Heather Harpham on her exquisite literary memoir, about love & medicine & parenting, HAPPINESS

By Leslie Lindsay 

Powerful, frank, and uplifting medical memoir deeply infused with love, longing, and motherhood. Plus, she talks about her favorite literary memoirs, making time for creativity, and so much more in this luminous interview. 

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I absolutely loved HAPPINESS, which touched on every single emotion with deftness and bravery. I simply couldn’t get enough–from the charming courtship between Heather and Brain, two personalities of polar opposites (she’s a fun-loving California girl living in NYC; he’s an intellectual homebody writer), to Heather’s unexpected pregnancy, the birth, and the medical mystery that enshrouds the baby’s young life.

There’s reconciliation, how they’ll help this baby girl, and HAPPINESS was recently chosen by Reese Witherspoon as…

Hello Sunshine’s April 2018 book pick!

HAPPINESS encompasses a subtle, brave retelling of Brian and Heather’s unconventional relationship progression, how they come together and it’s all told in such a fluid, graceful way that will have you frantically turning the pages.

Harpham does a beautiful job of describing the NICU, her experiences with medical professionals, her passion for parenting, and her reticence toward adult relationships. HAPPINESS absolutely thrums with energy and is infused with such emotion, it’s hard to set it down

I’m beyond thrilled to welcome Heather to the book couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Heather! This book! Oh my. First of all, it’s gotten all kinds of praise. But it wasn’t exactly easy writing (is any writing ever easy?!). Can you talk about your path and why you wrote it?

Heather Harpham: Leslie, wow! You are a writer’s dream reader –you’re obviously looking for the best in a book. And yes, as you suggest, HAPPINESS was tough to write. I’ve always been a writer, but primarily for the stage; this was my first book and it was daunting. Because this book covers such personal material, and because it describes how my family formed, I felt special obligations to readers and to the people I love most in the world, to get this story as “right” as possible. Or rather to tell it truthfully, but also with respect for what might not belong on the page.

L.L.:  I was telling someone at yoga about HAPPINESS. I said, “It’s like literary fiction meets memoir.” Now, those are two entirely different genres. And yet…that’s how I read it. What’s your response to that? How do you describe the book?

Heather Harpham: Books that bridge genres are the ones I find most exciting. So I take that as a compliment — thank you! My own favorite memoirs include WAVE, THE BRIGHT HOUR, LIT, H IS FOR HAWK and DON’T LET’S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT, all of which fall into the murky category of ‘literary’ memoirs. Let’s call this storytelling that pays as much attention to language’s possibilities as it does to recounting events. As a narrative move, this can be tricky — you don’t want to over indulge a stylistic impulse at the expense of strong, straightforward storytelling. At the same time, writers (especially those of us working with material that inherently evokes pathos) owe the reader the breathing room of craft — metaphor, pacing, prosody, etc. Crafted language lifts a reader slightly above the drudgery or pain of events into a more bearable poetic experience.

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In the other half of my creative life, I teach acting and there is a beautifully thin line in great performances between the emotional reality of the actor and the character. This line can be virtually invisible, but it must exist. Audiences need that sliver of distance between the anguish or loss a character experiences and the true person conveying it. Without that sliver, watching is too anxiety producing, which drains the fun; we’re worried for the actor instead of enjoying the story or achieving catharsis. Similarly, with writing, readers need to know that the teller of a story is ‘okay enough’ to tell it.

In HAPPINESS, because I was (in part) writing about sick kids and the deepest loss, I tried to find humor or beauty or absurdity to offer the reader as a kind of ballast against the demands of the material. I felt I owed the reader, at the very least, a little levity and passing pleasure, or we’d be sunk!

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L.L.: Memoir is such a challenging style of writing. Emotions get in the way. Memory is fickle. And then, you worry about how others—the real-life people in your story—will react. How does one reconcile all of that?

Heather Harpham: While writing HAPPINESS, I had to be sure I was telling the story in a way that was bearable and sustainable for my family. In particular, I wanted to portray a period of extreme rupture between myself and the man I am now married to — the novelist Brian Morton — and to describe early, difficult decisions we made without turning the reader irrevocably against him. For our children’s sake, it was essential I describe our separation and differing choices in a way that represented Brian’s point of view, to the best of my abilities. At the same time, I wanted to be honest about the emotional turbulence I experienced while pregnant and on my own. That’s a tough needle to thread and I wasn’t successful on every page, but the beauty of writing a whole book, rather than an essay or an article or even a poem, is that you have time. If you fumble on one page, you try again on the next! I tried to make the gestalt of the book encompass not only Brian’s early rejection of fatherhood, but also his enormous, rare capacity for transformative change into the most extraordinary father and partner I can imagine.

In terms of writing about our kids, it was a tremendous joy for me, as a writer and a mom, to record moments from their early childhood. Brian and I both took a lot of notes when Gracie was sick – not only on her illness or course of treatment– but also on the many things Gracie and Gabriel said and did daily that touched us, or surprised us.

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For the Gracie (who now goes by Amelia) and Gabriel, it’s more complicated. They are both teenagers now and neither of them is fond of having a public portrait drawn of their early childhood or toddlerhood. And, our daughter’s pain is described in detail in the book, in ways that aren’t familiar or recognizable to her. She doesn’t remember the vast majority of what she went through during her bone marrow transplant. Our son remembers even less from that time, which ended when he was only two years old. They both want to be seen as the strong, mature, independent people they’ve become. And I do see them that way, but I also see within them every age they ever were, layered and looping through. But in print, I was only able to capture a snapshot of them, an early version. I hope someday they can enjoy that view. As they enter adulthood, I hope the book can offer them a record of a time that was meaningful or impactful, even as it lies outside of conscious memory. But truly I have no control or insight about what it will mean to them, in the same way we can never know how a reader will receive our work.

L.L.: Without using complete sentences, what was going on in your life as you wrote HAPPINESS?

Heather Harpham: Kids. Lunches. Laundry. Two attempts at dog adoption. Marital fights. Making up. More fights, more reunions. A growth in partnership.  A long search for an affordable, comfortable home. Success — first ever home ownership! Painting walls. Writing group. The beginning of a college teaching career. A new solo show –BURNING. More lunches and laundry and walks. Writing group. California phone chats. Writing group. Long walks, down to the café for a croissant.


“An extraordinary and bewitching book, HAPPINESS has staked a claim among the most beautiful and moving portraits of parenthood and partnership.”

Susan Cheever, bestselling author of Treetops: A Memoir, and Home before Dark


L.L.: And so, your daughter is growing up. She’s okay now. What does she think about her story?

Heather Harpham: Honestly, you’d have to ask her. When she’s been asked in the past, she’s very eloquent on the oddity of having such a personal story – a story that is literally about her deepest physical strata, her bone marrow — told by someone other than herself. She seems to have expected that she’d feel a kind of kinship with the Gracie I describe in the book – that this portrait might offer her a way to recall or even reclaim her younger self – but that didn’t happen. She remembers so little of what I describe, and the little she does remember diverges from what I’ve focused on. I told this story from a mother’s point of view. While she lived it, from the inside. Sadly, neither Brian nor I can ever know exactly what she experienced in that time, as much as we want to.

If you’d like to hear Amelia (aka Gracie) talk about these issues in her own words, she responded to a similar question from Reese Witherspoon in this joint interview (it’s the first question Reese asks her).

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L.L.: Part of what makes HAPPINESS so compelling, at least in my opinion, is the grace and ease you write about the medical professionals, the hospital experience. But at the heart of it all, resides a good deal of fear. Did you ever learn Gracie’s diagnosis? Is it still a mystery?

