behind it? That in naming your fear and owning your story you are able to honor the beautiful person you are. Perceived imperfections and all.

I hope this piece of my story guides you to honor yours.

Xoxo,
Jessie

Behind the Fears During COVID-19

Posted on: April 22nd, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Last week in my blog I wrote about compassion and grace. I hope it served you. After identifying my own fears, I realized that so much more was going on behind them. It took guts to accept this followed by a bit of hard work to find what was really behind them.

Let me backtrack for a minute. There is nothing wrong with fear itself. Fear is a very useful instinct and absolutely necessary to survive. Fear tells us when we are in danger(remember, the amazing Tara Brach teaches about this). Fear told us over 10 thousand years ago how to survive; it’s instinctual. The problem with modern-day fear is it often becomes a story we’re making up versus a true danger. Sometimes it’s a little bit of both. So when we go behind our fears we have to sort them. Is the fear real, a story, or a mix? How do you know what type of fear you’re dealing with and what do you do with the fear once it’s named?

Recognizing Fear

photo of a woman in a park reflecting on lifeLet’s start with the types of fear we deal with as humans. The first is physical fear within our control. This is a lion charging at you, a car that ran the red light, and anything else that could cause you physical pain or death. Our limbic system kicks in when we are dealing with these kinds of fears. Fight, flight, freeze. Our body ramps up to tell us how to respond and protect ourselves. If we have the right resources in that moment of fear (ex: brake pedal for the car coming at you) we can protect ourselves from the threat. This fear is super helpful and protective. However, our other fears like to dress up like physical fear and, in this guise, tell us they too are helpful. Let’s talk about them.

The next type of fear is fear beyond our control. This fear is a threat that comes into our lives that we cannot control. There is no brake pedal for this metaphorical speeding car coming full speed at you. These fears are almost always medical or life-altering in nature. These fears are a cancer diagnosis, heart disease, a baby born too early, divorce, being fired, a house burning down, etc.

These fears present themselves to let us know they are there. We usually have some options available to us to address them, but fears we can’t control often have outcomes we can’t control. When you or a loved one receives a cancer diagnosis, you/they can choose the treatment course with medical guidance. But what we can’t control is how the body will respond.

If you are fired from a job you cannot control working there again, but you can find new options for employment. These fears hurt. They just do. We see them, do what we can, given the resources available, but the outcomes are almost always beyond us. Not being able to control an outcome when a threat is present is hard. COVID-19 falls right into this category.

Rejecting Irrational Fear

This leads to the last type of fear; make-believe fear. This is the sticky, icky fear that we, as humans, create to try and cope with physical fear and fears beyond our control. It’s the story we’re making up and it causes anxiety. Make-believe fear tells us it’s helpful while driving us absolutely crazy at the same time.

As an example, let’s look at sanitizing per COVID-19. The truth is there are good sanitizing measures we can all take to reduce our exposure to COVID-19. A story you may be making up is that you need to sanitize your high touch areas 10 times a day and that if you don’t everyone in your family is going to contract COVID-19. Let’s look at another one. If you are afraid of how you’re parenting during COVID-19 you might tell yourself you are failing terribly. In response to this, you either step it up or scale it back to validate the fear. In both cases, you’re exhausting yourself mentally and putting yourself down. The reality is you can’t control kids being home 24/7 but you can just show up and do the best you can.

Is this making sense? Let’s keep it simple. Each fear we hold that is a story we’ve made up is not helpful or kind. This type of fear convinces us that if we behave a certain way that the fear will magically disappear. But it’s not gone–it’s amplified! The fear is driving the car. To put this fear down for good we have to name it, shine a light on it, and stop engaging in the behaviors associated with this fear. When we stop engaging in the behaviors associated with the fear it always hurts. That hurt sucks but is far kinder than tearing ourselves up in behaviors to avoid outcomes we cannot control. And in that hurt is a truth about what we really, truly need.

Using Fear to Stay Safe

Each story we’re making up is unique to all of us but as humans, it’s usually along the lines of needing love and belonging. To be seen. To be accepted. To be safe. Here’s the thing. We can be safe by identifying real fears versus stories. We can be seen by others once we see and know our authentic selves. Being accepted. That lives in your own heart, not anyone else’s. But when you love and accept yourself you can honor what you need from others.

This is my ask beautiful ones. Take this week to find some of the stories you are making up. Then put down the behaviors surrounding those stories and pick up some behaviors that show yourself some major love. Find a way to take care of yourself and through this, I promise you’ll be able to care for those you love too.

