Lowering the Bar

With 2021 having wrapped up last week, I cannot help but reflect on the past twelve months – – – the highs, the too many lows, the surreal – – and think about what I want in the upcoming year, albeit cautiously.

Never one to believe in new year’s resolutions since I find them a recipe for negative feelings if I slip-up, I *sometimes* set goals for myself, usually business-related (e.g. develop a new presentation for parents) with the occasional fitness ambition or health goal (e.g. drink more water; get more sleep) and hobby aspiration (e.g. beautify the garden) thrown in for good measure. After the last 22 months, I find myself thinking about goals in completely different terms altogether. And that is not only okay; I recommend it for emotional preservation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted each and every one of us to varying degrees, from feeling inconvenienced to suffering from burnout to dealing with ongoing grief. Not a single person has been spared. And the short-term prognosis does not look good with a highly contagious variant spreading rapidly at this very moment. We find ourselves beyond exhausted from the ongoing mental calculations that accompany the risk assessment for every move we make. Each day can feel like a slog. And that may be an understatement.

So this year, for now, I give myself permission to look at the upcoming year through a different lens. The bar is lowered, and my goal is to do the best I can to stay healthy and support my family and friends in doing the same. For 2022, I strive to:

  • Remain flexible; things change so rapidly that I must remain open and adaptable or risk repeated frustration and disappointment
  • Stay connected: I might not be able to share in person visits with all the people I want to, but staying in touch through video calls, emails, and frequent texts feels pretty good
  • Take nothing for granted: this was reinforced when I was bedbound for 24 hours with a bad case of vertigo. I found myself bargaining with the universe to make it go away. Talk about having a newfound appreciation for every little thing after it lifted- from the ability to drink water (and have an unlimited supply) to being able to take my dog for a walk
  • Take no one for granted: the losses experienced by people in my inner circle are a stark reminder that life is finite and I want to ensure the relationships with the people I love are the best they can be RIGHT NOW
  • Celebrate tiny moments: a shower, a good read, a walk around the block, a trip down memory lane triggered by a song
  • Allow myself grace whenever and wherever I feel I am not as productive as I typically like to be
  • Ask for help, a hug, a listening ear when I need it

I put the words out there to keep myself accountable and to encourage others to explore what “lighter” goals might be your focus in 2022.

Happy, gentle new year!



















    Tips for Easy Sex Chats with Your Kids

    You know that talk you’ve been wanting to have with your kid but keep avoiding for one reason after another – no privacy; no time; uncertain how to begin; embarrassment; fear of not having the answers? Yes – I am talking about sex talks! And you are not alone. Avoidance is a common response to fear. Ironically, I DID feel alone when it came to sex talks with my kids but not for the same reason. I was that odd parent who relished talking about this stuff. I jumped at opportunities, created teachable moments in unexpected places to ensure my two boys had a fountain of knowledge and comfort to optimize sexual health, a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, that is safe, consensual, and free of discrimination and violence.

    Not only did I seize occasions to share nuggets of developmentally appropriate information wherever I could, I looked to create them everywhere. At four years old, when my son mistook an emergency tampon stashed in a kitchen junk drawer for a mysterious new candy, his disappointing “what’s this?” after unwrapping it led to his first, albeit simple and brief, conversation about girls and periods. Dinner table conversations frequently incorporated a fact or two about some aspect of sexual health despite the eye rolls and quiet mutterings, “ugh, not again” from one kid or another. And still, I marched on.

    While talking about this stuff was my jam, I realized it would be beneficial if my husband got in on the game as well. I felt that if our boys heard a thing or two about sex from their other parent, they would see this wasn’t exclusively my territory and that their father was another trustworthy person they could talk to about “sensitive” topics. With a little persuasion and a lot of cheerleading from me, my husband rolled up his proverbial sleeves and climbed the stairs to our older son’s bedroom.

