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Falling In Love is Easy, but Staying In Love is Something Very Healthy

It’s my parents 55th anniversary today.  Not only have they enjoyed the years together (well most of the time anyway….smile), but research shows that their commitment to one another has given them greater health and a better lifestyle for their children and grandchildren as well!

mom and dad

Wedding Day, April 16th, 1960.

‘The pursuit of health has become a cultural phenomenon. Diet, exercise, supplements, relaxation and medications have all been touted as the way to achieve health. It’s surprising, then, that one of the most powerful predictors of health and well-being remains largely ignored by the health and wellness community. For the last 35 years, family sociologists contributed to compelling research suggesting married people enjoy significantly greater health than the unmarried.’ (1)

Dad, the 2nd born child in a family of five children, left home at 15 years old to start his career, with a grade 8 education.  Due to his strong work ethic and exceptional carpentry skills, he progressed from laborer to foreman to Manager of Campus Development at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology to the owner of his own residential construction business.  My mom was born on a subsistence farm in northern Saskatchewan.  Being the 8th child of 15, she also learned the importance of commitment to hard work.  They eventually met and married in Calgary, at 19 years old.  Four daughters and one (adoptive) son, 10 grandchildren, 6 great grandchildren, a battle with breast cancer, facing the heart-breaking tragedy of a family murder/suicide, vacations around the world, and the purchase of 73 vehicles later……they arrived at today!

It hasn’t been easy, but their loyalty to one another, for better or for worse, has offered them and their family, these tremendous health benefits.


Slalom skiing together on their 65th birthdays!

Physical Health – The emotional support offered within a loving relationship helps couples to stay healthy and recover from illness faster.  It is thought that this occurs because couples have a vested interest in one another which causes  them to encourage (that’s a nice way of saying ‘nag’) each other to take better care of themselves.  As well, mental health studies have shown that ‘married people have significantly lower rates of severe depression and at least half the likelihood of developing any psychiatric disorder then never-married, cohabiting and divorced people.’ (2)

Happiness – ‘In a new research paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, he (Professor Helliwell) and colleague Shawn Grover conclude not only that marriage does make people happier, but that being married to your best friend makes you extra happy.'(3)

Longer Life – “Virtually every study of mortality and marital status shows the unmarried of both sexes have higher death rates, whether by accident, disease, or self-inflicted wounds, and this is found in every country that maintains accurate health statistics.”(4)

Family Health Benefits – The health benefits to families raised in loving parental relationships are incredible.  ‘Children raised in intact married families are more likely to attend college, are physically and emotionally healthier, are less likely to be physically or sexually abused, less likely to use drugs or alcohol and to commit delinquent behaviors, have a decreased risk of divorcing when they get married, are less likely to become pregnant/impregnate someone as a teenager, and are less likely to be raised in poverty.’ (5)  Grandchildren also greatly benefit from the long life, health and happiness of their grandparents. ‘Besides modelling what constitutes a ‘normal’ relationship, grandparents provide children with a sense of safety and protection, a link to their cultural heritage and family history and a companion in play and exploration.’ (6)


Celebrating my daughters wedding last summer.

I’m very thankful for my family heritage, the many adventures in fishing, camping, water sports, card games (of which my mom never loses), and all the love and support of my wonderful parents!  I’m not sure I truly realize the half of what their commitment to each other has meant to me and my family.  Congratulations mom and dad!

(1) http://www.focusonthefamily.com/about_us/focus-findings/marriage/health-benefits-of-marriage.aspx

(2) Lee Robins and Darrel Regier, Psychiatric Disorders in America: The Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study (New York: Free Press, 1991), 64, 334.

(3) The Globe and Mail, Jan 15, 2015 ‘Who is The Happiest of Them All?’

(4) Jonathan Gardner and Andrew Oswald, “How Is Mortality Affected by Money, Marriage and Stress?” Journal of Health Economics 23 (2004): 1181-1207.

(5) “Why Marriage Matters: 26 Conclusions from the Social Sciences,” Bradford Wilcox, Institute for American Values, http://www.americanvalues.org/html/r-wmm.html

(6) Article ‘Bonding with Grandparents’ Mary Gavin, M.D.

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The Bio-Psycho-Social-Spiritual Connection

It’s commonly accepted that our human make-up can be considered in four perspectives; the biological, psychological, social and spiritual.  Historically, health services have been able to provide support to all aspects of life, each independently holding a piece to the puzzle, with limited intersections.  Medical professionals have treated the body by considering medication, exercise, relaxation, diet and sleep.  Mental health professionals have treated the mind and emotions.  Social workers have brought health to relationships and other social aspects of life and spiritual care providers have facilitated healing through the integration of faith principles.

gateway It is widely accepted that human nature is complex and that the various aspects of life all affect the other, however, there has been a struggle historically, to provide a holistic approach to healing, with each discipline validating and soliciting support from the others.  Thankfully, this is changing.  More and more, health providers are embracing a multidisciplinary approach, seeking to deliver comprehensive strategies for the physical, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of all human dis-ease.