Xoxo,
Jessie

Compassion and Grace

Posted on: April 14th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

In starting this blog, I wanted to create a space for parents to come to know they are not alone. In the midst of COVID-19, I think this space is super important. On any given day we are all experiencing the ups and downs of isolation as well as a variety of fears related to the virus. I’m struggling with this just as much as anyone. When people ask me how I’m doing my honest response is, “no two days are the same emotionally.” They just aren’t. I think this is true for a lot of us. But I think what is also true for a lot of us is that it’s hard to honor the struggle.

photo of a woman sitting on log at forest preserveWhen a physical threat is around us it’s so natural for our fears to take over. Just look at the toilet paper crisis. We’ve all got this fabulous limbic system I wrote about in reference to toddler years deep inside us. Fight/flight/freeze is an over 10,000-year-old response. Just search, plug in and listen to one of my soul sisters, Tara Brach, for more on this. Our brains are predisposed to scan for threats to our physical bodies and respond. Tara calls it our “our caveman brain” and when thinking about toddler tantrums it gives me a little smile. As an adult in our modern world, it’s a response that’s harder to deal with. We, of course, need to know when we are in physical danger. But when it comes to an invisible predator as well as all the fears related to it our brains go into overdrive.

Mentally Dealing with COVID-19

Think about it. COVID-19 came to all of us in waves. First, we heard of the virus as being specific to Wuhan, China. Then we saw it was spreading but not to the United States. Our government turned a blind eye as did many Americans thinking this isn’t “our problem.” Then, as cases started to increase, individuals who were watching the world began to panic. Maybe you were one of them? We saw you stock up before any of us. I saw my husband do this. Finally, in a series of reactions our governments acted and our worlds all halted in almost every aspect.

In each of these waves, we as individuals were trying to navigate the threat from wave to wave. Fight, flight, freeze? There is not a wrong response. How can there be? You and I were just doing the best we could as information came to us. For professional reasons, I’ll leave my views on the government out of this piece.

When we got to the final wave of Shelter in Place, a new series of threats came. We worried about working, childcare, access to food, our loved ones, the virus entering our homes and so much more. As a business owner, I worried about this for myself and my employees. As a woman, I worried about my family, my friends, and our world. I’m still having a hard time sleeping. I am scared, I know you are too. But here’s what I want to hold space for. What I think our community really needs to hear: your fear(s) are no greater or less than my fear(s). This is where we can all use compassion and grace.

Handling COVID-19 with Compassion

I’ve heard countless friends not want to air their frustrations surrounding COVID-19 because their frustrations don’t seem to compare to what other people are struggling with. In reality, a very small percentage of us have someone close to us who is affected. If you are in that small percentage, please know that you are my sisters and brothers. I see you, I feel your pain, and I’m so sorry.

But for those of you who have not lost a loved one, seen someone get sick, or lost essential needs like housing or food, your fears are still real. It’s OK. You can look at them, hold them, and still give compassion to the person suffering more. Honestly, I think this is the only true way this is done.

I learned a little phrase from yoga, “the light in you is the light in me.” I think it is also true that the darkness in me is the darkness in you because we are all human. And as humans, we all feel pain, fear, and have days–even years–where we are not our best selves. But if we push down those fears and mistakes without giving ourselves permission to have them we are not being our best self. We’re making ourselves miserable and unable to see each other. To see the other we first have to see ourselves.

So here’s what I suggest. I suggest everyone taking a collective deep breath and honoring our fears. If we don’t label our fears because we’re afraid they don’t hold a candle to what everyone else is going through, we can’t release them. It’s that simple.

Working Out Your COVID-19 Fears with Grace

Here are some of my fears. I’m afraid to go on walks with my children or grocery shopping for fear of bringing the virus into our home. I’m anxious every time we get a package if brought inside within 24 hours. I’m afraid I’m not cooking enough quality food for my children. I’m upset I can’t get my meat from the farm right now. I’m worried I’m not being a good enough boss, wife, and mother all at the same time. I’m worried about my mom and aunt who have weak lungs. My cousin too. And, of course, I worry about the virus overtaking my children, husband or myself.

If you name your fears and honor them you have then given yourself compassion. You’ve said it’s OK to feel what you feel. If you can give yourself compassion you can give it to another person. Empathy is born from comparing your own feelings to someone else; it teaches you to hold the world in your heart.

