Archive for therapist on parenting

The Middle Child

Daniel Siegel, attachment researcher, neuroscientist, and author of a dozen books on the brain, teaches us that we create a life that reflects our brain.


We create a life that reflects our brain.


This isn’t just something the mystics and the new age hippies espouse with their manifestation boards and drum circles. It’s hard science.


So, if we believe we are unlovable then we provoke rejection from our most beloved people. This is more than a cognitive choice. It’s a reflex. It has to do with the mechanics of our brain and the wiring of our early experiences.


I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy on November 15, 2014. My five-year-old son just became a middle child instead of The Baby. Since then, Josh has provoked disapproval from me.


Example: Last night I was looking up how to use butternut squash in a salad and whether or not it was reasonable to add raisins instead of cranberries (it’s not) and Josh comes by and wordlessly shuts my computer. Then he ambles away, laughing hysterically.


He also ate half the tube of toothpaste, for the second time.


After I instructed him not to touch the muffin tray, he reached out anyway, and predictably burned his finger.


I said, “Josh, don’t stomp. You’ll wake up the baby.”


Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.


I said, “Don’t put the binky in Sam’s mouth because you’ll wake him up.”


Josh promptly put the binky in Sam’s mouth.


Josh drives me CRAZY. He doesn’t listen nor follow directions and purposely does the exact opposite of what I want him to do—just to mess with me, the exhausted post partum mom.


I am reminded of a Louie CK joke.


He quipped, “Before children when I’d see a parent yelling at a child in the grocery story, I’d think, ‘Oh that poor child. What is wrong with that mom?’ After I had children, I’d witness the same scene and instead think, ‘That poor, poor woman. What has that horrible child done to her.’


During one of Josh’s oppositional moments I accidentally visualized sending him outside.


“Go play outside,” I’d yell and then enforce it.


I pictured him behind the sliding glass door crying; his giant alligator tears falling down his cheeks. That’s Josh’s worst fear, I think, to be behind a pane of glass separated and rejected by the people he loves the most; and yet that’s exactly the response his behavior provokes. Luckily, I have Herculean mental strength and self control not to obey his command.


I’m not going to send Josh outside, because the other half of the story is this boy is

bad-ass and hilarious and so intensely loveable I couldn’t imagine loving him more (or less) for any reason. He shines.


Josh collected snails in a plastic 16 oz cup, set up a table in front of our house, and made a sign that read, ”Snails for sale. $4.00 each.” Only one snail was purchased by his sister and she got a deal; it was free.


Josh wanted to invent a diving board flinger to solve his sister’s fear of diving. He imagined that he could just push a button and take the choice out of it for her.


When his sister cried about a mean friend, Josh offered (at about two-years-old) to beat up the culprit.


He wore dresses like his big sister and when he started realizing that boys don’t usually he just put on pants, too, tucking his dress into his pants when he was in public.


Josh is obsessed with the regular boy stuff including cars, tools and trains and he also loves Origami, classical music, and drawing pictures. He has an uncanny ability to imitate other people and can run as fast as an 8 year old. He loves to dance.


My heart is tied to his every single day. I believe in Josh’s soul.


Yet, he provokes my irritation and anger and disapproval, despite my deepest feelings about him and my intention to fill him up with love and approval every day.


Parenting requires ENORMOUS self-control.


As an antidote to this nasty dynamic, where Josh was annoying me and I sent him disapproval, which made him act out more, which caused me to disapprove more, I started noticing what Josh was doing right.


I assigned him little jobs around the house like getting the water for my tea and putting a blanket on the baby. I praised him with every success. I ignored the oppositional moments—when possible.


Then one night, I put him to bed and listed all the things he did right that day.   He said, “But I got into some mischief, too.”


I responded, “When I was a little girl, I did mischief, too.”


He said, “You are still kind of sneaky with popsicles.”


I told him that if he could see himself through my eyes, he’d never doubt himself again.