I love this!!

A few weeks ago I was able to take part in a panel discussion, hosted by Pastor Rick Boyes of Gateway Church in London Ontario, that brought to light the four perspectives of our human make-up and how they interrelate on matters of mental health.  On the panel was Medical Dr. Grant Mullen, Psychiatrist Dr. Ajit Ninan, Pastor Dave Andrews and myself (representing aspects of psycho-therapeutic intervention).  The attendees included health professionals, spiritual leaders and many people either suffering from mental health issues (or relatives of those suffering); attending in hopes of finding an approach that links the complexities of our human make-up, without discounting any perspective.   They weren’t disappointed. The panel was considerate, professional and insightful, representing their area of expertise with an open mind as to how it relates to the others.

From a faith-based perspective, the bio-psycho-social-spiritual connection is not a new concept.  Luke 2:52 speaks of Jesus development as growing in wisdom (psychologically), stature (physiologically), in favor with God (spiritually) and in favor with man (socially).  As well, the Apostle Paul delivered a wonderfully holistic speech recorded in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, ‘may the God of peace bring healing to your whole spirit, soul and body’.

I’m thankful for the progress being made in all disciplines of health care to embrace a more holistic approach. To me, optimal health is realized within a community where health services are offered for all aspects of life, without fear, shame or stigma.

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In Pursuit of Happiness; Coping With and Recovering From Depression

Life is not Depression conceptual design isolated on white background. Low mood concepta journey free of sadness, ups and downs, disappointments or setbacks.   Feeling low from time to time happens; it’s a normal part of life.   However, when ‘the blues’ have turned to feelings of emptiness or despair that simply will not go away, it could be that depression has set in.

Depression goes deeper than sadness.  Some people describe it as feeling lifeless, apathetic, worthless and hopeless.  Like living in a black hole.

‘Experts believe that depression is caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. In other words, your lifestyle choices, relationships, and coping skills matter just as much—if not more so—than genetics.’ 1  These factors could include loneliness, recent stressful life events, financial strain, unemployment, lack of social support, a history of depression in the family, substance abuse, health concerns or childhood trauma’s.

While depression is more prevalent in women than in men, (due to hormonal factors), teenagers, the elderly, and even children can experience times of depression.  And just to set the record straight, being a Christian, doesn’t mean you will never face this intense and unrelenting obstacle!   (Although your faith will be a tremendous asset to your recovery.)

How do you know if you’re depressed?  The following symptoms are often present when struggling with depression.

  • tearfulness
  • inability to sleep or sleeping too much
  • feelings of hopelessness, low-self worth or inadequacy
  • guilt and shame
  • change in eating habits
  • inability to cope
  • lack of motivation
  • withdrawal from friends and family
  • irritability, frustration, aggression
  • thoughts of suicide

Although developing a plan for coping and recovering from depression is unique to every individual, in most cases, best practices include lifestyle changes, support from friends, family and often professionals as well as building new emotional skills.   To start the pursuit of happiness, be honest with yourself.  By asking yourself , ‘How am I really doing?’ the door to getting help and making the changes necessary for recovery opens.

1 http://helpguide.org/mental/depression_signs_types_diagnosis_treatment.htm

Photo credit: bigstock-Depression-conceptual-design-34547042

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I’ve Been A Mom for 25 Years

I have no idea where the time has gone but this is a milestone worthy of reflection.  Thankfully, after 25 years in my role as mom, I’ve learned a couple of things (mostly by trial-and error) that is making my journey with my-now-adult children so very enjoyable.

momMy kids are not mine to own.  In my role as a parent, I can listen to my kids, encourage and sometimes advise them (if asked), but I do not own them.  Their life and the choices they make are their own.  Evidently, they choose things that I didn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t and shouldn’t.  But that doesn’t mean their choice is wrong.

For example, I never really imagined that my kids would choose to live hours and hours away from me……by airplane.  I always thought we’d be close, have Sunday dinners together and my grand-kids would come to ‘Gamma and Gumpa’s’ house for a sleep over every Friday night!  These days, reality is checking my flawed imagination and the only thing I can do is accept the truth that my kids are not mine to own.

Seeing life from my kids perspective.  A sobering moment, a few short weeks after I became a first time mom, altered the way I view things forever.