Heather Harpham: First of all, thanks so much for pointing to the medical professionals described in the book. The gratitude you feel, as a parent (or a sibling or partner or child or friend) for the people who save your beloved, or simply soften their suffering, is indescribable. It’s breathtaking gratitude, knock-the-wind-out-of-you-gratitude. And it never ends. We were lottery winners in medical life — we had many incredible people speeding Gracie’s healing over her four years of treatment. I recently interviewed the woman who was our “primary nurse” during transplant, Bobbie Caraher. For anyone interested in hearing Bobbie’s beautiful philosophy of bedside nursing and the need to humanize medical life, the interview is on the Hello Sunshine website.

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In answer to the second part of your question, I’m a bit hesitant to discuss our daughter’s current medical status publicly – which is a condemnation of the for-profit healthcare system rather than your question! Someday, I shudder to say, the Affordable Care Act might be dismantled enough to reinstate the cruelty of “pre-existing conditions.” This would be very very bad for millions of Americans, including Amelia. At the same time, I can say that she’s totally cured.  And no, bizarrely, we never received a diagnosis.


HAPPINESS is a fast read, a compelling story about life and death, illness and health, and, above all, family.” —Star Tribune


L.L.: What’s next for you? Are you still writing? Are you more focused on acting? And what’s your teaching schedule like these days?

Heather Harpham: I’m teaching enough to keep myself regulated. Without the structure of teaching, I drift through loose, baggy time without accomplishing much… Plus, I love witnessing the artistic enthusiasm of the young actors I teach, as they figure out how to tell stories in the most powerful or original way. I learn from them constantly.

And yes, thanks for asking. I am writing. I try to show up at the keyboard for at least two hours a day. I keep a little spreadsheet to hold myself accountable. And that helps. I respect work, and so I try to make writing feel like a job. Something you clock in and out of. In fact, it is my job; it’s the work I do that most meaningfully contributes to our family’s financial well-being. Still, it’s easy for many of us (maybe particularly women) to think of our creative projects as a lark. A private fancy. This is rubbish; we need to take our talents and creative work as seriously as any employment. Of course that’s a lot easier if you’ve had some success and thus have time to write. I’m amazed by writers who struggle to stay awake and work, after teaching or doing an exhausting “day” job. That’s commitment.

I had a teacher once, a famous clown (truly!), who said that you should offer your own talent a commiserate commitment in terms of time and energy. He said, only you can evaluate your talent and potential. You alone. If you think you’re talented, show up for your talent. Give that talent a room, and as many hours as it requires. That can be scary or disorienting or downright disappointing; sometimes we’re not as talented, or creatively facile, as we hoped. But then again, sometimes we surprise ourselves.

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L.L.: Is there a question I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Heather Harpham: There is a question I wish people would ask, though, alas it is probably a question for the book I wish I’d written, rather than the one I wrote. This question is about the role of spirituality to sustain us, or destabilize us, in times of exigent duress, fear or even celebration. I found that my own spiritual beliefs were fundamentally challenged by witnessing the loss and suffering of so many innocents during our time on the transplant unit. It was incredibly painful and confusing for me as a believer. It awoke a series of questions I’ve yet to answer about the nature of a God (or if you prefer, the organizing intelligence alive in our universe) who allows for misery with arbitrary abandon. Why is catastrophic loss “allowed” to land anywhere, on anyone, at any time?

On the other hand, we encountered many people during transplant who were disproportionately, even inappropriately (!), kind to us–total strangers who offered lifelines. Why? This is a mystery of equal power. I’m guessing that being tender or generous or compassionate felt good to them; it felt right.

I have no idea why humans are built this way – to bend and help, to care profoundly — but I’m very grateful we are.

I stand in that mystery too. I wanted to express more of this spiritual confusion and appreciation within the book than I was able to. Hopefully I can return to it next time, next book. Unless I have the good sense to write about something less complicated!

L.L.: Heather, it’s been such a pleasure! Thank you, thank you!

Heather Harpham: Leslie, thank you! You read and respond with such care to writers. It’s been a true pleasure.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of HAPPINESS, please see:

Order Links:

ct-life-stevens-tuesday-happiness-heather-harpham-0801ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Heather Harpham (b. 1967) is an American writer and theater artist. Her fiction, essays and reviews have appeared in Slate, Parents, MORE Magazine, Water~Stone Review and Red Magazine in the UK. Her debut memoir, HAPPINESS The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After, was published by Henry Holt in the fall of 2017 and by OneWorld in the UK. Happiness was the April 2018 selection for Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club; chosen for Barnes and Noble’s Discover Great New Writers Series; and was included on the “Indie Next Pick” list by the American Booksellers Association. Originally from the northern California, Harpham now lives in New York, a short walk from the Hudson River, with her family.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:

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#KeepTalkingMH #MentalHealthAwareness #Happiness #hellosunshine #RWitherspoon #Memoir

[Cover and author image courtesy of Henry Holt Publishers and used with permission. Author photo credit: David Kumin]

Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist Ron Powers on his illuminating title, NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE

By Leslie Lindsay 

A moving and richly researched blend of history, memoir, and current affairs regarding mental health in America. 

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First, the accolades:

Written by a New York Times bestselling author and Pulitzer prize winning journalist, NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE (Hachette hardcover, 2017; now available in paperback) is a finalist for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.

…It’s a Washington Post Notable Book of the Year.

People Magazine and Shelf Awareness have both called it the Best Book of the Year.

The New York Times Book Review says this of NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE:

“Extraordinary and courageous . . . No doubt if everyone were to read this book, the world would change.”

NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE has been on my TBR pile, embarrassingly, for over a year. Is that because I don’t care about crazy people? On the contrary. Perhaps I care a little too much. Mental illness runs in my family. Not just in my mother who died by suicide a few years back, but other family members as well. I’m also a former child/adolescent psychiatric R.N., so to say I don’t care about ‘crazy’ people, would be wrong. I do.

When I started thinking about my author line-up for May, I knew I wanted to focus on motherhood, for obvious reasons, but also, I had personal reasons. 

May is likely the month my mother took her last breath. We were estranged at the time; in fact, she had driven away many family members then, too. It’s suspected she died, fittingly, on Memorial Day.

So I reached out to Ron Powers. He’s obviously not a mother, but a loving father of two adult sons who have battled schizophrenia. Immediately I was taken with his charm and our similarities. Like me, Ron grew up in Missouri. We both attended the same university. Though different years and entirely different campuses. He worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a time; that’s where I grew up. He worked for the Chicago Tribune; I live in the Windy City now.

And we’ve both been touched by mental illness.

We started exchanging emails. His wife’s mother is from the County Mayo. Had I been? Yes! Do my redheaded daughters Irish dance? At least one does. And when we started correcting each other’s lapses in memory, my husband joked that we were made for each other.

But something tells me he has eyes only for his lovely wife, Honoree.

I adored getting to know the Powers family. From their early days in New York City to time spent at the Bread Loaf Conference in Vermont, to Kevin’s acceptance to Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, and Dean’s lyrical poetry and astute childhood observations.  Plus, Honoree is one smart cookie, holding a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Chicago.

Powers is a loving husband and father and tireless mental health advocate. I’m honored to welcome him to the author interview series.

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Leslie Lindsay: Ron, it’s a pleasure. Thank you. First, you say this is the book you worked for nearly a decade *not* to write. You promised yourself, your wife. You weren’t going to do it. So why this book, why now?