He put his arms around my neck and we cuddled till he fell asleep.   I am shaping Josh’s brain right now so that he has a template for love. Even when he is struggling with being a middle child and acting out, he is still intensely loveable. In the end, he will see himself through my eyes and when he looks in the mirror, he will see what I see: A capable and fiercely independent but also deeply loving and affectionate, beautiful boy.

The Attach Place Center for Strengthening Relationships

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

Parenting with Love and Laughter,

Jennifer Olden, LMFT

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice, Sing

Confession: Sometimes I struggle with managing my anger at my kids. For example:

When my daughter throws herself on the ground because she wants a cough drop.

When my son wants to wear a tutu, but a pink one and not a blue one and tells me, “You are a bad mom,” then furrows his brow and hits me in the face.

When I arrive to pick up my kids from child care and they scream, “Not you. We were in the middle of playing fairy-meets-unicorn-in-a-forest-and-then-loses-its- sparkle-necklace-in-a-well. Go home Mommy and come back in two hours. “

When my son yells, “I do it myself,” and then proceeds to take 20 minutes to buckle up his seatbelt and I’m late for work.

When I spent an hour cooking a delicious meal and show them my creation, they throw their bodies to the tile floor and start fake throwing up.

I just lose my temper. Sometimes I say awful things. To my daughter I might tell her to stop acting like a three-year-old. I threaten randomly without any follow through.

“That’s it,” I yell, “You are never getting any candy for the rest of your lives. Never ever again will you ever get to go to the park. That was your last time on the monkey bars forever. It will only exist in your dreams.”

I shame them for their needs and their overly emotional presentation of their needs and in my worst moments I hide from them. Once, I hid under the bed. I heard them coming and I stayed quiet.

It takes me about 30 seconds to recognize my error.

But I figured out a new way to deal with my anger. Are you ready for this? It’s sort of a miracle solution.

I sing.

I sing my directives. You need to stop talking about the cough drop for you will not receive the cough drop today.

Suddenly, I am a Zen Master on the inside. It is impossible to sing melodically and rage at the same exact time. Impossible. I am back in control of what words exit my mouth.   I am not going to verbally hurt my kids when I am singing. I can’t.

This method worked so brilliantly that I decided to try it with my husband.

Dear husband, do not criticize me when I am on my way out the door to work because it hurts my feelings and makes me feel defensive.

I can’t remember exactly what he said in response, but it sort of sounded like a growl.

“Play along,” I said.

Double grrrr.

So let this be a warning: Do not try this method with spouses. They do not respond, as well.

Jennifer Olden, LMFT and Mom

The Attach Place  Center for Strengthening Relationships

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships


Just Be There

Last night my daughter stayed up way too late and by the time she was snuggled in bed, she was over-tired. When she is over-tired everything unresolved in her heart comes out as a meltdown. On this particular night, Amelia sobbed about the girl drama that never ever ends.   I won’t describe the events specifically, but just know that she was experiencing typical growing pains. She felt rejected by a friend and she feared it was because of a mistake she made.  She felt alone and different.

Intellectually, I know, this is just kid stuff. No big deal–the emotional equivalent of a skinned knee. But every single cell in my body wanted to fix it. My mind raced to find a solution:

I’ll homeschool her.

No. That’s a terrible idea. I love working and could not manage being a stay at home mom.

I’ll call the offending child’s mother.

No, that will be weird and I’ll be even more of a helicopter parent than I already am.

I’ll go on a meditation retreat and climb my way to the top of my own personal evolution and then I’ll model perfect mental health every single day and my daughter will absorb my supreme self-confidence and never suffer again.

Ok, so that’s just ridiculous.

There is no solution. The next place my brain takes me is inevitably: “This is my fault. What have I done wrong?”