    He entered our son’s room and proceeded to have a heart-to-heart talk about the metamorphosis that our gangly tween would likely begin in the not-too-distant future and the feelings and emotions he might experience as he enters puberty. Feeling pretty smug about having shared such intimate information with our son, my husband concluded the discussion with the common “Is there anything you want to ask me?” After a lengthy pause and with a wrinkled brow, our son replied, “Yeah dad. Who do you think is a better pitcher, Tim Lincecum or Jon Lester?”

    This favorite family anecdote serves as a wonderful reminder that we parents can get worked up about having conversations with our kids that are practically never as big a deal as we anticipate. How does worrying serve us and our kids? Bottom line, it doesn’t. To help work past these common worries, here are 10 tips to make conversations with our kids about sex easier than you think:

    1. Keep it brief. The reality is that many tweens and teens have shorter attention spans and lose interest when too much information is shared at once, especially when we parents are the messenger. Many of these talks will be impromptu, sparked by a news item on the radio for example, or an event at school your child shares with you.
    2. Validate their questions. Using a normal tone, acknowledge what they are asking is a good question. This reassures them that you are open to their questions, regardless of how off guard you might actually be.
    3. Keep the conversation at their level. Launching into a scientific explanation may be appropriate for some kids, and will fly over the heads of others. Knowing where your child is developmentally will help you tailor conversations that satisfy their curiosity without boring them with more information than they can comprehend.
    4. It’s okay not to know all the answers. There will be questions for which you legitimately do not have an answer. Saying, “I’m not sure, let me get back to you on that” is perfectly acceptable and makes you even more accessible by sharing your honesty. Just be sure to circle back with an answer after you figure it out.
    5. Up the frequency. Many brief conversations rather than a single “talk” is the way to go. No cram sessions where you have to remember EVERYTHING feels like a huge relief. More frequent talks also normalizes sex talks so they are less awkward and taboo.
    6. Verify that your words make sense. Asking your child follow-up questions about your conversation is a great opportunity to clarify if needed.
    7. Use the environment as conversation prompts. Opportunities to open a conversation are everywhere if you keep your eyes and ears open. I asked my son if he knew the purpose of a product being touted when a commercial for Kyleena came on during a television show we were watching. (Incidentally, it is a brand of an intrauterine device, a long-acting, reversible birth control method that is placed inside a woman’s uterus.) Once you open your eyes and ears, you will notice that there are ample opportunities to (courageously) start addressing a variety of important subjects that are not being broached elsewhere.
    8. Find settings free of distraction. The car is an example of a great distraction-free place to have these conversations. With both driver and passenger facing forward it is easier to avoid eye contact for the embarrassed tween (or parent) and offers a golden opportunity.
    9. Timing is key. You’ve heard that a poorly timed joke can land flat? Well, hereto timing is a factor in a successful discussion. If one or both of you are tired, rushed, or hangry for example, it is not an ideal time.
    10. Embrace the opportunity to be your child’s guide. Your kids are going to get sex information from a variety of places and the one they really want to hear it from is you, their trusted parent. You are perfectly equipped for this role and have nothing to lose. What are your waiting for?

