Thursday, January 26, 2023

By Diana Hembree and Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers! In today’s parenting newsletter: Teen psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg discusses Prince Harry’s book Spare and the ensuing public discussion about sibling dynamics. A look at growing up Asian in America through the lens of the recent films Turning Red and Everything, Everywhere All At Once. And including “mental health” in your birth plan.

Also, a Washington Post writer’s tribute to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, a millennial who gave birth in office, sparked a conversation about protecting working mothers’ mental health and just stepped down after five years in office. Plus: Talking to your kids about gun violence. How to help your children find lasting happiness. And coworkers’ support for the step that actor and longtime teen favorite Jonah Hill is taking to tamp down his anxiety attacks.

Sibling relationships and Prince Harry’s memoir

Prince William, Princess Diana, and Prince Harry (left to right). Credit: Shutterstock

On late-night talk shows discussing Prince Harry’s memoir Spare, some hosts – even the erudite Stephen Colbert – pounced on the most salacious detail in the book that they could find: that the young prince’s discomfort during his brother’s wedding may have stemmed from having suffered frostbite where no man ever wants to.

That’s a shame, because the book is, in part, a journey through overwhelming grief following his mother’s loss and a paean to sibling love, pain and rivalry. (The passage about the 12-year-old Harry fervently believing that his mother was not dead but simply hiding somewhere safe until she could summon him and William to join her is almost unbearable to read.)

It would be hard not to feel resentful about being nicknamed “the spare” – meaning you were conceived partly as the insurance in case something terrible happened to Prince William and you need to donate a kidney to the future King, or, God forbid, step into his shoes. The brothers’ relationship, particularly after the tragic death of their mother, Princess Diana, was alternatively close and strained.

In a post about Spare, teen psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg said she is extremely grateful that Prince Harry wrote it, noting that  “sibling relationships can be sources of joy as well as sources of the deepest pain and disappointment.” 

“Ultimately, what I am seeing is that this book is a Rorschach test for those weighing in on it,” she writes. “Both readers and non-readers are projecting their own sibling experiences onto it. In at least one book club that I am aware of, many readers are praising Prince Harry for taking a risk and being open about his feelings despite the possible emotional cost. Some are feeling that they, like Harry, are not understood and emotionally validated or supported by their siblings. Still others feel that what happens between siblings should remain private and treated as privileged and confidential material.”

In her article, she suggests some questions readers can ask themselves about their own siblings that may help them navigate their way to a closer relationship. You can read the full post here.

Besides their contrasting personalities, Prince Harry and his brother look quite distinct as well. A related story in the Washington Post explores how different genetics and environments can shape siblings. –Diana Hembree

For the love of Asian daughters and their mothers 

From the film “Everything, Everywhere All At Once,” IMDb

Perfection is neither possible or necessary, begins Adrienne So’s universally relatable read exploring the complicated nature of growing up Asian in America. That didn’t stop her mother from silently expecting it anyway. Perfection, it seemed, could offer protection against racialized violence and justify the sacrifice her parents made by coming to this new country. As a second-generation Asian American, So writes in Wired that her mother never said “perfection is required,” but suggested that “if you do everything exactly right, you will be safe.”

Now mother to a young daughter herself, So has considered the flaws in this thinking through the mother-daughter relationships depicted in recent films Turning Red and Everything Everywhere All at Once. Both movies feature immigrant Asian mothers and their second-generation Westernized daughters, who reject the pressures of perfection. Beautifully human, the mother-daughter pairs experience enormous stress as they fight against one another’s expectations, ultimately finding safety in their messy, loving, imperfect reality.

Pregnant or planning to become so soon? Include mental health in your birth plan

If you’re pregnant or considering becoming pregnant soon, folic acid may be more front of mind than your mental health. But in an op-ed published by The Guardian, perinatal psychologist Lauren Keegan says overlooking your mental wellness could be a slight to yourself and your potential baby. That’s especially the case for women with a history of trauma, mood disorders, or those lacking social and emotional support.

A 2022 study from researchers at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC, linked elevated levels of anxiety, depression, and stress during pregnancy in birthing parents to changes in the fetal brain – changes which could have a negative impact on a baby’s long-term cognitive development. So what can you do? Prioritize mental health in your birth plan.

