Cheers to the Good Ones

As a new mother navigating the changing dynamics of my own tiny family, I am so much more aware of this day than in previous years. While my husband has handled much of our recent changes with amazing resiliency and support for myself and our daughter, the postpartum journey has not been particularly easy for either of us. But really, is the postpartum journey easy for anyone? It is difficult by nature: a turning-on-end of everything a person once knew about the rhythms of life. Though beautiful in its own way, the months after bringing home a child are by far one of the most stark transitions a person can experience. With this transition brings a host of new internal and external challenges and conflicts.

Through the experience of new parenthood, it has been obvious to me how much postpartum community support and attention is placed on mothers and babies, while fathers are also struggling to manage new mental and emotional tolls, re-evaluate their household roles, and support their partners who are experiencing massive hormone shifts and potentially problematic mental health concerns. Our empathetic fathers, bless their souls, are at particularly high risk for becoming silent sufferers of paternal postpartum depression or other postpartum disorders.

And yes, you read that right. Men can, and do, experience postpartum depression (PPD).

Even maternal PPD was not a formally recognized diagnosis until the early 90’s. Since then, the research has continued to develop in several directions on perinatal disorders, and with it a glaringly obvious recognition that men’s and fathers’ health needs more specific attention for the sake of the family at large.

With good reason, perinatal mental health disorders such as postpartum depression and anxiety are becoming more openly discussed. Women are screened multiple times throughout pregnancy and the postpartum experience for mental health concerns. Fathers, however, have been somewhat left in the dust in terms of research and treatment up until the past several years, despite there being an up to 25% prevalence of paternal PPD in new fathers [6].

Quick facts about paternal postpartum mental health:

– Paternal postpartum depression rates tend to be the highest 3-6 months after having a child [1].

– 70% of fathers noted increased stress in the first 12 months of having a child. 24% say that this increase was significant [6].

– Up to 25% of fathers will experience postpartum depression on some level. 18% will develop an anxiety disorder “during pregnancy or within the first year of parenthood” [6].

– Fathers’ bodies change during the postpartum period. In the first weeks after a child is born, a father’s testosterone is estimated to drop by 1/3 [2]. Some professionals speculate that this is to foster attachment and nurturing between father and child

Another thing that I have noticed thus far about parenthood is that Dads are an easy punchline, especially in the social media sphere. And while sometimes these jokes are warranted (Let me be honest, I have shared my fair number of laughs at my sweet husband’s expense), I cannot help but wonder what so much of the Dad-bashing is doing to the mental health of the world’s already-supportive and exhausted fathers. There are good dads out there, and they need a break from our constant criticism.

Anthony Nedelman, a psychologist, father, and writer who works specifically in men’s health, speaks bluntly about the mental and emotional weight placed on the modern father [3]. Men are taking on more non-traditional gender roles of household chores, childcare, and meal preparation in the modern age. Women, likewise, participate more actively in the workforce. And we love to see this! Studies even support the notion that fathers who are present and active in the rearing of their children are overall healthier and have increased longevity [2]. These changing roles in the home, however, place added pressure on mothers and fathers alike to fulfill entirely new areas of mental and emotional toll associated with parenting that previous generations were not navigating.

The Mental Health of a Father affects the entire family

We know that men in general are already less likely to seek therapy. Fathers whose partners are experiencing maternal PPD may feel increased pressure to support her emotionally and physically, provide for the household, and may even try to “fix” the new mother’s mental health. Their personal needs are easy to ignore or put on the back burner until the problem becomes more severe.

Paternal PPD impacts not only marital and partner relationships, but bonding and attachment with children in the home, and is a predictor of future “child psychopathology such as conduct and emotional disorders, hyperactivity, and anxiety and depression, as well as language delays” [1].

New Fathers are not the only Dads susceptible to mental health concerns

Fathers are not out of the woods after the risk of postpartum depression fades.