    Progress Not Perfection

    How often have I stared at the blank page, frozen, without a clue about how to begin? I have had these face-offs with my computer monitor countless times when tasked with a research report, business proposal, book chapter, or blog post. Interestingly, the majority of these catatonic moments occurred around topics I knew well and was excited to produce. Go figure.
    What is this roadblock really about?  What I have observed is that my desire to sound knowledgeable, authentic, and eloquent sometimes ignites my inner critic that tells me I am none of the above. Rationally, I know this to be false and thankfully, coaching has helped me squash the negative voice in order to make room for the loud supportive one bursting with motivation.
    I remain surprised when the words still do not pour out of me after my internal pep talk. I am mindful that the feelings accompanying my snail’s pace are largely attributed to an unrealistic wish that the words flow in thoughtful, melodic prose at first pass. I refer to this as the perfectionist hurdle and she is not my friend.
    When she shows up, it is time for me to implement the same strategy I often use to support clients when they are feeling stuck.  The “I don’t know where to start” that often follows a client’s declaration that they seek a change in one or more aspects of their life.
    The strategy, whether applied to my own hurdle or in support of a client’s, is to take the task at hand and break it down into several small bites.  Shifting the focus from the final product to a series of doable steps is an incredibly useful tool. Empowering.
    This strategy can be applied to a variety of life scenarios where a change is desired – –  career, relationship, fitness, etc. To illustrate this, take Cici (not her real name), a client who was expecting out of town guests for a weekend later that month and she wanted to de-clutter her spare bedroom, which had become the dumping ground for household goods she did not regularly use.  Items such as suitcases, giftwrap, animal carriers, old textbooks, etc. covered the guest bed and much of the floor, making the room inaccessible for an overnight visitor. Tackling the accumulated stuff felt understandably overwhelming to Cici and she kept putting it off believing her goal (having a useable guestroom) was out of reach. 
    Using the method of breaking down the task into smaller pieces, Cici devised a plan to undertake one corner of the room before our next coaching session in one week.  She set out to clean a 4-foot by 4-foot area – a space she felt was reasonable to progress towards her ultimate goal. Days before our scheduled coaching session, I received a text from Cici stating she not only completed the designated corner, but she finished cleaning half of the room.  Once she rolled up her sleeves to confront what overwhelmed her in a manageable dose, she was motivated to keep going.  She indicated she would have done more but was limited by her schedule.  She could not wait to get back and finish what she started.   
    The beauty of this strategy is that it is widely applicable to matters big and small. And the transformational impact is limitless. Seeking change and having goals are part of our personal growth process. Should perfectionist tendencies and overwhelm appear along the way, overcoming them to progress towards your goal is at your fingertips.

    Gifts in a Bummer Summer

    Hard to believe we are mid-summer.  I love this time of year for all of its simplicity…farmer’s markets, flip flops, easy picnic dinners on the beach at sunset.  Perhaps an echo from my younger days, I have always felt that summertime feels more relaxed, even though work and family responsibilities continue with a steady rhythm.
    Yet the summer of 2020 is far from relaxing.  In addition to the financial stress and health concerns that are a reality for many, favorite summer activities are on hold or extensively modified. The mental energy required to thread moments of fun and respite while keeping everyone safe can be exhausting.
    Spontaneity is on hold. A last minute trip to the beach requires advance planning to secure the requisite parking pass that assures access.  
    5:00 PM cocktails on Zoom replace evenings spent at a crowded, trendy restaurant. 
    And our kids? Their summer plans have been cancelled, reduced, or adapted, leaving them with yet more time to fill after their education was abruptly disrupted in March. Parents tap into their limited energy reserves to negotiate with teens yet again, weighing the effects this period will have on their emotional, physical, and intellectual well-being.
    The hardships are real and by no means can we trivialize them. With no end in sight, stress and anxiety take a toll on us. It has become increasingly difficult to plan anything given the rapidly changing rules and policies that drive a lot of routines.
    And still, there remain many things that we can enjoy, as long as we take the time to notice, to be mindful of them.  The gifts of summer extend well beyond the vacations, pool parties, and traditions we find ourselves mourning. Many summer treasures are accessible and more than ever, offer necessary moments of joy when we pause and pay attention to them. Topping my list this summer:

    • That first bite of a perfectly ripened peach
    • Early morning exercise before the day becomes heavy with heat
    • The pre-dawn chirping of birds outside my open window
    • The beauty of a garden in full bloom
    • A nighttime thunderstorm
    • A prospering tomato plant started from seedling

    Think about your list of summer favorites.  How would it feel to slow down and notice those tiny moments of happiness that sometimes pass unacknowledged? Allowing oneself to enjoy these simple pleasures is a simple and powerful tool to use, especially during these unprecedented times.  