Lastly, I’d like to talk about my friend grace (not my adorable niece Grace). Grace is knowing that it is OK to fail. Has anyone else yelled at your kids while pulling up the news lately? Or snap at your husband when he interrupts you trying to do a work email? Yeah, me too. Walking through a time of fear is messy. Learning that honoring your fears isn’t taking away from someone else’s hurt is hard. Giving yourself a mental hug when you lose your shit or walk up the stairs 15 times to see if you can breathe? Absolutely necessary.

It’s Ok. The world is hurting and you are too. But together we can hold ourselves close to our own hearts and by doing so hold the entire world close as well.

Xoxo,
Jessie

When You Think You’ve Surrendered, Surrender More

Posted on: March 18th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Over the course of the last week we as a nation have, and are still, struggling to make the best decisions possible in response to COVID-19. As individuals it began as laughing with friends over the toilet paper crisis to within days social quarantining. Many of us started stocking our freezers and cupboards to create supply. In my home my husband has lived through times without food in Bulgaria, this is no joke to him. We have enough food to feed an army after his trip to Costco, I’ve blanched A LOT of veggies, and he’s still scared. Our government and businesses are rapidly making new decisions each and every day. People are losing work temporarily every day. I’m working around the clock with a beautiful team and trying not to make this my employees reality, all sixty plus of them. It’s a scary time, one none of us have lived through. So how does surrender fit into this scenario?

photo of family walking at forest preserveSurrendering, to be clear, does not mean we are stopping. To surrender means to recognize that no matter how hard we try, sometimes things are out of our control. On a larger note, for my soul sisters and brothers out there, it also means to give an outcome over to the Spirit or Divine. I have used surrender in every darkness I have walked and it has always brought me home to myself and to whom I call God.

As a type 8 on the Enneagram, a Challenger, I can tell you honestly that surrender and I fist fight until I call, “Uncle!” It’s in my nature to fight obstacles, to rethink systems, and to always find a solution for the greater good. To serve the underserved at IABA (and my soon to be third company with fabulous Nicki Worden for postpartum mama’s) is easy as breathing for me. Please don’t roll your eyes, we’re all built differently and I honor you however you are built! Slowing down and realizing that there are actual things outside of my control is an actual process for me.

Going Through the Surrender Process

The process isn’t easy. It typically starts with a healthy dose of anger over the thing I’m trying to control. Just ask anyone how well I take to being sick! In the past it could have been a bad boyfriend, components of my marriage, business outcomes, and hell yea mommyhood. It now also includes COVID-19.

I think about how much I want a different scenario, self evaluate and then work my ass off (in the wrong direction) to change it. It’s the fight after anger. I say it’s the wrong direction because in all these scenarios big and small there are pieces to each of them I cannot control. Once I let my mind finally stop the fight and realize the outcome is either up to the other person or the universe I can surrender. In this surrender I’m honoring a couple of things. The first is that not everything is up to me. The next is that other people need to be given space to be their best self or to fail. It’s not my place to stand in anyone’s way of either. The last is in giving it back to Spirit I know it will be taken care of. By following this process what I’m accepting is that controlling outcomes isn’t accomplishing anything. That there is always a higher way to think about life and any situation in it. That everything is not up to me, really. My job is to be my best self and to show up for the work Spirit puts in front of me; that’s it. And I can tell you every instance of surrender things have worked out. They do not work out how I wanted them to be when I was stuck in fear or control, they turn out better.

So how do you or I surrender in the face of COVID-19? First we can go back to the first lesson of surrender; this is out of our control. COVID-19 is a virus rapidly spreading that none of us have antibodies to fight with a luckily low mortality rate. It just is. We can’t control that. We can control our own actions surrounding the outbreak.

Making Amends With Reality: Putting it into Practice

This means most importantly social distancing. In our social distancing comes another level of fear about our work and interruption of daily lives. Again, this is out of our control. What is in our control is either working with our employers so long as they have resources to employ us or with the state for emergency unemployment. It’s also within our control, for those who have more, to be aware of who has less. If we notice families without it’s our duty to step in and help provide; whatever that looks like. Personally I’ve seen so much love these past five days in my community alone.

In regards to our daily lives being interrupted, again out of our control. We can find peace in simplicity. Meals are less varied and always at home, more time outside, less consumption of goods, more time together. Perhaps instead of paper towels you’re now using wash clothes; mother earth thanks you. No, it’s not our normal lives and I miss what is available just like anyone else. But, in its place now that I’ve surrendered to the fact we’re here I’m finding ways to be grateful each day. That gratitude is building joy in my home.