My eldest daughter was a colicky baby.  She cried 14 hours a day for the first 6 weeks of life which made me cry just as much!  What a pair!  I remember one day being so frustrated and exhausted.  I had fed her, bathed her, changed her diaper, rocked her, held her and nothing would stop the crying.  Looking straight into her face, I scolded her ‘I’m so mad at you i could just pinch you!’  I’ll never forget the hurt in her eyes.  At that moment I realized my perspective was only from my fatigue and my frustration.  But what about her?  Only weeks earlier she was in a place of warmth and safety, where food was plentiful and comfort was at a premium; to a place of noise, cold and uncertainty.  I suddenly realized how insecure she must feel.  Seeing life from her vulnerable perspective, gave me new compassion and patience which has helped me in moments of parenting-frustration ever since.

When my daughters attempted to balance new independence and boundaries during the toddler years, I asked myself, what’s going on inside that is causing them to act out?  What comfort do they need from me?

As teenagers, when peer-expectations warred against their understanding of value and worth…..I questioned my daughters’ fears and considered how i could boost their confidence as their primary advocate and cheerleader?

And now as they wade through the pressures of adult decision-making in a culture of ‘me and mine’……I wonder what thoughts of inadequacy they are fighting?  How can I assure them of their potential, while acknowledging their need to own the process?

Loving what my kids love.   When my girls were young, they did what we did, went where we went and were immersed in our activities.  But now, as they build their own lives, I want to re-prioritize mine.  To be involved in their lives, i can no longer expect them to simply do what I’m doing.  So, I’m learning to love what they love.

The ultimate of friendship, (which is stage we are now in with our adult children) is to develop an interest in what the other is interested in.   Over time I’ve come to appreciate track and field, electronic dance music, clean cooking, sales cycles and how to build a team!  (Sorry girls, as much as I’m trying to develop a love for puppies, it’s not working!)   My newest ‘learn’ is to embrace a whole new family as a result of my daughters’ love for new her in-laws!

Being a mom for 25 years has changed me!  Heaven only knows what growth will come into my life if one day some little person calls me ‘Gamma’.


Parenting in The Trenches – Part 3 ‘The Newbie Mother-In-Law’


Carol and I, Hawaii 2010.

This year I received another new role for my life; mother-in-law.  To be honest, the title is a little scary because of the reputation behind it.  As you can imagine, a simple Internet search brings up articles such as “Surviving Your Scary Mother-in-Law’, ‘Meeting My Monster Mother-in-Law for The First Time’ or “The Smothering Mother-in-Law’.  That’s just great 😦  And to top it off, the Urban dictionary (basically what our youth-culture thinks) defines ‘mother-in-law’ as ‘the prime suspect after your murder…..not because of her hatred for you, but because she will question you to death’!   Shivers!  By way of my daughters’ marriage (of which I shelled out a hefty sum of cash to make happen), I end up being saddled with a title that makes people tremble!

So……as a newbie mother-in-law, I’ve decided to fight the stereotype in every way!  Fortunately, I had many wonderful experiences with my own mother-in-law that I can try to model.

Carol made me feel welcome in the family.  Once I married her son, I never felt like an outsider.  My thoughts were important to her and I was consulted, just like her own adult children were, on decisions that affected the family.

I can certainly take a page from Carol’s chapter on fun; that managed to put everyone at ease.  I recall her throwing spaghetti from the pot to the wall, just to see if it would stick.  Apparently, that was the ‘done-ness’ test, but truthfully, she was just being funny.  And, you would never want to walk unsuspectingly into the kitchen if her pie didn’t turn out as she’d find it hilarious to see it on your face!

Carol didn’t worry about the past.  Many times I would call her about upsetting events of the day, or about situations that were troubling me, and her steadfast answer time and again would always be ‘it’s behind you now dear, so don’t worry about it.’

I looked to Carol as a reliable source on matters of health, parenting, current events and even fashion.  She was always up to date, classy and encouraging, and would get back to me if she didn’t know how to answer me at the time.

Carol found joy in the little things.  Like Sunday dinners together as a family, adding great smelling lip balm to my Christmas stocking or bringing over fresh peonies from her garden.  She was queen of the fancy sandwiches and loved to knit sweaters for my newborn babies’ ride home from the hospital.  She took great delight in the details of life.

There was never a time I left my mother-in-law’s home without a plate of fresh-baked cookies or yummy leftovers in hand.  Enough said about her generous spirit.

Finally, Carol was no sissy!  She was a determined decision maker, a fearless risk taker and had strong opinions to share, but somehow she managed to graciously offer her perspective while allowing others the right to have their own.

Parenting in the trenches as a newbie mother-in-law is a role I’m embracing with caution and optimism.  I hope I am never a scary monster but rather, as was my experience, I’m focusing on being approachable, open and honest, fun and caring.  I want to be a blessing to my new family member, especially since, as my latest title would indicate, he is legally my own son.