But before I can collapse into this psychological sinkhole, which leaves me less available in the Here and Now moment of Amelia suffering and needing my support, I remember attachment theory.   Attachment theory teaches me that:

  1. Amelia doesn’t need me to be perfect. She just needs me to be there.
  2. The fact that she is sharing her feelings means that she trusts me, and that indicates that I’m doing a good job as her mom.

I was able to steady myself with the understanding that right in that moment my daughter was NOT alone and NOT different.   She was letting me in on painful feelings and that willingness to turn toward someone you trust in a moment of fear or sadness is the very definition of being well-adjusted and secure attachment. I listened and held my sweet daughter, letting her have her melt down in the safety of my arms.

After the tears subsided and she could take a breath, I said, “Thank you so much for telling me about these hard feelings. I’m so lucky to be let in by you, Amelia. I treasure these moments when you are able to tell me your big feelings, even if they are hard.”

This is a counter intuitive response to suffering. It almost sounds like I’m saying, “This is so AWESOME that you feel like shit and I am really happy about it.” However, feeling rejected and hurt is inevitable, no matter how well you parent or how charismatic your kid happens to be. The important thing is not about preventing these difficult and inevitable moments, but being present when they occur and accepting wholeheartedly the suffering.

I then told her a true story about when I was a little girl and believed that I was the only real person in the whole world. Then, at some point, I decided that there was one other real person and they lived in NY City—because it was the farthest away place I could imagine. I reassured her that she would find her person or a few persons even, and I asked if I could be her person for now.

She pulled me close and said, “YOU ARE MY PERSON, MOMMY.”

“Everyone makes mistakes. Ducks quack. Bears hibernate. People make mistakes,” I said.

“It’s just what we do?” she questioned.

“Yep, there is no way around it.”

With that, she fell asleep.

We can never prevent our loved ones from suffering, but we can always make sure they don’t suffer alone.

Jennifer Olden, LMFT and Mom

The Attach Place  Center for Strengthening Relationships

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships







Words Matter

On my way to dropping my daughter off at pre-school I saw a handmade billboard with the word Kindness.  Later that day, in another part of town, I saw another sign but this time with the word Love.  I wondered about the person that took the time to diligently trace the letters, color them in, and then in the middle of the night, duct tape them to a pole.  I imagined it to be three or so hippie college students drinking wine and daydreaming about what they could do to spread the love.  Or maybe the culprit was an old man in AA on the heels of some major loss, attempting to offset the pain.  Or maybe it was simply an assignment designed by a sociology professor to measure happiness before and after a good deed.

What impressed me is that this anonymous good deed received zero to little feedback from the world, and yet someone somewhere felt it worth doing.

Here ‘s the thing:  It actually does make a difference and there has been research to prove it.

Phil Shaver, a professor and researcher from UC Davis conducted a study involving college students working on a mundane task on their computer.  Periodically an attachment word would flash across the screen.  Words like:








Before and after the mundane task, the college students took a short questionnaire that measured their internal sense of security. It turned out that just by reading attachment words, without personal context, increased the participant’s sense of internal security and safety in the world.

HOLY MOLY.  Words DO matter.

I remember a client reporting that she had been staring at a bookshelf in my office with titles like “Loneliness” and “How to Work with Difficult Clients.” These words reverberated in the background of her consciousness.  Every time she glanced over at the bookshelf she felt alone and vaguely like she was burdensome to me.

This also speaks to the hypnotic and repetitive nature of the interventions in Emotionally Focused Therapy. Sue Johnson, the creator of the EFT model, once used an attachment word 43 times in a five-minute video clip of her providing therapy for a couple.  43 times.   Her repetition sends the equivalent of a massive flood that enters the amygdala and it gets people releasing emotion because they feel relieved and understood.  They enter a kind of happy secure trance.

So right now, if I say to you:

You are not alone.  I am with you, and you are loved.  We are together and better for it.  You can count on me.   There is a chemical reaction going on in your brain now.   Read it slowly.   Your amygdala is soothed.  We are mammals and with that comes a biological imperative to connect.   Love is not icing on the cake; it’s the cake.   Actually, it’s not the cake; it’s the whole meal.  It’s survival.

