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Food 4 Thought

Food 4 Thought, Parenting

Commentary: Does Parental Empathy Have a Cost?

I am intrigued by a research study finding that empathetic parents of adolescents were psychologically strong but paying a price physically; while the adolescents were doing well on both fronts. This is getting some attention in the media as news, but is it really new information?

The study says, “responding empathically often necessitates transcending one’s own point of view and being nonreactive to whatever is encountered…To accomplish this, parents may suppress their own feelings in order to help their children feel safe or understood…Emotional suppression is known to increase physiological responses to stressors.”

Yes, I agree completely! Let’s make these abstract concepts more real with a very personal and concrete example. My 4-year old is seriously upset because the ballet slippers she so desperately wants are not available in her size. We’ve been down this road before, and it could get ugly. The whining is picking up speed, appeals to logic are going unheard. Freeze frame, here I give you a rare uncensored glimpse of what actually goes on in my mind… ”Noooooo, not again, what the f***! They are just slippers, she doesn’t appreciate all that she has, who cares about slippers anyway… bribe her, threaten punishment, walk away, no then she’ll run after you screaming, aaahhhhhh…”

Some iteration of this flashes through in a matter of seconds, I won’t lie sometimes some of this comes out, but if I can pull it together, I won’t say any of that because the truth is it’s all useless. Instead I’ll kneel down and say, “Hey, let’s talk for a sec, you’ve been really good about waiting for your slippers and I know you were so excited about it, it’s terrible they don’t have your size and now you have to wait more. I can see you’re upset and frustrated, what can we do?” And hope with all my might, something comes out of her mouth that I can work with.

Why go through all this emotional censoring? Simple, I know that when I am upset, angry, sad or frustrated, the very last thing I want is someone else getting pissy with me because I feel the way I feel. That just makes it exponentially worse. What’s helpful is someone who can hold the space for my feelings until I’m able to work through them. It’s no different with kids or adolescents; they just need a little more guidance in the process.

Here is the kicker – it is 100 times easier to say exactly what I feel, exert parental force, and unleash my own frustration to harness the situation by any means. It takes tremendous will power, practice and inner-strength to not react and be thoughtful about what I say and do, giving my best shot at empathy. The irony is that I am more emotionally exhausted when I hold it together and remain externally calm and collected than when I let out my own adult tantrum to rival and squelch that of any child’s.

So it comes as absolutely no surprise to me that being (or striving to be) an empathetic parent is akin to living with chronic stress – it takes a toll on the body, even if psychologically I am riding high.

This all brings home a very powerful point, and something I’ve been struggling with. The more you care for others, the more you must invest in and make space for yourself. Being emotionally supportive of others is rewarding, but there is a cost to suppressing your own feelings (regardless of what they are). There is a two-fold balancing force, 1. acknowledging and processing your own feelings AND 2. doing things that re-energize you. Otherwise, the sad truth is that the constant care of others with no equal self-care will only end in burn out, sooner or later, inside or outside.

Takeaway (as much for you as for me) – if you want to be good to your kids, take care of yourself. Like they tell you on the plane, put your oxygen mask on first and then help the kid next to you. Because frankly, you’re useless if you’ve conked out.

Lastly, I believe something critical is left out of the research because it is a long-term implication – the impact and importance of modeling. Kids are their parent’s constant reflection. Modeling, or teaching by doing, is a force to be reckoned with. Give the kids short and abrupt NO’s and that is what you will get in return. The things kids do most consistently is what they see done around them. Some of these behaviors are easy to catch and parents can adjust accordingly. Yet, there are behaviors that won’t be as obvious until the kids get to be adults themselves – like self-care. To bring it all full-circle, empathetic parents who are not invested in their own self-care are by default neglecting to teach their children the importance of caring for themselves as future adults.

So while mastering the empathy bit may be the obvious work for many of us parents, perhaps the even greater challenge is to model healthy self-care by putting the mask on first.

Food 4 Thought, Uncategorized

Unintended consequences and the power of waiting – A story about a duck and a shovel

Not too long ago, on a beautiful sunny day, I found a family of ducks taking a leisurely swim in my pool. This is a bad situation on many levels, I thought. First, chlorinated pool water – not good, and second,  the baby ducks are so small they probably can’t get out on their own. I felt a pang of urgency to help them move on to better ground (or water).

There was nothing of obvious use in this peculiar situation and I went for the only thing available – a shovel. My grand plan was to gently slide the shovel underwater and use it as a mock stepping stone for when the ducklings tried to exit the pool. If I’m gentle and quiet, I thought, maybe they won’t even notice. Hah! Notice they did, Momma duck saw my arrival with shovel in hand as nothing short of a predatory heist to steal and eat her babies (a logical conclusion, I have to admit).

At first I just stood close enough to see if my presence would encourage their departure, and it did, sortof. Mother duck hurried out of the pool only to have unfold precisely what I feared. All of the ducklings except one made it out. The little guy was clearly unable to get himself out. I attempted my underwater shovel maneuver, which threw momma duck into a frenzy, producing a horrible tangle of wings, arms, quacks and screams, that very successfully got everyone’s feathers in a ruffle, including mine. To top it all off, the baby duck was still in the pool AND as a final defensive maneuver to protect her lone duckling, Momma duck had dutifully flung herself back in the water only to have all the ducklings follow her back in again.

Ok, I thought, time to reassess this marvelous plan. I backed off a bit to help lower the tension and anxiety. Momma duck exited one more time along with all but the one – again. This time, I waited; really not wanting to make matters worse and just not sure how to help. It was hard to watch the duckling struggle and momma duck, herself helpless, no doubt felt the same. Yet, after a few heart wrenching minutes  (really felt like hours but the clock said otherwise) the baby duck managed to get himself out and the whole crew waddled off, quite indignant.

Aside from an unusual story, many lessons can be had here, what I choose to take away is this:

Do what you can and if it’s not working, step back, not just to reassess but to watch the ripple effects of your actions unfold.

The true fruits of your labor may be in the unintended consequences. There are some things that are not in your hands to do, but you might be able to nudge, open a door, set things in motion, or terrify a duckling, all important pieces of the puzzle, even if it’s not the piece you thought you had in hand.

Is there any area in your life where it might be useful to take a breather and see what unfolds?

Food 4 Thought

The lie we must believe to start anything, and the challenge that follows…

At the start of any idea is a mix of inspiration, hope, excitement and a great deal of ignorance. Ignorance about how simple it will be, how exactly it will turn into reality and all it will take to get there. The whole jumble of feelings are necessary to take that leap of faith into doing and starting.

The lie is this, we tell ourselves at the start of any project, this is the hardest part, if I can get through the beginning, I’m golden. And then, somehow, we make it to the middle and we think, the beginning was cake, now I’m getting into it and it’s really hard. Then we make it to the finish and momentarily relish the achievement, the process, the thing we’ve made and all too soon, we wonder, how would this work if I did it better, tweaked this, or are faced with the start of phase 2 – more uncharted territory!

My point – all the parts are hard and challenging, that’s the nature of doing work worth doing.

That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable or even fun, but it’s not easy. And yet, that’s not such a bad thing, we shy away from hard but that’s when we learn the most, stretch our limits, grow and get to know what we’re really made of. I’ve decided my goal is to stop running away from the discomfort and embrace it, desensitize myself to it. Hard never stops being hard, but I can learn to enjoy the ride.

In this vein, I’m choosing for myself a writing challenge. I’m sharing here because I’m much better at keeping promises I’ve announced to others than I am to myself (aren’t we all?). Here it is…


Write a post (short or long) once a week for 3-months, on this blog or the Fertile Earth Comm-Post Blog.


Making a habit out of creating…because I choose to create more than I consume (HT Ken, for the video that inspired this epiphany). The only way I know to do this is through practice. The most successful people tell us repeatedly, you can’t wait for motivation to come knocking. In the words of the great Greg Faxon: “If the car is stalled out, you gotta get out of the car and push baby!”

Sharing, not hoarding…yes, I’ll admit it, I’m an information hoarder in recovery, but my recovery does not mean learning less (blasphemy!) on the contrary it involves taking it a step further and sharing. I love to research and know more and more on all sorts of random things from theories on parenting styles, to what the millipedes in my compost eat to what the carbon to nitrogen ratio of coconut coir is (btw still looking for the answer to this one!). In any case, I love to know, but it’s selfish and wasteful not to share all the goodies I collect on my journey, so sharing it is.

That’s it, that’s my challenge, to get in the habit of starting and creating and get comfortable sitting in the hardest part – cause that’s where the good stuff happens!

What might you be avoiding because the start is the hardest part? What does leaning into that challenge look like?

