Mother Daughter Group

Sometime last February, I learned of increased drama in my daughter’s 5th grade class. Girls were being left out, feelings were being hurt and self-confidence was plummeting. Although expected  in the pre-teen and teen world, it is still painful to witness. Around that time, a mom from the class posted a picture of her  daughter on Facebook. The comment accompanying the photo stated that her very feminine daughter was  hesitant to wear the skirt from the photo to school because she feared that her peers would make fun of her. I showed my daughter the picture and asked her what she thought. She said that the skirt was “really pretty” and she would “never” make fun of this classmate for wearing the skirt to school. I proceeded to share this with the mom and what ensued, with another mom pitching in, was how our daughters’ are not feeling comfortable or confident in their own skin.

About the same time I had joined the DCTherapistmoms group. I was privy to a wealth of information from the members about their practices, therapeutic interventions and resources around the DC area. I posted on the listserve requesting ideas for boosting girls’ self-esteem; I was particularly asking for books, but open to anything.

I received lovely feedback from Karen Schachter. Karen is therapist who specializes in working with girls, healthy body image and food issues, and has been a great resource for me.  We spoke one afternoon and I voraciously took notes on all that she had to offer. Karen shared ways that she works with this population, workshops she had led and ways to approach both my daughter, her peers and their parents. (A disclosure: most of my clinical work is with older adolescents and not this age group, but truth be told, no matter how old the child is, when it  lives in MY house, I am a floundering mom and always seek advice and support from those that are NOT me). Speaking to Karen was incredibly helpful and I am so grateful for her time and expertise. Karen also planted a seed in my head about a group for mothers and their daughters.

A month or so later, I began googling “Mother Daughter Groups”. I found The Mother Daughter Project , became engrossed in the website and within minutes had ordered the book. Their story reads:

In 1997, a group of mothers of young girls… gathered to address the challenges of mothering adolescent daughters in today’s world. … We were determined to come up with a plan that would enable our girls to thrive through adolescence, that would help us to remain close and connected with them, and that would support us as mothers and as women. The Mother Daughter Project Website

The book is based on these women’s experiences of their group with their daughters.  It  discusses adolescent development, aspects of their specific group and provides a guide to starting a group of your own.

I approached the mom’s at our synagogue whose daughters are part of my daughter’s Hebrew School class and piqued their interest about forming a Mother Daughter Group. These girls do not attend secular school together, they are not in each other’s cliques nor are they caught up in the drama of the every day minutiae at school. The model suggested getting away from the school friends and I found this to be a fitting population from which to form our group. These girls only see one another twice a week for a few hours. I also thought that we could incorporate Judaism into the group, which is absent for these girls in their public school environments.

Twice during the summer the interested moms gathered over coffee to plan our group. I only knew a few of them prior to our first meeting, but already am building bonds and nurturing friendships with these women. We made introductions, talked about our daughters and our goals for the group. We also planned out several of the first few monthly meetings.

Last Sunday night we had our first meeting. Eight moms and their daughters met at one person’s home. We gathered in their beautiful living room with just the right lighting and ambience for this special group of women and daughters to begin their journey. The sixteen of us sat in a circle, some on cushy sofas, some on the floor, two girls huddled together on an ottoman and the group came alive.

We began by playing a name game.  A few moms then presented our vision of the group to the girls. We talked about rules, respect and confidentiality. We asked the girls if they had suggestions and they eagerly offered up ideas from having participated in Girls Scouts, Girls on the Run or at camps. We suggested they think about a name for their group while we enjoyed a dinner of pizza and potluck appetizers. The girls were seated at a table in a room separate from the moms. We heard  laughter and chatter coming from the other room; fun and connection  was in the works.

Next on the agenda was for the girls to make cupcakes. The controlling person that I am wanted to assist the process. My new mom friends gently pulled me  out of the kitchen  to allow the  girls to work it out themselves. And, they did. They made great cupcakes and had some time to let loose in the basement. When it was time to go, they had decided on a name for their group: The Girly Gangsters and posed for a group picture true to their name.

Introducing The Girly Gangsters


What is the norm?

Here at the House of Laurie Levine LCSW, (also known as The Nut House), I am having a conundrum that doesn’t seem to have an easy answer. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is the holiest day of the year for Jewish people all over the world is this Wednesday.  This being followed by Rosh Hashanah, the  Jewish New Year, last Monday.  Where I grew up in Boston, there isn’t (and wasn’t)  school on the Jewish High Holidays  nor is there school in many areas of   New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

My kids have always taken the day off from school for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and worshipped and celebrated with the family.  Last week when one of my kids was in synagogue, he missed important things in school and fell a bit behind.   With his heavy academic load and increased extra-curriculae activities (read: sports) (also missed on the Jewish holidays) there is little time to lollygag and  spend time on extra homework due to missing school for religious reasons. Enter the conundrum: do I send this Jewish kid to school on Yom Kippur?