This research by Phil Shaver, PhD compelled me to do a little experiment in our house.  We own a small Ikea-purchased easel that the kids previously used for art projects, but eventually got relegated to the garage.  I pulled it out the other day because one side is a chalkboard and will do in a pinch to advertise a garage sale.    So the experiment is this: Every week or so I write an attachment-loaded sentence and park the sign in the dining room.  For example:

Love wins.

You are never alone.

Your needs are okay with me.

You matter to me.

You belong here.

I’m glad you are you.

You are loved.

I’m not mentioning it or trying to drive my message home. I’m just doing what the rogue love anarchist did with the posters around the city.  I’m sending a message of love out in our house and trusting that the words will wiggle their way into some part of our hearts.  Maybe it will remind us, in more difficult moments, what’s truly important:  Love.

The Attach Place  Center for Strengthening Relationships

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

With a full heart,

Jennifer Olden, LMFT





Humanness Required

Recently, on the EFT list serve, an online community of Emotionally Focused Therapists, there was a discussion about recommended parenting books for a pregnant woman.  Therapists wrote in and recommended:

1)   Parenting from the Inside Out

2)   The Whole Brain Child

3)   How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen

4)   Blah

5)   Blah

6)   Blah

And I confess, I’ve read most of these books and the information that I gathered was invaluable.

But, I don’t read parenting books anymore.   At all.   Ever.  I get a little “ugh” feeling every time I see one of those half-read suckers on my bookshelf right next to the Atkins Diet and Raw Foods Cookbook.  They tend to make me feel panicky and a little bit like I’m failing.

Instead, I check out blogs by moms where the theme of imperfect parenting runs through their stories like gold.  I love the moms that talk about how parenting is hard work.  We moms have a difficult time admitting this because we think it sounds like we are saying that it’s hard to hang out with our beautiful, sweet, and soulful children.

We are afraid we will be misunderstood.  So let me be clear. Parenting is hard because of the worry, guilt, and mundane tasks.  That’s what is hard.

Last weekend my daughter, Amelia, and I went to the Farmer’s Market and she wanted to stay when it was time to go, so she threw herself on the ground screaming, “I’ll never leave this place!”

I just kept walking to the car without reacting and she followed. When I got her in the car, I let loose.   I gave her the kind of lecture that would make me cringe if I overheard it from another mother because it was so long-winded and shaming.

I yelled, “You are five now and this is the second tantrum in two days.  You don’t see other kids acting like that.”

Even re-writing this makes me want to prostrate myself on the ground or go to confession or somehow quit being a mommy.  No big fanfare; it just didn’t work out.  I’m putting in my two-week notice and placing an ad on Craigslist.  Thanks for the opportunity, but I’ve realized I’m not cut out to be a mom.

Parenting books don’t even touch this part of me.  They don’t touch the guilt I feel for working so much, or the shame for lecturing my daughter, or the fear—which is really driving my reactivity–that somehow if she doesn’t deal with her emotions more appropriately (I know, how ironic) then she’ll grow up unhappy, and I’ve got a thousand permutations of this outcome.  The parenting books don’t touch that.

When I read my mommy blogs, I instantly feel less alone, because I am assured that a mistake is just a mistake.  Parenting blogs written by honest moms in the trenches teach me this:

I am forgiven.  Or maybe it’s, I am accepted.  I am enough as I am.  I am loved.  At the end of all this learning I am still going to mess things up, not because I am a failure, but because I am human. 

After our horrendous day, I put Amelia into bed.  I opened the window and felt the cool breeze blowing in.  We lay in bed together side-by-side and pretended that we were on a boat under a night sky tucked in together.  I felt silly and said, “We are as safe as popsicles.”  Amelia said, “Popsicles aren’t safe because they drip onto the ground.”