Nontraditional fathers in particular, such as stepfathers, are at higher risk for depression than biological parents [5]. As well, low-income fathers are at higher risk for depression [2].

Parenting brings a specific set of challenges that can affect a man differently throughout new developmental stages of his children, his marriage/relationship, or lifestyle changes. As an added complication, many men raised by fathers who were not active in their own childhood can struggle to feel confident in their role as parents.

The National Institute for Children’s Health Quality states that “Father involvement, then, has significant benefits for everyone involved. But too often, social expectations about masculinity and structural barriers make it difficult for fathers to get involved, especially during the early years of life” [4].

So if we understand the importance of a father’s connection with his children, that it is an overall benefit for the entire family, why aren’t we better supporting fathers in this important role of parenting? Thankfully, there are groups doing just that (see resource list below).

But for us mothers, and women, and the general public at large, I would like to call us to a new way of speaking about the good fathers in our life—the ones who show up in heroic ways to support, encourage, and intentionally weave their children’s wellbeing into the fabric of who they are.

Just like us, they are going to make mistakes—probably very consistent ones. They will probably set glasses directly beside an available coaster and throw dirty clothes on the floor beside a hamper. Instead of nagging about these little quirks, what if we instead became intentional about speaking positively about the actions we are grateful for?

As I type this, my husband just entered the room to ask if he could take our little one on a Costco trip so that I could complete this article. Now, I get to choose: At the end of today, do I want to remember this moment when I think about his role in our family, or do I want to remember the beard trimmings in the sink? It is so very easy to focus on what frustrates us instead of what we are grateful for.

For the sake of our relationships, our children, and the world at large, today I choose to focus on my husband’s active role in our family—his imperfect, beautiful role that is helping sketch out a healthy worldview for our child. His treatment of me and of her is already helping her create a sense of self-awareness and connectedness to her surroundings.

After all, my role is just as imperfect and beautiful as his. As the world chooses to support me and nurture me as a new mother, may I remember that the man beside me is carrying his own share of emotional and mental burdens for the sake of our family that is not always recognized.

Let’s raise a glass.

Cheers to the good dads out there today. We support you and we love you.

Resources for new and experienced fathers:

List of risk factors for paternal postpartum:

Postpartum Support International:

Help for Dads

– Phone Helpline, Dad support groups, discussion forums with professionals, local chapters of support

“Boot Camp” for New Dads:

Center for Men’s Excellence:

Advice for New Dads – Videos and Interviews with Dr. Daniel Singley

A First Person Account of Paternal PPD:


[1] Musser, A. K., Ahmed, A. H., Foli, K. J., & Coddington, J. A. (2013). Paternal postpartum depression: What health care providers should know. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 27(6), 479–485.

[2] National Fatherhood Initiative. (2015, October 15). How fatherhood affects men. Institute for Family Studies. Retrieved May 21, 2022, from

[3] Nedelman, A. (2020, December 21). The mental health of the modern dad. NAMI. Retrieved May 23, 2022, from

[4] Promoting fathers’ mental health during children’s early childhood. NICHQ. (2021, June 16). Retrieved May 23, 2022, from

[5] Vogel, K. (2022, March 31). Why stepparents are more prone to depression. Psych Central. Retrieved June 12, 2022, from

[6] What most of us don’t know about fatherhood and mental health – sondermind. SonderMind Therapy and Counseling. (2020, June 20). Retrieved June 12, 2022, from

The Problem with Dragons

I have decided to let you all in on a therapy trade secret. It is my own little room-of-requirement for my counseling practice that I stumbled upon a bit by accident.

Admittedly, it is not an actual room, but a children’s book that creates an individualized space for healing and self-exploration, catered specifically to the reader. You and I may read this book and come to vastly different metaphorical conclusions about what the book is “really” about.

Yet at the same time, the magic of this book somehow allows the readers to find common ground with each other. Our problems (or dragons, as the book calls them) in life may all look a little different, but we can empathize with each other on what it is like to experience internal hardship.