These thoughts bring to mind how all families struggle with merging their personal, cultural and familial beliefs with that of the “popular” outlook in our society.  How do we respect what is important to us as a family and try to instill it into our kids while also integrating them (and us) into the world in which we live?  This extends beyond culture and religion, many of us have personal morals and values that are different from those our neighbors.  Plenty of moms have had to put their Merrell wearing foot down  to high heels, hair dye and shorts riding up to the dark side when their child’s classmates are strutting it like Lady Gaga around the 5th grade halls. A player on my son’s soccer team doesn’t play on Sunday mornings so that their family can attend church.  I am sure that can’t be easy for him (especially because he is  goalie and they need him ), but I respect their desire to keep what is a priority for them sacred in spite of the soccer commissioner’s game scheduling duties.

I often think about the Muslim families in our community who work and play amongst us while keeping close to their traditions.   I have seen many young Muslim girls wearing a hijab  in our local high schools.  I have watched, with great respect,  these same girls playing sports in a hijab and altered uniforms to protect their modesty.  We have had two Muslim nannies for our children who have kindly made them  lunch and dinner during Ramadan while I was at work. (Yom Kippur is also a fasting day. We’ve got nothing to kvetch about when we think about our Muslim neighbors who fast daily for a month. I digress.)

I have worked with many families from other countries and helped them  try to integrate their cultural norms into those of our American society.  The hardest thing I have had to address was that of corporal punishment.  In many countries, spanking and beatings are the norm when disciplining children.  I have had to explain to angry parents where English is their second language that corporal punishment is not tolerated in our society;   Social Services can and will be called to their homes if their are bruises on their children.

I have also worked with families from other cultures that emphasize grades, particularly A‘s and only A‘s, so much so that their children have developed anxiety disorders.   Be it that these parents want better for their children than they had, or they come from a society where the A’s were beaten out of them also, it can cause great stress for their children.  I try to educate these parents about balance and joy; reminding them that their child’s health and well-being can be paramount to their success.  Having said that, I appreciate the disconnect.  These parents have been raised to believe that A’s (or corporal punishment) is the norm and the way to raise their children, who am I to alter that?

Back to my conundrum.  My matzah  balls for tonight’s meal are cooling on the stove.  We clearly are embracing our tradition and will be observing Yom Kippur tomorrow.  As for that one kid who may or may not go to school, I guess the  jury is still out.

For those of you that will be observing Yom Kippur, I wish you an easy fast and a Happy New Year.


Therapists abuzz

I spent the morning at Einstein Bagels in Fairfax.  Had you come to the back of the restaurant, you would have seen the nook that we have begun to call our home on the last Monday of every month.  “We” are a group of therapists who meet to network, consult and generally shmooze over coffee and a bagel.  We are an informal branch of a wonderful group, DC Therapist Moms created by Jennifer Kogan, whose vision was to have a network of women who are raising children and building therapy practices.  Jen has done an amazing job in connecting us to one another. So amazing, in fact, that we formed our own little coffee klatsch on this side of the river.

I never know who will be there when I cross the border from Reston/Herndon all the way over to Fairfax, but I have never been disappointed.  Sometimes it is a handful of therapists; psychologists, social workers, marriage therapists and even psychiatrists have joined our midst.  One time it was just three of us and it afforded us the opportunity to have an intimate discussion about some particularly difficult cases.  Today there were ten therapists from the ranks of a sports psychologist, someone who focuses on chronic pain, an infertility specialist and some trauma workers.  There were also several couples therapists, women’s counselors, adolescent and adoption specialists and a mom of five returning to the work force.

We often start as a group, do introductions, and then for those who were late (I am telling you that road to Fairfax is LONG) do re-introductions.  A discussion always evolves from the introductions, often it is someone who is new to private practice (these women talked me off the ledge held my  hand when I was about to open my practice back in May) who is asking questions and trying to figure out how to make it all happen.  Today we were made aware that one of us is doing some good clinical work on her bike while someone else may have shared a therapeutic tip on the golf course.  We therapists are adaptable, if nothing else.