With Love,


PS – And just like that I managed to get my first post out by writing about my first post! Kinda feels like cheating…

FIY - Fix-it-Yourself, Food 4 Thought

Tinker, Repair, Grow

The guts & glory of my NutriBullet!

The guts & glory of my NutriBullet!

I performed surgery on my NutriBullet today.

We both survived to tell the tale.

In this year of introspection, seeking balance and direction, I’ve come to realize there are areas I’m fearless in – the kitchen is definitely one, and others the mere thought of, paralyzes me – read career planning. My thinking is to tease apart my approach in areas I don’t think twice about and try applying those strategies to areas that need work. So here goes the story of the NutriBullet operation…

The Nutribullet and I were in excellent standing, I put in all sorts of stuff that I or my kids find unpalatable, and it produced liquidy goodness. All was well with the world, until it started jamming. I had to convince, pry, and press to get it to start and then it didn’t always want to stop either. I knew the problem – spilled food had seeped inside and was making the “on” levers jam. After many trials involving knives, scissors, spoons and hammers, (yes, I’m persistent) I was certain at any moment I would finish the poor appliance for good.

First encounter upon unscrewing the base.

First encounter upon unscrewing the base.

Today for no apparent reason, other than not wanting to do the 100 far more important things I should’ve done – I decided to take that baby apart. I got a little inspiration from a quick Google search, pulled out my handy screw driver, unplugged the NutriBullet, and got to work.

Don’t get the wrong idea here, I’ve never taken apart an appliance. Putting together furniture with detailed instructions, 2 hour Lego projects – sure, but appliances I do not count in my skill set. Why this particular appliance seemed un-intimidating, I don’t know, perhaps I just didn’t give myself the time to think about it.

There were multiple layers, wires, screws, blades, etc, I won’t lie, there were moments when I thought – this won’t end well. But I pushed forward, I liked dismantling this thing – I felt I was side stepping conventional wisdom that only a specialized NutriBullet repair person could handle this task – a person that would certainly tell me I’d be better off buying a new one. But I’ll leave that thought for another day…

The cause of it all - the sticky lever!

The cause of it all – the sticky lever!

Anyhow, I kept unscrewing, taking pictures as I went so I’d know how to reassemble it. I found the sticky culprits, cleaned them, and set about doing it all again in reverse. If you’ve dug a hole in the ground and tried to refill it with the same dirt you removed, you know it never fits back exactly the same way. Well, those wires, are not unlike dirt. So, I reassembled it a couple times, we wrestled a little, but I made it work. When all was said and done, it took 1 hour to complete my project, and that time exactly to reignite the feeling that I could do anything I set my mind to.


When it comes to tackling something new or even a problem in the arena of my kitchen, fixing household items, or even internet stuff like this website, my approach is generally – I’m not sure how to do this, I’ll look it up and figure it out. I don’t usually have time to overthink it, which is good because otherwise I could research enough to write a book on any subject. In the end, I just do it, I assume the cost of failure is not so high and I get to it.

When it comes to work, a career, my thinking is the complete opposite, so it comes as no surprise that my actions are the opposite – paralysis, death by fear. The pressure is on to do it well, do it right, make money, be successful, change the world, and on and on. Yes, I know this is illogical, I know to think in terms of small projects, to explore, experiment, try different things, dance with the fear, and so on. I know many things, but the feelings are harder to sway, they don’t listen to reason.

I don’t have a happy message here, I’m still working through this one…

Bullet WorkingBut, if I left you wondering about the most important questions of all, did it work after all that? Of course, it worked like new. Here it is making my favorite blueberry, spinach, banana, peanut butter smoothie.

PS – After taking on my little project, I came across this article, on how tinkering with our own property is well on its way to being illegal. Food for thought or action…


Food 4 Thought

Writing on the Wall

No small project

Over the past 9 months, I drove by these words nearly every day, read them, and kept on driving. You could say, the writing was on the wall. Some days you see it, and some days you don’t. Today, I walked by, took a picture, played with some photo editing and decided it was time to make it my own (red is mine).

Food 4 Thought, Sustainability

Success of our future…

The success of our future hinges on our our ability to maintain one hand firmly planted on the ground – aware, respectful, and working with the earth that sustains us; and the other hand reaching for the stars – for improvement, ability and innovation.

If this resonates with you, how can we make this a reality?