You’ve Got Dragons by Kathryn Cave, illustrated by Nick Maland, is a children’s book with a sneakily therapeutic theme, using metaphor and creatively-depicted scenes to describe a boy named Ben’s experience with his inner world.

Ben, poor guy, has “dragons.”

“Dragons show up when you least expect them,” Ben begins, “You turn around, and there they are.”


Ben spends his time throughout the narrative sharing his first-person experience of having “dragons” in a raw but delightful manner. By the end, he has become an accidental dragon expert.

This book was written for children, of course, but the day it truly began to impact my counseling practice was the day I first decided to read it to an adult client.

You see, Ben’s “dragon problem” represents a lot more than just a scaly antagonist. We could drop just about any personal struggle in place of the word “dragon” throughout this book and find camaraderie in Ben’s story.

Such literary tropes and metaphors as those presented in this book are sometimes lost on children. But when placed in the hands of an adult client in a supportive counseling relationship, this book can create a fresh space for vulnerability and self-exploration.

After all, we’ve ALL got dragons sometimes. But we often need an opportunity to talk about them. We adults are unfortunately pretty stubborn like that and may need a nudge or two.

“Pretending a huge, great, ENORMOUS dragon isn’t there is exhausting. So sooner or later you stop pretending.”

I have witnessed grown individuals begin weeping halfway through this book.

Some clients swear that it is clearly written about depression. Or anxiety.

Trauma, maybe,

or an eating disorder.

“Obviously the book is referring to addiction, right?” someone once asked.

Rarely have I had 2 clients assume that this book is referencing the same thing.

You see, when we read it, we are all Ben. We can picture the dragon that is our own. A dragon that probably

“makes your heart thud and your head wobble,”

encourages you to “make silly mistakes,”

“makes everything complicated,”


“seems so much bigger than you.”

Sound familiar? I guess maybe you have had a dragon before, too. Maybe you even have a dragon right now.

It turns out that the specific identity of the dragon is fairly insignificant because the experiences of having a dragon are pretty similar.

A few things about dragons that this book teaches us:

  • Completely irradicating a dragon can feel overwhelming or insurmountable, but learning how to coexist with them in healthy ways is achievable.
  • Sometimes your dragon is big, sometimes small, and sometimes lies dormant.
  • Hiding your dragon in shame makes you tired and lonely.
  • Ignoring your dragon can make it bigger.
  • Naming your dragon and facing it head-on can demystify it.
  • Facing your dragon alone is not an option.
  • Sometimes well-meaning people in your life try unsuccessfully to talk to you about your dragon. They over-relate (make it about themselves) or do not understand at all
  • Sometimes you wonder what you did wrong to get this dragon.
  • You are stronger than your dragon, even when it doesn’t feel like it.


“Nobody deserves dragons You certainly don’t. You didn’t get them by being bad. All these people have dragons, and they’re REALLY, REALLY good.”

The book ends with letters from readers to Ben seeking advice about dragons. Even Ben’s dad has dragons!

Ways to utilize this book with your kids:

  • Draw your dragon. o What is scary about it? What can we do to make your dragon seem less scary? (For example, add a silly hat or make him dance)
    • Does your dragon look differently sometimes? Smaller, bigger, etc?
  • What dragon advice would you ask Ben? Let’s write a letter to him together.
  • Let’s pretend you are challenging your dragon to an arm-wrestling match. Tell me what you would say to him while you beat him.
  • When are times your dragon seems the most fearful or annoying?
  • Who are safe people to talk to about your dragon?


Ways to utilize this book for yourself:

  • What emotions came up for you at different parts of the book? Which pages were most impactful? Consider why that may be.
  • Work with a trusted therapist to discuss what “dragons” you have been ignoring or fearful of.
  • Remember you are not alone. Who are the support people in your life who remind you are more powerful than your dragon?


“Honor the dragons that you meet and learn from them. They’re not as powerful as you think. No dragon is more powerful than YOU.”