That girl is always thinking.

So then I said, “We are as safe as cookies.”

No, again, because cookies crumble.

“Ok, then what’s the safest thing you can imagine?”

Amelia answered, “Mommy.  You are.”

So even after my worst day of parenting (in a while), I still manage to be logged in her mind as safe, which means that just maybe I’m doing okay and that there is a lot of grace for me.

And for you.

The Attach Place  Center for Strengthening Relationships

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

The most important thing a pregnant mom needs to hear is, “We are all human, love is like glue, and nothing close to perfection is required.”

Jennifer Olden, LMFT and Mom



Hold Me Tight Couples Weekend Workshop for Parents of Attachment Challenged and Special Needs Children

sandy heart 2
April 25, 2014   6pm to 9pm
April 26, 2014  10am to 4pm
April 27, 2014  10am to 1pm
Hold Me Tight
Weekend Workshop for Couples with Adopted and Special Needs Children

The Hold Me Tight Workshop is designed to give you a weekend away to connect with your spouse. This workshop will not teach you useless things; it will give you an opportunity to fully engage the deep, loving connection you desire in your relationship with your partner.

• Address stuck patterns and negative cycles

• Make sense of your own emotions

• Overcome loneliness

• Repair and forgive emotional and physical disconnection

• Communicate to develop deeper understanding and closeness

You will strengthen your bond through private exercises with your partner, didactic experiences, and video demonstrations of couples that have moved from distress to that longed for deep, intimate connection.   This workshop takes place in the safe environment of experienced attachment specialists and other parents experiencing similar attachment pushes and pulls in their lives because of the demands of healing the broken hearts and emotional difficulties of children from difficult biological beginnings, maltreatment, abuse and attachment breaches.  YOU will be “seen” here and your struggles will be understood.

Hello Ce,
This attachment focused couples workshop is brought to you at a 50% reduced rate by The Attach Place Center for Strengthening Relationships. We believe that you, your relationship, and your love matter.  The stronger your relationship, the better able YOU will be to whether the slings and arrows of raising children from difficult beginnings. The Attach Place Logo  2

This workshop is especially designed with YOU in mind. To that end, we are dedicated to providing creative financing to make this opportunity possible for you and child care options.

Who:                YOU and Your Partner
When:                6pm to 9pm April 25, 2014
10am to 4pm April 26, 2014
10am to 1pm – April 27, 2014
Cost:                $300.00
Child Care:       $5 per hour per child

Snacks Provided and Local Restaurant List for Lunch Options.

Reserve your place by RSVPing to:

If you can carve out time for yourselves on a weekend, we promise that you will have valuable experiences to help you strengthening the safety, connection, and bond in your relationship.

Love Matters,
Ce Eshelman, LMFT, Jennifer Olden, LMFT, Robin Blair, MFTI,
The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

The Tantrum Family

Josh suddenly screamed from the back bedroom, “Daddy got my hair wet.”

Josh hates his hair getting wet. When he was just 14-months-old, he spilled boiling hot tea on his arm. I grabbed him and jumped in a cold shower, both of us fully clothed, to stop his skin from burning. The burn healed completely but the psychological damage remained.
Ever since that day he has hated, no, feared water on his head. Now he is nearly four years old and I have probably washed his hair twice in his entire life because, trust me, It’s not worth it.

“Josh come out here,” I called from the living room. “Mama can hold you.”

“AAHHHHHH,” screaming continued.

“I got a space for you,” I persisted.


“Yeah, space. I have a spot for you.”

He started walking down the hall toward me. “A Hot Spot?”

“Not a Hot Spot. A place. A space. Here, come here.”

He was naked like a little baby and I let him pile himself on top of me. Without a blink, he stated a well-known fact among three-year-olds, “iPads can make sadness go away.” His expression was stoic, faking neutrality.