Work is still unknown for our field. We’re actively working to ensure children with autism continue to receive our care. ABA is medically necessary for a child with autism and I can’t imagine pause in service for so many of our clients. If there is a state or nationwide quarantine, then there is. From there, together we’ll rebuild our therapy sessions but hope it doesn’t come to that. In the meantime my staff are doing a beyond fabulous job supporting each other and their clients through the crisis.

Me? I’m enjoying extra baby snuggles in my home, working my ass off for my company, and praying for the best for all.

Xoxo,
Jessie

Ain’t No Shame

Posted on: February 25th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

As we continue to walk through some of my core parenting practices, I’d like to spend this week talking about shame and vulnerability.

Years ago, I was introduced to Brene Brown, a shame researcher, through her book, “The Gifts of Imperfections.” Since then, I frequently refer to Brene as my spirit animal and one of my soul sisters. I highly recommend her work!

photo with quote on itBrene, of course, can tell you more than I can about this shame and vulnerability, but I’d like to give my take on how it impacts how I parent (and impacts being a partner to my husband) every single day. Brene teaches how shame is our barrier to wholehearted living. Vulnerability, in turn, is the birthplace of joy. Now, I understand there is a lot in just those two sentences, but they mean the world to me and we’ll unpack them together.

Working with Shame

Let’s start with shame. Brene defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” Wow.

How many of us struggle with this? I know first hand I struggle with this every single day. Just last night I was celebrating with my sister, making enough breast milk, down to the ounce, to feed Declan for a year because she had donated milk which (we’re now using to wean). She responded, “that’s great! You were a just-enougher.” I responded she had just defined my entire childhood!

I can’t remember a time that what I did was enough. So, of course, I struggled with love and belonging. I don’t fault my parents, they were doing their best at the time. I think we all experienced this to some extent because our parents didn’t know that their standards or their own judgments for us were creating shame.

In women, we usually associate shame in our body image with being, “good.” While men struggle with being a “man,” (whatever that is….) and beind “the great Oz, fixer of all.” Or so Brene tells me. I absolutely REFUSE to use shame in my home.

What this looks like for me with my children at their age is that I do not put them down for their mistakes, ever. A core family rule is no name-calling. We talk about the action, not the person when a mistake is made. For example, if Henry drops a dozen eggs I don’t say things like, “Look at what you’ve done!” instead I say, “Henry we need to be more careful, Mommy & Daddy paid for those eggs let’s clean it up.” The first sentence is a shame sentence. The second is a teaching sentence using guilt. Per Brene, guilt is a valuable way to teach us how our actions affect others while not telling us we’re bad or wrong. To build on this, if anyone is in a bad mood in our house (trust me this happens…) we excuse ourselves BEFORE we use shame language. On a daily basis, this is an active practice. I’m a human with three young boys, two dogs, and a husband. Sometimes I can lose my temper. But I’m not teaching anyone in my house that they are not enough. They know if I’ve lost my temper it’s on me, not them. That is a powerful lesson.

Working with Vulnerability

OK, so now that we understand shame a bit let’s talk about vulnerability. Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy and belonging. This is the peanut butter to the jelly of shame. About a month ago, I asked my husband (who as I’ve mentioned is Bulgarian) if he knew what vulnerability was. There was some laughing, confusion, and then agreement to watch Brene’s special on Netflix.

As a man, vulnerability was a new concept to my husband. I think men in Bulgaria hear the phrase “be a man,” at about 10x the rate men hear it in the US. This is unfortunate in both cases. I am well aware that I am raising little men and I do not want vulnerability to be a new concept to them as adults.

Vulnerability, per Brene, is, “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. But vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our most accurate measure of courage.” This is a big concept for an adult, let alone my little men (now eleven months, 2 ½ and our newest addition at 14). What vulnerability means for me and my littles is not using shame when my children show their emotions. I encourage them to fail versus doing everything for them. We applaud all attempts at courage.

With Declan, this is pretty non-existent right now (he’s too little). With Henry this looks like me sitting back as he tries new things (a lot of gross motor skills right now…) and when he fails I praise his effort. It also looks like me modeling his emotions and what he can do to calm down. If he’s pissed, if he’s been dumped by his dump truck stool (OK this happens like every day…) I say, “I’m mad!” then we practice breathing. I’ve done this since he was 18 months old. And you know what? This weekend Henry got mad and came running to me saying, “Let’s make sounds!” He then proceeded to do deep breaths on his own. How freakin’ cool!