Ron Powers: A legitimate question. The answer is that I eventually realized that I could not not write it.

I hesitated for several years because I did not want to revisit the pain of Kevin’s death, and because I was wary of my own motives should I find the strength to plunge in. I did not want to debase the memory of Kevin, who took his life in our Middlebury, VT, household in 2005, a week before his twenty-first birthday. As you know, Kevin had battled a severe affliction of schizophrenia and then schizoaffective disorder for three years before the voices in his head told him to end it.

Nor did I want to tarnish the dignity and courage of his older brother Dean, who was (unbelievably) stricken by the same horrible disease a few years later. Dean has survived and has even managed to stabilize himself via a regimen of antipsychotic medications. He is one of the most gallant and courageous people I have ever known.

I was wary of several mistakes that authors of such books have made. I did not want to commodify Kevin and Dean—to exploit their terrible suffering as a means of making money. Nor did I want to violate the privacy of these two beloved kids, and their mother, my wife Honoree. And of course I dreaded the prospect of delving into memories, photographs, emails, and other memorabilia of these two glorious boys who had been so dear to my wife and me.

I explain in the book why I changed my mind: I came to realize that writing the book was a kind of dharma, a sacred duty. Schizophrenia and its allied brain diseases–schizoaffective and bipolar disordersremain mysterious afflictions to most people. Their victims are shunned, marginalized, and far too often thrown into jails and prisons under the mistaken belief that they are criminals. Yet these afflictions are not simply symptoms of unhappiness, alienation, depression. They are brain diseases, passed along genetically. Those who are stricken lose contact with rational thought. They need to be stabilized and protected, not punished.

L.L.: NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE is a tough read.

Ron Powers: Thank you. Sincerely.

L.L.: It’s academically rigorous, alternating chapters of non-fiction narrative in history, current affairs/politics, and medicine with those of your personal (often emotional) experiences with Kevin and Dean’s schizophrenia. I personally loved this back-and-forth structure. I heard somewhere that you didn’t want to include Kevin and Dean in the book, but there they are. Can you tell us how this structure developed? And also the research that went into this book?

Ron Powers: As I said, I wanted to protect the integrity, the sacredness, of my sons, and I wanted to shield myself from the torture of revisiting the past.

I actually wrote a proposal for the book that did not include my family: it was to be a straight research and reportorial history of madness and how society has dealt with it from the awful era of Bethlem (Bedlam) Asylum in London seven hundred years ago through time present.

My publisher, Hachette, accepted this proposal. Only then did the editors, along with my magnificent literary agent Jim Hornfischer, take me aside to persuade me that it would be a literary and a moral error to exclude the very experiences that had led me to propose this book. At that point, I saw that they were exactly right. And so I expanded the book’s thematic scope to embrace the personal. I am glad I did.

In doing so, I discovered that Kevin and Dean had an important, legitimate function in my narrative. They became the reader’s emissaries from the bright world of the normal into the dark hell of serious mental illness.

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When I realized that, I no longer dreaded scouring through the artifacts of their lives—our lives. When I finally dared to retrieve the boxes of their emails and photos and recordings and drawings, I experienced the unexpected joy of re-entering an enchanted realm: the realm of their happy boyhoods, the happiest twenty years of all our lives. This experience led me to re-savor their sunlit personalities and to record their descent into madness with respect and a sense of rightness: Dean and Kevin were living again, for the benefit of all the victims and their families.

L.L.: There’s a passage in NO ONE CARES about the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference that I love:

“None of us had quite overcome the rustic spell cast by the nineteenth-century campus with its right-angled yellow wood-framed Inn and dormitory buildings, all clustered in a mountain meadow and cordoned off from the world by pine forests and the Green Mountains rising behind them.”

Everything seemed pretty ideal. I bring this up because not all who are afflicted with mental illness had such an ideal childhood. What do you make of that?

Ron Powers: You have put your finger on the central argument of my book, Leslie. In fact, ideal or non-ideal childhoods have little to do—necessarily—with the onset of schizophrenia. It’s a rare disease, and still a fairly mysterious one. It strikes only three to four percent of the population. (Well, that really isn’t so rare, is it?)

To oversimplify, it’s the result of a cocktail of flawed genes, inherited in the bloodline. Even people who carry this toxic cocktail do not always succumb to the symptoms.

Here is the mysterious part: the cocktail must be stimulated to its destructive effects by outside, or environmental factors.

The most potent of these is stress: extreme emotional stress suffered in childhood or early adolescence. So, yes, the lack of an “ideal” childhood can be a factor. Our elder son Dean suffered extreme stress as the result of a car accident, with him at the wheel, when he was 16. (This is a typical age of onset, if the flawed cocktail is in place). [The crash] severely injured a 14-year-old girl in the passenger seat. Dean was wracked by guilt and by the fury of the girl’s parents, who pressured the court to have him jailed for six years. This didn’t happen, but the agony of the possibility consumed our son.

Dean’s younger brother Kevin experienced no such psychic oppression. He was a sunny, happy child whose musical gifts—on the guitar—were evident from age 5. Yet Kevin’s affliction was far more severe than Dean’s, and led him to take his life. So, yes, schizophrenia remains largely a malign mystery.

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L.L.: You outline some stressors/triggers/prodromal stages to the possible development of schizophrenia, not just in Kevin and Dean’s cases, but across the board for those who are afflicted with diseases of psychosis. This has all been supported by research.

They are: 1) Stress 2) Exhaustion/lack of sleep 3) Substance abuse and 4) family history/genetics.

You mention almost all of these within the narrative, expect—and I could have missed it—family history. Can you touch on this, please?

Ron Powers: I’m not sure that substance abuse is a trigger for schizophrenia. It can certainly worsen the symptoms for those who are vulnerable. As I said earlier—and I should make clear that I claim no expertise in this exasperating mystery of the brain—that “family history” is an important indicator. But I hasten to add that neither I nor my wife Honoree has experienced symptoms of serious mental illness. Each of us, however, had parents who may very well have been undiagnosed sufferer of schizophremia or bipolar disorder. If this is true, the flawed genes clearly skipped a generation. Please bear in mind that I’m speaking as a writer who has researched the subject extensively, but not as an expert in neuroscience.

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L.L.: Tragically, horribly, your youngest son, Kevin succumbed to his illness when he died by suicide in 2005, just a week before his twenty-first birthday. How did you make it through? What advice would you give to others in the wake of a family member’s suicide?

Ron Powers: This is a hard yet legitimate question, and I want to answer it without any taint of sentimentality or pretended expertise. As I write on the first page of “NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE:

“Over the second five years [following Kevin’s death], the infernal process of ‘healing’—adaptation, really—had begun its unwelcome sterilizing work.”

We adapt—if we are lucky. If we are not lucky, or if we lack strong loving connections to others, we may succumb to lifelong depression and regret. Honoree and I—and our dear son Dean—are a family deeply bound by love. We regret Kevin’s loss deeply. To this day, I dream of him several times a week. The recurring dream is not that he has died, but that he has stopped playing his guitar and stubbornly refuses to take it up again. I don’t think I need to spell out the symbolism of that motif.

My advice to others? I guess it would be to cherish the best memories of the lost loved one’s life, to bear in mind the awful necessary truth that life is suffering, and to recall the words of the poet John Donne that have resounded through the centuries:

“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; 

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow 

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. . . “

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE, please see: 

Order Links:

ron-powers_sarah-junek-05723fee640df64c0c066a69b10a2326d59b2406-s700-c85ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Ron Powers, a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Emmy Award-winning writer and critic, has studied and written about Mark Twain for many years. His works include White Town Drowsing: Journeys to HannibalDangerous Water: A Biography of the Boy Who Became Mark Twain, and the coauthor of two, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Flags of Our Fathers.