Cave, K., & Maland, N. (2020). You’ve got dragons. Peachtree.


Cuando hacer un esfuerzo adicional puede costarle a largo plazo

¿A cuántos de ustedes les dijeron de niños que simplemente ““¿Asegúrate de dar el 100% en todo lo que haces?”

La mayoría de nosotras Yep, that is what I thought.

Es una declaración para niños y adultos por igual que busca alentar; tiene buenas intenciones en el nivel superficial, pero está forjado con matices ansiosos en la práctica.

In fact, this advice to “give 100% in all that you do” could potentially even be detrimental to certain individuals.

Allow me to explain.

Another counselor I once met best described it best when she said this:

No one can logistically give 100% to everything, all the time.

If you have 100% of your total effort to give, you cannot give 100% of that effort to multiple things. Maybe that is 30% given to work, 50% to your family, 20% to hobbies on any given day—but you only have 100% to give each day.

To encourage children to give 100% at everything they do—well, that is setting them up for failure, is it not? In fact, it is maybe even creating a future generation of discouraged or incredibly stressed adults, while we are at it.

Now, I know what you are thinking. What a lazy perspective, not to give your all. On the contrary! This is not a way-out from the expectation of effort. We do not have to sacrifice the importance and power of hard work, focus, and the fulfilling nature of completing a goal.

Instead, we can simply rephrase our encouragement to children (and adults, and to ourselves) to focus on enabling individuals to give the very best they have in this particular moment. Let’s shift the focus away from constant, all-encompassing achievement toward present-centered effort and recognition of one’s in-the-now experience.

Why don’t we try this instead:

“Do your best, right now, with what you have available to you in this moment.”

Less is More for Longterm Success

I was recently reading an article specifically for runners entitled Why Your Work Ethic Might be Sabotaging Your Success. I was immediately intrigued, especially at the line,

“sometimes the hardest thing to do is less” [4].

The writer was warning athletes of pushing too hard in a workout for the sheer sake of completing it. He urged runners to instead be mindful of your physical capacity on a day-to-day basis to avoid injury and train more safely. Simply put: harder, longer, and faster is not always better.

While the discussion was obviously geared toward physical fitness, I couldn’t help but wonder if the same concept applied on an emotional and mental level.

So of course, I dug a little deeper, and was reminded of the concept of interoceptive awareness.

Interoceptive awareness is simply defined as “awareness of sensory information” [3]. Basically, it means that we listen to our body’s natural cues in order to regulate and adjust our thoughts, emotions, and choices as needed.

For athletes, interoceptive awareness is vitally important because it helps a person utilize the body’s natural cues to safely manage a workout according to the body’s present state. Knee feeling sticky? Certain drills may not be the best option for that day. This decision to skip such drills does not denote laziness, but instead carries a certain bodily wisdom that helps runners listen to their bodies to optimize training.

Another easy example to consider is the bodily cue to use the restroom. You observe the information your body gives you when you feel the urge to use the restroom, and then decide appropriately how to take care of yourself. It’s as simple as that.

Interoceptive awareness is a constant back and forth conversation between yourself and your body to help you move throughout different experiences and scenarios. Every time you listen and respond, your body stores that information for the next time, thus building your interoceptive awareness like a muscle. You tend to get better at it as time goes on.

Unfortunately, a significant marker of chronic stress is when a person has begun to “turn off” their interoceptive awareness, or ignore bodily cues.

If a counseling client with a taxing job tells me that they do not drink any water throughout the day because they “never feel thirsty” or do not take a break from a work project because they no longer even realize they need to use the restroom, I start to wave my big red flag. This person has, over time, turned off a natural bodily cue for the sake of productivity.

When these bodily cues are ignored over time, you can disrupt your body’s natural patterns.

This same concept rings true with mental and emotional cues that our body provides. When you refuse to take into account your body’s stress and anxiety signals, sometimes physiological symptoms can arise in response. Imagine your body saying, “you wouldn’t listen to me, so I’ll get louder in another way.”