    Why are some conversations so difficult to have? We all have uncomfortable topics that we find ourselves bargaining to postpone, downplay, or avoid all together. Decades ago as a grade schooler, I remember suffering through an entire weekend in anticipation of  telling my parents of a poor score I received on a math test. In my small world, this felt like a big deal. I was unable to fully enjoy going to the movies with my friends with the feeling of doom that followed me all weekend long. I waited until the last possible moment that weekend  — bedtime Sunday night — to break the news. My parents are caring and reasonable people and yet I feared having to say aloud what felt like an earth shattering proclamation.  They were, not surprisingly, reassuring and calm. In hindsight, I was struggling to reconcile my self image as a smart kid with my low grade, and had neither the wisdom nor self awareness to understand that a single test score did not define me.  

    As I have evolved, so too has my understanding and approach towards difficult conversations. I am not talking about unpleasant talks such as sharing a poor annual review with a supervisee (they can improve), or telling your kid they have to miss “the party of the year” to attend their cousin’s wedding (there will be other parties). I mean those conversations that merely thinking about elicits stress sighs, stomach knots, and head spins.   

    How big is this hurdle? Does our own gunk – – that negative internal dialogue – – cast doubt on our communication skills?  Or are we afraid of how the recipient will hear and subsequently react to the message?  Both are real concerns and can cause us to dance around what we want to say. We minimize. We sugarcoat. We withhold information. We avoid. You know what I’m talking about.  

    For the parents among us, one of the areas I’ve heard folks stumbling over is talking with their kids about sex. For so many of us, talking about sex with our offspring sends us reeling. What are we afraid of?  What would it take for us to feel more at ease in this arena? Imagine if sex conversations with our kids flowed easily in matter-of-fact tones like a conversation about a historical event or a recap of last night’s football game. How empowering and liberating does that sound?  

    Stay tuned as I revisit this topic in the future. And please, share your concerns that prevent you from communicating more effectively, though I bet you are much better at it than you think you are.

    An Evolving Case Study

    Crane, Texas is a small town located in the western part of the state that made headlines last month. With a public high school population of just under 300, the superintendent issued a letter to warn parents about a chlamydia outbreak in the school – more than 20 cases, or one in fifteen students, had chlamydia.  Incidentally, this school district offers a three-day, abstinence-only sex education curriculum in middle school.

    Since the story originally broke, the Texas Department of Health announced a correction.  They stated the number of confirmed chlamydia cases was only three, as opposed to twenty, in the three-week period leading up to the recent outbreak news. However, they acknowledged many people had been tested and were still awaiting results which could increase the actual number of cases.  Also, the Health Department did not indicate the age of the three cases that tested positive or those waiting for test results.

    Even if the number of confirmed cases of chlamydia is lower than originally reported in this small community, this story raises an important issue that historically brings out strong opinions on both sides: What, if anything, should be taught in a school district’s sex education curriculum?  What can be done to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

    Many studies, including those overseen by the Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC), support the finding that abstinence-only curricula do not, in fact, reduce the rates of teen pregnancy rates or STIs.  Several evidence-based comprehensive health education programs  (i.e. those that promote abstinence while also providing factual information about contraception and STI prevention) have proven to be effective.  However, there remains a strong misconception by many people in the U.S. that providing developmentally appropriate, accurate information will increase sexual behaviors among teens.  Unfortunately, school districts that take this stance are missing an important opportunity to impart factual information to teens, rationalizing that avoiding the discussion will prevent them from engaging in risky behaviors.  Unfortunately, this hush hush approach is not grounded in research, nor does it offer protection to teenagers who do not heed their lessons in abstinence.

    Download a Free Excerpt

    Enter your email to receive a free excerpt of Stop Sweating & Start Talking. You will also receive occasional updates and news from Andrea Brand. 

    You have Successfully Subscribed!