He won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism for his critical writing about television during 1972. In addition to writing, Powers has taught for the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Salzburg Seminar in Salzburg, Austria, and at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. Powers is married and has two sons. He currently resides in Castleton, Vermont.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

 

9780316341172_custom-32e55668193579658a03cb7db817cdca0ed07066-s700-c85LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#KeepTalkingMH #MentalHealthAwareness 

“Very readable and highly recommend.” 

~E. Fuller Torrey, MD and author of SURVIVING SCHIZOPHRENIA

[Cover image courtesy of R. Powers and used with permission. Other images retrieved from this NPR article, on 5.21.18]

Wednesdays with Writers: Dr. Melissa Deuter Tackles ‘Emerging Adulthood,’ Mental Health Crisis & More

By Leslie Lindsay 

What Happens When your Emerging Adult Needs to Come Home? Dr. Melissa Deuter Talks about this and so much more in her book, STUCK IN THE SICK ROLE

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In her psychiatric urgent care practice, Dr. Melissa Deuter has been an expert in assisting families with ‘failure to launch’ young adults who seem to be stuck—whether that’s in a sick role (broadly defined as struggling with mild-to moderate depression or anxiety but may include more severe psychiatric diagnoses), but also those who are unready emotionally and socially to move into the next stage.

Through a series of vignettes, Dr. Deuter takes us on a journey in which we ‘meet’ these young,  emerging adults. Her style is down-to-earth and conversational; in such a way it feels as if one is eavesdropping on friends at a coffee shop. You may recognize familiar stories as if they were your neighbors, your best friend’s son, or your brother’s daughter. Don’t worry, everyone mentioned in STUCK IN THE SICK ROLE has a pseudonym.  The point is, the phenomenon of ‘failure to launch,’ is so widespread, so common, that we’re beginning to see a trend.

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STUCK IN THE SICK ROLE is not exactly science, though science absolutely supports that the brain is not fully developed until 25 years of age. Here, Dr. Deuter gives parents—and perhaps some ambitious emerging adults—the tools they need to go from emerging to actualized.

‘Failure to launch’ is such an important—and often neglected—topic in parenting. Parents of children of just about any age ought to tune in because kids, they grow.

I’m honored to welcome Dr. Deuter back to the blog couch. Please join us in conversation.

Leslie Lindsay: Wow. I finished this book last night and turned to my husband and said: “I see a lot of so-and-so in this and also…” He nodded slowly. Neither of us had been ‘stuck’ as young adults, we did what we had to do. Yet, expectations have changed. Why this book, why now?

Dr Deuter: This book came to life because I found myself having the same conversations with parents of late teens and twenty-somethings again and again. Most of the patients had been in mental health care treatment, and they just weren’t getting anywhere. The patients looked remarkably un-sick on clinical examination and they always showed up with parents who were baffled by their complete inability to function.

I would point out that their child was lost and flailing, and that it appeared to be a stage of life problem more than “mental illness.” Many of the parents would say, “Wow! I never thought about it like that before. Why didn’t our previous doctor our therapist tell us that?” I realized I was saying something useful and unusual. I thought maybe more people needed to read what I was saying in the office, so I started writing.

L.L. Can you talk a little about what it means to be an ‘emerging adult’ versus a ‘full-fledged’ adult? What skills and responsibilities should we possess at each stage? Is it that clear-cut?

Dr. Deuter: Emerging adulthood is basically just a term to describe young adults who aren’t in the roles of adults yet. The term was coined by a college professor and researcher (Arnett) who noticed that college students were more like teenagers as long as they were dependent on their parents and not yet self-reliant.

A full-fledged adult solves her own problems and pays her own way. An emerging adult looks to parents for guidance, emotional support, and often financial support.pexels-photo-1047958.jpeg

I think understanding that adulthood is a series of roles rather than an age can help a lot of people understand why kids these days seem so different than past generations. Society is different than it once was, so kids are affected in ways no one anticipated.

L.L.: When I was in college, a couple of peers had a ‘breakdown,’ that is, they became very anxious and perhaps depressed. School work was too much. They fretted over grades. They missed the comforts of home. They had difficulty living with roommates and structuring their time. For one, a female, this sent her packing and heading home where she lived with her parents but attended a (well-respected) local college. The other, a male, had me take him to the student health clinic for a script of anti-anxiety drugs We spent long hours talking about his issues. Do you see any gender differences in how these things are handled?

Dr. Deuter: Actually, I don’t see gender differences as much as family culture differences. I have seen young men and young women alike follow both courses. If a family has a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” philosophy, staying at school might be expected. If a different family is worried that little Tommy or Suzie can’t tolerate being so far from home, that student is probably moving back home with parents.

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L.L.:  Just as there are as many different responses as individuals, how might parents best handle these situations?

Dr. Deuter: In cases where young adults get “stuck” before becoming full-fledged adults, their parents are an important part of the recovery equation. I urge parents to observe how life skills play a role in getting stuck, and how they (the parents) may be enabling unhealthy coping if they step in and allow their child to return to teenager roles after a crisis.

L.L.: What can parents do—before there’s a ‘problem’—that might prevent college students coming back home to the comforts of their childhood home?

Dr. Deuter: There are two major things I wish all parents could do in advance of a mental health crisis in their child: 1. Parent with the end goal of adult independence in the front of your mind. Don’t just teach your children to be obedient students, make sure they have the confidence and experience to persevere and solve problems. 2. Resist the urge to rescue your child, and know that at times, it will be really hard to step back and let him figure it out. That doesn’t mean you won’t help, but as a parent, you have to address your own hang-ups and fears before a crisis hits so you’ll behave in a healthy way after.

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L.L.: Much of what we’ve been talking about has to do with college-bound individuals. It might be implied that they are relatively intelligent, middle-class, and perhaps, Caucasian, with at least one involved parent. Are you seeing this trend in other populations and across SES?

Dr. Deuter: Yes. Across socioeconomic groups, parents are sheltering kids more and helping their kids longer- well into their twenties. That said, emerging adult students are more vulnerable to the lack of skills problems than other groups. Students can be going along, meeting their goals and still not be taking on adulthood. Those who are employed acquire more adult skills than those who only attend school.

L.L.: And what happens when the person of concern has a legitimate mental illness (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, MDD) or major mental health crisis, such as rape, alcoholism/addiction, and they must come home to cope, recover? What then?

Dr. Deuter: This is a really important question. Young people can become very stuck after a crisis. Supportive families need to understand that loving involvement is a really essential part of recovery, but support should stop short of rescuing or enabling. No matter what crisis our kids have endured, we want to teach them that they can recover. They are strong and they can find the answers to healing. We don’t want to send the message that only we, the parents, can be strong and competent.

L.L.: What do you hope others take away from STUCK IN THE SICK ROLE?

Dr. Deuter: More than anything, I want people to understand that medications don’t sufficiently get people back to normal healthy lives after a crisis. Our kids are not just bags of neurotransmitters that we can “fix” with pills; they are growing up in a psychosocial and spiritual context that cannot be ignored. To address the health and functioning of our young people, we have to look at the whole picture.

L.L.: What question should I have asked but may have forgotten?

Dr. Deuter: I guess I might want you to ask: “Is your advice to parents and patients working, and how do you know?”