A chiropractor or massage therapist can always tell when I’ve been internalizing work stress due to the knots in my neck and shoulders. Sometimes I may even get a migraine as a result.

But if I face that same stress and anxiety head-on and take care of my body and mental/ emotional load, I can often alleviate the physiological signs of stress before the knots and migraine knock me down to size.

This, I think, is what the author means when he says that “sometimes the hardest thing to do is less.” [4].

It is often second nature for us to push through seasons of chaos and stress despite our body’s screams at us to offer rest, or a screen break, or at the very least a shoulder stretch. We ignore our natural,

biological cues in order to meet deadlines and cultural pressures to “give 100% at everything, all the time.”

Maybe the answer is that it is time for each of us to redefine our “best.”

What if, in reality, your “best” was defined as what you are most capable of in this given moment, without causing yourself harm.

In a workout, what you are able to do today (your best), may be vastly different than what you did yesterday (also your best). To push through negative pain to try and hit the “best” of another day could inevitably result in injury to yourself or a teammate.

The same is true for other areas of life. Your best is different at any given moment. Your body was created to provide you ample feedback to determine what that “best” truly is. Are you listening? Or smushing down the dialogue, increasing stress and anxiety in your workload, and risking your chances of harm?

This is a concept worth considering, if you ask me.

So, what happens when we push children and young people to physical, emotional, and mental limits without offering the tool of interoceptive awareness?

They learn to ignore their interoceptive awareness in order to achieve.

A Forbes article from 2020 discusses the “Honor Roll Hangover” phenomenon, which is described as “psychological baggage” from a person’s time in school [5]. Honor roll students, or academic achievers, it explains, learn quickly that success rests in fulfilling specific syllabus-based standards in order to build confidence and seek societal standards of achievement.

You do the work, you get the grades. You get the grades, you get the college acceptance. You get the college acceptance, you get the job and life is peachy.

Except, unfortunately, the “real world” work-life rarely continues to follow this same pattern of achievement, and these top-notch children of academia can quickly struggle in the professional workforce.

Honor Roll children who are used to following a “clear path to success” to gain “gold stars” [5] become taken aback when faced with real-world problems that require flexibility to overcome.

My suspicion is that, along the way, these students did not have interoceptive awareness modeled for them. They learned to subdue mental, physical, and emotional cues in order to achieve at all costs.

The good news is, we can stop the pattern for ourselves and for our children.

One thing we know is that interoceptive awareness requires practice. Instead of telling children to “give 100% at everything, always,” what if we flipped the script to still encourage them to greatness and hard work while avoiding the harm of accidentally instilling perfectionism? We can encourage them to listen to bodily and psychological cues and have an active voice in their own training and studies.

Most importantly, we must practice what we preach.

Try a quick body scan right now. Where is the tension in your body? Can you take 30 seconds to refocus your attention somewhere and take some deep breaths to relieve it? When is the last time you took a walk during lunch as an antidote to the desk job blues?

What might start happening if you listen to the cues of your body and modeling for others how to do the same? Chances are, that productivity that you are so worried about just may actually increase when your mental and physical awareness is aligned and attuned.


1. Arnold, K. D. (1995). Lives of promise: What becomes of high school valedictorians; A fourteen-year study of achievement and life choice. Jossey-Bass.

2. Gardner, M. (1995, May 25). Study tracks success of High School Valedictorians. Retrieved April 9, 2022, from

3. Hooven, C. (2018, May 28). Interoceptive awareness skills for emotion regulation: Theory and approach of mindful awareness in body-oriented therapy (MABT). Frontiers in psychology. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from

4. Lovett, R. A., Beverly, J., Hanson, M., & Byrne, C. (2022, January 19). Why your work ethic may be sabotaging your success. Outside Online. Retrieved April 13, 2022, from

5. Wilding, M. (2020, March 16). The surprising downside of being an overachiever. Forbes. Retrieved April 9, 2022, from