Parenting In The Trenches – Part 2

A couple of weeks ago my daughter and I attended a girls conference in Toronto.  The morning keynote speaker was Paula Todd,  a prominent political and legal reporter, feature writer and television host.  Her comments focused on cyberabusers; the ‘tormentors, bullies, harassers, blackmailers, and predators’ who use the Internet to interfere with lives and harm mental health.   She had a great presentation, but the twist of events that occurred afterward is what is truly worthy of mention.

Immediately following the morning session was a breakout workshop for the moms in attendance.  (Randomly, I ended up being the Girls.Inc poster mom…..but that’s another story :))  The facilitator covered the important ‘how to’s’ for parents, ie: protect our children, be aware of what’s happening on the Internet, set boundaries etc. etc.  At the end, one very astute mom raised her hand and offered some insights that made my heart give her a silent standing ovation!  In essence here’s what she said.

‘I’m a teacher and I spend a lot of time supervising the playground.  Sadly almost every morning, as I stand in the yard greeting the children, I overhear the conversations of moms who gather to chat.  Very commonly I hear things like “Did you see what that b–ch was wearing today?”  or “Who the he– does she think she is anyway?”  While it’s important to talk to our children about what is right, we must also model what is right.  How do we think our children become slanderers, gossips and bullies?  What we do in our social circles is what they do in their social circles, only their actions go viral.’observe

Wow….no one expected that speech!

Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.’   Albert Bandura, Social Learning Theory, 1977

Research in psychology shows that parents are the most important influence in their children. They watch their parents, learning patterns of behaviour and establishing beliefs about themselves and others as a result of what they see modeled.  Their attitudes are shaped, usually for the rest of their life, by what happens within the home.  And actions speak louder than words. If we expect tolerance, we must model acceptance of others.  If we expect open mindedness we cannot be critical and judgmental of others.  Children learn how to treat others from how we treat others.  They mimic how we handle arguments, disappointments and even how we graciously handle the blessings of life.

Parenting in the trenches is demanding.  It requires skills, flexibility and a willingness to learn.  My first ‘how to’ suggestion for protecting our kids from harmful behaviour is to model harmless behaviour.  Good parenting is not about ‘do as I say’, it’s about ‘do and I do, and as I say!’

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Parenting In The Trenches

As I reviewed my calendar over the past few months, I noticed an increased number of appointments for young adults struggling with depression, anxiety or experiencing a quarter life crisis. (A quarter life crisis refers to a period of stress and intense inner turmoil and feelings of inadequacy that accompanies the transition into adulthood.)  If, as research on young adult stress suggests, nearly two million young adults suffer as described each year, we could logically assume that millions and millions of parents are also suffering as they support their transitioning young adults.

Based on typical life markers such as financial independence, getting married or owning property, the transition to adulthood is taking longer.   The average graduate with a post-secondary degree (not a Master’s or Ph.D.) has incurred nearly $27,000 in debt.  Statistics Canada reported in 2013 that Ontario has one of the highest unemployment rates in Canada, making it difficult for young adults to find gainful employment.  As a result, young adults are working at lower paying jobs, are volunteering to gain experience or are continuing on in their education in hopes of finding more meaningful employment down the road.  These decisions  result in a  further delay of independence, an increased sense of inadequacy (or depression and anxiety) and can add stress to the parent/young adult relationship.  Since young adults, for the most part, make their own decisions, a parent can often feel like their hands are tied while their emotions rquote-yes-to-be-a-good-parent-you-have-to-sacrifice-but-this-is-not-a-requirement-of-parenting-it-is-robert-brault-294009un wild!

So what can a parent do?

Understand that you are not alone.   Most parents experience stress as their young adults transition into adulthood.  The stress of feeling that your own inadequacies have somehow created the struggle for your child.  The stress of knowing how to support, when to talk, when to listen, etc. are all common.  Express your concerns to a supportive friend or group that will listen and offer non-judgmental ideas or share of their own experiences.  You’ll be encouraged by the fact that others also find parenting during the transitional years to be very challenging.

Set Boundaries Together.  Work together with your young adult to find boundaries that are win/win.  The fact that they are transitioning means they are not not fully dependent (where you make the rules) nor fully independent (where they make the rules).  Try out flexible boundaries, revisiting and revising them periodically.  Working together in an attitude of respect for one another’s needs can take tremendous stress off the relationship.

Recognize that parenting is a forever job description.  While we all want our young adults to grow up to become responsible, contributors to society, able to solve their own problems (so we can do whatever we want when we want….let’s be real), don’t give up on your privilege to parent.  A parent is one who cares enough to share, guiding with wisdom and patience.  We all love and appreciate those people in our lives!

Parenting in the trenches is one of the hardest job descriptions you will ever assume, but in exchange, you may become the one your responsible, grown-up child comes to love and appreciate.