I will answer with a story:

One parent who has been coming to me for years to figure out how to handle tough situations with her kids (ranging in age from elementary school to mid twenties) came in with a copy of the book. She had dozens of page markers flagging different points throughout the text and she said, “Oh my gosh! I finally get it! Everything we have been talking about regarding how to make sure my kids are healthy—it’s all right here! Thank you for this and for helping us find our way all these years.”

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L.L.: Melissa, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for taking the time.

Dr. Deuter: Thank you.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of STUCK IN THE SICK ROLE, please visit: 

Order Links:

DeuterpicABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Melissa Deuter is and expert and trendsetter in the world of mental health care. She founded Sigma Mental Health Urgent Care and in doing so is on the forefront, redefining how psychiatric services are delivered. Dr. Deuter is a board certified psychiatrist in San Antonio, Texas. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Arkansas and attended medical school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She completed psychiatry residency at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio and served as Chief Resident. Dr. Deuter currently holds an appointment as Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at UTHSCSA and is the course director for the resident training seminars on Eating Disorders and Sexuality and Sexual Development. She is a former President of the Bexar County Psychiatric Society, a current member of the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians Ethics Council, and a current member of the South Texas Psychiatric Physicians Research Network’s Executive Committee. She has been recognized as a San Antonio’s “Top Doctor” and a “Best of” Doctor, a Texas Super Doctor’s “Rising Star,” and has received the American Registry “Patient’s Choice Award.” Dr. Deuter has a special interest in early stage psychiatric care, differentiating serious illness from normal brain development, and the unique mental health needs of emerging adults.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of PRbytheBook and used with permission] 

Writers on Wednesday: Andromeda Romano-Lax talks about ‘cold’ parenting styles, John B. Watson’s Behaviorism, the little known Mrs. Watson, how the fun to any research is digging into the archives, sipping bourbon, eating crab cakes, & more in BEHAVE

By Leslie Lindsay 

An astonishingly disturbing and well-written account of the little-known Rosalie Rayner Watson, the “second” Mrs. John B. Watson, father of Behaviorism, BEHAVE should be on the top of everyone’s to-read list, if not for the writing, the contribution gleaned from behaviorism. Behave Cover

While that may be a very broad statement, I do mean it. Though I may be a bit biased having a background and strong interest in child psychology/psychiatry. BEHAVE (Soho Press, February 2016) is a fictional biography of Rosalie, a promising Vassar graduate with a keen scientific mind. Yet her story is harrowing in that it’s not as straightforward as one may think. To me, BEHAVE was about the 1920s, science, progress, motherhood, marriage, child psychology, and love.

But there are parts that involve behavioral experiments with infants that may leave parents/those who love kids a little squeamish.

I am so excited to welcome Andromeda Romano-Lax to the blog to chat with us about this deeply moving historical-biographical fiction that shaped the early views of ‘not spoiling’ one’s child(ren), several early parenting books, and so much more.

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome, Andromeda! So glad you could join us today. Some people read the last line first, but not me. I often read the first few pages of a book, then quickly flip to the ‘about the author’ and ‘acknowledgements’ section at the back of the book. In your first round of thanks, you mention a psychology textbook editor whom you met at dinner party. She mentioned the case of little Albert B. (the primary test subject in BEHAVE) and that got your gears turning for this book—can you talk about that, please?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Yes, getting heated up about something can be productive—at least for a writer.

I was sharing my vexation with a textbook editor named Christine about ethics in both creative nonfiction (one of my fields) and psychology (hers).  As an example of questionable behavior, she talked about the experimental practices of “Father of Behaviorism” John Watson.1369713473

John Watson was vaguely familiar to me from old college psych classes. I remembered something about a baby, rats, and conditioning, but I didn’t realize that John Watson had a female assistant—Rosalie Rayner—who helped with those disturbing experiments, which frequently involved exposing babies to uncomfortable or frightening situations.

After the party I drove home and immediately started Googling. By midnight I knew I wanted to write about Rosalie Rayner, the forgotten scientist, scandalous lover, and professionally-sidetracked wife of Watson. I have never felt so sure about a storyline so quickly. I wanted to know the story from Rosalie’s perspective. I felt compelled to understand how a woman scientist could be so easily forgotten when her husband remained famous for decades. I wanted to be with Rosalie, in that lab and later, at home with her first baby, during those early days of confused exhaustion, when she finally had to learn how to parent a real child instead of experiment on a mere subject. I wanted to ask her a hundred questions!

L.L.: It’s funny how those little seeds of a new project can creep into consciousness. But the ‘creeping’ is the easy part! How did you tease out the myriad information I’m sure you uncovered during your research in order to shape it into the story that became BEHAVE?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: I started with the Internet and accessible published works for background on John Watson, but when it came to Rosalie, the record was thin. That’s when the fun really starts: when you head to the archives. I visited the Library of Congress, Rayner’s home and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Vassar College in NY, and the Center for the History of Psychology in Akron, Ohio, for starters. In addition to library-style research, I relished spending time in those places that shaped Rosalie, visiting old neighborhoods, strolling the Vassar campus, eating Baltimore crab cakes and sipping bourbon in a historic bar. (It isn’t all hard work.)17FISHER-facebookJumbo

I loved learning about the era—especially women’s roles in the teens and 20s. It felt like a gift to start connecting the experience of women then with the experience of women in, say, the ‘60s-‘80s—and women now. History repeats itself. So much became clear to me about the lives of 20th century women by following one woman’s life story in detail. And isn’t that why we read historical fiction?

L.L.: John and Rosalie have a tumultuous love affair, marry, and then have children. This part of the story became quite fascinating to me. It’s almost as if they had their own two ‘test subjects’ in Billy and Jimmy. Still, I can’t really say that’s much different than parenting today. Wouldn’t you say that on some level, we’re ‘experimenting’ with our own kids?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: That’s a great takeaway—for good or for bad, we are all experimenting on our children, and the pendulum keeps swinging between styles that are more or less pro-attachment, or more less based on children’s perceived independence or dependence, for example. I do believe parents should take guidance from their intuition as well as what they read or hear from “experts.” But on top of this, I think some historical and cultural perspective goes a long, long way. What did people think 20, 50, 100 years ago? How do people raise babies in other countries? What can we learn by critically examining the evidence for the latest trends and comparing today’s ideas with ideas from other eras and other cultures?LittleAlbertJohnWatson

 

L.L.: Many of the experiments with little Albert B. made me feel a bit…well, squeamish and then mad at Rosalie and John for doing such a thing to an innocent baby…making him fear bunnies and even Santa Claus. Did you have a similar reaction?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Yes, but perhaps less so than many readers. I understood that psychology was in its infancy and today’s experimental ethics didn’t yet exist. In judging the past we have to put ourselves in that time period, with all its limitations. Watson had extremely good intentions. He thought he was saving future children from pain and emotional anguish. And most of the infants Watson studied were brought into the lab briefly and were not hurt. (Albert was the possible exception because he was brought into the lab on multiple occasions.) DMtz1

Now, what did bother me was knowing that Watson didn’t bother to decondition Little Albert—in other words, to reverse the emotional damage caused. Watson was very flippant about that fact. And what bothered even more was how Watson took such a poorly designed experiment on a single, possibly abnormal baby and then used it as the foundation for some very bad parenting advice which was sold to hundreds of thousands of moms and dads, persuading them to withhold the most basic kinds of affection from their babies.

The experiments are mildly disturbing. The later application via Watson’s and Rayner’s parenting guide is horrifying. The takeaway is not to hate Watson but to evaluate “expert” findings and read parenting guides of the future a little more critically.