A big topic of discussion is technology.  There might be a therapist or two at our table that grew up in the 70’s and learned to use a typewriter rather than a keyboard.  We “mature” therapists are eager to learn from the young whippersnappers in the group about how to incorporate Facebook, Twitter or any of the newest and shiniest gadgets or websites into our practice.  (Note to self, someone mentioned Big Tent, must check it out and see if it will work for our group).

By the end of the meeting the ten of us had broken into three or four different conversations.  On my left, I was discussing raising teenagers while on my right, I was engaged with two young therapists who had toddlers at home! Across from me, I was eavesdropping on a conversation about how we can post information to each other, thus the Big Tent reminder and on the other end of the table there were two intense conversations that I missed altogether.

And, as usual, there are laughs.  How could a lively group of women sit around a table without a good belly laugh to remind us that it is this connection and sharing that keeps us going?

I stand corrected

Peer Supervision Group

“I’ve been seeing them for a few months.  They both seem to want to get help and make it work, but she is so angry and he seems to have shut down.   They have discussed the infidelity, but trust continues to be an issue.  The kids don’t seem to have been affected, according to the dad, but the mom thinks differently.  The daughter who is eight has been having bed-wetting accidents frequently and the four year old has cried every day when mom drops her off at pre-school.  Do you guys think the girls should be brought in for an assessment?”

 My colleague has just presented this difficult case in our peer supervision meeting. We have been meeting for about three months every other Friday morning.  Four therapists, each in private practice around the Herndon/Reston area meet to share experiences, get consultation about clients and share business ideas.   I am also in another supervision group that has been meeting for about six years.  These groups provide an invaluable source of support and information for therapists. We can feel quite isolated in our own offices, often seeing client after client every hour throughout the day without a break to share ideas, express concerns or ask questions of our colleagues.

“His mom died when he was in 6th grade.  His sibling is now in college and he is in high school and experimenting with drugs and has poor grades.   The dad works long hours and my client spends a lot of time at home unsupervised making poor choices.  He is very private and wants me to keep his confidences.  He isn’t in imminent danger, but I don’t know how much to share with his dad while also maintaining his confidentiality. What do you guys suggest?”

I shared this with my group and received many suggestions and helpful advice.  My group members were able to ask relevant questions and challenge me on my work with my client; they offered a fresh look at the case, a new perspective that sometimes I can’t see because I am too close to the situation.

We are also developing wonderful friendships.  Amidst the sharing of difficult cases and recognizing the pain that our clients experience, we break the tension with a lot of laughs.  We also share our personal struggles and parenting challenges as they are all intertwined within our daily lives, our clients’ struggles and living and working as therapists, parents and women.

I am so grateful to have found my supervision groups.  They provide an anchor for me as I do this difficult and emotional work.  I have found myself calling my colleagues before a particularly challenging therapy session to ask for advice.  I love that our support extends beyond the parameter of our Friday mornings.

Disclaimer:  Each of the cases presented are fictional.  They are compilations of my cases, cases I’ve heard in supervision, or my own imagination.  This is to protect the confidentiality of my clients and those of my colleagues.  Anything that may resemble a real person or family is simply a coincidence. 



Balance – it’s a tricky one.

Now that the kids are back in school and all the sports, dance and other extra-curricula activities are starting up as well as Back to School Nights, Parents This and Parents That Meetings, how do we find balance?  It feels like either  feast or famine in our busy lives; the quiet, sometimes boring, calm of summer plunging into this frenzy of ‘we don’t know who is coming or going’ (I mean that literally, sometimes I need a spread sheet to figure out which family member is where at any given time).  One of my clients told me that she was in the car chauffeuring kids from 3:00-7:30 on Wed. night (I happened to be doing the same thing at almost the same hours on that same night).

I’m smiling as I return to this post started a week ago and wondering, again, about balance.  Where has mine been? (Has it really taken over a week to write a blog post?) My equilibrium was certainly out of whack Monday morning when I squeezed in a workout only to rush off to the  grocery store (sweaty, of course) and then plunge into cooking, cleaning, laundry and preparing meals for Tuesday so I could get  to my office that afternoon to see my clients.  The craze of the Monday was intended to make the Tuesday run more smoothly? Is that balance? I think not.

I find balance when I make realistic plans for the allotted time and not try to cram everything into one small window.  I also know that I find balance when I pause to take some time for me, be it a walk on these beautiful Fall mornings or meeting a friend for coffee to talk, listen and laugh.  I find when I have recharged myself, I have more patience and energy for my family and my clients, or to do the mundane household chores that are always waiting for me.