“No iPad Baby. “ He continued to lie on me until he got bored and hopped up on top of a noise-making toy. His sister seized the opportunity to slide onto my lap, causing Josh to scream again. I was at his disposal, not hers. He then tried to wiggle his way between his sister and me.

Amelia screamed, “Eww, his penis was just in my face. Disgusting!”

I looked up at Josh in order to read his expression, not wanting him to experience body shame. A half-smile appeared. No shame there. He was thrilled. Antagonizing his sister is one of his deepest joys. Seamlessly, they both returned to fighting for my attention. I yelled for my husband, “Help me.”

Their Bionic Dad finally came and pulled Josh up by the leg. Josh screamed and I yelled, “Don’t pull him by the leg, because you’ll break it and then we will go to jail!”

I wonder about this chaotic little scene. Sometimes it seems like other families are so calm and patient with each other. At the grocery store I see a small child just chilling for an inordinate amount of time while her mom chats with an old friend. My sister-in-law painted her entire living room with two kids under five, apparently playing quietly while she worked all day. Another friend mowed the lawn with her infant strapped to her back, while her toddler played horsey on the porch contentedly. I start to feel bad about my kids, my parenting, and my generally fussy personality before I remember something that I must never forget: If I compare my insides to another person’s outsides, I’ll always come up a few feet short.

The Attach Place  Center for Strengthening Relationships

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

It’s so natural to look around and imagine that everyone else is parenting better than me, and that I’m the only one with my hair on fire, fried to the max. Even though we are The Tantrum Family, our intentions are good–be healthy, happy, at peace, and loving to each other. Sometimes we are a moody and fussy crew; that’s our signature style. We will never be perfect, but we are forgiven and we are enough.

As always, parenting with heart,

Jennifer Olden, LMFT and Mother

Fook, I’m Hungry

Last night when I was putting Amelia to bed she confessed, “I know what the F word is.”
“Oh really. What is it?” I asked.
I momentarily thought about correcting her, but decided (thankfully) against it. “That’s right,” I said.
“What does it mean?” she asked.
“It’s kind of a grown up idea. Sometimes people say it when they are angry and other times people use it like an “um.”
“Oh, like fook, I’m hungry,” she immediately responded.
We started laughing together but suddenly her smile turned into a frown and tears fell down her cheeks. It was as if the door to adulthood cracked open and she peered in, felt thrilled and then frightened. The adulthood room was monstrous and overwhelming, plus it was past her bedtime.
I held her and then we crawled into bed and turned out the lights. I spooned her and explained.
“The F word is kind of like coffee and beer. Only grownups drink coffee and beer and the F word only belongs in grownup mouths, too.”
“Why,” she protested. “I’m big.”
“You are big,” I agreed. “And yet there are things you don’t know yet. That is the way it should be.”
I did go on with, “Just like a baby doesn’t know what it means to walk or talk. You could try to explain it, but the baby won’t understand. A three-year-old doesn’t understand things that a five-year old knows. A six-year-old doesn’t understand things a 10-year-old knows. A ten-year-old doesn’t understand things a fifteen year old knows. And a fifteen year old doesn’t understand things a twenty year old knows. When you are a grownup, you will make choices around beer and coffee and F words, but for now you get to be six. The important thing about being six is that you believe three things:
1) You are safe.
2) You are loved.
3) You are good.
It is a wonderful, beautiful thing to be six years old, honey. It is such a lucky time. I love you.”
“Thank you mommy,” Amelia replied.

Precious Time

Precious Time

Then I tried to get up but she held my arm tightly around her waist, not ready for me to leave. So I stayed and held her because she is six and someday that door to adulthood will fly open. I breathed in her sweet-smelling hair and touched her soft skin and nuzzled her neck. This is precious time. Soon enough she’ll be drinking beer, spending her entire paycheck at Starbucks, and swearing like a fooking sailor.

As always, parenting with heart in the real world,

Jennifer Olden, LMFT and Mother