L.L.: And their parenting books! Did you have the opportunity to read them? What can you tell us about these guides for raising children? Are they still in publication?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: The Watsons’ 1928 parenting book (Psychological Care of Infant and Child) is out of print. It contains bad advice—like don’t kiss or cuddle your children—and sensible advice, like help your children establish stable routines. It was actually more 97069505_-com-psychological-care-of-infant-and-child-john-b-progressive than other guides of the early 20th century, especially in its recommendation that physical punishment is not necessary. But its main message, the disturbing message, was don’t form attachments to your children—which is as different from my own parenting practices as possible. If John Watson had seen me nursing, reading to, sleeping with, and endlessly snuggling with my two babies he would have pegged me as a child abuser!

As a researcher, my aim was to read about parenting guides as a larger genre, in order to understand where this book fit in the progression from anti-attachment (Watsons) to pro-attachment (Dr. Spock) style parenting. For general readers interested in this topic, I’d
recommend Ann Hulbert’s Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice About Children.

 

L.L.: I found it absolutely fascinating when John resigned from his post at Johns Hopkins and then became an ad man. This was before the days of “Mad Men,” but still many aspects of psychology play into consumerism. Can you talk about that, please?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Long before “Mad Men,” the top advertising pioneers recognized that emotional reactions and interest in sex, for example, could be useful in selling products. As psychology blossomed into a more respected science, behaviorists were recruited. John switched from the academic to the advertising world at just the right time, contributing his own interests, including a fascination with the power of fear. We have him and others to thank for making us worry that we aren’t pretty enough, or don’t smell right, or on the verge of making our children sick or miserable if we don’t buy the next new product.

L.L.: And Rosalie…it appears as if I’m not the only one who didn’t know much about her. But I’m so glad you brought her story into the open! It was the roaring 1920s and she had a degree from Vassar, promising future in psychology, and then she met John. Part of me wanted to scream, ‘no…don’t do it!’ and another part of me wanted to see her and John get together. Did any of your research indicate what she may have done if it weren’t for John Watson?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: First, you’re not the in the minority for being unaware of Rosalie. Second, in terms of guessing what other life she might have led, the research can’t lc3v77r5ixt9b7tell us because she got involved with Watson so early. My hunch is that she would have loved to enter the glamorous world of advertising, which (as I hadn’t realized but soon discovered) already included women pioneers, even before the ‘20s. Rosalie was social, fun-loving, interested in city life, the arts and fashion as well as psychology. She would have done a great job selling the excitement of the 1920s to other women.

 

 

 

L.L.: What’s captured your interest these days, anything keeping you up at night?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Most recently, my fiction research takes me into the world of AI, where the robots are not only coming, they’re already here. In the nonfiction world (I write both fact and fiction) I am absolutely obsessed with language acquisition and have spent most of the last two years intensely studying Spanish while living in Mexico.

I won’t mention politics, which keeps everyone up, except to say that while I was writing about John Watson, many people asked me how someone with such inflexible views and a provocative manner could have been such a famous public speaker and celebrity—or why any woman would put up with him. Trump, anyone?

L.L.:  What should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: No one has asked me yet what kind of reader I was imagining for this book.

In a general way, I think this book is suited to those with an interest in science or the 1920s. But additionally, I was hoping that some readers who puzzle over the cold parenting styles of their parents, grandparents or great-parents would read this novel and say, “A-ha. Finally, I understand.” I also hoped that any readers who are parents now will feel more empowered to make their own decisions about how to raise their children.

L.L.: Andromeda, it was a pleasure connecting! Thank you for this amazing contribution to literary historical fiction.

Andromeda Romano-Lax:  Thank you Leslie!

For more information, or to follow on social media, please see: 

Twitter: @romanolax

NYTimes Book Review of BEHAVE

AndromedaMID1About the Author: Born in 1970 in Chicago, Andromeda Romano-Lax worked as a freelance journalist and travel writer before turning to fiction. Her first novel, The Spanish Bow, was translated into eleven languages and was chosen as a New York Times Editors’ Choice, BookSense pick, and one of Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year. Her second novel, The Detour, was internationally published in 2012. Her third novel, Behave, was published by Soho Press in 2016 and was chosen as an Indie Next pick and named by Amazon “One of the Best Books of the Year So Far.”  Among her nonfiction works are a dozen travel and natural history guidebooks to the public lands of Alaska, as well as a travel narrative, Searching for Steinbeck’s Sea of Cortez: A Makeshift Expedition Along Baja’s Desert Coast, which was an Audubon Editor’s Choice and will soon be released in a new ebook edition.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through this various social media outlets. Hope to “see” you there!

[Special thanks to Soho Publishing and A. Romano-Lax. Cover and author image courtesy of A. Romano-Lax. Image of John B. Watson retrieved from, image of John & Rosalie together from, baby experiment image retrieved from, vintage ad from , all retrieved on 9.2.16] 

 

BookS on MondaY: The Happiest Country for 40+ years and the values we can adopt for raising kids from THE DANISH WAY OF PARENTING

By Leslie Lindsay 

Denmark, home of Hans Christian Anderson and Lego toys, has been voted the happiest country in the world for 40 consecutive years, most recently in the 2016 World Happiness Report. What is the secret to this consistent success? Can happiness become the new Danish export? Photo-Nov-28-2-21-23-PM-1024x735-1024x735

That’s what THE DANISH WAY OF PARENTING (TarcherPerigee/RandomHouse, August 2016)  And I have to say, the concept became intriguing to me. When I learned the U.S. ranked 17th in “the most happy,” just under Mexico, I wanted to know why and what did the Danes have on us? Here’s a breakdown of the book, which spells out  P-A-R-E-N-T and is how each chapter is organized:

P – Play: Why free play creates happier, better adjusted, more resilient adults.

A – Authenticity: Why honesty creates a stronger sense of self and how praise can be used to form a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset.

R – Reframing: How shifting our perception can improve relationships and well-being.

E – Empathy: How fostering an empathic household can help your children be more tolerant and less judgmental of others.

N – No Ultimatums: Why avoiding power struggles and using a more democratic parenting approach fosters trust.

T – Togetherness and Hygge (Coziness): Why a strong social network is one of the biggest factors in our overall happiness and by creating hygge we can give this powerful

THE DANISH WAY OF PARENTING is simply written, yet jam-packed with supporting evidence as to what and how we can parent better. And there’s always room for growth, right? The authors, one raised in the U.S. and married to a Dane and now living in Rome, and the other, a family and child counselor in Copenhagen tell us exactly how the Danish Way is different. Hint: the one major difference has to do with something called hygge, meaning togetherness. Read on to find out what this encompasses. And then consider trying it as early as tonight. 

Leslie Lindsay: The premise of THE DANISH WAY OF PARENTING is that Denmark is the happiest country in the world in large part due to their upbringing. It seems there may be multiple variables at play (such as parental leave policies),  but what are some things parents in the United States can implement immediately that can have a positive impact?

Jessica: Two major things we could do here at home everyday is to try to teach more empathy and learn how to “hygge” (pronounced hooga) which is cozying around together with those you care about in a drama-free environment. Danes value hygge time highly and it’s something we can easily incorporate here if others agree to try, too. In Denmark, empathy is a crucial part of education and it starts being actively taught in pre-school. It is just as important as teaching Math or English. Seeing that social connectedness has been proven to be one of the number one predictors of happiness, I think that teaching more empathy as a skill at home and incorporating hygge, we could make a big difference in in our overall wellbeing.  shutterstock_415695742-600x381

L.L.: We’ve heard the “Tiger Mother” philosophy and the French parenting angle, so what distinguishes the Danish Way from these other cultural parenting perspectives or styles?
Jessica:
In Tiger parenting and French parenting, what the parent says goes without question, period. It is very authoritarian. This is a generalization of course but it’s pretty common in these cultures. Tiger parenting is all about blind obedience. In French parenting, children are expected to have “allegiance” to parents, which is again authoritarian. It is literally all work and no play and Danish parenting is just the opposite.