For Dametrius, I’m sure the journey to unpeeling shame and living with an openness to vulnerability will be longer. It’s my hope he walks this path with my husband Martin. I’ve only started to lay the foundation Dametrius. When he moved in, we talked about failure. I told him I never want to see him pass on an opportunity because he’s afraid to fail. That so long as he tries he’s won.

Living with Shame and Vulnerability Every Day

Living with a house full of men, I do not want them to hide behind the label and expectations of “man.” I want my men to be loved fully for who they are; emotions, mistakes, failures, and triumphs. I know they love me the same way and together we belong to each other. Should I ever have a daughter, I will want the same for her. And in 20+ years, when my children succeed as adults, they won’t snicker to each other that they’re “good-enoughers.” They will know they always have been, and always will be, enough.

Xoxo,
Jessie

Taking Space to Find Your What and Why

Posted on: December 12th, 2019 by Jessie Topalov

Last week I spent time going over your little (or big!) one’s developmental capabilities using neuroscience. I started to lay the framework for looking at how your child’s environment determines their behavior. It was a lot of information to digest and I get that. It took me years to really hone in on the science of behavior, then a few more years really applying it to get it. Having my own children helped me realize neurological abilities matter. I know that becoming a behavioral scientist and researcher when they grow up is most likely not every little girl’s dream. You’re probably thinking “yes, of course, you want the difficult behaviors to end, but how can you even start to apply ABA (applied behavior analysis) to your daily life?”

Just like everything else it starts with you, the parent.  Now, I could jump into a long lecture about how all the challenging behaviors in our homes happen because we somehow reinforce them. That would make me feel miserable as a mom and I’m sure it would make you feel miserable too. We’re going to pass on that one. While there is some truth that we play a part in the behaviors our children engage in, what we’re really responsible for, first and foremost, is taking care of ourselves.  

photo of mother with child in fieldThis sounds overwhelming when you’re raising young children, especially if you are raising exceptional children with different abilities like autism. In a case like that pretty much anything can happen within the span of a few minutes. This can be nerve-wracking! If you are taking care of a young child who is not meeting their milestones, another layer of worry may be added on. Whether your child isn’t walking, isn’t talking, won’t eat, or is showing some signs of autism, I know firsthand just how deep worry can sit in a mother’s heart.  Daily worrying on top of trying to actually attend to the vivacious little someone in your life and you, yourself, may get lost.  

Being the Best Parent You Can

But here’s the thing.  Regardless of where you are in your parenting journey, you were perfectly designed to be this little someone’s mom (or dad).  All the stress you carry and worries that overwhelm you come from being a good parent! If we let that stress and worry carry us, however, we can’t be our best selves.  If we give in to stress, we can’t possibly be our best selves to our children. As parents, we need to be able to step away and find little ways to relax each day. After a while, we can add these little breaks up into a self-care routine so we can be our best selves to our children.

I know you’ve heard this phrase a million different ways, but you just can’t drive a car without gas (or electric!).  In the same way, you cannot fully take care of your children the way you want to if you’re running on fumes. I can’t ask you to step back and neutrally observe your child’s behavior if your nervous system is so overloaded a dog barking will make you snap.  So, before you start digging into this and ask yourself “what” about your child concerns you or “why,” first you need to ask, “what do I need to do this well?”

Help Your Family by Helping Yourself

It could be getting back into the gym, getting good food in, making time to call a good friend– heck, even going out with a good friend with no kids!  It can be anything that makes you feel like you. Once you find what little things that make you feel at home with yourself, keep them up! Start building them into a little routine that you can follow regardless of what is happening in your home.  

My routine is getting to the gym regularly, limiting sugar & processed food, seeing my friends with or without kids, talking to my sister, and carving out date time with my husband.  Also, as an introvert, on any given day I need to excuse myself for 5-10 minutes to meditate or lay down to regain my energy. This doesn’t mean I’m meditating non-stop or that I’m out with friends every evening, but it does mean I know that in the thick of parenting these options are available to me for some ‘recharging.’  

Once you are able to find a way to calm down that hot mama (or papa) nervous system and come home to yourself, things will become a little clearer.  It won’t make life perfect but it makes it more manageable. For me, it even brings a bit of inner peace. In finding a way to take care of yourself you’re then ready to step back and start making calmer decisions about your children.  From jumping into functions of behavior to making the difficult decision to get extra help or therapies, knowing that you’re making tough decisions from your authentic self will help. That’s the good stuff.

 

Xoxo,

Jessie