I work with many women, like myself, who are trying to balance their personal, professional and familial obligations.  My clients have shared that they don’t feel like they give enough time or attention to any area of their lives.  One mom is always late to our appointments; she is rushing her kids to school, making work calls on the road and trying to get to therapy.  She bursts into my office and wants to ‘hurry up’ and get calm.   Those are the moments when I start therapy with a deep breath. My client needs to slow down and be present for her session.  I model in the therapy hour what we need to do in our busy lives:  slow down and be mindful of the moment that we are in.

It is good to also model this mindfulness for our children.  I have seen many a teenager (and adult, present company included) sit in front of the tv with a laptop while texting on a cell phone.  Multi-talented we are, but are we balanced and present in the moment?  What happens if we were to unplug? Last summer when we lost our power  we lit candles, played  games and laughed the old-fashioned way, without Youtube prompts.  I  remember a time at my old job where I was surrounded by therapists.  One afternoon the internet was down.  There were several of us gathered in a colleague’s office laughing, sharing and spending time with one another. We commented on the fact that it took losing the internet to actually converse with one another.

Balance includes being present, slowing down and unplugging once in a while.  It involves planning, prioritizing and sometimes saying “No” to a volunteer request or a neighborhood gathering.  It might even mean saying “No” to your child who is asking for the fifth sleepover in six days in between practices, play-dates and birthday parties.  Balance doesn’t have to mean boring; if it eliminates some stress and adds some quality family time, or really good girlfriend time, less can absolutely be more.

Sibling Love (??)

Do your kids get along?  I say this as my three are gathered around the laptop working on a Power Point presentation for the oldest son’s English class.  The middle is performing the technical support and they are all  contributing, laughing and looking at old pictures and videos to contribute to this “About Me” project.   (As they are giggling, middle says to oldest “how about “taunting your siblings” for one of the slides?”.  There goes my post.)

It is not always like this, but I captured a moment where things are working.  There are many days where there is yelling, and crying. We have been fortunate enough to not have a lot of hitting and physical altercations, but we have had a healthy share of conflict.

A friend shared an article on FB the other day about spankings.  She and I  had a conversation about it; neither of us have ever spanked our kids, nor have most of the people I know.  I was wondering if one of the reasons that my kids use verbal attacks on each other rather than their fists is because resolving conflict via physical means is just something that they haven’t witnessed.

I think about when my kids were younger, or the many families that I work with who have  pre-school and elementary school aged kids and how much more fighting there is amongst the siblings.  These younger kids are all less mature both within themselves and in their relationships.  The self-centered nature that is age appropriate of younger kids and the inability to have empathy or take on the perspective of others is the great contributor to the grabbing of toys, hitting and occasional biting that happens in pre-school classrooms or basement play rooms.

As our kids get older and master higher levels of  development, they are learning about empathy and compassion. They can see that a lonely child at school or someone that may have been bullied is feeling sad.  The hope is that we have taught them to reach out to their sad peer and offer some support or a smile.  Can they be empathetic with their siblings?  We certainly hope so and offer many opportunities on a daily basis to exercise that muscle.

Sibling love is often evident when the kids join forces to gang up against their parents.  Teenagers are quick to bond together over insulting their parents’ anxieties, insecurities or fashion choices.  As long as it is in good fun, sometimes it can be a nice bonding moment for the kids, and in my house, it can be quite comical.  It can, though, cross a line and then feelings get hurt.  Parents have feelings too and should never be emotionally beat up at the expense of their kids “joking”.

Teenage siblings, despite competition and battling over the bathroom, can be friends.  I know a family where the two  boys who are 22 months apart would run around the playground often having fun, but sometimes about to pummel one another.  They are now 18 and 16 and the closest of friends. They share a lot of the same interests which has enabled them to have many mutual friends, shared socializing and a wonderful and close brotherly relationship.

Sadly, that is not always the case. I worked with a family where the girls were two grades apart.  The older one, a senior in high school, felt like her younger sister was the ‘favored’ child because she was a good student, a good athlete and that ‘perfect’ kid.     Her sister, a sophomore in high school, felt that her parents favored her sister because her sister was having trouble socially and would stay home and spend time with their parents.   She envied the time they all spent together while she was out socializing with her friends.  The girls had a bitter rivalry and the parents were at a loss as to how to properly parent them.  Over time, in family therapy, the family was able to identify and work on each girls’ specific needs trying to build a more amicable relationship between the sisters.

Whether your kids are younger, older, fighting or playing, siblings are siblings.  It is a unique relationship and one to be cherished.  If you feel that your kids are unable to call a truce every once in a while for some heartfelt giggles or you are truly concerned about the level of competition or animosity between your them, give me a call, I’d be happy to hear you out.