Danish parenting is about respecting the child’s integrity, listening to their needs and encouraging learning through play, trusting them to trust in themselves and having empathy for others. In Denmark, children are encouraged to question rules they don’t understand so that they feel they are fair and exist for a reason. They focus more on democracy and avoiding problems by respecting children’s integrity and believing in their goodness. I firmly believe this is why Danes, overall, have a good self-esteem and are happier. When you grow up believing your feelings and thoughts matter and the world can be just, you feel good about yourself. The philosophy of Danish parenting is teach respect, be respectful and you will be respected.

L.L.: What are a few striking differences in the way Americans parent on a day to day basis versus how Europeans parent?

Iben: Americans in general strive to make their children better than others. This is subtly dividing not connecting. It doesn’t come from a bad place, it is just how you are raised. You all want to be more special and more individual. Because it makes you feel like better parents, better human beings. And being the best is prized. You are by nature competitive because you are raised to know that the “better kids” get rewards, praise, trophies, love and their pictures on the walls etc. In a dog-eat-dog world you do everything to try to make your kid the best. You were told for a long time that nature was built on survival of the fittest. So “I” have to survive against all the others. Denmark is built on a totally different foundation. We are collectivist and raised on teamwork, democracy and togetherness. We are programmed not to stand out, but always emphasizing the “we” and that which is created jointly.

L.L.: Jessica, as an American expat who married into a Danish family, can you describe the more Danish concepts of ‘reframing‘ and ‘hygge‘ and why they were surprising to you at first?

shutterstock_231997051-600x400Jessica: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing,” my husband would say if he had to go out in freezing rain. He had such a knack for finding the silver lining in things and reframing them. He was also often making me aware of when I used extreme language such as “I hate that” or “I am terrible at that” and he would correct me to get a more exact. He was very focused on the importance of language and not being hyperbolic. But when I realized he was also doing this with our daughter’s language around her general experiences of the world, I understood that reframing was a kind of Danish skill that gets passed on through the generations. Her fears became curiosity or her negativity became more tempered all through that language altering. This ability to reframe has a profound effect on long-term happiness because how you choose to see the world greatly affects how you feel about it.

In terms of ‘hygge,’ this was something I saw from day one with my husband’s family but it took me a lot of years to finally get how powerful it is and the breakdown of its psychological components. I describe the crux of hygge as a sacred mental space you enter into with those you love and care for which is free from competition, bragging, complaining or too much negativity. It’s a limited time when you are just there to connect with others and be in a nice environment and cozy around. Many people talk about mindfulness these days, but Hygge_oath_2.jpghygge’ is a sort of “we-fulness.” The purpose is simply to be together stress free, and that feeling of safe social connectedness makes you happy. It was hard for me at first because I wasn’t used to so much “we”-time that was controversy-free, but now I love relaxing into those peaceful moments and I see how much kids absolutely thrive in this we space.

L.L.: What inspired you to write this book?

Jessica: The day I was inspired to write the book was when I was reading the newspaper and Denmark had just been voted (again) as the happiest people in the world. At the very same moment I could hear my husband altering our daughter’s language around her fear of spiders as they talked about one. I reflected on how that was going to change her future. [My daughter] would be more curious, less scared and more open. It was so Danish what he was doing (reframing) and I suddenly felt incredibly lucky to have this influence in my children’s life because I never would have known about these Danish ways otherwise. And then it hit me. The light bulb went off. There is a Danish way of parenting! And it must be one of the reasons why they grow up to be the happiest people in the world! And so the book idea was born.

Iben:  I am Danish and have been brought up on the basis of Danish culture and norms, I am deeply aware that a Danish (or Scandinavian) upbringing differs from that of many other cultures. I believe very much in the importance of learning throughout life, and I am passionate about what I do. When Jessica asked if we should collaborate about writing a book, one could say it was a perfect match. I hope the book will offer a change in perspective or a paradigm shift for someone, which at the end can change children´s life to the better.

For more information, or to connect with the authors via social media, please see:

IbenAbout the Authors: Iben Dissing Sandahl is a certified coach, author and a licensed narrative psychotherapist, MPF, with her own private practice just outside of Copenhagen. She specializes in counseling families and children. Originally trained as a teacher, she worked for 10 years in the Danish school system before earning her degree in narrative psychotherapy. She is a frequent guest expert in magazines, newspapers, and Danish national radio. She is a wife and mother of two girls, Ida and Julie.

Jessica Joelle Alexander is an American author, columnist and cultural trainer. She Jessicagraduated with a BS in a psychology and went on to teach communication and writing skills in Scandinavia and central Europe. Married to a Dane for 13 years, she lives in Rome with her husband and two children, Sophia and Sebastian.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay at: 

[Special thanks to K. Platte at Tarcher Perigee/Peguin RandomHouse. Cover and author images courtesy of Tarcher Perigee and used with permission. All other images retrieved from the DANISH WAY website on 8.31.16]

The Teacher is Talking: Mum’s the Word–Interview with Author Jessie Clemence

By Leslie Lindsay

Apraxia Monday:  He Talks Funny Author Jeanne Buesser & Give-a-Way

As as teenager, I subscribed to YM magazine (I think it stood for Young & Modern).  The publication had a section entitled, “Say Anything: Your Most Mortifying Moments.”  Gone are the the days of YM, (and thankfully, so are my teenage years), but those mortifying moments live on, even as a mother.  Especially as a mother.  Today, I present “Cringe-Worthy Moments” by Jessie Clemence, author of There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse: And Other Ways Motherhood Changes Us. 

I am thrilled to have Jessie spell it all out for us–mortifying moments and all here in her guest post.  Stay tuned to learn more about the give-a-way: a complimentary copy of her book–perfect for gifting this Mother’s Day.  

Before I had my own children, I had an idea of how parenting would go. I operated under the assumption that I would parent my children to the best of my ability and that would be enough. I believed that my efforts would ensure me happy and obedient children, all the time.

I was wrong.

It turns out that you can parent a child with all your might. You can train. You can teach. You can make up good-behavior charts and bribe reward a child with all manner of stickers and special treats, but these things might not make a difference at crucial times in their life. No parent has ever been able to predict and control every choice a kid makes. That’s the thing about kids—they come with minds of their own. And this often becomes obvious in front of other people, and we mothers are embarrassed beyond words, possibly even stunned silent.

For example, our daughter recently startled a room full of relatives at the family reunion when she yelled, “Pray, Larry!” at her grandfather. You see, my father-in-law is a dear man of God, but he often takes a bit of time to gather his thoughts before beginning the prayer. My mother-in-law has been known to nudge him with a whispered, “Pray, Larry!” to get him moving. My own husband has taken up this prayer-hesitation as he ages, so I’ve started mimicking his mom at the dinner table. “Pray, Larry!” I hiss at Eric.

I think I’m terribly funny, and if he’s honest, so does my husband. He snorts and starts praying. But we forgot to tell Audrey that sometimes little family jokes are just that—little and with only the four of us. So when she was hungry at the family reunion and Grandpa wasn’t on her schedule, she just did what comes naturally—she ordered him to pray. And the whole room thought it was hysterical, except for maybe me. And Grandpa, who apparently doesn’t appreciate being called by his first name by a grandchild. He did get right to the prayer, so I guess the child made her point.

In another example, I think of the time that Caleb threw up on me, all over me, at story time at the library. We were sitting quietly when I suddenly realized he was burning up, then he was throwing up. There was no time to prevent the disaster. My first instinct was to start cleaning the mess, but there was no way I could do that and care for my sick child at the same time. The dear librarians came to my rescue and started mopping up the mess. They cleaned the carpet and the chair and sent me home. My daughter was heartbroken to leave story time early, so they let her stay and then walked her home when it was over.

I could go on and on about the chances God has given me to get over myself as I parent. In fact, I wrote an entire book called There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse, and it’s all about the ways God has let me grow closer to Him through parenting. Each parenting challenge is another chance to move past my initial reaction to seek the good of my children, and to move past pride and self-absorption. These things are poison to our walks with God, and He lets the difficulties of parenting teach us this over and over. plasticmonkey_160x240and ridiculousness. I love to connect with people through writing about how God’s Word applies to all parts of our lives. We talk about parenting and marriage, the food I burn for dinner, how much I hate skinny jeans, and anything else that comes to mind. Subject matter runs the gamut, I tell you.

I have also written a book titled There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse. It’s 200 pages about how God helped me get over myself and turn to Him in my inadequacies as a mother. It’s about how He’s never

Colossians 3:12-15 says: Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. (NLT)

Those cringe-worthy moments in motherhood give me a chance to do just these things. They let me learn how to clothe myself with tenderheartedness towards a child even when I’m embarrassed. They give me a chance to react with kindness when a child blurts out something at the wrong time. They let me learn forgiveness over and over again, just like Christ forgives me over and over again. My life is not about me. I live to glorify God, and He teaches me how to do it as I parent. I pray that He lets you learn these same blessed things through your own experiences as a parent!  Apraxia Monday:  He Talks Funny Author Jeanne Buesser & Give-a-Way

***It’s Give-A-Way Time!! ***Here’s how it works:  Tell us  your most embarrassing moment as a MOM by leaving a comment in the comment section of this blog.  (Sorry, but Facebook comments will not be entered to win).  A lucky winner will be drawn at random on Friday, May 3rd at 3pm CST.  If you’re the winner–great!  We’ll contact you via email.  Please remember to check your junk folder!  You’ll have 24 hours to claim your prize (respond to the email with your mailing address).  Your complimentary copy of Jessie’s book will be mailed to you from PRbytheBook, based in Texas.  Thanks–and good-luck!

Bio:Jessie Clemence is a mother of two fun and occasionally sassy children who keep life interesting. She is married to Eric and their family lives in southwest Michigan. To find Jessie online, visit her blog at www.jessieclemence.com. You can keep up with their daily adventures there.  [all images retrieves from www.jessieclemence.com 4.05.13]

In My Brain Today: The End of an Era

By Leslie Lindsay

It is with mixed pride and sadness that I celebrate today.  You see, my darling precocious–and youngest daughter is completing her pre-K education.  It all culminates this afternoon with a popsicle social complete with friends and teachers who have played an important role in her life for the last 3 years.  (Jeez…that’s most of her life!)

Now, you would think that I would be so over it, but alas I am not.  I have been through the preschool “graduation” once with my 7-year old.  Been there, done that, right?  Well, I don’t think a mother ever tires of seeing her children grow and develop.  I know I will continue to observe such milestones, yet this is still hard.

Others have told me, “Oh, it’s just because she is your youngest that you are feeling this way.”  Well, yes and no…true, she is my youngest and in many ways, her moving out of preschool is an end of an era, but it really has very little to do with the fact that she is my youngest.  It has to do with her. 

You see, Kelly is a sweet, thoughtful, bright, and very mild-mannered child.  She is a joy to be around.  Sometimes, I wonder who is mothering whom?!  (Of course, she is never in a role that would sacrifice her childhood).  But I am going to miss her when she goes on to kindergarten.  I am going to miss the handprint art and the stick figure drawings with the too-big heads and the wobbly handwriting.    I am going to sort of-kind of miss the tiny little voice that says, “Why, momma?”  and I am going to miss her interrupting me as I work away on my laptop, “Momma, I just wanted to come and tell you I love you.”

Yet, on the otherhand, I will have more time.  Time to write.  Time to read.  Time to hang out with my hound.  Time to reclaim my goals, my activities.  My dreams.  Not that raising two beautiful daughters was not a part of my dreams, it was…but I know there is more to life than boogars and toilet bowl scrubbing.

And that’s what is in my brain today, Thurday May 24th 2012. 

New Year, New You: Finding your center

By Leslie Lindsay

Putting a little zen in your life can help you become a better parent, right?  (And now why am I not at yoga now??!).  Well, let’s see here…today, being the ominous Friday-the-thirteenth, I have detected a bad vibe.  Or, as one person told me today, “anger in my heart.”  Excuse me?!

I won’t bore you with the details.  (They really aren’t as juicy as I am making them sound).  I think it had to do with a tired, overworked, underappreciated clerk at at local bookstore.  Maybe she was having some bad luck today, and took it out on me?  I don’t really know.  But I do know she was rude and I called her on it by saying, “Um, you are really being unkind to me.”  (wanted to say, “What did I ever do to you b*****?!” but held my tongue).

So, I began reflecting on this “bad vibe” business.  Perhaps it has something to do with not feeling centered/grounded/balanced?  And maybe it was the clerk who  mistreated me who was feeling unbalanced today.

This grounded feeling is relevant to us in all areas of life.  For example, as parents, when we feel grouned, we parent better.  Simple as that.

 Just last evening, I said to my hubby, “I don’t feel like we have really connected with the kids lately…we aren’t doing anything all that enriching.”  He nodded and shrugged as if to say, “You’re right, but I am exhausted.”

So I thought a moment and decided that the whole family would work on coloring a poster-sized piece of art work my 6 1/2 year old drew with pencil but ran out of time to color.  We laid, belly-down on her bedroom floor markers in hand and enjoyed a good 20 minute coloring session.  It was almost therapeutic.

That was just one area of my life–and we all know there are many other areas of life that need balancing, yes?   When our lives are too full, we live on autopilot; just getting through the day–completing tasks and checking them off–and not really living the day.

Here are some ideas from Chicago Parent magazine, November 2010 issue that may help:

1.  Find Silence.  Life is noisy, our homes are too.  Everything from the dog to the cell phone is demanding our attention.  Don’t know what you need?  Maybe it’s because you can’t hear yourself think.  Make yourself a priortity by sitting in silence for some time during the day. I do this first thing in the morning, before even getting out of bed.

2.  Be thoughtful about how you start and end your day.  After lying in bed and gathering my thoughts (gumption?) for the day, I am often greeted by two very busy girls who have gotten into every craft our home owns.  The dog wants to be fed–now–and I am still fumbling around trying to find my faculties. Maybe I need to wake up even earlier?!

3.  Realize what drains you and what gives you energy.  Make a list.  What do you really hate?  How can you make those things better?  You don’t have to do everything perfectly and you don’t have to like everything you do, but something things just have to be done.  Now, make a list of what you love–writing works for me, maybe it’s exercise, reading, watching a movie…yes, it’s okay to do things things, too!  In fact, it’s required.

The best thing you can do for family is to take care of yourself by finding your center.  Inhale all of the good energy and exhale all of the negative.

Now, where’s that yoga mat?!