That translates to taking inventory of your mood, sleep patterns, and behavior. Note when you feel overwhelmed or as if your emotions are all over the place. Those are “early warning signs” that you may need additional support. More practically, even if you feel great, schedule help to take the day-to-day living stressors off of your plate immediately after birth.

“Who will be there to clean the house, do the laundry and cook meals? Surround yourself with people who will take care of the ‘house’ stuff,” Keegan writes, “so that you can recover from the birth and bond with your baby.” Postpartum doulas are great resources if you’re far away from family or friends and can afford to pay for the support.

And finally, if you remember just one thing from the column, lock this in: When well-meaning friends encourage you to call them if you need anything amidst the overwhelm of pregnancy, childbirth, and those precious yet harrowing newborn months, don’t just say “I’ll let you know.” Take the opportunity – right then – to schedule dates and times with them so they can commit to show up.

“Jacinda Ardern didn’t make working motherhood look easy. She made it look real.”

In an opinion column for The Washington Post, Monica Hesse wrote that even in stepping down, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is setting the standard for working mothers in power, including protecting her mental health. “She worked as hard as she could for as long as she could,” Hesse wrote, “and one legacy she will leave behind is the fact that she showed the work — what it took to be a leader and a parent, and how eventually it took so much that she could not in good conscience continue doing it.” 

After giving birth while in office, she didn’t just pretend that the job of mothering while working as a world leader was a breeze. Instead, the 37-year-old Arden withstood criticism about her leadership (and parenting) while crafting one of the most diverse cabinets on the globe, protecting her citizens by banning assault-style weapons after a horrific 2019 mass shooting, and moving swiftly and transparently to stop the spread of COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic. It was hard, exhausting work, but she did it – and now she’s moving on. In her resignation address, Arden said, “I hope in return I leave behind a belief that you can be kind, but strong. Empathetic, but decisive. Optimistic, but focused.”

Talking to your kids about gun violence

I’m on the verge of a new phase in parenting. This fall, my daughter will begin kindergarten. I loved school growing up, and find myself feeling delighted, amazed by my new outlook on the passage of time, and a little anxious about how differently her days will look. For one thing, in addition to extreme weather drills, her teachers will prepare her for what to do in case an active shooter ever enters the school grounds. Despite all of the mass shootings that have taken place in the five years since her birth, I’ve never talked to her about their reality. But now, I can no longer push the conversation off. Thankfully, Parents magazine has put together a list of tips to help the talk we all must have a little easier. 

The first thing the magazine advises is to reassure your child that you’re doing all in your power to keep them safe and you’d never send them to a place where they might encounter danger. It’s a message that younger and older children need to hear. In addition, whether you have guns or not in the home, teach your kids about gun safety: Don’t let TV or social media lead the talk for you. Use age-appropriate language, and finally, don’t do all the talking. Let your child express their feelings.

“Let your child talk and listen – I mean really listen – to them,” said parenting expert and founder of GIT Mom Eirene Heidelberger. “Think about how you feel after talking through scary situations with someone you trust. You feel safer and more assured, right? By talking about it they’ll cope better.” –Courtney Wise

In other news…

The best way to help your children find happiness is to let them know that challenges and pain are a part of life, but the right relationships will hold them up and help them through. That’s a large part of what I took from a compelling parenting column in The Washington Post. Don’t try to protect your children from everything hard, but rather show them how to be good friends and how to maintain relationships. Encourage them to be curious about the world and others. And teach them how to build good routines and rituals that will anchor them in a healthy life.

Jonah Hill, a long-time teen favorite and star of the Netflix movie You People, has stepped back from promoting the film to care for his mental health. His co-stars told Variety they’re on board with his decision. “Life is tough for all of us,” said actress Lauren London. “For us to pretend that we’re stronger than others and we can handle more, that’s unfair. I hold space for Jonah Hill. That’s my homeboy. I love him and whatever he needs to do for his soul, I am there for it.” Hill announced back in August 2022 that he’d be stepping back from upcoming press campaigns after nearly 20 years of anxiety attacks exacerbated by media appearances. We wrote about Jonah Hill and his directorial debut in Stutz, an engrossing film about his therapist and their relationship.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Type of work:

Diana Hembree, MS, is MindSite News co-founding editor. She is a health and science journalist who served as a senior editor at Time Inc. Health and its physician’s magazine, Hippocrates, and as news...

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow...